‘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

 

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.

 

 

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