‘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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

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!