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

 

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There’s No Place Like Home

There was something about the air as soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal.  Something familiar.  I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply.  Maybe it was the humidity.  Maybe it was the smell of cut grass and boxelder trees.  Or just maybe it smelled like….home.  It definitely wasn’t the smell of the dry desert I had left a few hours prior, but the sweet summer scent of my childhood home:  Nebraska.

It wasn’t merely the smells that made it seem like home.  As I sped down the interstate, water towers and grain solos rose high above the landscape, marking the presence of yet another small community in the middle of seemingly nowhere.  Endless rows of corn waved in the always-present Nebraska winds.  Mom and pop businesses lined the streets of small town USA.  It was a place where everything seemed different, yet nothing had changed.  I grew up in the idyllic Midwestern small town.  The kind of town where you could see into everyone’s backyard, play outdoors until the streetlights came on and ride your bike across town in ten minutes flat.

As I drove past my childhood home, I noticed a “for sale” sign in the yard.  And as luck would have it (or maybe it was divine timing), a realtor classmate on mind just happened to be showing the home to prospective buyers the next day.  Graciously, her clients agreed to let us crash their tour and walk though the home while they were there.  And although the flooring had been changed, the kitchen remodeled, and each room painted a different color, there were so many things that hadn’t changed.  The wood framing around each door.  The same bathroom fixtures.  The planter that containing hanging vines.  But perhaps, most importantly, the pencil markings in the laundry room, noting my siblings’ and my height through the years.  It was unmistakably a feeling of “home”, even though I knew I didn’t really belong there. The home wasn’t really mine and hadn’t been for 20 years.

And the next day as I left my childhood hometown of 7700 to fly back to my current hometown of 4.2 million, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Am I leaving home?  Or am I going home? Where is my home, really?”  Yes, a home is the shelter in which one resides, but if it’s also the place where our “affections are centered” (thanks, dictionary.com), then home is so much more than just four walls.  And if my affections are (and should be) centered around Christ Jesus, then that must mean my home is where He is.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”.  And in Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

I love the commentary by John Gill based on this verse:

“They [believers] seek one [a city] to come, which is permanent and durable; a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God, as yet they are not in it, though fellow citizens of the saints, and of the household of God; they are pilgrims, strangers, and sojourners on earth, but are seeking a better country, an heavenly one, and God has prepared for them a city, they have a right unto it through the grace of God, and righteousness of Christ…..their temporary residence is below; their thoughts are often employed about it; their affections are set upon it, their hearts are where their treasure is, the desires of their souls are towards it, and they are seeking things above, and long to be in their own city, and Father’s house, where Christ is; and to be at home with him, and for ever with him.”

Strangely enough, the longer I am on this earth, the less it feels like home.  And consequently, the more I realize that this place isn’t really home, well, then everything is is merely temporary.  I am simply passing through on my way to an eternal glory in heaven, which God already is preparing for me.

Dear friends, I am nearing the two-year mark of losing my son.  And so this concept – rather, this TRUTH of earth being my temporary home is what keeps me going and makes my journey of grief bearable.  Every day I put my feet on the floor and turn off the alarm clock is one day closer to being reunited with the saints who have gone before.  But even more important, more valued and more desired than that is being in the presence of my Savior.

On my saddest days, where I miss my son so much, I remind myself this is temporary.  And on days filled with joy and good times, I know that that too, is temporary and cannot compare to the eternal joy that’s to come.  On days when I work long hours, days when I have an endless list of things to do, days where the pain of those I love is deep…I know it is all temporary.  God knew our hearts would be burdened with so many trials on this side of heaven.  But in His great love for us, He sent His Son to bear the ultimate trial so that our home would be with Him in heaven.  Our home.   A home we don’t have to clean, maintain, or ever leave. A home we had no right to, save for the blood of Jesus Christ.

And to that, I say…..”SOLD!”

