Sunday, May 18, 2014

Suffering - A Reason to Rejoice

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a Women's Tea at a friend's church. As always, when we prepare for a lesson, devotion, or talk, we are the ones that benefit. I don't want to forget what God showed me in this time.  My notes would not make sense so I am just including some highlights...

Hebrews 12:1-3  Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

 
My illustration used throughout the talk was Mt. St. Helens. The anniversary of the eruption is actually today. Before May 18, 1980, the mountain was beautiful, full of life, sweet scents from the wildflowers, and sounds of birds singing. Then of course the eruption and the chaos. The ash shot up 15 miles into the air. The damage was widespread and had a great cost. Of course today, 34 years later, we see beauty once again. New life, new trees, flowers, animals, clean water and fresh snow.
It has been said that we each fall into one of three categories.  We are either pre-crisis, in crisis, or post-crisis.  We go in and out of these all throughout our lives.  I think I have been in them simultaneously these last few years. 

Many of you know it was three years ago that my husband was diagnosed with cancer.  What I thought would be a quick trip to the ER became a year long cancer battle.  Praise God the cancer is gone now.  Though the effects of that diagnosis and treatment continue to hold on tightly.  A series of unfortunate events followed that season and most recently my mom's unexpected death has brought grief and loss to a new level.

(At this point I think I said something like, "Aren't you glad you asked me to be here today!")

Well, God in His great goodness has taught me - is teaching me - some valuable lessons about loss and pain.  Here are three highlights:

1.  There is no magic wand!  As much as I begged God for a way out of our pain, it was not given.  Psalm 23 says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;” We need to walk through our pain. As desperate as we are to avoid the pain, to go around it, or to medicate it, we need to walk through it to find true healing.  Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched…”   Clearly God knew we would experiencing pain - all of us - but He made promises we can cling to as we go through it.

2.  There is purpose in your pain. God was not too busy or too tired to care for you. Whatever your pain, He has allowed it. That is a very hard pill to swallow. We know though that His ways are not our ways...in fact His ways are always better than ours. I don’t know why God has allowed you to suffer...the Bible shares some reasons: to discipline or correct, to refine you and make you more like Jesus, or just for His glory alone. Psalm 121 says “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made the heavens and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” God is very aware of your circumstances, He is very near and there is purpose for it.

3.  Suffering is a way to joy. Again God’s ways are not our ways. There is joy in your journey through pain. As your receive God’s grace, as you choose to fix your eyes on Jesus, as you give thanks in all circumstances, the Lord allows joy to grow in your spirit. (see the closeness of the words Charis and Chara, grace and joy) How do we experience true, life giving joy? Psalm 16:11 says, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."  The Path of Life...there it is again...there is a way made for us and in the Lord’s presence is where we will experience the Joy of the Lord, we can choose to stay in our sorrow, or we can choose to stay close to Jesus.

What do you think? Do you fit into one of these categories?

Are you “pre-crisis”? (pre May 18, 1980) Life is okay right now, maybe a little bumpy, but mostly fine….REJOICE! God is giving you this time as a gift. Use it wisely! You have the chance to grow your roots down deep into God’s soil, you will be firmly planted so when crisis comes ...and it will...you will not be destroyed like all those trees downed from the lava and ash at Mt St Helens.

Are you experiencing a crisis right now? (May 18, 1980) Maybe you haven’t healed fully from a past crisis.  REJOICE! This is not the end of your story. God will walk closely with you as you go through this pain. There is purpose even in this, God will not waste it. God is still trustworthy, God is still good and He is still in control of all things. There is joy set before you. Your mourning will be turned to gladness, your darkness into light and your burden will be bearable.

Are you beyond your crisis? (after life came back to Mt. St. Helens)  Past the sting of the pain? REJOICE! God has brought you through and you are now experiencing something new. New life, new purpose, new mercies, new reasons to rejoice, new perspective.
Did you notice the common theme for all of us? Rejoice. Rejoicing is the outward expression of our inward joy. The Lord commands it in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say rejoice!” Always.  Does that give you a pass if your circumstances are especially difficult? No. In fact Paul had to say it twice, rejoice! Probably because he knew we’d think he was crazy if he saw what we were going through.

