Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TRIBUTE TO A FRIEND

"My little dog ~ a heartbeat at my feet."  ~ Edith Wharton

Last night was all too quiet in our home. The absence of our dog Nathan's soothing snores made it hard to fall asleep. I hadn't realized the lulling affect that his rhythmic sleeping had on my own. I closed my eyes and tried to will myself into a slumber, but my mind was on overdrive...my heart, too.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our beloved four legged family member. As we watched him take his last breath, I was overcome by so many emotions ~ gratitude for eleven years with our loving companion...appreciation for his faithful affection...peace knowing that we had lavished him with love...and deep sadness that it was time to say goodbye.

Nathan was a character. A pure bred champion Daschund, he had his stubborn, dignified side. He wasn't much of a lap dog ~ he was far too mature and sophisticated to climb onto a lap. But the truth is that Nathan was a softy. He always seemed to know when I was down or upset, and he made it his job to stay by my side and offer any comfort he could. He was a fierce protector ~ ask anyone who's been to our house! It was no easy task to navigate around Nathan if he deemed you untrustworthy.

I often referred to Nathan as my shadow because he followed me from room to room throughout the day. Even when asleep, he would sense my absence when I left the room, and would rouse himself and come looking for me.

Nathan's serious side had its counterpart ~ those who knew Nathan well remember his love for the chase game. When he was feeling particularly playful, he would flip back his ears and choose a player, enticing them to chase him around our dining room table. His favorite move was one he knew we humans couldn't master ~ a change in direction under the protective covering of the dining room chairs. His tail wagged furiously, and he smiled from ear to ear during those chases.

Nathan loved bacon, walks, racing after squirrels, his bed and blanky, and our cat Summer. He hated the mailman, the rain, baths, and suitcases, because he knew they meant we'd be leaving for a while.

Here's to Nathan, and to all the dogs who add so much color, life, and pleasure to our lives. You will never be forgotten, for you are permanently etched upon my heart.           

"Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet."  ~Colette

Sunday, September 25, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART NINE

"Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end."
~ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

People who say that attitude is everything are so right! Two people can be living with the same circumstances ~ one is miserable, the other beaming with joy. What makes the difference? Their attitude and their focus. I have heard it often said that you may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can always adjust your attitude.

I have a choice. I can be a negative person who focuses on my problems and everyday frustrations. Or, I can be positive, recognizing and celebrating all that I have to be thankful for, "always looking for the best" in every situation. One makes you miserable, the other joyful. I don't know about you, but I want the joy.

"Never looks back" tells me to press on. It says to shed the weights of regret, shame, guilt, disappointment, and injuries ~ and step into freedom. Wow! This is worthy of my time and attention. The enemy of our souls LOVES (not agape love!) to keep us looking back, wishing we could do things over. He prods us to beat ourselves up over our bad decisions. He wants us fixating on the hurt that has been inflicted upon us.

But God says, "NO MORE!" "LET IT GO!" "Stop listening to the voices of the past!" Afterall, most of them are lies, or at best, distortions of the past. God has His hands open wide ~ they are huge...big enough to hold everything that has been burdening amd haunting us. It's just a choice ~ here, God...take it ALL. I don't want to carry this anymore. You can carry it for me.

And here's the best part ~ when we place it all into His hands, He looks at it, so small and insignificant in His big powerful hands, and He casts it away. It's gone for good. He looks us in the eye and smiles. He's been waiting for us to unload these burdens for so long. And now that we have, the windows and doors to our hearts and souls are opened wide for His agape love to come flowing in.

Our part is to stay in step with Him, remain close to His side, and keep moving down Agape Lane until we get "to the end". What freedom awaits us!

"Every breath is an opportunity to receive and let go. I receive love and I let go of pain."
~Brenda MacIntyre      

LOVE STORY, PART EIGHT

"Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end."
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

If agape love is the essence of God's nature, then it has to rejoice in the truth, because God is Truth. This agape love is so pure that it is a reflection of honesty at its deepest level. No wonder so many of us miss the mark! Who can say they have lived a perfectly honest and upright life? NOT ME! Past experiences reveal to me that when I fall short, the last thing I want is a beam of light exposing the truth about me. So I hide from it ~ even run. Who wants to be exposed like that? I certainly don't. But here's the thing ~ if I don't cooperate, I will never experience life on AGAPE Lane. Seems like a very high price to pay for secrecy. But there's more...this verse talks about "taking pleasure in the flowering of the truth". Can I actually take pleasure in coming clean?

Maybe the next line in the passage, "puts up with anything," is a key to help me get there. I think this tiny section can be taken way out of context. I don't see this as an excuse to become someone's doormat. I think it's part of the threshhold we have to cross on the bridge that leads to our Agape residence. If I have come clean and let God expose my ugly mistakes and sour attitudes to get me there, so be it. I am willing to "put up with" this in order to get to where I want to be. In fact, I can see that the things He allows in my life are all part of the process to nudge and equip me to get me safely to my new dwelling place. As I take this step of faith, what at first seems so humiliating actually becomes freeing. I can take pleasure in this, because I can see where it is taking me. And, I can "trust God completely", knowing He always has my best interests in mind.

I may not understand the "whys" in His methods, but I know Him well enough to know that He can be trusted. In fact, there is no one in the entire universe more trustworthy than God, my Guide. So, I grasp His hand a little tighter, nodd "okay", and let Him lead me gently down the path to Agape Lane.

"Trust in the dark, trust in the light, trust at night and trust in morning, and you will find that the faith which may begin by mighty effort, will end sooner or later by becoming the easy and natural habit of the soul."
~ Hannah Whitehall Smith      

Saturday, September 24, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART SEVEN

"Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others gorvel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end."
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I used to teach second grade, so I have heard more than my share of voices shouting, "Me first!" From a second grader, it's expected. But what about us adults? Do we ever struggle with wanting to be the first in line ~ for that promotion, or for something as simple as the check out at the grocery store? Hmm...

How about people who fly off the handle? I have been around people who act this way, and it's unnerving, even frightening. What about the times when I fly off the handle? How am I being perceived by others? Oh boy...

Who among us likes to keep score of other people's sins? Let me rephrase this ~ who among us likes it when others keep track of our sins? Not so pleasant, especially when I have been guilty of this very thing.

The last line in this section is especially harsh. When I read, "doesn't revel when others grovel," the first thing that comes to mind are bullies. Bullies love to see people groveling. They love the high that comes from making another person feel small and insignificant. Is there anything less attractive than a bully? As unappealing as they are, I believe bullies are people who are miseable and who want to make everyone else feel as badly or worse than they do. Have I ever been guilty of this?

Clearly, all of the things in this one little section are in direct opposition to agape love. Now it's time for me to really personalize it. How often do I set foot in these slums? What causes me to even consider visiting a neighborhood like this? How often do I cry inside my spirit, "Me first!"? What about those times when I lose it and fly off the handle? What possesses me to keep a mental record of the wrongs someone has committed against me? Why would I ever want to make someone feel unimportant? Maybe I can begin by blaming familiarity ~ we gravitate toward what we are comfortable with, and what has been modeled for us in the past. But still, why would I want to inhabit these slums when I can move to a much nicer neighborhood? AGAPE Lane is calling me.  I'd be a fool not to go.

"Love does not dominate; it cultivates."
~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe       

Friday, September 23, 2011

WELCOME AUTUMN

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face."
~John Donne

Today is Autumnal Equinox, when summer gives way to fall. Today is one of two days out of the year when the hours of day and night are equal. From now on a shift occurs ~ daytime shortens, and the skies darken earlier with each passing day.