 

The Summer of Purge

It was just two short months ago that end-of-the-year-teacher tired ended and summer break began.  Goodbye to never-ending lists of things to do and hello to sleeping past 6 a.m.! I was more than ready for the carefree summer life.  Well….the almost carefree life.  As any teacher knows, so much time and effort is put into our classrooms and our students during the school year that there is little time to focus on what needs to get done on the homefront.  Until, that is, summer break arrives in all its glory.  Summer is when the fridge gets a thorough cleaning, every surface gets dusted – ceiling fans included, and the grout gets a full-on scrubbing.  (I’m living the dream, right?)   But I had much bigger plans for my house than the routine summer clean.  I had declared it….(drum roll, please)…..THE SUMMER OF PURGE!

And purge I did.  Closets, drawers, and cabinets were cleaned out.  Eighty-two pounds of papers were taken to the shredding facility. Multiple trips to Goodwill and consignment stores were made. Items were put up and sold on OfferUp and LetGo.  Things that served no purpose and had no sentimental value got tossed in the garbage.  It was a thing a beauty for me, the Queen of Organization.  Not only was the house lighter, less cluttered and more organized, but I felt my brain was, too.  Things were getting checked off the ol’ summer to-do list.  I felt GOOD.  I felt ACCOMPLISHED.  I felt….INCREDIBLY EXHAUSTED.

Wait.  Wasn’t summer supposed to be a time of refreshment and renewal and relaxation and binge-watching Netflix?  Oh sure, I did do rebellious summer things like grocery shop on a Wednesday morning, go out for froyo at 9 p.m. on a school night, and stay up reading well past midnight.  But in all my efforts to keep going, keep doing, keep purging, I realized that my hectic pace of school life simply morphed into a hectic pace of home life.  I was trying to make the most of every second of every hour of every day, as if summer was just a giant countdown to the beginning of another school year.  And it all had to get done before that first bell rang at 8:15.  Because if I had all summer and hadn’t met all my goals and didn’t check every last thing off my list, it meant that I had failed.  I had failed my list.  My goals.  My time.  My PLANS.

Maybe you’re shaking your head at my neuroticism.  Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Sheesh, woman! Unclench!”  But I’d be willing to bed that maybe some of you are identifying just a little bit with my need to constantly do.  To not stop.  To not waste a moment.  After all, have we not learned from tragedies in and around us that life is short and we should be making the most of it?  Is productivity really all that bad?  No, not really.  But as I’ve discovered (and continue to) this really is so much more an issue about mindset and motivation than the actual tasks at hand.

And so, after nearly six weeks into The Summer of Purge, as my heart began to panic because there wasn’t much time left, God began to speak to my heart that maybe there was more than just a broken Wii, some old plastic cups and unworn clothes that needed to be purged from my life.  There was something much greater, much deeper that God wanted me to let go of. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew it wasn’t something that could be put on a list and merely crossed off.   Oh, trust me, I thought of making a list.  But can you imagine it?

  1. Stop doing so much.
  2. Don’t be so busy.
  3. Be lazier.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin with a list like this! Although part of my incessant need to do might be how I’m simply wired (as I’m sure some of you are too) much of it has to do with what the world has taught me about working hard, constantly going, succeeding more, not wasting a moment.  Throw in the need to post all those accomplishments and busyness on social media and the result is nearly anxiety-producing for those of us who feel the need to perform.

In the book One Way Love,  Tullian Tchividjian explains that performancism is a two-way street that “speaks the language of earning, rather than giving”. When we begin to tie success to our worth, we experience the “law of capability”.  This law judges us in that we feel we’re not capable, we can’t handle it all, and we don’t meet the expectations we put on ourselves or others put on us.  According to Tchividjian, we begin to think:

“If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my value.  Identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still pursue my dreams, then I will be somebody.  In Christian theology, such a position is called justification by works.  It assumes that my worth is measured by performance.  Conversely, it conceals a dark and ghastly fear:  If I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy.  To myself, I will cease to exist.”

