The Patience of a Peony

He was late again.  I’d have to add yet another tardy to his attendance record.  Surely he wouldn’t miss the last day of school, would he?  My answer came shortly after, when my little freckled-nosed Kindergartner rolled in at 8:24, along with his dad, both of whom were armed with vases of flowers.  One for me.  One for my aide. One for a principal.  I let the others pick their flowers first, and ended up with the vase of four pink peonies, all still tightly bound in their buds.  They looked a bit scrawny in the porcelain green vase, but as the first one, and then the second and third began to open up, I was reminded of the true size of a peony.  I deeply breathed in the fragrant smell and was instantly transported back to thoughts of my childhood.  Sweet memories of the white peony bush in our yard in Nebraska reminded me of late spring and running around the neighborhood barefoot.

I marveled at how large the flowers became after opening up.  To begin as the size of a small Brussel sprout and blossom into a flower nearly the size of my hand was incredible.  And, it was quite a fast process.  I’d leave the house for a couple of hours and return to find a completely transformed blossom.  So when the last flower stood alone in its vase after the others had wilted and been tossed, I had this desire to just sit and watch it open up.  I mean, surely if I sat there, I’d see some movement, right?  How amazing would that be?  (A true indication it’s summer break when there’s nothing better to do than stare at a flower…)  So I pulled up a chair and watched that little peony.  And watched.  And watched.  And waited.  “Do something!”, I impatiently screamed.  I waited some more and observed how there were already a few layers of petals that had blossomed from that tight little bud just moments earlier.  But I knew there were many more to come and I didn’t want to miss it.

You know that old adage, “A watched pot never boils”?  Well, the addendum to that should be, “A watched flower doesn’t bloom.”  It was hard to wait.  And tedious.  And really quite ridiculous to think I’d see anything.  But I began to think about my impatience with my own life and wanting it to bloom into a marriage my heart has desired for a very long time.  Truth be told, it’s been nearly two years of waiting to see what God is going to do with this relationship.  And so many times, I seem to be sitting, watching, waiting….and nothing.  Or seemingly so.  But when I looked at the complexity of all those layers upon layers of petals, I began to realize that God has slowly, deliberately, and quite carefully been peeling the layers of our lives down as the future is unfolding.  Perhaps it was the petals of preparing our children’s hearts, developing relationships, financial pieces, the healing of emotional wounds, learning to communicate, and the assurance that we are 100% committed to each other that was necessary to happen before anything else.  Regardless of all that needs to come before the opening of this beautiful flower, I am trusting that God has it all worked out, according to His perfect timing.

So many of the people I know and love are waiting for something, just as I am.  And perhaps you’re waiting, too.  Maybe you’re waiting for healing, relationships, children, retirement, new jobs, or simply vacation.  And to those of you in the wait, let me share something God put on my heart as I stared at that remaining peony:

There is still beauty found in an unopened flower. 

It may seem as if the bud is still shut tightly, with no sign of blossom.  It may have a layer or two peeled back, with no seeming indication that more petals will open.  But that doesn’t mean the flower is stagnant in its growth.  Or that growth will cease to happen from this point forward.  Each petal unfolded is the handiwork of God, carefully thought out and timed, with you and me in mind.  Celebrate each little piece of the bloom.  Occasionally step back and marvel at what God has already done in your life.  And trust that He will continue to work, regardless of how frustrated we get as we continue to watch and wait.

I was reminded of that very truth on the last day of school.  That tardy little student of mine who brought the peonies?  Every single day was a challenge for him.  There were tears, struggles, challenges and frustrations.  Most of the time he seemed tuned out as I talked or read a story.  I often wondered what was going on in that sweet little head of his each day.  But as I sat in the rocking chair, about to read the final story on the final day of school, he did something completely uncharacteristic.  He jumped up from his spot on the carpet, ran over to me, threw his arms around me and whispered, “I’m gonna miss you.”  I held him tightly for just a second as my eyes filled with tears and whispered back, “Me too, buddy.”