In our household, today ushers in the season of "holidays". Pumpkins, gourds, scarecrows, and colorful leaves will adorn our home for the next two months. I love these seasonal artifacts. They are more than just homey decorations. To me, they are a tangible reminder of my own personal harvest of blessings. There's so much to be thankful for, and this season carries that theme of thankfulness all through the holidays.

Indian summers still await us. We will have our share of warm, summery weather. But, before long, I will find myself nestled by the fireside, a good book or pen and pad in hand. The cherished aromas of pumpkin pie, roast turkey, and a host of other autumn treats will fill our home.

Welcome, Autumn! You are a refreshing change from the sleepy days of summer. Dazzle me with your breathtaking fall foliage, crisp night air, and tasty treats.

Boxes filled with fall decor on our dining room table await me. It's time to jump in and enjoy the transformation of seasons. Who knows? Maybe I will even bake a pie. Pumpkin or apple?

"Winter is an etching, spring is a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all."
~Stanley Horowitz         

Thursday, September 22, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART SIX

"Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end." 
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

When I read this small section of the passage, one issue jumps out at me ~ pride. I know from reading and studying God's word that He isn't a fan of pride. I want to get a clearer understanding of why it's such an affront to Him. Could it have something to do with this thing called agape love?

Why does God speak so strongly against pride? Maybe because pride exalts ourselves above God. This isn't about His ego. He knows the dangers that come with the territory. Don't you stand against the things that put your kids in danger and unnecessary risk? I do! Is God any less of a loving parent than we are? "Pride goes before the fall" is a warning to us. We are wise to heed it. But to heed it, we have to understand it.
   
If I am filled with pride, boasting about who I am or what I have accomplished,  I am squelching the essence of who God is ~ agape love. I am making it all about me and how wonderful I am, and I am trying to impose that view onto others.  In the process, I am actually encouraging people to take their focus and their praise off of God and put it squarely onto me. Ugh.

Who hasn't been there? Who hasn't felt puffed up with pride for a project completed, a mountain climbed, a hurdle conquered? It's okay to feel good about ourselves and celebrate our victories. But if that's all it is ~ Me-centered ~ then we've crossed the line into pride, a dangerous terrritory.

But what happens if I can replace the Me-centered with God-centered? First of all, I see how small and insignificant my greatest achievements are next to the One who created and breathed life into me. Secondly, I begin to see my value in who I am as God's child, and I realize I don't have to strive to measure up. I am already extravagantly loved and accepted. When that truth begins to sink in, I can put to death my own platforms and self-praises and open my heart up to agape love.

Have you ever been around someone like this? I have, more than once. Wow...it's contagious! They don't have to pressure me to move into their camp. I am dazzled just by watching them. There's no need to force themselves or their lifestyles on me. In fact, they can't. It goes in opposition to who they are. These people who already reside in AGAPE know something that I don't. They also know that I have to find my own way to my new residence. They shine like streetlights, enabling me to get a better view of what awaits me. But they know I already have the Perfect Guide, and so they wait patiently for my arrival, ready to welcome me into my new life on AGAPE Lane. And here's the best part ~ ALL ARE INVITED AND WELCOME!

"Love unlocks doors and opens windows that weren't even there before."
~Mignon McLaughlin       

Monday, September 19, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART FIVE

"Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end." 
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I am noticing a common thread as I dig through this passage of Scripture. The more I die to self, the more room there is for God's agape love to come in, fill me, and overflow onto others.  I can also see that, the more I am lacking in this purest form of love, the more my life is built around me and what I want. And without agape love flowing through me, I wrestle with coveting what others have.

But if I open myself up to His love by putting to rest my own self and my fleshly desires, then my vision can clear enough to see that, all I have is all I really need. "Love doesn't want what it doesn't have." How freeing does that sound?! I am no longer hostage to my "needs", my wants, my longings. They've been released to make room for AGAPE.

Sounds great! If only it were that simple. Maybe it is! I don't know ~ I'm not there yet. But I am so taken by the view as I begin my baby steps down the AGAPE trail that I want to keep going...more than going after the things that have kept my attention for far too long.

I don't know what awaits me around the corner as I continue to inch my way down agape's path. But I can see it's far better than any neighborhood I've ever been in. I'd be a fool to turn back now. Besides, I have the ultimate Guide, watching my every step, leading the way down this unfamiliar trail. As excited as I am about this journey, I can't help but notice that His smile is even bigger than mine. Who would have known that my venture down this road would bring Him such delight?

Yes, all I have is all I really need. There's no need for more, with one exception ~  I want more of Him...and His agape love.

"Who, being loved, is poor?"  ~Oscar Wilde

 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART FOUR

"Love never gives up. LOVE CARES FOR OTHERS MORE THAN FOR SELF. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end."
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

If we were in an ampitheatre with ten thousand people, and the featured speaker said, "Everyone who cares for others more than for themselves, please raise your hand," I wonder how many hands would go up. If I were seated in the crowd, my hands would remain in my lap. I don't think I know a lick about caring for others MORE than caring for myself.

Okay, I am a wife and mom, so I do know a little bit about this subject. It comes with the territory. But can I honestly say that I live my life putting the cares of others before my own? No way.

But here's the thing ~ I want to! Let's face it...living life to satisfy myself is the reward in itself. It stops there. Is that how I want to invest my time, my energy, my resources...for some fleeting experiences that are based on me and what I want? Yet isn't that what I am doing when I care for myself and my own agenda above other people?

I am so convicted, but in a good way! I am being stretched, and I want to learn and grow here. So I look to my Teacher. What does it mean to put others before myself? The first thing I see is that I cannot achieve this apart from God. There it is again ~ AGAPE. Agape love knows how to put others first. In fact, agape love doesn't know any different! Remember? Agape love takes self out of the equation and replaces it with God.

It must begin with a closer walk with God. The closer I am in step with Him, the more I see His perspective, and the more my skewed perceptions fade. I believe this is my starting place. Eyes off of me and my wants, and placed onto Him and His priorities.

But what about what I need? What I want? I have to release my tight grip on these and entrust them to God, who is far more able to care for them than I can. As I release them to Him, I am freed up to grab hold of Him and this radical love called AGAPE. What sounds at first like a painful exchange now looks very freeing ~ and exciting.

I know that I've only begun to step foot onto this path called AGAPE. But already, I feel less burdened. There's a new spring in my step. In fact, I feel like skipping! Sounds childish, I know ~ but my memory recalls what Jesus said about approaching Him like a child. You couldn't pay me to turn back now.

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
~Mother Teresa       

LOVE STORY, PART THREE

LOVE NEVER GIVES UP. Love cares for others more than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first', doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end." 
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

"Between a man and his wife nothing ought to rule but love."  ~William Penn

If agape love isn't defined as romantic love, then why is this passage from the Bible so common in weddings? Maybe in this day and age, with nearly half of marriages ending in divorce, it isn't the most appropriate chapter...I honestly don't know. I am no theologian. What I am about to share may be way off the mark. But here's what I think based on my own personal experiences.

More than once, I have heard that the divorce rate in the church is about equal to people who don't darken the doorways of a house of worship. To me, this is staggering. This suggests that there are A LOT of people who know God, but who aren't in touch with His agape love. If they aren't experiencing it for themselves, how can they be channels for it to flow freely onto others? If all of the people who have a walk with God could experience this agape love, how would it impact the divorce rates?