God has been and continues to show me what truly needs purging from my life:  the need to perform.  A spirit of comparison.  My own agenda and timeline.  The need to control my circumstances.  The fear that I somehow don’t measure up.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

And the beauty of this list is that it’s not a to-do list.  It’s not a list that requires effort on my part to do something (except maybe some serious prayer).  Because it’s a list that is dependent on the grace of God.  Only the one-way love of God can take my crazy list of deficiencies and turn it into something beautiful.  It’s that same love that doesn’t expect me to measure up, to be in control, or to follow 5 easy steps for true happiness in life.  It’s a love that knows I can never do enough, but persists anyway.  But more importantly, it’s a love that ultimately purged me – and you – of all those yucky parts of our lives.  When Jesus purged every last drop of blood from His body, He declared it finished.  Done.  Enough.  HE is enough.  His grace is enough.

But he said to me, “My grace [one way love] is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

Whether we’re feeling accomplished or defeated, worthy or worthless, successful or failed, it does not change our identity in Christ.  It does not change God’s plan for our lives.  And it most definitely does not change God’s incomprehensible love for us.

Thank you, dear Father, for Your radical, inexpiable love for us.  Thank you that even though we have no worth of our own, you still call us your children and have made us heirs through the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Purge from our lives all the things that hold us captive to not living the way You desire.  May we always be reminded that You are enough.  That Jesus’ death was enough.  Help us to live boldly with this truth in our heart!  Amen.

 

 

Shared Custody

From the time she was ten months old, my daughter has made it known that she is a fiercely independent lady. I distinctly remember the day I opened up the jar of mashed-up carrots to feed her lunch and as soon as the spoon came within reach, she’d grab it out of my hands and attempt to feed herself.  It didn’t matter that she didn’t developmentally possess the hand-eye coordination to put the spoon into her mouth. She only knew that she didn’t want any part in me feeding her anymore. She was going to do it herself. At two, when she couldn’t reach something, she’d just climb a chair or some other piece of furniture to get what she wanted. At five, she’d ask if I could just drop her off at a party instead of staying like all the other moms.  So it wasn’t much of a surprise that the other day, at age 12, my independent tween got on a plane by herself and flew back to Phoenix without batting an eyelash. (Meanwhile, I struggled not to break down like a complete train wreck in the airport terminal.)

As I walked back out to my car, I thought about all those times when I had to “let go” of that sweet girl.  When she took her first steps. When she started daycare. When she learned to ride a bike without training wheels. When she had her first sleepover.  But perhaps one of the hardest “letting go” moments has had to do with that “C” word all divorced parents know well: custody. Custody meant no more tucking my kids in bed every night.  It meant not having them each Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. Or Easter. It meant a lot of back and forth and packing and things falling through the cracks. It meant sharing when I didn’t want to share.  It meant letting go before I was ready to let go – a concept I’m familiar with all too well. You see, when my son went to be with Jesus, I wasn’t ready to share him yet. I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted full-time custody of my son on earth for more than just 14 years.

But when those days of entitlement-driven thoughts come, I have to continually remind myself of one key truth:  Joe wasn’t really mine to begin with. He was, is, and forever will be the Lord’s.   Not only was he created by the God of the universe, but more importantly, he was made His child through the waters of baptism.

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ ~ Isaiah 43:1  

From the moment he was baptized, Joe belonged to the Lord.  It wasn’t that I gave up custody or decided to share my custody of Joe with God.  Because it wasn’t me that did the sharing.  It was God who shared my son with me. I like to think of it this way:  God and I had shared custody of Joe while he lived on this earth. But as soon as he breathed his last, God took over full-time custody of Joe forever.  