It took 172 days of school, but one small petal unfolded in that precious moment.  And it was worth the wait.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. ~ Habakkuk 2:3

 

 

 

Advertisements

Perpetually Saturday

I love Saturdays.  I may even go as far to say that I live for Saturdays.   Even my students could tell you that.  When we draw the little pink card on Friday at calendar time that says, “Saturday” and place it in the “tomorrow” slot, my kids all shout, “Your favorite day!”  Ah, yes….Saturday. It’s the one day I don’t set have to set an alarm and can lounge in bed.  I can move at my own speed and do things that need to get done without the stress of another work day to follow.  There’s something very expectant about Saturday – as if anything is possible.

But I can’t imagine that’s how Jesus’ followers felt on that Saturday after He died.  I’m sure it was a very still Saturday.  A day of utter shock.  A day of confusion and processing everything they had seen and heard.  A day of wondering, “Now what?”  A day of mourning.  Deep mourning.

Today, we can look at the Saturday after Good Friday and say with confidence, “But Sunday’s coming!”  Because we know what’s to come.  But the disciples didn’t.  They thought all had been lost.  They had lost their Savior.  Their friend.  Their very hope.  They saw that loss with their own eyes.

Living with daily grief is a lot like that Saturday.  It doesn’t matter if it’s been two days, two months, two years, or twenty since the loss.  The pain and the anguish of the loss from before is always present, always remembered.  There’s still shock some days.  Sporadic mourning.  Frequent processing.  Many questions.  It’s as if those of us who are still here on earth are living out the day after the death and before the resurrection in a perpetual Saturday.

But for the believer, there is one marked difference from that Saturday when Jesus lay in the ground and the perpetual Saturday of grief.  And that is this:  Hope is not lost.

Hope is not lost, because we do know what’s coming.  We know there IS a resurrection.  We know there IS the defeat of death.  We know there IS a Savior who did not stay in the grave.  Knowing this, believing this, HOPING in this truth is what sustains us.  It changes our hearts from grieving without hope to grieving with joy, knowing what’s to come.  It fills our hearts with an expectancy – because now everything has been made possible through Jesus’ suffering and death.  Forgiveness, life, hope, joyful reunions – it’s all ours!

And all because He IS risen.   He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! 

Image result for job 19 25-26

 

 

 

 

 

War of the Wardrobe

I can clearly recall the morning clothing battles with my stubborn and highly opinionated three-year-old daughter like it was yesterday.

“How about your blue flower skirt today?”     “No, Mommy!”

“Why don’t you wear your purple jumper?  You love purple!”    “No, Mommy!”

I knew better than to even suggest anything resembling pants, because I knew it would be met with yet another emphatic “NO!”  I was a busy, working mama who needed to get out of the house by 7:30 a.m. and that seemed like an impossible task with this child.  I tried giving her only two choices.  Nope.  I tried making the decision for her.  Nope.  We tried picking out the clothes the night before.  And just when she seemed to settle on an outfit, she’d change her mind as soon as she was out of bed the following morning.  I was at the end of my rope.  I was counting the days until she’d be in Kindergarten and in uniforms.  Ten years later, getting dressed for school isn’t an issue for her at all.  It’s the same plaid skirt and polo shirt every day.  And I’m not gonna lie.  I’m a little jealous of the simplicity of her school-day wardrobe.

Because the ironic thing is that lately I’m not so different from that little three-year-old girl who used to fight me with her daily wardrobe choices.  It’s that I’m yelling “NO!” at anybody in particular, but the indecisiveness and thought-process in deciding what to wear is…well, it’s borderline paralyzing.  “How hard can it be to dress yourself, woman?!” you’re asking yourself right now.  You may be thinking I’m pretty crazy, but if you understand anything about anxiety, you know it takes on some very odd little quirks, which make absolutely no sense at all.

