Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Tossed and But Not Torn


This is going to last forever.
This too shall pass.


The whole world is going to come down. 

Perhaps this is what we need to find Jesus.


I am so tired of this, I just want to go back to normal.


What is normal? You only have first world problems.

The economy will never recover.

We've come through worse.

This is life and death.

But it doesn't feel serious...

Why can't I be happy with what I have?

I'm so thankful for what I've got.

I never really liked people anyway.

Then why do I miss them so much?

Maybe this is the end of the world...

There is no way, it wouldn't look like this!

Why can't I just trust and wait?

God is in control.
    
Only a small sample of the unending discussion that goes through my head every day. I feel divided, like I can't get a grip on this. I have heard this is what grief feels like-joy mingled with sorrow, and they alternate at times in surges and shallows. I think I am trying to process this, this complete unknown. 
"The LORD is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1
Written by the same David who said,

"Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted, the troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish." Psalm 25:16-17 

David was literally "a man after God's own heart" but he, too, experienced seemingly conflicting emotions. I run the gamut of feelings, sometimes in as little as five minutes. However, don't be confused: my faith is not what is at stake here. I am, as David,

"I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." Psalm 27:13-14  

Living in denial never did anyone any good. I can pretty much guarantee there isn't a person alive who hasn't been frustrated and discouraged by this whole pandemic. And that is rightly so, this sickness sweeping the world is a physical expression of the decay that corrupts each of our hearts apart from Christ. It should sadden and grieve us that we all are experiencing the consequences of hearts determined to follow their own ways. Illness is a result of the Fall. I can be disturbed by what is going on. 

 It is ignorant, in fact, to live as though external forces don't exist in the life of believers. Jesus Himself, in the parable of the house built on the rock, actually assures us of the opposite.  He says, 
"The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." Matthew 7:25 
We will, indeed, weather storms. And just because they won't take us out, doesn't mean we won't feel the rain. Or hear the wind. We can't, and shouldn't, ignore it, if only for the fact that it reminds us that without Christ we would be hopeless and helpless in the face of the storm, and that is the case of anyone without Him.

So, perhaps, my tossing thoughts are a good reminder that I am not at all able on my own to face the onslaught of the elements, both physical and mental. I absolutely must rest on my Rock, the truest foundation there ever was. And again, as another psalmist demonstrates so clearly, I can recognize my feelings while redirecting my thoughts.

"Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." Psalm 42:5, 11 & Psalm 43:5

Three references for the same verse? Yes, because it is a process that must happen over and over. I need Him every moment. Acknowledging my feelings forces me to turn to the Lord-I have to take my fear, worry and doubts to Him.

"My heart says of You, 'Seek His face!' Your face, LORD, I will seek." Psalm 27:8
So while my emotions may be in conflict, my heart is not. My foundation is solid as the Rock of Ages, and He isn't fazed by my turbulent thoughts. Nothing can tear me from His grasp. He is patient and loving with me, He wants me to bring my doubts and concerns to Him. He is, after all, the only One with the power to calm the storms.

"They...asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!" Mark 4:41
This is my Savior and my God. My hope is secure, though my ship may be tossed. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

To Carson, On Your 12th Birthday


Dear Carson,
         Well, this year will surely be a memorable one! You had big plans for a joint birthday party with your buds (from the Chicken Nugget Gang) but instead we all got to shelter-in-place. However, you  have worked hard to have a positive attitude, and we planned to make the best of the day.  You are my extrovert, you love to be with your friends, so it ended up being a lovely surprise that your friends came to you, albeit to social distance from the sidewalk and across the park, but I think their efforts will be wonderful memories in time.

      You absolutely love hanging out with your friends and watching boy friendships is so fun. You are a leader amongst them (in part because you're a teeny bit bossy) mostly because they look up to you and trust you. You are mature for your age, and I am constantly impressed by your discernment. You really care about how people are feeling and you can frequently be found helping without being asked. You are very responsible, too, which is a quality every mother wishes for her children.

     You are "the world's youngest Boomer", a nickname we have affectionately given you this year due to your grousing about "freaking hippies", what you disdainfully call anyone who hasn't lived up to your standards. You were washing out the kitchen trashcan the other day and grumbling about the gum that had escaped the liner. It was kind of hilarious because you sounded like a dad. I love that you don't realize that most twelve year-old boys don't do those kinds of things willingly or without being reminded. 