I am not going to tiptoe around this delicate subject. In fact, I am going to jump right in! God is not a fan of divorce. Hear me out! God does NOT think less of divorced people, but I don't think he likes the institution of divorce. He has made certain allowances for when it is okay; it makes sense that He does since He knows we are human, and we are going to make mistakes. But He sees the fallout and rippling effects of divorce, and it saddens Him. He dislikes the casualness in which we break these solemn vows. Again, He DOES NOT dislike divorced people ~ just the opposite! I think it's because He loves us so deeply that He hates to see us take paths He knows will go far beyond what our limited minds can see.

I have to make this personal. I have not been divorced myself, but I have lived with the rippling effects of divorce since the day I said, "I do". My husband was divorced when we met. He had two adorable little boys, and I fell in love with all three. We were fortunate ~ the relationships between the exes and their spouses was (and still is) amicable. Growing up, the boys got equal time in both households. If you're going to marry someone who's divorced with kids, it couldn't have been more ideal. Clearly, the boys' welfare was always first and foremost on everyone's hearts and minds.

That said, I saw the rippling effects of their divorce daily ~ two homes, two sets of parents for the boys. In our household, their schedules had top priority. After all, we didn't have them with us all the time, so when we did, we wanted to make the most of it. Even when we didn't have the boys with us, there was always sports and school activities that allowed us to be a part of their daily lives. As we built and added to our own family, the picture grew more complicated. I saw the "normal" for our own kids  living with part-time siblings. Keeping balance in our home became more and more difficult.

It was as healthy as it could be for all concerned. But still, it wasn't what God planned when He created marriage and families. How could there not be a fallout? This is a tough subject for me! If my husband hadn't got divorced, I would not have met him and we wouldn't be married today. I would have missed out on knowing and loving his two sons from his prior marriage. We wouldn't  have had our own two children. I love my husband and my family, and I am so thankful for all of them. Still, I know it wasn't God's desire for my husband and his two older sons to go through a divorce. Instead, it's a beautiful testament of God taking our not-so ideal circumstances and turning them around for good.

Yes, I agree that God is saddened by divorce. But I also believe that He loves all of us extravagantly and unconditionally. My husband has often wondered about why God gave him a second chance and a great marriage the second time around. I think the answer is in God's agape love that always wants the best for us.

If you have been divorced, I think you need to know that God's love for you is as wide and deep as it ever was. God is in the business of healing, restoring, and bringing life back into areas of our lives that seem dead or beyond hope.

For all of us who are married or contemplating marriage, perhaps we would benefit from growing closer to God, and learning about this mystery called agape love. After being married over twenty-five years to a man who's been through a divorce, I have come to see that divorce isn't a part of God's plan, but He lovingly works with it to create a new and beautiful canvas if we let Him.

If you are married and contemplating divorce because of abuse, again, I'm no expert or theologian. But my heart says this type of relationship is never God's plan for marriage, and I encourage you to get safe and find help. Marriage was never intended to be a place of fear, abuse, or control. All of these are directly opposed to what love and marriage is all about.

Does 1 Corinthians 13 belong at a wedding ceremony? I think so. With all that's going against marriages, I think that we are wise to grab hold of God and acquaint ourselves with this radical love called agape. Maybe then our marriages will stand a better chance of surviving...and thriving!

"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage." ~Martin Luther      
    

Saturday, September 17, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART TWO

"If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love."
~1 Corinthians 13:3, The Message

The path to understanding agape love is a steep climb, and this verse challenges my previous notions about it. I always pictured agape to be the selfless, active part of loving others. But here, it's talking about how I can give everything I own to the poor and still be lacking in it. Wow...my words, my beliefs, and even my actions can shout love, yet still be devoid of it. Again, I have to go back to what God's word seems to be saying about agape love. God IS agape love. So, if I do anything that looks loving, but do it in my own strength, excluding God in my actions, I am bankrupt. I've gotten nowhere.

How can this be? Could it be that God knows if I achieve this level of love on my own, I won't see my need for Him? If we as humans can love one another perfectly, we have no need for God's love, or for God Himself, for that matter. The most loving thing God can do is to create us with a need for Him. This is almost too much for me to grasp!

Is it possible to love someone deeply without knowing God? Absolutely. Can I experience and be a channel of agape love without God? I don't think so ~ they are one and the same.

I have been walking with God for over twenty-five years, but I still know so little about His agape love for us. In all honesty, I think I have only begun to scratch the surface. I want to grab hold of this mysterious treasure. I can only imagine the rippling effect it will have if I do. It's time to take another step on my journey down AGAPE's path.

"You formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You."
~St. Augustine

"For finally, we are as we love. It is love that measures our stature."
~William Sloane Coffin

Friday, September 16, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART ONE

"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, 'Jump,' and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing."
~1 Corinthians 13:1,2

Today I am beginning a meditation in 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as the wedding chapter. It was spoken at our wedding, and with good reason. This one little section packs a powerful punch on what love really looks like. It also emphasizes that love is the epitome of what counts in life.

Most would agree that this passage isn't talking about a warm, fuzzy, feel-good love. It isn't talking about romantic or physical love either. This isn't the type of love we refer to when we say, "I love to go to Starbucks," (I do!) or "I love driving up Highway One". You get the picture. It's almost as if the word "love" encompasses too wide a scope of what we experience.

The love referred to in this chapter deserves a name of its own: agape. This love isn't about an experience we have with our senses, or even our minds. Agape is a much deeper, purer form of love that takes self out of the equation and replaces it with God. Scripture tells us that God IS love; it doesn't just say that He is loving ~ He is. But at the very essence of who God is, we see one thing shining through ~ LOVE.

Today's verses are a powerful statement that we can be smart as a whip, smooth as silk in our speech, and a pillar of faith, but none of that counts for squat if we lack the main ingredient, love. What does that ingredient consist of? GOD.

Let's say I want to bake a cake. I can put baking powder, sugar, salt, eggs, and butter into a bowl. But if I leave out the main ingredient ~ flour ~ I'm not going to even come close to getting the results I want. Just like the other ingredients in the cake, the qualities listed in today's verses are very important. But they aren't the main ingredient, and they won't produce what I want without the main ingredient added in.

I am hungering for a better understanding of what love really is, and how I can experience more of it in my life. One thing I believe ~ love is an unusual commodity in that you really don't experience it until you learn to give it away extravagantly.

I'm heading down the road called "AGAPE". Want to come along?

"We ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them."
~1 John 4:16
 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

LIFE AND DEATH DECISION

"When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. 'I'll go with you, wherever,' he said. 
Jesus was curt: 'Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know.'
Another follower said, 'Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father's funeral to take care of.' 
Jesus refused. 'First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.'
Then he got into the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat ~ and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, 'Master, save us! We're going down!'
Jesus reprimanded them. 'Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?' Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: 'Silence!' The sea became smooth as glass.
The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. 'What's going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at is command!'"  ~Matthew 8:18-27, The Message

As I read and meditate on this passage, I think about how easily I can become frustrated by my thwarted plans, especially when it involves something that is really important to me.  I can sympathize with this disciple who wants to stay behind for a couple of days to bury his father.

This isn't an unrealistic request the disciple was making. In fact, from a human standpoint, it seems more unrealistic that Jesus would press him to leave before honoring his father with a proper burial.

I have to dig deeper to see the bigger picture. After denying the disciple his request to stay behind, they get into a boat, and an unexpected, fierce storm breaks out. Can you imagine what this disciple must be thinking? "Why didn't I stay and bury my dad?" Or, "God must be punishing me for dishonoring my father this way." Whatever his thoughts are, I'm pretty sure that he isn't happy about his decision. Perhaps he thinks  that this is the price he has to pay....his own life for not being there to honor the life of his father, his own flesh and blood.