You see, choosing clothes each day has become a monumental chore for me.  It hasn’t always been like this.  I suppose I used to be like most women, scanning her wardrobe each day for what to wear – and sometimes feeling like there was nothing to wear, despite having a closet full of clothes.  And yes, I supposed I may have been slightly scarred from showing up to my freshman homecoming dance in too fancy of an outfit, instead of the jeans and t-shirts everyone knew to wear.  But no, I’m talking about something entirely different.  Because that was before.  Before the unthinkable happened and my son went to be with Jesus.  What followed began a few weeks after that horrible day.  I’d find myself getting out of the shower, heart pounding, and staring for several minutes at my clothes hanging in the closet.  I’d have to sit on the bed, think some more, breathe in and out slowly, and then try again.  It was crazy.  Insane.  Completely irrational.  To compensate, I’d spend nearly 30 minutes the night before trying on clothes, picking an outfit, only to change my mind the following morning.  It’s nothing shy of a miracle that I’d even make it to work each day, with actual clothes on, instead of pajamas.  That was just one of the ways anxiety took over my brain.  (There are others, which are more complex and significant, but I’ll save that for another day.  No reason to let out ALL my crazy in one blog.)

After weeks of functioning like this, I finally went to a doctor, who was able to prescribe some medication for me to take to help with all these anxious feelings I was experiencing.  And sure enough, after a few months, I mostly got to a place of peace and calm in my mind – even when choosing clothes.

Now, this is normally the part of the blog where I would share some really heartening Bible verses that helped me with my issues, such as…

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” ~ Colossians 3:12

Because all I needed to do was focus on what I should be wearing, right?  All those wonderful fruits of the Spirit.  Or, maybe I just needed to stop stressing about not having the right thing to wear.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  ~ Matthew 6:28-30

And I can quote the words from Philippians 4:6 better than anyone:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

And then this would be the part  where I would tell you that I don’t struggle with this now that I’m not on medication anymore.  I’d say, “God has totally healed me!  He took all my anxiety away!” and you’d all think “Wow!  Amazing!”  But you know what?  It wouldn’t be true.  At all.  And perhaps that’s why I’ve been so silent with my blog for over two months.  Because I’ve been waiting to write something with a lovely tidy little ending about God doing something amazing in my life.  But that’s just. not. happening.

So here’s the real honest, ugly-truth deal:  I still struggle.  Daily.  And not just with getting dressed, but with other anxieties, too.  For the most part, I’ve learned ways to cope with them now, so that I can function.  Some days I function better than others.  (And if I ever get to the point again where I need some help medically….well, I’ve learned that’s OK, too.)  I still read Scripture.  I still pray.  I still ask God to help me. But I also am aware that God may be choosing to not do so.  Yet.  Or maybe ever. Which leads me to believe that maybe there’s a purpose in all this struggle.  A purpose I don’t know right now.

For someone who is incredible logical and rational, I’ve learned that anxiety doesn’t always make sense.  I’ve learned to be gentle with myself and know my limitations. I’ve become more compassionate towards those who deal with anxiety and am able to share my own struggles with it.  I don’t have a solution.  I don’t have a happy ending, but I do have this:

 “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

I can’t tell you when anxiety will no longer affect me. I can’t tell you how to get rid of anxiety.  Or depression. Or addiction. Or whatever it is you’re struggling with.   But I can tell you this:  there are a lot of things that weaken me daily.  That have weakened me in the past.  BIG things.  Things that should have broken me. And I dare to say, that there’s a good chance there are things you’ve dealt with and deal with that should have broken you, too.  But it is through the power and strength and grace of God ALONE that even allows us to still function and walk this journey of life.

So, friends, when you see my strength, know that it is Christ’s.  When you see my joy, know that it is Christ’s.  When you see my resiliency, know that it is Christ’s.  And when you see my love, know that it is Christ’s.  The only things I can offer this world are my weakness and brokenness.  But Christ offers us so much more!  He offers strength and hope and forgiveness and love and peace to our aching souls.  He offers that little tidy, happy fairy-tale ending I so desperately wanted to write about, but could not produce on my own.  He wrote it with His own blood, shed for us on the cross, so that one day we would be able to have a life dressed in His righteousness alone and stand faultless before His throne.

My hope is built on nothing less.

 

‘Tis the Season

The tree is up and the house is decorated…’tis the season.

The Christmas music has played nonstop in the car and house….’tis the season. 

The Target parking lot was mobbed yesterday…’tis the season.

The gifts are bought and nearly all wrapped….’tis the season.

Multiple batches of holiday Chex Mix have been made and passed out….’tis the season.

School is out for break and all those little Kindergarten germs caught up with me….’tis the season.

The house has been exceptionally quiet these past few days…’tis the season for this, too.

