Monday, December 5, 2011

"Surprise Me"

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  1 John 3:1a

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-12

December is the stuff of memories.  Somehow, for a time, the world and all of its complicated bigness seem to shrink into the simple things.  And, for a brief moment, if we are watchful, we can view life through our children’s eyes.

We may not realize it, but we need our children to remind us how we used to “see”.  The things of this world have lost their appeal for many grown-ups.  It takes a lot to get us excited and create a sense of wonder in us.  We may consider this new “adult” way of seeing wise.  But, have we lost the ability to see God in the process?  Have we lost our ability to trust and to be free, to worship and to hope?    

I have decided that children have the right idea.  Jesus thought so, too.  He told us to be like them!  You know, some things in this world hint at what is to come.  If we haven’t become completely hardened by our pain and our disappointments, experiences here can be seen as a foretaste of the good God has planned.  “Seeing” like our children could actually be good for us.  And, the Christmas season gives us an open door to their world.

I don’t know how, but God has been gracious to let us preserve the magic of Christmas for our children another year.  Even though our girls are 8 and almost 10, they still live deep within the free world of the imagination.  Where Santa is real.  Where their shelf elf—who Mary Claire stated today is “so cute, he looks just like a toy”—is so much more than a toy!  The place where “Ernie” the Elf is a magical creature who lives at our house for the month, traveling at night from place to place, eating popcorn, and leaving notes that answer questions about the North Pole and its mysteries.  My girls transport me, too, if for a short time, to that place.  And, when Bryan and I are up late at night typing notes to our children from their elf, we are children, too.  Won’t heaven hold that kind of joy? 

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this magical stage of my children’s development is their total trust in good coming their way.  They have been so consistently blessed that they now expect good.  I tell you, for a mother who has had to break the news of a sibling’s death to her children, this is a tremendous relief!  Despite their pain and loss, by God’s grace, my daughters still expect good things to happen to them. 
Last week, they compiled their Christmas wish lists.  Call it a greedy exercise if you want, but I saw it differently.  I witnessed two little people who displayed complete confidence that they will receive what they ask for.  I think that is beautiful.  And, this year, I saw a new addition on my oldest daughter’s list.  She took less than a page to write a few of her big wishes, but the last line of her list read: “Surprise me.” 

I was sitting next to her when she wrote it down.  I questioned her.  “You really want to be surprised this year?”  With a twinkle in her eye, she smiled at me and said, “Yeah, surprise me.”
I have thought about Caroline’s bottom line a lot since then.  Really, it takes maturity to leave the outcome to chance.  Maybe she has learned by now that things are not really left to chance.  Maybe she knows instead that she can trust the giver.  Maybe she has learned that it is fun to receive things from his heart.

In this case, when we mention the “giver”, we are talking about Santa.  But, you and I know who Santa is.  And, believe me, “Santa’s” heart toward Caroline is good!  Santa knows Caroline really well.  And, Santa can usually come up with things that will delight her, appeal to her natural interests, spark her imagination, and speak to her personally.  Santa knows a little about what the next year will hold, too, and he gives accordingly. 

Now, some people would say that we have deceived our children and contradicted our teachings about God by preserving this myth for so long, but I assert that when they find out Santa’s real identity, they will know this underlying truth: Their parents have loved them with a personal, passionate love and have delighted in giving them good gifts.  Isn’t this the heart of our Father God?
If this is God’s heart towards us, I have to ask myself a few questions.  Do I abandon myself so completely to His surprises?  Or, am I so burned by the world that I no longer expect good?  I wonder…do I trust the Giver the way Caroline does?  Do I give Him a long, long list of my wishes?  Or, do I ask Him to give me what He knows I will like?  What He knows I will need?  Have I discovered how much FUN it is to receive things from His heart?

I am challenging myself to make a new list this year.  Oh, I’ve got some wishes.  There are some things I want.  God knows what they are.  And, I am not afraid to beg Him for things!  Insist on them because I know they are also the desires of His heart!  But, at the end of the day, I want to “see” through the lens of a child.  I don’t want to miss the foretastes of Heaven because of self-protection under the guise of grown-up wisdom (which is really just cynicism).  I want to worship the God who has already won the victory and lives so that I may have abundant life.

God is my loving Daddy.  He is the best giver ever!  He knows what I want.  He knows what I need.  It is fun to receive things from His heart.

On this year’s list, my bottom line reads: “Surprise me.”
Heavenly Father, you know where my heart has been wounded.  I am not so unlike others in this world.  We have witnessed some scary things, experienced some loss, seen dreams die, and lived long and hard in a world with sin and death.  We confess that we don’t feel all that free.  We have put away childish things and along with them the hope of your redemption.  We can no longer reasonably expect good.  We don’t know how to experience joy fully.  We cannot understand how to trust you because we have been hurt.  In short, we are battle-weary.  BUT, something in us stirs us to seek you still!  We know there is more!  Help us to see the “magic” all around us and trust you to give us good gifts this Christmas, throughout the year, and until we see you face to face.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Soldier On

I’m standing over my daughter’s grave.  A grief no parent should have to bear.  It has been four years today. 
I’m not sure what to think this time.  Not sure how to feel.   Bryan echoes the sentiment.  It’s the same as last time.  And it is different.

I focus on the shiny white temporary marker underfoot.  Another year and I still haven’t brought myself to make this thing permanent.   The marker wiggles easily on top of the dead grass underneath it.  It’s been a rough summer drought, I think to myself.  They’ll have to take out some of the bushes in this cemetery.  Not sure if all of these majestic trees are gonna make it. 

Everything dies, I remind myself.  I sigh and shake my head.  Here…everything dies.
I look around me, graves on every side.  An expanse of granite slabs topped with bronze plates displaying names—names that matter to someone.  Vases full of ugly silk flowers line the rows.  Though they still “bloom”, these flowers, weathered over time, have lost their former glory, too.

Everything decays here.
And, this whole scene is a rerun for me.  We’ve been here before.  Yet, as time separates me from the trauma of Audrey’s death, I still wonder what I am to make of it all.  Will this always feel this way?  How am I to soldier on?  What is the meaning of it all?

