The Photo Challenge

Years ago, I was asked by my friend, Robin, to be part of a challenge and post a photo of myself that I thought was beautiful. I literally cringed when I read the request and told her I hate having my photo taken. She said that’s WHY she wanted to include me in the challenge. She was curious as to my response.
 
Robin, I’ve never forgotten. It’s taken me these past years to decide how to respond. I’ve finally got my answer.
 
This is the photo I chose. I know. It misses the point of the challenge. I saw others’ photos and they were truly beautiful. I understand I was supposed to find a photo that I felt was flattering or that I simply feel represents me well. I may have missed the first goal, but the second hopefully one nails it.
 
* This photo is of my wrist. A wrist with a bone chip floating around in it from a fall 6 years ago that has had flare ups since the accident. It represents that I am broken.
 
* The sun damage represents I am scarred. My life hasn’t been easy, but it has never been forsaken by God and for that, the intangible scars I have are being used for His glory and my good.
 
* The bead bracelet is the one we made and wore in Guyana last year and I’ve never ever taken it off since. We wore them to communities, churches and prisons to share the Gospel story of Christ told in colors as we tied them on wrists to all we met. Black = our sin, life without Christ. Red = His blood shed for the atonement of my sins. White = my new life in Christ by accepting Him as my Savior. Yellow = the promise of heaven for all who have accepted Christ and Green = our growing relationship with Christ every day.
 
* My $10 watch because #1 – I don’t store up treasures on earth that we can’t take with us and #2 – time is short. This life is not my own. I surrendered it to Christ and it is for God’s glory however He wants to use it. Time is short and I don’t waste it.
 
* More than anything, I don’t need my face (or my body, oh please!) to be remembered. I want His features, the fruit of the Spirit, to be remembered in me.
 
I didn’t post a photo of “me” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is also fleeting. As I age (which I will fight to the death) I want to become more beautiful in ways that time, age and experience cannot damage or destroy. I want to be a woman that, no matter what I look like, will be remembered for being beautiful because the light of Christ shone through me. And every time I blow it (embarrassingly often :O), let it be a beacon of hope to others that His grace and forgiveness is bigger and can cover any sin.
There ya go. A photo of broken & beautiful. Of scared and sacred. Of hope for today and for a time still to come and a passion to share this hope with others. ❤
wrist 

If you’re going to carry it…

 

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At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry. ~ Numbers 4:49

Six weeks before leaving for Guyana, I reached into a closet and upon standing up my disc between the 4th and 5th vertebrae herniated and ruptured in an instant.

I have never felt that kind of painful sensation, nor ever been that scared of a physical issue. I was completely immobilized, frozen in debilitating pain.

Every breath. Every twitch. Every movement of my body shot agonizing pain through my lower back.

My very first thought…Oh no! Guyana!!!

My daughter and I had literally just returned from getting her four wisdom teeth extracted and she was on the couch unconscious and nonsensical. I could not pick up her pain meds at the pharmacy, change her gauze or even walk over to her.

It was one of the most helpless moments of my life.

Bounce around between a couple of urgent care visits and doctors and fast forward to the epidural spinal injection. That was new. Not a fan of the procedure, but it was well worth it.

All the while, time is counting down to our departure for Guyana. The plane ride, handling luggage, the long boat ride each way to the prison, countless hours squeezed into a van with over a dozen people, and stairs at the hotel all made me concerned I wouldn’t be able to physically handle this mission.

Each doctor gave me different pain meds, muscle relaxers and oral steroids. I was left with a bag full of prescriptions that I didn’t know what to do with, so I made a phone call.

Between the myriad of pills and reservations about physical limitations, I wanted to talk face-to-face with a spine doctor. I wanted his full attention.

I met with the doctor who gave me the spinal injection, carrying my bag full of prescriptions in tow. We went through each one and talked about plans A, B and C for using them in Guyana should the need arise.

We discussed physical scenarios and how to handle them. Then he said something that seared itself onto my heart. He was talking about my back, but as he was speaking, the Lord used those same words to talk to my heart.

Two voices were speaking to me at the same time, and as laser-focused as the steroid was injected into the tiny cavity around my disc, so God’s voice flooded my heart.

God had my full attention.

The doctor said, “If you’re going to carry something heavy, don’t hold it away from you like this. (He extended his arms straight out in front of him.) Carry it close to your heart, like this. (He brought his arms to his chest, hands pressing into his scrubs.)

I understood what the doctor was saying about the proper way to carry something heavy, like lifting with our legs and not our back. But, God used his words to teach me how to correctly carry the weight He has called me to carry- His burden for this world.

This was a much needed lesson.

I am a very guarded person – and not proud of it. What I’ve thought of as coping skills all these years is really a defense mechanism. The secret? Make the wall around my heart strong enough to withstand anything. Anything.

There is a cost to building this wall, I keep people at arm’s length. If I don’t let them get too close they can’t hurt me.

I’m all smiles on the outside, but inside I’ve got wall after wall locked down.

Don’t let anyone get close enough to hurt you, is what I’ve told myself for decades. It is a real struggle even with family and friends. When someone gets hurt enough as a child by caregivers and family they are supposed to be able to trust, it changes them. We don’t want it to, but it does.

However, God has given me His heart for missions. He took a broken, fearful, distrusting soul and poured His unconditional, insatiable love for all colors and creeds into this ol’ heart that I had lost hope would ever be whole.

Who knew that the glue God would use to put the pieces of this Humpty Dumpty back together would be His faithful, tender, merciful love.

His love for this world has become my love for it.

His passion to reach the unlovely, unwanted, and opposing has become my passion to share with them the Christ who came for all.

His energy and enthusiasm is the strength I rely on to complete the task.

His mercy makes me blind to baggage and regrets of those I serve.

Still, I wrestle with how close to let people in. My heart and soul are like a labyrinth that changes unpredictably depending on how emotionally safe I feel with someone.

