Monday, December 30, 2013

straggly hairs, life interrupted, and all those other little things

It's 8:00am.  I sit here and type away in a dark hospital room while my son sleeps in the bed next to me.  His best friend today, Dilaudid.  This pain narcotic, a step above morphine, provides him the relief and comfort needed to sleep through this vicious episode. The monitors beep every 3 seconds it seems, and the room is frequented by medical staff.  Interruptions.  This life is made up of a lot of them.

I'm doing ok.  "Been here, done that" keeps echoing through my mind.  That taste of unwanted familiarity lingers on the palate of my heart.  But this time around, it's not the hospital or the blunt reminder that my son has a chronic illness that threatens to weigh me down.  It's all those other "little things" that go along with it.

Those little things have power in their punch. I want to punch them back.

It's the disruption of the family unit.  The sleep-deprivation. The physical and emotional exhaustion.  The strange loneliness you feel in the midst of the whirlwind.  The ache that's found in all those "little things."  Like your 8 year old sending you texts like this:

Or this:

It's the dark, cold drive home from the hospital at 5:00am just to find myself exhausted and spent and locked out of the house searching (by light of cell phone) for the spare key that may or may not be under a mat, flowerpot, brick, or stone somewhere hidden around the outside of the house.  Why is it my mind draws a blank now?  It's crashing into a half-empty bed and getting up four hours later to return to the hospital and all of her stagnant familiarity.

It's the daughters who break my heart each time they tell me they miss me and want me to come home.  Or cry when I am home because they miss their daddy.  Or have a meltdown in the middle of a late night game of yahtzee, not because they had to scratch their full house, but because they are having a hard time processing their brother being sick again and their mommy and daddy being away.  The fact that it takes a mighty big toll on them as our focus is centered around their brother.  The fact that it takes a whole lot of courage and strength for a 4 and 8 year old to muster up each day, braving their way through this ordeal once again.

It's going till 9pm at night with nothing to eat but a salty, greasy, MSG-filled beefstick because you don't dare leave the hospital room for fear of missing a doctor or the cries of your son who suddenly awakens and needs you there.  Or the fact that this Christmas vacation has been riddled with illness since day one.  Or the probability that your New Year's Eve plans will most likely be spent in a hospital room apart from friends and family and all things sparkly and bubbly.

It's the daughters who wake several times in the middle of the night for kitties and bathroom breaks and under blanket snuggles because their life has been interrupted too.  Thrown off kilter.  It's the 8 year old's hug that doesn't seem to end and squeezes me breathless as I walk into the house at night.  Or her sudden awakening at 5:30am when she finds me out of bed and begs me not to leave without saying goodbye to her.  And then lays in bed silently crying so she won't wake her sister.  And then just flat out pleads for me not to go at all.  Squeezes my hand tight and hushes deep sobs within.

It's all these other little things that weigh this mama's heart down.

And yet, still I find Him near.  And I will myself to take on His perspective and re-shift my thoughts. To focus on Him, and His beauty and grace, that is sprinkled along this life interruption.  And once I do, I sense His nearness.  Yes, it can be found.  Even in those little things.

It's found in hospital floors and straggly hairs.  In swooshes of grace and those "hardly hanging on" moments.  It doesn't take much to find Him when you are set on the looking.  It happened yesterday morning on the way back to the hospital.  As I set off on my commute, I looked out the driver's side window and found one lone, fine, thin, straggly, blonde hair of mine hanging off the sideview mirror outside my car.  It blew about and hung on steady throughout the 45 minute, 50mph drive to the hospital.

And it reminded me of great things.  And the Great One.  Who knows exactly how many straggly hairs are on this 38 year old head. ("Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Luke 12:7)  And if He knows and cares about those little details, surely He knows and cares about the rest.  This, I am certain of.

So, for the past couple of days, I have been intent on watching that straggly hair hanging on my sideview.  She lingers and holds steady.  When I left the hospital late last night, it had been raining.  Darcy and I have been trading shifts, so he had already taken the car back home and driven it back to the hospital that day.  And that little hair was still there last night.  She had weathered through a rain storm and through the winds of the commute.  Wet, matted, and tangled, but she was still there.

