Thursday, December 31, 2015

Aftermath, restoration, and a new year

It is quiet now, in our home.

The refrigerator, once stuffed to the gills, is mostly empty.  Shawn and I polished off a bunch of leftovers last night--roasted vegetables and lamb, some sausage and spaghetti squash lasagna--after our fourth trip to O'Hare in three days.  I finished the last cup of yogurt for breakfast this morning.  There's still quite a bit of ham, and a dwindling container of cheesy mashed potatoes, so we won't go hungry tonight.

The Christmas decorations.  At this point in the season, they always seem to adopt a sag, a droop, a tiredness.  They remind me of my own body, giving in to gravity with age.  Once perky, red-plaid bows hang loose on evergreen garland that has slowly worked its way downward along the slope of the stairway railing.  I wanted to leave the decorations up through the new year.  Tonight will be the last night we turn the Christmas lights on; then the tear-down will begin.

Yes.  Four trips to O'Hare in three days.  Shannon and David had flights out on Monday at 8:30 p.m.  There was a big storm in Chicago on Monday, but it was mostly over by evening.  We spent the day checking for cancellations, but were apprised of nothing.  So, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive up to Chicago at about 4 p.m. as the sun was going down.

After we'd driven for about an hour, David received notification that his flight was cancelled.  Shannon, however, did not.  So we soldiered on.

We dropped Shannon at O'Hare at about 6:30 p.m.  Darkness had descended over the wintery earth, and it felt much later than that.  Shannon's flight still claimed to be departing on time, so she braved the disgruntled crowds spewing their misery all over the airport, and shouldered her way through to the concourse where her flight should eventually be assigned a gate.

Not sure whether to believe that her plane would really leave, we hung around the area, eventually looking up a place to go out for dinner and kill some time.  Finding the restaurant was an adventure in traversing poorly plowed roads. I'm not sure how Shawn did it, actually.  Sometimes we couldn't tell where the road was, and once he had to bust through a snowbank.  Finally, we got to a Lou Malnati's somewhere north of the airport and settled in for some deep-dish pizza.

Meanwhile, Shannon's flight was delayed from 8:30 to 10:30.  While we slowly chewed and swallowed savory sausage, cheese and mushrooms in a cozy restaurant north of the fray, Shannon's gate attendants made announcements: "The plane has arrived!"  and, "We now have a gate assignment!" and, "The pilot is here!" and, "We are just waiting for the crew to disembark from a different aircraft!"

It sounded like it was going to be a go, against all odds.  We headed home, texting Shannon often as we looped southward around the airport.  We passed the airport, continued down the beltway, and eventually merged onto 57 south toward home.

At 11:26 p.m. Shannon texted us that her flight was cancelled after all.  She was rescheduled to a flight on Wednesday afternoon.

At 11:30 p.m. Shawn found an exit on 57 and turned around to go back up to O'Hare.

Meanwhile, David had been working on rescheduling his own flight.  It looked like there was a 2 p.m. flight on Wednesday that he could take, that would coordinate nicely with Shannon's rescheduled flight.  However, when he used his "smart"phone to try to get it, somehow the system automatically assigned him to a 2 p.m. flight on Tuesday.  He tried repeatedly to change it, and to call in and talk to someone about changing it.  He could not get through.

At 12:26 a.m. we arrived back at O'Hare and retrieved Shannon, and thus began the 2.5 hour drive home, which would be longer, because we couldn't go straight home, but had to deliver Jonathan to his apartment, for he had to work Tuesday morning.  (Jon had joined us for the company and hoping for dinner at Lou's.  He is the only one who got what he wanted that night.)

We fell into bed sometime between 3:30 and 3:45 a.m.  We just dropped the suitcases in the entryway and fell into bed.  I did brush my teeth.  By some miracle, neither of the dogs had had an accident during the 11.5 hours we'd been gone.  God is good.

The dogs woke up and needed attention Tuesday morning at 7:52 a.m.  I tried to handle this quietly so Shawn could rest after his marathon drive.  While the dogs ate, I brewed a large pot of strong coffee, just in case, but after walking the dogs, I passed up the coffee and slipped back into bed. However, David never did get through to his airline, so there was a tap at our bedroom door at about 8:45 a.m. We were back on the road to O'Hare by 9:37 a.m.  David drove this time, and Shawn tried to do some work on his computer on the way.  We pulled back into "departures" at O'Hare shortly after noon, and David set out for his own adventure in flying.  He was technically standby, but he was able to get a seat and make it to Durham.

Shawn and I arrived back at our house by about 3:00 p.m. where I crashed for a quiet late afternoon with Shannon, who had kept the dogs company during the Tuesday airport excursion.  Shawn worked at home in our study.  He had also scheduled a Homeowners' Association Meeting for our neighborhood HOA, at our house, that evening at 7.  Shannon and I hid antisocially in the family room and watched Chip and Joanna Gaines on "Fixer Upper."

After a decent night's rest, we were up and on the road to O'Hare again Wednesday morning, this time with Shannon.  The good news: she was upgraded to a first class seat.  So there is that.  We took the dogs this time.  They were good.  It was a decent day.  Shannon got home as smoothly as could be hoped.  Additionally, here is a picture of when we dropped her off:

Do you know what time it was at that moment?  It was 11:11 a.m.  The fact that God worked out the detail of that picture being taken at 11:11 was a blessing, a mercy, a divine act of lovingkindness which helped me rest in Him and not fret about the travel situation for the rest of that day.

Today.  Today I did not go to O'Hare.  The house is quiet.  Schubert is literally trembling at the changes in who is home and who is not, sensitive little animal that he is.  It is quiet.  Dark.  Lonely.  Cloudy.