But this time. Oh, but this time. God called me out when He called me to serve in Guyana. He exposed this raw nerve in my heart and called me to take a chance – not on those I would serve – but on Him.

Just let go. Open your hands. Open your heart. After all, you’re giving My love through you. It is I who has taken on the risk of being hurt and rejected. Not you, God seemed to say.

For the first time, His thought process made sense to me. It’s like I’ve known it in my head, but my heart couldn’t separate people’s rejection of God with their rejection of me.

My Father called me to obey and hold the burden of missions right up against my heart, not at arms length like I’ve always done.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2

The result? I am a puddle. I melted in a way I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable with others before. It may not have always shown on the outside as we moved through our tasks of serving, but inside a new work was rapidly multiplying in my heart. I will never serve the same old way again. I am changed.

And as for family and friends, well, if we love others the way Christ loves the church, then it’s the same principle. If we are accepted, it is Christ in us that is accepted. If we are rejected, it is Christ in us who is rejected. I get it now.

Head knowledge only goes so far. God had to saturate my heart with His love for others to make me see what living in community really means. What giving of ourselves really looks like. What the cost of following Christ really feels like.

I am so grateful for a back injury that led to heart healing. For the rest of my life, I will never forget this lesson every time I carry something physically heavy, the right way.

Is His call to missions worth the risk? Absolutely. Is it overwhelmingly heavy? Absolutely.

I can’t get the faces of those sweet children, tired moms, skeptical teens and hungry prisoners out of my mind. I see them constantly. I can’t stop feeling the burden of their needs and the needs of the other countries we served.

Yes, the burden for missions is extremely heavy. But, when we carry it the proper way the load is lighter. When we pull the people’s needs close to our chest, we feel God’s heartbeat pulsing as His love sustains us in the task. It is the right, good way. It protects us and gives God the glory.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:29-30

My husband and I have surrendered to the call of missions, whatever that looks like, for the rest of our lives. It is a choice we’ve made to answer His call, pick up the heavy load and let it become part of our weight. Then again, what other choice is there really but to share Christ with others who are starving to death for Him standing right in front of us?

I am thankful God saw that I needed to learn how to carry the weight like David prayed in Psalm 86:11, Teach me your way, Lordthat I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 

Amen.

Their idols were refreshing

Strange blog post title for a Christian to write. Allow me to explain…

While driving through the country of Guyana, it’s easy to see the differences between this country and America. For one, they drive on the opposite side of the road. Second, all traffic signs, etc. are merely suggestions. There are tons of small mom & pop shops – no Wal-Mart or Target to be found.  Dogs, donkeys, horses, cows, goats and chickens meander through the city and countryside at will, sometimes even in the road, with no fear.

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One huge visual that stood out was the architecture of the homes and buildings. There is both a Hindu and Muslim presence in Guyana. I didn’t see much of an overtly Muslim influence, but the Hindu influence was eye-catching.

After barraging our leader with a ton of questions (he was very patient with me), I learned some interesting things about Hindu homes. First, the small building in front of the home that looks like a security guard’s station is a prayer house. This is where the Hindu priest comes to pray with the family.

Second are the large statues of the gods those homes worship. Some are small and easy to miss. Others are very intimidating. Several of them made my eyes grow big and catch my breath. The time and craftsmanship put into these structures is enormous and detailed. These pavilions and idols are truly works of art.

One in particular, which I was unable to photograph due to poor weather, was massive. It was a huge pavilion at least two stories tall, and in it was an enormous statue of a terrifying-looking god. Completely black, with daunting white eyes and grimacing expression, it was an idol not to be missed. It stood far above the other houses and their gods.

I asked our leader if the size of the statue meant something, as in trying to please that god with its grand size. Or, was it just to impress neighbors.

He smiled and said, “It’s just to impress.”

Hmm…

In addition to the pavilions and statues (some homes had multiple statues in their front yards) were flags and poles. Again, I asked him what they meant and he said they also represented the gods that house worshiped.

Some homes had two flags, some had ten or more. Even businesses had them.,, 

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These statues were at least 6 feet tall and their pavilion dwarfed the home. At night, the spotlight illuminates the garments’ sequences and sparkling rhinestones. At first glance I thought they were real people standing there shining so brightly.

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I stared out the window (with camera in hand) on our many driving expeditions as we whizzed passed countless homes. At first, cold chills ran down my back when I saw these gods. They were daunting, larger than life, and not what I am used to seeing on a daily basis.

But, as the days went on, I had a different thought, “At least I know where these people are coming from. At least we have a starting point for discussion. ‘So you serve this god or those gods. Got it. Let’s start there.'”

Back in the States, Christians stare eyeball to eyeball and say without blinking, “I don’t have any gods. No idols here, I’m good.”

Really?

Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. Jeremiah 2:28

Let’s talk about what’s parked in our driveways, our children, our jobs, sports, technology, vacations & entertainment, our relationships, accomplishments, achievements, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, our work, our play, the size of our bank accounts, our social media, our hobbies, friends, family, church, our worship, what we watch, what we listen to, our volunteering, people’s approval, our fears, toys, plans, our talents and strengths, our agendas…and even ourselves. Even our faith can become an idol. And, the bigger the better!

…Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.  Psalm 115:4-8

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

“Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
    guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” Habakkuk 1:11

I’m not throwing stones lest I be hit by them. Trust me, I’m right there in the thick of dealing with my own stuff.

Seeing these homes, without ever seeing a person who lives in them, I already know who, or what, they worship. In the U.S., we deny deny deny with a confident smile on our face.

We are so blind to the fact that our schedules, properties and lives are littered with idols of every shape and size.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18

We. Are. No. Different.

Because there is one Almighty God, any god/idol we have in our lives has the same craftsman of the one who inspires gods/idols of all other religions in the world. Just because our idols fit conveniently into our lives, seem practical or deserved or earned, doesn’t make them any less of a god.

Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Daniel 5:23

Call a spade a spade. Call an idol and idol.

For Hindu people, that’s what they do. Back home, gods are fashionable, trendy, popular and useful. They are time-savers, little (or big) indulgences, and passions gone wild…but we would never call them gods or idols because that would be wrong in the Christian faith.

I came home with a whole new respect for pastors in America. How frustrating and draining it must be to stand at the pulpit week after week, month after month, year after year, trying to break through the idols – when for some the very building, pew, service hour, friends or worship songs are giant idols glaring back at the pastor from the congregation – while the people who make up the congregation sit silently and smile and insist there isn’t a problem.

So, yeah, their idols were refreshing because I know where they stand and that is an excellent conversation starter. Believers need to take a serious inventory of our lives and call out the idols right in front of us.

Oh that God remembers His children are made of dust and casts a broad net of grace over our lives. But make no mistake, if we do not surrender our idols/gods, He will come looking for them. He shares the throne with no one and no thing. He is a jealous God and commands we put no other god before Him.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe.’

The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” 

Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. Joshua 7:10-15, 19-23  

It’s a lot easier, and less painful, to surrender idols ourselves, rather than God having to root them out of our lives, prying them from our hands. But, He will because He loves us that much.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6

Dear Almighty God, please give us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to accept Your Truth, truth that sets us free. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

2014 answered a lifelong question

*** This post may require a pot of coffee. 🙂 For those who make it all the way to the end, I hope it is a blessing. Happy New Year, Kristi ***

I told my friend the other day that I am itching to close 2014. I have a trigger finger on the calendar to turn the page to January 2015. I’m not one to want to hurry life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Typically I’m faulted with trying to squeeze too much out of a day.

This year, however, has taught me some lessons that have tested the core of my faith. It’s also revealed surprises that no one could have ever expected.

It’s known that we grow through conflict. In that spirit, here are ways in which I was given the opportunity to grow and have a lifelong question answered…Does God give us more than we can handle?

* 2014 began and ended in a medical facility.

This past January, I laid on a table, fully alert and awake while 27 incisions were made from my hip to my ankle to remove varicose veins. This was after previous vein clamping in both legs, which failed in one leg. Even with the best specialty doctor in the city performing the procedure, it was the most bar-barrack, brutal thing I’ve ever experienced. Thinking about it makes me cringe a year later. I will spare the details, but suffice it to say I went into a bit of shock during it. Afterwards, I even told the nurse the wrong city I was born in, and knew I was wrong, but couldn’t remember the right answer.

In my life, I’ve had all four wisdom teeth pulled (including four dry sockets as a result) fully awake and alert with nothing more than Novocain and headphones to drown out the drill. I’ve been through three long labors, the longest being 56 hours – 28 of them with contractions five minutes apart and 28 of them with contractions two minutes apart. My tonsils were removed when my firstborn was just eight weeks old and I was still postpartum. I’ve been rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy. I’ve been in two car accidents that totaled my cars: one head-on in which my car flew 20 feet in the air, and one t-boned on the driver’s side. I’ve felt the punch of the air bag as well as the crack of my head slamming into the window. I’ve had food poisoning so horrifically that it required a colonoscopy. I slipped off of a playground merry-go-round in motion and my leg got caught underneath and it drug me around until both the tibia and fibula bones snapped in my leg. I can’t count the sprains and twists in my ankles (I was quite the tomboy). I’ve had five surgeries in the past six years which has left over 38 scars on my body. The 39th being a squamous cancer dug out of me two months ago.

I know something about pain. I know physical trauma. And I can tell you this particular procedure was nothing like anything I just mentioned. The procedure itself is worth the results, but not being able to utilize a tranquilizer of any kind was a war that raged against the core of my sanity. And, this happened just two months after major abdominal surgery.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Move past that brutal winter and spring bloomed.

I was taking my dog for a walk on a sleepy Monday morning. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Suddenly, my ear picked up on something that set off an internal alarm. I didn’t know what it was, but something definitely wasn’t right. I stopped and listened. What were just people sounds (which I thought were either kids playing or workmen) turned into screams for help.

The next thing I know, I was rounding the corner of a neighbor’s home (whom I didn’t know) only to find the woman rushing toward me with her arm extended out toward me. She pleaded in a deep voice with desperation I have never heard, “Help me!

She was missing three fingers.

I didn’t know how it happened, but she needed immediate help. I have never been trained for emergency response (except infant CPR when I was pregnant) and my knee-jerk reaction was to call 911. It was just her and me. She was in shock. I was in shock. It was horrible. She couldn’t give me her name or age and I didn’t even know her street number. I needed help in a major way.

She told me that the lawnmower had cut them off. I’ve never, and never want to again, see anything like what I saw. Ever.

I looked up and saw an SUV driving towards us on our sleepy street. I literally jumped in front of it (what was I thinking!) and slammed my hands on the window. I demanded (in as pleasant of a tone as possible) for the man to stop. He stared at me wild-eyed as I told him the situation. He pulled over, thank you God. I was still on the phone with 911 as instructed. Shortly after, the woman’s boyfriend drove up. So here these two men, the woman and by now another neighbor were looking for her fingers in the yard, the gutter, in the mower, while I obeyed the 911 operator’s instructions to stay in the street to help flag down the EMS vehicles which were en route. I was still trying to get her name and age.

In the minutes before anyone else was on the scene, the weight and brevity of responsibility for this neighbor who couldn’t help herself, collapsed heavily on my shoulders. I knew what could happen if she didn’t receive the medical care she needed. I knew time was not on her side. I’ve never been in that position before.

