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!

 

 

 

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My Waze vs. God’s Waze

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

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

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

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

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

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

But God’s ways are higher than my ways.

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

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

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

But God’s ways are higher than my ways. 

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

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

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

The Cone of Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Butterfly Skin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

Letting Go

There is nothing quite like living in the desert to really mess with your seasonal mind.  I grew up in the Midwest, where October meant changing leaves, January meant snow, and April meant rain.   (And occasionally it also meant a blizzard, a tornado, and 80-degree weather all in the same week.)  You’d think that after living in Arizona for over 15 years I’d be used to 100-degree weather in fall and changing leaves in winter.  And I suppose to a degree I have.  Needing to wear gloves when it’s under 60 degrees is proof enough of that.

Yet, I was still struck with the oddity of unconventional desert seasons not so long ago as I sat near my son’s grave on a windy Saturday afternoon.  It almost seemed as if the sky was raining leaves, covering the ground around me.  I smiled to myself at the sight of it and looked up.  The tree above me was almost bare, with just a few leaves still hanging on.  Eventually those leaves would have to let go soon, because as us desert-dwellers know, the new buds will be coming in just a few short weeks.

As I began to wonder about that process of even why leaves fall, I heard God’s voice, as gentle as the wind rustling those leaves whisper, “Just let go.” 

“Of what, God?”  I asked.  “What am I supposed to let go of?”  

I was hoping it was something easy.  You know, like cleaning out some unused sheets in the linen closet or getting rid of the seven-year-old spices in my pantry.

But there was silence.

So I began to pray about it.  And pray about it.  And pray about it some more.  What things was I holding on to that needed to go in order to make room for new growth in my life?  What were those parts of my life that aren’t so pretty?  That were all dried up and brown and needed to fall?  I asked God to show me, but He was still silent.  I begged Him to reveal them to me.

And then…He did.  And you guessed it.  It was not very pretty, nor would it be easy to get rid of.

Pride.  

Selfishness.  

A spirit of comparison.  

My own expectations.   

Worldly gain. 

Lack of trust. 

MY plan, MY hopes, MY dreams.  

Ick.  Ick.  And double ick.

Now, I could go into depth about how I struggle with all these things, but to be honest, that’s really between me and God.  He knows.  I know.  And that’s enough.

But if we’re honest, don’t we all have areas in our life that are just…well, for lack of a better word, ICK?

As the week went on, curiosity got the better of me.  I mean, how really do leaves fall off a tree?  The teacher in me figured I’d better know in case some inquisitive little Kindergarten minds wanted to know someday.  Here’s what I found from britannica.com:

“Autumn leaves are not simply blown off trees but are separated from the plants in a highly controlled process. As day length shortens and temperatures cool, hormones within the plant are activated to begin the abscission process.  Chlorophyll production stops and the pigment starts to degrade, often revealing showy reds and yellows that were masked by green. The vessels that carry water to the leaf and sugars to the rest of the plant are closed off, and a layer of cells, known as the abscission layer, starts to grow between the leaf stalk and the twig holding it. These cells serve to slowly cut the leaf from the plant without leaving an open wound. As the leaves fall, the plant enters dormancy, saving its energy for the great bud burst of spring.”

Now, I’m no scientist, but this is actually pretty fascinating.   Those leaves have to be cut off from the food supply, which is why the barrier forms between the stem and what it’s holding onto.  That layer will eventually scab over and break the leaf from the tree.

All those icky things in my life would just keep growing and being fed if it weren’t for some kind of a barrier to stop them.  My friends, THAT is what Jesus did.  He put himself in the middle of me and my messiness.  He formed a barrier between my sin and me when He chose to come down to this earth and take MY sins upon HIS shoulders.  He willingly chose those open wounds to spare me of the pain of eternal death and life without him.   He lived so I could die to my sin and become alive in HIM.

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 6:11

What things are YOU holding onto that are prohibiting you from new growth and life full in Christ? It may take some time and some prayer and some getting honest.  But there’s good news:  the tree doesn’t just drop its leaves and stay bare.  When a tree “lets go”, so to speak, it also means there has been space created for something new.  Because letting go also means replacing.

When I thought about all that God wanted me to let go of, I also prayed about what could grow in its place.

HUMILITY for my pride.

COMPASSION for my selfishness.

ACCEPTANCE of others and self for my spirit of comparison.