It's been a cloudy, rainy Christmas season, and I don't mean just the weather.  Actually, on Christmas day, we went for a walk in the park, and there was golden sunshine.  It was rather fantastic.  Christmas Eve was a pretty, blue-skied day as well.

There was a song this year, "A Different Kind of Christmas."  It wasn't my favorite, but I think it was intended for people who have lost someone this year (to death, presumably).  I keep thinking, though, that this year was a different kind of Christmas for us, so many different things.  For one thing, it was the first Christmas we didn't spend with Laura.  Shannon, David and Jonathan are all going through various issues and transitions as well, which cast lenses of many different colors over our festivities and traditions.  Two years ago, Christmas 2013 was "different," in that we'd moved across the country, and I had surgery on 12/5 that year, and I'd done essentially no Christmas preparations.  But this Christmas, Christmas 2015, was profoundly different, almost frighteningly different, sliding-off-the-edge-of-the-earth different.  However, we are still here.

Christmas 2015 was a different kind of Christmas, and 2016 will be a different kind of year.

2015 was a year where I sought the Lord and clung to Him, where I depended on Him for peace.  I craved His peace, and He came through.

I began the year with John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (niv)

Somewhere during the year, I transitioned over to Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (niv)  

He's been speaking to me.  He's been comforting me.  I asked for peace, and He gave me peace, hope, joy and the Holy Spirit.  He didn't give me all of the solutions and outcomes I wanted to see, but He gave me Himself.  There is nothing better that He could give me, but I long to see Him give Himself to people I love, in the same way that He has given Himself to me.

This year,  I want to ask for restoration.  Restoration.  His restoration.

Psalm 23:3 says that He restores my soul.  I yearn to see Him restore my soul, and the souls of a number of others whom I love dearly.  I desire the glory of His handiwork displayed, restoring joy to the sorrowful and rest to the weary.  I want to see Him restore sight to the blind and truth to the deceived.  I want to see the restoration of comfort to the hurting, community to the lonely, home to the homeless, and hope to the hopeless.  I want to see the power of His loving hands at work in the world.

I see a shepherd lovingly following after a tattered and filthy lamb, injured yet stubbornly heading its own way.  This gentle shepherd knows where the lamb is struggling; He knows in which thorny bushes it attempts to hide from His loving eyes.  The cold and the rain and the snow will beat down on this vulnerable sheep, but the Shepherd will not leave it out in the wilderness alone.  He is right there, in the storm, zealous to take the battered lamb into His arms and carry it home, to restore it to the fold where His sheep abide in safety while He Himself guards the gate.

The Lord is our shepherd.  He provides all our needs.  He restores our souls.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives as we dwell under His loving care.

Dear, merciful, kind Lord Jesus, please let 2016 be a year of restoration.

(this is a picture from back when we lived in New York, where the sky is usually white)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Regaining peace


It is the 17th of December, and a few things are happening that threaten to steal my peace.

I find myself praying frantically, heart pounding, stomach churning.  I pray.  I read my Bible.  I try to breathe.  I pray some more.

And then I remember that it is not about my prayers.  It is about the hand of God.

My prayers do not direct the outcome of God's will.  God will accomplish His purposes.  Period.

My prayers do not wake up a sleepy God who has forgotten to pay attention.  The Father above does not slumber nor sleep.  He is always watching, always working, always attentive to the plight of His people.

My prayers, in and of themselves, have no power.  It is the God to whom I pray who has power.

My prayers remind me that God is God, my loving, attentive, almighty heavenly Father.

God cares.

God has a purpose and a plan, and He cannot be thwarted.

God is merciful, loving and kind.

God is always present, everywhere.

God never worries, for He directs the doings of the Universe with sovereign control.

God knows the end of the story, even though I do not.

God's love never fails.  Unfailing love, the Bible calls it, over and over again.

If you look at the problem, it will always seem too big to handle, too frightening to face.

But God is the solution, and He will never fail.  So look at God; keep your eyes on Jesus.

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
~from Isaiah 40:31 (niv)

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.~Isaiah 26:3 (niv)

May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.
~Psalm 33:22 (niv)

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
~from Romans 16:20 (niv)  

We can pray, and then we can rest in the Lord.  He hears our prayers, but do you know what?  He has ideas that are far better than our ideas.  He knows what to do.  He never makes a mistake.  He cares for us.  He is good.  He is on our side.  He is mighty in battle, and always victorious.

He has this.  He will not fail.  He Himself is our peace.

He is where I regain my peace. 

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.
~Psalm 131:2-3 (niv) 

(I may need to come back and read this to myself a number of times.) 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If you're hurting this Christmas

The trouble with Christmas is the pressure to be happy, joyful, cheery, on top of your game.

It is much easier to be all of these things when they are not an expectation.

So, you see, the expectations for Christmas joy and cheer can set the stage for trouble, even if your life sails along on a mostly even keel.

But the trouble is all the greater when your course turns askew.

What do you do when a great shadow looms over your life, when your heart is broken, when loss stares you in the face, or the threat of impending loss . . . then what?

When it seems like everybody else is all, "Jingle all the way!" Sprinkling glitter and snowflakes and confectioner's sugar.  Expecting you to smile and join the laughter and the song.  When this is going on, but your heart is bleeding out inside of you, what do you do?

You remember Jesus.

Jesus cares about you.

Jesus sees through the hoopla and and the bling, hears beyond the frenzied voices and the seasonal music.  Jesus sees you: your heart, your tears, your empty hands and jumbled thoughts.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
~Psalm 34:18 (esv)

He heals the brokenhearted 
and binds up their wounds.
~Psalm 147:3 (esv)

This is exactly why Jesus came, why that baby packaged full of the Divine essence was delivered to a  humble stable in the midst of the craziness of a Roman census. He came to save us from the brokenness of the world.  He said so Himself, when He got older.

