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Stillness in trials

A young friend is dealing with harsh realities and the changing of her normal.  She is learning stillness in this trial.  Her email revealed her pain but it could not hide her faith.

As I consider her place, my thoughts go back to the year 1982, the Thanksgiving when my mother’s cancer diagnosis tookMother in 1982 over our lives.  She sat at the table that year barely eating anything because she had trouble breathing, but she didn’t want us to know it.  She didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  That was my mother.

Before the weekend was over, she was in the hospital having fluid drained from her lungs, the first of several times during the coming holidays.  It was the beginning of the end of her earthly life.  And it was the beginning of the changing of my normal. The changing of my world.

I could not imagine my life without my mother.  I was 32, and he was still my best friend.

That Thanksgiving ushered in a change in me, and it sent me on a search. I had to face all the things I thought I knew about prayer and faith and believing.  My mother was dying, and I could not change that no matter how hard I tried.

It was a journey of several months that took me to God’s words about faith, about trusting Him even when I don’t get what I desperately want.  I learned in that process that the greatest faith is trusting Him even though.  Even though the fig tree is bare.  Even though the cattle stall is empty.  Even though the fields do not produce a crop. Even then, He is God and He is good and He is deserves my worship.

It was one of the hardest trials of my life and a lesson of stillness, resting the results with the Father who loves me and knows what is best for me and for those I love.

I try to figure out what others need and pray that for them.  I ask for my needs when I pray.  I am specific and sometimes I am vague.  I often feel like my prayers are feeble.  Yet I find peace in this: God knows what I need before I ask; the Holy Spirit intercedes for me according to the will of God; and Jesus my Great High Priest, has gone beyond the veil of the Holiest place to provide mercy and grace for every need.

One of my favorite authors, Jan Karon who writes about a small town called Mitford, often quotes in her book about “the prayer that never fails.”  She is referencing these simple words, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Some may disagree, that instead we should utter commanding prayers and believe to receive what we want.  I think the pathway to stillness is trusting a mighty God who can do the impossible and who will do what is best for me, for Sweet William, for my Tulsa family too-far-away, and for other family and friends.

I still get specific when I pray.  More often these days, I finish with “Your will be done in all of it.”  In my feeble way of expressing myself, God sees the deeper needs and knows how to accomplish His purpose in it all.

Your will be done, Father.  If it was good enough for Jesus, then it must be good enough for me.

Today  I am listening to this:

Pruning

I’m a wanna-be-gardener. I just play at it, but I have fun doing it. 

I don’t prepare my soil well enough, adding compost or checking for proper alkalinity or acidity. I’ve planted things in the wrong location for it to flourish. I’ve let some plants stay out all winter which has sapped them of strength and beauty. Miraculously, some have survived. And I am amazed.

Sill, I’ve had some success with my accidental way of putting things into the ground.

I have a few early bulbs that surprise me through a late season snowfall. In spring my yard glows with all shades of pink, red, and purple while the azaleas are in bloom. All summer and fall I enjoy how the colors change from season to season.  It’s God’s lavish way of producing fruit from my shabby labor. 

I’ve got plenty of garden books and read them randomly when I need information. When I follow the directions, it seems to help. Go figure.

So I had these two blank canvases on either side of our garage door, all white and asking for something colorful there. I tried placing large clay pots in the area one year, filling them with annuals that bloomed and looked pretty for a season. But then I moved the pots somewhere else.

Later I envisioned small topiary trees growing all perfectly round and proportional, looking artistic and lovely. Ah, but what I wanted would cost more than I wanted to spend. I needed another idea.

On the back side of our house grows a very large Rose of Sharon bush. It has a purple double bloom in late summer that is gorgeous.

It has dropped seed over the years and stray bushes have grown up. Two particular small ones were growing right next to the house along the foundation. They needed to be removed, and frugal one that I am, I figured these two little saplings would be perfect for my project. 