Suddenly, I am compelled in the moment.  I hate death!  Oh, no, it won’t do this to ME!  With a rush of adrenaline, in a last-ditch effort to fight back against the past, I all but leap into action right there in front of my family and friends.  Only an unseen hand holds me back.  If I had a shovel, I would dig and dig and dig, and I’d pull her right out of there!  We’d run far away from here, and I’d keep her safe. 
As quickly as the thought occurs to me, it is diffused by rational thought.  For all of the effort of digging and searching and reaching for her, I’d gain nothing.  I would still come up empty.  In this life.

So, now what?

I’ve asked that question before, Lord.  I will ask it again.  Now what?
I glance again at our humble little marker.  If the wind blew hard enough, that thing might fly away.  But, I am settled inside.  Truly, I like it more than the ones I see around me.  It is different.  And, not just because it is small and not meant to stay there.  (It occurs to me that Audrey is also small and not meant to stay there…)

No, there’s more to this.  There is more in this moment.  “Don’t miss it!” something inside me screams.  Why does that tiny, bright white marker shout loud to me in this silent place? 
Because it is the only one in my line of sight that bears a cross and a word of Scripture.  The only thing in that desolate place that screams HOPE.  Without the TRUTH, everything decays and dies and that’s it.

My mom puts her arm around me.  My husband reaches for my hand.  My friends cry and comfort and remember.  My dad stands wistfully and gazes at the grave.  I wonder what he’s thinking.  Maybe that Audrey used to sidle up to his and mom’s bedside in the morning and whisper, “Mimi, Papa…coffee…” to entice them out.
My friend says, “Here, hold the baby.  Will that help?  You need a snuggle?”   I rock that precious child as I stand over the place where my daughter’s body was laid. 

And, I am aware.  Tanner is only here instead of there by God’s grace.  I shudder.  He could have died at birth.  My friend could have gone with him.  Born at 30 weeks, he arrived much too early and under duress.  But, the delightful smile on his face today portrays an innocence I want to remember for myself…and one I want to preserve for him.  Not the kind of innocence that pretends not to see, but the innocence that comes from childlike faith and trust in a perfect, all-knowing God who redeems.
It occurs to me that this profound thought requires pictorial representation.  How do you ask your friend to let you take a picture of her baby over your baby’s grave?  Simply, if she is your heart friend.  So she squats down and holds Tanner for the snapshot.

I look at that baby in that place, and I know.  That is when the answer comes. 
Now what?   “More work,” God answers.  “Don’t give up now.”

My fellow Sunday school teachers come to mind.  They are keeping their grandchildren this week while their children travel to Ethiopia to pick up their adopted son.  Not too many months ago, he was on the brink of starvation.  But, they are partnering with a very brave and loving mama in Africa to give him a better life.  And, Stone Chera will learn of Jesus…of God’s great love for him.  A beautiful picture of sacrifice and rescue and hope.
And, someday, that boy will have the chance to do “more work” too…until God says enough is enough.  But, we don’t know when that day will be.  So, we soldier on.

I am sitting at my computer so entranced in my thoughts that I almost forget the children I still have in my watch care!  I climb in my new van, determined to let music seep into me and breathe life into my soul.  I blast my favorite new song: “We Are” by Kari Jobe.  
Maybe if I listen to it louder, I will feel it more profoundly.  I raise the volume another notch.  I have played it at least a hundred times in the last week, but I can’t seem to stop.  I think God is trying to beat it into me.  I sing along.  “We are the light of the world.  We are a city on a hill.  We are the light of the world.  We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the light shine.”  A smile takes over as I belt these words.  And, I see a familiar face outside my passenger window.  She is ten.  A picture of innocence facing a complicated world.  She is in my weekly Tween Time Bible study.  Carefree, she is riding her bike and beaming.  She is waving at me.  And, I am energized.

Yes, Lord.  There is more work to do.  I trust you.  I will wait for your redemption.  No matter how much I hate what has happened here or how many times you have to remind me...because of your light, I will shine until you come.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."  Matthew 5:14-15

Friday, October 28, 2011


Hello, everyone!  Did you wake up this morning (at least in Central Texas) to a chill in the air?  It gives me such a jolt of energy when the weather changes!  There is just something joyful about a change of season.  Summer’s carefree pool days and aimless afternoons eventually wear on our sun-kissed skin and our routine-starved souls.  It’s amazing to me, but even good things can become tiresome things in big doses!  Isn’t God gracious to give us a change now and then?  Isn’t it comforting to know that there truly is a time for every purpose under the heavens? 

 As many of you have noticed, I have experienced a “season” of staying out of the cyber-world…as is evidenced by the date of my last post!  I think that those of you who are still hanging on and checking my blog now and then deserve an update!  Let me say up front that I am grateful to those who have checked on me and who have encouraged me to get to writing again.  I have not stopped for a lack of ideas or for a lack of desire.  My hiatus was simply this: I was in a different season for a while. 

As more and more time passed since my last post, I fretted over it a bit.  Many had told me that once I started this blog, I had to keep it going or I would lose my readership.  But, God reassured me by His Spirit.  If it is HIS thing anyway, what difference would time make?  This whole endeavor has been HIS idea, and He is bound to do with it what He wills.  So, I am confident that the best thing I could have done was to ride out my life’s seasons with purpose, joy, and peace…all the while hoping that God would bring back the inspiration and the time to write when He saw fit. 

I want to let you in on a great little secret: God may push the “pause” button in one area of life for a while, but that only means He has something else for you to do in another area!  When we are turned toward spiritual things, there is never much chance to “stop” entirely!  That is exactly what has happened in my life over the last five months.  Here’s a brief summary…

My parents moved here from Dallas in June.  They sold their house in May (it’s a cool story, too)…but they had nowhere to live when they got here!  So, in faith, they moved in with our family!  We enjoyed a summer full of Mimi-and-Papa-time and house-hunting.  I am pleased to report that God provided a home for my parents only two streets away from us!  We spent the summer months helping them remodel the house and prepare to move.  And, we helped them move in only a week or so before school started again.  It was a whirlwind, but it has been fun. 