I can picture myself in his shoes...the waves are tossing our little boat back and forth. Death seems imminent. I am beyond being afraid...I am in a state of utter panic. And look at that! Through eyes drenched with sea water, I notice that Jesus is sleeping soundly. Is he dead? Is this the burial I am going to witness instead of my own father's?

The other disciples are equally terrified and begin to rouse Jesus. "Save us! We are all going to drown! Do something!" I join in, but my mind is racing ~ how is this one man going to save us from this deadly storm? These men are fools to think that he is going to be able to rescue us. Still, I join in, not knowing what else to do. "Save us, Jesus! I don't want to die!"

I notice how calm Jesus seems. Maybe he's injured ~ maybe he hit his head and doesn't understand our dire circumstances. But then, he looks at us and replies, "Where's your faith, guys? Why so afraid?" He must be delirious...not a good situation when we are putting all our hopes in his ability to somehow rescue us.

The boat is being thrown about like a piece of drift wood. I feel another wave of nausea as I lose my footing once again. I look up, and there is Jesus, standing as if he were on solid ground, oblivious to the boat's movements. He begins to yell at the winds and the waves. All I can think about is my dead father and how I left him behind to follow this lunatic who speaks to nature.

And then the unbelievable happens. The waves stop thrashing us about. The water grows calm. The winds die down to barely a breeze. The storm that should have killed us has come to a complete halt, and all of us turn and look at Jesus. He's not surprised. But the rest of us, scratching our heads in wonder, are speechless.

I think back to my dad. He would have wanted me here in this boat, witnessing what just took place. If I had stayed behind, I would have missed seeing it with my own eyes. My dad would want me to go on with my life, making the most of the time I have with this man who has the power to calm the winds and still the seas. Yes, following Jesus onto this boat was the right thing to do. And somehow I know that I will never be the same.

"The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss." 
~Thomas Carlyle                    

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

REST UP!

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop." ~Ovid

My list of things I'd like to accomplish today seems a mile long ~ dusting and vacuuming...laundry and yard chores...grocery shopping and meal planning...gifts to purchase and cards to send ~ yet here I sit, sequestered on my couch, trying hard to follow the doctor's orders. Bed rest. What woman hasn't shuttered at those two seemingly benign words? Wait a minute ~ I have far too much to do!

But maybe there's a gift here, if I will only put aside my to-do list and look for it. Maybe what has appeared as an attack on my health is really an avenue that God is using to get me to slow down and give myself completely to the things that matter most. Will the world stop revolving if my house goes uncleaned? Of course not. Will my family go hungry if I can't run to the market and prepare a meal? I doubt it. Will neighbors complain if the weeds in my yard grow another inch? I hope not!

On the other hand, can I be a blessing to someone if I use this time to amp up my devotional writing? Possibly. Can I minister to someone in need by covering them in prayer, and making a phone call to say I care? Absolutely. Will one minute be wasted as I devour and study God's word? Not a chance!

My dog is cuddled up next to the couch, snoring contentedly. Wonderful silence calms my spirit as I readjust my focus and my attitude. Outside, birds chirp merrily in my garden, bringing a smile to my face. Today is a good day! Who knows, maybe it's even better because I am forced to stay quiet. Another week of bed rest no longer sounds frustrating or confining. Who knew that limitations would actually be this freeing? If you need me, you can find me nestled on my couch...doctor's orders!

"Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty."  ~Psalm 91:1   

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

LONG MAY SHE WAVE

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave."  ~Elmer Davis

Sunday marked the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Since the beginning of the weekend, it seems that everyone is talking about it. As I surfed through our one hundred channels on television, most were featuring special coverage commemorating that life-changing day in our country's history. It's a painful subject, and it churns up a lot of deeply sad memories. But I think that's okay. In fact, I think it's a really good thing.

For those of us who live and breathe and go about our daily business, it seems more than appropriate that we pause as a nation to reflect back and remember, and to show our respects to the many who lost their lives...and the countless whose lives were personally impacted by it. How many kids are growing up without a parent because of 9/11? How many lost a spouse, a child, a sibling, a close friend? How many are still suffering from the trauma of simply being close to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or the crash site of that passenger plane? How many are battling serious health issues because they made the brave choice to answer the cries for help and rushed to give aid?

Yes, I think it's a very good thing that we as a united country have paused from daily activities to remember the victims, and to pray for all of the survivors. May we never forget, and may we never grow complacent. Nine/eleven has come and gone, but I say, let's keep remembering; let's keep our flags waving proudly, and let's hold fast to the spirit of America ~ the spirit of the "land of the free, home of the brave" that makes ours the greatest nation on earth.

Today, I remember the many people who, ten years ago today, were still waiting to find out about a loved one. You are not forgotten...and neither is your loved one. May God heal your broken hearts, and may He bless this great country that we call home.

"I will give them ~ within the walls of My house~
a memorial and a name
far greater than sons and daughters could give. 
For the name I give them is an everlasting one.
It will never disappear!"
~Isaiah 56:5    

    

Friday, September 9, 2011

SURRENDER, PART SEVEN

"We do not always know the reasons for what God does and doesn't do, but in the end we'll see that He was always right!"  ~Author Unknown

If you read my previous six blogs on "Surrender", you may be thinking it sounds too good to be true. All I know is that I was made well ~ in a heartbeat ~ my hip was made whole.

I wasn't prepared for the new type of pain that awaited me when I got home. Gone was the physical pain, and in its place came an emotional pain that was totally unexpected. First of all, I was in a state of shock, and I remember feeling so very unworthy. It was almost too much to bear. I also had the reactions of other people to deal with. Some embraced my news with wonder and awe and celebration. Others coudn't accept it so graciously. Some pulled away from me; others wore their doubts on their sleeves, trying to humor me. I finally got to the point where I had to let it go...how people reacted wasn't my responsibility, and I couldn't let it injure me anymore.

That aside, the whole experience was very humbling for me. Again, I felt so unworthy of this gift. Why me?? Why didn't God heal the two people we knew who were battling terminal cancer? Over time I came to learn that God has a different plan for each one of us. This was His plan for me. I may never know all of the whys. That's okay.

This experience has impacted me in so many ways. It's given me hope in many dark hours ~ remembering if God can do this, He can do anything. If He loves me this much, He loves all this much. It's made me keenly aware of His presence, every hour of everyday. It's helped me to have a stronger prayer life, and given me determination to never give up on anyone.

It has taught me to be open. There is so much about God we don't understand, but if we have a teachable spirit, He shows us things that will blow us away. It's taught me to keep my attitude in check. Either I can respect and learn from trials, or I can allow them to consume me. My choice.

It's taught me to be sensitive to other people's journeys. We don't know what they are going through unless we've lived it ourselves. I've learned that playing the comparison game never pays off for either player. God's path for each of us is unique.

I've learned that there's a purpose in everything ~ even if I never see what it is! Just knowing this enables me to embrace my own journey and respect the journeys of those around me.

I still don't know why God healed me, why this was His plan for me. I know that not everyone who prays for healing receives it. But I do believe that we can all be made whole.