    You have been robbed of a few things this year besides a birthday party, but I'm thankful for all the things you have been able to do. You really enjoyed basketball (with your friends, of course) this last winter and you are on track to finish your final year of T&T in Awana. You have managed to coax me into doing all four books with you-you challenge me to get better and it has been inspiring.

    Watching you love people well brings such joy to my heart. You love doting on the baby and toddler siblings of your friends, and you can carry on intelligent conversations with people of all ages. You have been helping in Children's Church all year, and you set an excellent example to the little people there. It is hard for me to believe that you will be in the youth group in the fall. 

    As always, I'm excited to continue to watch you grow, physically (you are taller than Grammy now!) mentally (you worked hard in school this year, especially at paper writing) and spiritually (I see your tender heart for Jesus and I adore it.) You remind me so much of your dad in all the best ways, and you just continue to get wittier as you get older. Your wisecracking keeps us all in stitches! I am constantly praying that the Lord will guard your heart and mind as He has always done. He has big plans for you! I am so thankful that I get to be a part. I love you more than ever.

                                                                                                            Love, 
                                                                                                                Larry aka Mom
                                                                           (your current nickname among many for me.) 

Easter in Exile



 (I must confess that the idea  of "exile" was borrowed from Russell Moore who is using it as part of his series, "Reading in Exile".)

     "The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed feasts. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her maidens grieve, and she is in bitter anguish."
Lamentations 1:4
"My sins have been bound into a yoke, by His hands they were woven together. They have come upon my neck and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has handed me over to those I cannot withstand. " Lamentations 1:14 

   When one thinks of Easter the book of Lamentations isn't usually the first one to come to mind. Any of the Gospels, if you want to go further afield perhaps another book of the New Testament. Really far out? Maybe throw in some Isaiah or Psalms. But I keep turning current events over and over in my mind. I am frustrated, I am confused, I am angry. Everything familiar seem ripped away by circumstances beyond my control. I feel thrown into a foreign land, one I don't have skills to navigate, one where convention and tradition have been tossed to the side like so much extra baggage on the Oregon Trail, abandoned with no hope of returning to it.

    It might seem melodramatic to some, but go with me- to have freedoms taken, however small, and replaced with fear and lack of certainty always moves one to grief. To be haunted by death and illness should be saddening. We mourn the past, not the least because we knew what it held. And there are definitely those who know that feeling.

"Joy is gone from our hearts. Our dancing has turned to mourning." Lamentations 5:15
  This is not normal, and we should not treat it as such. We should be sorrowful for the way that sin has wreaked havoc through disease and fear over the entire world.

"The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord. O wall of the Daughter of Zion, let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest." Lamentations 2:18 

   The exile of the people of Israel is one of the most gut-wrenching events in the Old Testament. The promised land was no longer theirs-not only had they been overrun by the enemy they were wrenched from their towns and homes and thrown into a foreign land. They wanted to blame the Assyrians, the Babylonians,  the Egyptians, anyone but themselves. They found themselves alone, far from everything they knew.

And they weren't coming back. Normal would never be normal again.

And it was all their fault.

"Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: We have sinned and rebelled..." Lamentations 3:40-41a

   For decades, through Daniel and Esther, through Jeremiah and Lamentations, the people of Israel were foreigners in a foreign land. Birthdays, anniversaries, births, weddings, and even deaths happening all the while. And the feasts, the ones we slog through in Leviticus but that defined the seasons of their lives, kept occurring: the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Weeks. Passover.

    I can't begin to fathom the pain and irony of even considering observing a feast that was a celebration of release from exile. While in exile. Passover, the time they were redeemed from their oppressors. Celebrating, remembering, while in the grip of new captors.  Painting doorways with blood to signal release. Baking bread meant for a journey of freedom. While locked in a cell of their own design.

Passover...

"He [Jesus] replied, 'Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house." Matthew 26:18

Passover...

This is My body given for you...

This cup is the covenant in My blood  which is poured out for you...

Passover means Easter to us.

    This year it may feel like we are in exile, separated, forced to let go of long-cherished familiar traditions. We may feel robbed and frustrated. But more so than ever before, let us celebrate Easter as one in exile.

One waiting for the coming King.

One covered by the Blood.

One knowing that this is NOT our home.