And not only did God share my son with me….He shared HIS Son with me.  And with you. And with the entirety of mankind.  You see, there’s a completely different custody situation to consider when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. While we often define custody as “guardianship or care of another person”, custody can also be defined as “imprisonment”  – which was our reality before Christ came to redeem us.  We were prisoners to the law and, consequently, to our own sin. Paul describes it as this:

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” ~ Galatians 3:23-27

There is so much peace, so much comfort, so much hope in these words! No longer are we justified by the law, which we could not keep perfectly.  But Jesus could and He DID – and by doing so, freed us from the imprisonment of sin. He redeemed us and set us free. We are now saved by His grace and are His children through faith. FOREVER!

For one of my children, this is already a reality.  As for my other headstrong, independent child, she is still just as much a child of God while here on this earth as is her brother in heaven.  And while I pray that God grants me many more “letting go” moments with her, I pray even more that she would always be in the loving custody of her heavenly Father.  May we surrender all those we love to our all-loving God!

 

 

 

My Waze vs. God’s Waze

Every morning at approximately 7:05 a.m., I open up my trusty traffic app Waze.  If you’re not familiar with Waze, it’s an app similar to Google Maps, in which it shows you the fastest possible route to get to where you need to go.  It also displays alternate routes, the time it will take to get there, HOV lane times, accidents, road hazards and where police have been reported to be.  Traffic apps are a near-necessity if you live in a large city with freeways and need to get to work on time each day.  Each day I’m faced with the decision of how I should get to work.  Do I chance it on the 51, which is usually the fastest route? Do I take the scenic backway down Tatum, which is now under construction? Or do I start on the freeway and bail half-way through?  The wrong choice and I could be sitting in a huge traffic jam and be late to work.  This is why I rely on Waze to tell me what to do, where to go and how to get there.  (Plus, that way if I am late, I can always blame it on the app.)

There are many times I’ve wished there was an Waze app for life.  Deciding on a college, a career, a spouse, a home…just click and show me my options, ok, God?  Then I’ll pick the one that works best for me.  But life doesn’t work that way, as we’ve well discovered. (Feel free to throw in a resounding, “Amen, sister!” here.)  We’ve all dealt with those “what-ifs” in life.  Perhaps even moreso when we go through difficulties.  When our job demands a lot from us and we feel burned out, we wonder if we chose the right career.  When things start to break down and need fixing, we wonder if we made the right choice of home or car.  When our marriage struggles or falls apart, we wonder if we should have never walked down the aisle.  And the list of second-guessing ourselves goes on.

Tomorrow would have been my son’s 16th birthday.  But instead of driving him to the DMV to get that highly-anticipated driver’s license, I’ll drive to the grocery store.  I’ll pick out some sushi for dinner, some blue flowers and a colorful “Happy Birthday” balloon.  And then I’ll drive to the cemetery.  I’ll wonder if things would have been different if we had stayed home that Labor Day weekend.  I’ll replay the scene over and over again in my head about what I could have done differently, what I could have said differently that would have altered the course of that tragic event nearly 20 months ago.  But even more than that, I’ll need to remind myself over and over and over again that my ways are not God’s ways.

I don’t understand why Joe didn’t get to experience all those things I had planned for him, like getting his license, going to prom, graduating, getting married, or having kids.

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

I can’t understand why God isn’t opening doors and moving mountains for something I’ve been desperately praying about for months.

But God’s ways are higher than my ways.

I wrestle with the fact that people I dearly love are walking through deep dark valleys with no end in sight.

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

My heart is broken when I turn on the news to hear about the latest accident, possibility of war, or casualty.

