Saturday, March 18, 2017

So Easy, But So Hard

I remember the first time I came across the scripture in Romans 7:15, when Paul expresses his struggle with sin saying, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do."  As a young Christian and a young girl, I remember thinking, "Yes!! Awesome! That's me too!"  It was such a relief to learn that I was not alone in my struggle.  Not only was there someone else who experience the same inner battle, but it was Paul!  I mean Paul was a big deal.  Apostle of Jesus Christ and writer of more than half the New Testament, Paul was not just anyone, he was a big kahuna (spiritually speaking) and yet he found himself confounded by his own sinful behavior and choices, just like me.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, although I have aged in years and wisdom and grown in my faith and walk with Christ, unfortunately, I still find myself relating to that scripture.  Back then it was a blessed revelation that brought reassurance, but now it is a source of frustration for me. I'm over it!  I feel like I should be past that by now, right?  I should be doing what I want to do, and not doing what I don't want to do.  It should be the opposite of Paul's scripture by now, shouldn't it?  I am not so sure.  Again, that was Paul who penned those words; who I am to imagine that I would be farther along than Paul?

So this morning I was reading in the book of Leviticus, where God gives the Law through Moses to the Israelites, His people. I am always amazed at how specific the Law is.  Yet, I realize that is because God was instructing His children in a way that would guide them and protect them, keeping them safe.  It was for their own good.  The whole book of Leviticus is filled with these detailed instructions.  Then near the end of the book, God lays out the consequences for either obeying or disobeying the Law, and the breakdown is pretty simple--obey the Law and you will be blessed; disobey the Law, and you will be punished.  It is so clear and seems so easy, a no-brainer.  If I am an Israelite, I would want blessings, not punishment, so I will obey, right?  Right.  And yet, the Old Testament is filled with account after account of the Israelite's disobedience against the Lord.  They disobeyed over and over again, and ultimately suffered painful judgment and punishment for it, just like the Lord had said.  As clear and easy as it had seemed, the Israelites struggled to obey.

I think sometimes we modern-day Christians read through the Bible and feel inclined to judge the Israelites for their disobedience.  Why didn't they just listen to God?!  How could they do "that" again?!  Don't they know??  I know I would have done better than was so easy and clear, of course I would have obeyed.  Or would I?

As I read through God's Word and reflect on the history of God's people, I am keenly aware of how much I am like them...and forgive me for saying so--you are too.  We fail and disobey as often as they did.  And I would have to think that we actually have it easier than they did.  In our time, we have the Bible to guide us and the living presence of the Holy Spirit, and yet we still disobey as well.  I still find myself right alongside Paul saying, "I just don't understand myself!  Why do I do those things I don't want to do, and don't do those things I desperately want to do!!  God help me!"  I could have given those Israelites a run for their money!  I am pretty sure I would have ended up in Babylon too.

So where is my hope, and our hope, in all of this?  Once again, it is in God's Word.  Thankfully, and as always, the scripture does not end with just questions.  There are always answers.  All the way through, this is true.  I love it in the Psalms when David cries out to God in despair, questioning his circumstances and his pain, that he always comes back to the solid truth that God is sovereign and in control, and our hope is in Him.  The same is true for Paul, and for us, in the book of Romans.  Paul may have started out by asking those questions of himself about his own sinful choices and behavior, but he ends that same passage with a statement of hope and deliverance.  He concludes, "What a wretched man I am!  (boy, can I relate!) Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" There is our hope--in Christ.  We are not lost to this endless struggle with sin, because with His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus delivered us from it!  Because I have put my faith in Christ, I am delivered from my sin.  Praise God!