And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.  And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
~Luke 4:16-20 (esv)
This quote that Jesus read comes from Isaiah 61:1, and in Isaiah 61:1, it also says, ". . . He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. . . "

Jesus came to bind our broken hearts.  Sometimes our hearts are broken because of our own spiritual blindness and captivity in sin.  Sometimes our hearts are broken because of sin's effects on someone else.  Sometimes our hearts are broken simply because we miss somebody we love.

No matter what kind of care is wearing away at you, bring it to Jesus.

Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.   ~1 Peter 3:7 (kjv)

He delights to comfort you with the glory of who He is.  He will never condemn you for your sorrow.  He will wipe away your tears and (eventually) make all things new.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Life lately

Did I mention that my husband's job changed?

The little company he worked for was acquired by a much larger company.  For the first time in 23 years, we have dental benefits.

Last Friday, the former president of the small, newly acquired company resigned from his new position within the new, large structure.

My husband has traveled approximately 7 out of the past 9 weeks.  Or maybe 8.

Three weeks ago, I went along with him and visited our daughter who is in the Canton, Ohio area.  Shawn had visits ranging from east of Pittsburgh to Cleveland, so Lulu was right in the middle of it all.

Two weeks ago, the kids came home for Thanksgiving, and Shawn was in town, too!

David's flight back to NC after Thanksgiving was scheduled to leave Chicago O'Hare at 8 a.m. Black Friday morning.  He would have needed to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m., which means we'd have had to leave here by 4 a.m. and contend with Chicago's Black Friday traffic to boot.  That was bad enough, but Shannon was leaving at 9 p.m. the same day, and we didn't really want to spend all day in Chicago, nor did we want to drive to Chicago and back twice in one day.

So we decided to keep DJ home for a couple extra days, and then he and I drove our van to NC on Sunday.  It worked nicely, because Shawn had a trip to southern California all that week.  The dogs and I went to David's, and I was spared what would have been yet another week of loneliness.

Sunday-after-Thanksgiving traffic home with David turned out to be not-what-we-were-hoping.  Heavy traffic, accidents and unrelenting, pelting rain turned a 12 hour drive into about 15.  But, you know, when you spent a long period of your earlier life needing to navigate the route from NY to Minnesota at the same time of year, it leaves you grateful that rain is not snow, and wet roads are not iced over.

It was a good week in North Carolina, even if it began with a rainy chill.

Perhaps I nearly drove David and his roommate crazy by tidying their space and organizing the refrigerator.  It was astonishing how much space I was able to create by grouping similar items, taking things out of grocery bags and putting them where they could be seen and recognized, placing produce in produce drawers, and situating short containers on short shelves so that tall containers could go on tall shelves.

At one point, David's roommate opened the refrigerator and peered inside, slightly shuddering with shock at the altered sight.  He froze for a moment, disoriented.  "Can I help you?"  I asked.  "What are you looking for?"

Still staring straight ahead, he replied, "I just want to make a sandwich."

Easy!  I said, "Sandwich meat and cheese are in the deli drawer."  I put my finger on the deli drawer, in case he didn't know what it was, which I thought might be the case, as it had formerly contained onions and a chunk of partially unwrapped butter.  "Condiments are in the door, where they were before, and so is your bread."  He happily gathered an armload of ingredients and took them to the table.

It is a lot more fun to tidy someone else's home than to tidy your own home.  I do not know why this is.  Perhaps it is because you don't have to finish; you can just work on what you want to work on, and stop when you are happy with what you have accomplished.  I did not try to organize the entire kitchen, but throughout the week I was there, the order increased a bit each day, as I found where things went, and then gathered up all the loose items that could be put away in a location.  For instance, paper cups and plates.  There were packages of paper cups and plates everywhere.  One day, I opened a low cupboard and found a supply of paper products.  Immediately, I gathered all the paper cups and plates from the entire kitchen and stashed them in this cupboard.  I felt like I'd just caught a long pass to score a touchdown.

It was a nice stay.  I went to two Bible studies, read two books, enjoyed two shakes from a place called Cook Out, met the mystery roommate who had been away at a conference every other time we'd been in town, and watched a documentary about the life of the man who played Big Bird on Sesame Street.  On Friday night, Shawn flew in from Cali.  On Saturday, we helped DJ put plastic over a drafty window, attended a Duke performance of The Messiah, and dined at a Peruvian restaurant with a group of DJ's best friends (nice selection of gluten-free menu choices).  On Sunday, we drove home, light traffic and clear weather allowing us to make it in 12 hours, just as we would have hoped.

I have other things in my mind today that I would like to remember, but the stories are too long to tell.  Remind me to discuss the concept of resilience sometime soon.

Meantime, we need to get a Christmas tree up around here!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The goodness of the Lord

Of all the Lord's attributes, His goodness is the one I struggle most to understand.

I do not know why this is, because so many of His other attributes are intrinsically related to goodness.  Purity is a form of goodness, uncorrupted goodness.  Righteousness is a form of goodness, dependable, accurate goodness.  Kindness, mercy, grace -- all these things are types of goodness, the goodness of generosity, of mitigating punishment, of extending unmerited favor.  It is easy for me to feel the truth that God is pure, righteous, kind, merciful and gracious.  Why then do I struggle to believe His goodness?  Don't all these other things prove that He is good?

God's attributes fall into two main categories:  (1) His goodness, and (2) His sovereign, almighty power.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
that You, O God, are strong,
and that You, O Lord, are loving.
~Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, emph. mine)

Love, kindness, goodness -- these virtues, if removed from strength and power, are ineffective.  Of what use is it that I want to do you a favor, if I cannot do you a favor?

Power, might, sovereign control -- these attributes, if removed from goodness and love, are downright dangerous.

The Bible clearly teaches that God is the perfect combination of goodness and omnipotence, of love and strength.  With God, we have nothing to fear, because everything He desires to do, He has the power to do, and everything He does is motivated by love, for our good.  He is perfectly faithful, and He will never fail.

So why do I sometimes find myself hung up over the idea of the goodness of the Lord?

Perhaps it is because we humans naturally associate goodness with two things: compliance and pleasure.

Let's consider compliance:
A compliant child obeys his parents.  He is quiet and cooperative, sweet-spirited and easy to be around.  He agrees and doesn't argue.  He learns the rules and follows them.  "What a good little boy," we say.  "What a delightful child."  Likewise, a good dog comes when it is called and stays off the furniture.  A good car starts when you turn the key and is easy to steer.

God does not act in response to our turning a key.  We do not steer Him (He steers us).  God does not obey our commands like a genie in a bottle, for He is God, and we are not.  He does not cooperate with our agenda; it is our job to cooperate with His agenda.  We do not make rules for Him; He makes rules for us.

God is not compliant.

One of the most helpful explanations I've ever come across, with regard to the goodness of God, is from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  When the children (the main characters) are speaking with some beavers, they discover that Aslan is a lion, and Lucy cries out, "Is he safe?"  Mr. Beaver replies something on the order of, "Of course he isn't safe, but he's good."

God isn't safe.  But He's good.  He won't give you everything you ask for, but He'll give you everything you need to accomplish His purpose for your life.  He won't keep pain out of your life, but He will faithfully keep every promise He has made.  He will forgive your sins when you ask Him to.  He will grant salvation to everyone who believes, and He will never leave or forsake His children.  He is preparing heaven for us, and He will take us there at the end of this age, delivering us into a glorious paradise beyond our wildest dreams.

God is not compliant, but He is good.

Let's consider pleasure:
"This is good ice-cream!" we say, meaning that it is delicious.  A good book was a joy to read.  A good day likely boasted beautiful weather, strapping health and successful accomplishments.  We associate happiness, success, sunshine, sweet flavors, pretty colors and feelings of bliss with goodness.  Goodness brings pleasure.

There is undeniably an aspect of pleasure in Christianity.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.
~Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Delight yourself in the Lord
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
~Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

How lovely is Your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
~Psalam 84:1-2 (NIV)

How sweet are Your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
~Psalm 119:103 (NIV)

You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
~Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me by Your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
~Psalm 73:23-26

God is good in the sense that He grants us access to the greatest pleasure, delight, joy and fulfillment that we can possibly achieve.

Here's the rub:  Christianity may be the greatest case of delayed gratification ever known to mankind.  Your entire life on earth could be miserable, apart from the peace and joy that result from hoping in the promises of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  There are no promises that it will be otherwise.  Yes, there will be pleasure, but you must exercise faith before you receive it.  There will be no eternal pleasures without faith.  That's why Matthew 7 tells us that the way to destruction is a broad road that many travel, but the way to life is narrow and only a few find it.  You know the old adage, "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush"?  Most people accept and live by that philosophy.  It's worldly wisdom.  On the contrary, Jesus tells us that if we'll just stop trying to consume that puny sparrow in our hand, He has barnyards full of plump, juicy chickens waiting for us in glory.  We only have to trust Him.


How do we learn to trust?  How can we have faith that God is indeed good, when life on earth is full of disappointment, pain and uncertain outcome?

It all culminates in Jesus.  We can look to Jesus.  We must look to Jesus.  Jesus is the undeniable proof of the goodness of God.  In Jesus, all the promises of God are "Yes!" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

When humanity rebelled and sullied all of God's perfect creation with the stain of sin, God did not point the almighty finger of wrath and destroy us.  In contemporary, consumer-driven America, we should understand this above all things: when what someone gets is not what he wanted, he takes it back for a refund or exchange.  Or he throws it out and gets a new one.  God's creation was damaged, spoiled even, but He had already planned to fix us, to redeem us at His own personal cost, because of His goodness and His grace.  He patiently worked through the building blocks of His creation--space, time and matter--and miraculously packaged His own perfect essence in the flesh and blood body of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, delivered to earth to divert the wrath of God from the rest of us.  On the day He was crucified, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God, which we deserved and He certainly did not.  He absorbed this wrath in our place, and at the same time somehow miraculously shed His own perfect righteousness over us, so that we could be saved.  While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

This is the goodness of God.

We can see it in the sunshine, a clear blue sky, a silent snowfall or a roaring waterfall.  We see it in birds frolicking above us and squirrels scampering in furry gray arcs across the road.  We see God's goodness in gallons of milk distributed to grocery stores, and miles of corn growing in fields, and apples dangling from tree boughs in September.  We see His goodness in a hot, flickering bonfire, the kind smile of a stanger, and the squealing giggle of a little child.  A gift, a flower, a love note, a piece of jewelry, an effective medicine, a drink of water, all these things are evidences of the goodness of the Lord.

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .
~James 1:17a (NIV)

We are still here, and not destroyed, living in a world littered with remnant fragments of His goodness and glory, because of Jesus.  God is good, and Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of His goodness.  "The grace of God incarnate," I think I've heard them say.

If you ever start to doubt the goodness of God, remember our hopelessness without Him, our sin and our shame.  Then remember the grace of Jesus, the sacrifice, the surrender of His life for our lives.  Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness, freedom and hope.