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

It’s not always my job to understand.  But it is my job to surrender each thought, each struggle, each worry, and each heartache to a sovereign God, who sees far beyond my limited view of life.  It requires trust and faith and dependence…all of which I never seem to have enough.  Yet, God is still faithful and gracious enough to provide even those very things I lack.  Because He Himself is enough.  And He promises He will do what He desires to accomplish His will.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it
    without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” ~Isaiah 55:8-11

So today, and especially tomorrow, and every day after, I will remind myself that my ways are not God’s ways.  And that, as it turns out, is a very good thing.  Because as much as I will never understand why I’ve gone through these earthly struggles, I continue to be even more baffled by God’s love and grace in my life.  To willingly sacrifice a Son…that wouldn’t have been my way at all.  Not in a million years.  But praise be to God that His way was not mine.  His way atoned for my sins and guaranteed a gift of eternal life with Him.  A gift that I will someday share with my son.  A gift full of life, joy, and peace. And undoubtedly, no traffic jams.

The Cone of Shame

The cone of shame.  Pet owners – you know it well.  Perhaps it was from a surgery, an infection, a wound of some kind that warranted your pet to wear one of these unsightly contraptions.  They’re not only a pain for the animal, who now struggles with attempting to judge distances as they eat, drink, and navigate the corners of their surroundings, but they’re also a pain for the owner as well.  Quite literally.  We’re currently in the “cone of shame” days at our house and I can’t tell you how many times the back of my legs keep getting scraped by the cone as my dog keeps following me just a little too closely.  But I’ll gladly take it, knowing that things could have been much different.

A few days ago, a seemingly innocent walk around the block with my dog turned into a nightmare as another dog broke loose from a 12-year-old boy’s grip while we were within just mere feet of passing.  I had no time to react and pull Biscuit to safety in my arms.  My little 17-pound Chihuahua mix was no match for the gray and white bulldog/pitbull mix that came at him.  I tried to snatch up my baby while he was still on his leash, but it only succeeded in him flailing about and ejecting the harness from his tiny frame.  I had no way to pull him towards me, unless I could reach in and grab his body, which was impossible unless I wanted to get attacked, too.  I watched helplessly as the large dog tore into him, shaking him in his mouth, drops of bloods splattering the ground.  The following minutes were a blur. I remember screaming.  I remember trying to kick the dog and hit him with the leash.  I remember other adults coming over to help.  I begged them repeatedly to get their dog off of my baby.  I thought, “This is it.  My dog is going to die and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.”  It was a feeling of complete helplessness.  A feeling I knew all too well.  A trauma I knew all too well.  And it was nearly crippling.  But after the other adults had finally secured the attacking dog in their grip. I snatched up Biscuit and wrapped him in my arms, blood and all and held him close.  What else would I have done?  Left him there for dead? Turned my back on him and walked away when he needed his mama to rescue him?  Of course not!  No one in their right mind would do that.

And yet, as I sat in church during Good Friday worship last night, it hit me.  That’s exactly what God did to His Son. 

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). ~ Matthew 27:46

Let that sink in for a moment.  In Jesus’ darkest hour, when He was helpless and left to die, His Father turned his back.  Walked away.  Abandon His own Son.  Oftentimes the focus of all our attention and emotion is centered around what Jesus endured for us.  And while that is significant and valuable, there is so much more to the story.  Have you ever considered what the Father endured for us? How HE must have felt as He watched his only Son be brutally beaten, mocked, spat upon, tortured, crucified…. knowing that He had the full capability to stop it?

But the truth is, He wasn’t watching helplessly.  He was watching willingly.  Because His will was to sacrifice His Son.  It was His will for Jesus to take on that cone of shame – our shame – and carry it all the way to the cross, humiliated and exposed on our behalf.  It was the only way to ensure our forgiveness, our salvation, a life forever with Him without separation.  And that kind of unfathomable, overwhelming, unexplainable love…it leaves me speechless.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,  Christ died for us.  ~ Romans 5:8

 

Friends, that kind of love didn’t end the day Jesus died.  It is a love that has been in existence from the beginning of time.  It is a love that has never failed us for a second of our lives.  It is a love that constantly pursues us day in and day out.  It is a love that will never end and never fail.  It is a love that loves us in our darkest moments, our deepest sins, and our greatest victories.