Just the right size to start my own topiaries, I set about to remove their roots from the soil where they were firmly attached.  It was no easy task.  I dug, pulled, dug some more, and pulled some more until they loosened their grip and let go.

I planted the little trees on either side of the garage door and commenced the pruning process to help them take the shape I envisioned. It was snipping here and there, cutting back hard in places, positioning a stake and tying them off so they would stand tall and straight. Somehow they survived the first season.

It’s been several years since that planting. There have been many clipping of branches, shaping these small trees into slender trunks with nice roundness to their leaves and flowers. They are beginning to take shape. The one on the right side really looked pretty last summer when it bloomed.

They other one, however, wants to take its own shape. It seems a little rebellious. I let it grow as it would through summer, allowing the flowers to flourish. But I had my eye on it, knowing when blooming season was over, I would be grabbing my pruning shears.

And that’s just what I did. When the flowers had faded and were hanging dead and brown, I began to clip away. I staked it again and pulled it into a more upright position. That little tree was pruned hard by my own hand, but by the time I was finished, it was more rounded like its sister tree a few yards away.

I think I am that little rebellious tree, pulled up from a comfortable place where I was content to grow, my roots dug in tight. I want my own way, my routine, and my plan. I like it when other people cooperate with my ideas.  (anybody else?)

The Lord takes us as we are but does not intend to let us stay that way. 

There is a pruning process going on in me. It is painful. I’m trying to be submissive. My “will” wants to; my “flesh” struggles.

My Father knows best and does what He does for my good and to fulfill His greater purpose. He has a vision of what He wants me to become.  I know that with all my heart, even when it does not feel good at all and I cannot understand the purpose for the pain.

I have to remind myself (often!) that it’s not all about me even though sometimes I just want it to be.

I am trusting that the pruning will produce the beauty He desires, that one day He will look at me and be able to say, “Now she is growing nicely, just the way I planned.”

My little rebellious tree bears the mark of the cuts, the wounds.  But spring is coming, the hope of life renewed.  Spring is coming for me, too.

Hello 2012

 It is the last day of the year, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see 2011 go. It has had its rough and rugged moments for sure.

For me, the week before New Year’s Day is usually spent in a flurry of activity. I immediately begin taking down and putting away all the Christmas decorations. Since we only had a tree this year, that didn’t take much time.

Almost as if an alarm goes off inside me, I want to clean out, de-clutter, organize, and put this house in order. I can’t explain it other than I was born this way.

So I begin to go through drawers and closets with a vengeance. I toss a lot of stuff wondering why in the world I’ve kept it so long. I rearrange the stuff I want to keep. Sometimes I have an epiphany as I find something I’ve wondered about for a year.

At year’s end I also evaluate the last twelve months to see what’s been accomplished. And I begin to think of the goals for the new year and how I want to spend the next 365 days.

But this New Year’s Eve, I don’t have the same urgency to make a list of things I want to get done in the house and the garden, the items I need to purchase, the exercise program I hope becomes a habit, the books I want to read, or the places I would love to go. Because of 2011, I’m not so sure about my goals for 2012.

There were so many things left undone this year because of unexpected events in Sweet William’s and my life. Things did not go as scheduled.

I’m sure at some point I will again make my lists. I am a list person. What can I say.

But as midnight of December 31, 2011 approaches, I want to be in a position of humility, on my knees with my face to the floor in total submission to the Sovereign God who controls my life and all that occurs in it.

I am not my own, after all. I was purchased at a very high and precious price.  God has the right to do whatever He pleases with me. Year 2012 will be guided by His hand, and His purpose will prevail.

I pray the prayer that never fails:  His will be done. I am simply the instrument in His hand to accomplish His goals.

Happy New Year, my friends.  Thanks for taking this 2011 journey with me.

Leave your comments.  They are always a joy to read.

The plan

I’ve been reading some of my old journals to remember other Christmases because I want to remember our celebrations.  This year is so different with son and family having a Tulsa Christmas.