It hasn’t always been this way for me just before Christmas- quiet, calm, lonely.  I was reminded of this lately, as I’ve been checking my Facebook status memories of Decembers past.  Here are just a few excerpts:

December 17, 2009:  “Fading on 4.5 hours of sleep.  Must get some caffeine soon to make it through the Christmas program.” 

December 23, 2010:  “Enjoying a pizza/movie night in our jammies…I love my family!” 

December 15, 2011:  “The next time I schedule making parent gifts, baking gingerbread cookies, making ornaments, directing a Christmas program, working 11 hours and making a birthday pie for my husband all on 5 1/2 hours of sleep, please stage an intervention for me.”

December 17, 2014:  “Being gone for 14 hours at school wouldn’t be so bad if it meant coming home and sitting down.  Must.  Keep.  Going.”

December 23, 2016:  Two people shared a video of Craig Aven singing, “The Sweetest Gift”, because they knew I was struggling through the first Christmas without my son. 

These were just a few different memories from different seasons of my life:  the busy working wife and mom of two small kids.  The single mom trying to do it all.  The grieving mom.  There were seasons of joy, pride, stress, and even pain.  I’ll admit that some of those seasons fill me with a longing for what used to be.  But some of those seasons I look back on with relief that I’m not there anymore.  And that is a gracious reminder to me that seasons, whether joyful or painful or stressful or mundane, are temporary.  Whether it’s cold and flu season, football season, or the Christmas season, there is a beginning and an end to each one.  They don’t last forever.

King Solomon so eloquently describes the various seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” 

We can read these words, maybe hum a little bit of the familiar Beetles’ tune, and go on our merry way, thinking we really get it.  But do we?  Sure, we know there are different times in our lives – good and bad.  But that’s not what Solomon was getting at.  According to one commentary, these verses show “that we live in a world of changes, that the several events of time, and conditions of human life, are vastly different from one another, and yet occur promiscuously, and we are continually passing and repassing between them…that every change concerning us, with the time and season of it, is unalterably fixed and determined by a supreme power; and we must take things as they come; for it is not in our power to change what is appointed for us.”  God has determined the course of our seasons, and as much as I would like to be in control and decide when certain seasons begin or end or how long they should last, that is up to God.  Not me.

However, what is up to me is my attitude during these seasons, and what I’ve learned from them.  As I look back at those harried seasons, trying to do it all, I wished that I had valued relationships over my to-do list.  I would have appreciated those busy years more, instead of wishing for time to myself.  A season of busyness may come around again, but I now know that not everything is urgent.  Taking a break and relaxing is necessary.  In those seasons of loss and grief, God has taught me the value of being vulnerable and letting friends come alongside me to encourage me.  I pray that in other people’s seasons of grief, I can be a voice of encouragement and support to them.

I don’t know what season you find yourself in today.  Perhaps you are incredibly busy, juggling a million different plates, and trying not to drop a single one.  If so, rejoice in the fact that your life is full and you are not lonely.  If you are lonely, use the time God has given you to reflect and develop your relationship with Him.  If you are grieving, know that not every day will be as hard as this one – your sadness will never completely go away, but the severity of it will lessen with time. If you are overwhelmed by the circumstances of your life, know that you have a God that will carry you through until this season ends.  And it WILL end.

But even more important, know that through every changing season, from beginning to end, we have a God who is constant.  Constantly loving.  Constantly providing.  Constantly faithful.  Constantly sovereign.  And Immanuel – constantly with us.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). ~ Matthew 1:23

 

 

 

 

Traditioooooon…..TRADITION!

When my grandmother passed away over 25 years ago, all her earthly possessions were laid out on 8-foot folding tables in a musty, wood-paneled community center of the small town she had lived in.  Her seven children got first pick of their mother’s treasures, and after that, the 19 of us grandchildren could peruse the tables for items by which to remember our grandma.  I knew I didn’t want any of her jewelry, trinkets, needlepoint projects, kitchenware, clothing or piano music.  There was only one thing I desperately wanted, and like a frantic garage-saler on a mission, I made a beeline straight for it:  a vintage food and meat chopper.  “Really???” you may ask.  “Of all your grandmother’s things, you’d pick an old rusty crank-handled food chopper?”

