A “180” Of Faith

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543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, He had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt, and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks before Him on the road and waived palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all experienced the reality of that roller coaster when we interpreted something differently, and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected to see fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed His praises as He rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things He was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He did show up, and He did deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  It was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different that this could actually be their Messiah, but God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have been in difficult situations where I was depending on the many promises of God.  I believe He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me, and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  If we aren’t careful, we watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who we thought He was.  We look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of our enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving you or me alone to fight for ourselves.  It doesn’t take long for us to think on these things before we end up angry because it seems He doesn’t care enough to take care of us.  In our own way, we go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  We start letting our doubts, or even anger, that arises from unmet expectations to drive our perspective, and we can end up choosing to set free the worst of ourselves rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that as truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is, or doing what He said He would do.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember the way their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans at Him and trust in the fulfillment of His own.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Love Goes Further

Valentine’s Day is upon us once again, and everywhere you look, you see reminders of love and romance, of couples and togetherness. I was never much for celebrating the day in the traditional sense, as it is also my birthday. My mom, for as long as I can remember, mostly just glossed over the holiday because to her, the day I was born was more important. 55 years ago today, she didn’t even realize it was Valentine’s Day.  I had been born at 6:35 am and it wasn’t until my dad showed up later with flowers and candy that she realized the significance of the holiday.  She kept the heart in which the candy came and later put my baby clothes in it. I still have it today. Love has a way of lingering in the most unusual ways and symbols sometimes.

Today, after almost eight months since Mom passed, I decided it was time to start reclaiming an area of my home. It had been my room of peace for years, as I would write or paint, pray or study God’s word, or sometimes just sit in silence and breathe. When Mom moved in, I wanted her to have the best spot in the house, so I gladly moved my things and created a blended feel in the other bedroom that would work to some degree for those much-needed respites. I absolutely loved that Mom loved her room so much, and she would often tell me how peaceful and comfortable it was for her. It warmed my heart to have seen her enjoy her surroundings even though she was heartbroken to be living away from Dad for the first time in their 64 years together. After she passed, her room has been a source of comfort for me. I had spent countless hours in there with her, talking with her, laughing with her, and later on, caring for her most basic needs.  Even in her absence, I could still feel her presence somehow. I could sit on the foot of her bed and pray or talk to her as if she was still sitting there with me.  It was sometimes so beautiful, yet sometimes so painful to do so.

I’ve heard love described as the rational commitment to the well-being of another, and I have written often about the true nature of love many times in the past. Love goes far beyond the commercialized version of itself. Love walks in the hard places and the tough times. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 explains to us that “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  When I read those verses, I don’t see all the touchy-feely aspects of the holiday we know today.  I see something that is hard to maintain at times. I see something that puts others first and readily forgives. I see something that is honest and hopeful even in the face of adversity. I see it not just in celebrating the sunshine in life but trudging through the dark and difficult places along the way. Love is a gift that goes much further than anything we can imagine. It allows us to stand strong even when we may be at our weakest.

My heart has been telling me for the past few days it was time to start transitioning things between Mom’s room and my “beach room” of peace. I just told a friend this morning that I felt the desire to do so but just wasn’t sure yet if it was time.  I spoke for quite a while with my husband about how I was feeling and the overwhelming sense that changing anything meant I was erasing some part of my precious mom. I know that may sound silly to some, but the thought of transitioning things around brought feelings of guilt, as though I was selfish to disrupt things. I felt anxiety about losing the sameness of that space and that somehow, I would start to forget things I didn’t want to forget.  His rational mind in a moment of my shaken one was such a blessed gift, and after we talked, I truly felt in my heart it was time to start working on the shift. I was actually excited to be moving things around and transferring the feel of one room to the other and had only the bed left to move, and then it hit me.  It felt like everything just stopped, and I was completely frozen for a moment, then the tears poured from my eyes. God had been doing so much in my life over the past week, revealing so much and putting so many pieces of myself back together. The joy I felt was pulling me onward, and I felt great peace and growth, yet in a moment shorter than a breath, I was lying across my mom’s bed suddenly drained of my physical and emotional strength. I felt like a failure for not being able to power through the last piece of what I was doing after God had provided such clarity and strength for me recently. Then I remembered, love goes further, even when we can’t.  Why?  Because God IS love. 