Our family has endured multiple medical crises: a Home Depot incident that put my three year-old in an ambulance with stitches deep in his forehead; our oldest son was impaled by a broken hurdle on the track at school leaving a 1×1″ right angle scar on his chin; again our oldest suffered a severe concussion while playing soccer in Kenya when on mission for which he is still being treated almost four years later; a light saber snafu between brothers knocked out our youngest’s front teeth requiring emergency orthodontics; a playground accident at school in which our youngest got clothes-lined by a thick metal bar square in the head. I could go on with sports injuries, home accidents – we basically have every medical apparatus available to the general public including surgical boots, slings, braces, every size of crutches, etc. I can’t even make this stuff up.

However, I had never been in such a moment where I was alone to deal with it. Like standing in the eye of a hurricane, I could see the urgency and seriousness of the moment swirling around me, yet inside I was calm and stayed focused on the task of getting her the help she needed – all with my dog’s leash tangled around my legs.

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After the ambulance arrived, I asked the EMS worker if there was anything more I could do to help. Thinking I was just a curious onlooker, he encouraged me to move along. Next thing I know I am walking once again on our quiet street, as if nothing ever happened. I didn’t know what to think and questioned if the whole thing even happened. I turned around and gazed at the ambulance and knew indeed it was real.

Nightmares plagued me for days. Shock numbed my waking hours. An inner tremor reverberated through my body every moment making it difficult to even hold a pen. But, I knew the thing I needed to do most was to walk by her home again. I needed to do it to get past it. So I leashed up my dog and off we went. As I approached her home I began to shake uncontrollably. But I kept walking. The minute my feet passed by her driveway I turned and stared at the place where it all started. My mind’s eye saw her running toward me all over again and I began to cry. Tears streamed down my face and I wanted to turn around. I passed by the place where the lawnmower sat and people searched. I breathed deeply and kept walking. Finally, I had passed her home that had yellow ribbons tied around her trees out of love and care for her.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Summer came and our family embarked on a mission trip to Ecuador.

A beautiful country with even more beautiful people. We’d been going on mission for three years prior, but this time was different. The other times we went with our church. I felt safe and sound, snug in the middle of a circle of capable, loving people who were veterans on mission. I was comfortable. Very comfortable even in uncomfortable, and at times dangerous, situations.

This time, however, God led us to serve with an organization we didn’t know, with people we didn’t know. It’s one thing to go myself, but it’s another thing to take our children, even if they are teenagers. The week before we left I came down with a horrible upper respiratory infection. The team leader called us from out-of-state to check in and I could hear the surprise in her voice when she heard my lack of voice. I was so so sick. As I laid in bed I stared at the ceiling asking God why. I needed to get on a plane in a matter of days and have flown with a sinus infection before – no fun. I didn’t want to get my team or those we’d be serving sick.

I crawled to the doctor for any help she could give and she prescribed for me an inhaler. I’d never used one and was wary of its side effects as other family members use them so I am familiar with them. She promised me it would be okay. In the meantime, my primary doctor was trying to figure what was wrong with me because for months I couldn’t stay awake and was known to take 4 hour naps during the day. Add that to a list of symptoms and he suggested sleep apnea. No, not me. That’s what other people have. The sleep doctor tested me and sure enough!

A week before leaving for Ecuador, still sick, I received my c-pap machine.

Touching down in Quito, the minute I stepped off the plane it hit me. Ten thousand feet of altitude slapped me right in the lungs. I’ve never been at that altitude, but thankfully had researched altitude sickness before we left.

As quick as I could, I whipped out my new inhaler and puffed away. The c-pap machine was my lifeline during this mission. Without these two things I would not have been able to stay. By the time we left Quito at the end of the mission, I felt like I was having a heart attack. The headache, tightness of chest, brain fog – it felt like a giant was slowly squeezing the life out of me in his merciless hand. It was claustrophobic to mind and body. As our driver passed by several urgent cares and a hospital, I nearly asked him to stop at one.

Instead, I sat back, closed my eyes and breathed long, slow breaths. Even though the mission was over, we weren’t headed to the airport. Our family was headed to the rain forest.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* The end of summer drew near, and on a hot, typical day our day turned out to be anything but typical.

As Providence would have it, our family was involved in a tragedy no one saw coming. Someone we know committed suicide, and our family happened to be first on the scene to comfort the man’s daughter who had literally just found him. It was surreal. Bound to an obligation I had, I sent my kids to comfort her, not knowing this was the case. I thought it was a heart attack or stroke. I was in a situation that could not pull me away, so as a juggled this situation and my kids going to the need, my heart split in two. Watching my daughter literally hold up his daughter in grief while they pulled his body from the car physically made my heart hurt. Watching a slew of EMS vehicles come and go for hours sent me into a tailspin. Watching from afar my kids be so closely involved left me numb and nauseous.

However, at one point (still tied to my obligation) I asked our youngest to get our other two. They had seen enough after an hour of trying to help. He replied, “I can’t interrupt when they’re praying.” “How do you know they are praying?” I asked as I turned around. My eyes beheld one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Our two teens were sitting on the ground in a circle with the wife and daughter, arms locked shoulder to shoulder, praying. Later, our daughter told me it was our son’s idea to pray.

I had nightmares for weeks. Gasping for air in the middle of the night, I woke up crying in a cold sweat. What we saw. What we knew. The pain of that day is inexpressible. I am without words. It rocked my faith to the core. I’ve lived my entire life based on hope that is rooted in faith. It’s how I’ve survived my own personal tragedies.

On this day, hope lost. Like watching the hero die in a movie, I kept waiting for this person we know to get up. To be okay. He didn’t. He wasn’t going to be okay. Hope lost. I couldn’t wrap my head around it for months. I cried through every worship song at church and my prayers were short one-way chats with God at best.

It would have been so much easier to turn a blind eye that day, or close our eyes in fear and ignore what was literally in front of us. I wrestled the mama bear inside me who wanted to protect and shield my kids from the harsh realities of the world.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Fall came, and it brought a personal heartache like none I have ever experienced.

