To Infinity…and Beyond

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?

~Psalm 8:3-4

I recently visited ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration to watch a 3D, live-narrated program entitled “To the Edge of the Universe and Everything in Between”. Unbeknownst to me, this school at ASU is a leading center for space discoveries and study.  Who knew, right?  Plus, the theater was overly air-conditioned, which was another determining factor to attend.  (Hey, it’s how we survive the brutal desert heat of summer.)

The majority of the program was to impress upon us the sheer vastness of space. It began by showing the planet Earth, then zoomed out to show the hundreds of satellites that revolve around our floating home, and continued to pan out to the solar system, the exoplanets, the Milky Way galaxy, the multitude of galaxies, and beyond.  Like waaaaay beyond.  To something called “cosmic background radiation”.  What’s fascinating is that new information and depth to the universe are constantly being discovered.  The edge of the universe is continually being redefined.  My mind was truly blown away by what the latest technology has discovered about the seemingly limitlessness of space.

But perhaps what’s even MORE mind-boggling to me is that there is not one shred of information, not one piece of technology, not one single image brought to our eyes that is new to God.  He knows it all.  Every galaxy, every star, everything in the entire cosmos is no mystery to the Creator.  Yet, while my mind could not even begin to comprehend the vastness of space, I began to wonder if the edge of the universe is as infinite as the love of God.

Just as the show was about to wrap up, the narrator told us to sit back and enjoy as we “zoomed back in” through everything we just saw to the planet Earth.  Once again, I was awestruck….but this time not at the vastness of God, but at His intimacy.  To go from the edge of 45 billion light years away, to our rotating home of green and blue….let’s just say it makes one feel pretty small in the grand scheme of things. And yet, God knows every detail of each one of us, down to our very cells.

The night before my son went to be with Jesus, I watched as he and his friend stood in an open field and stared up at the sky.  In curiosity, I wandered over to them to see what they were looking at.  The absolute blackness of the sky illuminated millions of stars in our view – something we don’t often see because of living in a large city.  We commented on how vast space must be…and how amazing God was to have created each star with just a word.  Joe was so blown away by the sight of the stars, he took out his phone in an attempt to photograph it.  I was not aware at that precise moment that the night vision camera recorded the final photograph I would be in with my precious boy.

But in that moment…God knew.  

He knew what the next day would hold and how it would change our lives forever. There was no mystery to the Creator of the stars that one of His beloved creations was going home soon.

That truth is one of the hardest to come to terms with, and yet, is one of the most comforting lessons a grieving mother learns.  To know that every day of my child’s life was ordained from beginning to end, and that there was no single thing I could have done to change the course of how it ended….it truly does bring comfort to my overwhelmed heart of grief.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.”

~Psalm 139:16

My grief is constantly being redefined.  But my God is not.  God is who He was, who He is, and who He will be forever.  The circumstances of my life do not change God’s character. Nor will they ever.  It is ME who is constantly discovering the depths of His love and the infiniteness of His grace.  And now I am the one who stands amazed, looking up at the heavens, blown away by what God has done and continues to do in, through and for me.

My friend, I don’t know what kind of valleys you have walked through or are walking through right now.  Whether you saw it coming or you didn’t, be assured that NONE of it was or is a mystery to God.  His knowledge of this vast universe is certainly wise enough to know every detail of your life.  His intimate love for you can fill the very depths of your broken heart as He has done for mine.  His grace goes to infinity.  And beyond anything we could imagine.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  

~Ephesians 3:14-19

 

 

 

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Jesus is My Pool Boy

When people ask how we desert folks survive the intense summer heat, my response is always the same:  air conditioning and a swimming pool.  I’m not sure how anyone survived 100+ temperatures before these things were invented.  Not everyone is blessed enough to have their own backyard pool here in Phoenix.  But when we were looking for a rental home three years ago, my kids took one look at the pool and diving board and knew THIS was the place to live.  And they were right.

