Saturday, August 14, 2010

Home Again...

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:4 -13 NIV

Well, I'm home again after what seems like days of solid driving and chaos. And I have such bittersweet joy tonight. On one hand, I couldn't help but cry everytime I thought of my Uncle, and Aunt Brenda, and Carla and Wendy. I think all of us in the family are still in shock that he was taken from us so unexpectedly. But I felt joy upon learning that the lump on my Aunt came back benign. It seems sometimes that so much of life is that way...a mix of joy and sadness. Often we don't get to pick how they come to us. They both come. And sometimes, like today, they come together- a strange mix of happiness and despair. And the same Lord allows us to experience both of them.
Paul was certainly no stranger to pain, or to joy either. He's been on my mind tonight. My friend Jen did a video I posted to facebook about how it was easier to be jaded than to remain upbeat and trusting through all of life's challenges. And she's right. If anyone could have let the hardships of life get Him down, it should have been Paul. But instead, he drew near to Christ. And when he pressed closer to Jesus, the Lord shared a not too many seem to understand in this life, I believe:
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Our life circumstances do not determine our joy; our God does.

Who is your god? Many people deny it, but everybody serves someone or something. Some people worship at the altar of self. Others serve money. Still others make a relationship with a significant other the center of their existence. If you can think of it, there's probably someone somewhere who worships it. What is worship? Well, one definition I found online seems to sum it up pretty well: "worship: to idolize: love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; 'Many teenagers idolized the Beatles'". (
Most people tend to think of a foreign god or some sort of wooden statue when they think of worship. But the Bible teaches that our hearts follow what we treasure. So if we say we treasure Christ, but in our lives we make no room for him or His word, then we are dishonest with ourselves. By the same turn, when HE is the center of our life, he gives us the strength to handle all things, be they joyful or sorrowful. He never promised he would make all of life's storms go away. But he does promise that He will never leave us in the midst of them. Paul wasn't saying his life was easy and smooth sailing...he was saying he knew the one who carried him through the storms.

I know my own heart is quite wicked at times, and I'm not nearly as centered on my Savior as Paul was. Often, I neglect spending time with Him and instead give my worship to other, less meaningful, sometimes even good, but still unworthy things. But my heart's desire is to be more like Paul, more like Jesus every day. Here a little, there a little.

I have been so sad this week. Oh how I hate the pain of a loved one's death. It seems so unfair that life carries on for the rest of us. How can that be? How do we carry on without them? It's like I had my life fixed on one True North, one reality. And then reality changed and they're gone. And I'm left flailing, wondering what is reality at all. Nothing feels certain anymore. We wonder what else we take for granted that could change in an instant. I felt that way after my daddy passed away as well. Flailing, empty, torn. And I do recognize it is normal, healthy feelings to hurt when a loved one is gone.

But in one way I feel, at least, I see my own need to anchor more deeply within the Savior's love. That His love and Him ONLY should be my True North. In all this life, Jesus is the one constant. Only His love and His presence never change. And that is how He means it to be. And THAT is the HOW we can do ALL things through Him who strengthens us. As we anchor more deeply in His love, he holds us and changes us to be more like him. Less doubleminded. More fixed. More rooted. More grounded. In Psalms 1:3-4 , it describes the righteous this way:

"He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away."

What is the water we're rooted and grounded in? God's word. And as we're rooted and grounded in him, we yield fruit in the proper times. Our leaves don't wither, even when autumn comes. Only God can do something as supernatural as that. And that is how we know it's real. Not when things are smooth sailing and we're happy as lambs. No, unfortunately, when circumstances are painful beyond belief, and like Job, we still praise Him. That, my friend, is supernatural. I'm not there yet. But I want to be. No one seeks out pain, but when God allows it, we can trust Him to use it for our good and His glory. It's not usually the word from the Lord we want to hear, but it's sometimes one we need anyway. God is not the author of all our hurts, but he is the perfecter and finisher of our faith. And that is very reassuring to me right now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grieving in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

11When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. -Job 2:11-13

I am grieving tonight over the loss of my uncle, whose life was tragically cut short this week when he was gored by his own buffalo. It still just seems so unreal. I mean, just saying the words seems unreal. Who dies in that way--killed by a buffalo? It can't be real. My mom talked to him on the phone yesterday morning here in my kitchen. They were making plans to go on a cruise next year, him and my Aunt and my mom. He was so alive yesterday. How can he be just gone? But it is real.

Strange to me too, how one grief brings up fresh another. It seems my tears for my uncle are mixed with tears for my own dad who passed away two years ago. We all still miss him so terribly much. I wish even now I could call him and just hear his voice one more time. Visit with him again and let him see how much his grandbabies have grown.