This morning, I left the house before the sun had even woken and graced us with her glorious face.  You better believe I was looking for that straggly hair as I drove my way back to the hospital.  And there she was outside the bottom of my window.  She held fast and blew about for the entire drive.

And I thought to myself, we are not much different than that straggly blonde hair.  There are moments and seasons in life where we feel we are just barely hanging on.  The storms of life and blustery winds of change come pressing through and leave us feeling beaten down, thin, frail, tangled, matted, and alone.  But, somehow we hold on.  God gives us strength to keep persevering.  And in those moments when we have nothing left to hold ourselves up, we find Him holding us along.

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed."
2 Corinthians 4:8-9

"...and underneath are the everlasting arms."
Deuteronomy 33:27

So when all those little things start getting to me, I've been trying to focus on all the other details.  The fact that after a day of beefstick diet, I came home to a warm bowl of homemade soup.  And while my bed may be half-empty, it's still a warm familiar bed I can sink into at night.  And though it hurts to let go of a girl who is giving desperate hugs and begging me to stay home, at least my arms will find their way back home to her.  These arms are not as empty as some.  For that would be a deeper and more desperate hurt than I can even fathom.  I know loved ones mourning through this anguish even now.  So I thank God for blessing me with the greatest role and privilege of motherhood, even in the hard and straggly.

And though the demands of the job force my husband to have to return to work today, at least he has a job and God is establishing the work of his hands.  And though the commute to the hospital is dark and cold, one glance out my window this morning while passing by a bus stop where others shiver outside in 18 degrees makes me thankful I have a car and a way to return to this unwanted familiar. And although our Christmas break has been spent in illness, at least my son isn't missing school and having to deal with the added stress of "catching up."  And I don't have to worry about getting my girls to and from school and making sure homework assignments are completed daily.  And although our New Year's Eve will not be as once hoped and planned, that doesn't outline and define the good plan God has in store for our family in the coming year.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

What matters to us, matters to Him.  He knows and cares about those big and little things.  The hairs on your head, the hardships and heartaches, the losses and the struggles.  So if you find yourself in life interrupted. If it's left you as frail and stretched thin as that straggly, blonde hair just barely holding on, hold fast.  He's holding you.  God is still good.   Life is still good.  And there is still beauty to be found in the tangled, dark, and matted places.  And in all those other little things.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are you willing to take Him into your boat?

This month I've been reading Max Lucado's "Celebrating Christmas with Jesus."  It's an advent devotional that reminds us that God not only came to us (the reason we celebrate Christmas), but that He stayed with us because He cares for us and wants to experience life with us.  The devotional walks  through the life of Jesus and the monumental moments of His story, beginning with His birth and ending with His death and resurrection, and His activity through others since.

This morning I was reading from the book of John, where Jesus walked on the waters. John 6:16-21:

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake,17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[a] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

I've heard and read this story so many times before.  Yet today, something stood out that hadn't before.  I am sure there have been hundreds of sermons written on this already, but this was new revelation to me.  Verse 21 states that once Jesus' disciples were willing to take Him into the boat, immediately they reached the shore where they were heading.  This left me pondering many things.

If you look more closely at this scripture, it gives us some solid direction.  Digging into verse 21 I see two major themes.  First, Jesus' disciples:

(NIV):  "were willing to take Him into the boat..."
(The Message):  "they took Him on board."
(KJV):  "they willingly received Him into the ship..."
(NLT):  "they were eager to let Him in the boat..."

And second, once they did this:

(NIV):  "immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading."
(The Message):  "in no time they reached the land- the exact spot they were headed to."
(KJV):  "immediately the ship was at the land whither they went."
(NLT):  "immediately they arrived at their destination."

How many of us have walked through seasons in life where we are just aimlessly wandering?  Where we see, know, or dream of our destination and it seems we will never reach it?  Where the waters rise and there seems no hope for an end in sight?  Where darkness and storm threaten to overtake us and we can't see the way ahead?  We feel stuck.  Or frightened.  Hopeless.

