Monday, March 31, 2014

Grace and Hope

My first spring in Illinois has been nice.

When I lived in Minnesota, March was a winter month.

When I lived in New York,  March was a winter month.

But here in Illinois, March seems to be a spring month.  Granted, the pale green haze of new leaves has not begun to spread through the bare tree branches.  But... the snow is all gone.  This blows my mind.  There is no snow.  Yesterday, Shawn and I spent part of the afternoon picking up sticks in our backyard.  Spring clean up.  It's here, really.  Today is 64 degrees of windy wildness, and I walked for an hour with a friend.

The kitchen is not done.  I am half hoping that it will be done by Easter, but I probably shouldn't even write that down, for fear of jinxing it, although I am not a superstitious person.  God is in control, but I think somebody messed some stuff up here, probably me being gullibly trusting, for one.  Handymen who are certainly not gifted at drywall work, for another.

Yes the kitchen.  I started out chronicling the renovation with high hopes that it would be quick, easy and satisfying.  It has been none of those things.

I've been through a roller-coaster of emotions: sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, remorse, guilt.  I've wondered if God is punishing me for taking on the challenge and expense of the renovation.  I've vented and wept and laid restlessly awake at night, unable to turn off my mind.  I've feared that God is angry with me.  Shawn finally told me one day, "You should never try to measure how much God loves you by how easy your life is."  God gave me Shawn for a reason.

Right now we are in a season of calm.  The sink and counters are in, so I can function (I've made quinoa spaghetti twice).  The drywall needs to be redone, however, so I'm not going to move things into my new cabinets until after that mess is over and we have cleaned again (and again and again).  No work is happening this week, and although it stretches the project even longer, at least I have a break.  A break is nice, perhaps even necessary.  God knows what I need.  God knows what I need.  Jesus says that our Father in heaven knows what we need even before we ask Him.

Apparently I did not need an easy and stress-free experience, because if I had needed that, God would have provided it.

God brings stresses into our lives to teach us things we need to know.  He brings experiences we had never imagined, certainly never hoped, to test us and refine us and help us grow.  Growth is painful.

Growth is painful.  I remember comforting one of my sons in the middle of the night, during a growth spurt.  His growing legs hurt so much, they woke him from sound sleep.  I gave him milk (for calcium), bananas (for potassium), and Tylenol (just because).  This usually seemed to work, and he would be back to sleep within the hour.  Spiritual and emotional growth pains are not often cured that quickly.

Growing pains.  Lessons learned.  Struggles undergone.  Conflicts handled.  Disappointments faced.

We all need grace.  We need to give it, and we need to receive it.  When it feels as though nobody else in the world has any grace for you, you can go to God, because He has infinite grace.

Grace sounds really good: love, hope, forgiveness, benevolence poured out on the undeserving.  It's not all daisies and pinwheels, though.  Flannery O'Connor said, "Grace changes us, and change is painful."  Grace, like water flowing over a cliff, is breathtakingly beautiful and frighteningly powerful.

There is copious pain in life.  Grace sometimes mitigates pain, but it sometimes intensifies it.  If you apprehend the source of the grace and the sacrifice that occurred in order to protect you, the undeserving one, from your rightful consequences, there is an excruciating pang that accompanies grace.  Grace is never free, it only means that the person who paid isn't the one who should have.  This is true whether you are the receiver of grace, or the giver.  To give grace is to sacrifice, to pay for someone else's mistake, to be the one thrown under the bus.

We do not like to give grace, but we certainly like to receive it.

Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to understand how You want me to live graciously as the recipient of Your great grace.  When should I stand firm against something I believe is unjust, and when should I gracefully give in?  Give me wisdom to discern Your heart, and give me courage to follow Your will when I understand it.  Also, thank you for spring, for hope.  In You there is always hope.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


When Shannon was in college she had a friend who introduced her to the idea of 11:11 as the wishing hour.  Every night at 11:11, her phone would buzz with a text:  "11:11... make a wish!"

It became a sort of mantra around the house.  "11:11, make a wish!" Shawn would chant mischievously.

I began to notice when it was 11:11.  Oddly, I often saw the clock at 11:11, both a.m. and p.m.  "11:11, make a wish!" would signal through my brain.

However, I do not believe in wishes.  I believe in prayers, and more importantly, in the God who answers them.