And I so dread the funeral. I dread the pain I will see in my Aunt's eyes. They had a great marriage...something uncommon in this day and age, it seems. They loved each other so much. And my Aunt is a person's whose love and joy just bubbles out of her and can't help but affect those around her. But when I see her this time, there will be no bubbles of joy. Only sorrow. And that saddens me beyond belief. And I dread seeing the grief in my cousins' countenance, and those of their children. And I grieve for a baby boy who will not know the wonderful grandfather he had except through stories told. It just seems so unfair.

It feels weird that I typed the verse on my facebook page about it being better to attend funerals than parties. While I still believe it's true, the reality is, no one wants to. But I see it even more clearly now than I did when I typed it. My uncle lived a life of purpose. He lived his life serving Jesus and serving others, and now that he is gone and we look back, that is what marks his time here on earth. And there can be no regrets for a man who lives his life that way.  My oldest son has been crying alot today, also. He told me tonight, "Mom, when I die, I hope people remember me the way they are remembering Uncle know, all the good stuff he did, how he helped people. That's what I want people to say about me." And I couldn't agree more. I feel like right now I could scream at the masses, "What on earth are we making our lives about? YOU blind humans! You fight and hurt each other and waste your time on drivel that will burn up someday! Be like Uncle C! Care about the people around you! Love the sinners in your midst! Spend less time about making money and more time about loving others!"

The world would be a better place if there were more servants and less bosses.

So I will get myself and my husband and our five children in our suburban tomorrow. And we will drive for over 10 hours to sit with my aunt and cousins, just like Job's friends did. Because sometimes that is the most helpful thing we can do. In fact, the book of Job might have went differently if Job's friends had stopped at that act of comfort and kindness. Sometimes our presence and our prayers in the midst of pain are the best comfort we can offer to those we love. Just to be there. I get that. So that is what I will do. It's all I can offer them, and it's not much. But if it eases the pain off their shoulders even a microcosmic, infinitesimally small amount for me to sit beside them quietly in the sackcloth, then it is worth it.

And in the midst of this unimaginable pain, I will have faith. I will choose to believe that God is still good. That he is still in control and sovereign. That his grace is still sufficient. That Jesus understands our suffering because he suffered, and came in human form to know our weaknesses. He was a man of sorrows too. And he is still here. With me. With them. If we make our bed in hell, he is there. Sometimes, for reasons I can't fathom, he allows us to go through the valley of the shadow of death. But he is always there with us. And for those of us who know Christ, the good news is death is ONLY a shadow. "Death where is thy sting?" "For we do not grieve like those who have no hope...." Hallelujah! You know, this moment the pain is real to me. The hurt is not theoretical. But neither is the victory. Jesus's death on the cross was not THEORETICAL suffering. It was not a METAPHORICAL conquering of death. Uncle C is in heaven....a REAL place just like earth. He's there with my daddy and Granny and the others I've loved who went before, and someday we'll be reunited. And in these moments, it is that truth that comforts me most of all. I don't need a THEORETICAL savior in this moment. I need a real one. And so did they.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who is fighting your battles?

2 Chronicles 32:1-8

Sennacherib Invades Judah

32:1 After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. 2 And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, 3 he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him. 4 A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?” 5 He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, [1] and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance. 6 And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, 7 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. 8 With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

Another friend on FB shared this scripture, and it just seemed to scream at me from the page tonight. I felt that God wanted me to post it in the hopes of encouraging others. Hezekiah was in a pretty dire situation from a worldly perspective, but at a moment when he could have been discouraged and hopeless, he chose to trust in a greater reality than the one he could see before him with his physical eyes.

There are many times in life that God will desire no less of us today than Hezekiah. Perhaps you just got some bad news about a loved one. Or you are struggling with homeschooling or teaching a particular child in a school classroom. Maybe you just feel all alone or like no one really cares THAT much. I admit sometimes I have struggled with all of these thoughts and situations.

But when we get discouraged, it's often because we have allowed the truth we see with our eyes to cloud our spiritual eyes. Because the truth is, if you have Jesus on the inside of you, then you are not fighting alone. (little bitty you) + Our Strong and MIghty God = a Majority.

Hezekiah didn't sit around moping. He took action and did what he thought in the natural would help the situation. But in the end, he did not place His trust in his own actions. He put His faith in God. He knew that the same God who promised a barren Sarah and Abraham a son in their old age would not abandon His people to destruction if they sought to follow Him. Hezekiah had enough insight to get His math right.

Let it be the same for us today. When I seek to serve and follow El Shaddai, then Together with Him I am in the majority. And I can trust His plans will be for my good, because He loves me.