Our Heavenly Father loves us beyond comprehension. His love reached so far that it took Him to a cross to die for me and you, all because He wanted to make a way of redemption where we would be able to live with Him forever. His mercy and grace know no bounds, and He continually restores my strength and peace over and over again. Not once has He failed to fulfill His promises or keep His word, and it is Him that I find strength. His love continually goes further. He reaches out to us beyond our failures or our distress. He reaches to us beyond our doubts or fears at times. His hand is constantly reaching for us, to hold us up when we are weak or to direct us on our path when we are strong. He pulls at our hearts to recognize Him even when our vision is clouded by our tears. His love relentlessly goes further than our circumstances or the feelings with which we may struggle at times! In His word, we consistently see that it is everlasting, unfailing, generous, and sacrificial.  

As the world’s definition of love swirls around us on this holiday, let us turn our eyes upon the One who loved us before we even drew a breath. As His children, He told us to love each other as He has loved us. It isn’t just in the unclouded days that we find God’s love, but so often it shows up in the cold, rainy storms of life and wraps itself around us.  God’s loving embrace can be found in our spirits and our hearts, but sometimes it is in the hug from a loved one or in the words of wisdom and comfort from a trusted friend. Sometimes it simply finds us when a gust of wind knocks us to our knees for just a moment, as it did for me tonight. So let us step back and see love for not what it is, but WHO it is.  When we do that, we cannot help but love Him back.  As the song says, “You died for me, now I’m living for you. Lord, it’s the least I can do.”

Blessings and Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 36:7
  • “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
  • “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! “  1 John 3:1
  • “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

An Opening Bloom

Many years ago, I was having lunch at a famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and experienced flowering tea for the first time in my life. If you aren’t familiar with flowering tea, it is exactly what its name infers. It is normally a mild tea that contains an actual closed flower in it that, when steeped, opens and blooms. It makes for a truly gorgeous cup of tea.

With the recent deaths of both my mom and dad, it has been a challenge for me to not close myself off to things around me. When we endure trouble and difficult times, it is so easy to curl up and just want the world to stop for a while.  Believe me, I get it! I realized yesterday morning that it has often felt like I am waking up from a very long dream but paralyzed in some way.  Today, however, I can’t help but think about how God has provided so many things in my life to help keep me putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only an inch at a time some days.  Throughout all the turmoil, He has continually been walking me through every single moment of every single day. So what does this have to do with an interesting cup of tea?

Flowering tea cannot be done with cold or even cool water because the flowers just won’t bloom. It takes extremely hot water to cause them to open up and reveal their colors. I can’t help but think of how this is also true of our lives and the trials through which we walk. Sometimes it takes enduring extremely difficult and even painful times for our hearts to open and begin to bloom again. Sometimes it is through the heat that we are forced outside the shadows and into the light. If asked, most of us would say we much prefer comfort to pain, yet pain is a result of growth. There is a pendulum that swings between the growth from pain and the healing of comfort, and both are needed in their respective times. Too much pain in life and we will collapse; too much comfort and we will atrophy. If we give up in the middle of the journey on which we walk, we may never see what could have been.

Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged, stressful effort or activity.”  We’ve all had at least some measure of experience with endurance. Enduring, by nature, will wear you out, but there is something beautiful that happens when we push through life’s pains and find the stamina to keep going. When we endure, we are gifted with golden moments in time that we would never experience if we just gave up. Sometimes these moments come at the end of a journey, but often they come all along the way. God not only has a way of strengthening us through ways we could never imagine, but He also provides respites for our weary souls as we travel onward.