Christ is our ultimate example, as the opening scripture says in Hebrews, Christ “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame…” What was set before Him? The cross. Along with beatings, mocking, pain and the anticipation of the most horrible death. But look a little further beyond the cross...scripture says what Christ saw was JOY..a resurrected life that was representing all of our redeemed lives. And this was the ultimate act of grace...that He would take our place. If you can see through your pain, there is joy waiting to embrace you.
Dear ones…God does see what you are going through, what you've been through…. He loves you, and He is near. My hope is that not one of you will doubt the Lord holds you close and wants to capture your whole hearts. If you are holding back loving him fully because of a pain, will you confess that and ask Him for His help to bring you into completeness?

In closing, here is a treasure for you...
Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me, To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Did you notice the beauty of these verses...God's good gifts to you?  He is replacing your pain with joy.  And the purpose?  So you and I will be called oaks of righteousness.  Why?  That He may be glorified.  May He be glorified in your suffering as you receive His grace in the midst of it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

Have you ever experienced that moment when you willed yourself not to cry?  In your head you repeat over and over "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry"...then, blink, blink, blink...head shake, brave face...confident walk, okay we're good.  This seemed to be my mantra today.  

Somehow I thought today wouldn't be so bad.  The "big" days aren't supposed to be hard, it is the unexpected days right?  I don't know, maybe since this is my first Mother's Day without my mom it was harder, or maybe since it's been less than two months since she went to be with Jesus.  Or maybe this is just our new normal.  

I'd love to end the day with some sweet thoughts of my mom, so here is one of my all time favorite photos of her.  I'm not quite sure what it is about it, but I absolutely love it.
I think it was taken when I was in High School, we are on a day trip, she is in her Willets Canoe.  She always had an adventure awaiting us.  A family excursion in the beautiful outdoors.  She carefully planned the details: picnic lunches, bug spray, red checkered table cloth...yet I don't remember her frantic or worried, just ready for fun with a great amount of patience.  She looks so relaxed in this picture (she should, she isn't paddling!). No matter the circumstances (cranky kids or chronic back pain), she somehow managed to create a ridiculous amount of happy memories for us.  We usually sang girl scout songs or played games in the car.  I am so grateful for the legacy she left in valuing family, fun and the outdoors.  I am certain most of my good mommy moments came from her example.

For some reason, I didn't see how influential she had been in my life until she was gone. So much of who I am is who she was.  This life really is so short and each of us will leave a legacy when we are gone.  Our choices will be echoed for generations.  May our moments today be sweet memories for all the tomorrows yet to come.

My sister emailed something my mom used to say, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." (Robert Louis Stevenson)  I believe she truly was happy, it was a choice she made and trait she inspired in others.

Happy Mother's Day dear ones, you are loved.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mom: Sweet Comfort

I don't know how to do grief.  Part of me wishes there was a manual, a check list, anything that would resemble order.

A few days after my mom died, Julia had an orthodontist appointment.  We drove the long Steilacoom-Dupont Road in silence.  The only thing on my mind was the memory of my mom driving me to countless orthodontic appointments.   And here I was, doing the same for Julia.  In some ways it was a nice thought.  However, the sweet memory was overshadowed by the fact that I could not remember my orthodontist's name.  He was a kind man and  made what could have been a traumatic adolescent experience a happy memory.  No matter how hard I thought, his name escaped me.

As we arrived at Julia's appointment, we pulled in to the parking stall and the tears just welled up.  My mom will never see Julia graduate.  Where did that come from?!  It was like a stark wake up call.  I blinked a dozen times to capture the tears and press them back in for another time.

Fortunately that is not the end of this story.  Two days later we were reading through mom's journals.  We found a beautiful one from 1997.  I opened this particular journal and read the following:

"Ted Barksdale died Wednesday - he was Nancy's orthodontist - her favorite doctor - died of cancer. The memorial service is next Thursday.  I will be able to go..."

And there was my answer, my Orthodontist's name was Dr. Barksdale.  Of all thoughts that would consume me...a name of a former doctor, then of all entries to read...only God could orchestrate something so specific.

She ends that entry with, "God give rest to his soul and strengthen his family."

And there was the second answer, mom had prayed for God to strengthen this man's family.  And that is what God will do for ours.  When graduation comes and my heart is sad all over again, the Lord will strengthen us, as He has done over and over again for countless others.

