Sunday, March 27, 2016

Death Is Only Temporary

Eighteen years ago today my son died. But I can’t be sad. I can’t be sad because I am filled with joy on this Easter morning as we celebrate the Risen Lord. As we sing songs of death being conquered and graves being empty, how can I be sad? As I shout praises of “Alleluia” and “Christ is Risen” how could I weep for my son who is right now in the very presence of Christ the King? Because Christ lives, I live and my son lives. Someday, we will embrace each other again—how can I be sad?

This is more than a belief or a life philosophy. It’s absolute truth and it is the foundation of my relationship with Christ—that his death and resurrection redeemed and renewed every one of us for all time—you, me, and my son. Those who are afraid to hope might say this is the desperate reaction of a mother trying to make sense of losing her child. To those people I say: I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. I feel sorry for you though because life without hope is wretched at best.

Hope isn’t a wish. It isn’t a goal to work towards or a reward when you get there. It’s the ground beneath your feet when the floor gives way. It’s the air we breathe when caught in the vacuum of human indifference and inability. This kind of hope is being absolutely sure of what we cannot know or prove. My hope rest in the One who redeemed me, who started the good work of grace in me, and will finish the job. My hope is in the One who rose from the dead to bring us out of the grave of our spirit-dead lives to a new Spirit-filled living. This hope comes from knowing the One who created me, who died for my sins, and rose from the dead to live and reign forever. As long as he lives, so does the hope that lives within me.

Someday I will see my child again but that’s just a small part of the future I’m looking forward to and am living into now. My God is with me now, teaching me how to be the woman he made me to be. Someday, the veil of this life will be lifted, as it is now for my son, and I will know the complete joy of God’s embrace. His sweet voice will welcome me home and my hope will no longer be unknown or unprovable, but fulfilled.

He is risen. He is Risen Indeed!!!

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 21, 2016

When In Doubt...Pray and Watch!

Last week, I had to confront my biggest insecurity, yet again—do I make a difference for Christ? I know I will never be one of those internationally known crusaders for the cause winning people for Christ in stadiums bursting at the seams with people. I’m not saving starving and dying children all over the world or ministering to the poor in Calcutta. I don’t serve at shelters or organize fundraisers in my city. Some people think that’s the measure of a Christian’s faith and sincerity—how much money you raise. How many hungry children you feed. How many people you bring to Christ. If I’m not out in the trenches, so to speak, I’m not making a difference, right? WRONG!!!

Let’s back up for a minute. As I started to explain, the enemy took advantage of a moment of weakness and whispered in my ear that I’m not doing anything to advance God’s kingdom. The argument I have with myself is what you’d expect.

“But I work for a church.”

“Yeah, putting together paperwork no one really reads and everyone throws out anyway.”

“But I help my coworkers with their important work where lives are being changed for the Lord.”

“Which anyone can do and it doesn’t really count because it’s your job! You get paid for it.”

When my friends try to affirm me, doubt screams, “They’re only saying that because they’re trying to make you feel better.”

“Well, yeah, they are but they mean what they say.”

“But it doesn’t count because it wasn’t spontaneous.”

Any positive I come up with, my doubt and the enemy can rebut. The harder I try to wiggle out of this quagmire of doubt, the deeper I sink. I realized early in the week that I wasn’t going to win this argument on my own. I went right to the source of my strength and my faith. I took the matter to Jesus in prayer. (Jesus has already beaten the enemy so why not let him handle this little skirmish in the war.) I asked Jesus to show me where he sees me making a difference. I asked him to show me where he sees me using the gifts he gave me to further his kingdom here on earth and then I watched and listened for his answer. In the two days that followed, his affirmations overwhelmed me as I went about my daily routine. He even gave me a few opportunities to offer his love and compassion in new and bigger ways than ever before.

Here are some things I learned from my journey through the valley of doubt this week:
  • Satan accuses. The Holy Spirit convicts. Accusation is the darkness that beckons us deeper into the abyss. Conviction is the light that guides the way out of the darkness. It’s not always easy to tell the difference at first so keep praying and don’t give up until you are sure which you are dealing with.
  • When God answers prayer…it’s usually in a bigger and better way than we ever imagined. Don’t be afraid to ask big and expect even better.
  • Every one of us makes some kind of difference—whether it is good or bad. Just as a stone thrown into a pond causes a ripple effect, my interactions with others will have an effect that may reach far beyond my understanding or witness. When I take a moment to listen to another person, to give them a word of compassion or perform a small act of kindness in the name of Jesus, that moment becomes holy— saturated in God’s grace and love. That moment can change their entire day. And a day touched by God can change a lifetime. 
  • What I do can be done by anyone really. But he didn’t call someone else to do these things at this time in this place—he called me. This is how he wants me to make a difference.
  • Lastly, it’s not up to me to perform miracles, change hearts, end world hunger, create a lasting peace or bring a crowd of people to a saving knowledge of Christ. That’s God’s job!!! Mine is do what God asks me to do—no matter how small and insignificant it may seem by human standards. If Jesus can feed 5000 men and their families with one little boy’s lunch, what will he do with my humble offering?