Bottom line ~ I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary God! I don't have all the answers to so many questions, but I know the One who does...for me, that is enough.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will run and not be faint."
~Isaiah 40:28-31           

Thursday, September 8, 2011

SURRENDER, PART SIX

"When it's dark enough, you can see the stars." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything changed after my encounter with Benjamin. For the longest time, I had felt disconnected with God. My prayers would hit the ceiling, then bounce back onto me, unanswered. But after meeting Benjamin, it was as if the roof had blown right off the house, and I was sensing God in everything. I couldn't write fast enough to get onto paper all I felt He was saying to my spirit. My focus began to shift. I no longer felt the need to overcome the pain. Instead, I wanted to let the pain teach me to be a better person.

Two days after my pool encounter, I got the strong feeling that God was saying he wanted me to quit physical therapy. After months of such hard work and dedication, it didn't make any sense. But I quit anyway. At last, I was learning to want what God wanted for me. Everyone thought I was nuts. I had come so far, made so much progress. I didn't care.

Within a couple of weeks, my limp began to return. The limp I had worked so hard to rid myself of was coming back. It didn't matter. That sharp, jarring pain was returning too. I knew enough to know that I was beginning to reinjure my socket. I didn't care. I was through with getting strong on the outside. It was time to deal with the person on the inside.

Spring rolled into summer, and that meant a week at Family Camp, a church camp that we attended every year with our kids and my sister's family. That summer, three of our four kids stepped forward and got baptized. I couldn't help but wonder if this was just a fun thing for them to do, or if they understood the seriousness of that decision. A peace washed over me as I watched each one step into the pool and make that decision on their own. The week was memorable...so much so that we decided to sign up for yet another week of summer camp.

We met a man named Gordy at the second week of camp. He was a handicapped man, dealing with cerebral palsy, living his life in a wheelchair. We befriended Gordy, including him as much as we could in our activities. We also celebrated our youngest son's fifth birthday that week at camp. Aside from the pain that was now constant, I was enjoying the time with our family and my sister's family.

Thursday evening, I was sitting next to Gordy. I got up to leave, but he blocked me with his wheelchair. I told him I needed to get out, but he shook his head no. He told me that I couldn't leave just yet ~ he said that God was telling him something about me. He paused, then looked me in the eye and said, "There's something wrong with you. God is going to heal you." Powerful words from a man in a wheelchair!

I couldn't count the number of times people (myself included) had prayed for this very thing. I had accepted the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I remembered the words from the doctor that I would always have pain...for the rest of my life. I thought it was sweet of Gordy, but nothing in me believed him.

Gordy called the pastor over to where we were sitting. Gordy told the pastor what he had told me. The pastor asked if there was something wrong with me. I told him about my journey with chronic hip pain. He called a few people over and they gathered around me and prayed for healing. It was all very nice, but on the inside, I kept thinking that I didn't want to be healed. Clearly, God had a reason for my pain, and I began to realize that what He wanted for me was truly what I wanted.

I left that night with a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was finally able to embrace the pain! My foe had become my friend. It no longer had the power to dictate my life. I was free.

The next day, it rained. My hip was always worse in the damp weather. I rested on the bed most of the day, too uncomfortable to do much. My kids tried to get me up. My brother-in-law looked at me, shook his head, and said, "Seventeen more years of this?" In seventeen years, I would be old enough to be a candidate for hip replacement. He was having a harder time of accepting my pain than I was. My response was, "Yes! Seventeen more years! A lifetime, if that's what God wants for me." And I meant it. I was completely surrendered to God.

That night was the last night of family camp, and the pastor led in a time of family communion. All of our children were present, and it was a wonderful culmination of two great weeks at camp. The pastor began praying, then paused mid-prayer. He began to pray for someone in the room who was about to get healed. He didn't make a reference to who he was talking about, and as he prayed for this person's healing, I prayed that it was for Gordy. How great it would be to see Gordy step out of that wheelchair and be made whole.

Then I heard these words spoken straight into my heart..."This is my gift for you." No, God, heal Gordy. Again, "This is my gift for you."

After communion, we all got up and went outside. It was dark outside, and remnants of clouds from the earlier storm were still lingering in the sky. I pulled away from everyone for a minute to have a heart to heart chat with God. I cried out in my mind, "What's happening, God? If this is really for me, you are going to have to make it really clear, because I am struggling with this! I need a sign right here and now!" I looked up at the sky as I prayed, hoping for some kind of reply. The moon was quite full. A cloud drifted in front of it, casting off an intense glow. Right then, a bolt of lightning shot across the night sky. I could hear the "oohs" and "ahhs" all around me as others saw it, too. I had my sign.

I walked back to our room. Everyone from both families was there. I went up to my sister and said that I was healed, and she shook her head yes. I think she already knew. Suddenly, everyone in the room knew, too. I moved my hip around. I was able to rotate it without pain. No discomfort. Unbelievable! Incredible! Amazing! And true. Still true, almost twenty years later.

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy, like calves led out to pasture." 
~Malachi 4:2                      

   

SURRENDER, PART FIVE

"God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them."  ~John Aughey

I was walking with a new hope, and getting stronger inside and out.  People would ask me why I was doing better, and I really couldn't answer. I just knew what I knew ~ that the hardest part of the journey was behind me, and that life was about to get better.  I still had moments of discouragement and frustration, but those were few and far between.

One day late in spring, I was entering the pool at the physical therapy office, and noticed an elderly man in the pool. As I stepped down into the water, he looked me in the eye and said, "You know, God will never give you more than you can handle." Okay....this is interesting, I thought to myself.

The man continued to talk to me as if he knew what I had been going through, and what I'd been struggling with spiritually. He told me I had a choice, and it involved my attitude. He said I could choose misery over my circumstances, or I could choose to dwell on all I had to be thankful for. He asked me if I'd ever thanked God for the ability to walk into physical therapy, a luxury that some didn't have.

He talked to me about my expectations. Had I been expecting to live a pain-free life simply because I was only in my thirties? Did I expect my family to be loving and supportive through this season? Did I expect to get better? Did I expect what I was doing in the pool to help in some way? And then he looked at me with a serious expression and said that if I had even ONE expectation about any part of my life, than that meant I hadn't surrendered that part of it to God. His words hit me like a ton of bricks...SURRENDER.

The man continued to talk...how I remembered all of what he said, I haven't a clue. I guess it's because everything he said was exactly what I needed to hear. He talked to me about God's will. He said that many ask him, "How do I know what God's will is for me?" He said that he always tells them, "Start with the areas in your life that you know are not in accordance with God's will, and release them to Him...then God will begin to show you His true will for you." And another ton of bricks came crashing down on me!

Next, this kind, older gentleman contronted me on the subject of worrying. He said that I worry too much about what my hip will be like ~ what my life will be like ~ years down the road. He said that the Bible talks about worrying about tomorrow, even in the Lord's prayer...give us this day our DAILY bread. "Julie," he said, "God wants you to take it one day at a time, and trust Him for all your tomorrows."

"Remember...we are just passing through. This world is not our true home. Let this give you hope!" He then threw in a dose of humor, and told me to think, "prayer and medication". He said that it was okay to feel weak and tired. And it was okay to medicate (something I had been determined to avoid ~ how did he know this?!).

This old man who called himself Benjamin looked intently at me and said he would be praying for me everyday, and he asked God to bless me. Then he got out of the pool and went into the men's restroom. I, on the other hand, stood waist deep in the water, wondering what had just happened. I was speechless. All I knew was that this dear old man had changed my life with his words, and I couldn't wait for him to come  out of the restroom so I could thank him. I waited and waited, but he didn't come out. After almost a half hour went by, I gave up. As I was leaving that part of the facility, a couple of the therapists were seated at their stations. I asked them if they knew who the older man in the pool was. I explained that he'd been in the restroom for a long time. They looked at me, puzzled. They had no idea who Benjamin was.