A TRUST in God’s timing for my expectations.

A LOVE for what God offers for what the world offers.

HOPE for my lack of trust.

HIS plans, HIS dreams, HIS hopes for mine.

With new leaves like these, I’m praying the “great bud burst of spring” is just around the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

A Mary Christmas to You

When I used to teach first grade, one of the best parts was introducing the kids to listening to chapter books read aloud.  One of our favorite series was the mysteries of Cam Jansen, the fifth-grade girl detective.  Cam, short for “Camera” had a photographic memory and would often use the pictures she had taken in her mind to solve whatever mystery was at hand.  Several times throughout the story, Cam would happen upon a scene, close her eyes and say, “Click!” And the image would stay in her mind until she needed to retrieve it.

Whether or not you claim to have a photographic memory, chances are you can go back in your mind to any significant life event and remember some memory, some scene, some feeling about that moment.  A surprise birthday party…click!  A fun family vacation…click!  Graduation…click!  Your wedding day…click!  Having a child…click!  But life isn’t just a series of fun and exciting events.  Even the difficult memories get recorded in our minds, too.  A cancer diagnosis….click.  A spouse walking out the door…click.  A rebellious child breaking the rules yet again…click.  The loss of someone you love…click.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to always choose the things our mind remembers.

Since my son passed away last year, my memory has taken a significant beating.  I thought perhaps it was just my own experience, but it actually is a proven scientific fact that memory impairment is a result of grief.  Many others who walk the road of loss would attest to this as well.  As my brain is now starting to be able to handle and process information better than it could a year ago, I feel a little like Cam Jansen, consciously and deliberately trying hard to remember events and moments as they happen.

So perhaps it is no surprise that this Christmas season, I’ve been drawn to one particular verse from the account of Luke 2.

  “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I don’t know exactly all the things Mary remembered and thought about from that night Jesus was born.  Maybe it was the sweet, soft skin of a newborn baby…click.  The sound of a heavenly angel choir in a nearby field….click.  Or perhaps it was the sight of shepherds coming to bow down and worship the long-awaited Savior that had finally come to this earth…click.  Those are all lovely and amazing memories, for sure.  But we also know that first Christmas was anything but picturesque.  Mary most certainly remembered the tough parts, too.  Being turned away time and time again from finding shelter…click.  The animal sounds and smells surrounding her as she labored to give birth…click.  The loneliness of having a baby with no family around…click.  The uncertainty of what her future meant as the mother of Jesus…click.

But Mary didn’t have a selective memory.  She remembered it ALL.  The good.  The bad.  And most certainly, the incredibly difficult.  And not only did she remember it.  She treasured it.  Mary, despite her circumstances, takes it all in and counts it as treasure.  A gift.

And so my focus this season has been to have a Mary kind of Christmas.  The kind of Christmas where my mind and heart stops at the wonderful, the simple, and the not-so-easy and pauses to say, “click”, without my iPhone in hand.  To treasure those moments, to keep them in my heart, and to count each one as a gift.  All of it.  Singing “Silent Night” by candlelight in church next to my beautiful daughter….click.  Taking in the awe-inspiring colors of a sunset hike on Christmas Eve…click.  Only filling one child’s stocking…click.  Sitting at my son’s grave with a poinsettia in hand…click.

Like Mary, I want to treasure all these things.  These feelings.  These moments.  They remind me that life can be joyous and yet life can also be terribly hard some days.  They remind me of how precious everyday life is.  They remind me there is so much more beyond this earthly life and its temporary joys and sadness.  But most of all, they remind me there is hope of a future with God forever, because of the gift that He gave at Christmas in His own Son, Jesus.  And that truly is the greatest treasure to not only keep in my heart, but to share with the world.

May you have that same Mary kind of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

What I Didn’t Deserve

In 1971, McDonald’s came out with one of the most successful advertising jingles in commercial history.  If you’re from my generation (Gen X or earlier), you’ll remember it:  “You deserve a break today, so get out and get away to McDonald’s…”  The concept of  “deserving a break” at Micky D’s continued throughout the 70’s and most of the 80’s.  McDonald’s wasn’t the only company to get consumers to feel they were deserving of some better product or idea.  From diet fads claiming to give you the “body you deserve” to self-help books promising to give you the wealthy, happy future you deserve, we consumers started to believe that we were actually entitled to these things.  Even President Obama in his final State of the Union address declared that “We deserve good things from Washington.”

Not only does the outside world feed us the belief we are somehow more deserving of greatness, but we do the same thing in our own minds, don’t we?  Maybe we’ve had a rough day at work and we feel we deserve that glass of wine.  Or we’ve completed a hard workout and we tell ourselves we deserve that In-N-Out burger and fries. (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here.)  Maybe our kids are driving us nuts and we deserve a night out or that weekend getaway.  And slowly, we begin to think – or rather even believe – that enduring tough circumstances in life, whether great or small, earns us something better, something we believe we need.

Or maybe we think that doing something good means we deserve something good in return.  We work hard at our job and we deserve that raise.  We’ve lost a few pounds and deserve a new outfit. We’ve poured time and energy into a relationship and we deserve the same in return.  We’ve done our best to raise healthy, happy children and we deserve their love, respect, and obedience.  Right?

I’m not sure why the concept of “deservedness” has been bothering me lately.  Perhaps because I’ve recently been the recipient of comments about something incredibly positive in my life such as, “I’m so happy for you!  You deserve it!”  or “If there’s anyone who deserves this, it’s you!”  While a small part of me is tempted to respond with, “I know, right?”, the majority of me is wondering why I would be considered deserving of such happiness in someone else’s eyes. Did walking through brutally difficult circumstances in life earn me this happiness?

Let me say this with 100% assurance:  Not. One. Bit.

You see, I’ve concluded that there are two veins of thought to be had on this topic of “deservedness”.  And it all comes down to whether you believe you are in control of your life or if you believe God is in control of your life.

When you believe you are in control of things, your thinking may be something like this: “I did this good thing; therefore, I deserve something good in return.” or “I don’t deserve this bad thing because of the good I’ve done.”  Either way, both avenues of thought breed a sense of entitlement.   And friends, I have been there too many times.  Shouting at God that I did not deserve what had happened to me.   And I’m sure you have, too.  It’s the age-old question we are constantly trying to answer of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Let me break it down for you:  there is no “good” person on this planet (which completely invalidates the above statement, but I digress).  Not me, not you, not Mother Teresa, the Pope, or anyone else who has ever walked this earth or who ever will.  We are all sinners.  And we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  There is nothing “deserving” about us.  We have earned NO GOOD THING in this life.

“He repays everyone for what they have done;  He brings on them what their conduct DESERVES.”  ~ Job 34:11 

You and I deserve nothing.  Well….almost nothing.  Because we all sin and fall short, we do deserve something:  eternal death and separation from God.  But here’s the crazy part.  Psalm 103:10 says,

“He does not treat us as our sins DESERVE or repay us according to our iniquities.”

I don’t know about you, but is that verse not the best news EVER???  That’s a game changer for our lives!  What’s even CRAZIER is that the only person who didn’t deserve death is the sinless One who died for us.  Even Pilate said during Jesus’ trial, “He has done nothing to deserve death.” (Luke 23:15)  The criminal who hung on the cross with Jesus also recognized this.  “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.” (v. 41)  But perhaps Timothy puts it best:

Here is a trustworthy saying that DESERVES full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”  ~ 1 Timothy 1:15-16

When you begin to understand that God is ultimately the one in control, and has been since the beginning of time, you realize that the word “deserving” has no part in what has happened in your life, good OR bad.  The “bad things” are a result of living in a sinful world.  And the “good things” are a simply a result of having a loving, merciful God.  You start to realize that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever – independent of our positive and negative circumstances.  He already gave us what we didn’t deserve – eternal life – because of who He IS.  Not because of who we are or what we’ve done.  But because of what His son did for US.

As I stood at my 14-year-old son’s grave yesterday, those little twinges of “I don’t deserve to be standing here” came creeping up again, ready to give way to a full-blown pity party.  But as I read Joe’s favorite verse engraved on his marker, as I have done so many times, my eyes were opened to an amazing undeservedness of God’s love.

How great is the (undeserved) love the Father has lavished on us, that we should (undeservedly) be called children of God.  And that (even though we didn’t deserve it) is what we are!  ~ 1 John 3:1

Ok, so maybe I added a few extra words that weren’t there….but it turned my near pity party into feelings of incredible gratitude for what Christ did for me.  For my son.  And for each one of us who believes in the underserved love of God.