Thursday, October 31, 2013

As Strong As Before

Annie had her back to him, and didn’t see it happen. She did, however, hear the craaack of his bones.

My four-year-old grandson, Ryder, had been so excited to go to his friend’s birthday party, and couldn’t wait to try the inflatable jumper and slide. Being a bit of a thrill seeker (not sure where he got that!), he went down the slide face first—something he’d been doing since he was seven months old. Bracing for impact at the bottom, both bones in one forearm snapped. Annie didn’t have to see him holding it, hand dangling, to know his arm was broken.

Ryder 2

Paramedics were called. Ryder’s greatest source of distress was not the pain, but that his arm “looked funny”. They splint his arm and iced it for swelling, then Stew—Ryder’s dad—took him down to Children’s Hospital. After x-rays confirmed what they already knew, the doctor put Ryder under while they set the bones.

 Ryder's broken arm

When he woke up, Ryder was slow to come out of the anesthesia, and labored to put words to this urgent question.

”Daaad…?”

“Yeah, buddy?” Stew responded.

“Uuhhh…why …do… you… have… three eyes? Ummm…why… do… you…have… two noses?”

That anesthesia must have been pretty strong!

Interestingly enough, once Ryder’s bones fully heal you will never be able to tell where they broke. They will be just as strong as the rest of his bones, and no more prone to re-injury than before.

Amazing, isn’t it, that what is true in our bodies is also true in our spirits?

Things happen in life that cause brokenness in all of us. Hard things, and they hurt deeply. Sometimes it’s something that happened when we were young, a situation over which we had no control and wish had never happened. Other times it’s things that come at us quickly, blindsiding us with intensity we never saw coming. Whatever it is, we cannot change it and the ache threatens to bury us.

But there is the hope of healing. There is always hope to those who belong to Jesus. It is He who can mend those deepest of our hurts. He understands and can identify with them; while on earth He was “despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…” (Isaiah 53:3). He longs to draw us close and heal us, encouraging us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). It may take time, and the process—even of healing—can be excruciating. It takes our participation, and often a lot of hard work. But if we allow it, Jesus can make us strong where once we were weak, and whole where once we were broken.

This is His promise:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.                                                                                                              1 Peter 5:10

Further reflection:

  1. What are some of the things in life that caused a sense of brokenness in you?
  2. Were they things over which you had control?
  3. What helped you work through that pain?

Father, thank You that You don’t leave us alone to wallow in our pain. Thank You that You understand it, You care about it, and You want to help us heal. Please help me to come to You, recognizing that You endured more pain than I can imagine so that You could help me through my own.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take a Leap!

The kid was petrified. Fear was etched on his face as he peered anxiously out across the 30-foot tall platform. His nervous, jerky steps gave him away as he inched toward the edge, trying to convince himself it was safe to jump.

My husband and I were at Hume Lake Christian Camp, watching the middle schoolers launch themselves out on the zip line. This boy caught my eye because while other kids vied to be next to throw themselves wildly into space, he was struggling to find the courage.

When it was his turn to go, he froze, shaking his head in denial.

“I can’t,” he blurted out.

The other kids encouraged him, cheering him on.

“You can do it! Go for it! Come on, it’ll be worth it!”

I found myself holding my breath, willing him to jump, knowing if he didn’t he would always wish he had.

After a few seconds, I could see his muscles tense, and then he sprinted the last few steps and jumped! For a split second terror masked his face. But as the harness caught and he catapulted forward, the fear turned into joyous abandon. I laughed to see it as the other kids applauded.

hume lake zipline

After his harness was removed, he and his friend walked right by me. I heard him say, “That was awesome! At first I didn’t want to do it. But I kept looking up, and it was a blast! Can we do it again?”

What a great picture.

There are times when we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is calling us to do a new thing. There it is, and there’s no getting around the risk involved. And frankly, it’s scary. But still, His voice whispers “Jump. Trust me. I’ve got you, and I won’t let go.”

So we stand there on the edge, debating whether or not to launch ourselves out into the unknown. Jesus doesn’t push us off; he leaves us the choice to jump, or not.

We each have to choose whom to listen to. The voice of fear is strong. The still, small voice of the Savior is hard to hear over the pounding of our hearts. But when we still our anxious spirit enough to listen, his words of courage come to us, challenging us to go for it.

The risk of staying put is actually far greater than the risk of stepping out in faith. Look back at your life, the times you came to a crossroads. Dead ahead was the safe, the familiar, the comfortable. But still, you felt the unmistakable pull of the Spirit calling you to change directions. Which did you follow?

If you followed what was safe, you will never know what the Lord had in mind for you. Were His plans accomplished without you? Absolutely! But you were the one who missed out on all that the Lord had in mind. But when you obeyed? Oh, what joy!