For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 6:23 (NIV)

For God so loved the world
that He gave His one and only Son
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish
but have eternal life.
~John 3:16 (NIV)

Yes.  God is good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Forgiveness and Suffering

This is a repost from another blog I write (Seeking Wisdom, Craving Grace -- I don't write there very often, and next to nobody reads it, but it's a place I find myself revisiting).  I thought of this old post today, because (1) I've been studying Revelation and we are getting into the part about the persecution of the saints, and (2) I read a book over the last couple of days, and the end of this book dealt deeply with forgiveness, but the author did not cover this particular aspect of it.

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

I write a lot about suffering here, probably because suffering is a Biblical reality that I find missing from much Biblical teaching.

(aside:  I am no masochist.  I don't write about suffering because I like it.  I write about suffering because I think there is a lack of solid Christian teaching on the subject--not that I am claiming to be solid, but an attempt at teaching is better than no teaching in an area that most people don't care to broach.  I write about suffering because Christians who are suffering need to know that it is a normal part of life on a fallen earth and does not mean that God doesn't love them.  I write about suffering because some Biblically uniformed people seem to think that the existence of suffering is somehow a proof against the existence of God.  But I don't write about suffering because I like to.  I don't like suffering any more than anybody else.)

One theme of the Bible is this:  you will be refined through suffering and trials.  It's stated over and over.  Off the top of my head, I can give you Romans 5:3-51 Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4.

This may not be our favorite or most marketable truth, as Christians.  But the Bible clearly tells us that we will suffer.  Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." (from John 16:33)

Honestly, I have not met many people who are worth knowing who have not suffered.  Suffering tenders people, deepens their ability to have compassion.  God uses suffering to make our spirits beautiful.  When we suffer, we learn things we could never learn in any other way.

I have always dreaded suffering, good results notwithstanding.  I am a Big Chicken.  I do not like pain.

Philippians 3:8-10 (ESV) says,   
Indeed, I count everything as loss 
because of the surpassing worth 
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things 
and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 
and be found in him, not having a righteousness 
of my own that comes from the law, 
but that which comes through faith in Christ, 
the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, 
and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 
that by any means possible I may attain 
the resurrection from the dead.

It does exhilarate me to think of casting aside "all things" as rubbish for the greater good of knowing Christ.  I am not sure how to do this, and I am quite sure that apart from the power of the Holy Spirit I am utterly unable to accomplish itStill, the idea appeals to me.

However, sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death... that scares me a great deal.

Suffering for Jesus makes me think of Christians in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian.  It makes me think of being thrown into prison, starved, beaten, tortured.  Because I have a pathologically vivid imagination, I will spare you the details of all the things it makes me think of.  Suffice it to say, it scares me to death.

I may be called to suffer like that.  Some people are, and some people are not.  But we are all called to suffer for Christ, and there are other, more every-day ways that God accomplishes this in us.

For instance, the other day I was reading and thinking about Ephesians 4: 32 (ESV),
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, 
forgiving one another, 
as God in Christ forgave you. 

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  What does that mean?  How did God in Christ forgive me?

In Christ, God forgave me by bearing the consequences of my sins Himself, in His own human body that He indwelt in order to accomplish the task (see Philippians 2:5-11).  He did not simply say, "Whooops!  You made some mistakes, but no big deal. I'll just forgive you, and you can start over with a clean slate, don't worry about it.  It's no big deal.  It doesn't matter."

It does matter.  Our sins are a very big deal, an offense against the perfect, holy, almighty Creator of the Universe.  Our sins do not just vaporize and blow away in a gentle breeze.  It was not, could not be, that easy.  To free us from the consequences of our sins, Jesus had to bear the consequences Himself.

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.   

This means that we forgive others, as Christ did, by suffering the consequences of their sins.  We bear the brunt.  We suffer what the person who hurt us should rightfully suffer.  And we do it because it's what Jesus did for us; it's the pattern He laid down.  We, like Jesus, must hold out mercy and self-sacrifice to our enemies, rather than demanding vengeance.  We must suffer, like Jesus, and entrust our souls to God, believing with all the faith He has given us that God Himself will take care of the ending.

This is very hard.  It is unpalatable.  But it is what the Bible says. 

It is hard, but we have opportunities all the time.  We don't have to wait for the government to make Christianity illegal and throw us into prison.  We can share in the suffering of Christ every time someone wrongs us and we choose to absorb the hurt with forgiveness.

And as we trust God, He will make all things right.  As He raised, restored and glorified Christ, so He will raise, restore and glorify all of His children after we have struggled to learn, to trust, to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thankful for my children

We just had a fabulous celebration of Thanksgiving, the whole family together.

I am overwhelmedly thankful for the children God gave me.

Here are their baby pictures.  I go all warm and melty inside, almost painfully so, when I remember holding their tiny bodies and thanking Jesus for their precious new lives, right as soon as I first met their miraculous selves.

Baby Shannon, 1989

Baby David, 1991

Baby Laura, 1992

Baby Jon-Jon, 1995

Be still my heart.

God is good.

I am thankful for my children.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thankful for my single geranium bloom on a snowy day

Today I woke to inclement weather.

I had to be somewhere at 5:55 a.m.  On Saturday morning.  Yes, I did.

Yesterday had been warm and beautiful.

Today I woke up in the dark.  Fortunately for me, I dressed and left my house before I was aware of much.  At some point between the first and second turns away from my home, I realized that all was black and wet, but I just kept driving, and the Lord kept me safe.  I assumed that the precipitation was rain, because everything was as black as night.  Well, to be fair, it pretty much was night.  I did try to read the temperature on my dashboard, but I wasn't wearing my reading glasses (I can't see in the distance for driving, if I have reading glasses on).  All I could make out on the dashboard thermometer was thirty-something.  I chose to believe it was 36 or 38 degrees.

