Friday, June 27, 2008

Amazing, Truly Amazing

Just found out it may rain off and on most of Sunday, and that's when I'm having over fifty people over to celebrate our son's high school graduation. I had hoped there would be sunshine, flowers blooming, music playing, people strolling over the grounds with a cold soda in hand, teenagers playing volleyball in the backyard. But no, I think we may instead hear rumbles of thunder, see the rain pour down, and feel very very connected that day- perspiring, hot people crammed into our small house, balancing a plate and a drink in hand, smiling and sweating and intently trying to celebrate this milestone in our lives. What loved ones do for each other- it's amazing.

But loved ones also often hurt each other. We bicker, quarrel, bring up the past and resurrect certain "issues"- hot spots if you want to call them that- and these issues can resurface and have to be dealt with over and over again. It can be a hurt from the past, a memory of someone failing you, or a sensitive spot in your heart when a certain word is brought up. Sometimes Family Get Togethers are like volcanoes that decide to suddenly erupt- and you thought it would, you tried to warn those around you that you had a feeling it would erupt- and then, sure enough, it does. What loved ones do to each other- it's amazingly painful.

I keep telling myself- sometimes in a voice of wonder and sometimes in a trembling voice- "God can handle it." I know He is never shocked by outbursts and break downs and fights and fears. He is the One you can go to and say, "I feel a volcano in me about to erupt, and I know its better that we talk first before I talk with anyone else." That's when you'll feel God's hand of approval on you: not because you came to Him all clean and perfect and in complete control, but because you came to Him with a mess on your hand and fear in your heart and stumbling feet...but you came to Him nevertheless. You came to Him because that declaration of faith was running though your mind, firing up your heart in belief- "God can handle it." What God does for us- it's truly amazing.

"I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" Jer. 32:27

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Won't Be Disappointed

The next couple weeks involve a LOT of running around, events, appointments, trips, decisions. I am gearing up for all this by not only doing a lot of shopping, event planning, stocking of the fridge, and making lists, but also by mentally preparing myself for good times, for celebrating and rejoicing. Just planning the graduation party for my son, alone, is a big feat of strategizing, facing parking challenges, selecting menu choices and preparing myself to run around serving food but at the same time run around with a big smile on my face. I can get so task-oriented that I forget why I am doing the task: that I am celebrating a milestone in my son's life and in our family's life as well. I can forget to enjoy the moment.

Whenever I get ready for an event, I am hopeful. I want to be hopeful. And I should be. But there's always that tinge of "But what if something goes wrong?". And for mothers, there's always that quick-to-action instinct that we have where we are ready to jump in at a moment's notice to fix anything that goes awry. We're ready to do damage control. We are hawk-eyed, on the look out for the least bit of unhappiness in someone, ready to turn that frown into a smile- as if we were a magician. We are often dealing with disappointed people, temporarily forgetting that we have our own disappointments as well.

But lately I have been thinking about this whole concept of disappointment. I have had a number of disappointments in my life- big ones and small ones. Everyone has had disappointments. But not everyone is aware of how these former disappointments have become the bedrock of their perspective. We often take one disappointment, add it to another one we've had, and we begin to have this inner attitude of "See? It never works out when you hope for more". We can develop a negative perspective of things, but tell ourselves that we are just being careful, guarded.

That's why I love how God challenges the Israelites in Isaiah 54. Israel complains of being forsaken, of being disappointed, and God tells them to, instead, prepare for hope, prepare for expansion. He speaks to the barren Israel and tells her to let go of the disappointment. "Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame..."(Is. 54:4a).

I love how, in the CEV version, it says it loud and clear: "You won't be disappointed". A lot of our disappointments come from missed appointments- times when we thought God would move and we took action...and fell flat on our face. Then there were times when God moved radically and quickly in our life and we stepped back into our comfort zone and refused to take the key, the open door He offered, because it led to the unknown, to the New, to the rough terrain of unexplored promised land. Everyone wants the promised land, but not everyone realizes that God often says, "You develop it". When He challenges us to receive something good that involves our rigorous stewardship we often answer with that age old excuse, "I can't".

Why is "I can't" an excuse rather than a plain admission of our capability? Because anything God calls us to, or leads us through, we can, most assuredly, do. We can prevail. We can enjoy the challenge. We can overcome. We can make it.