I often think of all the blessing I would have missed out on, if I had said no to the steps that God asked me to take.

Someone once said that it’s not what we did that brings us the most regret at the end of our lives; it’s those things that we did not do that haunt us.

So let yourself fly! In the end, obedience keeps us safely tethers us to the One who will not let us fall. Then you will know the joy of a challenge met, a fear conquered, and the thrill of the ride.

Like the kids told the fearful boy, “You can do it. Go for it. It’ll be worth it.”

Just don’t forget to look up first.

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.               Isaiah 41:10

Further reflection:

  1. Was there ever a time you felt Jesus calling you to take a risk, and you said no? Are you glad?
  2. Has there ever been a time that you did take that risk? What happened?
  3. How might you encourage someone else who is hesitant to take the risk of stepping into the unknown that God is calling them to?

Father, life can be scary. It is hard to take risks that open me up to pain, or embarrassment, or failure. But I do know that anytime You ask me to step out in faith it is better to risk those things than to live with the regret if I don’t. You know best, and You know where You are taking me. I trust You to lead me there.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Language

It’s not easy to live in a foreign country. No matter how long you’ve been there the language is still a challenge. My friend, Jenny, knows this from experience.

We have been the best of friends ever since my freshman year in high school—I won’t tell you how many years that has been! We were band geeks together. We laughed at the same things, and cried together when guys broke our hearts. Best of all, when she became a follower of Jesus the change in her was so marked that I wanted what she had. Largely because of her, I came to faith myself soon after. She is my sister of the heart.

After graduating college Jenny went to Japan as a short-term missionary. That two-year commitment changed when she met Hiroshi and fell in love. After a short separation when she came back to the States, they married and returned to Japan. Thirty years have gone by since.

Japanese-country-homes-Japanese-house

Japanese is her primary language now, and she even dreams in it. But it’s such a complex language that she still struggles with it on occasion. The same principle holds when she teaches English in the high school. It’s just as hard to teach a foreign language as it is to learn one! In one of her recent emails she acknowledged how difficult it can be.

“I work too hard at teaching people how to speak a language that they're not really interested in anyway “, she admitted.

My heart was pierced. God wants to teach me a new language, one in which He is already fluent. His is the language of love. Like Jenny’s students, sometimes I’m just not interested in learning it.

  Why is that?LanguagePartners5

Well, for one thing it’s hard!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.                                                                                                                  1 Corinthians 13:4-5

It’s also incredibly counter to my nature.

I’m a selfish person, and I want what I want. I love Jesus and do want to please Him, so I try to learn this language of love. But it doesn’t come naturally, and I really don’t know how to speak it.

My feelings get hurt, and I crawl into my shell to escape it instead of loving the other person enough to look past that hurt in order to understand what they are feeling.

My motives are doubted, and instead of considering the validity of what that person is saying I become defensive, and check out of the conversation.

I assume the best about myself before I assume the best about others. It’s not that I don’t care about other people; I do! But it bears little resemblance to the unchanging, unconditional, unselfish kind of love that God has for us and wants to see in us. God’s kind of love cares more about the other person than having its own way.

How do I know? Because the Bible tells me about the sacrificial love Jesus has for us; ”Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Matthew 15:13). And as I read I am again convicted that I don’t how to love like that.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.                                                                                        Hebrews 4:12

And like any sword, it hurts. But it’s good pain, for it reveals what is deepest in my heart and shows me new ways to learn this language of love. Only Jesus can help me. Only He can change me.

I am hopeful, for while I have a lot to learn, I know a really good Teacher.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.                                                                                                       John 15:4-5

Further reflection:

1. How well do you know this “language of love” that is so pleasing to God?

2. Describe a time when you struggled to love someone. How did it feel?

3. Describe a different time when you felt completely loved. By whom? And how did that feel?

4. What made the difference?

Father, I am so grateful that Your kind of love is perfect. Please, teach me to love like You do, to speak the kind of love that draws people to want to know You for themselves. I know that apart from You I can do nothing, but that with You all things are possible.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finally Home!

Waited for. Yearned for. Dreamt about. Now, the day we had long prayed for was finally here.

It wasn’t a smooth path my son and daughter-in-law had traveled. (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/06/hope-deferred.html ). Kyle and Heidi had been convinced that God promised them a baby. Their confidence did not waver, putting mine to shame. They considered some drastic fertility treatments, but for seven years chose to trust God instead. When Heidi conceived, tears and laughter battled for expression in all of us.

Then she delivered little 2 lb. 7 oz. Elsie Joe 13 ½ weeks early (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/08/be-strong-be-brave.html ). While I held my breath and prayed, Kyle and Heidi’s trust that she is God’s gift to them remained unshaken.