We are only now beginning to adjust to living in the same city (the same neighborhood!)—a privilege we have not had in over 18 years.  I love having my parents so close.  Bryan and the kids do, too.  Now, our visits do not consist of an entire weekend complete with a 3-hour drive up and down I-35.  We get to enjoy day-to-day things (kids’ activities, weeknight dinners, running errands).  We get to worship together on Sundays and share lazy Sunday afternoons.  Mom and I are even attending a Bible study together on Revelation.  (Look for future posts influenced by this great study!)  We can exercise together, cook holiday meals together, and share more of our lives.  I truly believe that God set aside this summer for our family to adjust to this big change, and I believe it is part of our whole family’s healing process after many years of grief and loss.  God is fulfilling His promise to us to “give us a new song” (Psalm 40:3), “do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19), and allow us to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

This summer also brought a string of Vacation Bible schools for my girls.  Caroline, in fact, attended 3 different VBS’s with the same curriculum.  I thought she’d get bored, but I think that God had a plan to get some of His truth firmly planted in her mind and heart!  Mary Claire, too.  Just two nights ago, I found MC in her room with her Bible open, all of her own accord.  She called me in to show me how the lyrics from her VBS music CD are “actually in the Bible”!  She was so excited that she could look those verses up for herself.  And, she exclaimed that she needed to take her Bible to school the next day so that she could “memorize it”.  I told her that would be an excellent pursuit—the best, in fact.  And, I encouraged her to keep after it.  She responded, “Why wouldn’t I?!”  Music to my ears.  Thank you, local churches.  Thank you.  Praise to God’s Holy Spirit who never quits pursuing my kids.  I don’t have to do all the work (in fact, I am kidding myself if I think I have the power to convince them of anything anyway…).

Our summer VBS circuit also inspired a new passion for me: community evangelism.  Since before Bryan and I had children, we planned to send them to public school one day.  Our hope was that we would have the opportunity to be salt and light in the community where we lived, spreading the hope we have to many who do not know the Good News.  That dream sat in the “someday” category for a long time…probably a decade.  But, this summer, when we invited one of my daughter’s friends to VBS, I discovered how easy it really was to talk to people about Jesus…how many people are not completely closed off to talking with one real person about their real-life faith.  That positive experience coupled with a successful impromptu Bible study in my living room one evening with my children and some friends’ children inspired me.  God opened my eyes to the need for Bible study for elementary-aged children.  Churches have summer outreaches (VBS) and Sunday school.  There is little else provided until middle school.    But, 9-11-year-olds are intelligent, curious, and hungry for truth!  Could I address that need?  What could God do?

I decided to start a Bible study in my home with Caroline’s friends and classmates.  Mary Claire, I determined, wasn’t quite ready.  (She wanted to do the fun activities, but requested we not do the Bible study part!  Next year, I’ll invite her friends, too!)  Anyway, we emailed a few people and decided to use that same workbook I had tried out with my own kids in my living room (Between: A Journey Through Proverbs, by Vicki Courtney).  I knew I had some friends who would send their kids to my home, so I figured we might gather about 6-8 girls.  But, God had other plans!  What started out as a simple idea has turned into something way bigger than me or my little inspiration.  We now have 26 girls enrolled in what we are calling “Tween Time”!

Tween Time meets once a week (still in my home…for a while longer).  We sing songs, memorize Scripture, study the Bible, have snacks, and do crafts and play games together.  We participated in a service project together, took a field trip to Texas Baptist Children’s Home, and hosted a Family Fun Night at the park.  I have been unapologetic about the fact that I am a Christian and believe that the Bible is true…and that I intend to teach it.  Many of the girls who come attend church and belong to families who profess faith in Christ.  I think those families see Tween Time as an opportunity for their girls to learn to take their faith out of Sunday and out into the world they live in from day to day.  But, many of the girls have families that are unsure about Christianity or who have had negative experiences with churches or Christians specifically.  Still, they are sending their girls to my house.  And, many have purchased Bibles for their girls for the first time so that they can use them for our study.  I have told these families that I would like to show their girls what it means to be a Christian and teach them what the Bible says so that they can determine for themselves whether or not they think it is true.  They know that we are also learning universal values of friendship and encouragement.  They agree with me that our young girls need solid emotional, spiritual, and social skills to successfully navigate their rapidly changing world. 

I am quite honestly blown away by what I am seeing in my community.  I am so encouraged.  God is at work.  And, He multiplies our time, talents, and other resources when we are just willing to jump in and try something.  I am learning SO MUCH from this process about what God is doing in the world right now, about myself and my fears and hang-ups, about evangelism…and, that only scratches the surface.  Needless to say, as we have grown, we have had a lot of adjusting to do, so Tween Time has taken up a lot of my time.  I am building relationships with my neighbors, and they have blessed me tremendously.

Tween Time is merely ONE of the ways my summer season bled right into my fall.  September brought with it football, and that is kind of important in my household.  Bryan and I joke about how, as college students, we dreamed of the day we could afford season tickets to the Longhorn games.  Well, last year (15 years after graduation) was the first year those elusive tickets could squeeze into our budget…and we had our first losing season in a long time.  Humble pie, my friends.  But, we decided to give those Horns another try again this year.  We even traveled to Los Angeles with some of our good friends in September to see UT play UCLA in the Rose Bowl.  It was a fun and relaxing get-away for Bryan and me. 

Moving on to October…I think October may go down as one of the busiest and most productive months in Moran family history.  This month, we repaired a car, sold a car, researched and purchased a new car, participated in a family mediation for an entire weekend, traveled for a family wedding, put our whole house through a tech refresh, and Bryan had surgery…IN ADDITION to our “normal”, “everyday” activities.  I feel like I have been hit by a train, but I also feel satisfied.  We got a lot done.  Much of it was fun.  Some of it was not.  But, ALL of it was purposeful.  God used this month to free us of some brokenness that has been hanging over our heads for a long, long time.  And, He also provided some opportunities to move forward on some dreams He has planted in our hearts that we believe will lead toward healing.  Let me elaborate…

Earlier this summer, Bryan came home from church giggling.  Curious, I asked him to let me in on the joke.  “Oh, it was just funny,” he said, “I was sitting in Sunday school this morning.  Before it began, I pulled out my iPad and started a list.  I named it ‘$*#@ I Don’t Want To Do That I Have To Do.’  My good friend came and sat next to me, casually looked over my shoulder, and said with a straight face: ‘I need to make one of those lists, too.’” 