And that expectation of a good adventure with God is the beginning of us already connecting with hope and faith. Now we're on track. We've had our appointment with God's perspective and we see a bit more clearly, now. We see possibilities. We see God's hand ready to move on our behalf. We know, now, that we will not be disappointed.

So here I go into the day, a long list in hand, a flurry of activity ahead of me. I expect that it may be a challenging day, a very busy week. But I also expect there to be amazing moments where I "see" God nodding His head in approval as I open my mouth and laugh and rejoice in the midst of it all.

Monday, June 23, 2008

And There Arose a Storm

There's nothing quite so exciting as driving through a major downpour and then hearing on the radio that there is a tornado watch and you are about to drive through the critical danger zone. That was my afternoon yesterday. My daughter and I prayed up a storm as we drove through the storm...and we made it through.

Got home and pulled up to the opened garage door where my husband was waiting for us. We ran into the house and my daughter kept saying, "We've got to get down to the basement! That's the only safe place." But there was no tornado- or at least there wasn't one near us.

What there was, however, was a big tree that decided to come down right in front of our house, crashing onto the road and dragging the power lines down with it. Then everything got semi-dark and quiet. I called in our emergency to 911 because we were worried about the live wires being down on the road and about oncoming traffic who might round the curve and run right into the tree and power lines.

After a while we decided it was best to set the best atmosphere possible. My kids dragged out their guitars, and my son and my husband worked on tuning and stringing Alex's guitar. I read my book, lying on the couch and petting our dog to keep him calm. I was half thankful for the family time the storm brought about, and yet also concerned for the families that had more critical situations due to the storm.

You just never know what the day brings. I guess that's why Jesus told us to not worry about tomorrow for today has enough challenges of its own. But sometimes these challenges- these storms- come in with a roar and go out quietly, leaving behind a contemplative heart that ponders how good it is know the goodness of God in the land of the living. And in the land of the living storms may rage, but there's One who can quiet that storm with just one word..."Peace."

It's a blessing, it's a command, and its a declaration: "Peace!".

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free Indeed

Last night my daughter and I watched Dr. Phil ( on T.V.) address the problems of Anorexia and Bulimia. It was agonizing to watch. The stories of these young women were enough to make you wonder if anyone, in this world, feels safe, loved, and hopeful.

Anorexia and Bulimia are two kinds of battles people have with not just the desire to be thin, but really, more the desire to be in control, to be safe, to be loved, to distract yourself with a ritual of purging or exercising or counting every calorie so that the real enemy inside you is temporarily quieted. I know. This is what I battled a long time ago.

Sometimes I even think that it really wasn't me, couldn't have been me, who frantically ran miles every day, ate a bit of cauliflower and some water for her main meal, and did exercises on her bed, at night, for hours. Sometimes it seems like this confused young woman was someone else- because I don't feel the terror or the frantic searching for control that I once felt. But I know it was me. I have photos to prove it was me.

The most memorable photo is the one where I am standing in front of our home and my sister has put up a sign that says "Welcome Home" and I am there, a smile on the face but not in the heart, and standing there-stick thin. I had just returned from my year of study abroad in Spain, but I had also returned having battled something that sprang up, supposedly, out of nowhere. Anorexia was its name but I could have called it so many other things as well: terror, a sudden realization that I was alone, culture shock, isolation, the need to control one tiny thing in my life even if everything else seemed out of control.

That's all I want to say for now about this problem I had so many years ago. I only bring it up now because last night was the first time I talked about it with my thirteen year old daughter. I wanted her to know that I had battled Anorexia, yes; but that I had also battled Fear, Anxiety, Depression, and Self Hatred. I wanted her to know that my strong confidence, now (which sometimes breaks down) is something that comes out of weakness. That "when I am weak, then He is strong" and God is strong enough to get you through the times when you don't even want to be strong, when you don't even want to succeed. God is adept at dealing with our self-sabotage.

Because I feel strong (for the most part), because I feel safe (very much so) and because I am certain of God's love for me, His desire for good for my life, I now look back and wonder how I could not have known these liberating truths. But I remember that its easy to get lost, its common to know hurt and pain and by not dealing with it, let it fester within and then manifest outwardly, someday, on a day you least expect, in a way you never thought.

