Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nicknames

Spuds McKenzie. Spud. Killer. Buzz. Derry-boy.

My husband gave all of our kids nicknames. Many nicknames for each of them, and it’s a sign of affection to get one. He never really ponders them; they just fly out of his mouth and somehow stick. Those listed above are some of the ones he gave our son Derek early on.

Each of Derek’s nicknames reflects a part of him; he was called “killer” because of his competitive drive on the soccer field. Spud was shortened from Spuds McKenzie, and given as a result of a major black eye that made him look like the terrier in commercials. Buzz came from the haircut that he sported for years. Derry-boy? Who knows!

Now that Derek is older his nicknames have changed. When Derek had a job delivering pizza he became “pizza man”. Now that he’s a teacher Alan calls him “The Professor”. Or if he’s on the soccer field it changes to “Coach”.

Derek for nicknames

But my favorite nickname for Derek is “son.” The word alone carries a depth of meaning. In many ways it defines our relationship because it represents all our shared experiences, shared memories, and shared struggles. It means we are family, with all the rights and privileges that come with it. Most of all, it means that because he is my son, he can count on me to be there for him. There is nothing that Derek can do that will make me quit loving him.

God gives us, His children, nicknames too.

Redeemed (Psalm 107:1-3; Isaiah 35:8-10; Isaiah 51:9-11). Friend (Luke 5:20 Luke 12:4; John 15:14-15). Beloved (Colossians 3:12, KJV).

My favorite nickname? Child of God. (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:14) It reflects who I am to Him. He deliberately chose that word because He knew it’s one I could understand and relate to. It communicates the depth of His love for me.

I love Derek—and all my kids—very imperfectly. God is a perfect Father who loves us without condition. Without measure. Without flaw. There is nothing I can do that will change the fact of His love for me.

I am His daughter.

Further reflection:

1. Do you have any nicknames? What do they say about the relationship you have with the one who gave it to you?

2. What does it mean to you to be called “a child of God?”

Abba, You are a perfect Father. Thank You that You have given me the right to be called a child of Yours. I love to picture myself as one of those kids that, while here on earth, You always made time to be with. Thank You for not only allowing me into Your presence, but for welcoming me as Your daughter, and that there is nothing I can do to change the reality of Your love for me.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Joy Comes in the Morning

Pain etched itself in the expression on her face. It was so much harder to watch my daughter go through it that when I did it myself!

Wyatt was, even then, reluctant to make his appearance (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2014/02/just-temporary-home.html). He was already a week late, and now, a full 17 hours after being induced, delivery was finally growing close. But it wasn’t easy.

Wave after wave of excruciating contractions rolled through Megan, so close together as to feel like a single one. Straining and groaning, she struggled to push him out. The intensity of the pain seemed like it would never end, but there was no other choice than to keep pressing on.

It’s a lot like life.

It can be fraught with pain. At times it’s hard, it seems endless, and it hurts. We cannot escape it, so we just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Yet in our suffering, something is born is us that could not happen any other way. Our character changes; qualities develop; trust in Jesus deepens.

…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.                                                                                                  Romans 5:3-4

We are changed by our struggles, and while we would never ask for or choose suffering, we so often we look back on those times and recognize how much we learned, and how near God was to us during it.

At 2:41 am Megan’s suffering was over, and joy came in the form of Wyatt Alan.

Wyatt newborn

One day, all of our suffering will come to an end, too. It may not come today, or tomorrow, or even in this lifetime. Jesus told us that this world would hold trouble (John 16:33). He also promised that one day:

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!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”                                                                  Revelation 21:4-5

All will be made right. No more suffering. No more pain. Only Jesus will remain, and the joy of eternity with Him.

“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.                                                                                                            Romans 8:18

Further reflection:

  1. Describe a time that you felt like your suffering would never end.
  2. How are you different from having gone through that?

Father, thank You that, even when we are suffering, Your plans are good. You never, ever leave us to suffer alone, and You do a new work in us, creating qualities that were not there before. Thank You, too, for the promise of heaven, when all will be made right and suffering will be no more. Until then, help me to see Your purposes in the midst of pain, so that You have Your way in me.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Just a Temporary Home

Her Facebook comment read: “Wyatt is in no hurry to come out.”