Well, that $*#@ list (as we have affectionately, if irreverently, come to call it), has been a real blessing to our family in the last few months.  When you face lots of pain at once (some of it as a result of falling into a pit--as Beth Moore so aptly states in her book Get Out of That Pit--and some as a result of jumping in with both feet), there is a lot of work to do to heal.  Bryan and I both had a very long list of unpleasant things we needed to do in order to move through our grief and through our mistakes, and through our pain.  We still have some work to do, but I am elated to say that we have made a hefty dent in that list in the last few months.  It was like the lightbulb went on for Bryan.  I think he realized that if he didn’t act on what he knew to be necessary, he might not experience the abundant life Christ had planned for him.  And, I am so grateful to God that my husband listened and obeyed.  His obedience freed ME from that same bondage.  After all, as a married couple, we are one flesh.

One of those places in our life that was holding us back was a broken relationship with Bryan’s dad.  For four years, we have, admittedly, had some serious conflict.  We did our best to deal with it as it brewed, but we were all under a tremendous amount of stress.  As our counselors from Live At Peace Ministries said, “We have never seen a family before who has experienced as much trauma and loss in recent years as yours.”  No kidding.  And, it was complicated.  Add in decades of some unhealthy patterns, differing personalities, suspicion, judgment, and Satan’s craftiness and POOF!: You get brokenness.  It took great courage on the parts of 6 different family members to enter into an agreement to spend a weekend hashing things out.  All of us Christians, we could not figure out why things had to be this way.  But, there was a tremendous amount of fear and doubt discouraging us from facing our problems head on.  How much more pain could any of us take? 

Despite many obstacles, God led us all to a conference table at the airport Hilton for the weekend.  It was horribly painful.  The process was grueling.  And, to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for the outcome until about an hour before it was all over.  But, God knocked our socks off.  His heart is reconciliation and restoration.  And, He can do a lot with willing hearts and obedience…in spite of all of our sin and brokenness.  Thank you to all who prayed for our family as we went through this time.  I have confidence now for a future serving Christ together and enjoying our families with one another.  I am sure I will write more about this later, but it certainly counts as one of the most important parts of this “season” for me…

Last, but not least, for a few years now Bryan and I have been discussing adding to our family.  Immediately after Audrey died, we felt that we would not ever want more children.  But, God’s work in our life has changed our minds and hearts.  This decision to open ourselves to whatever God may have in store for us has been a complicated one.  Initially, we wanted to make sure that we were not trying to replace Audrey.  That is impossible.  Then, there were marital issues to resolve and fight through.  And, there was the not-so-small issue of a necessary medical intervention.  After we had three children in three years and I began to have health problems, we got sort of scared of each other.  Prayerfully, we made the decision to have a vasectomy.  I still don’t think we did the wrong thing.  We were operating on faith—and on all the information we had at the time.  But, these last few years have changed us tremendously.  A vasectomy reversal would be expensive, though…and invasive.  And, Bryan, especially, wasn’t very excited about that prospect.  So, we waited.  A long time, it seems.  And, after about a year of hardly mentioning it at all to each other, Bryan made the appointment to have a consult with a surgeon. 

We met with that surgeon in August (a day after our 13th wedding anniversary).   He had what you would consider to be the typical bedside manner of a surgeon…business-like.  He walked into the room, head down, with a laptop in hand.  He did not greet us, shake our hands, or introduce himself to us.  I got worried.  But, as he “reviewed our file” and began to talk with us, he proved to be more human than he seemed at first.  I don’t think he sees many patients in our situation.  It took him a minute to understand that I am the “original” wife and that we already have three children between us.  Once he “got it” and he heard of our loss, he began to cry.  And, the tears were real.  He had to keep apologizing for not being able to collect himself.  We found out he has a child Audrey’s age.  After he told us about what HE can do, and after WE told HIM what GOD can do, we scheduled a vasectomy reversal for October 24.  With money down, our decision was made. 

When the surgeon greeted me in the waiting room on Monday after the 2 ½ hour procedure, I was preparing myself to get news that I didn’t want to hear.  I told God that if it didn’t work, I would still say He was good and I would still tell people He is in control and has our best in mind.  But, I begged Him not to require that of me…again.  And, in His mercy, He did not.  The surgery was a success, and the surgeon said it could not have been easier.  I cried tears of relief and great joy…even though I really don’t have any idea what God will do with our crazy decision.  It was a leap of faith.  We felt led to go that direction.  I asked God not to let us spend the money if He didn’t want us to do so.  And, we still saw that green light telling us to “go”.  Only time will tell what this little adventure has been for…

As I type, we are four days post-surgery.  Or, I suppose I should give credit where it is due… BRYAN is four days post-surgery!  He is still somewhat immobile, so as I write, he is parked in front of the Play Station.  I took a break for lunch and sat down with him.  “You know what is almost as exciting as playing ‘Batman’?” I asked him sarcastically (all the while preparing my rhetorical answer: “Watching you play ‘Batman’”.  But, before I could finish, he replied, quite seriously, “Being Batman?”  That pretty much sums up my husband.  And, it is one of the things I love most about him.  He has that childlike quality…that ability to dream, to imagine…and that translates well when it comes to his manhood.  It makes him an excellent dad, a wonderful husband for a type-A like me, and an all-around great person to know.  I would be honored to go through all this crazy mess with him again…ALL of it…so long as we keep moving toward victory in Jesus!  And, by His grace, we are.

Thank you for all of your support in the past, for all of your encouraging emails and Facebook messages.  Thank you for your patience with me and for still reading after that long break.  Trust me, if you have enjoyed anything I have written so far, there is much more where that came from.  I have jotted down about 10 ideas in the last month alone…on napkins, on my phone, on random junk mail….whenever and wherever the inspiration has struck.  And, God is NOT done with this blog or our story.  Our story is HIS story.  And, HIS story is wonderful…and creative…and so complicated.  How could it ever just stop?!

I hope you will get back in the habit of checking “A Confident Hope.”  Tell your friends about it!  And, I pray that whatever season you find yourself in, you will find that God is right in the middle of it with great purpose. 