Absolutely.  But not because the item itself held any real value or meaning for me.  I don’t even have any memories of my grandma using it.   Rather, my mother had one just like it and ever since I can remember, that’s how she made the traditional Thanksgiving cranberry relish every year.  She would cut up the apples and peel the oranges and rinse the cranberries in the green plastic colander.  And then she’d call my brother and sister and I into the kitchen to take turns loading the food chopper and turning the crank, while the mushed up fruit came out the front end.  It didn’t matter how old we got.  It’s just something we always did the day before Thanksgiving.

The food chopper symbolized something we all hold on to dearly around any holiday season:  TRADITION.  Having that food chopper meant that even if I wouldn’t be home for the holidays or if I started a family of my own, I would still be able to have cranberry relish on Thanksgiving.  Furthermore, I’d be able to pass down that tradition to my own children as well.

Some of us love that word – tradition.  We’re comforted by the fact that each year, something – or maybe many things – will be the same.  We don’t have to make decisions about what to eat, what to do, or who to be with, because there’s a steady consistency each time a particular holiday or event rolls around.  People ask us what our favorite traditions are and we proudly reply with, “Well, we ALWAYS…..”  or “Every year, we….”.

It’s no wonder that traditions can give us those good feelings inside. Bestselling author and parenting expert Rebecca Eanes says that “traditions give us a shared identity. They strengthen our bond as a family unit. They create structure, stability, a sense of familiarity and safety, all things that are important for children, particularly young children. Traditions help us to nourish one another.”

And while traditions are all good and well, there are some of us who cringe when we hear that word.  (Take it from a divorced mom with shared custody, who never can seem to create or maintain traditions anymore because no year is the same as it was the year before.)  For those of us who have lost the life we once knew and people we have loved, we know that nothing is the same as it had been.  Nor will it ever be.  It requires adjusting to a “new normal” which seems like the antithesis of tradition.  So, this year, as I found myself celebrating Thanksgiving at a new venue, with slight variations of the traditional foods I’ve grown up with and new faces I’ve come to love, my heart was longing for something familiar.  Something….well, traditional.

And God so gently reminded me that earlier that Thanksgiving day, I did in fact, get to share in a very familiar, very traditional meal.  A meal that traces its roots back thousands of years as God’s people were delivered out of Egypt and spared the death of their firstborn sons.  A meal that was celebrated year after year from generation to generation to remind them of that deliverance.  A meal that Christ shared with His disciples the night before His crucifixion. A meal that means we now are delivered from the bondage and sin and eternal death.  A meal with the traditional foods of bread and wine that I get to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as I reflected on that moment, it didn’t matter where I was or what foods I’d be eating for Thanksgiving dinner or who I’d be celebrating with.  Instead my heart became filled with an overflowing love for the one who had spoken the words over the bread and wine, for my daughter who knelt next to me as we shared in this meal, for my God who has redeemed and restored so much of what has been broken, and for His Son who willingly chose to have His body broken and His blood poured out for us.  And it is because of His sacrifice that my precious son now shares in the heavenly feast that never ends!

As I finished communing and walked back to my seat, I was reminded of a traditional song we’d sing in church each time the Lord’s Supper ended:

This is the feast of victory for our God. 
Alleluia!

Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, 
whose blood set us free to be people of God. 
Power and riches and wisdom and strength, 
and honor and blessing and glory are his.

Sing with all the people of God 
and join in the hymn of all creation: 
Blessing and honor and glory and might 
be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.

This is the feast of victory for our God, 
for the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. 
Alleluia! Alleluia!

It truly is a feast of victory for our God.  And for all who believe in Him. Alleluia!

 

 

 

How Much Longer???

“Are we there yet?”  I asked for the millionth time from the backseat of our tan AMC Hornet as it rambled down the interstate.  I was impatient to get out of that stuffy car and run around.  Crammed in the backseat with my siblings and no air conditioning, I carefully peeled up each leg that was stuck to the vinyl seats.  I leaned over into the front seat and whisper into my dad’s ear, “How much longer?”  It didn’t matter the destination:  lunch at McDonald’s, the nearest rest area, grandma’s house, or the next Motel 6 on the way to wherever we were going.  I just wanted to get there. Because at the end of the road, there was the hope and promise of something better than my present circumstances.  Maybe it was french fries, a cool swimming pool, a homemade meal, the freedom to run around, or simply my grandparents’ waiting arms.