My youngest daughter, Megan, was almost a week past her due date, and at that very uncomfortable, “I am done with being pregnant” stage.

Wyatt, however, was altogether too happy to stay right where he was at. And why not? It was warm, it was cozy, it was home.

Wyatt's sonogram

Still, it wasn’t as comfy in there as it used to be. Being a big baby meant space was getting pretty tight. There wasn’t much freedom of movement anymore. That’s because the womb is just a temporary home; he was not created to stay there. He was really designed for this world.

If only he knew how much his mom and dad (and grandma…) were anticipating his arrival! If only he understood our love and how wonderful this world can be, he might long to be here, too.

But he couldn’t. The womb was all he knew.

It’s the same for me.

I love this world! The warmth of the sun kissing my face. The riot of color in a mountain meadow. The melodic, gurgling sound of running water. They bring me such delight, and I cannot imagine anything better.

But like Wyatt, I wasn’t created to stay here. It, too, is only a temporary home, and I was created for an eternal one.

If I really understood how much my Father loves me, I might not be so satisfied to stay here. If only I truly realized how much He is eagerly anticipating my arrival, my attitude might not be quite so complacent. If I could actually picture how wonderful heaven is, I would not cling to this place, because it is only a poor shadow of what’s coming.

Heaven is my true home.

I’m not in a hurry to leave, but it’s going to be awesome when I get there!

But our citizenship is in heaven... Philippians 3:20a

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.                                                                                       Psalm 73:24-26

Further reflection:

  1. What do you love best about this life?
  2. How do you think heaven will be different?
  3. What do you feel when you think about going there?

Father, heaven becomes more precious all the time as people that I love join You there. Thank You that this life is not the end of things, it isn’t even what we were created for! We were created to know You, to love You, and to worship You. In heaven, someday, I will be able to do that perfectly. Then, I will finally be truly home.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finishing Well

“Yes, I can!” Seven-year-old Lisa shouted at them.

It was summer and another family camping trip was underway. Fifteen cousins provided eleven years’ difference in ages. The hikes we took were designated as either for “the big kids” or “the little kids”, depending on its length and level of difficulty. As you can imagine, the kids themselves did not always agree on which group they belonged to!

We were at Big Sur (on the coast of California) when some of us decided to hike to four- mile creek. Since the mountains made for some challenging trails, the “big kids” didn’t think Lisa could make it, much less keep up. That’s what started the disagreement.

I could see Lisa hesitate a bit, wanting to go but fearful that she may have bit off more than she could chew. Leaving the choice up to her, my only stipulation was that there would be no whining if she went. She decided to go for it.

Turns out that what we thought was a four-mile hike was actually four miles…each way! It was also a warm day, adding to the fatigue factor. Every time we thought that surely we were reaching that creek, we found another bend in the trail and the creek seemed farther away than ever. I was growing tired too.

To her credit, Lisa kept her end of the bargain. When she got tired she took a deep breath, but she never gave up, and she never complained. The anticipation of finishing the hike and proving her cousins wrong kept her going.

Lisa and I may not have been the first ones back to camp. We just may have been the very last ones. But the point was not to beat the other kids, but to finish.

I was so proud of Lisa, and the huge smile on her face told me she felt pretty good about it, too. She didn’t even rub it in that she was right, and her cousins had been wrong.

That day I learned something: there is always a cost to achieving a goal.

As followers of the Lord Jesus, our goal is simple: follow Him. Simple, but not easy.

There is the cost of time. In this fast-paced world we want immediate results, but it takes time to get to know Jesus personally. Time to learn His word and His plans for us (John 5:39). Meanwhile, other things clamor for our attention, making it easy to convince ourselves we’ll get to it at some point. But just like with any relationship, we cannot follow someone we don’t know. And we can’t know Him unless we make time to do so.

There is the cost of energy. While any goal worth achieving is worth the effort it takes to make it happen, we have a finite supply of energy. Usually it’s pretty easy to articulate what our priorities are, it isn’t always as easy to allocate our energy accordingly. Weariness can rob us of motivation; keeping the goal in mind is essential (Galatians 6:9).