It is so deep. So raw. Bleeding. I was neither prepared for this then nor now. It put me in a position I never imagined. To make decisions I never thought I’d have to make. I was forced to live a reality that I wanted to run from and hide. It was a sadness and loss like I’ve never experienced. Anger and depression warred in my soul. I became non-functioning. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or perform any daily tasks required of me. I lost purpose for my life. I felt completely untethered to this world. Like being caught in the movie Inception, but without a toggle, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore because everything I knew to be so with this part of my life revealed an opposite truth – and I couldn’t process it.

Instead of being calm in the eye of the hurricane like before, this time I was swept away with the wind and rain and lightening and thunder as it threw my heart around and around and around in its bands. I’ve never been so emotionally bruised and wounded.

I wish I could say the storm has passed, but it hasn’t. It has changed, but it’s hasn’t passed. The bands of the hurricane spit me out, and now I sit in the pouring rain among the rubble of what I thought I once knew as normal life. The rain pounds, the wind whips. I sit with my head between my knees and wait for it to pass.

Tempted to once again ignore the situation and conjure up a false reality through vices which lead to dead ends, I stay in the storm.

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What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Recently, our teens’ high school received multiple death threats.

It was all the talk to see who would still attend school on the day targeted by the perpetrator. The general consensus among parents at large was to keep their kids home. Social media comments I read gave the attitude of, “Good parents keep their kids home.” But, our family didn’t see it that way. First of all, we left it up to our 18 year-old to attend or not, after all, he’s a legal adult. Second, we spent hours discussing the issue. I firmly believe Psalm 139 which tells us that every one of our days were written in God’s book before any of them ever happen. If it’s not our son’s time to go, then nothing and no one in all of the world can change that. If it is his last day, nothing can prevent that either unless God changes the plan.

Here’s an even more shocking statement – I believe it was an important day for Christians to be at school, so those who don’t have a hope and salvation in Christ can talk to someone who does. They also need to be front line to be hands and feet of Jesus. Does that mean we shove our kids into harm’s way? Not at all. The FBI, local police and school system were all over this thing.  The day before K-9 units and bomb squads scoured the property. Officers were stationed on sight throughout the night. There were 20 officers posted on campus during the school day. Doors were guarded. Halls were monitored. This school was probably safer than any in the county because everyone was on high alert includes teachers and students.

Our son was adamant about going. He wanted to defend his freedom and not let anyone else dictate his life through fear and intimidation, not for one day. That morning, I prayed over him and anointed his head with oil. We read Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24 en route to school. We chatted about light stuff. As I dropped him off, it was obvious he was one of a few there. In fact, the school had a 13% attendance that day. As I drove away, I once again gave my son to our Lord as a tear trickled down my cheek.

* This week, while waiting on my husband’s shoulder surgery to wrap up as I sat in the waiting room, I thought about this year.

I am desperate to turn the calendar and close 2014 forever. I prayed that God would make sense of it all, because heaven forbid these situations that confronted me this year would be for nothing except to grate on my last nerve and send me to the end of my sanity.

Here’s the question I’ve always wrestled with: Does God give us more than we can handle?

Looking back at any of these 2014 situations, I get tangled up with the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Read Elijah’s words in 1 Kings 19:3-5,

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep…

Or Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8,

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.

David spoke often in Psalm about suffering. Psalm 88:2-4,

May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

Job also had a voice in handling the hard stuff. Job 30:15-17,

Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud. And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.

And Job 6:8-16,

“Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life! Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?

But what about Isaiah 42:3,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Or 2 Corinthians 4:7-9,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.

Then there is 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is OFTEN taken out of context (ug!). Can we agree to remove this Scripture from this discussion? It’s not applicable no matter how many times it’s misunderstood.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So which is it? Does God give us beyond what we can bear or not?

The answer came slowly this year, experience by experience. I have always believed He does so that we only boast in his strength. Others believe He won’t. The experiences I’ve had in 2014 pushed me beyond my limit, beyond what I could bear, so far as I knew.

That’s the key. Bob Marley’s quote, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice” is true, to a point. So is my belief that it is God’s strength in us that gets us through the tough stuff as in Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (KJV)

In a believer’s life, these two work in tandem. It is Christ’s strength in us, and that strength is there because of a relationship with the One who gives it. There were times this year when I was pushed beyond my limit. I came to the end of myself. But, God’s strength was there. It’s not like His strength was some turbo boost that kicked in when I needed it. It was there all along.

How? Because the deeper I relation with Him, the more He becomes in me and the less I am. So in fact it is His strength in me that is working, though it is working through my words and actions.

Like a glass filled with water (me), oil (God) slowly poured in it eventually fills the cup. The water spills out. It’s not that we lose who we are and were created to be. We don’t lose our uniqueness, gifts, strengths and weaknesses, it is that God is glorified in them and through them.

Uniqueness: Psalm 139:13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

 And 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 27,

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Gifts & Strengths: Romans 12:6-8,

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Weaknesses: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take (the thorn) away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I am able to see His strength working in each of the scenarios from 2014:

* With the varicose vein procedure –

Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

His strength produced a new mental stamina and perseverance in me that wasn’t there before. Wanting to jump off of the table and run, I remained still and let the procedure happen. God’s logic and common sense about what is best in the long run for the health of my legs, thus how much I can do with them for the rest of my life, overcame my irrational mindset.

* In the experience with my neighbor and her lawnmower tragedy –

Hebrews 13:20-21, Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

His calm made me calm. No matter how badly I wanted to run away from the situation, His love for a woman I didn’t know overpowered my selfishness that wanted to run. God equipped me for helping with this gruesome task in ways only He could have done with a love that overflowed from His heart into mine.