It was on those never-ending family road trips that I developed a love for maps.  Perhaps because my parents were exhausted from my endless questioning of “How much longer?”, they spent the time to teach me how to read a map.  I learned how to calculate the mileage between two exit numbers, look for alternative routes, and find cities that started with each letter of the alphabet.  I’d often pour through an atlas and make up games that involved guessing the distance between cities or the population of a certain city.  But even with the distraction of maps, endless card games, and hunting for different licence plates, I never failed to continue to ask the question:  “HOW MUCH LONGER???”

Fast-forward some thirty-five (or more) years later and I find myself asking the same question.  Not to my dad from the backseat of a ’72 AMC Hornet, but to my heavenly Father from….well, the front seat of my present circumstances.   I don’t know about you, but it seems like there are some prayers I have been praying for a long time.  The SAME prayers.  Over and over and over and over.  I’ve used different words.  I’ve prayed at different times.  With different people.  I’ve been in my bed, on the road, at the table, on my knees, and guess what?  I’m still praying the SAME. PRAYERS.  And it’s in those moments of frustration, when I feel like I must been doing it wrong or I need to be doing something differently, that I find myself literally throwing my hands up to God in frustration and crying out, “HOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO KEEP PRAYING THIS PRAYER, GOD???”

And I know I’m in good company, certainly with many of you, but also with those who have penned those same words in Scripture.  Well, maybe not those exact words, but they come pretty close.  Several times in the Psalms this phrase, “How long, Lord?” occurs – and not just in psalms written by David. There were other prophets, and even Moses himself, who felt as if God had turned away and left His people in dire straights.

From David…How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? ~ Psalm 13:1

From Asaph…How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?  ~ Psalm 79:5

From Ethan…How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? ~ Psalm 89:46

From Moses…Relent, Lord! How long will it be?  Have compassion on your servants. ~Psalm 90:13

Perhaps, like these verses above indicate, we feel there are times when it feels like God has abandoned us, or as if He is silent.  Unattentive.  Unmoving.  Does He hear our pleas?  Our desires?  Our desperate prayers on behalf of those we love?  Why isn’t He choosing to act?  Has He forgotten us?

And yet, we know He hasn’t, because He declares, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16). And when we don’t think He hears us, we’re reminded of Psalm 66:19,  “But truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.”  But even in knowing these truths, we still may open our mouths and begin our complaints as David did in Psalm 13:  

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Four “how long” statements in two verses.  Feeling in good company?

Guzik’s commentary on this psalm describes exactly how I feel when it comes to waiting.  He says, “‘How long’ is the critical question.  Often we faint under the simple length of our trials.  We feel we could endure almost anything if we knew when it would come to an end.” 

And yet, therein lies the issue, doesn’t it?  We don’t know how long our trials will last or when they will end.  If we did, would we even have need to continually go to God to call out for help and deliverance?  Or would we simply just mark off the days on the calendar until the trial was over?

You see, it’s not really about God needing to do something on our behalf.  (Although surely He is working in the waiting.)  But rather, it’s about us needing to change our view of who God is and what His purposes are.  After David asks that ‘how long’ question over and over again, he says in the very next verse, “Give light to my eyes.”  Meaning, “Give me a new perspective on this situation, God, because I can’t see what You can.”  He wants a new vision of the one he’s currently experiencing.

And perhaps, my friends, shouldn’t we be as resolved to let that be our prayer as well?  That God would be changing our view, that He would cause us to WATCH in the waiting, instead of merely trying to suffer through it.  Because it’s in the waiting that we can remember all God has done so faithfully in the past for us and for those we love.  And it’s also in the waiting that God is fulfilling His purpose of bringing people into a closer relationship with Him and working out salvation for those who are far off.  And like Moses and David and the other prophets who initially complained, “How Long, Lord?”, our remembrance of God’s faithfulness will produce praise.