Now, before any of you non-pool owners get any ideas about how we just walk out the door when we feel like it and jump into the cool water, let me stop you right there.  Not only were we fortunate enough to have a pool in our backyard, but we also had a palm tree near the pool.  A really TALL king palm tree.  Sounds pretty scenic…unless you know that king palms send out these long green shoots at the end of May.  And those shoots open up and blossom with little white flowers.  And those little white flowers fall at the slightest of breezes. And it takes WEEKS for all those little white flowers to fall.

What does that have to do with swimming you ask?  Nothing, I suppose, as long as you don’t mind floating around in a pool full of little white petals, dead bees and itty bitty pieces of palm tree debris.  I find the whole scenario rather disgusting, which is why at the first sign of those nasty green shoots, I immediately call my landscaper to come trim my nearly 30-ft. palm tree.  Problem solved, right?  Well, yes….except that the neighbor’s king palm tree sits directly over the wall just to the southwest of my pool. And they could care less about all those shoots and flowers and debris that make their way into my pool.  So, therein lies the real problem: every time we want to swim, I have to spend more than a half-hour skimming all the debris from a tree that isn’t even mine.  (Pity party for one, please.)

It’s a back-breaking task that takes extreme patience, perseverance, and a great deal of strength, too. (And I did mention that it’s over 100 degrees most of the summer here, right?) I cannot go out to the pool and expect to be done cleaning in a matter of minutes.  I know it will be a long, arduous process.  I can skim over a certain area of the pool over and over and over again…just to return to the same spot and find it still a mess. Sometimes as I feel I’m nearing the end, a big gust of wind comes up to extend my cleaning time.  There are moments I have to set the long pole down and take a break. But I don’t quit.  I keep going.  Because I know in the end, I get to sink into that cool, refreshing water and relax.

In those quiet moments as I silently skim the mess from the pool, God has been speaking to my heart about this incredibly difficult journey I’ve been on in my life and how much it is like this process of skimming.  There is no doubt that my days are filled with so much debris and mess.  Broken relationships.  Loneliness.  Grief.  Financial worry.  Anxiety. Fear of the future.  The burdens of others I love.  And just when I think some area of my life is “fixed” and clean, I come back to it over and over and over again, to find out what a mess it continues to be.

Do you identify with this as well?  How many times do you find yourself asking God, “When will this be solved?”  or “How much longer do I have to keep dealing with this?”  Somedays I just want to quit, don’t you?  I just want to put down that heavy metal skimming pole and walk away from all of life’s battles.

As much as I detest cleaning that pool, I have come this conclusion:  I have gained considerable strength (and a decent tan) from those half-hour upper-body workouts. (Hmmmm….perhaps I should consider skimming my pool in the non-swimming months as well.)  If I only had a few measly leaves in my pool, my gain of strength would be quite minimal.  When I stand and survey the mess before I begin, I can’t help but think,  “Why couldn’t there just be a few leaves?  Why couldn’t the neighbor just trim his tree?  Why is today another windy day?”  But as I get to work, it hits me:  The fact that so much mess blows into my pool on a daily basis, which is seemingly frustrating, is the very reason I am stronger.

So many of my life’s messes I did not choose.  And I know you didn’t either, sweet friend. How many times do you survey the mess and ask God those hard questions:  “Why did my marriage have to end?  Why did my loved one have to die?  Why did I have to be the one to get cancer?   Why do I have to struggle with finances?  Why did this happen to ME???”

Most likely, we will never know the answers to these questions on this side of heaven. But I do know this:  it is those VERY messes that grow a deep faith in us, strengthen us beyond anything we think we could endure and empower us to live a life pointed to Christ.

It is the debris of our lives that God uses for His glory and His purposes. 

And the absolute beauty of this truth, is that no longer do we bear the burden of holding onto that skimming pole all by ourselves.  You see, we have the most amazing, strong, faithful, loving, sacrificing pool boy, who takes the pole from our hands and says, “Dear child….you are not alone. I’ve got this mess under control.  Let me help you.”

Make no mistake.  There are days I don’t think I have the strength to keep dragging that net around and around the pool.  But as I am weary, Jesus comes alongside me with His strength as He so faithfully promises to do.  And He reminds me of why I keep going, moving forward, continually skimming those itty bitty pieces of junk. Because there is hope and complete assurance that when all the mess of this life is over, I’m going to put my feet into the refreshing waters of eternity.  And it will be SO. INCREDIBLY. WORTH IT.