Recently, I shared with someone that sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest (instead of the forest for the trees). It is easy, as a person of faith in times of distress, to say God is in control and we know He is working everything out for our good. Although true, that perspective is like a view of the forest. It is great to step back and remember that God is always making a way through our situations and emotional turmoil, but it is just as important to sometimes step forward and take notice of all the little trees that make up that forest. Those trees might be the people in our lives, organizations to which we belong, the beauty of nature, a text from a family-member or a late-night conversation with a friend. For me, there has been a grove of trees in my life over recent months within the church I attend, and I would venture to say that most of the people involved haven’t a clue of their impact on my journey, or how God has used them as a salve to some of the broken places in my heart. I look at these individual trees with wonder in my heart tonight. I am in awe of how my Heavenly Father continually weaves together a net of His grace to hold me up through individual people and experiences. Yes, the forest of His overwhelming love and grace in taking care of us is a beautiful scene to behold, but each of the trees that make up that forest are unique and special when you look a little more closely. It is in the balance of these two perspectives that I fall to my knees in gratitude to the One who knows the end from the beginning and how to handle every turn of the path along the way.

God is good even when life isn’t. Joy and happiness may be related but they are not the same. We read in James 1:1, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You might be wondering how that is even possible! This isn’t about being happy in our trials, but rather finding joy in the fact that our trials are evidence of God working in our lives. Just like an athlete who endures the stress and pain of training so he or she can run a race with maximum strength and efficiency, God is allowing our trials to strengthen us to run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is this perspective that allows joy to flow through us even when we are struggling. We read a few phrases later in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James is referring to what he said in verse one about understanding our trials from a different perspective, that we should (and can) find joy in the assurance God is working in our lives and strengthening us. If we can’t seem to be able to do that, then we simply need to ask God for wisdom necessary for that higher perspective, and He will give it to us.

The best thing any of us can do is to recognize God for who He is and to understand who we are in light of that truth. He is worthy not only of our praise and worship, but also of our trust and faith in the way in which He is directing our paths or the paths of those we love. Storms may rise but we so often need to simply be still and let God move. We need to have a conversation with ourselves that reminds us of the truth that God is in control and there is no need for worry. A dear friend recently shared with me the words to an old hymn, and although the poetry of the original lyrics is so beautiful, it is the message the writer is giving to her own soul in times of distress that moves me to tears and inspires my heart. I share them with you in the phrasing I speak them to myself today. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side. Patiently bear the cross of grief or pain. Leave it to God to put things in order and provide, because in every change, He will remain faithful. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend will lead you through the difficult and painful paths to a joyful end. Be still, my soul for God has taken it upon Himself to guide the future as He has the past. Don’t let anything shake your hope and confidence. One day you will see and understand the mysteries you have now. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He lived here on earth. Oh soul, be still when dearest friends depart and everything is darker in the valley of your tears. Be still and then you will better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul and remember from His own fullness, your Jesus can replace everything He takes away. The hour is growing near when we will all be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow will be forgotten and love’s purest joys will be restored. When change and tears are past, we will all finally meet and be safe and blessed.”

Whether we are walking through times of distress, grief or pain, there is beauty in what God is doing in us and through us. There is a purpose in the fires through which we walk, and God is always working through the searing pain that flows around us. Every trial we endure is as that glass of flowering tea, and the extreme heat we may sometimes feel will destroy us is the very thing necessary to set us free to bloom. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I pray for stillness for your soul, that it is reminded we can rest in the arms of our Father and trust Him. We can feel a blessed security not only in His promises, but in the truth that neither He nor his promises will ever change because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is overwhelming when our souls are stilled and our vision is cleared. I am so grateful for that clarity, and I cannot wait to see the bloom of the flower this season of life brings forth.

Blessings!

Grief Runs Deep

This morning I picked up the ashes of my dad who passed away on Christmas Eve. It was an odd sensation since my mom had just passed away six months earlier on June 25, 2021. To say things are strange in my world would be an understatement, but today I just need to take a little time and share some things weighing on my heart so I can make a little room for a breath in the midst of this storm. I hope you don’t mind.

To know where I’m coming from, you need to know where I’ve been.  Shortly after the time of mom’s passing, I really wanted to write a tribute post to her, but the words just wouldn’t come.  My mom and I were inexpressibly close. After her memorial service, I tried again to write my post, but again the words wouldn’t come.  So, as we were approaching Christmas day (the six-month anniversary of her passing), I decided it was time to finally put my thoughts together. I almost had my post finalized, but on the evening of the 23rd, I got a call I did not expect. The memory center, where my dad had been residing for the past 2.5 years, called to say he had taken a sudden turn for the worse.