There is also the cost of perseverance. Following Jesus can be hard! Sometimes the way seems all uphill. Just when we think we’re there, life throws a curveball and we realize that the road is a lot longer than we’d imagined. Things happen that we never anticipated; ill health, financial worries, relationship issues. Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus can we keep on keeping on (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Like Lisa, I want to finish well, and without whining.

I want my life to honestly reflect this truth…

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.                                                                                                              Acts 20:24

I want to be able to say…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…                                                                              2 Timothy 4:7-8a

Following Jesus is the goal. Simple, but not easy.

Further reflection:

1. What is the biggest goal you have for your life?

2. What do you think God’s goal for you might be?

3. When you think of seeing Him at the end of your life, which do you think you will wish you had pursued?

Father, there is nothing that matters more than following You. I want that more than anything, but sometimes it’s hard. Please, help me to finish this race well, so that someday I, too, can say that I kept the faith. For Your honor and glory alone. I love You.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Good Father

It was 4:00 in the morning when the phone rang. Never a good thing.

Turns out that when our daughter, Bethany, had got up to go to work shortly before, she found the front door standing wide open. Two of our three dogs had bolted for freedom, and were nowhere to be found. She woke her brother, Derek, so he could start the hunt. It was Derek who had phoned us, calling in reinforcements.

husky 3

My husband, Alan, jumped in his car to help in the search.

My part was to pray. I felt a little like one of the kids in our children’s ministry who always ask us; “Would you pray for my sick puppy?” And of course we do pray, but always with a smile, grateful that it’s the biggest concern they have.

I laid there, pondering that feeling. “Isn’t that what children do?” I wondered.

“Don’t they ask their father for the things that are important to them? Don’t they ask him to fix those things that they can’t fix?”

So that’s what I did; I asked my Father to direct Derek and Alan’s steps so that they might find our dogs. Who knew how long they had been gone? A husky and a lab can get pretty far in a short period of time. Nevertheless, as His daughter, I asked Him to do that for me and for my son.

So why should I be surprised when a mere 20 minutes later they walked in the door, dogs in tow? I knew exactly Who to thank—my Father!

As God’s children, we have every right to ask Him for things. He encourages us to approach with the faith of a little child, whose “…angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). He promises that we can “…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).

So how do kids ask for things? Without hesitation, without doubt, and without fear. Nothing is too small for them to bring to the Lord. Because they know the one they are asking loves them.

He is a good Father.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!                                                                                                                         Matthew 7:9-11

Further reflection:

  1. Have you ever hesitated to ask God for something because you considered it frivolous? What was it?
  2. Why did you hesitate?
  3. Write Matthew 7:9-11 down on a 3x5 card, and memorize it. Whenever you hesitate to bring any request to God, bring it out and read it again as a reminder that He is a good Father.

There are times, Lord, when You answer my prayers in such a way that I have to laugh! Only You encourage us to pray, believing You will answer, and then do it such a way that we so clearly recognize Your hand in it. You are a good Father, and I am grateful to be Your daughter.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pinpricks of Light

It was our one and only backpacking trip. Even then it was cheater’s backpacking.

Eight of us were hiking into the Black Lake area of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. There would be no other people anywhere around. No running water. No showers. Just each other, the lake full of the water we would purify to drink, and the beauty of God’s creation.

We were planning to stay for four days, so we opted to cheat. We paid to have donkeys carry in our gear and drop it at a prearranged location. We justified the need by pointing at the 8.3 mile hike in. It was strenuous, having over a 3,000 foot gain in elevation. And that didn’t even count the times we went downhill, only to have to go up that same elevation gain…again!

In reality though, we wanted to have chairs to sit in and something to eat other than freeze-dried food. And we weren’t in the kind of shape we needed to carry it all ourselves. Still, we were all sweating and fatigued when we arrived. I never appreciated a lawn chair as much as I did in that moment.

 mountain-lake

Set against the deep green of the pines, the lake was framed by a ridge reflecting snow from a small glacier. It was... stunningly beautiful. It was almost as if we didn’t need our Bibles there, because everything cried out the reality of God (Psalm 19:1-4). His peace shimmered on the water; the rustling of the trees in the breeze whispered His praise; the quiet was rich and heavy with His presence. I was cocooned in it, and never wanted to leave.

