At one point, I thought I was going to die. Of course, nausea always knocks me for a loop and makes me feel tremendously aware of my mortality. I probably was not nearly as near to death as I felt, but notwithstanding, I thought I was going to die. Nausea, purging digestive system, fever, chest pains, headache, backache, shortness of breath, congestion, ringing ears, heart palpitations, dizziness, swollen glands and lymph nodes, you get the idea. I remember sitting in the bathroom with my head against the wall and tears running down my cheeks because I was sure I would never hold a grandbaby in my arms. My thought was, "I wanted to write them each a letter, but I guess I didn't get the chance." I was thinking about my beloved children.
I told God, "It's okay. It's okay. You are sovereign. You can take better care of them than I can." And of course He can. I have failed more often than I have succeeded, and He is the one who holds them in the palm of His hand. He is the one who knew their life stories before they were born. He is the almighty God of power and wisdom and might. It truly is okay, even though it may not have been what I was hoping.
Then I recovered! I've been doing quite well. I might still be around to play with the grandchildren after all, and tell them that I love them, and nurture them with the grace and patience I lacked as a young mother. I would be so grateful to be able to do that.
Most days, I don't think about writing each of my children a letter (the way I did when I thought I was dying), a letter full of all the important things I should have told them, celebrating their gifts and abilities, exhorting them to surrender their weaknesses to Christ to be transformed into their most powerful assets. You don't remember that the roof leaks except when it's raining, right?
Today I want to write a general letter, something for all my children. No personal secrets will be addressed here, nothing private, just my heart desire for my children, my family.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
How I love you. Not a day goes by when I don't think of each of you, multiple times. So many things bring you to mind: a container of food in the refrigerator, the shiny black piano, the adorable dog, a book on a shelf, a song, a sweatshirt, a container of moisturizer, a candle, a blanket, a TV show, a scent in the air outside, the slant of the sun through a window, a photograph (of course).
My love is flawed. I made many mistakes, for which I am grieved. Perhaps as you grow older and experience more of life, you will be better able to understand and to forgive me. Please try to remember good things, fun times when we laughed around the table over plentiful meals, late nights when you came into my room to talk as I lay in bed before I fell asleep, times when life was vibrant and hope was natural and we had victories, successes, joy. Remember how I read you the Chronicles of Narnia and broke down weeping every time Aslan wandered into a sentence, much to your consternation. Please remember how hard I tried, understand how much I loved, and believe how hard I prayed.
Oh dear children, forgiveness is so important. We must all forgive one another as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness is grace, and we cannot live without it, because none of us is without need of being forgiven. We all mess up, we all make mistakes, we all sin, and therefore we all stand in need of grace from God and from each other.
Forgive those who have hurt you. People hurt each other; it is the way of a fallen world. The Bible tells us that love covers over a multitude of sins. Anger and condemnation do not fix sin. The only way to overcome sin is by loving, so love, give grace, forgive. I am not yet proficient at this, but I am learning, and the more I learn, the more I discover the blessings of grace and forgiveness, both given and received. Jesus died so we can be forgiven, and so we can forgive. It is costly to forgive, but it is priceless to be forgiven.
Another thing: never judge God by those who call themselves Christians. Many have claimed the name of Christ but have not walked according to His purpose or His plan. Jesus said that all men will know who His disciples are because of their love for one another; yet, people constantly fall short of loving one another.
So here is my advice: Read your Bible. Read it often. Read all of it, not just your favorite parts. Read it with an open heart, praying that God will reveal Himself and His truth through His Word. Please do not claim that God doesn't speak to you, if you are not reading His Word. Read your Bible and listen for God's voice, seek His face. Then, on the basis of God's Word, be discerning about those who call themselves Christians.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Use the Word of God to determine whether people are really God-followers. Do not use people who claim to be Christians to determine whether God is relevant or good or real. People are so fallible, even the ones who are honestly trying to do what is right. People must never be your standard of measurement. Only scripture should be your standard of measurement.