We took off for Dad’s home and sat with him for 26 hours without so much as even a nap until he passed at 6:50 pm on Christmas Eve. So now the things I had started to write in tribute to my mom got very complicated and layered with the passing of my dad.  Now I write this post as an orphan, and it just feels odd. Every post I’ve ever done for my blog, I’ve read aloud to my mom.  It was something we shared, something she enjoyed, and now, once again, words aren’t coming easily.  There are too many of them and yet not enough. It’s complicated, but then so was the journey the last four to five years.

Not only was I close to my mom and dad, but they were also our “couple friends” for me and Michael. They’re the ones with who we went to dinner multiple times a week or on excursions together.  They’re the ones with who we spent weekends hanging out or watching sporting events.  For several years, the four of us golfed together six days a week! Whatever we did really didn’t matter as long as we enjoyed the time together. 

When Dad first started showing signs of dementia, my entire world felt like it shifted. I immediately wanted to know everything there was or everything I could get my hands on about his condition.  I wanted to know what to expect and how to navigate it as best we could. I was obsessed with learning so I could help care for my dad in a way that preserved his dignity and allowed us to keep him in his own home as long as possible.

By the summer of 2017, my world started to become very small. I would go to work, often talking with Dad several times a day to help him through issues or confusion with which he was dealing. I’d come home after work and spend about 30 minutes with my husband, try to eat something and then head to my parents’ house, where I routinely did not return home until 11:00-12:00 at night.  Then I would do it all again the next day. It became my purpose. It became an internal identity even more than an external one.

My dad moved into memory care in June of 2019 due to the deterioration of his condition, and us having exhausted every technique, effort, and ability to care for him at home. It was a gut-wrenching time for all of us, but mostly for my mom being separated from the love of her life. They met when Dad was twelve years old, and he told her that day he was going to marry her. They never dated anyone else and were married in 1963. It was a blessing to have Mom move in with us after Dad moved into that wonderful memory care facility with a staff that is beyond incredible.

Life had changed drastically for our family that had already seen so much. At the time of all these changes, Mom was 23 years post-heart transplant and had definitely beat the odds, since they told us her surgery would be a GREAT success if she made it to five years.  What a gift we were given to have her for so many more, but because of the large number of transplant medications she had to take every day, she developed interstitial lung disease.  Eventually she needed supplemental oxygen and continued to slowly go downhill, but everything that made her who she is never faltered. Her humor and joy, her kindness and generosity, her faith, hope, and love were all just as strong as they’d ever been.  She was the most amazing example of what it means to never give up and to trust fully in the Lord.

In late spring 2021, Mom started having trouble with a loss of strength in her legs, but nowhere else. She eventually agreed to go to the ER to see if it might be some kind of infection, since the doctors hadn’t been able to pinpoint a reason for two months.  We went to the hospital on a Friday night, and by Tuesday, all the doctors determined it was just a very sudden progression of her lung disease. Mom came back home late that night with hospice and passed away a few days later on Friday afternoon at 4:05 pm, just ten days after she and Dad celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary when the three of us had lunch together.

In the vacuum of the loss of my mom, I struggled greatly, but I also still needed to be there for my dad. I spent great amounts of time with him, sometimes just visiting and singing with him, but other times being there to calm him down from being stressed, and even eventually assisting with his most basic daily needs/tasks.  There was still a lot to do. Mom wasn’t there, but Dad still needed things; he still needed me.  I still had a purpose.

Losing Dad one day before the six-month anniversary of losing Mom was a blow. It was a stunning blow. Although I tried to just pick up and keep going like I always have, something wasn’t right.  On Sunday, January 2nd, I went down to my office to take down all the decorations that had been put up for Christmas. In the six hours I was by myself, I realized something is broken in me. I don’t know if it’s my heart, mind or spirit, but something is definitely broken. 