She spent 10 weeks in the NICU. She learned to breathe on her own, then as she gained enough weight she was able to maintain her body temperature. The last hurdle was for Elsie to take all her feedings by bottle, and still continue gaining weight. Each milestone was a cause for celebration as she inched towards the day she would be released.

Perfectly healthy, 6 lb. 2 oz. Elsie came home from the hospital last Saturday .

Elsie's home!

No monitors, no alarms. There isn’t any need for them. God is continuing to finish the good work He had begun in her, and her story is one of His faithfulness. In answered prayers. In His constant presence. In the reassuring whisper of His Spirit. It has changed all of us as we watched God reveal His steadfast mercy and compassion.

We Skyped with them the day after Kyle and Heidi brought her home. Several things really struck me.

First; my granddaughter is absolutely adorable! Though still small, she has these cheeks that cry out to be kissed. I really need to go do that!

Second; the delight that Kyle and Heidi feel is so strong it is palpable even by Skype. Having their daughter snuggle in their arms creates a fierce and complete joy that emanates from them. They love her passionately, simply because she is theirs.

Third; the look of utter contentment on Elsie’s face after finishing her bottle is one of absolute peace. She snuggled even deeper into Heidi’s arms, and slowly let herself drift off into sleep. Such trust…

Lastly, though she just came home Elsie already knows her mommy and daddy’s voices. Her little head will turn whenever they talk to her, and her eyes fix trustingly on them. She loves it when they tell her how much she is loved, and how wonderful they think she is. She may not understand the words yet, but she feels their message.

She’s home, and she knows it. Somehow, she knows that this is where she belongs.

What a great picture the relationship God wants with us!

He also takes great joy in us, His children (Zephaniah 3:17). We may not always understand His words or His ways, but we can always trust in His love for us. He longs for us to turn to Him when we hear His still, small voice, listening for what He has to say to us (Hebrews 12:2a), hearing Him speak words of love and affirmation over us. His love is unfailing, unconditional, and immeasurable (Psalm 143:8). We never need to doubt it.

He wants us to come to Him and be satisfied us with the pure milk of His word (1 Peter 2:2-3), so that we might continue to grow healthy and strong. He is that safe place that we can snuggle into and find rest.

Our Father is our true home, and that is where we belong!

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.                                John 14:23

Further reflection:

1. Do you feel like a loved child of God?

2. Why, or why not?

3. Look up the verses in the above passage, and meditate on them. Spend a few minutes thanking God for being your Father, and where your soul is at home.

Father, thank You for Elsie, and the picture that she is of Your grace and mercy and compassion. Thank You for bringing her home. You are a far more perfect Father than any here on earth, and You love us beyond our understanding. You are our home, where we can safely trust and rest in Your presence. Help me to keep looking at and listening to You.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Marred and Beautiful

Imperfectly beautiful. Those are the words that came to mind.

It was on the same sisters’ weekend as I mentioned before (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/09/a-blessing-received.html). Chatting as we walked along the seawall, we stopped to admire the beautiful flowers growing doggedly near the sand.

Brilliant white with lavender edges that curled, it was no wonder that it caught our eyes. Yet as I looked closer, I noticed that this particular flower was also marred by holes. It had been partially eaten by the bug that still roosted on it. I had to admire not only its beauty, but also its resilience. It had survived the assault, tenaciously continuing to grow and flourish.

flower with bug

We, too, are imperfectly beautiful. Wounded by the harsh words or actions of others, and sometimes by our own choices, we are all broken people. The effects of sin leave holes in our hearts.

Those things that wound? God walks through them with us (Hebrews 13:5). Even when the wounds are a result of our own foolish choices, His heart is not set to condemn (1 John 1:9). Rather, He extends mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. His Spirit reminds us that, as His children, we are loved…valued…redeemed. And we hear the sweet whisper of His unchanging love.

Some wounds go deep, but the scars that inevitably remain become part of the tapestry of His grace. They serve to remind us of God’s faithfulness in hard things. We are made in God’s image, and in spite of the scars His beauty is still seen, evident in us because He is in us. Because of His grace, we can continue to grow and flourish.

One day sin will be defeated. All will be made right, and all things fully restored to God’s original design. We will no longer struggle with the effects of sin. We will become all that God created us to be. His image will be perfectly reflected in us (1 John 3:2).

But until that day, there is grace…forgiveness…mercy.

Though imperfect, we are still beautiful in His eyes.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”                                                                                                               Revelation 21:3-5a

Further reflection:

  1. What are the things that have happened in your life that have wounded you most deeply?
  2. Were they the result of other’s choices, or your own?
  3. Describe what you learned as you worked through those circumstances.

Father, thank You that nothing I do—or others do to me—can separate me from Your love. When I hurt, You are there. When I hurt others, You are still there. I am marred by sin, but still beautiful in Your eyes. Help me to live in light of that truth.