Again, if someone had told me what was about to happen next, I would have laughed at them...

"I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places ~ firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry."  ~Isaiah 58:11

"We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, 'Why did this happen to me?' Unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way." 
~Author Unknown                 

SURRENDER, PART FOUR

"Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain." ~William Faulkner

I came home after my surgery with two options, neither one what I'd hoped for. I could have another surgery, an osteotomy, where they would go back in and make controlled breaks in my joint, and then reshape it. The success rate was about fifty percent. It also came with a two to three month recovery period. I was a mom with young children. I didn't want to be absent from our home for such a long period of time. And the odds weren't all that appealing.

I chose the second option: a severe regiment of physical therapy to get my muscles so strong they would hold my hip joint together. The doctor warned me that the program would be rigorous and painful. He said that a goal of being pain-free wasn't realistic for me. I was always going to have pain. At this point, reducing my level of pain sounded good, and I was determined to make it work.

I spent, on average, four hours a day in physical therapy building up my hip muscles. Add in the stretching and the ice therapy, and that summed up my days. I kept up this routine for ten weeks, then returned to San Francisco for a follow-up visit. I couldn't wait for the doctor to see the progress I had made.

After examining me, he said that I had made good progress, but that I had only begun to climb to the level of fitness I would need to achieve in order for this to work.  He said that it would be quite a huge task for me to get to where I needed to be; and then, I would have the daunting task of maintaining it. He painted a very bleak picture...a lifelong process of what I had only begun to do. He recommended I reconsider the surgery. But I held strong to my decision, and was more determined than ever to succeed.

Meanwhile, my life at home was falling apart. I had no time for everything else that deserved my time and attention. My relationships were suffering. I began to feel like a failure as a wife and a mom. I began to wrestle with bouts of anxiety. One of them landed me in the Emergency Room. The doctor who was on duty told me that I had to re-evaluate my life, because the stress was going to kill me.

A cloud of hopelessness settled in all around me. I kept at my routine, but inside, I was growing weaker as the outside kept getting stronger. Then one day that spring, it was as if the fog just lifted. I don't know how else to explain it. I just got this strong feeling inside of me that I had been in a desert season ~ a low point ~ and that the season was coming to an end. Ahead of me was a bright and spacious place, and my hope returned.

I had no idea what was about to unfold...had I been told, I wouldn't have believed it...

"Convert difficulties into opportunities, for difficulties are divine surgeries to make you better."  ~Author Unknown

"He's not impressed with horsepower; the size of our muscles mean little to him. Those who fear God get God's attention; they can depend on his strength." ~Psalm 147:10,11  The Message
    

SURRENDER, PART THREE

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."  ~M. Kathleen Casey

I was filled with optimism as my husband and I flew to San Francisco that Sunday in December. I met the surgeon for the first time the following morning. After examining me, he began to doubt my Los Angeles doctor's diagnosis, but thought that surgery was still the appropriate next step.
The following morning I checked into Mt. Zion Hospital. I was wheeled into surgery at ten in the morning. My husband was told the procedure would take about one and a half hours. Imagine his concern when they didn't finish up until after four o'clock.
When I was coherent, the surgeon explained that he had found a lot of debris (bone splinters and chips, cartilage) in the socket of my hip. He had cleaned it out thoroughly and was able to get a clear view of the inside of my socket. What he discovered had not shown up on film. My joint was structurally incorrect. He gave me the medical term, acetabular dysplacia. A normal hip is shaped much like a horseshoe, with a natural curve that helps hold the joint together. Mine had more of a "U" shape to it, with no natural curve. My hip joint had been slipping back and forth, in and out, beating itself up in the process. The condition hadn't made itself known until I had babies. Carrying them on my left hip had added to the deterioration.
The good news was that there was no evidence of disease ~ no cancer. The bad news was that he was unable to correct the problem. I was crushed. The thought of going home to family and friends with this news was so upsetting. Many people had stood by me through this journey. The toll it had taken on my family was immeasurable. All  of our hopes had been so high going into the surgery. Depression settled in, and the pain continued.
But God knew I would battle depression after my surgery. I was placed in a room with a young woman, also named Julie, who was in the hospital for an infection of her amputed leg. She seemed eager to share her story with me.
She had been a triathalon athlete and got into a bicycle accident. Her leg had to be amputated at the knee. She couldn't live with the thought of giving up her athletic dreams, so she was working with a doctor who was "growing" limbs. She described this long, arduous, incredibly painful process of trying to grow a limb. She kept battling infections, and with each new infection, the doctors had to amputate a little more of her leg. Her goal was to get the limb long enough to enable her to fit into a prosthesis that would equip her to return to her athletic activities. This had been going on for years, and her spirits were so low. It saddened me that this was the focus of her entire life.
I was so humbled by her story. I felt ashamed of my self-pity...my pain was so minor compared to what she was going through. For the next six months of my journey, God used Julie to remind me I didn't have it so bad, and to help me keep perspective. Had it not been for my hospital roommate's story, I am sure my depression would have been much more severe as I moved into a new phase of living with constant, nagging, infuriating pain.

"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."  ~Isaiah 55:8,9     

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SURRENDER, PART TWO

"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. It I quit, however, it lasts forever."  ~Lance Armstrong

My encounter with Genesis Chapter 32 in yesterday's message was a turning point, though I didn't know it at the time. Up until then, the surgeons had focused their attention on the area surrounding the socket of my hip. It wouldn't be long before I was to discover the real source of my chronic pain.

My surgeon from the Joint Replacement Institute called me after a couple of weeks with good news. He believed that the cause of my pain was some type of bone injury deep inside the socket of my hip. He knew of a surgeon in San Francisco who was on the cutting edge (pardon the pun) of hip surgery. He had developed a method of performing hip surgery artheroscopically. My doctor was determined to get me in to see this world-renowned surgeon.

It took my doctor a month to get through to this surgeon, and another month for him to review my case. How surprised I was when I got a phone call from this San Francisco doctor. He told me he had reviewed my case carefully and believed he could help me. Yes! Finally, someone seemed to know what was wrong and how to fix it. In desperation, I took a leap of faith. Before meeting the doctor, I scheduled my hip surgery for December 15th, exactly one year after my first real encounter with jarring hip pain.

I couldn't wait to share the good news with my husband. He too was at his wit's end with this journey. He was tired of watching me suffer...tired of picking up the slack for me...fed up with the mounting medical bills. When I told him about the phone call, he asked me the name of the hospital where I would be having the surgery. "Mt. something...Mt. Sinai? Mt. Zion? One of those," I replied. The next day, I opened up to this devotional:
THE VIEW FROM HERE: ZION OR SINAI
"Two mountains. Sinai and Zion. From Sinai we view God in all His awesome holiness and power. God's chosen people faced that mountain of darkness, with fire and smoke and fear and trembling and dread. God's words were convicting, His warnings terrifying, His penalties horrible. Now turn your eyes to Zion, the heavenly city of God. God's people, angels, believers from all generations and ages gather on that mountain of light and life to experience joy, forgiveness, grace. Which mountain will you come to? 'O Lord, how often haven't I found myself in the dark, frightening shadows of Mt. Sinai? Confronted by my stark inability to live up to the demands of a holy God and consumed by guilt. Paralyzed by weakness and memories of failure upon failure. Committed to a lifestyle of legalism. Trying so desperately to earn God's favor. Fixated on a vision of a God who condemns, who explodes in anger, who burns in vengeance. Lord, here it is. My Sinai lifestyle. My fear. My despair. My striving. Lead me now to that other mountain, Mt. Zion, your dwelling place. I want to follow Jesus, away from Sinai, toward Zion.'"