I wonder if Jesus' disciples felt this way that night on the rough waters.  The NLT version of this scripture states that the disciples "went down to the shore to wait for Him.  But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn't come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum."  I wonder what would have happened had they waited for Him before heading out.  Perhaps they wouldn't have found themselves caught in a storm.

Sometimes in life, there are storms we can avoid if we would just wait for Jesus to lead the way and go before us.  But we grow impatient.  We don't wait on Him.  We rush in and try to take matters into our own hands.  Our own way.  In our impatience we choose to trade in future Isaac shores, and then find ourselves in immediate Ishmael waters.  But I also know that God wrote this story for us because there will be times in this life in which storms cannot be avoided.  They are unavoidable.  So He gives us hope and direction in the midst of them.

Looking at the first half of verse 21 gives us a clue as to what to do when we find ourselves in rough waters.  Just as Jesus' disciples did, we need to be willing to take Him into our boat.  We need to invite Him on board and willingly and eagerly receive Him onto our ship.  He waits for us to call Him and and invite Him in.  He doesn't desire for us to walk through this life alone.  He wants to be our anchor, our light that shines in darkness, the calmer of our raging seas.

The second half of verse 21 tells us what to expect when we do just this...we reach our destination, solid ground, the place we are heading.  The place He has assigned to us.

A few versions of this verse say that Jesus and His disciples reached their destination immediately.  I'd like to think that if we keep our eyes on the Lord and invite Him in to steer our ships, this too will happen for us.  But this isn't always the case.  In fact, rarely it is.  While it's true that sometimes we prolong our personal storms and delay our own journeys, sometimes there is no fast route out of troubled waters.  We just have to ride them out.

But don't stop here, there's more hope to be found.  The Greek word for "immediately" is "euthos."  And yes, it does translate to "immediately" and "shortly,"  but it also means "straightway."  Jesus is our straightway.  Through calm or sea, He is the one who makes our paths straight when we place our trust in Him.

(Proverbs 3:5-6:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not onto your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.")

Even in troubled waters, we have One who can walk upon them and carry us through them.  He keeps us afloat.  He is our straightway.

A few things I learned from this text is that we need to let God go before us and lead the way.  This means we may find ourselves in a season of waiting.  But, wait on Him.  His timing is perfect for you.  It may just keep you away from unnecessary storms and strife.  We also can't try to take on life's storms on our own.  Sometimes, we see and believe that Jesus walked (walks) on water, yet we stand by and are unwilling to let Him into our boats.  We fail to invite Him in.  The waters rise and we cry out in doubt and despair, yet never fully receive and believe (or ask for) the help He has to offer.  We have to let go.  Of dreams and plans we have of our own.  We tend to whiteknuckle them (as if they are better and wiser than His).  We have our own crooked destination and we rage on trying to swim (drown) our way there, contrary to the straightway and destination He has intended.  Let go and wait.

The Jesus Calling devotional today runs tandem to this scripture in many ways.  The author writes,

"When you are plagued by a persistent problem- one that goes on and on- view it as rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side.  The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable.  In faith, thank Me (God) for your problem.  Ask Me to open your eyes and your heart to all that I am accomplishing through this difficulty.  Once you become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down..."

So, if you find yourself in troubled waters, here are a few practical tips:

*Keep your eyes on Jesus
*Ask God what it is He wants you to learn from this?  Ask Him to open your eyes to the ways He is growing and using you.  Surely, there is spiritual purpose in it.
*Invite Him into your heart, and into your storm.
*Take Him on board and let Him lead the way (the "straightway").  Receive Him and all that He has for you.