Tomorrow is indeed a victory for us.  Not because of anything we have achieved, but because Easter is the ultimate celebration of God’s love for us.  The cone of shame is no longer.  Jesus bore it, God removed it, and we are now free.  We undeservedly get to share in the victory of life after death.  Instead of leaving us speechless, God’s love causes us to cry out with a shout of thankfulness, “Alleluia!  He is Risen!”

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

 

 

Butterfly Skin

A few years ago, I was introduced to a little Kindergartner down the hall from my classroom who was born with a genetic skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa (EB).  I didn’t know anything about EB, let alone even heard of this rare connective tissue disorder.  But one look at this sweet girl is all it took to see that her skin was markedly different than any other child’s skin I had ever observed.  Her paper-thin skin was dotted with blisters, sores, and small tears.  In all other aspects, she was a perfectly normal child, but we as a teaching team knew we would have to educate our students on why this little girl’s skin looked so different from theirs.

I’ll never forget how her mother so calmly and patiently sat in front of my class with several sheets of tissue paper to show them why her daughter’s skin was so fragile.  She explained that for most children, there are several layers of skin to protect the bones and muscles underneath.  One child came up to try to rip all those layers at the same time and struggled to do so.  Then she laid just one piece of tissue paper over her arm.  “But this is how her skin is,” she said, referring to her daughter.  My students’ eyes widened as they realized just how easy it would be to rip through only that one piece of tissue.  “You might bump the edge of a table or chair and it’s no big deal,” she continued.  “But when a child with EB does that, it’s a very big deal.  It will cause a huge bump or blister that will take a long time to heal.”  The children’s heads nodded in understanding.  Over the years, I’ve seen this brave girl limp around campus with blisters on her feet.  I’ve watched as her friends pushed her in a wheelchair when walking was too difficult.  I’ve observed her hands wrapped in gauze more times than I can count.  And despite the smile on her face, my heart can’t help but break a little each time, knowing that she simply can’t live life as a normal little girl.

As I continue to walk through this second year without my son, I’m realizing that my grief now isn’t so much about surviving each day, but processing the reality of what happened and coming to a place of acceptance about it.  And that is a very difficult place to be.  Emotions constantly seem to be close to the surface and one slight little trigger…or bump…may just cause a huge wound to open up that will take a long time to heal.

It’s almost as if my fragile heart has developed butterfly skin. 

We often think that walking through trials and tragedies in life makes us stronger.  We admire those people who seem to have a “thick skin”, where nothing appears to bother them.  We’re encouraged as children to “be tough” when we get hurt.  But truth be told, dealing with loss and pain and the difficult things of this world only end up peeling off layer after layer of our emotional skin.

God knew this would be this case for His creation, even though it wasn’t as He intended it to be.  He watched for thousands of years as His people walked though suffering, pain, and loss.  He saw their skin getting thinner and thinner.  And then He did what He had promised.  He sent Himself with skin on.  He sent Jesus.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… John 1:14

And not only did  Jesus live and dwell among us, but He taught.  He listened.  He healed. And then He did the unimaginable.  He willingly chose for His skin to be beaten, whipped, torn, nailed, and pierced.  For me.  For you.  And for all of His Father’s creation.  Because ultimately…He loved.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. ~ Isaiah 53:5

HEALED.  And not only healed, but SAVED.  Like a butterflies emerges from its chrysalis, Jesus emerged from the tomb after three days, with a beautiful new skin to prove once and for all that He overcame death forever.

I know the ultimate healing of my butterfly skin won’t come until I’m in the presence of Jesus.   But while I wait, I can choose to see my fragile skin as a gift.  Not because of how it came to be, but because of who it’s made me to be.  Yes, my emotions may just be under the surface due to my own grief, but I also have discovered that I feel more deeply for others in their pain.  Their bumps and bruises affect me more profoundly and it is a privilege to spend time in prayer with God asking for their healing as so many have done for me.  May you be encouraged today to be “Jesus with skin on” to those around you!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4