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Prayer Changes Things…Part I

For years, there has been a sign in my kitchen with these three words:  Prayer Changes Things.  I’m sure I bought it at some home goods store, with little thought given to the significance of the words itself.  Most likely, the sign matched my decor, fit the space I needed it to, and was affordable.

It may seem odd to say, but I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this sign for nearly five years.  “Really?” you ask.  It’s just a sign.  (A cheap one at that.)  But trust me….there have been times I’ve wanted to thrown this sign on the ground and stomp on it.  I’ve wept at the sight of this sign.  I’ve praised God for it.  Before you have me committed for bipolar behavior towards a piece of wall art, let me explain.

You see, the minute (yes…minute) I was told my 15+ year marriage was over, my dazed eyes happened to wander over to those three little words:  Prayer Changes Things.  I stared transfixed on those words as my eyes began to well up with tears.  “You’re kidding me about this prayer thing, right God?”  I thought.  Because trust me, there was no prayer in the world that would change what had been done.  I stayed angry at that sign for a long time….well, maybe not the sign so much, but more about what it implied. Sometimes I mocked those words in disgust.  Sometimes I avoided looking at them altogether.  But more often than not, I started talking to God whenever I’d see them.

It wasn’t anything formal that started with “Dear God” and ended with “Amen”.  I actually started talking TO God.  WITH God.  And it wasn’t always pretty.  At times, my prayers were shouting matches with God.  They were words of disbelief and shock.  Words of surrender to an unknown future.  Sometimes my prayers didn’t even have words.  Just tears.  I’m quite sure that’s when the Holy Spirit took over as Romans 8: 26 reminds us:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (NIV)

Over the course of many months and years, I began to discover the crucial truth that was right before my eyes.

Prayer does, indeed, change things. 

It changed my heart to be more loving and forgiving.  It changed my thoughts to not be so filled with anger and hatred.  It changed my attitude about what was important and what was not.  But most of all, it changed my relationship with God to be a much more personal one.  I learned not only to talk to God in a deeper way, but to actually be quiet and listen to God as well.   (I’m still working on the listening part…and being patient in waiting for what God has to say.)

It’d be a nice way to end this blog by saying I never had another issue with my prayer sign again.  But that would be far from the truth.  Little did I know a day was coming when I would once again, look at that sign and begin to loathe those words even more than I did before when life seemingly fell apart all those years ago.

And that’s exactly what happened when I walked into my house just over nine short months ago….

 

 

In the Same Boat

One of my favorite things to do in college had really nothing to do with college itself, but rather with one of the over 10,000 lakes in the state of Minnesota. To me, there was nothing more peaceful than walking the perimeter of my beloved Como Lake.  It didn’t matter the season….I simply found the presence of the water to have a calming effect on my very hectic life.  It was also a chance to escape the big city life and commune with nature.

It’s ironic then, I suppose, that I currently live in a desert, where walking by water either means being near a canal or passing by the neighbors’ yard when the sprinklers happen to be on. But today, I had a chance to walk around a lake in Sugarland, Texas – an opportunity I was not about to pass up. I enjoyed observing things I don’t get to see in the desert:  snowy-white herons posing like statues near the water’s edge, large blue dragonflies buzzing about the trail, and a scattering of ducks sunning themselves on the grassy bank. As I crossed over the bridge to the opposite side of the lake, my eyes caught sight of a small, lone turtle. I stopped and watched him for a few moments.  Poor turtle.  All alone and attempting to paddle against the natural current. Not really getting anywhere. He could use a buddy, I thought. “I feel your pain little guy,” I said aloud as I continued to walk over the bridge.

Being single is OK.  Sometimes.  But it’s not exactly where I thought I would be in my life at this point.  And truthfully, it’s not where I want to be permanently. I didn’t plan on being divorced or choose it, like most toilet-on-the-sidewalk moments.  But life has definitely taught me that you don’t always get to chose what happens to you.

I continued on the trail, thinking about that little turtle and hoping to find another turtle, this time with a companion. You know, as a sign of hope from God for the future?  I never did see what I was looking for. Only because God had something even better for me to see.