That night I had to crawl out of the tent, and happened to glance up.

Beneath the bright city lights back home the sky is dark and the stars are scattered pinpricks of light in the inky blackness of the night.

starry-night 3

At 11,000 feet in elevation the night sky is absolutely ablaze with starry light, and there are only a few pinpricks of darkness peeking between.

starry night

It was a sight I will never forget, breathtaking in its beauty and completely unanticipated.

The memory of the two night skies, juxtaposed in my mind, has stuck with me. It pretty much pictures how I’ve visualized Jesus’ place in my life.

When I was young, seeing where Jesus fit in was hard. Life was full, and busy. I was involved in a lot of activities; family and school and band and friends. There were only a few places I could really see Him. Looking back, those were the pinpricks of light in my life.

Life has certainly changed that perspective!

Now, only where He is there is light, bringing clarity to what was once dark. In my mind, in my heart, in the deepest part of my soul. He not only brings light, He is light. He is what brings meaning to all of the rest, and nothing begins to make sense apart from Him. I can no longer even picture where He doesn’t fit.

When I look up, life is ablaze with His presence!

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.                                                                                          1 John 1:4

Further reflection:

  1. How has your perception of the Lord changed over the years?
  2. Where is there still darkness in your life?
  3. How would you bring it into the light?

Father, what You have created is lovely beyond words, but it nothing compared to the beauty of the light and the life You bring! You light up my soul, and all that is within me offers the praise You deserve.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rough Air

The flight from San Diego to Canada should have been smooth. No storms stood between us and our destination, no prediction at all of rough weather. But I came to realize that sometimes unexpected circumstances can erupt without warning.

My husband, Alan, and I were embarking on a dream vacation to Banff National Park with two other couples. We had been planning this for an entire year, showing each other pictures of Lake Louise and training for the hike to the Plain of Ten Glaciers. We were like kids waiting to open presents at Christmas as we got on the plane.

All went smoothly for a time as we talked, fine-tuning our plans. But somewhere over Washington State we hit a few bumps in the air. The kind that make you sit up straight and check to make sure that your seatbelt is fastened.

airplane in storm

Right on cue, the pilot came on the intercom: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are encountering some turbulence. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”

No sooner were the words spoken than the aircraft lurched again, shuddering from side-to-side as it reacted to strong crosswinds.

Some of the passengers gasped as the plane began a roller coaster of being tossed up and down and sideways; a few turned a little green. The rest of the travelers grew very quiet, waiting to see if things got better or worse.

Except for me. At the first dip of the plane, a slight giggle escaped. As the turbulence increased, I fought to hold back laughter. The people around me looked at me askew. I’m sure they assumed I was nearing hysteria when the unstable air tossed us the most and I literally had to clap my hand to keep the laughter from escaping.

But I wasn’t hysterical; I was truly enjoying the rock-and-roll ride!

The reason? Simple.

Even though I didn’t know him, I trusted the pilot to get us to our destination. So there was some turbulence, a rough patch; surely he wouldn’t fly us through this storm if there was any real danger. I just focused on how much I would enjoy Banff when we got there. Trusting the pilot allowed me to have peace, even in the storm.

And I didn’t even know the pilot! I’d never seen him, never spoke to him, and certainly never spent any time with him.

If I could trust someone I had never met so implicitly, how much more can I trust Jesus, my heavenly pilot? I know Him. I have seen Him working in my life and the lives of others. There is never a time that He is not with me, never a time He is not working all things together for good, never a time He does not act in perfect wisdom and love.

Jesus knows where He wants to take me, what it will take to get me there, and the best route to travel. Turbulent times are no threat to His ability to bring His plans to fulfillment. In fact, those rough patches may be necessary to go through to get where He wants me to go. Hard times and scary circumstances serve to develop my faith, my trust, and my character in new and deeper ways. Perhaps it’s the only way it could happen.

I don’t need to fear them, because I trust my pilot.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.                                                                                                                 James 1:2-4

Further reflection:

  1. Has there been a time in your life where you face unexpected, frightening circumstances?
  2. What did you learn from that time?

Father, I do trust You. You have proven Yourself bigger than turbulent times and scary circumstances. When things are hard, You have been the most present. Thank You that Your plans are always for my good and Your glory.