As I read my Christmases past, it becomes apparent that they have not all been picture perfect.  Time tends to shadow the sadness that surfaced during our holidays, the separations we experienced, the sickness that kept loved ones away, the death that left a place at the table permanently empty, the problems that were only magnified during the stress of the season.

Looking at our last Christmas entries, I am glad God did not give me a glimpse of the coming year, of what lay ahead for us in 2011.  I think I may have gone back to bed, covered my head with the blanket wanting to stay until the year was over.

Perhaps your year has been something like that.

For certain 2011 did not go according to my plan.

My plan was to accomplish many things, to be successful in my undertakings, to finish projects, to excel and experience happiness in all my endeavors and relationships.  I had it all written down.

I didn’t have any room in my plans for operations, hospital stays, extensive care-giving, or learning how to live with our grandchildren so far away.

Reading the account of Jesus birth in the books of Matthew and Luke, I see something that resembles my own life.  The characters of this story had plans.  Mary and Joseph had plans for a marriage and a happy productive life.  Zachariah and Elizabeth had plans to live out their old age in quietness and service.

Mary and Joseph’s plans were disrupted by an unexpected miracle pregnancy, by the decree to go to Bethlehem and then the urgent warning to flee to Egypt.  I feel sure it was not the simple life in Nazareth they had envisioned.

Zachariah and Elizabeth were not expecting to be parents in their old age when strength and vigor were waning, when keeping up with a lively toddler would take more energy than they could muster on any given day.

Yet . . . it was God’s plan.

My morning Bible reading recently took me to Micah chapter 4.  Verse 12 was the one that caught my attention:

But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither do they understand His plan . . . “

Ain’t it the truth?

I know the verses that say our ways are not God’s ways, that His thoughts are far above our thoughts.  It’s just that I want to make sense of what happens to me and to the people I love.  I want to understand the “why” of it.  If I did, maybe I could accept it more easily.

But alas, that is not the case in almost all of my unexpected interruptions whether it is a minor irritation or an extremely painful life change.

I am required to trust when it is dark and I cannot see the way ahead, when taking the next step is scary and I don’t know how to do it.

Who among you fears the Lord, listening to the voice of His Servant?

Who among you walks in darkness, and has no light?

Let him trust in the name of Yahweh; let him lean on his God.”  Isiah 50:10

Even in my confusion, I find there is always an answer in the Word.  It may not explain all the details, the whys and wherefores I want to know.  But it does tell me what to do until the day when all things will be made clear.

Until then, there are some things I need to learn:

To trust

To wait with expectant hope

To learn contententment whether I have plenty or not

To give thanks in all my circumstances

Tall orders for this sojourner.  I am willing to walk in the dark as long as I don’t walk alone, as long as my God goes with me, goes before me and prepares the way.

It’s okay that I don’t have all the answers.  I know the One who does.

If you have had an “Unplanned Year” like me, leave a comment.  Let’s learn to trust Him together.

Thanksgiving on purpose

Many of us, I suppose, have Thanksgiving traditions we do each year.  I’m not just talking about the kind of stuffing you fix or whether you have pumpkin or sweet potato pie for dessert or that you always go to grandma’s house for dinner.

I’m thinking more about how we acknowledge the blessings we receive and how we give thanks to God for them.

Last year I wrote about my Joy List that started in 1995 and how it has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for me.  I need to mention another tradition at this time of year that holds much meaning for me.

It began in 2005 when I attended a Faces of Christ retreat sponsored by Southeast Christian Church at their beautiful County Lake retreat facility.  I had pondered this for over a year, but it was the Lord’s timing to send me that spring. 

I was a mess and I was going to get messier before 2005 was over.  By the end of the four-day retreat, I had experienced Christ and His cross in a life changing way, and I had met some precious Christian women.