I don't know when the next "random" wave of grief will hit.  I don't know what will trigger a soft spot in my heart.  I do know I am thankful for a mom that loved others and loved God...such sweet comfort.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mom: In the arms of the Lord

 


I keep typing and erasing this first sentence.  It is as if there is this flood of emotions and thoughts I need to get out so I can breath, but how do I begin?  I have a feeling this is the first of many thoughts as I walk yet another stretch of this road of grief...
My mom is with Jesus.  To say that she "died" doesn't seem accurate.  My friend (who has lost his own mother) encouraged me with the truth that she is more alive today than ever.  We are the ones that experience the death.  A piece of me has died.  I know, it doesn't make sense...but that is kind of like the kingdom of God isn't it?  The first shall be last, the last first...lose your life to find it...love the least of these...
When my children were very young, my mom encouraged me with a scripture written out on a 3x5 card.  It was Isaiah 40:11, "He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; and carry them in His bosom; and gently lead those that are with young."  
The day before my mom died she had refused to eat.  I had gone that afternoon to see if she would let me feed her.  I tried, but she would not do it.  That night I went back to try once more.  She allowed me to spoon feed her a few sips of juice, but it felt like she was doing it for me, not her.  My sister texted and said to tell mom she loved her.  I sat and held my mother's soft hand, stroked it and told her each of us loved her.  God loved her.  Then the above scripture came flooding back to my mind, and I said, "Mom, you are being carried in the arms of the Lord, He loves you."  I sat for awhile longer, then kissed her forehead.  That was my last moment with my mom this side of heaven.  I had no idea that would be her last night.  I thought we'd have months, years even, figuring out how to give her joy in the midst of this dementia and immobility.  

I am rejoicing that my mom is with Jesus.  Yet grief resides.  My sweet, sweet father, oh my sweet dad. To the very end he would lean in and kiss her and my heart would swell with joy over the love displayed. He loved her for better or for worse, in sickness and in health...and now death has parted them.
Daniel prayed tonight that Mama would be having fun in heaven...I am sure she is, and I can't wait to join her.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Benched

Do you ever ask yourself "how did my life get like this?"  When we are in our 20's (yes, I realize some of you are!) we have this idea of what life will look like when we "grow up".  Twenty years later and my life is in a very different place than my fairy tale expectations.  I am not complaining...I want nothing else but the Lord's plans for my life. I can share 1000's of stories of God's goodness that have completely overwhelmed me over the years.

Still, I never dreamed of difficult days or a grief-filled heart.  Many of you know the last few years have been less than easy.  Dave's cancer diagnosis is what birthed this blog. Then being my aunt's caregiver took much of my time until her death last November. Before I could take a breath, my mom's health took a quick turn for the worse.  I have no regrets, it is truly my joy to offer care, encouragement, steadfastness (all which come straight from God).  It's just I wasn't expecting this.

Lately I've wondered if God has a dream for my life, as if there will be a destination where life will make sense.  I have felt like I've been taken out of the game and benched until this season is over.  I don't feel slighted or passed over, but a little more like the game of life is still going on and I am on the sidelines watching it pass quickly.

I found a book years ago at a conference, it had a pretty cover so I bought it.  It's been on my shelf unread since.  Until last night.  It is a story of a husband's journey with his wife who has Alzheimer's.  He was the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary and retired early to care for his wife.  A student later asked  him if he missed being president.   He said he never thought about it, but on reflection, no he didn't miss it.  And then he wrote this:

     "But that night I reflected on his question.  Finally I turned to the Lord.  'Father, it's OK.  I like this assignment (caring for his wife) and I have no regrets.  But something has occurred to me.  If the Coach puts a man on the bench, he must not want him in the game.  You needn't tell me, of course, but if you'd like to let me in on the secret, I'd like to know - why don't you need me in the game?'  
     I didn't sleep well that night and awoke to contemplating the puzzle.  Muriel was still mobile at the time, so we set out on our morning walk around the block.  She wasn't too sure on her feet, so we went slowly and held hands.  We live in what is euphemistically called a transitional neighborhood, where the sidewalks are often peopled with those who've lived hard and, it would seem, outlived hope.  
    A short stretch of sidewalk is bordered by a weedy embankment on the left and a very busy thoroughfare on the right.  I was grateful we never met anyone there because someone would have to get out into traffic.  But this day I heard footsteps behind me and looked back to see the familiar form of a local derelict weaving his way behind us.  I thought, He'll never catch up.  But he did and, without missing a step, staggered out into the road and back up the sidewalk in front of us.
     There he turned, looked us up and down, and said, 'Tha's good.  I likes 'at.  Tha's real good.  I likes it.'  Then he headed off down the street, mumbling to himself over and over, 'Tha's good.  I likes it.'
      I enjoyed the moment with a chuckle, grateful for the affirmation.
     When we reached our little garden and sat down, his words came back to me.  I was startled, 'Lord, could you speak through the mouth of a half-inebriated old derelict?'  I wondered aloud.  Then the realization hit me, You could and you did!  It is you who are whispering to my spirit, 'I like it, it's good...' I may be on the bench, but if you like it and say it's good, that's all that counts."