I remember. God tells us to remember. How many times, just in Deuteronomy 8 alone, does He tell us to remember what we've gone through, remember what He has brought us out of, remember WHERE we are going. We are going to a promised land. And in this land, fear does not reign, sickness does not reign, and hearts are at peace, minds are at rest, because in this land, faith shall be sight. For me, I have decided that it is possible to used to the fact that this land is to be my homeland. That I am to be at peace, even now- and nothing shall rob me of my birthright.

"He who the Son sets free is free indeed." In getting free, I must remember that staying free is also the goal. It's the reality I should know. And I fix my sights on that. He tells me to do so. I want to agree with God, agree with what He has for me.

He'll always make a way for me to get there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Taste and See

I have lost my touch in the kitchen. I used to be a pretty good cook, and very good at baking. But somewhere in these last months I have botched up so many meals and served too many dried out tasteless things that I have to wonder what has happened. It's probably because my mind is on so many "closing" details: my son finishing his senior year, planning a graduation party for him, contemplating necessary moves we have to make in different areas of our lives. I am not focused on turning out moist delectable banana breads and muffins. Instead I am intent on making progress, having breakthroughs in areas of my life where I have not yet "gained the victory".

So if you were to come for tea and a snack at my house, I'd be offering you a muffin that is dry, tasteless, and has a chunk of mushy fruit in the middle. I would apologize that it tastes so bland- but I'd be smiling as I say it. It is what it is. You see, I'm not that broken up over my bad cooking and baking skills. I have made progress in other areas of my life, and that matters more to me than being a good cook. At least right now that's the way I feel.

There is something wonderful, though, about biting into something that looks delectable and tasting it, and finding out that it is, indeed, delicious. Anticipating the taste of a fudge covered cookie, biting into it, and letting the buttery shortcake texture of the cookie mix with the fudge flavor in your mouth, is a treat to the senses. The expectation that something will taste good and then the experience of it being better than you thought is one of those "beautiful" experiences in this life.

And that's what I've been reflecting on lately. Especially last night, when hearing over and over that chorus based on the verse- "Taste and see that the Lord is good"(Psalm 34:8). Taste...and then see that the Lord is good. Take a step, take an action of experiencing God's grace, and find out that He is better than you realized, that He is more merciful and kind and loving than you even knew.

I kept thinking about this- that even though we walk by faith, and not by sight, that there are times when God wants us to not only know a deeper experience of Him, but that He invites us to this experience. He sends out an invitation to know more of His mercy, to see Him more clearly, and He is confident that you will not be disappointed.

Now if I invited you to an afternoon snack at my house, I might be hopeful that you'll enjoy it, and there are some days that I might even be close to confident that what I baked tastes good. But it's a bit of a gamble for you to come and taste what I offer.

God, on the other hand, is never half-confident that what He offers you will amaze you. God has no doubts that when you respond to His invitation to experience His goodness that you will be amazed at how good He is, how much more He has planned for you. He is certain that you can experientially know more of His goodness. That's why the psalmist says, we "go from strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7) because there is an increasing revelation of what God is about, how He is FOR us, how He loves us. And this revelation is increasing in our lives.

Every time we take God at His word and reach out to taste His faithfulness and His forgiveness and His mercy, we savor it and say, "Oh, it's so good."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Review Sessions with My Father

Things are winding up, settling down, ending. The school year is ending, and for my son, his life as a high school student is over and his life as a college student begins in a couple months. But those are not the only big changes in our lives. We are going through transitions of various kinds. And when you're moving forward into new things, its good to review your past to see how you transitioned into new things before.

These last couple months I have been taking a bit of a journey into my recent past by looking through my old journals. I wanted to evaluate my weak spots- to look at where I was blind about things. Amazingly, this has been very encouraging as I have reviewed the last three years of my life and have "seen" where I fell, where I stayed down too long. I have had my eyes opened about my weak spots, yet I have not felt pummeled by God. It's been like a Review Session that God has graciously consented to oversee, but I'm the one who is choosing to bring these things up. As we begin going over where I have failed- there's revelation, there's regret, but there's no shame or agony that I can never change. I can change. He tells me all the time that I can.