Yet, as long as we are on this earth, on this side of glory, we will still struggle with sin.  But we struggle with the hope of knowing that sin and death are conquered in Christ, and that because of His power in us, we get closer and closer to glory each day.  On many days, I can still relate to Paul's angst, but I know with confidence that the struggle is different than it once was, and God's work in me has made me stronger in Him.  So, I may still be an Israelite, but I choose blessing, and I am heading to the Promised Land!  I hope you are too!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What God Never Imagined

I have been reading in the book of Jeremiah, and I have found it to be an incredible book.  I am overwhelmed by the clarity and distinction between God's justice and wrath, and His mercy and restoration.  The two exist side by side throughout this book.  Through His prophet, Jeremiah, God outlines the sin that is detestable before Him and the punishment that that will come because of it.  But then He also proclaims His love and the restoration that will follow for His people.

In one of the many passages that details the sins of the people of Israel and Judah--those offenses that have stirred up God's wrath--God charges His people with offense for the crime of sacrificing their children to Molech, a false god of the time.  But in this passage, God not only declares this sin abominable, but He states that it never entered His mind that they would do that.  That truly blows me away!  

God is omniscient.  He knows all things--past, present, and future.  God knows every thought in my mind and every motive of my heart.  He knows my coming and my going.  Every day of my life was written in His book before any one of them came to be (Psalm 139).  He knows ALL things, and yet, it never entered God's mind that this kind of evil would exist.  That breaks my heart as much as it blows my mind.  It breaks my heart because clearly it breaks His.  God  knew there would be sin; He knew there would be evil in this world, but He did not want to imagine that we would be capable of that--killing our own children. And yet, we are.  We were then, and we are still today. 

We continue to sacrifice the lives of our children, our sons and our daughters, to detestable idols. They may no longer go my the name of Molech, but they do exist.  Now those idols are called women's rights, the right to choose, convenience, or "my life," which is deemed more valuable than the life that is being sacrificed.  It's no different today than when children were laid on the altar of Molech.  Oh, I know that there are some, even many, who would say that these are two very different things that I am talking about.  They would argue that sacrificing and killing a child who has already been born is a far cry from choosing to end a pregnancy.  Because in their minds, that is what they are doing, or at least what they convince themselves to believe.  

Abortion is not about killing, taking a life, or God-forbid, sacrificing a child to an idol!  The unborn is not a life, yet...and so there is no child to be considered.  This is about a pregnancy--one that is unplanned, unwanted, inconvenient, conceived in undesirable circumstances, or even unhealthy.  And so the objective is to end the pregnancy, to become "unpregnant."  That's my right, isn't it?  It is my body that has unwillingly subjected to this state of pregnancy, so I have a right to do whatever is necessary to change these circumstances, fix the situation, and take care of my body and myself, right?  If I have an unexpected growth on my any part of my body, I would go to the doctor to have it removed with no objection from the morality policy.  So why is this different?

It is different, completely different, from simply removing a growth or ending a pregnancy.  It is different because despite the efforts of those arguing to justify abortion to make it seem like anything but taking the life of a child, it is exactly that.  What is removed during an abortion is not a cyst, a tumor, a clump of tissue or cells.  It is, in fact, a baby--a developing human being; it is a child.  And so, not just a pregnancy is ended.  The life of a human child is ended, sacrificed on the altar of "my body, my life."  Yes, it is the same sin as the one God calls detestable and says that it "never entered His mind" that it would be done.  We, too, are sacrificing our children to Molech, at the alarming rate of 1.2 million each year in this nation, and near 57 million in the past four decades.  And we continue to thumb our noses at God, declaring it "our right" in the name of "choice."  What is to become of us?  What of this nation?

At the time of my reading in Jeremiah, it was not going well for the Isrealites and the people of Judah.  Through the prophet, God was letting them know, unequivocally, that judgement was coming.  They were going to be captured and taken away, and their land was going to be destroyed.  They were a stiff-necked people.  God had warned them time and time again.  God had wooed them to turn their hearts back to Him.  But they continued to turn their faces and their hearts from God and boast in their sin.  Sadly, our nation has done the same thing, and so judgement will come again.  The Bible is clear about that--God's wrath and His judgement.  But it is also clear about His mercy and the promise of restoration.

