Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Love Like That Doesn't Die

It’s been eleven years since my twelve-year old son died in a car accident and most of the time I’m okay with it. I’ve grown accustomed to life without him. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it. The occasional thought of him brings a smile to my face and laughter to my heart. However, there are times like this past week, when my heart aches for him. My broken heart is heavy with emptiness and painfully raw as waves of grief suffocate me.

If you have a child, you know the depth of parental love. Bryan was my reason for living. His presence in my life created a desire in me to be a better, stronger person for his sake. When you’re a parent, you find a way to do what you couldn’t do before. I worked at jobs I hated so that I could provide for him. I found the courage to protect him from big creepy spiders and the fortitude to care for him when we were both sick with the flu. My life revolved around him. Even my memories are dated by how old Bryan was when something happened. We moved from the apartment into our first house when he was three, we separated when he was seven and I remarried when he was eleven. Bryan was an intricate part of every moment of my life whether we were in the same room or miles apart. And like any parent, I would have willingly and without hesitation traded places with him on that terrible day to save his life.

Bryan’s absence from my life was like a terrible severing – as if someone had sliced every cell in my body in half. I had to find another reason to get out of bed everyday and new things to spend my time and energy on. I even had to find a new way to remember things. Yesterday, a friend who was trying to comfort me told me that the pain I am feeling is testament to the great love I had and still have for my son. As I was considering his words, I thought about how Bryan was the one who taught me about how much my Heavenly Father loves me. What a terrible severing God must have felt when our sinfulness took us from his presence. Unlike a human father though, God had the ability to trade places with us, to die on our behalf so that we might live eternally with him. The bible tells us that through Christ’s sacrifice, we have been chosen and adopted into God’s family as children of God. He is our Heavenly Father and we are his precious children. The way that I loved Bryan is a dull reflection of the way that God loves me. I know from my experience with my own child that even when I make a mistake, God loves me. When I’m angry and disobedient, God still loves me. As I continued to reflect on these things, God gave me these words: “A love like that doesn’t die.”

The pain I’m feeling this week may indeed be a testament to the love I had and still have for my son but it is also a vivid reminder that I am wholly and deeply loved by my Heavenly Father, God of the Universe, Savior and Lord. If I can remember that, dwell on that, I can praise God for his love and his presence in my life. Because God’s love doesn’t die, there will never be a time when I can’t lean on his strength and rest in his comfort.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone anymore.
About the pictures:
Orlando Florida (May 2002)

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Extraordinary God In an Ordinary Day

Every Tuesday, my friends and I gather for study and devotional time. This week we explored 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

…and then He told me,

My grace is enough, it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (The Message)

What I came away with was that bad things are going to happen and how I decide to deal with them, what I do with them, is my witness to Christ’s power in my life. My goal should be that God is glorified in my life even if it means I do nothing but admit my limitations and let God do the work.

God didn’t wait long to give me an opportunity to put this lesson into real-life practice. By ordinary standards, yesterday was not an extraordinary day. However, extraordinary it was – even if only in my own estimation. I’ll try to explain.

Years ago, I injured my neck in an accident and sometimes it will flair up causing incredible discomfort usually accompanied by migraines. Without the aid of medication and ice packs, the intensity of the pain and headache increases throughout the day until I find myself sick to my stomach lying utterly still with my eyes closed in a dark room in complete silence. Yesterday I woke up in pain. The flair up was bad enough that it hurt to hold my head up and the pressure on my neck from lying down was worse. This was bad enough, but I also was experiencing great discomfort caused by women’s issues, which meant I had a choice to make. The medication for the headache aggravates the other problem and the pain medication for that doesn’t do a thing for my headache and neck pain. I couldn’t take them both. I had to choose. Either way, I wasn’t going to feel well and I couldn’t miss work as I had too much to do and couldn’t put it off even for a day.

A headache and cramps – not the kind of thing people think about when they read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. But then, aren’t we supposed to be faithful in the small things too? So as I drove to work, I prayed. I didn’t pray for God to take the pain away though. Instead, I prayed that in my weakness his Glory would show through. I was in pain and irritable but I didn’t want that to be what people saw in me. I wanted them to see Christ in me. I wanted them to know his love and patience through me. I wanted them to walk away from me not affected by my problems but by his presence. I acknowledged my shortcomings and my weaknesses before the Lord and asked him to work through those in his strength and to his glory. God honored my request.

