Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for a Broken Heart

On October 13, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. It was the autumn after the Civil War had ended and he was imploring all Americans to give thanks: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

Lincoln went on to say that “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” Americans were fortunate to enjoy many blessings. Though we paid dearly in the battle between the North and South, we were able to enjoy a bountiful harvest. The war forced our country to grow and, in the end, prosper. We had become a stronger country whose continuing freedom and strength of nation were secured in the conflict.

Like most people, I took some time this week in honor of Thanksgiving Day to thank God for the countless blessings in my life. Many of these things I am sure appear on your own list – friends, family, shelter, food, job, and health. Others may seem strangely out of place and those are the ones I share with you today.

I am eternally thankful that God loved me enough to allow me to hit rock bottom in my life. It must have hurt him so to allow the onslaught of unbearable circumstances into my life that eventually broke my willful spirit and shattered my cold, hard heart. I’m thankful that God stood in silent anguish as he allowed the multiple abuses into my life as a child and as a young wife and mother. I’m thankful that he gave me the precious gift of my son even though he knew the pain I would endure when my Bryan, my reason for living, was taken from me in an unfortunate car accident when he was twelve years old. Allowing these things into my life to break my rebellious heart and lead me into his waiting arms was his gift to me.

I am also grateful for the challenges we have faced together since I’ve given my life and my heart to Jesus. No one looks forward to hardship and pain, but adversity is the way we learn and grow. I’m thankful that he allowed me to endure the pain of a second divorce so that I could learn to lean on his strength and rely on his perfect will in my everyday life. I’m thankful for the pain-filled years of therapy that helped me to discover this Godly woman that the Lord is, even now, still cultivating in me. I’m thankful that when I look back at all the abuse, and loss, and the painful moments when I felt alone and abandoned, I can see that he was right there beside me crying with me, holding my broken heart together in his hands.

Lincoln realized that God had brought good out of the devastations of war and was hopeful that we would not neglect offering our humble thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven for the blessings that arose out of that painful experience. Likewise, the challenges I’ve faced in my life have given me the opportunity to look to and lean on God’s grace and power. They’ve forced me to learn and grow in his Spirit and I am stronger for it.

What hardships has God blessed your life with?

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church, Allison Park, PA (July 09)

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Joy of the Lord

In July, I wrote about how God used a pinched nerve to teach me how to deal with temptation in “Temptation – the Ultimate Pain in the Neck” (July 10, 2009). It turns out that my pinched nerve was actually caused by several herniated cervical discs in my neck. The pain eventually subsided after two months of chiropractor visits and a lot of ice and ibuprofen.

Last week, I managed to aggravate those discs, and again, I found myself in pain and unable to do so many of the things I used to take for granted like standing up straight instead of hunched over, driving, picking up a book, taking out the garbage, holding my cell phone to my ear… the list goes on. Normally, I’m not that “I can’t” type of person and this week has been really hard on me because this week – I really can’t! However, now that my condition is starting to improve slightly and I’m a little less disabled, I can look back on this week with joy. I won’t say that I enjoyed this week at all, but day after day, I was truly blessed to see and know God’s love through the actions of friends and family.

Several friends made it a point to let me know that they were praying for me. My best friend spent hours with me on Saturday watching old movies on TV because I couldn’t do anything else. On Sunday, my mom brought me lunch and let me cry some of the pain and frustration out on her shoulder. My sister-in-law made dinners for me that my brother delivered and he helped clean my kitchen and gather up garbage before he sat down to chat. My nieces and nephew made a get well card for me. My out-of-town brother called and talked with me for a while. Coworkers took time out of their busy schedule to carry stacks of papers and equipment around the office for me and a volunteer came in to fold the Sunday bulletins for me.

I felt God’s love permeating all of those moments and the memory of that fills my heart with joy, even now, through the pain. I can’t help but smile when I think about that fact that God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe cares enough about me to show me his love by ensuring someone was there to open a window for me when I needed it most. He saw to it that I was not alone in my misery and supplied my daily needs when I couldn’t. He loves me so much that he reached out through the words and actions of those around me to tell me that he knows I’m hurting and that it matters to him deeply. What a Holy and Awesome God he is. Praise the Lord who loves me like that.
About the pictures:
Marshall Island, North Park (August 2009)

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Hole in My Heart

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my young niece. Six months ago, they found a very large hole in her heart that had been overlooked for sixteen years. My niece always seemed like a bright and bubbly, healthy girl – a competitive swimmer, in fact, for years. There were no outward signs that a one-inch hole had been residing in her heart since birth. That is until a routine physical exam turned up a slight anomaly which led to tests that revealed the hole. They inserted a metal plug into her heart through a catheter and she was off and swimming again in two weeks. Unfortunately, we later learned that my niece is allergic to the nickel in the metal plug they inserted which was causing some serious complications. So this week, surgeons cut through skin and muscle and cracked her sternum open to cut the metal plug out of her heart and sew a patch over the hole. Yesterday she came home from the hospital and is starting her long road to recovery. They tell us that she will need approximately six weeks before she can return to her normal active teenage life and that it will take up to six months of diligent exercise before the visible effects of cracking open her sternum are corrected. We’ve also been told that it will take two cosmetic surgeries to minimize the scar left from the operation which she will need to wait approximately two years to have.

It got me to thinking about the God-shaped hole that is in the heart of every person and how only God's Spirit can fill that hole. Oh, we try to fill it with other things – money, romantic love, or success. Some people try to fill it with their obsession for exercise, or drugs and alcohol, or sports. There are even those who try to fill it with some form of religion or new-age spirituality but none of these things can fill that hole. At first, they may seem to be the easier fix, but used as a substitute for God, these things can poison our lives – mind, body, and soul. In the end, we have to turn to God and ask him into our hearts and into our lives. It’s sound simple enough, but this is not an easy process. There are some things that God is going to have to cut through and break open as he reaches into our hearts. The healing process from a sinful life is rarely quick and easy, but when you consider the alternative – a hole in your heart or a deficient plug, who wouldn’t agree that it’s the only choice. Just as my niece has a long road of recovery looming ahead of her, the spiritual healing process in each of us takes time – a lifetime – to completely heal.

The thing to remember on this path of healing is that we are not alone. God is with us every step of the way. He is the Healer – the one who will lovingly scalpel through our character and excise the sin from our lives to give us life and give it abundantly. He is not some casual observer, but a living, active necessary part of who we will become. God is the one who sees all of the darkness in us and with great skill and precision, cuts it away until all that is left is his shining glory. Though it may seem like it in our dark hours, he will not leave the job undone. That is the hope he brings and reason enough for us to praise his name in good times and bad and in the moments in-between.
About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (June 2009)

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Do You Say, "I Love You Jesus?"

I mentioned in my blog “What Makes Me Worth the Air I Breathe?” (September 17, 2009) that I had been moved by a little girl I saw on TV whose special circumstances and whose passion has led her to organize blood drives in her town and neighboring communities. Her determination to make people aware of how important donating blood is has yielded a great bounty as the TV show I was watching showed that blood drives where taking place in five different states across the country in her name and because of the national primetime exposure, she had her opportunity to reach the rest of the country that night with her message. It reached me. I’ve never given blood before and am not particularly fond of needles but I decided that the next time my church had a blood drive, I was going to sign up. Then last week, I learned that a young family member unexpectedly needs open-heart surgery next week and blood donors are needed now. So this week I called the blood bank in my community and made an appointment to go in and give blood for her operation. I was assured that if I am the right blood type, she will get my blood and if not, someone else who needs it will receive it. It really didn’t take long and I am glad to report that I suffered no adverse effects from it.

The next morning, the only evidence that I had given blood was a small pin prick on my arm and one on my finger where they tested my iron level. As the day went on, I found it ironic that while the spot where they took the blood from didn’t bother me at all, the fingertip they pricked to check my iron level hurt every time pressure was applied to it like when I typed (I’m a secretary) or checked my phone for messages and emails (which I do more often then I ever realized). At first it was a little annoying, but then I began to think of those little pain-filled moments as a reminder to rejoice and praise God. I rejoiced that God blessed me with the means to contribute and praised him that someone who desperately needs that blood will have it.

As I said earlier, I’ve never given blood before. It’s something that I always told myself that I should do, but never found the time or put the effort into doing. There are lots of things I’ve told myself that I should do and then don’t. Then I feel guilty that I haven’t so I try to make up for it with something else which I may or may not do. Guilt-ridden giving is a terrible cycle to be caught up in. So this week I went searching in my bible for another motivation to give. Here’s what I found:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then those 'sheep' are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-36, The Message)

I thought about those things that Jesus said the blessed person does. They feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. Those are simple things to do really. I don’t need special skills to do those things or even a whole lot of time or money. I just need to pick up a few extra cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter or a bottle of grape juice the next time I’m grocery shopping and drop it off at my local food bank once a month. I don’t have an extra room, but even on my tight budget, I could pull together $20 to give to the local shelter. I have a closet full of clothes, many of which I don’t wear anymore for whatever reason that I can give to a local charity. There’s a hospital a few miles from my home or at the very least, I could send a get well card to those people who are listed on my church’s prayer chain. I don’t know anyone in prison, but there are prison ministries that make it possible to reach out to prisoners or perhaps I could pray for those saints overseas who are cruelly incarcerated for their faith in Jesus and if I look at this metaphorically, aren’t all those who are lost in sin in some kind of personal prison – locked away from the Truth and the hope that Jesus brings. So there are plenty of opportunities for me to reach out to those in prison. I realized that it’s not about what I should do to show the love of Jesus but what I can do to love Jesus.

What are the simple things we can all do to express our love for Jesus? Perhaps you could help an elderly neighbor take her garbage out to the curb every week or rake the leaves in her yard. Maybe even something as simple as picking up his paper at the end of the walk and taking it up the stairs to his front porch because stairs are difficult for him. Don’t know any elderly people? Show Jesus you love him by offering to baby sit the children of a single parent one evening a month so that they can have just a little time to themselves or help them get their kids to and from after-school activities. Volunteer a couple hours a month to serve food at your local shelter or spend a Saturday volunteering at the local organization in your area that helps build or fix low-income housing. If we all stopped thinking about what we should do and just do what we can – how wonderful would that be?

How do you say, “I love you Jesus”?

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)