In those same passages that outline the coming judgement, the tide and the promise of God does turn.  God does not remove the judgement, but He does promise to follow it with mercy.  That is the beauty and awesomeness of who God is!  He is holy, righteous and just, and because of that, sin cannot continue without judgement.  But, He loves us too much to just stop there and leave us in that condition.  Judgement for sin comes so that He can restore us to a right a relationship with Him.  Just  like an earthly father disciplines his child to teach him what is right and to restore the brokenness of disobedience, God does the same for us.  But He also does so much more. 

Not only did God punish the people of Israel in the Old Testament and then restore them to their land, their prosperity and their relationship with Him, where "He will be their God, and they will be His people," but in the New Testament, He does it again, but this time for eternity, once and for all, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus took the punishment for all--all sin, all rebellion, for every child sacrificed to Molech--He bore our sin and suffered our judgment so that we could be restored to a right relationship with God, now and forever!  Praise God!  What an indescribable gift! 

You see, all the way back in Jeremiah, long before Christ accomplished His work on the cross, God makes His heart clear in chapter 32, verses 40 and 41.  After judgement, God expresses His desire and intent to restore.  He says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them...," and then a little further down, "I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul."  Did you hear that??  God's covenant with us through Christ is everlasting. Restoration is coming, and it will last forever! And then the part that moves my heart so deeply--that God rejoices in doing good to us.  It makes His heart happy to love and bless His children.  It brings Him joy!  I think that is incredible.

Then there is the last part where God says that He will restore His people--He will "plant them in this land" with all His heart and soul.  Have you ever said that to someone?  "I feel this or that with all my heart and soul"? or "I did it with all my heart and soul"?  I have.  We say that to communicate that everything in us is in that something--what we think, do or feel.  Well, that is what God is saying to us in His word.  His heart and soul are in restoring us, and it brings Him joy to do us good--not our joy, but His!  

I am overwhelmed by this.  God's love is so amazing, and it is available to us all.  No matter how unimaginable our sin may be, God's mercy covers it.  When we turn our hearts to Him, He turns His heart to us.  He may never have imagined our sin, but we can never imagine His grace.  Praise be to God.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What God Left Out

It occurred to me recently that for everything we are told in the Bible, there is much that we are not told as well.  Now I know, with certainty, that the Word of God is perfect and complete, and that God has ordained every word that it is written in it.  The Bible lacks nothing, and yet there is much that it does not say.

The key is that as believers, we must look at what is "left out" as intentional as what is put in.  Because the Lord has ordained each word, we know that He has a purpose for those things He has not included.  Take for example Paul's "thorn in the flesh" referenced in 2 Corinthians.  In this passage, Paul does not specify what the issue is.  He tells us just that it is something that weakens him, something he has prayed to asked God to remove, and something God has decided will remain.  This issue Paul has is something that God has chosen to use to teach Paul about the sufficiency of His grace.  And we will never know what "it" is on this side of heaven.

Sure, we can speculate, and I am sure that we do.  I imagine that there may be theologians who think they know exactly to what Paul is referring.  But the fact of the matter is that they cannot know, and that is because God does not want them to.  If He wanted us to know, He would have told us, and that is the whole point.  There are things that God doesn't tell us, and He has a reason why.

In the case of Paul's thorn in the flesh, there could be many reasons why God left that detail out.  What I am guessing is that it is better for the believers who would follow and read Paul's account not to know--not to have a specific thought or idea in mind about what Paul suffered with so that the principle and truth of the matter would stand out more clearly.  What is that principle?  That in my weakness, Christ is strong and His grace is sufficient for me, no matter what my weakness is.  

Let's say Paul actually stated what his "thorn" was.  Maybe it was a physical challenge, or even a temptation in the flesh that he wrestled with.  The point is that if we knew what that weakness was for him, then in our finite minds, we would not be able to apply the broader truth.  "Sure, God's grace is sufficient for Paul's problem, but mine is different, mine is worse.  I don't know if God will cover me with grace like He covered Paul."  You don't imagine that type of thinking is possible?  Of course it is.  We do it already, even given the full knowledge of the truth of God.  And God knows that.