Grief is a fluid pain. It is like a river that overflows its banks and suddenly has no predictable borders. There is no way to map the path and no time frame as to when it will recede again. My parents both had such a deep, abiding faith and trust in God, and so do I. I’ve written so often about a higher perspective in looking at things in life or in ways to keep holding on when storms come along.  I KNOW how to walk through difficult times and losses, but this one has dropped me into a place where almost nothing feels familiar anymore.  On top of the normal grief that comes with losses like these, I have lost a huge purpose and part of my internal identity. Honestly, I feel lost. The world is different now; I am different.

Faith does not prevent us from having struggles, nor does it always quell our fears. It doesn’t suddenly take away our pain or cause us to just skip on down the road, but we can still have faith while the tears are flooding our pillows. We can still have faith and trust, even when pains are so great that we don’t know where we will get our next breath.  Faith, hope, love…these three things remain and abide, but not without the noise of the troubles in this life. They remain and abide despite the storms swirling around them.

We make choices every day about how we will live our lives. Emotions come along with our circumstances, but we can still choose to believe while in the midst of those emotions. There is a song I used to sing that said, “I choose to believe that You are faithful, and my life is in Your hands, and this mystery I face today is part of bigger plan. I choose not to be discouraged when the sun will not break through. I have a choice in trusting You, so Lord this is what I choose.”  I don’t know that I could sing that song at this exact moment, but I believe I will get there.  I believe it because I know God understands where I am and what I need. I’m thankful for that because even I don’t know what I need at this point. 

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, and it’s found in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It says simply, “Jesus wept,” but the verse right before it tells us why. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and was troubled…”   Just let that sink in for a moment. Jesus loved Lazarus and knew he was dead. He also knew He was about to raise him back to life, but when He saw the sisters and friends of Lazarus in such deep grief and distress, it bothered Him and moved Him to tears! He knew the joy that was about to come, but it didn’t keep Him from literally crying with sadness to see those He loved experiencing such heartache and pain.  That thought brings me comfort. God knows that it was time for Mom and Dad to go home to be with Him (and each other). God knew it was going to be a grand reunion and the joy and celebration it would bring in Heaven, but He also knew it was going to devastate me and bring a heartache like I’ve never known.  God knew that Heaven’s gain would leave me feeling lost and without a purpose. He knows, but more than that, He cares! When I am grieving and the tears won’t stop, His heart feels that pain and sees those tears, and it moves Him to tears right along with me. 

When we are walking through the valleys of life, no matter how deep, we are not alone. God is still there right in the middle of the darkness. We may not always be able to see Him clearly because of the blackness, but He sees us as if we were in the middle of the light, because we ARE in the middle of the light. If God is with us, there is light even if we can’t see it.  My favorite passage includes a verse that says, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”  Regardless of how you or I feel, there is still light. There is still hope and there is still love.

If, like me, you are trudging through one of life’s valleys and trying to find your way, you are not alone. The One who sees the beginning from the end is still working things out for our ultimate good. He can see all the joy and every great experience that is to come in our lives even though we can’t see past today.  He knows it is going to be ok because He has promised to never leave us and to walk us through everything we face. He sees the you and me that are laughing and engaging with life again. He sees the you and me that are stronger because of what we are walking through right now. He sees it all, but most importantly He sees YOU. I’m not saying the road is easy, but I pray we can remember there is a path forward and God, Himself is walking with us and clearing the way with each step. 

Take care of you and of those around you. Love each other; pray for each other because you never know through what valley the person next to you is walking.

Blessings.

It’s Still Christmas

I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve, and we still don’t have a reprieve on the challenging situations 2020 has brought to us.  I’ve been silent this year because every time I sat down to write, my thoughts would just get jumbled as they tried to make their way through all the emotions that have been so overwhelming. Hopefully, the fog is beginning to clear.

