Monday, November 30, 2009

What Grows When You Get Old

Watching me get dressed and looking intently at some lovely moles under my arm, Mary Claire (6) asked, "Mommy, what are those?" Before I could answer, she matter-of-factly stated, "That's just what grows when you get old."

Yep. Thanks, Mary Claire. Oh, how we can be humbled by our children! Pointing out the obvious is a strength of our little ones. But, you know, the comment got me thinking...

My mom and dad recently shopped at the Ulta beauty supply store. My mom chuckled as she recounted the purpose of their errand: to purchase an ultra-magnifying mirror and nose hair clippers! Some things just grow when you get older.

Other things, however, don't grow unless we are purposeful about them. One thing is sure: we are growing older. But, are we growing wiser? We all grow old, but we do not all grow up.

This is just as true among believers as it is true among those who do not know Christ. Jesus tells a parable about a farmer (God) who plants seeds (God's Word). Many, he says, will hear the Word of God and believe. Yet, as they go about life, they will be consumed by worry and riches and pleasures and they will not mature. Others, he says, will "hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." Luke 8:15

Jesus seems to be stating that the extraordinary quality of the man who matures is perseverance. In other words, the mature man, though he faces the same worldly challenges, does not give up. James reinforces the concept that perseverance and maturity go hand-in-hand. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing." James 1:2-4

If I could rewind my life and remove the events that have caused so much pain, I would. But, since I cannot, I can truly say that I am grateful for the opportunities they have provided for me to choose perseverance. For, in that simple act of hanging on, God has revealed so much of himself and has faithfully been maturing me along the way. The process is slow, but he promises he will finish it (Philippians 1:6).

I want him to find me lacking nothing when he comes for me or takes me home. I long for him to complete what he started in me. Oh, that his Word may find good soil in my heart today! What kind of ground will he find in yours? What will grow as YOU get old?

Friday, November 20, 2009

When You're Hanging By A Thread

I'm a "glass is half-full" kind of girl. Always have been. But, lest anyone reading my blogs gets the wrong idea and thinks me "Polyanna", let me tell you about this week. It was a dark one.

Audrey's heavenly birthday came and went, and neither my husband nor I could make much positive out of it. Despite our confidence in Heaven, we were just plain sad. And mad. And, we didn't feel hopeful. Then, just a few days later, an ugly consequence of my husband's infidelity hit us like a ton of bricks. An extended family conflict arose that deeply injured us both and reopened wounds that had only begun to scab over. I have to tell you, I could not see God in it all for several days. I couldn't pray. And, if I could, I certainly could not hear God's voice in response or feel His presence. It was the purest pain I've felt in a long time.

The reality is that most of us reach a place in our lives when it is nearly impossible to see God at work. A friend emailed me to ask advice about comforting a family who was getting ready to face the first anniversary of their son's death. The husband, she said, had been struggling with anger, and the wife with depression and sadness. The husband had hoped that his faith in God would have grown in the past year, but in fact, the opposite had been true.

Where is God when we can't feel him or see him? What does he think of us when our faith in him seems so small? Let me propose something radical: Small faith is better than dead faith. If you're still talking to God, your faith is not dead. God can work with very little faith and do very big things. Failing to hear from God immediately, failing to sense his presence, and experiencing the darkness of pain does not indicate that God has abandoned us or is displeased with us.

In fact, I think we can express our deepest anger, doubt, and fear to God without worrying he will give up on us. About a year after my husband confessed his sexual sin, he succumbed to an internet temptation while he was traveling. At the time, I thought it was more grave than it was, and I had found out about it through my credit card company. To make matters worse, I could not reach him by phone for four hours. I was literally planning how I was going to be a single mom. It was another dark day. I distinctly remember yelling at God out loud, "How could you let this happen to me when I trusted you? I don't even know if you exist!" And I meant it.

I had barely uttered the last angry word when my phone rang. It was my friend Julie. "Something is wrong with you," she said. "I am driving in my car and God told me to pray for you. Is everything ok?" I was speechless. In this simple gesture, God showed me He does, in fact, exist. It didn't solve my problem, but I dissolved in a puddle of tears just knowing that God had not abandoned me.

You see, the moment we call on him, God dispatches his armies to fight on our behalf. Sometimes we find out about it quickly, like I did when my friend Julie called. And, sometimes, we have to wait in darkness to see God at work, like I did this week. But, my friend, make no mistake: Either way, he is at work! Look at Daniel 10.