From David….But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. ~ Psalm 13:5-6

From Asaph…Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise. ~ Psalm 79:13

From Ethan…Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen. ~ Psalm 89:52

From Moses…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. ~ Psalm 90:14

May it be the fervent cry of our heart to follow up our complaining and whining prayers of “how long” with praise to our God for all He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives.  Our Father has the road map, and He knows the way.  The road may be long in our waiting, but there is incredible hope and promise for a future in heaven, which is infinitely better than our present circumstances here on earth.  And eventually, we will make it to our heavenly destination, where we will joyfully jump out of the grave and run straight into our Father’s waiting arms.

 

Unknown

It’s that time of the year again.  School is back in session.  The final summer vacations have wrapped up, and the weather begins to get a little cooler.  (Well, in theory at least.  We still have 7 more weeks of hot weather here in the desert. )  But it also means school picture time is fast-approaching or maybe has recently passed.  It’s when the curling irons come out, the fancy hair bows are put into place, and the hair gel has sufficiently tamed the wildest of locks.

Two years ago, I remember begging my teenage son to use at least some product in his hair.  I made sure his favorite Arizona Cardinals football shirt was laundered and reminded him to SMILE and not try to be all cool-looking.  As he got out the car door that day in the high school drop off line, I would never guessed that would be his last Monday here on earth, let alone his last school picture day.

Several weeks after Joe died, I got a phone call from the high school, saying Joe’s school photos were waiting at the front desk to be picked up.  I had completely forgotten he had even had them done….but at the time, it seemed like such a gift.  As I walked up to the lobby desk to pick up the photos, I barely made eye contact with the school secretary.  She quietly handed me the envelope and said, “We’re all so sorry for your loss.”  It was all I could do to try to hold myself together. I nodded my thanks and with tears in my eyes, made it to the car before slowly pulling out the photos.  And staring back at me, with tears in his eyes, was my sweet boy.

The photo struck me as odd.  Joe almost always took great photos.  But there was no denying that this photo was different.  My mama heart knew he was sad on this day, on this moment when the picture was taken.  But why?  What had happened?  Did someone make fun of him?  Was he not feeling well?  Had he been upset about something?  My mind went back to the day I picked him up after picture day.  I asked him how it went.  He said it was fine.  There was nothing I could recollect that would give me any insight into why that picture showed deep pain in his eyes.

Oh, the unknown!  That is perhaps one of the hardest parts about grief.  There are so many unknowns that plague the grieving soul, from the “what ifs” of somehow altering the course of events that led up to a death to perhaps, even more gut-wrenching, the unknown of future events.  We wonder what life would have been like if our loved one hadn’t died.  I am no exception.  Would Joe have been a good driver?  What would it be like to have a high school junior now?  How tall would he have been?  What college would he have chosen? Who would he have married?  How many kids would he have had?

Being two years into this journey of grief, I still just. miss. him.  But I also miss what will forever be unknown to me.  And as I continue to struggle with watching other people’s children grow and move forward beyond the years Joe was given, God has been inundating my heart and mind these past few days not with my struggles of the unknown, but of what He has made KNOWN to me about who He is during these past two years.

Although I will never know God in all His fullness, here is what I KNOW about who He is, deep in my heart, without question.

God is good.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. ~ Psalm 100:5

God is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. ~ 1 John 4:16

God is faithful.

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. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

God is with me.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” ~ Zephaniah 3:17

God has a plan. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

God gives hope.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. ~ Psalm 62:5

God’s promises never fail. 

“You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” ~ Joshua 23:14

The circumstances and trials you and I have walked through, are walking through, and will walk through as we journey this life will NEVER change who God is and what He is doing.  Ever.  Take comfort in this, my friends!

My future remains unknown.  And so does yours.  God’s plans are not for us to comprehend, to fully know, or even understand.  But it is

enough to know that God knows every intimate detail of our lives and who we are.  He knows every thought, every feeling.  He has seen every tear we have cried.  And despite His intimate knowledge of us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – He still loves us with an everlasting love that defies all comprehension.

It’s that grace that keeps me moving, breathing, and going forward as I anticipate and live through another September 5th.  May it also strengthen you as you walk your journey and bear your cross.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge…”.

~ Ephesians 3:17-19