Remember: He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Ecclesiasties 3:11 a

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 NIV

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Kind of Princess Are You?--A Mother's Day Reflection

With Mother’s day in the rearview mirror, I am still pondering womanhood. The holiday hit me pretty hard this year. I felt equally sad for our losses and thankful for our blessings. I sobbed over Audrey’s death. Bryan wept over his mother’s death. I opened precious cards from Caroline and Mary Claire and enjoyed their affection.  And, we all ate cake! No, we didn’t actually eat cake, but you get what I mean. We grieved and celebrated on the same day. Emotions at both poles can be confusing, to say the least. But, in the deep seat of my soul, beneath the feelings about what I have gained and lost, I sensed an overwhelming desire to BE the woman God made me to be…to figure out what that really means. I want to see with a wise and grateful heart the place from which I have come, the place I am now, and the place I am going. I want to act on things that I will be proud of when my life is said and done. In a word, I guess I am talking about legacy.

When God made me a woman, what did He intend for me to be? What part of His image do I reflect? What is my purpose? My worth? I have been reflecting on the ways in which my own mom shaped my world view and gave me the skills I still use today. I have contemplated how she is continually influencing who I am becoming. And, I have been asking the tough questions. Lord, how do I convey the value of womanhood to my daughters? Let them know of their great value to You? How do I help them see their role in Your world at this time in history? How do I build their strength to face whatever comes their way?

As I mull over all these things, my heart is drawn to the Proverbs. Written as a relational guidebook, Proverbs consists of wisdom from a father to a son about how to fear God, respect your parents, and find a good wife. For those of us whose chromosomes are XX, Proverbs 31:10-31 is a familiar passage of Scripture. As Christian women, we often see it as a standard of godly womanhood…and often a tall order we cannot possibly fulfill. But, a quick reading of the passage, or even a thoughtful memorization of it cannot provide the insight we need to understand its intent. For all its familiarity, I think we often miss its true meaning. Proverbs 31 was written as a Hebrew poem, and it is actually a representation of wisdom in female persona. In other words, all of the other advice given in the book of Proverbs is summarized in Proverbs 31—in female form.

Sometimes we read through what this chick does, and we think, yeah, right! I’m not everybody’s slave. I’m not burning the candle at both ends. I can’t be all those things. But, I think we have the wrong visual image of the woman being depicted. May I present you with the woman I used to see when I read Proverbs 31?

You guessed it. Cinderella. Before said prince sweeps her off her feet. This woman works her fingers to the bone and endures the harsh words of her mean sisters and stepmother. And, she does it all with the grandest work ethic and the sweetest disposition. All she needs to endure her life of servitude and mistreatment is an occasional song with a couple of adorable mice. She is the original super woman.

You can imagine my relief when I discovered that my imagery was all wrong. This is the woman I should have been picturing:

Where in the world did you get that idea, you may ask? None other than the original Hebrew, my sister! Let’s take a look at Proverbs 31:10, shall we? Now, I don’t know what Bible translations you’ve been reading, but all the ones I’ve ever seen look like this: “An excellent (noble, capable, virtuous) wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” Ok, I like jewels. I like the idea that I am worth a lot. And, being excellent, capable, and virtuous are all good things. But, did you know that the Hebrew word used here is “Chayil” and that it means strength and might? The same word, used in Judges 6:12 to refer to Gideon, is translated “mighty man of fearless courage” (AMP), “mighty man of valor” (KJV), “mighty hero” (NLT), and “valiant warrior” (NASB). What a far cry from our Cinderella-in-rags view of the Proverbs 31 woman!

There is an unmistakable military motif in Proverbs 31:10-31. This woman is a fighter! A scrapper! She is fearless and courageous. She is strong. She not only provides for her family, she fights battles on its behalf. She brings them the “rich plunder of a victorious army” all the days of her life (v. 11-12). This is an image I can get behind. It more accurately describes the fierce spirit God has put inside of me.

There is no doubt.  You are a princess, sister.  You are a daughter of the King.  So, which kind of princess are YOU? Are you the princess-in-rags just waiting to be discovered, or have you gotten in touch with your inner warrior princess? Cause, girl, you’ve got work to do! And, the work you do matters in this world! The strength with which you fight your battles will be your legacy.

Happy Mother’s Day—to ALL God’s mighty women!

To the Warrior Queen:

Mom, how can I thank you for showing me how to be a strong woman? You are the original warrior princess. You always told me I could do anything, that I was capable. Then, you showed me how. Strength didn’t always mean getting your way. In fact, you most often showed your strength in your willingness to put others first, to love with a fierceness that never lets go. You have shown us all who we truly are by believing the best in us, even when we weren’t there yet. I love watching your faith grow, listening to the things God is teaching you, and walking through this journey together. I’d thank you for raising me if I thought your task was done, but I still call on you to be my mom, and you answer excellently. There is no substitute for your influence. I can only pray that I will honor your commitment to me with my life—may it always be a sweet reminder that the work you have done has consequence.

I am infinitely excited about sharing this next adventure with you as you “retire” to Austin. We will discover together what God has planned for you and for our whole family as He continues to reveal the “whole truth” to us. Fight on, mighty woman of valor!

To My Warrior Princesses:

Caroline, how I love watching you bloom into the little girl God has made you to be! Helping you with your writing assignment on the back porch last week will go down as one of my favorite moments in time with you. I loved seeing your excitement as we played with the gift of words, twisting them to bring more meaning and life to the story you had stored up in your imagination. I dream that someday we can share this love of writing—maybe even write together for God’s glory-- but most of all, I count on us sharing the love of each other’s company. I refuse to believe that ends at age 13. When you looked at me recently while I sang Mandisa’s “Only the World” with gusto and said, “Mom, you’re a cool mom,” you touched my soul. I can only pray that you will always think so.

You are a helpful, compassionate, and insightful kid. God has good things planned for you. May you always know that I am your fiercest advocate. I will fight for you. There are many things I wish you did not have to endure that you have already suffered. A younger, less-experienced me would have grieved over that forever. But, as un-motherly as it sounds, I do not wish for you to be sheltered from suffering. For, that would make you a weak woman. Instead, I wish for you to glean every ounce of wisdom from whatever you must endure, that you may be a mighty, mighty warrior princess for the kingdom! And, you will be! May God fill you with a deep sense of purpose and joy throughout your life. May God grant you the desire of your heart since you were four—that you would be able to hear God’s voice.

Mary Claire, what a delight you are! I caught a glimpse of your warrior spirit last week when you spontaneously decided you were ready to pierce your ears. When you get your mind set on something, you do it, girl! I saw your true beauty in your bravery as you sat with a big grin on your face and giggled nervously with the guns held steadily over both ears. After it was over and a few tears were shed, your crying turned into uproarious laughter. Your next words will never leave me: “Mom, when I do something that I thought wasn’t possible it feels so good.” Yes, it does, child! And, there is no limit to what you can do when your heart is turned toward Jesus! He has made you for a purpose, and I am going to love figuring that out with you.

You are constantly making me laugh, Mary Claire. Your love for bringing joy to others and for performing dramatically is evident. I can see you acting or singing someday. Whatever you do, you will do it with gusto. Don’t ever lose that sense that you are capable of the impossible. No matter what this life throws at you, fight! You will do big things for God someday. You are already big in our family and big in our hearts.

Audrey, I cannot wait to do “normal” things with you when I get there. I still hope God lets me raise you…in a perfect place. But, until then, I can’t help but think of Revelation 13:6 when I think of you. It says that the devil opens his mouth to blaspheme God’s name, his dwelling place (Heaven), and those who live in Heaven. That’s the God you see face-to-face, the place you live, and who you are, dear one! I wish I could just be your mommy here, but apparently my new role is to fight the enemy for your honor! There are many here, sweetheart, who do not know Jesus and who don’t believe in Heaven or know what it is like. I promise to fight until many more do. I hope it makes you proud.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Behind the Curtain

About 5 weeks after Audrey died, Bryan and I traveled to New York City. It was my first trip to the Big Apple. We had planned to go well before the accident occurred. There were a lot of reasons to cancel it altogether. How could I leave Caroline and Mary Claire with someone else? How could I try to have any fun? In hindsight, I am not sure why we made the final decision to go anyway. It was terribly hard to get out of the door. But, we knew we needed the time together, and we didn’t want the devil to win. It may sound silly, but I actually thought if I changed my plans that somehow I would be setting a standard for the rest of my life. I felt like I had to decide right then and there to keep moving even though I didn’t want to breathe anymore.

That first trip to New York included some really great sights and sounds (like Rockefeller Center at Christmastime), but it was excruciatingly hard. I cried my eyes out at every major landmark and scenic overlook in the Empire State. Everything we did was shrouded in grief. In the end, we were proud of ourselves for going, but it was so sad.

That was December 2007. This last weekend, Bryan and I made our second trip together to New York City. We met two of our best friends for a spontaneous getaway. I know, it sounds extravagant. It was. Not many people get to do what we just did. I even flew home in the first class cabin. (Bryan travels weekly for work, and there are perks.)

Knowing how blessed I was to be taking off for the weekend, I anticipated lots of fun this time around. But, I also braced myself as I entered Times Square for the second time and caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty for the second time. I wanted so much to replace those wounded memories of our trip following Audrey’s death. But, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Would I be overcome by that same sadness, conjure up the freshness of the grief?

I am grateful to say that we successfully made some new memories this weekend without dredging up too many of the old ones. It was great hanging out in such a busy, diverse city with good friends. We laughed a lot and didn’t do too much planning ahead. We took a bus tour, ate lunch in Chinatown, consumed an authentic Reuben at the Jewish delicatessen where part of “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed, browsed FAO Schwartz, shopped in Soho, and saw two fabulous Broadway shows: “Mary Poppins” and “Jersey Boys”.

One of the highlights of our trip was a unique backstage tour of the set of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. Lead actors in the musical include Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) and John Laroquette. We didn’t meet those guys, but one of our friends’ old college buddies from Baylor (Chris Hanke) also has a lead role in the musical (which plays through December). He was gracious enough to meet us at the stage door an hour before the show and give us an inside look. What a genuinely nice guy he is! He took us into his personal dressing room and we actually walked onto the stage of the quaint old theatre. Only an hour before show time, we were standing behind the curtain of a real Broadway show! How cool is that?! What a vantage point!

Behind the curtain. That one phrase really sums up my second trip to New York City. It was as if I saw New York City for the first time this weekend. It is as if I was looking at it from behind the curtain…from a whole new vantage point…with an insider’s look at what was really going on spiritually in one of the heaviest populated cities in the world. In 2007, I was reeling from the most life-changing, earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting event I had ever encountered. All I could see in New York was my own pain and loss. This time, I think I saw into God’s heart a little more. Let me explain.

While we were sitting at “Mary Poppins”, I felt immense joy as we appreciated the God-given talents of the actors and actresses, dancers, musicians, writers, directors, set designers, and costume designers. The show was innocent and had a heart-warming message. The music was infectious, and the dancing made me want to stand up and join in. The actors and actresses were hilarious. The children who played Jane and Michael Banks performed brilliantly. I was so impressed with the artistry involved in preparing the show. “What a creative God we serve!” I thought.

I had the same thought the next night as we watched “Jersey Boys”, a musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” have become such a part of our shared cultural experience. Isn’t God good to give us music to share and enjoy? The actor who played Frankie Valli sounded JUST like Frankie himself. His voice was so pure—out of this world perfect. Who has falsetto like that? Not many people. God gave that man great talent. I’m so glad he shared it with Bryan and me and our friends.

I could not help but think as we sat in those theatres that Heaven is going to be so awesome! What amazing breadth and depth of creativity and talent our big God has placed in His people. I can just see us singing and dancing and painting and making sets and putting on shows in Heaven. Can’t you? I can see us all sharing with each other what we do best and enjoying what God made in and through us. Pretty cool thought.

But, seeing New York City from “behind the curtain” also meant that I became keenly aware of the evidence all around me that this world is in need of a Savior. In the midst of the wealth and the entertainment and the food and the creativity and the hard-working New Yorkers (like our newly immigrated 22-year-old pedi-cab driver from Turkmenistan), I saw the dark underbelly of the fallen world. In 2007, we were too sad to tour Ground Zero. I didn’t think I could handle it. This time, with respect and reverence, we observed with our own eyes the devastation of evil. We saw a damaged sculpture blocks and blocks away from the original Twin Towers, and I realized for the first time what it must have been like when a 100 story building collapsed in the middle of such a busy city. I still cannot believe that we were in New York City on the day we finally located Osama Bin Laden. Historic.

Ground Zero wasn’t the only evidence of the world’s ills in NYC. I saw individual people hurting, living in a lost and broken world. As we walked down the street after a show, I saw so many homeless. Many of them were mentally ill. I also saw trash cans being dumped by garbage collectors in the early morning hours. The side of the trash cans advertised fortune tellers. I saw a poster on a stairway leading to a basement establishment that advertised “Oriental beauties who perform rare love rituals”. I saw people who had too much to drink and didn’t look like they were very happy. I saw people touring the city on vacation, all the while bickering with their family members. I saw an impatient man in a cab yell angrily at a taxi operator to “do his job”, removing any shred of dignity he may have had. I saw a young woman in front of a pizza place talking on the phone crying. And, I witnessed a mother get sick and faint in a restaurant while her husband and son struggled to help her. NYC police, firemen, and EMT’s arrived to assist. They worked on her while her husband held her wobbly head and her son (who appeared to be about 11) sat across the table and cried. The waiter and an officer kept their hands on his shoulder and tried to reassure him. But, he was terrified. Eventually, the mother was whisked away to an ambulance.

I saw things this time. Really saw things, you know? I wish I didn’t. It was burdensome. But, I did. I saw people this time. Really saw them. I feel like I witnessed life from a whole different vantage point. Some of the things I saw made me want to weep uncontrollably. I felt a sudden sense of urgency and a desire to throw off EVERYTHING that hinders me from seeing things with proper perspective.

I was telling Bryan later that I was afraid to tell the folks I was with how I was really feeling…what I was really thinking. And, the folks I was with were my husband and two of our best friends in the whole world! It’s no slam to them. They would have understood if I explained it. But, I know they want to escape sometimes and have fun. I don’t want to hinder that. We were on vacation, for goodness sake! I’m also scared people will think I have not healed, that I am wallowing in my grief. But, I know with confidence that this is a healthy new place I’m not going to be able to push past. It’s my new normal. Sometimes I am not sure people are ready for the way my life has changed…on the inside. Sometimes I feel like if I told people what I was really thinking that it would be “too much”…even for other Christians. It can be pretty lonely in here.

Regardless of my petty fears and my struggles with pride, I cannot willingly shut down the Holy Spirit. I can’t do that. I cannot look at the world the same anymore! God has given me a rare and beautiful look at things from behind the curtain. I can see foretastes of Heaven—the best of God’s creation, everything He called “good”. I can see sin and its devastation—in myself, in others, in our culture. I can see how God is bringing His plan to fruition--how He is actively drawing people to Himself. I can see opportunities all around me to point others to Him. For me, the veil has been lifted between the temporal and the eternal. I SEE things now. (Mary Beth and Steven Curtis: I get it! Maria…I SEE.)

I am going to do something I haven’t done before: ask for YOUR advice. What do I do with this new way of seeing? What do I do now? I know there may be lots of people reading this and thinking, “What in the world is she talking about?” But, I also know there are many of you who have had your life-altering moment, and now, you, too, SEE. So, what do I do? How do I take my behind-the-scenes look at God’s world and use it for His glory? How do I take my new sense of urgency and turn it away from feeling weird and different and into feeling powerful and vital to the kingdom? (I can kind of answer this for myself…but I would appreciate any commentary…) What do YOU do?

Thank you to those of you who are sharing my journey…those of you who are walking alongside me, seeing things the way I see them. You lighten my load and make my path brighter. We must encourage each other (all the more as we see the Day approaching.)

Bryan: Thanks for “getting me”. You know how I love to be understood. I know I am a big mystery to you sometimes, but you do such a good job of making me feel special. I can’t wait to see how our new vantage point affects what we DO from here on out. Let’s get radical! Let’s go all out!

Kwans: Thank you for going on vacations with Bryan and me. Vacations and other outings that are “fun” for “normal” people bring out my analytical side and make me wonder what God is doing inside of me. Thank you for accepting me just as I am and for walking through grief and transformation with our family. Thank you for working so hard to make me laugh and experience true joy. And, thank you for being willing to look at the stuff other people might want to ignore. Thanks for growing with us.

Dear God, help me to be less interested in being understood than I am in understanding what you have put me here to do. I know it doesn’t have to look normal to everyone else. Help me not to care what everybody else thinks. (I hope I don’t have to pray that prayer for the rest of my life.) God, I wonder why, when the world advises me to grow a “thicker skin”, do you continue to give me a softer and softer heart? I feel naked sometimes. I’m scared of what I will see, but please keep showing me what is behind the curtain. Then, PUHHHHLEEEEEESE tell me what to do about it while I still have breath.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Quit Your Flapping

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Ok, so I’ve never seen an eagle up close and personal. But, I have seen hawks. Massive hawks. Wasn’t more than an hour or two after I posted Monday’s blog that I saw them. In our neighborhood, they are a familiar sight. I am intrigued by them. Their sometimes eerie presence also conjures up images of pure freedom. I watched them soaring over roofs, skimming treetops, leaning left and right, gliding slowly lower, almost falling, and then suddenly rising as if by some invisible but powerful force. Surprised, I observed that they were not flapping their wings. Really. Those big birds were traveling large distances, moving up and down, and they were not working at it one bit! I kept watching. An occasional single flap would keep them afloat, but, for the most part, they looked as if they were resting in the sky. I was baffled.

I have never understood flight. On Thursday, I was waiting at the Austin airport to get on a big plane. My flight was delayed (6 hours!) due to some pretty severe weather on the East coast. Not like I needed another reason to be nervous about putting myself into a tin can and hurtling myself through the air at 30,000 feet. I utterly deplore it. I don’t get it. How does a plane stay in the air? A friend who is an aerospace engineer explained it to me once. I have been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. And, I still don’t get it. It is more accurate to say that I don’t believe it! I am not afraid to die. But, I am absolutely, unequivocally afraid to fall. I don’t like the Tower of Terror at Disney World (why is it fun to pretend you are on a haunted elevator that is broken?). I will be honest. Getting on that plane required an immense amount of trust.

Have you ever thought for a minute about how very many things in life require our trust? Not only did I have to suspend disbelief that a plane that heavy could get off the ground, but I had to trust that the people who built the plane and who maintain it had done their jobs well. Every time we drive on the highway, we trust that other drivers will stay in their lanes.  Last week, I paid an electrician an exorbitant amount of money to fix a short in a breaker. I think he most certainly overcharged me for his 20 minute stint at my house. But, what do I know about the value of an electrician? All I know is that a whole wall of plugs didn’t work, and I didn’t know how to fix it. Have you ever taken your car in for a tune-up? Gotten that long list of things they just “have” to do to your vehicle before you leave? Seen the bill? How do you know they are telling you the truth? I, for one, know I don’t. I have to trust they are getting a fair wage, and I have to trust that when they put new tires on my van they did it right and those very same tires won’t just fall off three miles down the road.

As I write, I am about to get in a New York City taxi cab and travel back to the Newark airport. Talk about trust! I will be hopping into a car with a strange man I may not share a language with to go to a place with which I am completely unfamiliar. Have you seen how crazy these drivers are?! I am surprised there are not more pedestrian fatalities in NYC. The cab drivers actually speed up when they see someone crossing the street.

The list goes on. Truth is, life is just one trust exercise after another. We don’t realize it because we are conditioned to go about our business and accept the way things are. Besides, if you think about it too hard, you get paralyzed by fear.

If my life in the last few years has taught me anything, it is that we are all—each and every one--under the illusion that we have control. We claw for a sense of power because we feel too vulnerable when we realize how very little control we have over our lives. Life’s not all about me and my own success, ability, strength, striving, and plans. I am not the only variable. I have no choice but to trust.

This makes me uneasy. And, if you are honest, it makes you uneasy, too. I like to know what to expect. I want to have at least a reasonable expectation of what is going to happen. I like to think that if I try harder, work harder, and think harder that it will make a difference. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. People are not always trustworthy. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they cheat you. They are dishonest. They are weak. They cannot see into the future. People are not fully trustworthy. Things are not reliable. They break. They deteriorate. Things are not fully trustworthy.

So, how do I face my life and its uncertainties? How do I get on the plane, so to speak?

I can play the game of odds. It is very unlikely that my plane will fall out of the sky. More people die in car accidents. Look how many planes fly every day and get where they are going.

I can rely on intellect. I can go and interview my engineer friend again and get all the facts about physics…learn about lift…better grasp that it is a good thing for the wings of the plane to flex wildly in the wind so they won’t break.

I can distract myself. I can play my music, read, doodle, write, do anything and everything not to think about the ugly truth: I am not in control of the plane.

Or, as my psychiatrist suggested several years ago, I can medicate myself before a flight. I know some people need this, but my doctor suggested it even though I didn’t mention a thing about being scared to fly. She just assumed that since I was on anti-anxiety drugs already I would need more for a flight! She could not have been more wrong. I refused her oh-so-kind offer. Even if I had taken drugs to numb the jitters, I would have been ignoring my inner battle with trust.

Don’t we all ignore that inner battle with trust? At least sometimes?

This week a dear friend of mine had another heartbreaking miscarriage. I cannot begin to tell you how sad I am for her to have to walk down this path…again. I love her heart and her courage and her willingness to be shaped by her pain. She is really battling through this experience with authenticity and faith. As we sat having lunch, she told me something interesting about her grief process. Shortly after she became aware that the baby’s heartbeat had stopped, she felt a deep desire to organize her home. She made some real progress over the weekend, sorting her kids’ toys and getting things in order. She felt a great sense of accomplishment after she had put her energy into de-cluttering. It was, as I saw it, a really healthy thing for her to do with herself. But, she told me something that struck me:

“Admittedly,” she said, “I was reaching for a sense of control. I just wanted to feel like I had power over something.” How honest! And, oh, can I identify! Can’t you?

Nothing is at all wrong with what my friend did to soothe her pain. She has most certainly addressed her inner battle with trust, time and again. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t even be aware that her frenzied cleaning was an attempt to control her situation…if even just a little. But, I wonder…How many people spend a LIFETIME doing this kind of self-soothing and never explore the real source of their fear? How many people rely on self-sufficiency, the game of odds, intellect, distraction, or drugs of some kind to dull the ache of vulnerability? I fear that many wounded people are walking around still unaware that they need someone in whom they can place all of their trust—someone 100% trustworthy.

If life is truly all about trust, then it is ALL about learning to trust God. Not an easy task, my friends…even for a Christ-follower. You see, growing in trust with God is only possible as we grow in intimacy with Him. We must KNOW Him in order to trust Him. There is far too much pain in the world, far too much uncertainty, far too much that is unexplained to place our trust all nilly-willy like in a God we don’t know. So, I have no problem when people say that they don’t believe in or trust God. Of course they don’t. They don’t know Him. I wouldn’t trust Him either.

But, here’s the thing: I do know Him now. The Bible says He is near to the broken-hearted. It is so true. I have sought Him in my pain, and I have found Him. That is another promise of the Word. Those who seek Him find Him. I will be honest with you. I am not in love with God’s plan for my life. In fact, I hate a lot of what He has allowed. But, He has also given me much to be grateful for…and I cannot ignore that. I am most thankful that I am now confident of His eternal plan for those who love Him. Yes, I know Him…more every day. And, I am learning to trust Him. Psalm 91:4 says that His faithfulness is a shield. I can’t honestly explain the rest of the Psalm, but I do identify with the writer’s understanding that God’s faithfulness is his protection. I can trust God because He is faithful. I still have trouble getting on that plane. And, I don’t like feeling vulnerable any more than the next guy. But, I know now that those other methods of self-protection just don’t work. I have no choice but to trust God.

If you don’t know God intimately, may I invite you to seek out who He really is? I have found that the God of the Bible is absolutely trustworthy. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. ..even more than we already have. But, I believe that God’s plan for us and His great love for us will far outweigh the troubles we see in this life. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) As Christians, that is the truth we profess. And, it is the ONLY thing that compensates for our pain. It is the only thing that soothes our vulnerability and conquers our inner battle with trust.

You see, many people will tell you that the answer lies in being tough and smart. Only the weak need God. Only the stupid believe in Him. On the contrary! I believe with all my heart that the smartest among us…the strongest…are the ones who are the most surrendered. Look again at the eagle (ok, the hawk!). Watch how he soars. He does not grow weary or faint. He relies on the invisible power beneath him. He has quit his flapping.