Driving by her home a couple of weeks ago, I saw her hanging evergreen wreaths on her windows for Christmas. It was beautiful and healing to watch her life move past the incident and see her accept change and a new normal. Having learned more about how God has worked in her life since then (even weaving this tragedy into something beautiful in her life), I can appreciate her willingness to accept change in on a much deeper level. She has been an encouragement to me to accept change in my life.  God’s hand was on her hand that day and in His own incredible way He healed us both.

* In Ecuador –

Deuteronomy 1:29-31, Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

As I laid in bed sick as a dog before we left, I felt like God had forgotten about me. Why in the world would He let me get sick a week before a mission trip we had planned for 6 months? I was angry. Looking back on it, if I had not gotten sick, I never would have been given an inhaler, which was vital to combating altitude sickness. I believe He also allowed my sleep apnea symptoms to get so severe I was forced to go to the doctor (something I had procrastinated about for months) so I would have the c-pap machine in time to travel.

There is no possible way I could have stayed on mission without these tools. The altitude crippled me – who knew?

So what I saw as two major inconveniences in my life at the time, the illness and sleep apnea diagnosis, were actually blessings in disguise. God was paving the path for me to get to Ecuador – and stay there. When we’re in the middle of a trial, it’s almost impossible for us to see any good that can come of it. We can’t, because we can’t see the future. But God, who invented time and is already in the future as much as He is in the present, sees the whole, big picture.

I learned through this to not spend my strength cursing the trial, but praising the One who I trust to bring me through it (one way or another) and can even use it for my good. How’s that for God’s crazy economy?

Second, He strengthened me for the task of serving others in my weakness so, like Paul, I can tell others who gets the glory – and it’s not me.

In addition to being able to accomplish the mission’s goals, when we drove past all of the medical help and deep toward the rain forest, God had awesome surprises in store for us. He showed off His majesty in plants prehistorically large and jaw-droppingly beautiful. He showed off His creativity in creatures we’ve never seen. The day we hiked on our own in the rain forest was liberating like no other experience I’ve had. It was mesmerizing. Peaceful. And we felt a little closer to heaven.

Serving with an unknown team, in an unknown land, and venturing into unknown territory cut the apron strings of fear that had me seeing the future with tunnel vision. Now I can look at the big wide world, and all of its possibilities, and give God open hands, willing feet and a heart ready to do whatever He asks.

* Regarding the suicide –

Isaiah 40:28-31, Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I watched our son dash away from me barefoot as he ran to help them that day. The same bare feet that used to run into the backyard to play. The same bare feet that curled up on the couch to watch Saturday morning cartoons. The same bare feet I used to wash in the sink and cuddle up into a towel. This also goes for our daughter. All the hugs we’ve given her over the years. The hugs she’s received from teachers, friends and family, she was extending to someone who needed to be held.

Our son left a child and came back a man. I saw that he was able to minister to others in their time of need. What he has learned his entire life was put into action that day. Our daughter did the very thing we’ve reared her to do – love others. For me as a mom, it wasn’t a moment of pride. It was a moment of great humility that God would allow me to see two childhoods come to fruition into two young adults who know how to, and are not afraid to, literally run to the need. I count myself immeasurably blessed to have been able to witness it.

However, I couldn’t reconcile hope losing. I understand hope loses every day in many ways. Marriages divorce. Diagnoses stamp death sentences. Job prospects fall through. Our best still isn’t good enough and we watch dreams fade into unrealized memories. This experience was a raw, unfiltered, tangible expression of hope losing. Permanent. Unchanging. Irreversible. It sucker-punched me.

I thought about my last brief chat with this man and wondered if there was anything different I could have said or done. But, without any warning signs visible, how would we know? Oh the guilt.

Trying to work through this was kryptonite to my soul until God scooped my heart up off the floor and held it in His hands. He let me grieve. He gave me time to heal. In doing so, He strengthened me from the inside out.

That strength turned into a fiery passion to helps others. To be more aware of people in my life whether family and friends or those standing in front of my in the grocery store. He strengthened me with an urgency to help in ways that show His love to a broken world. He brushed me off, tied my running shoes and said, “Run. Run to the need.” Just like my children did, without hesitation.

* Trusting God in perilous times –

Isaiah 41:10, Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It was a normal Saturday when social media lit up like the 4th of July. The threats made against the school were flying all over the place. How does a mother allow her teenager to go to school under such conditions? Again, knowing the authorities had all hands on deck, my mind drifted to other parts of the world in those hours leading up to school.

Thoughts of Christians in northern Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and places that don’t make the nightly news. I’ve read so many stories of Christians living 24/7 under imminent threat. Their danger is at their doorstep, yet they are not swayed.

We were faced with a possible threat. The major players were “what if” scenarios that ran through our minds like a movie in fast-forward. Taking a step back, the fact is there is more of a chance of something happening to my children on the way to and from school every single day than this far out possibility.

Our pastor (now retired) once told me a profound truth about living in this kind of fear. He said, “People will always give up freedom for safety.” That thought terrifies me because it is a vicious circle that spirals down toward total loss of freedom in the end.

This situation our family was faced with made us confront our fears of pain and suffering, loss and trauma. But in reality, every day is a risk. It’s quite amazing we all make it to midnight, frankly.

This situation made us face our own mortality and what price we are willing to pay for our Lord. It was a heavy weekend.

My strength came from Ephesians 6:12 because these threats were pure evil –

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We used wisdom, logic, common sense and mostly prayer to come to a conclusion about our son going to school that day. Doing so, we could wholeheartedly support his decision knowing he had sought God’s will and wisdom.

This, coming from an overprotective mother who would do anything for her children, was surely walking in God’s strength, not my own. My human nature wanted to lock him in his bedroom, far away from any danger.

But, can we do that? Can we prevent all danger at all times from reaching our children? No. There is trust in the One who made them and has plans for them (Jeremiah 29:11).  Letting go is the hardest thing a mother can do. It goes against everything in us no matter what we are releasing them to. At some point, parents must relinquish control and let the One who made them, lead them.