The kind of Father that God is ...well, who can really understand the perfection of His identity as Father God. He is the perfect Father. He encourages and He corrects- and its done perfectly. When He admonishes us it is not for any reason other than to get us back in line with being under grace, walking in love, walking away from sin, and keeping our eyes on Him. He wants good for us and not evil. When we really understand that, it is not an excruciating thing, then, to ask God to review where you have gone wrong. You are asking Him this so that you can go right, so that you can get an "aha!" moment of understanding about where you may have been beating your head against a wall, and God was wincing as you did so because there was no gain in that kind of self-induced pain. God never gets a kick out of our suffering- for if He did, He would not be the pure hearted God that He is.

I found this passage in the book of Judges and was astonished over how God's heart is characterized here. In Judges 10:6 we find out that the Israelites were botching it up again, that "the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord." God can't stand it when we're picking evil instead of good, when we spurn His help and seek after a man made substitute that will supposedly help us- be it alcohol, drugs, whatever you think is going to get you out of your predicament. If it's not God who you think is Your Answer, then you have chosen an idol. And so the Israelites are returning to God, finding a measure of peace, then botching it up and returning to sin, and living in bondage to their enemies. They then remember to cry out to God, after they have been beaten down, and here is where we get this amazing verse-

"...And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel" (Judges 10:16). The CEV version words it this way, "Finally, there came a time when the Lord could no longer stand to see them suffer." What they were going through was agonizing for God to watch. Those who are parents know what its like when we see our kids choose wrongly, and worse, when they choose what brings them down into the grips of something dangerous. It is agonizing to watch someone you love make themselves miserable, choose something dangerous, and yet refuse to choose the good you offer.

God, the Father, has a heart that loves and that grieves over our bad choices, our waywardness. God is not cool and aloof and detached from us. He loves us and that means that love "bears all things" even if its agonizing to see the one you love go plunging down into bad territory.

I've learned, then, that I can bring up my past times of waywardness- whether in thought or in deed- with God. We can talk about it. We can review my past, together. He's not eager to point out how badly I failed and to gloat over it. He does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices when I come to understand the truth. He wants me to choose well, to choose LIFE, to choose....HIM.

And the times when I have not done so,well...we need to talk about this. I can't sweep it under the rug and pretend that I lit up His face with joy when I went down into the dark and stayed there. So I'm looking at my past so that I can look forward. I'm trying to see what I may not want to see, but what I need to if I'm going to progressively walk in the light. Part of that light just may be the glow of joy that emanates from God when He sees us walking wisely, loving Him, ... choosing well.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Lightening the Load

It is the least that I can do, to have my dog brought to the Groomer and get sheared like a sheep, lessening the weight of his thick blonde fur all over his body. It's like insulation, and I can't bear to think of how hot he must get, how he can only relieve himself by panting and panting and drinking water. So he's getting clipped today, and Harry will come home looking like a scrawny noodle of a thing but feeling a lot more comfortable. Forget about appearances, here- this is a matter of lightening the load. This is a matter of bringing comfort and relief to the body, and should remind us to do all we can- when we can- to bring comfort and relief to the soul.

Sometimes I suddenly am aware of how easy it is to lighten someone's load. I'll get reminded of this fact periodically, and I'll try to say something to acknowledge someone's battle with something, commending them for being strong in the battle- even if they never meant to be strong.

My daughter, Abby, had the chance, the other day, to write a note to a child in another state who is suffering with cancer. Abby doesn't know this girl, but she immediately tried to make her smile and laugh by writing something humorous, and then she added that she was so sorry that this girl had to go through this suffering. Abby ended the note by quoting part of a song she had just sung in her school's choir- "I'm counting on God, I'm counting on God...". My daughter wanted this girl-she-had-never-met to know Whom to hold on to with all her might- and that she could count on God to take her through the storm.

God has such compassion on those who are heavy laden. It's His heart and His will that our load be lightened, that our burden get rolled off our back. "Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" Ps 55:22. I had heard one time that the best way to get a burden off your back is to do it the way a camel loaded with burdens would do it: they have to kneel down and lower themselves to the ground, and then roll the burden off them. If you're on the ground, you may get dust in your face, you may get stains on your clothes, but that's the place where your burden meets the ground and that's where you can leave that burden, there- on the ground, not on your back.

You have to get lower to see higher, sometimes. You have to get your burden off you in whatever way you can, and who cares if you wind up looking foolish - or looking shorn like a noodle like my dog will be looking. Who cares if people know that you were weeping on your knees or that you were taking a prayer walk, and you had to walk a very long time before you felt a release?