At the same time, be diligent in your own life. The famous Oswald Chambers book is called My Utmost for His Highest. The title alone is a worthy sentiment. We must strive in the utmost to accurately reflect the glory of God to a fallen world. Although we should not measure the worth of God by the worth of His people, we must recognize that the world will do this, and as bearers of His name, we must pray daily that He will shine His love, compassion, kindness and glory out through our lives. We are ambassadors for Christ, the only "Bible" many people will ever read.
Too often, churches lambaste their congregations with admonishments to go out and share the good news of the gospel, but I think they fail to realize that it is not our glib recitation of a gospel acrostic that will bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory, the beauty of God revealed in the redeemed lives of His loving saints. Live a life worthy of the Lord who has called you.
I know, I know. I have failed in this task seemingly countless times. I have been unforgiving, bitter, critical and angry. I have lost my temper, and I have failed to trust the Lord. I have been unloving and unkind; I have both spoken and acted in sin. I have been prideful, arrogant, haughty, and I have also been fearful, discouraged and despondent in the manner of one who must have no faith at all. And yet, when I confess my sins, He is faithful and forgives me, cleansing me from all my unrighteousness.
I think you can learn something from my experience here: Never give up on the power of God's forgiveness. You may need to humble yourself over and over again in asking for it, but never give up, because He promises that He will never stop forgiving and cleansing. He is so pleased when we come trembling before Him in humility, asking for His help to do what we can never do in our own strength. He loves us so deeply, we will never understand, but we must run to Him in faith.
Lastly (there is much more I'd like to say, but I have gone on far too long, so I will end with this), seek His joy. God wants us to have fullness of joy. Jesus came to bring us abundant joy. Although He warns us that in this world we will have trouble, although the New Testament is full of words to encourage perseverance through suffering, still: Knowing God is truly the way to joy. In fact, it is the only way to true joy.
Psalm 37:4 (ESV) says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." This is a most beautiful and potent promise. Be careful in how you apply it; it does not say, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and then as a reward He will give you whatever you wanted in the first place." No! It says that when the Lord Himself is your delight, then He will give you the desires of your heart. One might surmise that if the Lord is your ultimate delight, then your ultimate desires are related to His presence in your life, the opportunity to apprehend His glory, and the coming of His Kingdom.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 speaks of how the Lord promises to give His people new hearts that are inclined to love Him and to follow Him, actually cutting out our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh. Pray for that kind of heart. Pray that God will make you love Him--delight in Him--desiring what He desires, rejoicing in the things that cause Him to rejoice.
Pray that the Lord will mold your heart to love righteousness and hate evil, and that even in hating evil, you will be filled with His compassion and lovingkindness for a lost and blinded world. Pray that you will be like Jesus: faithful to the Father, tender toward the oppressed, and courageously confrontational when those who bear His name do so in an unworthy manner. Pray that He will be real to you, that He will show you signs of His presence and goodness every day, that He will reveal His beauty and His way through His Word (and pray that He will give you an unquenchable thirst for His Word). Pray that He will fill your heart with assurance of His love and His faithfulness and the inevitability of the completion of His Kingdom, that you will have steadfast hope resulting in daily joy.
Don't worry about this life. Comforts will come and go. There will be times of plenty and times of want, times of safety and times of oppression, times of gain and times of loss. In His strength, you can weather it all, and through it all there is hope, and His constant abiding presence. Nothing and nobody can ever take away your hope, the faith with which He has imbued you, or His abiding presence. And when we arrive at the end, everything will be okay, marvelous, in fact. At the end, we will live with Jesus in perfect paradise, forever, and there will be no more danger, fear, pain, sorrow, shame or death ever again. All the brokenness of this world will pass and be replaced with comfort, safety, health, light, love and everlasting life. He promised, and He is faithful. So be joyful and hope in the Lord.
With all my heart,