* Fall’s avalanche –

Psalm 34;18, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I could ask never-ending “why’s” about this. Everything in 2014 combined leading up to this didn’t compare to this. A landslide of the heart. A sinkhole of spirit. An avalanche of the mind. An abyss of the future.

Still, God keeps telling me, “Do it anyway. You aren’t allowed to give up. It’s bigger than you, but it doesn’t have to be stronger than you.” What does that look like in reality? How does one live every day like this? From where does one draw strength to walk this journey?

Indeed, it is this experience that has taught me the most about God giving us what we can or can’t handle. It feels like everything else were precursors preparing me for this.

And that’s the point. One experience in life leads us to the next. We will grow stronger or weaker through them, depending on whose strength we rely on. God gives us things in life that do seem too much to handle from our perspective. But to He who created us, doesn’t He know us better than ourselves? Can we trust Him to know how much we can take?

And can’t the amount of our strength change? Like in exercising when muscles get stronger and bigger, so life’s circumstances are opportunities to grow strength in us via faith in Christ who carried the weight of the world on His shoulders by way of the cross.

The tricky part is realizing whose strength it is in the moment. We are finite and so is our strength. I’ve often read Habakkuk 1:11, Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god. It haunts me because I am often guilty of this, finding strength in my strength.

In John’s words in John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease.

As I decrease and God increases in my life, it is His strength which infuses and vitalizes me. When we feel handling life’s hardest trials are impossible, we are reminded they are not:

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Luke 18:27, Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 

So on our own, no, we can’t bear all things. But with God, there is nothing we can’t endure. Our history with Him are stepping stones on our faith journey, and as we look back and see He was faithful, we can look forward and know He will be faithful.

Isaiah 40:29, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

And in His power, can’t God even turn our weaknesses around and make them strengths?

Hebrews 11:32-34, And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames,and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (emphasis mine)

At the end of a tumultuous year, I answer the question with a question – Does God give us more than we can handle? How do we really know how much we can handle?

It is He who knows us best. It is He who knows the why’s behind the doubts and is the strength that overpowers our fears. He gives us His strength in infinite ways – wisdom, courage, love, compassion, mercy, tenacity, endurance, perseverance, hope, joy, peace, readiness, self-control, determination, gentleness, humor, and even physical strength to face today.

When we lose ourselves in His goodness and faithfulness, forfeiting our own selfishness and self-righteousness, we find the fabric of our strength in He who knitted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We are one. Inseparable. Forever intertwined together in a dance that lessens me and increases Him until I am transparent for His glory.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

1 John 4:9-10, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It’s not about who I am or what I’ve done. It’s about who Christ is and what He did for me – and you. God is love, and this love is irresistible. It makes the journey worth it. Moreover, He is the reason for the journey. He is the journey.

From the first time He said, “Follow Me,” I did so as a baby crawls on the floor with no understanding of what I was really doing or where I was going or why. Now, three decades later of following Him, I understand a little more each day what that means. Requires. Costs. But, the journey we are on together is one I wouldn’t miss for all the world.

God may test my strength, faith and endurance, but He’s also there every moment to infuse me with more of Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. We may face trials, hardships and temptations from the enemy, and the sheer brokenness of this world, but we are never alone on the path when walking with the Lord.

One unexpected place He led me to this summer was a childhood dream of visiting the Grand Canyon. This summer, nine family members embarked on a whirlwind trip to visit American landmarks. The Grand Canyon was at the top of the list.

Our family was in the middle of a mule ride on the rim of the Canyon when I looked up and saw the most amazing sight. What do you see in this photograph I took?

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I see a heart shaped by clouds and clay. Right there, on the back of a mule in the middle of nowhere, God overwhelmed with His words in Psalm 139:7-8,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

And Romans 8:38-39,  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 23:6 assures us,

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back? Following the Savior described in Philippians 2:6-11, 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For the rest of my life, I will continue to answer His call, “Follow Me” because He loved me first. We will do this thing together, with His strength as my own, as I wait patiently for the day I see God face-to-face and dwell in His house forever. Will you join me in the journey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a dog

 

 

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Our dog is my fourth child. Dog lovers know what I mean. She curled up into my heart as much as she curls up in my lap. She is such a joy. Recently, she injured herself and we have no idea how. One minute she was fine, running around and playing with her favorite toys. The next minute she had her right hind leg pulled up and was hopping on the other three legs.

What?

When she tries to walk on her leg, it looks as if someone took a Barbie doll, removed the leg and put it on backwards. She won’t bend the knee and the leg looks dislocated.

We took her to the vet and he determined it is muscular – either a pulled or strained ligament or muscle. I am relieved it’s not something worse, but it is so sad to see her struggle around the house on her peg leg. His prescription is two weeks rest and daily puppy ibuprofen.

She is our family’s dog, but truly is my shadow. She follows me everywhere – and I mean everywhere. If I leave my desk for a glass of water, here she comes. If I go to the bathroom, she’s right there (whether I like it or not). She follows me upstairs, to the mailbox, in the backyard, and all over the house.

She picks her resting spots determined by where I will be. She has a bed under my desk, sleeps in a chair in our bedroom, and has a pillow strategically placed on the floor in our family room where she can see me in three rooms at once. She stands beside me while I do the laundry and rides with me in the car.

Right now, however, things are different. She is slow. She is in pain. After lying down for a while, her leg becomes so stiff it juts out to the side. It’s pitiful.

We encourage her to keep her leg flexible, but dogs simply don’t understand why they shouldn’t run, jump and play when hurt. We carry her outside to go to the bathroom so she doesn’t have to navigate steps. We carry her to her food bowl. We carry her upstairs. We lift her up and down from the chair. Why? Because she needs help doing the things in life that need doing.

