Thursday, November 25, 2010

Confession, Grief, and Gratitude

I have a confession to make. I haven’t really been living a thankful life lately. Oh, I’m thankful for all my blessings. I experience real feelings of gratitude towards God for those blessings and for the people in my life who share in them. But my life isn’t really illustrating gratitude right now. I’ve been struggling frequently this past year with new episodes of grief over my son’s death twelve years ago. I’m not saying that grief, the last great expression of love we experience in every relationship, doesn’t have its place and time – God created us to grieve. But at some point, grief must depart so that new life can take its place. This past year, I’ve spent too much time pining for the life I knew, the love I had, and the joy that died with my son and not enough time enjoying this new God-given life, the indescribable, undying love of the Father through Jesus Christ in the company of the Holy Spirit, and the joy, peace, and hope of the Gospel he has revealed to me.

We live in a country where we can read, study, and devour God’s Word without fear of reprisal and yet, too often, I leave this precious resource, my spiritual sustenance, sitting on a table unopened. I tell myself I have too much to do for God’s kingdom to take time for me in God’s Word. On occasion, I stress over a mounting to-do list telling myself, “There’s no time for prayer today.” I utter a few thanksgivings and “God bless everyone I love” and I’m off and running to cross off as many items on the list as I can before exhaustion drags me to bed to tired sometimes to even say, “thank you for the day, God and goodnight.” Then those occasional days increasingly become almost every day.

It’s about this time that the enemy starts plucking at the grief strings of my heart. And why shouldn’t he? I’ve given him free reign to. I’m failing to spiritually eat – immerse myself in God’s Word – and spiritually drink – reaching toward God’s river of love, power, protection, and guidance and the grace of Jesus’ blood and sacrifice – and then I foolishly wonder why I’m so empty. Fortunately, even when I think I’m too busy to work at my relationship with God, he is still with me, working in and through me. He patiently brings me back into his waiting arms.

So what do I do now? Well first, I refuse to be a spiritual anorexic anymore. It’s going to take effort and some small sacrifices on my part, but I will nourish myself with God’s goodness through his Word and in prayer every day. It’s not a choice anymore. Second, I must accept and keep reminding myself that I can’t accomplish this. Only God can transform me in my effort so that one day reading the Bible and praying become to my soul as my heartbeat is to my body. The next thing I need to do is recognize that my resolve will dissipate with time and distraction so I need to find someone, with God’s guidance, who will help me keep accountable. It’s no shame to seek help when help is what you need. Lastly, I want to celebrate the fact that God loves me just as I am and because he loves me, he will not leave me in this less-than-perfect condition. He will continue to shower me with grace and blessing. He will grow my heart for him and deepen our relationship beyond my hope, my desire, and my imagining. Praise God!

About the pictures:
Raccoon State Park (November 2010)

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Is the Third Option?

Philippians 2:12-13 tells us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."  If we’re all seeking God’s perfect will, why are there so many opposing points of view on what God’s will is? If God is working his will in and through us, how can two people who earnestly seek to do God’s will have such contradictory understandings of what he wants for and from his people?

Last night, I attended a meeting where approximately 300 of God’s people, ordained ministers and elders, who all believed they were acting acting within God’s call on their life, disagreed on the ordination standards of our religion. This issue has been in contention for many years and will continue to be so for a long time to come. As I sat there last night listening to the debate that ensued, I heard many people speak passionately for and against removing the current national standard. All of them truly believed that they were sharing what God had put on their hearts as his will in this matter.

After the meeting, I began to think about Jesus and the Pharisees. They were constantly coming to him, daring him to publically interrupt God’s mercy within the confines of God’s justice. My favorite story is when the Pharisees bring the adulteress before Jesus for public trial. God’s law given through Moses says to stone such sinners. They ask him to interpret God’s will in the matter. If Jesus shows mercy, the Pharisees will say that he does not adhere to God’s law and if he condemns her, he has failed in God’s will to bring mercy and healing to his children. The Pharisees, in their limited human reasoning, can only see the two options. He is either for or against God's law or God's mercy.

But Jesus surprises them with a third option. “Okay stone her,” he says. “Satisfy the law, but the privilege of the first stone goes to the one of you who has never sinned.” Who among us has never sinned? Only Jesus. In Exodus 33:19, we are told that it is God’s prerogative on whom he will have mercy and compassion. God’s will for us is to be in relationship with him, so Jesus spares her life so that the relationship between God and this woman can be restored and renewed. He warns her not to sin again – not because it’s the law and the right thing to do – but because sin will again separate her from God. I have to wonder if last night’s meeting was a prime example of not seeing the third option – Jesus’ interpretation of God’s will for our denomination.

Last night, a proponent for the change of the national standard said that many of us just want this thing to finally be done and over with and the only way that will happen is if we vote for the change. Another said that to accept the changes being asked for is tantamount to worshiping an idol. We have a long way to go work out our salvation in this matter, but I am confident that we will eventually hear Jesus’ third option because, as scripture tells us, it is God who is working his will in and through us. His good purpose will be fulfilled in his power and in his perfect timing. Until then, we continue to struggle to work out our faith with fear and trembling and with opposing interpretations of the balance of God’s justice and mercy in our lives. I pray we can do it with respect and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter their understanding of God’s will on this issue.