Out of the 40 or 50 women who attended, I still maintain contact with two of them.  One of them was my table mate during the retreat, Margie.  She and I have shared lots of phone conversations and prayer requests about job changes, moving to new locations, car breakdowns, family crises, sickness of people we love, venting frustrations, and more.  Margie has become the kind of friend I can call when I need help, and she will come.  She has provided meals for Sweet William and me on at least three occasions this year when he came home from the hospital.  And she was one of those friends I wrote about who pulled together to make my Dad’s birthday celebration such a joyful event.

Out of the messiness of our lives in 2005, God has forged an amazing friendship that has blessed the socks off me.  I give Him thanks for that.

There was another young woman who attended the Faces retreat that spring.  We did not even meet each other that weekend.  We sat at different tables, and our assignments and interaction did not bring us together.  It was at a follow-up Bible study at one of the leader’s homes where we became acquainted and “just happened” to be paired together for an exercise on prayer.

We were instructed to call our partner for the next week and pray for each other.  Julie was my designated partner for the week.  We set a time to meet over the phone, 6:30 am.  I did not that Julie was not a morning person back then.  But she did not balk.  Bless her heart, she willingly agreed, and that week we called each other every day and prayed for one another and the concerns on our hearts.

I was still such a mess.  This young woman had no idea what she was getting herself into when she became my prayer partner.  There were mornings I could barely function or talk on the phone in that early hour.  After I would share my needs and my prayer requests, she would pray.  And I would feel myself being lifted up and strengthened by the Spirit of the living God so that I was able to move forward and make it through the day.  Don’t ask me how that works because I am not theologian enough to explain it.  I only know it happened.

Well, here it is 2011 and Julie and I still call each other twice a week at 6:30 am to share our praises and our concerns.  I wish I had an explanation for this too, how we two flawed, struggling, imperfect women have managed to hold onto this prayer discipline for six years.  The only answer can be the Faithful God who imparts His very being into us at the new birth, has lavishly grown the Fruit of the Spirit in us and made us faithful.  Julie will tell you, like I do here, this is not because of us but because of God!

So the week before Thanksgiving, we make our prayer time a remembering time to give thanks.  We look back over our lists of prayer requests (I keep mine in a notebook) and see how God has answered time after time after time.  I am amazed at God’s goodness every single year we have done this.  Yesterday was our call day.  Julie began with her praises first, and I was nodding my head in affirmation remembering the prayers we had prayed and the answers that had come.  Oh how good God has been! 

Then I began my list as I cried through most of it:

  • for my Dad, still alive and stronger than he was a year ago and Esther who has cared for him and been strengthened to do it.
  • for Bill who has come through three surgeries this year, still has the fight to get well, thanking God for His goodness.
  • that we have managed to pay for many unexpected household and vehicle expenses this year.
  • for work that brings me joy and respite and for my boss who has been so supportive though my erratic and unpredictable work schedule because of being in the hospital with Bill or at home during recuperation time.
  • for people who brought food and brought food and brought food to feed us.  They have no idea how very much it was needed on so many days when I had no more strength left.
  • for the staff at Caretenders who have tenderly and professionally provided nursing care and assistance with daily needs.
  • that my own body and mind have been strengthened to do much more than I thought possible.
  • for family who have loved me and supported me.
  • for friends who have sent cards and called us, who have told us they are praying for us.
  • for the weekly prayer calls with Julie which has been a life line to Heaven for me.
  • for being able to communicate by Facebook and cell phone, keeping me in touch with loved ones far away.
  • for my son, his sweet wife, and my three precious grandchildren being settled in Tulsa where he has work he enjoys and a home to shelter them.

Some things on  my list have been difficult to deal with this year.  I feel like I have come through 2011 kicking and screaming, while being dragged along into the will of God.  I have looked to Him often and said, “I know you must have a plan for all of this even though I don’t like it and it hurts a lot.”

Yet, He has been more faithful than I, faithful when I was not, faithful in spite of me.

The Lord is good.  His love is everlasting.  His mercies are new each morning.  He pours out grace upon grace.  And He is such a faithful God.