When I got out of my meeting, three inches of heavy snow coated my car.  Punch-drunk from early morning, the others who had attended the meeting commenced to lobbing snowballs in the parking lot.  One man drove off with a mini snowman perched on his hood.

When I arrived at home, my neighborhood looked like this:

But, on my front porch, a potted geranium stood resolute and fuchsia, barely sheltered from the blowing sleet beyond.

Gawky, yet determined.

I am thankful for the sight, for the fact that this flower could bloom at all on the 21st of November, and for the symbolism.

Hope springs eternal.  Miracles abound.

I am thankful.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thankful for windows

I am thankful for windows.

Have you ever imagined what the world would be like, if there were no windows?

Windows let in light and air.  They connect us to the world around us, even while we shelter in our familiar cocoons.

Windows show us beautiful views.

They can also show us brokenness, despair.  This is not a bad thing.  Windows (like books) open our eyes to new perspectives that we need to understand, teaching us empathy.

Windows gently encourage us to imagine things beyond ourselves.  Brightening and darkening, they help us mark time.  Open, they refresh with a cool breeze.  Closed, they shut out a violent rainstorm.

Have you ever watched raindrops squash against the outside of window glass, smearing and straining but unable to dampen you?

Our own windows bring familiar views, day by day.  When we travel, we might see almost anything from a window, especially if we peer out the window of a car or an airplane.

Windows demand quite a lot of upkeep, cleaning and maintenance.  They are worth it.

I am thankful for windows.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thankful for the sun, light and sight

As I age, my eyesight is deteriorating.

My lupus medication is hard on eyes, so I can be a bit paranoid about the whole thing.

But, today I can see, and for that I am truly grateful.

I need my reading glasses for almost everything: reading, cooking, shopping, cleaning.  I can't even do a decent job of washing dishes without my reading glasses.

Sometimes I just wear my reading glasses all day.  Since they blur my distance vision, I find myself walking up and down hallways and stairs with my hand held up 18 inches from my face, as a focus point.  This is something I can do, and it works fine, and I can function, and I can see, well enough.

It's strange how much more thankful I am to be able to see, now that my sight is no longer what it used to be.  Or perhaps it isn't strange.  Perhaps it only illustrates that we don't always appreciate things fully, until we are at risk of losing them.

With decreasing visual acuity, I also appreciate light more than ever.  (I've been glad on more than one occasion that we installed white counters and a white backsplash in our kitchen work areas.)

The sun, of course, is the ultimate source of light.

Since moving to the midwest, I have gloried in the frequent presence of sunshine in my days.  I never tire of it.  We do get a cloudy day, now and then, and it is nice to stay inside and do quiet things while the clouds temporarily muffle the brightness of the sun.  Clouds never last too long here, and it is an absolute wonder and a balm to my soul.

I am thankful that I can see.

I am thankful for light.

I am thankful for the sun.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thankful for time to be alone

I love to be alone.

I also like to be with people.  I don't like to be alone over tremendously long stretches of time.  For instance, when Shawn goes away on business trips.  Business trips result in more alone time than I really appreciate, especially in the evenings after the sun goes down and the windows turn black.  Going to bed at night all by myself is lonely in not-a-good-way.

But I do love to spend some time alone, every day, preferably in the morning.  Long, quiet mornings alone are an unspeakable luxury.

I like to read my Bible and pray, all by myself.  It's much harder for me to do these things when there are people around.

I like to be alone when I write.  Actually, I probably fundamentally need to be alone when I write.

There's that song, "Give me Jesus."  It has a verse that says, "When I am alone, give me Jesus."

When I am working on chores, or taking a walk, or eating, then I prefer to have company.

When I am praying, studying, writing, then I like to be alone.

I am thankful for times when I have opportunities to be alone, to get centered, to let the Lord examine my heart.

Since Jesus promises never to leave me nor forsake me, I am never utterly alone.  Alone with Jesus, that's what I love.

I am thankful for time when I can be alone with Jesus.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thankful for hope

I don't know what the future holds, what is beyond the next hill or twist in the road.

It is a mercy that we don't know the future, I think.  It's a mercy not to be burdened with all the details of what is to come.

We do know this:

Jesus is coming back, and He will bring the final triumph of good over evil, completely and forever.

Knowing that, we have hope.  Sure hope.  Hope that, as the Bible says, will never be put to shame.

I am thankful that no matter what lies across the horizon, I can hope in the Lord, and He will never let me down.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thankful that my husband is home

Paris is under seige.

But here in the flat center of the USA, the sun is shining, and my husband, who has traveled five out of the past six weeks, is home.

It is good to be together when the world is in tumult.

He fixed me the first good cup of coffee I've had in ages.

We feasted on leftover crustless quiche, because I made it for myself while he was gone and didn't even get a fourth of the way into it.

We sat, talked, hugged, held hands.  It feels good to rest your head on the shoulder of the one you've been missing.

Together.  Near.  With.

I will wash his laundry from the week, and life will be mostly normal, despite everything.

I am thankful that my husband is home.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thankful for books

I am thankful for books.

Books teach us truths, transport us to other worlds, and broaden our minds and understanding with perspectives we would otherwise never know.

The books we read have a great influence on whom we become.

In my older years, I mostly read the Bible, but I do read other books, and I have read many other books in the past.