One knowing that all His promises are true,

One knowing that this will end and then we will really be Home.

One clinging to faith when the world is unfriendly and uncertain.

One who continues to look with hope, true hope, when it all seems hopeless.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him." Lamentations 3:23-25

    We underestimate the faith of those who turned and repented in exile. They looked for Jesus. They looked for over 400 years. We live in the realization that Christ has come, but we, too, should be looking for Him to come again. There were those who continued to celebrate the release they had experienced, as we experience new life in Christ here on earth, but as they looked with expectancy to a better, fuller freedom, so do we. This world is not our home, but trusting fully that in Christ every promise of God is, "Yes!" Exile is always meant to teach us something. Don't let this be any different.

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them....These were all commended for their faith yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:13-16 & 39-40

Better things are yet to come but we can still celebrate, for even in exile, HE IS RISEN.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Lord of Peace Printable



    I am not that old. However, my mind is very resistant to memorization at this point in my life. I have Scripture verses I learned in childhood that I can rattle off without error at a moments notice. (Thanks, Mom!) But I was really struggling to memorize Scripture as an adult, to the point where I had given up trying.

   However, I believe that a big part of leading is setting an example, and I apply that to parenting, as well. Both my kids have participated in Awana since they were quite little. The amount of effort it takes for them to learn Scripture: zero. But when my son started Awana's upper elementary program he challenged me to start learning verses with him. I figured I would give it my best shot and then, when he wasn't paying any attention, I would quit.

   I'm not proud of that. But don't look down on me, yet. That was 3rd grade. He is now in sixth and we are finishing our fourth Awana book-together. I have learned over 25 verses each year (the amounts vary) and I realized that the same Holy Spirit power that enables me to walk in truth was available to me to commit that same truth to memory. It hasn't been easy, I'm not going to win any awards for saying my sections without any "helps", but I am truly appreciating God's Word in a new way. 

   And, of course, God's Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). The passage that I have been working on this week is one that blew me away with its simplicity, and absolute perfection to this uncertain season we are all in. Right now, in the midst of this coronavirus craziness, one of the things we are all desperate for is peace. And, of course, only Jesus can provide true peace. Normally I use the NIV (NIV 1984 is my preference) but this verse is so beautiful in the ESV.

"Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

  Wow. Just mediating on that single verse has brought me such incredible peace, peace that the world can't give. Jesus is truly the Lord of peace. He alone is in control. I don't doubt for a moment that He challenged me to work on memorizing Scripture all those years ago because He knew that in this very trying time I would need a reminder to which I could cling. Now, don't be mistaken: there has been plenty of passages that I have memorized that have been very meaningful and appropriate to me through the years, but isn't it incredible that He can use something like that in so many ways and allow it to continue to benefit us?

    Jesus came so that we could have life, and joy, and hope and peace. That is truly the message of Easter: we can be forgiven and restored to right relationship through the sacrifice of Jesus, and then we can begin to truly live. We can only find peace in Him alone. He is risen and triumphant over every thing that would cause us unease and turmoil-we can look to Him to give us peace in all times. Even these.

    Because I loved this verse so much I put it into a graphic printable I wanted to share. It prints black and white so if you want it to be "fancy" you can use colored cardstock, like I did. Perhaps put it somewhere you can work on memorizing it? You never know when it will come in handy...

Find the printable version here 

   P.S. If you are looking for more verses to bring you peace, check out this list of 40+ Scriptures I put together. They're printable too!


Friday, March 27, 2020

Promises That Bring Peace



Click here to get the printable!

     I lead what is essentially chapel time at the homeschool co-op our family attends. We divide our weeks at co-op into quarters and as chapel leader I choose different topics for each quarter. I had spent time praying about what to speak on for our recent winter quarter, ultimately needing to decide on a topic before the first of January that I would talk about for the next nine weeks. After much prayer, I felt strongly that I should focus on worry, or rather, on how *not* to worry. So for nine weeks at co-op, ending with our final week in the first week of March, we talked about how Jesus tells us not to worry, and why we don't need to when we trust in Him.

     The Lord does not ever waste any energy. His timing is always perfection, and this was certainly the case in this. As I write this there are many efforts in place to stymie the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus. We, with the majority of America, have stuck pretty darn close to our home since about the 13th of March, watching and waiting.

