Surrendering the Pen

One of the most rewarding yet frustrating parts of teaching Kindergarten is walking my students through the writing process.  In the beginning of the year, the children simply draw pictures to tell their stories, as most of them don’t have the phonetic skills to sound words out and write them down.  But as the year goes on, they begin to label, then write beginning sounds, stretch words out, learn and use high frequency words, and put all those things together to create sentences.  By the end of the school year, my little Kinders can write several sentences about their chosen topic.  It is truly a wonder to behold!  But the process of getting there?  Well….let’s just say there are days when digging my eyeballs out with my bare hands would be less painful.

The other day, one of my sweet boys sat with a blank piece of paper in front of him for the entire writing time.  I checked in on him periodically to offer suggestions of stories he may want to share, but all he would quietly say was, “I just don’t know what to write.” I’ve started to figure out that this little cutie is a bit of a perfectionist.  He didn’t just want to slop anything down on the paper.  He wanted it to be exactly the right thing.

I like to imagine God as the author of my story (although, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m merely a character in HIS story).  But unlike the uncertainty of a new writer, God already has every detail of my life planned out.  He doesn’t just sit wondering what to write.  He is purposeful.  Timely.  All-knowing.  He wants my life to be exactly the right thing.

It’s an interesting notion to think of your life as a story, isn’t it?  If you’re anything like me, there are good chapters, boring chapters, exciting chapters, and sad ones, too.  And then there are those chapter that you desperately wish you could just tear out of the book, because they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

Or were they?

Perhaps this is one of the greatest dichotomies of faith to make sense of…we believe that God has written some wonderful chapters for our lives, but then we question if He really did author the completely tragic ones, too.  And if so, why did those have to be a part of our story and not someone else’s?  Nearly a year later, my mind often revisits the chapter called, “The Day Joe Went Home to Jesus”.  I don’t know why the Author allowed my sweet boy’s death to be written into my story.  But He did.  And there’s no rewriting that chapter. No edits can be made.  When I reread it, the outcome remains the same.

Over a year ago, when Joe was going through some very difficult issues, he’d often come to me for counsel and advice.  I told him I knew deep down God was writing an amazing story for his life.  And that one day, all of it would make sense.  That God was going to take the bad parts he was walking through and use it for his good and God’s glory someday.  Thinking back on those conversations are tough….maybe because it didn’t go the way I had planned it in my head.  But God was still the author of Joe’s story.  Not me. And so I trust that God saw some bigger purpose for my son’s life through his death.

Which reminds me of another story.  Of a Son’s death with not just a big purpose.  But the greatest purpose.  It was a purpose that was birthed from the moment sin entered the world.  And it was fulfilled the second that Son – Jesus – breathed His last.  It was the chapter that God knew had to be written, if we had any shred of hope to spend eternity with Him.  And as awful as that chapter is to read or even imagine, it is the single most life-altering chapter for all humanity.  I am forever indebted to the Author, because it means my son’s story continues in heaven and that one day I will get to share how God did indeed use his story for good.

There’s been a part of my story I’ve been trying to write for a while.  At times the pages are blank, just staring back at me.  And while I have allowed God to pick up the pen to start the chapter, I find myself taking it out of His hands and trying to finish it myself. But God has so gently whispered to my heart to let go, to surrender that control, and let Him make something beautiful out of what He’s purposed.

So….where are you in your story?

Is your life going well and everything you dreamed it would be?  Surrender the pen.

Are you waiting for God to move in an area of your life because things aren’t going according to your timetable?  Surrender the pen.

Have the trials of this world made you hopeless and weary and you aren’t sure how you will make it through another day?  Surrender the pen.

Because God has been writing the most incredible stories since the beginning of time. Some were miraculous, like Moses’ story.  Some were tragic, like Job’s.  Some were unbelievable like Jonah’s.  But they all had God as the Author.  And not only did He write those stories.  He was the Hero.  Every. Single. Time.

I don’t know how my story – or yours –  will turn out.  The process of letting it unfold may be painful at times.   But I do know that regardless of the chapter – good, bad, or ugly – God will forever be the Author and the Hero of my story.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.  ~ Proverbs 19:21

 

 

 

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Prayer Changes Things…Part II

On September 6th of this past year, I walked into my house to once again be confronted by the sign that hung over the kitchen sink.   As I looked at those words, I didn’t feel anger.  Or peace.  Or sadness.  Or strength.  I felt numb.  Everything was just as we had left it nearly 48 hours ago.  Which somehow made the pain even more unbearable. Seemingly normal….and yet, nothing would ever be normal again.

My mind couldn’t stop playing the horrific scene that had occurred just the day before. Prayer was an integral part of that day, in ways I cannot even recount.  As I tried to save my son after the accident, every breath I took was a prayer.  When the paramedics took over, I fell to my knees and begged God to spare Joe’s life.  The mom in me wanted to do something, anything….instead of watch the scene that was unfolding before my eyes.  I desperately asked one of the paramedics what I could do to help.  He turned to me, looked at me square in the eye, and exclaimed one word:

“PRAY!”