God knows us.  He knows the way we are, and He loves us...with all of our weaknesses and "issues," His grace and His love covers us.  And that is why He left some things out.  He knows what we need to know and what we don't.  His truth is perfect and complete, including all the things He didn't say.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Roller Coasters

Let me begin by stating right up front that I hate roller coasters.  Really hate them.  Always have, always will.  I have been on a few in my lifetime, but I have never enjoyed one, not once.  Okay, to be totally honest, I am scared to death of them.  And at this point of my life, there is no reason I can think of that would convince me to subject myself to the experience again.  So there it is.  I admit it with no shame.

And yet, despite my clearly very strong feelings about roller coasters, I feel compelled today to write about them.  Why? You might ask.  It is because of Yvette.  Yes, Yvette, my crazy, hilarious, joyful, amazing, beautiful and godly friend.  She is the reason my thoughts have turned to roller coasters today.

Mind you, Yvette and I have never been on a roller coaster together.  In fact, I don't think we have even been to an amusement park at the same time, and honestly, I have no idea whether Yvette even likes roller coasters, although I imagine that it is a good possibility that she does.  It would fit her to be a roller coaster rider.

So again, we come back to the question of why I am thinking about roller coasters when I hate them, and why Yvette is responsible for my roller coaster pondering when we have no roller coaster connection.  Well, there is a good reason.  This past week, Yvette's world has been rocked by some very serious and scary medical situations.  In a very short time, so much has happened, and is still happening, and she is left reeling in the wake of it all. There are still many questions to be answered and frightening steps in the road ahead.  Yvette is my dear friend, and it hurts to watch her and her family go through this.  And so, on one of the days of this crazy, swirling mess that she has been in, when I was thinking about her and all that she is going through, my mind turned to roller coasters.

Yvette's situation got me to thinking about how much life is truly like a roller coaster.  And even as I write that, I realize how cliche it sounds.  And I promise, I hate cliches almost as much as I hate roller coasters!  But the metaphor so strongly gripped my mind and my heart that I had to follow it through to see what I could learn from it, even if it is cliche.

Some of the parallels are embarrassingly obvious--the ups and downs, and twists and turns of life are just like the proverbial roller coaster ride.  But it is true; life really is like that.  Life is rarely a straight, level, consistent path.  If there is one thing we can count on in life it is change.  Things always change, sometimes for good and sometimes not so much.  We have some seasons where everything is moving up and forward in a positive direction; but what goes up must come down, and down we eventually go.  And then all along the way, we are rolling, twisting and turning down the paths that this life gives us.  We just hold on for the ride, never knowing what is up ahead.  At times it is exhilarating, other times dizzying, and then there are the times that are downright scary.  That's the point of the ride that Yvette is on right now, the scary part.

But there is more to the roller coaster metaphor than the surface parallels.  There's more truth in the details and in the larger design.  Even though I don't have tons of experience actually riding roller coasters, I have been on a few and know how they work.  It all starts when you climb into the roller coaster car.  You get in, get all strapped, and hold on for the ride (or for dear life, if it is me).  Depending on the type of roller coaster, you might have a harness that goes over your head and straps over your chest.  Almost always, you will have a lap belt, and then there is the bar that you grip in front of you.  Even though the ride might get rough ahead, you know you are safe and protected.

Most times, there are also others with you in the car.  You might have your best friend in the seat right next to you, to scream together through the wild ride.  Other friends and family might fill the seats and cars behind you.  A roller coaster is the kind of thing you do together with others, so through all those ups and down, when it's fun and when it's scary, you're not alone; there are others with you along for the ride.