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (November 2010)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Forever Love Waits

Last weekend, I watched a whole season of a TV sitcom on DVD about teenage life which is set mostly in a school. One of the characters is a teenage girl who finds out she is pregnant. She bravely decides to suffer the embarrassment and ridicule of her peers to carry the baby to full term and then give the baby up for adoption at birth. It raised a question in my own mind about whether I did the right thing twenty-four years ago in keeping my child instead of giving him up for adoption. If I had given him up, maybe he would still be alive and living a full life – maybe married with a beautiful little baby of his own. I was filled with despair and wept uncontrollably at the thought that maybe my selfishness in wanting to keep my baby led to his life ending at such an early age. In seeking God's comfort and help in discerning his truth in this unsettling, unrelenting realization, I was led by the Spirit to Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV):

For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

God knew Bryan completely when he formed him in me and God created him to be the love of my life. He put a deep, tenacious love in me for my son from the first moment. God created Bryan to be the person he was, knowing that Bryan’s innocence and boyish charm would captivate me. When he placed that tiny life in my womb, he also placed an overwhelming desire in me to be that child’s mother in life. Giving him to another to raise and care for him was never even a passing thought. God’s will and design for Bryan’s life was accomplished even if I didn’t acknowledge him as God at that time in my life. Bryan lived a lifetime in those twelve short years and he absolutely lived every day of the life that God planned out for him. I know that human logic can’t accept it – but Bryan did not die a day earlier than God knew he would.

God's great love never dies and that’s why it still hurts so much when I’m missing my child. When God’s love is imparted into a heart, it’s there forever and with purpose. This is not an empty or futile love I feel. My love for Bryan lives on because he still lives. Bryan’s mortal life is done, but he still lives in the arms of our Savior and in the presence of the Father and Creator of us both. Not being able to give of myself to him in an expression of that love is where my pain resides. But one day, when all the days ordained for me have been accomplished, I will again be able to fully express that love which God has placed in me for Bryan, when we are both in God’s kingdom worshipping the Lord together. Knowing this doesn’t help me hurt any less. It doesn’t make the pain go away. But it does make it possible to get through another day of unexpressed, sometimes heartbreaking love for my son. Someone once told me that you never get over the death of a child, you just get used to it. I don’t agree. I’ll never fully get used to the idea of him not being in my life, but I will be able to tolerate it, knowing that our separation is only temporary. And with God's help, I will continue to learn to accept and celebrate life as the extraordinary gift from God that it is, especially when it is lived in the peace and joy of knowing Jesus Christ as my loving Savior and in the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (2009-10)

Friday, November 5, 2010

God's Quilt

This week, I had occasion to sort through the quilt tops I’ve made in the past year. It brought to mind a time in my life many years ago, before I took up the hobby, when my mother tried, to no avail, to get me into quilting. I thought it was silly. Why in the world would anyone waste their time cutting up a perfectly good piece of beautiful fabric just so they could break their backs over a sewing machine for hours upon hours and bleed from their fingers and feet (everyone who sews has dropped pins and needles on the floor only to find them later with their bare feet.) I couldn’t see the sense in it.

 Then one day we were in a quilt store – Mom was shopping for fabric for a class – and I saw it! The quilt I had to have in my living room. The quilt I wanted to make. The store had put it on display to advertise a class, but I had already missed the class. Oh no! If I wanted the quilt, I was going to have to learn to make it on my own. Fortunately for me, there was a pattern to follow and the advice of experienced quilters available to me 24/7. I got right to work and within six months, I had learned to select, prepare, cut and sew fabric, and applique, sandwich, hand stitch, and bind a quilt. By the time I had finished my first quilt, I had the quilting bug. I even took a weekend job at a local fabric store for a couple of years to support my quilting habit.

My skills have developed and improved over the years as well as my confidence and my willingness to try more difficult patterns. One thing I’ve found to be constant in my quilting is that just before I make that first cut into the fabric, I hesitate for just a moment and say to myself, “Do I really want to cut this beautiful piece of fabric into little pieces.” Then I look at my pattern and knowing how much more beautiful it will be when I finish, I forge ahead with my rotary cutter. Each piece precisely cut, meticulously sown together with purpose and then each block squared up carefully for well-matched corners. I put all of my creativity and skill into making a unique quilt that will someday say “I love you and I’m thinking of you” to someone special in my life.

 So what does all of that have to do with God? Well, as I looked at those quilt tops (remember that’s where this started), I saw how my own life has been like an exquisite quilt being made by God. I wonder if God hesitated for a moment before that first time my heart was broken to pieces, and knowing the wonderful plan he had in mind for me, he forged ahead. So many times in my life I thought, “This is it. My life is perfect and I have everything I’ve always wanted.” And then something happens to break my life apart again. Then God takes those pieces and skillfully puts them back together in a new and elegant way and I know a greater love and freedom by his hand. Sometimes God squares up my life with small unwanted changes which, at the time, may seem annoying, but then I later realize the new blessings that these changes have granted me. He is putting all his creativity and skill into making me into his unique masterpiece that expresses his love. Not only am I the recipient of his loving gift but he has made me a loving gift to all people. Just as a quilt is not only beautiful but useful, so I too am beautiful and useful in his eyes.

God’s blessings on your weekend!