    And, much to my chagrin, sometimes worrying. On our last day of meeting, unbeknownst to all of us that we would not be meeting again for who knows how long, the Lord strongly impressed on me that I should write out a variety of promise Scriptures, and so I did. I typed out 43 different Scriptures, from twenty different books of the Bible, each one a beautiful reminder of why we don't need to worry: because God is mighty, because He is in control, because He loves us, because He is on our side. I took the printed verses and cut them apart, and each child and parent that day received their own promise, a reminder that God is always with us, and we do not need to worry. I hope that those verses are serving to encourage them during these uncertain times!

    I realized the other day that these verses might benefit others outside of our group, so I thought I would post them here. You can grab the link to the printable up top under the photo. If all you do is print these out and read them, they will be immensely valuable, not because they are anything fancy. As a matter of fact, you could probably type them yourself if you wanted. No, because the are the powerful, eternal, perfect Word of God. It is always worth our time.

   But, if you are so inclined,  you can just print these. You can do a variety of things with them, beyond simple reading. I printed mine on colored cardstock and sliced them up with my paper cutter and filled a vase with them. I plan to pull one out when I am frustrated beyond these circumstances beyond my control. You could read one each day, or read them all each day! You can encourage your children to adopt one of the verses as their own. Look for the similarities between verses. Look up the surrounding passages and see what the verses say in context. Have your kids group them by book of the Bible, or put them in order by passage. Interact with them and see how they will really, truly take on a deep and personal meaning.*

   God is still very much says to us, "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.'" Isaiah 41:13 

This circumstance is not beyond His control, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You." Jeremiah 32:17

He is with us, and hears our prayers. "But You are a shield around me, O Lord; You bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from His holy hill." Psalm 3:3-4

   For every promise find a reason it applies to this strange time, or to your life specifically. Make it real, take it personally. It is so, so good. I pray that these Scriptures bring you peace, God is certainly strong enough to keep all His promises. He is working!

* I wanted to share how we have been using these recently. I have each of my children choose one every night and they read it aloud, and then I challenge them to incorporate that particular verse into their prayers. Teaching your children to pray Scripture is so important and this makes it very easy. It has been so sweet for our family! 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Title Character


"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him." Philippians 3:7-9a NIV
   I like a good television drama. I want a little uncertainty, and little action, some tears maybe. I wanted to be reminded of my humanity. I like to get invested in the characters, and vicariously experience their ups-and-downs, even in situations that I am 100% certain I will never find myself in.

   But at the end of the day, I want to know for sure that the characters I love the most are going to stick around for another episode. If I have given them precious hours of my life, I don't want to find myself crying at their (albeit imaginary) funerals. At the end of my forty-or-so minute roller coaster ride I don't mind not knowing everything, I want to be kept guessing within reason, but I don't want to have to contemplate that the show might go on without the player I've pinned my hopes.

    And when I am most frustrated by the way the script twists and turns, leaving me hanging, and fearful for the outcome, I often ask myself this: how important is this character to the show? How long have they been around? Is there a foreseeable future to their arc?

    When I begin that type of inquisition, I find that there is one answer that always satisfies: the title character. If the person in question is the title character I know: they're going to hang around. And regardless of what happens, they will either be there or the show will be over. Because it is pretty darn impossible to have a television show about someone when they're not in it. There will be highs. There will be lows. I will probably cry. I might laugh. I may be confused, knowing me that is more than likely. But I can count on that character being there, no matter what else occurs.

     Real life is more chaotic than any television drama will ever be. We watch TV because it redirects our thoughts from our own problems to those of someone else-and we get to turn those off whenever we want. We don't have any indicators for when, in our own lives, those very real characters we call our fellow human beings will exit the stage, and here poverty, illness, death and troubles of all kinds are very much tangible realities.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV (emphasis mine)
   See, thankfully, none of us is the title character. As much as I want "my" life to be about me, all of this is really all about Him. When Paul talks about the "surpassing worth" of knowing Christ, and how everything else (and I love this particular translation) is "garbage", that resonates so deeply with me. What a relief it is to know that I am not the point of the show! That is far too important of a role for someone with my talents, or lack thereof. I am more than happy to be a bit part in this story. He can have center stage, all day, every day. I know there is no way the show will go on without Him.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Into the Unknown

A picture I unknowingly took before things went south. 
         Wow. I did not think this would be so hard to write about. As a matter of fact, I don't really want to write about it at all, I'd rather just pretend that it wasn't happening, that I wasn't suspended in the terrible "unknown" where the good is as likely to happen (maybe even more so) than the bad, but that is exactly where I am.