I need to give Him thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  It puts my life in better perspective, reminding me that I am not in charge here, that He is working all things – all things – for my good and for His purpose which is far greater than I can understand.

Giving Him thanks on purpose should not be just a yearly tradition.  It should be my daily practice.  He is God, and He will do what He wants to do.  Mine is not to understand.  Mine is to trust, to believe, to pray, to give thanks to my Father Who does all things well.

Broken and spilled out

When I was in my 40s, my nest was suddenly empty. Having only one child means one day the nest is full and the next day it’s empty. Travis went away to college, leaving Sweet William and me to bump around the house alone.

The Lord in His graciousness, knowing how my heart was, filled me up with a group of young people where we attended church. They became a drama team. We began to work on skits and pantomimes, performing at church services, our own and others. We even traveled to Michigan where we put on a workshop for the youth there and performed several times during the weekend.

It was great fun and a lot of trial and error. The kids could drive me absolutely up the wall sometimes. But most of the time, I was so proud of their efforts and their sincerity as they portrayed Bible scenes or humorous skits, all with the purpose of glorifying the Lord.   I so prayed the truth they acted out would take root in their hearts and draw them closer to Jesus.

One of the songs they performed was called Broken and Spilled Out by Gloria Gather. It was made popular by singer Steve Green. The song tells the story of the woman who brought her precious ointment and poured it out on Jesus feet.  The fragrance of the perfume touched the senses of all who were witness to her loving deed that day.  Jesus commended her for her act of love.

I’ve been humming that song a lot lately. It think it must be because I’ve felt broken and spilled out in the last several weeks.

I know I’ve been broken because the tears keep spilling out.

Sweet William and I have been through some trauma together. Recently, it has taken more out of me than I had in reserve.

I’ve given this some thought, and have come to the conclusion that being emptied out can be exceedingly unpleasant.  There is still so much of my self-will left in me.   My flesh and my spirit do battle quite often.

As Paul said in Romans 7, “I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (The Message)

There are times I think to myself, “O wretched woman that I am!  Who will deliver me from myself?”

The answer, of course, is Jesus who took all my punishment for my past, present and future sins.  Thanks be to God for the victory He won on the cross!

I am so thankful for the promise that though I am faithless, He remains Faithful! 

I am often struck by the profound thought that God never gives up on me, no matter how long it takes. He is the Potter who is committed to conforming me into the image of Jesus, molding, squeezing, remaking, so that I will reflect Him more and more in my motives, thoughts and actions.  I often think He surely must be getting tired of me by now. 

How many times have I prayed, “Lord, I want to do your will.”  Or “”Make me more like Jesus.”  Or “If you can use anything, Lord, You can use me.”  I’m finding out He takes those kind of prayers seriously and begins to make it happen.  It can be a painful process.

Giving up my own agenda, my own wants and desires, my own will can be likened to the woman who gave her most precious possession.  You see, my self-will is pretty important to me.  It can become my most treasured possession.

Sometimes life takes a turn toward hard and uncertain days or weeks, even years.  It becomes God’s means of molding me, even breaking me if necessary.  I am His project and He will not give up.

The wonder of this brokenness is that it results in more room for the Spirit to fill me up with Himself.   Empty of myself, I can be full of Jesus.   Perhaps it is the way to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (I Corinthians 2:14).

Ah, now that is a beautiful thought.  It makes being emptied out a transforming and beautiful process.  It means I’m growing, I’m becoming, I’m on my way to reflecting the image of my Savior more and more. 

There isn’t anything else that is more important than that.

Have you been broken and spilled out?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The day God died

I have been wearing my cross necklace since Lent began in March.  It was the prettiest one I have.  Last Sunday, however, I exchanged the pretty cross for one more in keeping with the original idea of a cross.  It is made of nails.   