In a soul-bearing move, I will show you pictures of some of my bookshelves.  This is threatening both because it tells you a lot about who I am, and also because the photography is particularly bad.  Part of the reason for the bad photography is that I don't put much effort into making my books look aesthetically pleasing on a shelf, and then when I go to photograph them, I don't know where to focus, so the overall sloppiness just piles up. 

Nevertheless, I am thankful for books, and here are some of my favorites:

Here is a group of books I love, mostly by John Piper and C.S. Lewis.
Honestly, if you had only the Bible, Piper, and Lewis, you would be fine.
Desiring God by Piper.
Mere Christianity by Lewis.

At the end of my set of Bible commentaries, 
some blessedly solid theology by Tozer and Packer, 
with a couple other authors thrown in.  
Packer's, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God 
is an important book that simplifies a difficult subject.

This shelf makes me smile, for the sheer randomness of it.

The Magic City by E. Nesbit (one of the few things our dog Piper ever defaced by chewing)
I am David by Anne Holm
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Pearls of Lutra by Brian Jacques
Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Haystack Kitties by John R. Erickson
Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary
A book from the Series of Unfortunate Events series
A Hardy Boys Mystery
A couple of books full of history trivia to stimulate young minds
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Iran: The Coming Crisis by Mark Hitchcock (? -- haven't read it; sounds scary)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Seeking the Face of God by Martin Lloyd-Jones
The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink
Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd-Jones
Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette by Letitia Baldrige
Another history trivia book for kids
Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

And they all sit on top of a massive art book full of Van Gogh prints, while The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle nestles in behind, perpendicularly because it is too wide for any shelf.

I guess I read theology and children's literature, mostly.  These are all in our study, upstairs, where I write on my computer.  We have three six-foot-tall bookshelves against the long wall in here, and it feels like a library.  I love it.

Downstairs, in our front hall, there is another bookshelf.

Originally this was meant to hold "real literature."  It is rather a random mix, but with less children's literature (maybe).  This is where I keep my Dickens, my George Eliot and my Jane Austen, and where I placed Tolkien between Chaucer and Homer.  But you will also find the Hunger Games trilogy on this shelf, The Book Thief, Ender's Game and two (??) copies of The Great Gatsby.

In a closer view, you also see a collection of Alan Bradley and a collection of Madeleine L'Engle.  Oh!  There's The Wind in the Willows and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Maybe I've placed as much children's literature here as anywhere; there's even a green anthology of it.

I am thankful for books.  I've made many friends through books, and there are a lot of people I look forward to talking with in heaven, to thank them for how their words have ministered to me on earth, even though we've never met.

Ruminating on what books mean to me, and how they have touched me, gives me a deeper understanding of what the Bible means when it calls Jesus, "The Word of God."  He is the greatest "book" of all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thankful for trials

Thankful for trials.

Wow.  I never thought I would say this.  I never thought I would be able to say this.  I am the Big Chicken, remember?  I'm the one who is always complaining about the way we have to learn through pain, and wishing it were a different way.

Count it all joy, my brothers,
when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith 
produces steadfastness. 
And let steadfastness have its full effect, 
that you may be perfect and complete, 
lacking in nothing. 
~James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, 
knowing that suffering produces endurance, 
and endurance produces character, 
and character produces hope, 
and hope does not put us to shame, 
because God's love has been poured into our hearts 
through the Holy Spirit 
who has been given to us. 
~Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)

You learn things when you go through something hard.  

You learn that God is faithful.  He may not fix the problem when you want Him to fix the problem, but He demonstrates His nearness over and over.

You keep seeing the same words come up, words like hope, peace, joy.  Delight yourself in the Lord.  All things are possible with God.  You find these words in the morning when you are reading the Bible by yourself, and then you see them in an article on the internet, or hear a friend speak them, or they rise up out of a small group Bible study.  They may even float by on the notes of a song.

You spend a rough morning crying tears to the Lord, and the phone rings.  Although you never answer the phone when you don't recognize the number, you happen to pick it up, and it's a friend you haven't spoken with in quite some time.  "The Holy Spirit put you on my heart, Ruth," she says, "He told me to find your phone number, and I looked until I did.  I don't know why, but I just got to pray for you."   And she does, balmy God-words flowing, mixed with scripture, from her lips.  "God is faithful," she tells you.  "He has this.  He's the almighty God and nobody can stop Him.  You got to PUSH.  You heard that before?  PUSH.  It means Pray Until Something Happens, and it's going to.  God's not going to let you down.  He's faithful.  He's merciful.  He's Love."  Through your wondering tears, you try to tell her how blessed you are by her obedience to the Spirit's direction.

You have it out with God one afternoon, and you beg Him, "Please, if You aren't going to fix this, please hold my faith together.  Please help me see Your goodness when things don't seem good.  Please don't let me stop believing when it feels like You are so far away, and it appears that You are not acting on my behalf." He leads you to John 6:68-69 (you were familiar with the words but didn't know where they were, and then, while looking for something else, you stumble across them) --

“Lord, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life,  
and we have believed, and have come to know, 
that you are the Holy One of God.” (ESV)

He shows you beauty all around you, soothes your spirit, comforts your heart.  He tells you, "Delight in me, my child.  I will care for you.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I am your God and I watch over you always, without slumbering or sleeping.  I am your Shepherd, and you shall lack nothing."  As He gently works, you begin to experience joy again, to see beauty and goodness and the hand of God all over, in spite of the thing that troubles you.

You also learn things about yourself.

You become aware of ways you used to be, ways that needed to change.  You used to be so protective of yourself.  "I feel bad for those people," you'd say.  "I'll be pleasant, and maybe donate to a shelter or something, but arm's length is good.  I don't want them to know where I live."  You realize that God has ways of breaking down these attitudes, tendering your heart, making you care compassionately for the lost in ways you never could before He began the hard work.