    You may be wondering what exactly is going on, well, I would like to know that, too, but I will tell you the little that I know. I want to write it all down, every detail, because regardless of how it turns out, I already know this is a memorial stone. So here is all I know.

   Monday I made (or thought I did) appointments at the eye doctor for the kids and me. Wednesday, the day the appointments were, I called to double-check the time. And was informed that I did *not* have any appointments. There had been a mix-up. A little frustrated, but I was able to reschedule for Friday. We ended up seeing a new optometrist, and he wanted to dilate the kids' eyes. Jocelyn wears glasses, but Carson has 20/20 vision so I thought it was a little odd. But the optometrist felt it was a good idea to do it every few years and Carson has never had it done, so we went ahead. I have had my eyes dilated sooo many times, so I knew exactly what to expect. Which is why when the doctor repeated part of the exam I felt my stomach drop. He asked Carson to look up and to the right with his right eye. And stared. And then asked him to do it again. As soon as the doctor finished looking he said he wanted to "get a few pictures". Again, not the norm. He led him to a machine in a different room and I knew for certain something was off when he could not seem to get a shot of a very specific something. When I saw the images come up on the monitor in the area, even though I am not well acquainted with how the back of an eye should look, I was well aware the large black dot on the image was not right.

      The doctor was wonderful. He informed me my intuition was correct, the chorodial nevus, the official name for the black dot, was not normal. It is like a mole on the back of your eye, and while they are not rare, it isn't something they want to see, because like a mole on your skin, they must be monitored and are often the first sign of cancer. Never something that a mom wants to hear. I was trying not to panic, and I know it seems like there wasn't much at that point to be concerned about, but as soon as the doctor mentioned that they need to be monitored to ensure they aren't cancerous I flashed back to over 10 years ago, to the last time that I was hearing a doctor mention the possibility of cancer in my son's eye.  And, then the doctor proceeded to tell me that this particular chorodial nevus did not have the halo they like to see, or the white dots, in other words, my son might have a common condition, but it was presenting in an uncommon, or concerning, way. Kind of like if a mole has irregular borders, or is growing.

     I did manage to find the presence of mind to ask about the concerns we had when Carson was little-could it be possible that issue had anything in common with this one? Instead of allaying my fears, the doctor immediately started taking notes on everything I said. He did assure me that he was directing us to the best specialist he knew, and that it was important to convey all that information to the doctor at the referral. He did mention cancer, again, and the importance of catching and treating the type of cancer that can be caused by this type of thing as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, much of what he said was kind of fuzzy around the edges, because I just kept hoping he would say, "But I'm sure that is not what this is." He didn't say that.

     And that is where we are. I'm waiting for a referral appointment to find out if my son has cancer. In his eye. Which if he does, he will lose. And cancer that can metastasize and be fatal. I am *really* trying not to think about that. Why do I want to remember this pain, this uncertainty, this feeling of someone holding me by the upper arms, pushing me down? Because God is good. In this place called the "unknown" He is very much known and knowing. I firmly believe that our appointments on Wednesday never materialized because we needed to see this doctor, today. He was the one who would strongly urge dilation, a procedure that I would have declined, except for his gentle insistence. And I have no idea if Carson has cancer, only God does at this point. But the thing is, this memorial stone will be there either way-and I don't want to forget that God is the same, whether my son is healthy and whole, or if he is at this very moment headed towards a painful medical ordeal. I don't want to forget that I need to cling to Him every moment the way I am clinging to Him right now. When the end of this particular chapter of my testimony closes, I don't want to dismiss it as "nothing". God is working here, He is working now, He is working always. And while I can't see how this will turn out, He can. And when He puts the finishing touches on this part of the story I don't want to forget any part of it, because all of it is in His control and He is working it all together for my good and His glory.

     I picked a word for 2020 a few weeks ago. It is "flourish". I always base my word on the Scripture I choose, this year it is Jeremiah 17:7-8:



“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in Him.


They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

     I don't know if this is a year of drought. I don't know if the heat will come. My frail human spirit prays that it won't. But I do know that the unknown is the very best place to trust, and confidence in the Lord will never be misplaced. I know because He always keeps His promises. 

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