An angel of the Lord comes to Daniel with a message: Whew! Sorry it took me so long to get here! You know, the second you cried out to God, he heard you, and he sent me. But, I got kind of tied up fighting some battles in the spiritual realm for you. I had to call Michael for back-up. And, I am just now getting here to give you this message: Don't be afraid. Peace. Everything is going to be all right. Take courage. Be strong.

I don't know about you, but this speaks to me! When I'm walking down a long, dark tunnel and it has been a while since I've seen through a window of clarity, I can be sure God is fighting for me!

Take heart! To those who call on the Lord and believe (even just a little) the message is coming. The messenger may be delayed. But, the message is coming. "Peace. Everything is going to be all right."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Choosing Hope

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were afraid to admit it? Even to yourself? Have you ever been hesitant to hope for something because you didn't want to be disappointed? Maybe you were even afraid that if you expressed your hope to someone else and it didn't come to fruition you would be embarassed.

My dear friend has had a longing for another baby for almost 8 years, and she is just now learning to allow herself to hope for it. She told me this week, "I am trying to deliberately hope." My response was, "Hope is always a good choice, no matter what happens."

Now, this is not the advice of the world at large. And, after I shot her that text, I thought to myself, "I better be able to back that up." There is a tendency to want to protect ourselves, and we know God's Word encourages us to "guard our hearts" (Proverbs 4:23). So why is it that I have a burning desire to encourage Christian sisters and brothers to expect BIG things from God and not be afraid that he will disappoint us? After all the pain I've suffered in the last few years, why in the world do I still want to stick my neck out there and risk being hurt?

I have walked a fine line between hope and despair most days since Audrey died. But, it has been clear to me since minute one that I have a choice to make. It seems like a non-choice, really. I'm still breathing (and I didn't opt for this, by the way), so I might as well live with hope. Does despair really protect me from pain anyway? On the contrary, it intensifies it.

So how do I go about choosing hope then? Psalm 31:24 says, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope IN THE LORD." It is the OBJECT of our hope that is our first order of business. In Scripture, where the word hope is used, the object of that hope is worth noting. As believers, our hope is "in the Lord", "in His Word", "in His unfailing love", and "in what he has promised."

Hope placed in the mighty hands of our God is safe for our tender hearts. We are assured in Scripture that "those who hope in God will not be disappointed" (Isaiah 49:23) and that "no one whose hope is in God will ever be put to shame" (Psalm 25:3a).

Translation: Dare to dream BIG. If our longings are not forbidden in Scripture, and especially if they are a clear demonstration of God's will as expressed in Scripture, we can boldly lift them to the Lord in expectant hope.

Does this mean that every longing of our hearts will be fulfilled? If my friend hopes for a baby bad enough, will she get one? If I dare to trust my husband, does that mean he won't disappoint me again? No. But, our longings are safe with God because our hope is not in whether or not we get what we want. Our hope is in the God who has proven himself faithful over and over in our lives. And, no matter what, he does not disappoint.

Will you join me and my friend today and choose hope? I am confident it is a good choice, no matter what happens.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Last week, my daughter Mary Claire (6) and I were reading a picture book called Alice the Fairy by David Shannon. In it, little Alice wields magical powers as she pretends to be a fairy, though she admits she is only a "temporary fairy". "Permanent fairies", she says, must "pass a lot of tests".

"Mommy," Mary Claire asked, "what does temporary mean?"

"Temporary," I replied, "means that something doesn't last forever."

This Saturday is the second anniversary of our daughter Audrey's death. We have chosen to call it her "heavenly birthday", as we feel this more accurately reflects God's (and Audrey's) perspective on the day. Our recognition of Audrey's "heavenly birthday" is likely to include a visit to the gravesite, though I admit ambivalent feelings about it.

For a year and a half I agonized over what to put on Audrey's grave marker. I wanted it to be different, to make a statement of hope that was uncommon. And, I couldn't make up my mind. Not getting a marker on Audrey's grave has been a tremendous source of guilt. After expressing this to an unsuspecting man at the funeral home this summer, I learned that we could have gotten a free temporary marker in the very beginning. Saddened and yet relieved, I quickly ordered one. It's simple, and I like it. I'm probably going to order a permanent one similar to it. But, something keeps holding me back. I just can't do it. It's the one way I have not "dealt" with her death. What's my issue, I wondered?

That's when Alice the Fairy came to mind. "Temporary," she whispered in my ear.

It was one of those "ah-ha" moments. Something about a "real" marker seems final. And, I know in the depths of my heart that that grave is not the final word on Audrey's life. It is only fitting: a temporary marker for a temporary grave.

I may just leave that temporary marker there...permanently.

Thank you, Alice.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18