I spent a night, once, literally standing in the dark, standing next to my bed, facing the darkness and quoting from Ephesians, "...And having done all, STAND." I had cast my burden on the Lord, but I felt the weight of it all still, and I decided to battle for that blessed, sweet peace. So I stood there, taking a stand for what God said I could have, my chin jutted out in fierce determination that after I prayed and done everything I knew to do, the one thing I could still do was to take my stand.

And sometimes when you're carrying a burden, you've got to decide if you're supposed to stand and fiercely claim your right to peace in God, or if you should kneel down, get low to the ground, roll that burden off you- before God. Either way, we've got to lighten our load. We've got to be free enough that we can help lighten other people's heavy loads as well. When they ask you how to do it, tell them there's a variety of postures you can take, but that what matters, in the end, is that God sees what posture you take and why. He sees when you call out from the ground and when you're standing and looking up to Him in faith. And He wants to sustain you. He WILL sustain you.

Of that I am sure.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Comfort Food

The best comfort food, for me, is an omelette of mushrooms, onions, and Swiss cheese, with toast (the kind of buttered toast that actually crunches loudly when you bite into it) and tangerine-orange juice. That's perfect comfort food for your every morning, and it's generally what I eat almost every weekday morning. (Weekends I just have coffee, first thing, and maybe a bit of toast). As for midday meals and midnight comfort food, there are other things you can eat but I can't think of what they are right now. That's because for me, mornings are the key turning point of my day. Mornings are when I need food that will satisfy my body, and spiritual food for thought that will take me onward through the day.

God's idea of comfort food is an altogether different story. When you ask God to comfort you, while He often gives that satisfying peace and consolation that is so soothing to the soul, the real comforting work of God (d0ne through the Holy Spirit) is challenging, convicting, and a bit unpleasant- at least to the initial taste. I think it's because when we ask God for comfort, we are in a predicament, or we've gone through a storm, and we are just looking for a bit of relief and consolation. He wants more than that for us.

God's idea of comfort involves the remedying of our thinking and our understanding. He wants to comfort us but not placate us or keep us as foolish children making the same mistakes over and over. God's way of comforting us is to liberate us (Isaiah 61:1-2, Gal. 5:1). And for God to liberate us from bad patterns or strongholds or erroneous beliefs means He has to shake things up a little and get us out of our deadly comfort zones into His Comfort Zone of true Freedom and Progress. God comforts us with the Truth of things, not with flimsy hugs that do not open our eyes to see what we must see.

I have often asked God to comfort me, and then later on found out that I really asked Him to bring me to a new level of understanding. I just didn't realize at first that that was what I wanted. We ask God, often, for things that we think are good for us, and fortunately God answers us by giving us what we are asking for along with what we forgot to ask for. After all, we don't know what we do not yet know. We don't always know where we are lacking. We don't always see when we are asking for a touch of something when we really should be asking for a flood of it. Asking boldly and riotously, even.

When I comfort my children, my instinct is to soothe and to settle them down. When my daughter is sick, I make lots of hot tea, toast, and pile on warm blankets, lots of reassurance that she doesn't need to worry about a thing, and that I will take care of everything while she is "down for the count". When my son is sick, he just wants to sleep and enjoys me feeding him, dispensing the medicine, and generally letting him be. I know how to comfort my kids. And now that they're on the mend, they're back to pushing away my maternal smotherings.

But when I want God to comfort me, I am now asking , directly, for something different. He sees that I've grown up a little and that I am not expecting His comforting touches like I used to. Now I am expecting His comforting presence and His power- and He is expecting me to understand that He wants to comfort me in a way that might not initially feel good.

When He sheds light on a situation, I see things that I may not want to see. When He teaches me to discern- because we are commanded to- I may have to deal with what I am now "seeing". There will be decisions to make, and there will be a type of navigation through uncharted stormy seas that I would never, on my own, decide to go through.

But He comforts me. He comforts me with His counsel and His challenge that I must grow up and go up...higher. Mountain climbers cannot stay in a tent and have comforting massages all day. No, they have to get up, gear up, and set their sights on that peak that is calling them. They are comforted by the fact that their job is to climb mountains. Their calling is to go up higher. And like that mountain climber, God's presence and His whispers of instruction are so comforting to my soul, that my shaky knees take heart, and I too take a deep breath, and get ready to climb...higher.