I immediately knelt at my son’s feet in the back of the ambulance and poured out the most earnest prayers I have ever prayed in my entire life.  Every exhale was a prayer for my son to live.  For God to be his breath.  For a miracle to happen.   For time to rewind just an hour. But as the minutes passed, I began to run out of words.  And hope.  My mind raced with thoughts of what Joe’s life would become….what my life would become….if he lived.  Would he be in a coma? Would he ever be the same child I knew? Suddenly,  my prayers stopped being about what I wanted and became prayers of complete surrender to the will and sovereignty of God. He loved my son a million times more than I did.  He alone knew the future.  The answers.  The plan.

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before He knew He would die, His prayer was one of utmost surrender as well.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”   And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  ~ Luke 22:42, 44

If I could have sweat blood on that horrific September 5th, I would have done it.  I don’t know about you, but have there ever been times in your life when you have had to completely surrender a situation to God because the circumstances were so totally out of your control?  If you have, you know as well as I do, that placing that situation in God’s hands is an act of full surrender and trust.  We tend to only do this in the “big things” in life, but isn’t that what we should do in all our circumstances?  Surrender daily our own will to our loving Father, who knows better than we do about what will hurt us or bless us?

In the Scripture above, you may have noticed verse 43 is purposely missing.  It reads:

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

You see, as everything was being done that was humanly possible to save my son’s life, one of the EMT’s came over to me and asked if he could pray with me.  He put his arm around me and began to pray.  To be honest, I don’t remember any part of his prayer. But it wasn’t the words that mattered in that moment.  It was about God wrapping His arms around me to bring comfort to a mother about to lose her only son.   That one prayer multiplied in a matter of days into hundreds, maybe even thousands of people across the country praying for me and my family.

For those of you who have prayed for me and with me in this journey….YOU are God’s angels sent to strengthen me.  There is never a day that goes by that the power of God’s strength, through prayer, doesn’t hold me up and keep me going.   Every day I wake up, I pray,  “God.  Give me strength just for today.”  And miraculously he does.

I’ve prayed all kind of prayers in the last few months.  Some full of pain.  Some full of anger.  Guilt.  Peace.  Acceptance.  Questions.  Grief.   And while my prayers change on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, this one truth has stayed on my heart:  God has never changed. He still listens, still invites, still answers.  He still strengthens His people through the power of prayer, as He did for His own Son.

And that, my friends, changes EVERYTHING.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

~Hebrews 13:8

 

 

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

Letting Go

Every time I hear the song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen, I can’t help but smile a little.  Not because of the song itself, but because of the memories associated with it. Memories of my daughter playing it on repeat in her room at loud volumes just to annoy her brother.  Hearing it on the car radio and belting it at the top of my lungs, just to drive Joe nuts.  Frequently breaking into chorus with Ella at any point in the day to watch my son run out of the room screaming.  Yes.  Those were some good times.

Perhaps then, it was rather fitting that for what would have been Joe’s 15th birthday, many family and friends gathered together at the cemetery to “let it go” – releasing blue balloons with Bible verses of hope.  It was a lovely scene, really, to watch all those balloons drift up and be carried away by the breeze. (Well, except for the dozen that flew into a nearby tree…but people need hope even at a cemetery, right???)  As they floated away, I turned my eyes to my 5-year-old nephew, still clutching the balloon he brought to release.  It was a beautiful birthday balloon, shiny with lots of colors and stars.  I’m sure he had picked it out himself.  He knew he had to let it go, yet you could see it in his face that he would have loved to keep it.  But after some gentle coaxing from his dad,  he opened his hand and let that beautiful, shiny balloon fly away.

I smiled to myself, watching that scene.  How often have I been holding on to what I thought was something so beautiful and perfect for me, when God was gently nudging me to let it go?  To release it to His care and divine plan?  There have been many things I have had to let go over the years…homes, jobs, churches I’ve attended, a marriage, friendships – and yes, even my own son.  And as much as I would like to shake my fist at God and remind Him of all that’s been taken from me, I can’t.  Because I’ve learned the simple truth that all of those things were never mine to begin with.  Not a single one.

I’ve been an expert at giving things to God over the years….and then taking them back when I feel I can handle them again.  However, walking through the grief of a child has changed my entire view of control.  The whole concept of “letting go” is actually a lot less scary than it used to be.  Perhaps because in death, you realize that you have absolutely zero control and that God is sovereign.  His plan and purposes won’t be stopped regardless of our best intentions or interference.  And maybe, it’s not so much about letting go as much as it is about surrendering.

Because when you surrender, you don’t just give up control. You hand it over to someone else.  

I’ve had to learn to hand it over.  It hasn’t come easily.  But with God’s gentle nudging, I’ve begun to surrender my hurt.  My relationships.  My finances. My future.  But most importantly, my heart.
I’ll be honest.  I had NO idea how much freedom there was in surrender!  Freedom to not worry about what others think of me. Freedom to not feel like I need to manipulate circumstances to work in my favor.  Freedom to trust that God has it all under control.  Freedom to live out HIS purposes for my life, whatever that looks like.

And all because God surrendered His own Son, so we could not only live in total freedom for Him, but one day, live in His eternal presence.

“It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free.”  ~ Galatians 5:1

And as Elsa so eloquently stated in that annoyingly beloved song, “The fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all.”