You learn the difference between understanding that and understanding how.  For instance, you used to understand that certain topics of conversation could make someone sad, but now you understand how the sad person feels in the middle of the discussion, the uncontrollable visceral pang.  You understand how the barren woman feels when she sees a new mother with her baby.  You understand how a mother of a child with a disability feels when the mothers of "normal" children celebrate their children's successes in sports and academics.  You understand so much more, and with more understanding comes less judging.

Some of us have a strong propensity to try desperately to do everything right so nothing bad will happen to us.  There are two problems with that.  (1) None of us can do everything right, and (2) Bad things will happen; we live in a fallen world.  When we live under the mistaken notion that we can control outcomes and insulate ourselves from trouble by doing all things right, we set ourselves up to suffer loads of guilt when troubles come.  We think we are being punished.  It's the natural conclusion.  It's what Job's friends told him: "You must have sinned.  Confess your sins to God, and He will stop tormenting you." 

We have all sinned, but a person's sin is not the cause of all his suffering.  When trials come, we must learn to give up control and hope in the Lord.  To whom shall we go, if not Him?

God uses all things for good for His people.  He uses terrible, painful situations.  He uses brokenness and loss.  He even uses sin and guilt, redeems them and makes them produce blessed results.  He uses it all for good, to form our hearts and to beautify our spirits within us, to make us holy.

I wouldn't say my spirit is beautiful yet, but I know without a doubt that He is working on it.  He is teaching me, growing me, changing me.  I'm already stronger, already a little more joyful than I ever was before, for no understandable reason except that Jesus is working a miracle.

So yes.  I am thankful for trials.

Kind of.  I'm thankful for how God powerfully uses them, anyway. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thankful for pears

Some years, I hardly buy any pears, sometimes none at all.

Other years, the pears are plentiful, tasty and reasonably priced.  These are what I call pear years.  During pear years, I buy quite a lot of pears.

I am happy to say that this has been a pear year.

There is nothing quite like a ripe, juicy pear.  The wet, smooth, melt-in-your mouth texture of sweet, mellow pear flesh is even a pleasure to slice with a knife, let alone taste on your tongue.

Isn't it amazing that such deliciousness should grow on a tree, in the sunshine, and be good for you?

Once I was at a luncheon, and they served a fancy salad.  The salad contained a number of exotic ingredients and a lovely vinaigrette dressing.  Oddly, interspersed amongst arugula, radicchio, spinach, goat cheese, glazed walnuts and huge glistening blackberries, there appeared to be wedges of unpeeled boiled potatoes.  I picked around the potatoes for awhile before I finally steeled myself to do the right thing and eat them too.  Imagine my surprise when my teeth sank into Bosc pear, a perfectly ripe, sweet, juicy Bosc pear, and not a boiled potato at all.  Few surprises in my life could rival the unexpected delight of that one.

Pears are just so good.

I am thankful for pears, and to God who made them.  What a wonderful gift He dreamed up for us when He thought of a pear.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Thankful for Epsom salt

Epsom salt is, honestly, quite amazing.

A 20-30 minute soak in a fairly warm bath of Epsom salt gives me substantial pain relief for a substantial length of time.  This is a big deal for someone with lupus, but people without lupus might derive some benefit as well.

My tub is big, so I use two cups of Epsom salt, measured carelessly, because the Epsom salt is usually chunky (having been stored in a humid bathroom) and does not fit neatly into a measuring cup.

I've found that I achieve my best water temperature if I get into the tub just as I begin to run the tap, and adjust the hot-cold ratio to my liking as it fills.

You don't want too hot a bath, or you will get woozy.  At least, I do.  I've almost fainted from too hot a bath.

But a nice, warm bath (just this side of hot, if you know what I mean), with Epsom salt and a few drops of lavender essential oil, is legitimately therapeutic.

I've found that the pain relieving effects from an Epsom salt bath are more comprehensive and longer lasting than a what I get from a professional, therapeutic massage. . . and for significantly less expense.

I am thankful for Epsom salt.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thankful for beauty

Today we took a November walk in the park.

Many of the leaves have fallen.  In the aftermath, trees stand exposed, their bare twigs branching delicately off the ends of limbs.

Here a tree reaches for the vast blue sky, spots of red color lingering, embellishing.

Even weed seeds have some glory when the sun strikes them at a certain angle.

Space, lacy trees, blue sky.

Bright red berries shining just before evening.

More weeds, standing golden before the edge of the forest.

After 25 years in the Northeast, I never seem to tire of open space and big blue sky.

Magical sun dispersing slanted beams through the thicket and onto the path,
lighting up some last golden leaves on the way.

Layers of shadow, vertical trunks, illuminated meadow, far off tree row, 
slices of space and light.

Trees and space and so much sky.

A wild-flower blooming in November, and who would have thought blue?

This is where we live.

So much beauty, right outside my door.

And that's only this beauty, here, today.

There are also babies, puppies, roses,
Waterfalls, lullabies,
A tiny rainbow reflection from a piece of crystal near the window,
Always the sun and the sky.

When other things are wrong and terrible, we can turn our eyes towards beauty.

I believe that God made beauty so we could find some hope when our souls are in distress.  Beauty is a sign of His presence in this world, and His promise of infinitely more beauty in the world to come.

Finally, brothers, 
whatever is true, 
whatever is honorable, 
whatever is just, 
whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely, 
whatever is commendable, 
if there is any excellence, 
if there is anything worthy of praise, 
think about these things.
~Philippians 4:8 (ESV) 

I am thankful for beauty.