And then there is the grand design, and even more importantly, the designer.  Roller coasters really would be scary to everyone (not just me) if we didn't trust in the construction of the grand design of that structure.  Without knowing much about it, we trust in the engineering that is behind it, believing that we are safe and sound when riding it.  And while we are on that ride, we find comfort in knowing that there is an operator behind the switchboard running the ride.  There is someone there who is watching, guarding, starting, and stopping while we ride.   It is not a random, out of control experience.  It is designed and orchestrated by someone we cannot see, but we trust with our lives.

It is this part of the metaphor that brings me the most comfort.  Life is like a roller coaster.  But I am not as afraid of life as I am of roller coasters.  Why?  Because of the Designer.  In this crazy life of ups and downs, twists and turns, we are are not on a random, out of control ride.  We are on a track that has been specifically designed for each one of us individually, and the entire ride is orchestrated by One who loves us more than we can imagine.  He watches, He guides, He starts and He stops.  He is behind the "switchboard," in control of every part of our life experience.  When we know Him, and surrender our lives to Him, we are strapped in and secure, so that no matter how rough the ride might get, we will not be tossed out from the ride. We can trust Him with our lives, and we are grateful for those He gives us to go along for the journey.

So even though I still don't like them and never plan to ride one again, I thank God for roller coasters!  Thank God for the truth they reveal about His beautiful design and control of our lives.  Sometimes it will get rough; that is where my friend is now, but He is still there and will bring her...and me, and you...safely through the ride He has for us.

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:9-10

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hospital Corners, Meatloaf, Perseverance and Love

When I try to think of all that I learned from my mom, the first things that come to mind are hospital corners, folding laundry, and making meatloaf.

Honestly, if I am not careful, I could paint a picture of my mom as quite a task master in my growing up years.  My sister and I learned how to clean and cook out of necessity--mom was a single, working mother and needed the help of her two young girls to get things done.  Of course, the baby boy was off the hook! But Jen and I didn't just learn how to do those things...we learned how to do them right!                                                                                                                                     

We made beds with the precision of army generals--crisp, clean hospital corners every time, a quarter bouncing off the made bed.  Folding laundry might have been considered an art, if it were not for the fact that the absolute requirement of doing it "right" diminished the artsmanship of our work.  Jeans were shaken out, ironed with our hands, and folded in 3 careful parts.  An outside seam of a towel was never to show.  And shirts required a full table available to lay it out and fold it properly.  None of that "fold in the air, maybe get it even" method I use now in my later life.  Oh yes, we learned how to do laundry. 

And then there was the cooking.  Again, she was a single mom, working late into the afternoon, so she counted on me and my sister (did I mention we have a brother?) to get dinner started, or more often, get it done, by the time she got home.  And we did.  We learned the art of cooking good, basic meals.  Nothing too fancy, but good, wholesome, "stick to the rib" kind of stuff--meatloaf, chili,  mashed potatoes (mashed by hand, mind you), fish sticks, and burgers. 

What's funny is that I used to think that my mom wasn't great cook.  Not that I ever thought she was a bad cook,  but because she didn't have anything I thought was special in her repertoire, I thought that meant she was not that good.  But then, not too long ago, maybe a couple of years back, I had an epiphany that I got the chance to share with her.  What I realized was that all of the best  meals I make now in my adult life, the ones the family loves and guests ask for as a special treat, all come from her.  No, they may not have been gourmet recipes, but they are really very good, and everyone loves them!  I thanked her for that, and thanked God for helping me have that realization.

So yes, I learned a lot from my mom about good, strong domestic ability.  I didn't even mention the dusting, vacuuming, refrigerator defrosting, bathroom scrubbing, kitchen cleaning tasks we were also skilled in as a result of her tutelage.  She trained us well (that, of course, would be me and Jen), and honestly I am grateful.  I have to admit, though, that there was a time in my life that my zeal to do these things "right" bordered on a bit of OCD that may or may not have been healthy...ok, not so healthy.  If you have a brief opportunity to talk to my best friend, Heather, or my husband, I am sure they will very willingly share with you stories of me refolding their laundry because they didn't do it "right".  Eventually, they both stopped trying.  My bad.  But thank God, I believe I have been delivered from that at this point of my life.  Now my sister, Jennifer...I don't know.  You can check with her husband and see what he says. :)

But as much as the first things that come to mind when considering what I have learned from my mom are related to my domestic expertise, I am very aware that those are hardly the only things I learned from her, or not even close to the most important things.