Out of the corner of my eye, they came into view: a pair of rowers, gliding silently through the water. Every perfectly synchronized motion looked effortless, but I could see quite a bit of strength and teamwork went into that scene.  And they were going against the current. Together. In the same boat.

I’m not going to lie. Part of me felt jealous watching that scene. Because that’s what I want. Not literally, of course.  Lord knows me rowing an actual boat would be rather disastrous. But I do want someone to choose to come alongside of me, climb in the boat and be my rowing partner through life.

I stared at those rowers for a bit, as they easily made a turn and gracefully went under the arches of the next bridge.  “I want someone in my boat, God,” I whispered under my breath.

And as God often does, He speaks truth into my life through music. Through my Pandora station. Right into the earbuds in my ears. Because this is what I heard so clearly God speaking to my heart:

“From the need to be understood, from the need to be accepted, from the fear of being lonely, deliver me, O God.  And I shall not want. When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

 

Oh, how I forget the goodness of God all too easily! There is nothing to want, because God provides all I need for this day. And the next. And the next.

There is no doubt in my mind that not I’m alone in this boat called life.  God is in the boat with me, guiding me around every bend. I have dear friends who row their boats beside mine to encourage me. And while that is a huge blessing, God knows my heart aches for something more. SomeONE more. Someone who will be my best friend. Someone who looks at my broken heart and still chooses to love me. Someone who is honest and faithful. Someone who is passionate about his relationship with Christ.  And someone who knows that Christ needs to be the center of our lives.  I can make all the lists I want, but God knows my heart more intimately than even I do. He knows who is best. His plan is always better than the ones I have for myself.

And I trust Him to find my boat companion.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” 

~ Psalm 37:4

Living Brokenhearted

Nearly four years ago, I walked into a room at a local church, signed my name to the roster, and sat down at an empty table.  I didn’t know anyone, which was the way I preferred it to be.  I didn’t even really want to be there, but deep down I knew I needed to be.  DivorceCare class.  It was one of those surreal moments you find yourself in and completely overwhelmed by.  This was a class for other people. Surely not me.

I was still in a great deal of shock over what had transpired just weeks prior.  As I sat at the table looking around at the weary, distraught faces around me, my eyes wandered to the whiteboard in the front of the room.  The instructor had written a Bible verse on the board.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

I wasn’t sure how I had lived over 37 years of life not knowing that verse.  Tears immediately began to fill my eyes, because if there ever was a description of me, this was it.   Brokenhearted.  Crushed in spirit.

That verse became very personal to me over the years.  It not only brought me comfort, but it was a verse I often shared with others who were going through challenging times.  And now recently, that passage has come back into the light and is one I cling to in the wake of my son’s death.  But for a different reason now than before.

You see, while I had my Bible open to this very verse the other week, my eyes locked in on “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit”, as it had so many times.  I closed my eyes and whispered, “God.  I am so weary from being these things far too often.”  And in the stillness, God whispered back, “This verse isn’t about you.  Look what I am doing!”  Huh?  I opened my eyes and read with fresh eyes….

THE LORD IS NEAR.  HE SAVES.

It was like being hit with a spiritual 2 x 4.  This passage was not about my current emotional state, but about God and HIS action.  HIS movement towards me.  HIS love and desire to save me.

How many times times have we had the spotlight on ourselves and our suffering instead of what God is doing in the midst of it?   If you’re anything like me, it’s far too often.  Even when my heart is broken for those around me – and there are so many walking through the darkest of valleys- I tend to focus on their state of grief and sadness.

But, friends, let me encourage you today as much as I encourage myself with these words.  We have a God who sees our broken hearts,  our crushed spirits.  And He doesn’t sit by idly.  He moves closer.  Our hearts are broken.  There is no doubt of that.  But that’s not the end of our story.  God loves us so incredibly much that sent HIS Son to save us, so that by His grace, we will not have to live brokenhearted forever.  Our hearts will be made whole again in the presence of our Savior.  Eternally.

So do not read the words of the psalmist and weep.  Read them and rejoice!

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”