I was able to complete all my work and help others in theirs. Instead of withdrawing in my pain, I joyfully welcomed those who walked into my office and felt as though, when they left, they were blessed by our time together not because of my effort, but because of God’s work. The pain subsided last night to a barely noticeable ache so instead of needing to collapse in a dark room, I was able to do even more good work and praising God the whole evening for the accomplishments of the day. Last night, I went to bed thanking God for an extraordinary day and praising him for his obvious presence in it.

So how do I sum up this week’s experience? I guess it would be to remember that God strength is sufficient to carry me through every trouble, every hardship, and to never forget that God is always faithful – even in the small things. So I should be too.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumn Leaves - God Doesn't

This past week has been depressingly cold, wet and gray with no sign of it letting up anytime soon. In fact, snow is expected this weekend. It seems like it’s been this way forever. I almost forget what a beautiful sunny day looks like. So today, I woke up with no enthusiasm for getting out of my nice warm bed to greet the cool crisp air of yet another dreary day. However, as I drove to work, something wonderful caught my attention. Everywhere I looked the trees sparkled with the vibrant colors of autumn – oranges, reds, and yellows painted the landscape. The rich brown of the rain-soaked tree limbs and trunks added a stunning contrast against the backdrop of the leaves. I wanted to stop and get out in the rain just to take in this amazing sight. I didn’t, but the drive was enough to brighten up my day. It’s going to be a good day after all. Isn’t that amazing? The weather hasn’t changed. It’s still cold, wet and gray, but somehow I feel like the sun is shining in my day.

Often in our lives, we find ourselves in a dark and dismal place. Something as small as getting the flu or as significant as a loved one’s death can plunge us into a gray existence for a time and we start to wonder if joy will ever be a part of our lives again. Sometimes I think that this is where we see God most clearly. It’s in this place that the beauty of God’s comfort and companionship is the center of our attention. His vibrant presence in our dreary world fills us with the warmth of his indescribable peace and we don’t want to take our eyes off him. Our life circumstances may be gloomy, but God reaches through all of that bringing us great and lasting joy. When I feel like my life is a cold, wet, gray autumn day, I need to search for God with confidence and expectancy in that moment because he has promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that if I seek him with all of my heart, I will find him and unlike the autumn leaves, his brilliance will never fade away.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Live Like There Is a Tomorrow

Last week a friend told me about a book that he is reading called “The Principle of the Path” by Andy Stanley. He explained that Mr. Stanley’s basic premise is that you will end up where the road that you are on is going. For example, a person who lives an unhealthy lifestyle will undoubtedly end up with health problems and a person who saves money today will have it tomorrow. The choices we make today have a direct bearing on our lives tomorrow and in the future. After our discussion, I began to look at my own life through the lens of this-path-your-on principle and realized how true it has been in my own life.

My life has been a long series of todays with no tomorrows in sight. As you would expect, my childhood was filled with the here and now. I never gave a thought to the consequences of my choices. That’s what parents are for. As a preteen struggling with depression, I made the decision to take my own life on my eighteenth birthday. I, in effect, took tomorrow away and lived my today knowing that one day soon – tomorrow wouldn’t come. God had other plans though and gave me someone to live another day for – my son. Still, I lived each day as if tomorrow wouldn’t come and awoke unprepared for a new day. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to look to the future. I am trying to live a healthier lifestyle now so that I can enjoy a decent quality of life twenty years from now and I’m striving to be more responsible in my finances so that I have some security in the years to come.

I next applied this lens to my faith journey and asked myself, “If I could look at the end of the road I’m on, will I like what I see?” Do the choices I’ve already made lead to a dead end down the road or do they lead to my desired destination? I’ve been struggling for some time in my faith journey – Oh not that my belief is wavering. It’s not. Though it has become increasingly difficult to make time to study God’s Word. My prayer time has become more of a checklist than a conversation. The newness of my relationship with the Lord has worn off and I’ve settled into an almost uninvolved coexistence with Jesus. The problem is that I’ve been trying to fit my relationship with God into my plans instead of arranging my plans around my relationship with God. These choices definitely won’t lead me to the intimate spiritually mature relationship I want with my Savior. Fortunately, I can make better choices today. I can turn off the TV and spend time in the Word today. Instead of checking in with Facebook so often, I can update my status with the Lord in prayer - chat with him instead. I need to live today like there will be a tomorrow so that I won’t regret the choices I’ve made today when tomorrow comes.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, October 2, 2009

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”

She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.

My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh Zoo (June 2009)