Considering the digits, 11:11, I decided to try to redeem the custom.

11:11 is a series of vertical lines, all pointing up.  11:11 is the time of day to stop being focused on my earthly circumstances and to turn my face upwards to God who is in control of everything, the master and creator of the Universe, and my personal Savior, Jesus Christ.

Doesn't it just boggle your mind to realize that the God who put the stars in place, who created the laws of physics and calculus, who controls the winds, the waves, the tides and the hearts of kings, that same God cares about you personally (and me!).  He knows each word we will speak before it leaves our lips.  He knows how many hairs are on each of our heads.

He has a master plan for the outcome of all eternity, but at the same time He has the capacity to care about each tiny detail of each of our lives, and the ingenuity to weave all those details together for our best good and for the display of His mighty splendor.

I should think about Him all the time, but at the very least, I let the clock turn my thoughts to Him every time I see that it is 11:11.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For more about 11:11, chceck out
THIS and

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Not Queen.

Disclaimer:  This picture has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the post.

In the olden days, probably when I was in my late twenties, trying to balance three small toddlers and an 11.5% mortgage,  I used to reflect upon how I would like to be the Queen of the United States of America when I grew up.

I wanted to be Queen, not president, because I wanted to rule, not arbitrate.  I didn't want any houses of congress messing with my plans, no balancing branches of government for me.  It was monarchy all the way, benevolent dictatorship.  I wanted to say how it went and watch it go.

As time passed, my kids had a teacher at school, Mrs. Baker.  They'd come home and talk about how Mrs. Baker gave kids The Look which shriveled them to ashes at their desks.  Mrs. Baker could reduce a classroom of audacious preteens to stunned silence, merely by crooking an eyebrow.

For the aspiring Queen of the USA  (QUSA, for short), this sounded like a noble skill to acquire.  I practiced at dinner.  When the green beans began to fly, I stretched my neck upwards while widening the tops of my eyes, squinching the outer corners ferociously, pressing my lips together and insufflating a chestful of air through my nose.

Without fail, this resulted in my children hooting with laughter until their eyes ran with tears and they fell from their chairs onto the kitchen floor, still pointing at me with outstretched arms and crying, "Look at her!  She is trying to give us The Look!  Don't ever do that when you are teaching Sunday school, Mom!"

My dreams were dashed as the truth dawned on me: I could not even dictate the rules of my own household to my young, impressionable children.  I was a failure as a mom. I could never have been a dad... how much less a president or a queen.

Since those days, I have put my hope in the future return of Christ, and His benevolent dictatorship.  There is no earthly leader who will ever get it right, and although I thought I wanted a chance to try my hand at administrating the affairs of the world (QUSA would have a lot of influence over other countries as well as her own), I realized it was too much.  I can't even keep my own kids safe and healthy all the time, or maybe ever.  I certainly don't want responsibility for all of humanity.  Only God can handle that.  It boggles my mind when I think about it: He actually has the resources, the power and the wisdom to rule the world, and to do it perfectly right.  And someday, He's coming back to take control.

My daughter Shannon says there is sometimes a point in an argument when you suddenly realize that you are wrong, and when this happens, it is one of the most horrible and devastating feelings that you ever experience.  I've been studying Jesus' second coming lately, and the Bible says that there is a point when the identity of Christ will be revealed to the world in all His full glory, and the nations will see Him, recognize Him, and mourn.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Matthew 24:30 ESV

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Revelation 1:7 ESV

The reality of it is: 
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

Do you see that?  It says every knee will bow, and every tongue confess.  This isn't just about God's followers seeing and rejoicing at His coming.  This is also about how all those who rejected Jesus will have the blindfolds peeled off their faces, and they will shudder with that devastating pang of knowledge: "Oh no.  I was wrong.  I am wrong.  I am doomed."  And they will fall to their knees, not because they want to, but because they have come smack face-to-face with the reality that He is God whether or not they like it.

He's coming back.  Nobody knows when, but for those who are watching, there will be signs.

This is the oddest piece of writing.  I was sitting in "Shannon's room," which has her bed, and she actually has traveled here and used it a couple of times.  It was afternoon, dinner in the crockpot, Schubert barking out the front window.  I was trying to touch base with a few people by text messaging, sitting on the floor next to Piper.  Something about the slant of the light from the window, the smell of the air (thin and cool), maybe the sound of a large vehicle rumbling along the road outside... I had a sudden impression that the school day was over, and Jonno would be walking in the door for his after-school snack at any minute.