The cross hangs on a plane brown cord.  It did not blend in with my Sunday dress-up outfit.  Nor did it match my go-to-work clothes.  It has looked awkward and out-of-place, and it’s been a bit uncomfortable having it on 24/7.  It has reminded me that the cross was anything but a beautiful decoration in first century AD.

The cross was a torture instrument.  It was designed so the condemned would suffer agony.  A criminal could hang there for days before the relief of death came. 

As the weakness set in and the body hung heavily from the arms attached to the cross beam, it became difficult to breathe.  The crucified would try to muster enough strength to push up with his legs in order to get a full breath of air.

Suffocation was often the cause of death.

So we hang a beautiful silver or gold cross on a matching chain and put it around our necks as jewelry.

Back in my teens and twenties, a slogan became popular. “God is dead” they said.   The world was going you-know-where in a handbasket, so some intellectuals thought God surely had died and left us to fend for ourselves.

The day God died was not in the 1960s or ’70s.  It was more like 33 AD.  Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, the God-man, surrendered His life on purpose.  It was all according to the plan.  The plan was to offer grace to the fallen race of humanity.  So in need were we then.  So in need are we now.

The only way to bring sons and daughters to God was through death.  Only the death of the God-man would pay the penalty for the sins of the world – once and for all.  The weight of the world’s sins rested on the shoulders of Jesus as He hung and gasped for the breath of life.  The life breath that was first given to Adam by God Himself.

Jesus’ life seemed to be cut short, just a young man in the prime of life and popularity.  Yet He lived His life fully to the end because He knew His calling.  He would let nothing or no one deter Him from the goal.  And the goal was death.

Because of the joy set before Him of bringing sons and daughters to God, He endured the cross despising the shame.

I want to live my life fully, on purpose, doing what God has called me to do.  My calling is not to be a preacher or a missionary.  But my calling is definite and sure, whispered to my heart on many occasions. 

What is your calling?  Has the Holy Spirit whispered to your heart and told you how He wants to you live fully, to live joyfully with your eyes fixed on Jesus who will reward you for finishing the work He has given you?

It may not be what your parents wanted, or what your peers thought you should do, or the potential your teachers saw in you.  It is a God calling that is particular for each son and daughter of the King.  Joy will be the by-product of living life fully in the calling of Christ.

Passover and the  Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed were fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.  Tomorrow we will celebrate Easter Sunday which is actually the Feast of First Fruits.  I hope you will come again and share the joy of resurrection with me.

Here is a recipe and activity to do with your children or grandchildren that will let you tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way they can understand.  It does not have to be Easter Eve to tell the story.  Do it often and remember how much God loves us.  Perhaps telling the story is part of your calling as it is mine.

Easter Story Cookies – to be made the evening before Easter morning              

  • 1 cup whole pecans or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 3 egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • a small zipper baggie, wooden spoon, duct tape, and a Bible

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

  • Place the nuts in the zipper baggie and let the children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces.  Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by the solders.  Read John 19:1 – 3
  • Let each child small the vinegar.  Put 1 teaspoon into a mixing bowl.  Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink.  Read John 19:28 – 30
  • Add egg whites to vinegar.  Eggs represent life.  Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us new life.  Read John 10:10-11.
  • Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand.  Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl.  Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the sadness we have for our own sins.  Read Luke 23:27.
  • So far, the ingredients are  not very appetizing.  Add 1 cup of sugar.
  • Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us.  He wants us to know Him and belong to Him.  Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.
  • Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed.  Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.  Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3
  • Fold in broken nuts.  Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet.  Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  Read Matthew 27:57-61.
  • Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF.  Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door.  Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed.  Read Matthew 27:65-66.
  • GO TO BED!  Explain that they may feel said to leave the cookies in the oven overnight.  Jesus’ followers were in despair when they left Jesus there.
  • On Resurrection morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie.  Notice the cracked surface and take a bit.  The cookies are hollow!   On the first Resurrection Day, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.  Read Matthew 28:1-9.

Celebrate the Risen Savior who is alive and ever interceding for us who believe!