Can you guess what the name of the hospital was? Of course...Mt. Zion! I believed that my journey with chronic pain was about to end. Little did I know ~ my journey had only begun.

"All this is for your sake; and as God's grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving. For this reason we never become discouraged. Even though our physical being is gradually decaying, yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day. And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever." 
~2 Corinthians 4:15-18          
    

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SURRENDER, PART ONE

"Like a song in the wind, Lord you call me again...surrender.
 And I find myself drawn to your voice as I lean to the choice...surrender.
Like the echoing sound of the sea, Lord you echo in me...surrender.
Like a dancer I follow again to the music within...surrender..." ~Debbie Boone

There's nothing like chronic pain to get a person's attention! My journey with it began during the Christmas season of 1991. I had been sitting on the floor of my bedroom wrapping gifts. When I stood up, I had a crippling pain shoot into my left hip. It was so severe that I couldn't put any of my weight on it. I fell onto my bed and took a deep breath like I'd been taught to do in birthing classes. Within a couple of minutes, the pain disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared. I had experienced moments of mild pain in this hip several times before, but nothing like what I felt that December night.
Christmas came and went, and with it brought a few more encounters with the same intense, debilitating pain. I was beginning to grow a bit concerned. In the back of my mind were visions of cancerous tumors growing in my body. It was time to see a doctor. I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon who happened to be an acquaintance of ours through our older boys' school. After one visit, I was off to get X-rays and an MRI. Both were inconclusive. At this point, the pain was becoming more regular, and my fears were increasing.
I saw several other surgeons over the next few months, all of whom were equally puzzled by my condition. Eventually, I ended up at the Kerlan-Jobe Sports Clinic in Los Angeles. Four more specialists examined me, took more pictures, and all came to different conclusions. All they could agree upon was the fact that my hip was rapidly deteriorating, my limp was growing more severe, my left hip muscles were atrophying, and the pain was worsening. I began physical therapy to avoid further muscle loss.
More months went by. This journey with my hip was taking over more and more of my life. I was in pain all the time now. I couldn't sleep much. I couldn't get comfortable standing or sitting. I was having to use crutches; what a nuisance when you have two small children! I was scared, frustrated, and angry. Why couldn't anyone figure out what was wrong with my hip? Was I going to have to spend the rest of my life like this?
One of the surgeons I was seeing recommended I try the Joint Replacement Institute in Los Angeles. Once again, I went through all of the tests. The doctor I was seeing at the Institute could feel something clicking in my hip when he examined me. When he put my X-rays up on the screen, even I could see an abnormality. It looked like someone had pasted a cotton ball on the socket of my joint. I didn't know whether to jump for joy or cower in fear.
For the next few days, I waited for more test results, wondering if I may have a tumor. My untrained eye had seen something; that couldn't be a good thing! In actuality, there was only one who knew what was wrong with my hip. One night, I cried out to him, "What is wrong with me?!" My Bible was in my hand, and I tossed it onto the bed in frustration. It opened up to Genesis Chapter 32. I looked down at the page and the first thing I read was, "When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip. Therefore, to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon." Was God trying to tell me something?
If you are curious how this turns out, please keep reading my blog. I will be telling my story in its entirety this week as I remember the bittersweet journey of living with chronic pain and healing.

"Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in anquish.
How long, O Lord, how long?"    ~Psalm 6:2,3

              
 

A WALK TO REMEMBER

"I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in." ~George Washington Carver

My husband and I went for a walk Sunday evening. That in itself is nothing unusual. But this walk was different. The evening sky, with its brilliant display of colors, was beckoning us outside. We put on our walking shoes and headed out the door. It had rained earlier in the day, and the remaining scattered clouds were bursting with orange and yellow hues as the sun descended behind our neighboring hillside. We were basking in the view when we felt the first drop...then another...and soon we found ourselves caught in the midst of a downpour. We took one look at each other and smiled. It was just too pretty to turn back. We kept going, getting soaked to the skin.  
On our way home, the rain stopped and we dried out quickly in the warm night air. We were just a few houses away from our own home when my husband grabbed my arm and pointed. A large coyote was passing by, focused intently on a cat standing frozen in a driveway just a few yards from where we stood. The coyote sensed our gaze and looked at us, then the cat, then back at us. My instinct was to try and chase it off, but my husband held me back. Slowly, resignedly, the coyote gave up and moved on, and the cat saw its opportunity and took off.
We stood there, amazed at the timing of it. Had we not been in that exact spot when the encounter took place between the two animals, we are sure the cat would have been snatched up. Our decision to keep walking in spite of the rain placed us in just the right place, at just the right time. An amazing sunset, a refreshing rainfall, and a cat's life is spared ~ it was a walk to remember.

"Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings."
~Psalm 36:5-7
     
   

Monday, September 5, 2011

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

"If a man is called a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and Earth will pause to say, Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Labor Day, a day that, ironically, means that many of us get a day off from work. It's a welcome long weekend to relax and enjoy time with family before the hectic pace of a new school year begins. For others, it's an opportunity to get caught up in chores and projects around the house. But maybe it can be something more, something deeper ~ especially for those of us who are blessed with a paying job. In a society where the unemployment rate is skyrocketing, maybe today is a good day to pause and give thanks for the huge blessing of a job and steady income. Let's face it ~ there are millions of people who would love to be given the chance to do what we do...work.

Today, I am grateful for my tutoring work. I know ~ I am not a full-time teacher, I am not making a lot of money, and I work with only three boys. As one friend put it, I could be in a public school enjoying a nice salary, benefits, retirement savings, and I could be reaching so many more kids. That's true...and it's just the right job for him; it's what he has been called to do. But can I do any less? I know I have been called to use this season in my life to give my time and attention to these three boys.

Not only am I thankful to have my tutoring work, I am also appreciating the fact that I am capable and free to do work that doesn't have a monetary gain attached to it. I am able to care for our home; I can cook our meals and run our errands; I can wash our cars and weed the garden. I can devote a big chunk of my time to my writing. I can extend a helping hand by bringing someone a meal or running their errands.

Work is a blessing! We often mutter and complain about it (at least, I do!), but if we are capable and are given the chance to work, then blessed are we! For those who are not so fortunate right now, my heart goes out to you. I know what it's like to need a job and not have one. I encourage you today to look for the hidden blessings in this season of your life.

My daughter spent the better part of a year looking for a job that she was educated to do. After visiting veterinarian offices in our area, she zoomed in on the one that impressed her the most. She diligently visited the office for a period of months, asking if any positions had opened up. One day she asked if she could volunteer a couple days a week. They eagerly accepted her offer. Within a month, she was hired on a part-time basis. Today, she is a full-time employee, working in an office she loves, with people she loves, doing what she loves to do.

I pray that this gives you who are looking for work some hope. For those of us who have work, maybe today should be a day of celebration...and not because it's a three day weekend. Today I am going to attempt to look at each little job I do around our house with a new sense of appreciation. Happy Labor Day to all!