And then I remembered that such was not the case.  It was like waking up from a fantastic dream and remembering, "I am only Ruth, not the Queen of the World."

My kids are gone.  My kitchen is... undone (we're on Day 55).  I have lupus and it's flaring some.  


God is sovereign.  Nothing is too difficult for Him.  Someday He's coming back to get me, to restore my body and my soul, and to keep me in His presence, in perfection, forever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good things and bad things

Life is such a melange, it's hard to get your bearings sometimes.

Today was 60 degrees of sunny wonderfulness.  I went to my Bible study, and afterwards two of my new friends and I went walking through one of their neighborhoods . . .

Where we saw a giant blue heron.  It was perched at the top of a leafless tree, behind a house, overlooking a pond.  We circled the house to get a better view.  In the twinkling of an eye, it took off into the sky, neck crooked elegantly between two massive wings, a breathless, wondrous sight.  God is good.

After our walk, during which I got so warm I tied my jacket around my waist, I headed off to a quaint cafe to meet my husband for lunch.  Arriving before he did, I sat in my van and checked my phone, where I saw evidence of a missed call from Shannon.  I called her back.

She was very sad, quite upset.

You see, when we moved, she lost her permanent address.  But she did not change her driver's license or the title of her car.  I mentioned that she might want to change it all to IL when she came out over the holidays, but she has an impending move to Boston, and she didn't want to think through all the hassle.

Well.  The great state of NY caught up with her and suspended her license and registration.  She still seems to have insurance, which I am not sure I understand.  But the point being that her driver's license is suspended, she had to take action.  However, taking action required that she have her birth certificate and car title.  We had some hiccups locating those, but by the grace of God (really, after desperate prayers were answered) we found them and I mailed them, certified mail, to her CT address.

But Shannon did not get them.  The envelope was lost in the mail.  She was calling today to confirm what I had feared when the tracking information online had read, "out for delivery," for five straight days.  The package was lost.

Shawn and I prayed in the cafe, over our skillet lunches, asking for a miracle.  God always knows where everything is.  That's a good thing.  Shannon was ready to get into her car and drive illegally to the post office to see if she could get anywhere with them.  I encouraged her not to drive, to pray instead.  I told her I would go back to the post office where I mailed the stuff, show them my receipt, and ask them what we could do.  She had already walked all the way from her lab to her apartment, but I encouraged her to go back.

Before she went back, however, she stepped into her apartment building, where whom should she meet but her mail carrier.  She was able to talk to him.  He said that there had been a substitute carrier the previous week, but he promised to check into the issue and see what he could find.

Long story short, he found the package and will deliver it tomorrow.  God is so good.  We are certain that it was God Himself who ordained that Shannon would have the rare opportunity to bump into her mail carrier and talk about this problem.  And solve it.

If you wanted kitchen news, it's not so great.  But it isn't disastrous, either.  At least, it seems that there is a good possibility that it won't be disastrous.

Last Friday they installed all our lights.  We have a Very Bright kitchen.  Saturday we drove Laura back to college, and Sunday we came home again.  When we arrived home Sunday evening and turned on the kitchen lights, we suddenly noticed, inescapably and impossible to ignore, that our ceiling, which is supposed to be flat, is not flat at all, but rippled, dimpled, cracked, gapping and smeary.  The thought ran through my head, "If we wanted it to look like that, we wouldn't have been afraid to do it ourselves."

I will spare you all the details, except to say that I am devastated that we will have to go back to more drywall work, more sanding of drywall compound.  More big messes on top of my brand new appliances and brand new floor.  Also, I can't see any way to fix it without removing the crown molding that has already been installed.

To his credit, when we asked the contractor to come out and look at it, he agreed that it was unacceptable, promised to make it right, said he would get a drywall specialist in, and offered to pay to replace the crown if it can't be reused after they take it out.  So you see, there is hope.  There is hope.

Hope, and a lot more drywall dust before my kitchen will be usable.

But there are good things and bad things, and they all mix together to make up our lives.

I will remember the blue heron and praise God who made it.