They don't call Him the "Calmer of the sea" for nothing.  When Jesus approached the boat that night, He told His disciples, "Don't be afraid. I am here!"  He is here for you too.   Be brave and don't lose heart.  Let Him walk on your troubled waters.  He is the Solid Ground we are after.  And in Him we are sure to find our true destination.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

the grace dance

this grace
it gallivants
waltzing into undanceable places
with a beat and a rhythm all her own

she brushes up against you
taking hold

to God's heartbeat
toward all that's His

she keeps no time
just lingers
and swirls
and catches you up breathless
like the blustery deep winter wind

she births awakening
into hardened hearts
and wandering souls

like hope that pivots in
on spring's horizon


resurrecting the dead
and asleep

giving sight
and life
and newness

to the broken
and hungry

this grace
that gallivants
is there for all who choose
to open their eyes to her wonder

come open those eyes

embrace her
as she tangos
and tangles
her way into the core
of who you are

and whose you are

and winds
of circumstance
and change
can't whisk you away
from her presence

this grace
it gallivants about
asking you to dance

to partake
and behold
the beauty and wholeness
that she so boldly has to offer

partner with her
she begs for your hand

she'll glide you along your way
right into the arms
and the heart
of the One
who created her

who breathes her

join her as she gallivants
allures you
and sweeps you off your feet



Friday, December 6, 2013

hospital floors and a "swoosh" of grace

I remember when Brayden was in the hospital this past April.  I hated the familiarity of that place.  Knowing where to park, which elevator to use, the familiar faces of staff, the stagnant, sterile smells.  It flooded my mind in a wave of unwelcomed emotional nausea.  We had been blessed with a year of health in between Brayden's episodes.  But the blessings didn't stop there.  It also had produced a year of increased faith and resolve. That long arduous season of leanness and lacking, of grasping, wrestling, and fighting for truth...while I'd never want to go back to that place, even in that very moment of walking through those hospital doors this past April, I could look back and count it all as joy.  For I had been changed.  God had moved me from a place of insecurity, doubt, discouragement, despair and bitterness, to a place of awakening, contentment, wholeness and betterness.

And as I took my first steps into that familiar hospital, I felt like a different person coming into battle.  More readily armed and strengthened.  Despite all the familiarities, I immediately took notice of something I hadn't before.  It struck me enough to stop and snap a picture with my phone as a reminder, yet I don't think I've shared my thoughts about it with anyone until now.

During that first long stretch of corridor, as I was making my way to the North elevator with it's awful shiny golden doors (the ones that shine brightly in a rich hue of glistening gold, but remind you that they will not lead you to anything shiny on the other side), I looked down onto the polished floors of the hallway and saw a repetitive pattern of blue "swooshes" before me.  And I felt God's presence.

With each step I took as I walked that long familiar stretch, I came closer to another patterned "swoosh" on the floor.  I wondered why I hadn't noticed them before.  And I couldn't help but be reminded of His grace.  That swoosh of grace that sweeps in like an ocean wave and carries us along each step of our journeys.

Swoosh.  Swoosh.  Swoosh.

I was surrounded by them.  Wrapped up in them.  They went before and behind as I made my way to my destination.  A destination I wasn't desiring, but one that had been assigned to me nonetheless.  And in that moment I knew I'd be ok.  I was covered.

Within my own extended family recently, there have been swooshes of grace that have come in and flooded the hearts of the ones I love and know best.  Swooshes of grace that have swept into dark barren places where no grace should be found.  Only God.  With Him and in Him there is no separation from such grace.  It's part of His divine DNA.

And as I reflect back and look at the experiences within my own immediate family of five, I realize that those swooshes of grace were always there.  I may not have noticed them in the thick of our storm, but they existed.  My vision was just clouded. Those hospital floors hadn't changed in the past year.  But my heart had.  And a heart that has been awakened suddenly takes notice to the evidences of God that once were overlooked.

If you find yourself in a dark place, where the drought seems unending and the sun has yet parted through the storm clouds.  Be encouraged that you are not alone.  Even when you don't see, feel, or hear God, He is present.  His grace surrounds.  Your season will not endure forever.  There is hope on the horizon.  And when it comes...

Blinders are lifted.
We begin to find Him in ALL things.
His beauty.  His work.  His handprint.

And that mysteriously marvelous swoosh of grace.

"You hem me in behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me."
Psalm 139:5