As I learn to care for my mom in this new world of dementia, I can hear the Lord saying, "it is good".  And that is all that counts.  This is His dream for me.  Learning that life doesn't have to make sense.  Trusting Him for each moment of each day.  On the bench or in the game, oh to be in the will of our Father.  It is good.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Taste of Freedom

I tend to react to life.  This can be a good thing.  A car cuts me off at the intersection, I hit the brakes. That is good.  My coffee cup tips and I catch it  before it falls all the way over, very good!  What about when your phone rings while you are driving.  How about a friend sharing an urgent need.  Your child is in trouble...again.  Bad news in the mail. Three projects due the same day.  You have no toilet paper. (okay, that one is fairly urgent)  So many scenarios that need attention right now.

There is a booklet titled, The Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel.  In this he shares, "Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important." How often are we at the mercy of our circumstances?  We see or hear a need and feel we are the only answer, we must take care of it. Hummel also writes, "It is not God who loads us until we bend or crack with an ulcer, nervous breakdown, heart attack, or stroke.  These come from our inner compulsions coupled with the pressure of circumstances." Dear one, this is not how we are meant to live.  We are  meant to live free.

Great, but how do we then live?  I just found out.  Want to know?  Respond.  I think this word just might change my life.  Think about the difference between reacting and responding.  Reacting can lead to thoughtless actions, doing something in our own strength, or doing something meant for another.  We feel trapped, pressured, stressed. Responding means that we still give our attention to the situation, but maybe after a moment of prayer and clarity the Holy Spirit can lead us into the right action.  Then we feel free.

I tested this today.  And I had a taste of freedom.  I was on the phone with my sister (yes, I was driving, but it was on speaker).  We were trying to figure out how to help our parents.  Mom was having a pretty rough day, I won't go into detail but it was definitely feeling urgent.  I said, let me get to where I'm going, pray, and I'll call you back with a decision.  Now typically, my thoughts would have raced...a dozen plans merging and me hoping to grab the right one, feeling trapped, pressured, stressed. Instead of reacting though, I chose to respond.  After I picked up my son and prayed about it, I felt the best thing would be to go by and check on my parents.  This seems small, but by the time the decision was made, my heart was at peace...I was free to do just what was needed.  My heart was filled with compassion and purpose.  If I had given in to reacting, I would have grabbed one of the dozen options, raced to my parents and felt defeated.

Did you notice the difference?  Reacting can lead into a life of almost constant panic depending on the circumstances.  But a life of responding, is a life fully dependent on the Lord's leading, a life of freedom.  Test it yourselves and let me know if we've discovered something great.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

God is Good (all the time?)

Recently, there have been some favorable answers from God in regard to requests that have been made by some of my fellow believers. Friends have been healed, sickness has been diverted, money supplied, protection given..."God is good" is the frequent response. And He is.  Oh how we rejoice in His goodness toward us!  Yet, what do we say when things don't go as we had hoped?  What about when a child dies, when a job is lost, when healing isn't given yet, when a marriage falls apart, when grief refuses to leave our hearts or when God says "no".  What I've said is: I wish I had a magic wand to take this pain away or I'm sorry God hasn't answered yet.

The thing is...the response to the good news, God is good, is true.  The response we give to bad news is usually false pretense.  Why don't we say "God is good" when someone shares a heartache?  It seems when we are at that point of suffering, hearing truth is all we need, yet it is rarely given.  We are stumped for words and end up saying something ridiculous that we wish we could take back later (or am I the only one??).   I'm not proposing we heartlessly shirk off pain with a "God is still good, get over it" remark.  I just need to remember that God is good no matter my circumstances.  God is good when our hearts are broken.  God is good when this life just doesn't make sense (and boy is that often).  God is good all the time, because all the time...God is good.