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people."  ~Colossians 3:23      

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A HAPPY CHILDHOOD

"You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again." ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762

"It is never too late to have a happy childhood." ~Tom Robbins

Becoming a grandma has given me much to think about this past week. When I was holding baby Aven in my arms yesterday, I began to wonder about how her life will unfold. I tried to imagine her at three...at seven...at twelve, so curious about what her childhood will look like. She is so fortunate ~ she is off to the best start because parents couldn't possibly love a new baby more than our son and daughter-in-law love little Aven. I know that her talents, passions, and dreams will be met with great enthusiasm and support.
I got to thinking about how different things are today than when I was a child...and when our own children were small. It seems that, in our determination to shelter and protect our kids, we as a society have forgone common sense and lost touch with some of the basic things that kids need. The end result is that so many kids are growing up in a "bubble".
When I was young, we didn't have cell phones or computers. We could go off with our friends all day and have good old fashioned fun. We explored the hillsides. We played in the park for hours, unattended. We walked to school and back home. The rule was "be home before dinnertime". I remember having the freedom to go off with my friends in second grade. We built forts and played in them for hours. We caught every insect known to man. We went on treasure hunts. We rode bikes and rollerskated all over town, even on the school property. We went swimming. We saved our allowances and walked to town to buy a candy bar. This was how I grew up defining "childhood". 
When I became a parent, the world wasn't as safe a place as it had been during my formative years. While I tried to give my kids a measure of the freedoms I had enjoyed, I had a very watchful eye on them. Still, we encouraged our kids to enjoy the outdoors daily ~ we supplied them with bikes, rollerblades, sports equipment, whatever outdoor activity they showed an interest in. But I could see a shift occuring as my kids grew up. More and more of their peers were not allowed to play in their own front yards. Instead, they were using their free time to play video and computer games. Kids in general were growing more and more sedentary. I grieved when our community removed the swing set and jungle gym from the park, claiming they were too dangerous and a legal risk. When did swing sets become a hazard?? It seems that so much of what makes childhood precious was vanishing before my eyes.
I know I do not stand alone in my thoughts. Just today, our local newspaper had a featured article about this very topic, saying:
"Play is serious business. Children need it. Daily. Study after study shows that playtime makes them happier, healthier, smarter and more social. But in America, children are suffering from a play deficit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only one in five kids live within a half-mile of a park or playground. And today's kids spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation, according to the Stanford University of Medicine."
I know ~ it's a dangerous world out there. And it seems that it's getting worse as the wonder of the computer age is being used for evil as well as good. The number of child predators keeps climbing. But there has to be a better solution than locking our kids inside and instilling such a high level of fear in them, that even a swing set appears dangerous.
Here's how I see this trend impacting today's kids ~ the obesity rate is off the charts...kids aren't developing that wonderful part of the brain called "imagination"...they have pent-up energy from being so inactive, which can lead to an ADHD diagnosis...they aren't developing the social and communication skills gained from spending consistent free time playing with peers...they are growing into adolescence frustrated, bored, with low self-confidence. Is it possibly because we have taken away the essence of their childhood in our attempts to keep them safe? I believe we have got to find a way to bring back the joyous, carefree daily expression of "play". Not just for the scoreboards ~ real, genuine, get-dirty, have a blast playtime. That's what I think. How about you?

"The essence of childhood, of course, is play, which my friends and I did endlessly on streets that we reluctantly shared with traffic." ~Bill Cosby

"Childhood is that wonderful time of life when all you need to do to lose weight is take a bath.  ~Author Unknown       
  

HEADS UP!

"A mother's happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories." ~Honore de Balzac

Those of you who have been in my kitchen have probably noticed a piece of patched glass in my garden window. If you have known me a long time, you also probably know that this window has been broken for almost fifteen years. Recently, I was watching the Home and Garden Channel while dusting the living room, and the host was repairing a broken window much like the one in my kitchen. I paused and watched in amazement at the simplicity and low cost of the repair. Why had I put up with this broken window all these years when a quick fix was all it needed?
But everytime I see that patched window, my mind travels back in time to that Thanksgiving afternoon fourteen years ago. I had sent our kids outside to play so that my husband and I could focus on preparing the meal. This would be our first time hosting Thanksgiving in our new home. I was mixing up a double portion of stuffing when I heard our son yell, "Heads up!" Before I knew what was happening, a green tennis ball came flying through the kitchen windowpane and landed in one of the bowls of stuffing. Our kids came rushing in with expressions that told me they were a bit fearful of what awaited them. I looked at my husband, then at them ~ all sweaty and out of breath from playing ~ rolled my eyes and said, "At least I made a double portion!" Relief swept over their faces. We dug the tennis ball out of the stuffing bowl, cleaned up the broken glass, and my husband patched the window while I carried on with the dinner preparations.
So ~ why does the window remain broken today? Maybe it's because I still smile inside and out when I stop and look at that patched glass. Memories of when our kids were younger come flooding back. Time has flown by so quickly, and it's the memories that we carry with us that allow us to relive those precious moments over and over. Every morning when I am at the sink filling the carafe to make my first cut of coffee, I see that patched window and I am thankful for the memory of our first Thanksgiving meal here. A broken window seems a small price to pay for the countless times that memory has brought a smile to my face.

"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens."  ~1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, The Message       

Friday, September 2, 2011

FACT OR FEELINGS

One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life: that word is love."  ~Sophocles

When you think back on your childhood, what comes to mind? What feelings surface when you look back on your role in your family of origin? Maybe you were the star...the one that won all the awards, and you feel happy. Maybe you were the over-achiever who always got good grades, and you feel proud of your accomplishments. Maybe you were the trouble-maker, labeled the "black sheep" of the family, and you feel regret. Maybe you were a  miracle baby, the one that beat the odds...and you feel deep gratitude and appreciation for life.

When I look back on my childhood, I remember being the one who made a lot of mistakes. I also remember times when I felt overlooked, like I was an inconvenience. I am not saying my family wasn't loving...they were. I always knew deep down that I was loved and cared for, but I remember feeling more like a bother than a blessing. Maybe it was because I was the youngest...a complete surprise to my parents who thought their days of conceiving were over. Maybe it was the age difference between my siblings and me. Whatever the reason, I grew up feeling unimportant. As I moved closer to adulthood, I was able to establish close relationships with each member of my family.

Why am I writing about this? Because I know there are others out there who grew up feeling the same way. I get it. I also know that my feelings were not based on fact. My family always loved me...through all of my bad decisions...even when I didn't feel it. But more importantly, the One who created me and breathed life into me speaks against those old feelings. He says He loves me with an everlasting love. He says emphatically that I am important to Him and His kingdom. He says He never takes His eye off of me or stops thinking about me, even for one second. Wow!

He says the same thing about you. Whether you grew up in an ideal home life, or experienced dysfunction or injury...whether you were the high achiever or the rebel of the family...God sees you the same way He sees me. He longs to lavish you with His love, to heal all those old wounds, and to use you in powerful ways.

Today, I can "overlook" all those old memories that aren't so good, and say that the way I felt is "unimportant" now. I am not going to let the old negative stuff "bother" me anymore. Why would I? I am so loved. And so are you.

If you read this and were touched by it, know that it is my gift to you. I did not want to write this, let alone post it. But I couldn't shake it off...no other message was coming to me. This was supposed to be yesterday's post, and I fought it tooth and nail. This morning, I knew I had to post it. If it speaks to one person, it is worth it.

"I've loved you the way My Father has loved Me. Make yourselves at home in My love."  ~Jesus, John 15:9

"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." ~St. Augustine

"God is love. He didn't need to love us. But He wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing." ~Rick Warren

"Eventually you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is." ~Gary Zukav

"The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present." ~Barbara De Angelis