Sometimes, I need to leave the room for just a second. I look at her and say, “Stay. I’m coming right back.” And I really am coming right back. I pass by her only to hear her limping behind me. I turn and tell her, “Please. You don’t have to do this. I’m coming right back.”

Her stubborn love for me will have it no other way. She follows me no matter how much it hurts.

Although her body may be in pain, and is holding her back from her active life, her will hasn’t budged an inch. I’ve been thinking a lot about her tenaciousness toward following me and think about what this looks like in my relationship with my Father in heaven.

When our hearts are broken, our plans ruined, or we’re too tired to move an inch, how do we respond to God?

I can throw a big ol’ pity party with the best of them and am quite good at it. I can also get mad. So mad my jaw clenches shut and I give the world the silent treatment. But does the tough stuff in life have to separate us from God?

We already know that nothing can separate God from us. Romans 8:38-39 –

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But like a chess game, we can move farther from Him if we let ourselves. That’s called free will. And, it doesn’t have to be tough stuff. It can be an abundance of good things. Take the wealthy man Jesus had a conversation with in Mark 10:17-22 –

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Or how about the blessing of family? Luke describes two conversations Jesus had –

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62 

Both passages could be discussed at great length. My purpose for including them is, do we look for excuses not to follow Christ when it’s not convenient or is unappealing or uncomfortable? Do we struggle letting go of what we think is ours to have open hands for what’s His?

My entire life I have dodged-and-weaved God’s commission in one way or another. It wasn’t the right time. I had dreams to pursue. I had an agenda for life. The work seemed too big. Too small. I didn’t want to let go of things, tangible and intangible, that I was afraid He’d ask me to give up.

I took the bigger picture He was painting and framed it in a frame three sizes too small because I couldn’t see His vision.

On the more intimate side, I skirted His pursuit of me. I was used to not trusting people. Anyone. I had such a low self-image you’d have to lift your shoe to find it. I didn’t think I was worthy or worth it.

All these years, I missed the obvious. God wants fellowship with us because He loves us. Wholly and completely and unconditionally. He wants to do life with us. What would it look like if we loved Him the same way?

I’d look like my little dog who thinks I walk on water. She just wants to be with me. Nothing else matters. She simply longs to go where I go and be a part of what I am doing.

Oh that I could have a heart like that for my Savior, who really did walk on water. To be content resting at His feet; walking in His shadow; involved in what’s important to Him. Content to just be with Him because His presence is enough.

My quirky little dog is an inspiration to me. I am reminded, as I carry her through the necessary parts of the day as she heals, that God, too, will carry me by either buffering me through a situation or equipping me for it. However, even with the injury she will not be deterred. She will follow me anyway – on three or four legs, limping or not.

So what’s causing our limp today? What have we been using as a shield, an excuse? Will we willingly follow Him even when it hurts? Can we lay down our baggage so we can pick up our cross and follow Him?

And (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

I felt some of that today and, to my surprise, more than the hurt I felt His hand on me, welcoming me as His sojourner. Whatever it costs – He is worth it and His presence is the jewel in the journey.

His stubborn love for us will have it no other way.

 

 

 

The secret to an awesome family vacation

 

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As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!

<cricket>

We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.

 

 

 

Grateful

I just have to give a shout out to God for what He did yesterday. You know, so many times in life Plan A turns to Plan B, etc. until I feel we live somewhere between Plans X and Y. Walking these unexpected paths, we learn great lessons of patience, faith and perseverance. We learn to be flexible. Gracious. Selfless. We learn to seek God’s joy amid the stress and sadness of life. It’s really okay that Plan A is oftentimes nothing more than a faint mirage of an oasis always a fingertip out of reach.

However, yesterday God intervened and I am grateful. So grateful that I want to tell the world about it!

After a week’s worth of waiting (a lifetime actually), finally an important appointment would commence in exactly one hour. I scurried through Wal Mart for the items I needed, then I was out the door and happily on my way to my appointment.

It was a bit of a drive, but I had just enough time to make it barring nothing unforeseen would happen (foreshadow).

My van was baking hot, and my legs burned against the seat as I sat and tried to decide which way would be quicker to exit the parking lot. It was a draw, so I turned right to circle back up the next lane toward the light.

As I pulled into the aisle, a woman in her car began to back out. Surely she saw me smack behind her. Nope. She kept coming.

I watched, as if in slow motion, her car reversing toward mine. It was as though time stood still and I was helpless to do anything but lay on the horn.

Two women looked up at my obnoxious horn, and the three of us watched the woman continue to reverse. I was caught in traffic and couldn’t move. I was at her mercy…or was I?

My first thought was, “Great. Now I’m going to be involved in an accident and I can’t make my appointment – the one I’ve waited a week for!”

My next thought was, “Our van is paid for – please don’t hit it!”

Finally, as my horn continued to blow and she continued to reverse, I prayed, “Dear God, please don’t let her hit me,” as I stared on, unable to do anything but brace for impact.

She must have come within an inch of the side of my van. Then she stopped, just like that. She was so close I have no idea how she didn’t make impact. She was so close, I had to think for a minute if I felt an impact!

Never have I seen a near miss like this. Immediately, I prayed again, “Thank You, thank You, thank You Lord!”

It was odd to drive away like nothing happened, but in fact, nothing happened (except my nerves were shot!). I so appreciated that God stopped her car a centimeter short of an accident. I am thankful I made my appointment and that no one was hurt. I am thankful my van is in tact.

This may have been a blip on the day’s radar, but to me, it was an answered prayer. I needed no one to be hurt. I needed to be at that appointment. I needed all of sixty minutes to get there. I needed my van not get hit.

There are days when thing after thing derails plans. Other days plans don’t even have a chance to get made before chaos ensues. I am slowly learning to value the disruptions of life and their bigger purpose in my life.

But boy am I grateful for a day when God’s mercy lets Plan A unfold.