When my dad died, 11 years ago, I thought long and hard about what I felt I most gained from him.  His was a complicated relationship, not only with me, but with everyone he knew, so it was sometimes a challenge to wade through all the mess to be able to find the treasure underneath.  But it was there.  Despite all the bad, there was good from my dad, and I am thankful for that.  The one word that seemed to best capture the legacy he left for me and for my siblings was passion.  Dad taught us passion.  Dad modeled for us passion.  Dad breathed passion.  And so, as each one of us looks at our own lives and where we have passion, we know that comes from our dad.

So when I was giving the same thought to what I thought best described what Mom taught me, I found it interesting that the one word that came to mind most was actually a portion of Dad's word.  I believe that one of the greatest things my mom taught me and our family is compassion. 

Compassion and love.  My mom had such a big heart.  She was tender and loving, and cared for all people.  Mom loved people the way we all should.  She was not judgemental.  She did not look at what you see on the outside, and judge you for it, like many of us do, if you are different from what others deem "normal".  Mom looked at someone's heart.  She saw their needs.  She saw their potential, and she loved them for it.  She also had an incredible ability to care for others in the same way.  She reached out in love to offer whatever help she could.  Sometimes she could not give much, but she would give what she was able.  What a beautiful legacy for all of us.

In doing so, mom modeled for us what God teaches us in His word.  The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, in I Samuel 16:7 that "the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  That is exactly what mom had the ability to do, to see others' hearts. That was true of her children, her friends, even those who hurt her, and of strangers.  She had compassion.  In the Bible, in the New Testament, there are several references to the compassion that Christ had for those he served.  "He had compassion on them." And so did my mom.  She had compassion for others, and I am thankful that she taught me that with her life.

But Mom taught me so much more.  It is hard to try to put it all in words.  It is a lifetime we are talking about.  But I want to be sure to honor the legacy that she leaves behind.  I think the one other most outstanding trait that my mother leaves behind is her perseverance.  She has taught me to continue to push through, no matter what. 

If you know my mom, virtually at any stage of her life, you know that her life has been hard.  There have been challenges--hard challenges, sometimes really bad challenges--all along the way.  Life was not easy for her.  And yes, it took its toll on her, both physically and emotionally.  But despite that, my mom always persevered.  She never gave up.  She never gave in.

She worked hard as a single mom to provide for her family.  She endured the painful challenges of an abusive relationship.  She managed the rebellious teen years of her kids on her own (thank God, at least one of her children made things easy for her, but I won't mention who...).  She went back to school in her early 40's to earn a Bachelor's degree, and almost completed her Masters.  She has fought passed illnesses and injuries that could have incapacitated her permanently, but they did not.  She kept pressing on.  Even up to the very end of her life, when she fought her last battle, she hung on with everything she had as long as she could, until at last she had no choice but to finally give in.  Mom taught me, and taught us, perseverance.

Just ask my children what it takes for me to allow them to stay home from school when they are not feeling well!  A simple fever or stomach illness just isn't going to do it. They pretty much have to be bleeding from their eyeballs or have severed a limb, and even that's questionable.  They too are learning to persevere, a legacy from their grandmother.

In that perseverance, however, there is even a greater message that we can take away from her life.  That message is that she didn't do it on her own.  She had Christ. Do I want to give mom credit for all she accomplished and all she has taught us?  Yes, of course.  But the lesson would not be complete if we do not recognize the source of her strength, and the source of her love, and that is Christ alone. 