When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless Him that He is good. We must never tolerate an instant’s unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questioned, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; His dispensations may vary, but His nature is always the same. (C. H. Spurgeon).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Path of Least Resistance

We've been talking a little bit about memory loss in our family (not my memory....well, mine, but only to laugh at myself...but in other family members more specifically).  One medical professional told me when someone struggles with short term memory loss it is important for them to continue to try to "find" words and communicate verbally. If we allow our loved one to be isolated or have little conversation, their minds will "wander" and eventually that will become easier than communicating. Our minds naturally tend toward the easiest path.  It was described as the "path of least resistance".

That has really stuck with me, not only as an encouragement to spend time with older people, but also to be patient, resisting interruption, allowing them to find their voice. However, this ended up bridging into my own life.  Do I "default" to what I know, what is easy, what has the "least resistance"?  Yes.  When I'm discouraged, do I pull up my boot straps and walk my way out of the miry muck?  No.  I withdraw, I get lazy, I whine. I take the "easy" way out.

Jesus had some very close friends, they spent time together every day.  They saw some pretty awesome things...they were part of something bigger than life and they thought their destiny was sealed.  But then Jesus died.  Wait, what?  He was supposed to rule, be the next king, they would have positions of authority and power.  When their hopes and dreams were dashed what did they do?  Press on and fight the good fight?  No, they went fishing. (see John 21, basically Simon Peter says, "I'm going fishing", to which the rest reply, "us too".)  It is what they knew, the "path of least resistance".  I'm not a Bible scholar, I don't really know what else anyone expected them to do, but sometimes I think, "Come on disciples, really?  You just go back to your old ways?"  Yup, and I probably would have been the first in the boat.

Sometimes, I believe a new path is being forged for us and maybe it is a rocky, thorny, difficult one.  It is the Lord who leads and I guess as He leads, He clears some of the brush for us, but often times life just isn't easy and the road is hard.  That does not mean it is the wrong road. Scripture is filled with words like: endure, count the cost, persevere, weariness, trials, despair, suffering.  Sounds like a path full of resistance, but maybe not the way you think.  The resistance is from me.  I don't want to be weary, I don't want to struggle through hardship, I don't want to endure, I don't want to grieve.  (whine, whine, whine!)

I've been thinking, the path of least resistance for the believer is the path chosen by the Lord and not one chosen by ourselves. What if we didn't resist His leading, what if we were obedient, what if we chose to be thankful no matter our circumstances?  What if we didn't fall back into our old lives and patterns as the disciples did?  I don't want to resist anymore.  I want to embrace all the Lord has for me, even if the road is long.  Even if it is not the easiest to navigate.  And really, with my memory, I'll forget all the hard stuff and I'll probably have some pretty good stories to tell along the way!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dear Nancy

When we arrived home from our Christmas Eve service this card was waiting in the mail for me.  It was another one of those "shaking my head" moments.  The sermon title that evening: "Joy to the World!", the same sentiment as the front of this card.  

This has been an exhausting and emotional year.  As I sat in that pew, the church dimly lit, the last thing on my mind quite frankly was joy.  I listened with an open heart, asking (begging) God to let me receive the joy of my salvation once more.

We drove home and my heart didn't feel any relief.  And then I opened this card.  I am sharing it because I don't want to forget it and just maybe it will encourage you.

Inside was hand written:

God has many gifts wrapped just for you and waiting under His Tree...all the gift tags have your name on them!  

There's the gift of hope that brings renewed confidence in the truth that you will continue to see the goodness of the LORD in the coming days;

the gift of joy that prevails even when sorrow is deep and despair seems like it's at the door just waiting to come in; 

the gift of peace which brings something beyond your understanding to the chaos of life and gives a quietness to the soul that looks like the lake on a perfectly calm morning; 

the gift of love that shows you that nothing can separate you from God and reminds you that He absolutely and completely adores you. 

And so many more... Untie those ribbons, rip off the paper and enjoy His "presence"!  You are loved.  

A clear reminder that He has given us all we need.  Did you see "joy" tucked  there in the middle?  God answered the cry of this unbelieving heart and I received joy this Christmas Eve.  May the Lord grant you the same sweet relief in the knowledge that He has so many good things just waiting for you to "unwrap".  May your gaze be on the goodness of the Lord and off of the sorrow of this life.  May you live life with JOY each day in 2014.  You are loved!