Christmas time should be a time when we can all come together with family and friends to celebrate the fact that God, Himself, came to this earth to be born to die for me and you.  What a great mystery of love and redemption!  But this year is different in our world.  This year, our world looks different.  We have lost so many loved ones and seen so many lives ruined by illness, politics, finances, relationships and a host of other factors.  It seems like everywhere we turn, there is nothing but tragedy and people are weary.  I am weary.  Traditions this year have been shattered for months.  Holidays and special family times have not only shifted or been eliminated, but anxiety and anger have permeated our lives as a result.  For me, there have been times when I have felt like I have lost my voice and just want to give up.  I know many of you have felt the same. 

So here we are at Christmastime, fighting to keep our heads up when our spirits are exhausted.  How do we find the strength to celebrate when our hearts are broken?  How do we find joy when there is grief all around for the loss of what our lives used to be?  We need to step back and look at all the good that has come in this year. 

We have a tendency to keep our eyes staring at all the things that go wrong in life.  It’s hard NOT to do that because it is around us every day.  Sure, 2020 has seemed to have much more of it than we are used to, but only because we live in a nation that is used to being prosperous and healthy.  I sponsor four children in poverty-stricken nations and although there have been some minor changes with Covid19, life is still mostly the same as it was before this pandemic began.  There are people in countries all over this world who deal with poverty, disease, and grief as part of their daily lives.  It has always been somewhat foreign to me, until this year.  Quite frankly, the tragedies of 2020 have opened my eyes to more than I could have imagined.  We truly seem to spend more time focusing on what is going wrong in our lives instead of what has gone right.  It is just easier to frown than smile.  It is easier to give up than fight.  It’s just so easy to fall into an all or nothing mindset, but then we lose all sense of balance.

There is so much good in this world!  There are so many gifts in our lives that we take for granted.  Although we have been prevented from spending time with our family, friends, or loved ones, we have other means through which we can connect. Technology can be such a negative force in our lives, but in this case, I am so grateful to be able to call, face-time, zoom, facebook, Instagram, or whatever other channel exists to not only talk with those I love, but to see them.  If you got out of bed this morning, it is a gift.  If you took a breath, it is a gift!  If you walked outside to get your mail, it’s a gift.  This video started circulating a few years back and it really emphasizes what I’m saying. If we viewed the things in our lives as the gifts they are, our attitude would be so different. 

Life may be interrupted this year, but there is still so much to celebrate. In the midst of these troubling times, our traditions may be disjointed.  Maybe you lost a loved one this year and are dealing with a grief you can’t even wrap your head around.  Maybe, you haven’t been able to hold your grandkids.  Maybe you have an elderly parent living in a home that has locked it’s doors and not let you inside to care for them. Maybe it’s the birthday parades, the window visits, the isolation, or whatever else is dragging you down.  Whatever is interrupting your “normal” life, take heart; You are not alone, no matter how it feels in any given moment. 

Christmas is STILL here!  The reason we celebrate has not changed!  The God who spoke the world into order, humbled Himself to become a man so that He could die for you and me!  He gave us the greatest gift, not only in His sacrifice, but in His example of love and forgiveness.  He made a way for us to be with Him, and He is still making a way every day for us to see Him if we just open our eyes and look past our circumstances.  We celebrate because He brought us not only life, but hope, joy and LOVE.  The spirit of Christmas isn’t found in a store somewhere.  Heck, even the Grinch learned that truth!  Christmas truly is in our hearts and we celebrate by sharing our hearts with each other.  It doesn’t take money to show kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love.  It doesn’t take even being in the same location to show those things.  We are free from circumstances when we realize what makes us truly connected has nothing to do with our geographical location, but in the nearness of our hearts and spirits.

So as we head into this most beautiful time, let us focus on what we have and not what we’ve lost.  Let us focus on what truly matters in life.  Let us remember that the true traits of Christmas aren’t reserved for those we love, but for all mankind, just as that original gift of Jesus’ birth so long ago was for the world, so are the gifts of everything He represents.  Step back and breathe some deep breaths.  Even if you are completely by yourself in this moment, you are still not alone.  Even if you are surrounded by loved ones but wrapped within your own private griefs, you are not alone.  You are known by God Himself and held within the arms of the one who loved you so much that He stretched out those arms on a cross to show you just how wide His love is.

There is always good.  If you can’t find it this season or this year, then BE it. 

Blessings to you all, and Merry Christmas!