Life

Fathoming Hope

Romans 5:2-5

“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Today, I encountered a woman whose story painted for me a picture of hopelessness. She was desperate and alone, discontent with just about every aspect of her life, and seemingly helpless to do anything about it. Beyond that, she was haunted by her past experiences and memories. She had become so accustomed to loss and disappointment that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

I myself am no stranger to despair, having struggled with depression for many years. But there was something different about this woman. That something was God. No matter how hopeless I might have felt in any given moment, or even for entire seasons, I never lost sight of God. I knew He loved me. I knew He had a plan for me, and one that would give me hope and a future. I knew that He would work everything I felt and was going through together for good and for His glory. Granted, the hope I had was at times about as big as those mustard seeds of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20. But as it turns out, hope works kind of like faith—it grows.

But for hope to grow, it has to exist. And then it has to survive some harsh conditions. This woman may have had hope at one time, but hope that was crushed by one too many harsh realities and rude awakenings. Or she may have never had any to begin with. One thing was and is clear to me. She needs the hope of salvation, the hope of redemption, the hope of restoration—in short, she needs Jesus. From the outside looking in, she seems so far from Him. But look at what Luke 15:20 says about the story of the prodigal son:

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

God will run to this woman, too. She needs only to start out in His direction.

Sovereign Lord,

I don’t even know the name of the woman I’m praying for—but you know.
You know her name, her story, her sorrow, her past, and her future.
And you know the plans you have for her, plans to prosper and not to harm her,
plans to give her hope and a future.
The impossible is possible with you, so a mustard seed of hope is something you can do.
I believe you for this hope, and I pray it in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen!

Lenten Blossoms
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For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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Social Director

I wear a lot of hats throughout the day: Christ follower, wife, mother, professor, blogger, friend, and so many more. But this fall, I’ve been inducted into a new role—social director for one little girl who has, over the course of her nearly four years, grown accustomed to having a big brother around 24/7 for her entertainment. Well, big brother started all-day kindergarten this year, about two weeks before pre-school started for little sis. Even since her school started, she and I have had a lot of one-on-one time, both before and after school. On top of that, she had her tonsils out a couple of weeks ago, necessitating a week off from school. So, needless to say, we’ve spent a LOT of time together over the past couple of months.

And unlike her self-sufficient, independent older brother, Miss Laredo refuses to entertain herself. “What can we do?” is her common inquiry. She usually has some ideas, but they all require two of us (at least in her mind). So we have played a lot of games, read a lot of books, and painted a lot of pictures. While I cherish the quality time together, I confess that I have often felt guilty and stressed over the other duties that I’ve had to set aside, and anxious about when I might be able to catch up. And yet, I’m reminded (as I often am) of Psalm 39:5, which states, “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” James 4:14 further asks, “What is your life? It is just a vapor, appearing for a little while, and then vanishing.”

So these moments, when I sit with my little girl and make memories that will hopefully last a lifetime, I try to remember the truth about what matters most in this life, and the brevity of it all. And I try to choose her. After all, a day will likely come when she dreads the thought of hanging out with her mom. Still, though, I have to admit that I’m thankful for today—a Saturday—when Tijge is here to fill in as social director and give me a much needed break.

Here’s to you and to the memories YOU will make today with the loved ones who are longing to make those memories with you.

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No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

Life Wish

John 10:10b
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

You know those people who seem to always be living on the edge? They scale the most treacherous cliffs. They summit the highest mountains. They run the wildest rivers. They jump out of perfectly good airplanes, or off of perfectly good bridges. They donate their kidneys to people in need—sometimes perfect strangers. I came across a guy like this recently. He mentioned first descents on wild rivers and how friends always asked if he had a death wish. They asked the same question when he became a nondirected kidney donor—meaning he donated to a stranger.

His answer to the question, in both instances, was, “No, I don’t have a death wish. I have a life wish.”* He craved excitement and adventure, and challenge, but also PURPOSE and MEANING. He wanted to GIVE life as much as he wanted to experience it himself. So when he learned that he could save someone’s life by donating one of his kidneys, of course he said, “Sure, sign me up.”

How about you? Do you have a life wish? Yours may not involve donating an organ, or climbing Mt. Everest. But there are a lot of ways to experience and to give life:

  • Is there a skill you’ve always wanted to learn or an activity you’ve always wanted to try?
  • Is there a gift you can give that would brighten someone’s day?
  • Is there a relationship that needs mending, or forgiveness that needs to be given?
  • Is there a blessing in your life that you need to show gratitude for?

I’d bet you could think of some others, too. Feel free to share them via social media using #LifeWish. Best wishes on your adventure!

*I should mention that life wishes often come with risks, and perhaps even sacrifices. But isn’t that most often the case with the very best of gifts?

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An Unlikely Enemy

Isaiah 55:8-9

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

They say that the good is often the enemy of the best. It’s one of the truest statements ever made. I think it applies especially to God and to His plans for each of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got ideas about how I can serve God, and further the Kingdom, and bless all of humanity. Yeah, I’ve got some big ideas and some equally big plans. But wait—what’s that the Bible says in Proverbs 16:9? “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

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But my plans are good! They’re noble, they’re selfless and sacrificial. And those things are true. But no matter how good my plans may be, they may not be BEST. God may have better plans than I do. Let’s face it, He undoubtedly does. So He’ll close some doors and open others. He’ll speak to me through other believers. He will give me a sense of peace, or perhaps a sense of unrest. And sometimes, some of our dreams have to die to make room for the dreams God has for us.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times, of a little girl with a fake pearl necklace that she adores and wears religiously. One night, her Dad asks, “Do you love me?” Her reply is, “Yes, of course I love you.” Dad’s reply? “Then will you give me your pearls?” Devastated, she replies, “Daddy, I do love you, but I can’t give you my pearls.” This exchange goes on for several nights, until the little girl finally answers, “Daddy, I do love you, and if you really want my pearls that badly, you can have them.” And once she hands them over through tears, the dad pulls out a beautiful string of REAL pearls, a gift he’s been waiting so long to give her. She’s finally willing to give up the good, in exchange for the best. The question is, am I? And are you?

Oh God, let us accept your best for us with open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Help us to believe the truth that your thoughts and your ways are so very much higher than ours; that you have plans to prosper us, to bring us a future and a hope; and that you are ready and waiting to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. In the all-powerful name of Jesus, let it be so.  

The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.