Monday, March 14, 2016

A New Motto For Me

For many years in my teens and early twenties, I had a motto, a signature statement if you will—Laugh, Smile, Be Happy!!! It decorated my notebooks and it was my sign-off in written communications. It was the mantra for my life. But I wasn’t happy and I forced myself to smile. In my depression, every laugh came with a price—the better the laugh, the farther and harder I fell back into despair. It wasn’t who I was but what was expected of me by my family, my friends, my teachers, and coworkers. Sometimes, I faked it so well, I even managed to fool myself for a few moments now and then. Even if it wasn’t so, the illusion of it was the ultimate goal, the prize for doing everything right.

Twenty-five years, lots of hard work and a little therapy have taught me how misguided and detrimental trying to live up to that ideal can be. I’ve learned that being honest with and about my emotions, even if it is uncomfortable at times for myself or others, actually helps me be a more joyful and happy person than pretending to be ever did. Accepting that I can’t live up to other people’s expectations of who I should be not only is liberating but I often find that I far exceed expectations when I’m not limited by others’ opinions of who I am.
So I’ve been thinking that it’s time for a new motto. I’ve thought long and hard about it. It has to be something I can aspire to and inspire in others. Something that speaks volumes about who I am and what really matters to me. The first word that came to mind is hope. From a hopelessness that flirted with death, God grew a rock solid lighthouse of hope in my heart and of my life. He is the hope to which I cling and which clings to me even tighter. Hope is my gift and my joyous duty to share and spread with others.

The second word that came to mind is love. In my life, the enemy has tried hard to irrevocably wound my heart in many ways, but what he meant for evil, God has used for good. God formed in me a deep empathy for all people who are hurting. From the fertile ground of my own woundedness he has cultivated a holy compassion for others.

Lastly, I thought of the word pray because prayer is being in the presence of and talking with my Savior and Lord Jesus. It not only describes my connection with him but the power he gave me to reach out and help others. Most people overlook the power of prayer. Even I don’t really know the power of prayer as well as I could. Jesus tells us in John 16:22-24, Jesus tell us that the Father will give us whatever we ask in his name. If we ask, we will receive, and our joy will be complete. I may not be able to heal a broken heart but God can and will. He waits for me to ask. It’s my greatest responsibility and honor to bring a friend’s brokenness to the Lord so that he can heal their pain.

So there it is, the new signature statement for my life—Hope, Love, Pray! It’s going to be a joy to live and grow by it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Finding God's Joy in Another Moment of Despair

It's the first nice day in March and I am sad. The week after my son's death, I remember reading in one of the newspaper accounts that my son was out riding his bike enjoying the first nice day in March when he was hit by a car. This morning as I walked out to the car and heard the birds singing and felt the warm sun on my face, sadness washed over me. It's the first nice day in March. That's why I thought it might be a good idea to revisit this post from a couple of years ago.


A Moment of Despair

Consumed is my mind, my heart
with thoughts of a past long gone—
of a mother and her son.
Endure another moment—
take another breath.
I close my eyes to see him,
to cup his face in my hands
and live vicariously 
through the impressions 
of a decaying memory.
The memories are waning.
They live now only in a few faded photos
tucked away in a box on a shelf.
The years have taken with them 
all but a few remaining flashes,
echoes, really
of a life I sometimes dream I lived.
There is no weight as crushing
as a mother's empty arms.
Aching to hold my child,
almost remembering the feel of his skin,
his smell.
I try to remember his voice, his laugh
while my vacant arms embrace the air.
Silent tears spill down my face
and the pieces of my broken heart 
collapse within my chest
as the hollow settles in.
Oh how I miss him.

Grief is a part of love and life. We all know someone who's died or has suffered the death of a loved one. It's part of living in a fallen world. Death and the grief it causes were not in God's original plan. We invited them in with our sinfulness. Even still, God does not leave us alone in our grief.

However, with God's help, we can overcome it. Even though I’m not quite through this particular moment of grief yet, I know that God is and will comfort me and carry me through to victory over death and all its consequences. My hope is in the Lord. Having faced the deaths of loved ones while he was here on earth and then dying himself on a cross for our sins—my sins—Jesus understands my grief better than anyone else. God reaches down into the pit of my grief and pulls me out every time, through the love and concern and action of others and through his Spirit's hold on my heart.

God's strength and love have brought me through a tragedy—the death of child. My son was twelve years old when he was killed. God doesn't "give" me hard times, though he often allows difficulties into my life to shape and form me. It's the friction and resistance of my life circumstances that God uses to mold me into the vision of me he had in mind when he created me. And God created from the depth of my pain an understanding and empathy for others who are hurting. In bringing comfort and peace to my heart, and joy back in my life, God has also given me a great responsibility and the privilege of caring for those who are hurting. I've received the comfort I needed so I could pass it along to someone else who needs it now. That's an important job and he is with me to give me the strength and courage to love his hurting children as he loves me. God uses me as the lighthouse they are desperately searching for in the darkness and chaos of their pain to guide them to the Solid Rock upon which I stand, my foundation, Jesus Christ.

The best advice I can give anyone who feels like the pain and trials of their lives are overwhelming them is to ask God to heal you, to help you overcome, and then watch him put that miracle to work for his glory in the lives of others. That is the secret to finding and knowing God's joy!

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:13 NIV

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV