Monday, February 9, 2015

Free in the Furnace

Sometimes there are events that happen in life which just don’t make sense. Events that are like a consuming fire burning up all the tomorrows we thought we’d have. A million dreams, a thousand kisses and caresses, and hundreds of memories yet to be had… all ablaze in an instant. She will always have a place in all of our lives. Even though we never got a chance to know her, her life in the womb was not in vain. She was loved, is loved and will always be loved. She was wanted, cherished, and adored. She was special, irreplaceable, unique and totally beautiful. She leaves a hole in our hearts that only the Lord can fill.

Thinking about what my brother and my sister-in-law are going through, I keep thinking about my two favorite scriptures in the bible found in Daniel 3:24-25. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

This passage gets me every time. I close my eyes and picture the scene as the three men are violently thrown in this horrific inferno. How even the guards who were ordered to throw them in succumbed to death as the entrance to the furnace was too hot to withstand. I picture the king’s expression, the disbelief, as he rubs and squints his eyes as he questions what he sees. Then there are the three men who once were bound but somehow became free- free in the furnace. Walking about with these free men is this fourth person, the Creator of the universe, Immanuel.  He could have prevented that whole situation. He could have performed a miracle and had the men go free before even entering the hell hole. He chose not to. He chose a different path, to physically show us who He is- a God who does not watch from afar as we are thrown in these fiery furnaces of life.

We assert ourselves and want to know ‘why’ we want it all to make sense. We want to say, “Oh, this happens so that could happen and this was meant for this…” The hard truth is we can never know the full picture. How can God’s perfect plan include such horrible tragedies? We demand answers that even if He explained it would be incomprehensible to us. I equate it with a loving mom or dad holding down a screaming child so he can get a painful procedure done that is for the child’s benefit in the long run. There’s no way that small child can understand why a loving parent would hold him down while he screams out for mercy. Only the parent knows that this pain is temporary. Only that parent knows how much they love their child and how much they wish their child could trust them.

We throw our fists up in the air knowing He could have prevented this pain, yet we somehow forget we are arguing with someone who laid down His life for ours. We doubt His goodness because we cannot fathom something horrible being allowed by an all loving God. God-forbid any circumstance shake the core of what we believe and know about His character… that He is truly all loving, all knowing, infinitely holy God who by His very essence cannot be understood. Understanding His character gives us a hope, a faith that no matter what happens; His love is deeper than the ocean. No circumstance can change who He is or the extent of His love. If we only had an eternal perspective how much more life would make sense. God has a way of reminding us of the truth in the most unlikely of places, namely from the lips of a six year old boy.

My boy Silas asked innocently why I was crying. I told him, “Well Buddy, today is a sad day.” Without hesitation he said, “If you change what you’re thinking about, then you’ll be happy.” Even at six years old he instinctively knew that our feelings are controlled by our thinking. It was a profound moment as that little boy’s words sunk deep down in my spirit.

So I took my six year old boy’s advice... I thought about heaven and my brother who passed five years ago, Mike. I pictured Hannah with my nephew Sean playing together. I pictured paradise, laughing and unspeakable joy. I could almost hear the angelic music as I imagined the party atmosphere. I pictured Mike throwing the kids up in the air and I heard his laugh that I miss hearing so much. I envisioned only kind words, peace and everything eternal and forever. No end, no tragedies, no anxiety or stress. This is the true reality. This heart wrenching moment in our fleeting lives seems like the reality, but Christ calls us to faith in the unseen. In the interim where pain and death abide we must be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We must walk through the fiery furnace and not be consumed- all because of that fourth man, our only hope, Christ Jesus our Savior and deliverer.

I won’t pretend to know the feeling of losing my baby. The pain must be unimaginable. All I can do is cling to the promises of God. In times of despair preach to myself the truth that He loves us and He sticks closer than a brother. He died for us and will never leave us or forsake us. He identifies with us and loves our children more than we ever could. We will spend forever in heaven because of what Christ did for us. Heaven is the greatest reunion, the happiest, most joyous celebration that will never end.

With all that we know, with all the promises of God afresh in my spirit- my heart is still bruised and battered for our family. Sad that we won’t see Hannah’s bright beautiful eyes or hear her sweet little giggles this side of heaven. We won’t see her brother, Logan hold or try and feed his baby sister. Her purple butterfly room will remain empty and quiet and there will be tears, aches and pains of the deepest kind.

One day we’ll see her again and envy her life that she got to spend every moment with her Creator living in absolute beauty and perfection. Until then, we will continue to miss her. God help us to treasure and protect the hope that we will inevitably forget to have in moments of misery. God we need you now to help us remember your words, help us to hold fast the truth, and help us to trust in what we cannot see to set us free in this fiery furnace- believing in Immanuel, God-with-us.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What blessing?

I’ve been thinking a lot about blessings lately. “Blessed.” I hear it all the time. “Johnny got a new bike? He’s blessed! You have a couple of kids? You’re blessed! Promotion? Marriage? Great friends? Blessed, blessed, blessed!  Are we all blessed? Why? What makes us blessed? If someone doesn’t have those things, are they not as blessed? These are the things I was pondering while making tacos for dinner. I even stopped to wipe my hands with the kitchen towel to look up the definition on my phone. It read, “highly favored or fortunate (as by divine grace). I let that definition sink in as I chopped my tomatoes and grated the cheese. “Blessed.” I think to myself how blessed I am when I see my boys piled high in hugs and love. Then there are other times when I’m cleaning poop off remote control car controllers and breaking up fights… I don’t feel so blessed then. So, which is it? Are blessings only for good times and good attitudes? Is life a light switch of blessings and curses?

Every New Year’s Day, no matter the year, I always relive 2010. Receiving that terrible phone call, looking into Brandon’s deer-in-headlights-eyes. Feeling numb and helpless I hear him tell me in no good way, “Your brother Mike, died.” I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I couldn’t process those words. I just took it in and mentally went to another place where I wouldn’t let myself feel. It was supposed to be a new year. It was supposed to be full of potential, energy, high hopes… not tragedy. He left behind four young kids, a wife, family and friends that loved and adored him. It was the saddest thing to think about.

A month later, my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer. She would need to have a mastectomy. The following month I had a miscarriage. To say the least, it was a rough start to 2010. That year I wrestled with a lot. The hardest was watching my mom and dad deal with the grief of losing their son. How they would sit around reliving his childhood, breaking out the old pictures, remembering all the stories: funny, ridiculous, scary. Raw unfiltered emotions flying… it was a year of tears, change, new normals, and rolling with the punches.

I had to know, what was considered a blessing in God’s perspective? Are we still blessed when we go through hard times? When I came across Matthew 5, it hit me like a ton of bricks… 

He is our blessing and if He lives in us, we will always be blessed no matter what happens in this life.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Were we blessed back in 2010? We were and have always been blessed. Circumstances don’t dictate that. Why the tragedies? Why the heartaches? I don’t know. What I do know is that God knows the whole picture. I have to ask myself, “Which way am I going to look at this?” Through my eyes? Through his children’s eyes? How about through Mike’s eyes? Well, Mike is in heaven. I’m certain his life now is infinitely better than the life he had here on earth. All of a sudden depending on which way I looked at the same situation, there it was… a blessing peeking through. Choosing to look at it through God’s eyes it’s clear that there’s always a blessing. What about the rest of us? God blesses us too. He promises to comfort us but most of all He promises us eternal life. Hope, faith, trust, assurance. This is our blessing.

This life that we live now is just a blink of an eye compared to eternity. He’s created us to live a life of blessing; to help us remember we’re blessed and to empower us to bless others. He created us to seek the truth and put it into practice to stand for what’s right. He blesses us in so many ways we couldn’t number them if we tried. There’s the blessing of children, great job, clean running water, warm clothes, nutritious food… the list is endless. But like Luke 11:28 says in reference to someone blessing Jesus’ mother Mary, He responds,“…More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” So, in light of Jesus’ words urging us to hear the word of God and keep it, let’s live in the light of His blessing no matter what may come our way this year.

The times when life is terribly sad. When the grief is too much to bear. Even in moments like these, the blessing is not the tragedy… the blessing is in the perspective, in our hope in Christ. Believing that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good. He is our hero and rescuer. Our love. He is the only One who can take the ashes we experience and somehow turn it into beauty.

Today is the first day of a new year, a year filled with mystery to us. God holds this year in the palm of His hands. Whatever may happen there is nothing that can occur that will take away the blessing we have always and forever. No one can snatch us out of our Father’s hand. What greater promise is there?

Lord, help us to look at life the way you look at life. Help us to be the salt, the light, the change. When others see the way we handle life, let them see your wisdom, grace, mercy and truth. Amen.

Have a BLESSED New Year my friends.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thanks Mom and Dad

I know recently you’ve been apologizing for the way you’ve raised us. Little comments here and there rolling your eyes at yourselves about how you can’t believe you forbade us to celebrate Halloween and how you both were ‘so ridiculous’ because you never did let us believe in an imaginary Santa Claus. I know you feel you’ve deprived me. Through the years it seems you are acquiring something the enemy loves to have us drag along with us- guilt. I have something so important I need to share with you. Please believe me when I say

you did well.

Now more than ever I can see a little more clearly the tough decisions you both made in raising us kids. I realize no one handed you a manual to answer all the tough questions. As far as I know, there were no glowing examples either of you could look up to, to emulate. This raising four kids in the ways of the Lord thing was uncharted territory- I get that. In light of that, I am truly amazed at the ways your extremely strong convictions held strong against the crashing tidal wave of consumerism, culture and disapproving pressure from others- including us!

This letter is not to say that the way you did everything was right and ‘look at me now!’ It’s a letter of gratitude to let you know that I so appreciate my upbringing. I have no regrets about my non-participation in Halloween activities, my non-existent lack of imagination due to never believing in Santa Claus or my thinking of Easter in terms of an empty tomb while others only knew about a big scary bunny. Not only do I not have any regrets, but dealing and wrestling with the ‘whys’ and ‘why not’s’ of each holiday solidified the side I chose to be on.

You presented the ‘narrow way’ and I willingly walked counter culturally. It was never easy to be different but that’s no reason to regret the choice you made. I realized back then that following Christ is never the easy way. It was uncomfortable to be the only one not celebrating Halloween or the only one not believing in an imaginary character. But looking back on it now, what an important lesson I learned.  To stand up for what I believed in, even if it was unpopular.

I grew up knowing, feeling and seeing the ways I was so very different than the majority of my classmates. You know what, mom and dad? That set the stage to forming who I was and who I was to become as an adult. I remember Brandon looking me dead in the eyes and telling me that he had never met anyone with such strong convictions in his life. Not to say I’m always right in my convictions, BUT it’s a little easier for me because you set the stage for me to walk counter culturally on many occasions during my growing up years. Don’t ever apologize for this. This was a blessing for me. If you’re ever proud of us kids for our perspective or pleased with the various ways we are going counter culturally- know that you built that in us. All those hard years and tough decisions created something beautiful and powerful in our core. It built our character even if it wasn’t done perfectly. I’m here to tell you that in the imperfections, my character was being refined. My values were being tested, and your convictions became mine as I sought to honor God the way you always sought to. As a kid, who has convictions? Who knows anything about values and following what’s right even when it’s unpopular?

I did.

So, thank you mom and dad for instilling in me a different way to go. You molded an independent thinker, someone who cares more about what God thinks than about what my neighbor thinks. You carved out the narrow way for me to walk and I am grateful for it. So, I didn’t get to dress up in costumes as a kid. I learned valuable lessons- spiritual battles and spiritual warfare are real. Don't give the enemy a foothold, remember to keep separate the ways of sin and fun and be careful to discern between the two. Be aware that the devil is real and is the author of confusion and deception. When friends and teachers would feel sorry for me and ask me ‘Why?’ all I could hear were your voices saying, “Sweet daughter, Jesus is worthy, choose the narrow way.”

How many little kids can say their parents taught them that?

I can.

Thanks mom and dad for fighting the world on our behalf. I probably complained and had a hard time settling the ways of the world with the ways of God. How separate they were! I’m sure I felt deprived, envious, like I was missing out, alone. I needed to work through those feelings to work out my own salvation. I needed to choose the narrow way for myself. 

I did.

Thanks for showing me the way mom and dad. What I lacked in feeling accepted, God provided for me through His overwhelming love. No need to beat yourselves up. Instead pat yourselves on the back for caring enough to teach the hard lessons even when it was unpopular. I can only hope to do the same for my boys. It’s not easy but anything worth having is worth fighting for, right? You both are exactly what I needed to be the woman I am today. I love you!!!!!!!!!!