It is mom's greatest legacy that at about 30 years of age, she gave her heart and her life to Christ, and it was His love and His strength that carried her through those next 37 years.  And it is because of Him that despite our sadness in her passing, that we have joy in knowing she is with Him.  Her life is no longer a struggle.  She no longer has any pain.  She does not have to persevere any longer, she has arrived.  And she is completely surrounded by the true source of all love and compassion.  Her heart is full.

There is no greater lesson for me, and for all of us, to learn.  Thank you, Mom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Losing My Mom

As I write this today, my 67 year young mother is lying in a bed in her home in New York, slowly fading away.  She has been in hospice care for all of two weeks now, but is already in the final stages of dying.  I sit here in Florida, one thousand miles away, waiting and dreading the phone call that will inevitably come to let me know she is gone.  I am told by hospice that it can be any time now. My heart is heavy with the weight of that reality.  I am losing my mom.

The funny thing is (not that there is anything particularly funny in a situation like this) that I thought this would be much easier.  I know that must sound crazy, but in all honesty, I had always imagined that when this time came, it would not be too hard for me.  Now don't get me wrong, I love my mom, and always have.  It's just that I have always been so independent of both of my parents, from the time I was very young, that I thought their loss wouldn't change much for me.  I would continue on, sad that they are no longer here on this earth, but my life would not be deeply impacted.

Well, I was completely wrong, and I guess it has taken this process of watching my mom fade away to make me realize that.  I am devastated to lose my mom. My heart physically aches each day as we walk through this.  My life is already deeply impacted by her loss.  She is not gone completely yet, but it has been several weeks now that because of severe dementia that I have not been able to have a conversation with her, to talk to her and connect with her like we always have done.  So I am already grieving her loss.

I am grateful, however, for the time just over a week ago that I had with her.  I thank God so much for making that possible.  My family and I were able to be in New York for about a week to spend time with her, and ultimately to say our goodbyes.  I am grateful for the "conversations" we had, even though from her side of it they didn't make much sense, but we talked to each other.  I am grateful for the songs we sang together.  Yes, one day we sang.  We sang "Joy to the World" and "Not By Might, Not By Power, But By My Spirit Says the Lord", one of her all time favorite songs.  Now her words didn't exactly match mine or the words of the song, but she sang her heart out for just those few moments.  I am grateful that there was one really, really good day when she completely recognized me and even introduced me as her middle daughter.  That was some real, specific detail for her at that point.  It was awesome!  I am even grateful that when she referred to my brother, Christopher, as her "favorite son," and I asked her who her favorite daughter was, she readily said the name of my sister, Jennifer!  That's okay, I know it was the dementia talking.  But I am grateful that she knew who we all were, and she was loving us.

I am grateful that my kids got to see their Grandma while she was still alive and mostly alert, and that she recognized each of them and got to speak to them.  And I am grateful for my husband getting to tell her that he loved her and that he promised to take care of me and her grandkids when she was gone.  There is so much to be grateful for.  Even as the week went on and there were periods of time when she was severely agitated and confused, I am grateful that I could be there to try to calm her; even though it didn't really work, I was glad to be there.  And then, even when she was sleeping more than she was awake, I am grateful that I got to sit by her side, holding her hand and stroking her hair.  What precious time it was to be with her.

There is no one who can ever truly understand the mysteries of God's plan for life and death.  It is so far beyond us.  When people die, why people die...there are rarely answers.  But what I do know is that God has plan.  He is sovereign.  Every day of our lives are written in His book before any one of them comes to be (Psalm 139:16), so although I never expected to be in this place, at this time, losing my mom, I know that God foreknew it from the beginning of time, and most importantly, that she is in His hands.  And soon, when God, in His divine providence, calls her home, she will be in His presence.  Praise God!

That is the best part of all of this.  My mom is going home to be with Jesus!  Does it hurt for me and all of us who are left down here without her? Yes.  Am I learning the hard way that losing my mom has a greater impact on my life than I expected? Yes.  Does it feel too soon and too quick?  Yes.  Yes, BUT...I have such complete joy and peace in knowing that she is going to a place where she will never hurt again.  She will be healed and completely whole, inside and out!  She will be filled with more love and joy and peace that she has ever known on this earth.  She will be in the presence of our Savior, and in Him there is no lack!  Glory to God!  My mom is going to heaven, and there is going to be one great, big awesome party for her when she gets there!

I am losing my mom, and it hurts.  But I am so happy for her, and I can't wait to see her when I get there! Love you, Mom!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Peace on Earth

"Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men!"  Whether spoken or sung, this is a phrase we hear a lot of during the Christmas season.  All the ills and evils of the rest of the year are laid to rest while the whole world seems to open their hearts to this collective wish.  It reminds me of the beauty pageants, when every prospective Miss America or Miss Universe expresses her deep, heartfelt desire for "world peace."  Don't get me wrong, I believe she actually means it, just as I believe that at Christmastime, the hearts of men and women truly long for peace as well.  But it got me to thinking, recently, about what peace really is.  

When we look in the scriptures, at the time the angels announced Christ's birth to the shepherds, they did, in fact, speak of peace.  "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)  In reflecting on this, it occurs to me that there is a great difference between the "world peace" that is coveted by bejeweled contestants in evening gowns, or even Christmas carolers on a snowy night, and the peace that is promised for those who believe in Jesus.

The fact of the matter is that the peace that the world seeks typically refers to the absence of conflict.  We want countries to get along, races to get along, and families to get along.  Can't everybody just get along?  If we could just do that, then we can have peace.  World peace.   Peace on earth, right?  The sad part, however, is that the world has sold themselves short.  In seeking peace that just removes conflict, they are missing out on something so much more precious.

Jesus tells His followers in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives."    The peace given in knowing Christ goes far deeper than what the world seeks, or what the world gives.  Jesus states it directly that what He offers is definitively not what the world has to offer.  It is true peace.  It is a peace that is a rock solid foundation of stability in your heart, mind and life, no matter what comes your way.  Even in the face of great conflict, in Christ, there is peace.  That is why He goes on to say, "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid," because He gives a peace that will take us through anything we face.  

I have experienced this peace, and continue to every day.  That does not mean that there are not days that are hard, or that life does not have its ups and downs.  I face struggle, discouragement, fear and insecurity.  I fight with my husband, get angry at family members, and yell at my children.  Sometimes the cares of this world keep me awake at night, deep in thought, trying to keep anxiety at bay.  And yet, there is peace.  There is always peace.  It is hard to explain it, how both can exist at one time, and yet it is so true.  Deep in my heart, coursing through my soul, is this certainty and security in knowing that God is truly in control.  He's got it, no matter what it is, and in that is peace.  There is peace in knowing who He is and that He loves me, no matter what.  My life is in His hands and because of that there is peace.  Sweet Peace.

This peace is something that is available to every soul on this earth, but there is a catch. That again is where the "peace on earth" perspective misses the mark.  When we go back to that scripture in Luke, we see that the angels did not announce, "Peace on earth and goodwill to all men".  No, what they said was, "on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."  In other words, there is peace available, but to those on whom God's favor rests.  And on whom does His favor rest?  Those who belong to His Son, Jesus.  That is why Jesus, when He spoke of the peace "I leave to you, my peace I give to you," it was not to just anyone he was talking.  He was talking to His followers, believers in Christ.  That precious peace He offers is for those who belong to Him.

So where does that leave us?  Do these thoughts mean that I am against Christmas carols, beauty pageants, and peace for all men?  No, absolutely not.  In fact, my desire is exactly opposite.  I wish for "peace on earth," but I am not looking for a superficial, sugar coated kind of peace.  I am not satisfied with just the absence of conflict.  What I want is for everyone on this earth, and everyone I know, to experience the only true, deep, lasting peace that exists--that is, peace in Christ.  He is the prince of Peace.  There may never be "world peace" as we think of it, but Jesus did come to give the world peace, peace in knowing Him.  And I hope that Miss America and every Christmas caroler on earth comes to know it!