Through the Looking Glasses…

I started wearing reading glasses when I turned 40. Almost overnight, my eyes changed, and written words looked fuzzy and unclear. I didn’t want to admit that my vision was getting weaker, but life became limited pretty quickly — so the glasses went on. And when I can keep track of where those glasses are, seeing words is no longer a problem.

reading-glasses

Unfortunately, glasses don’t work for everything. I still need clarity in so many areas, and vision is only one of them. Sometimes I don’t want to admit that my perspective is changing, that life seems fuzzy and unclear. Because then I have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I’m not in control anymore…that I’ve even been wrong about some things, that I’ve had blind spots, and that the life I had envisioned as clear and easy, may not be.  And you know what four letter word that brings up?  FEAR. And it can be blinding.

Those parts of life that are familiar – friends, relationships, church, work, committees – are so often life-giving and meaningful, purposeful, safe. They often define us and give us vision, and those are good things.

But those are also the areas in which we often become way too entrenched, and then we are too close to the setting to see a bigger and more complete picture. Focus gets fuzzy and the lights begin to dim a bit. If we don’t know when to step back for a different view, we can almost become crippled. And in the middle of realizing that maybe we need to move, to change perspective, is fear. We don’t want to make changes because we’re afraid of what life will be like if we move, so we stay in the ‘safe’ world of what we know.  And in the midst of all that activity, we begin to project what we perceive as the best or most important, on those we love.

When my children were growing up, we taught them what is Right and True and Good. We got caught up in the 12-step-plan, the do-all-the-right-parental-things-and-your-children-will-turn-out-like-you-want-them-to handbook. We made sure they were doing ‘all the right things’, being part of all the right groups and activities. But somewhere along the way we picked up the wrong glasses, and our perception changed – and so did our expectations; we wanted them to look like us instead of the unique people God made them.

I needed a different set of glasses. Maybe my quest to find fulfillment in the doing and the ‘perfect parenting’ was caught up in striving more than in stillness, and I put my children in the same place. “Be still and know that I AM GOD.” “Trust Me.” I wasn’t being still, and I wasn’t seeing what God wanted me to see. I let fear into my sights. I needed to step back.

And this is when my vision started to fade. I needed to get being still into focus.

If all the activity of life and parenting, which we often think defines and validates us, keeps us from seeing that it’s time to be still and trust, then what we do is as a loud noise — because Love and knowing the God of Love is the most important — above all else. When we can’t slow down enough to put that Love into perspective,  it is easy to lose our vision and we focus on all the wrong things.

But some days I think that maybe it’s coming back, just a little. I think I see a little more light and have a little more clarity. I see that the doing, all the striving, is changing to listening and laughing and enjoying and walking alongside. And being still.

Our service and activity and doing doesn’t validate us. We aren’t defined by our outward work or how we think things should look on the outside. We’re defined by who God is making us, and that looks different for each of us. And if how we look on the outside isn’t kind and caring and loving, then does it matter?

I think I’m beginning to see some things I couldn’t see before. My glasses may not always be where I need them, but I’m sure glad I have them. And I’m thankful to God for His vision ~ because His perspective is what truly counts.

 

Light a Candle

“I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear in a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?…Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness…”

This time of year… family, friends, decorations, lights, trees, gifts, music, yummy spicy smells, cookies…Christmastime. So many love to start celebrating early each year and keep the Christmas music going and the tree and lights up through winter. We all love the storybook Christmas.

But this time of year is also sadness and loneliness for so many — often magnified because of all of the lovely holiday trappings. Life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. Every year, I seem to be more acutely aware of this side of Christmas, of the messiness of life, of those who are hurting. I can take cookies, send gifts, say words of encouragement, pray for peace and healing — but the sadness and pain are still there. There are those walking through a dark night of the soul, and Christmas lights don’t take that darkness away.

There are so many.

But God…

For He is Light. Jesus. He knows the pain and the loneliness and the darkness. And for those of us who love Christmas let us remember why we love it. All the fluffy things are wonderful. But God became flesh in the midst of a dark and hopeless world. He is the Christmas Light. He gives hope  —  because we all need it.

So each night during this season, I light a candle for those whose hurt is magnified during Christmas, and I’ll pray for some small comfort, some small light to guide them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

 

candle

The Goodness of God

“God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister Betsie to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp.”  Corrie Ten Boom

Wow Corrie – pretty much 2 extremes. How can the god of good weather be the same god in a German concentration camp?

I’m not exactly sure, except that deep down – way deep – I know it’s true.

When I first read those words, somehow they brought peace to my heart. I don’t know how or why, because when I imagine the suffering and despair in that concentration camp and when I hear in the news about the suffering and despair in the world – my heart aches. But Corrie Ten Boom’s words bring peace? Yes. Yes, they do.

The continuum of God’s Goodness, from happiness to hardship – from weather to death in a concentration camp and everything in between – yes, it is hard to understand why it’s all part of the goodness of God. Too often we don’t recognize Goodness, because we put our circumstances ~ as hard as they often are ~ above what we know about the God who made us, who loves us, and who wants to spend eternity with us. Of course, our initial response and reaction to hard things is often instinctual. But then we need to step back and focus up, because It is in our heart and soul where we experience God’s Goodness no matter what.

And I realize that is also where we experience great pain and sadness. When life throws its curves, which it does all the time, we can choose to give up on the beauty we have at our fingertips – because the circumstances loom so big before us – or we can look deep and know that those circumstances can be transforming, for better or for worse. And while I’m here, I want to live life in the best possible way, whether I’m hoping for good weather at a picnic or doing my best to find peace out of chaos in a concentration camp.

raindropConc campPeace comes easy when life is easy. It’s when we can’t see through the darkness that we need Peace that passes understanding ~ Peace that is so real and so strong that we have joy in the midst of great sorrow.

I have no doubt that my life could have looked very different had I let circumstances rule rather than look deep for what God was doing. I could have let bitterness take over when I was 17 and my dad died in my arms. Or I could have let the confusion I felt in college rule my life when I was so desperately trying to find my feet in my new-found Faith, and I struggled to find those who were like-minded. Or when my friend died from aids. Or…

Sheldon VanAuken, in his beautiful book A Severe Mercy, speaks of wanting to live life in a way where he truly experiences its beauty and heartache – the Heights and the Depths. Life is Heights and Depths – but do we allow ourselves to feel them, learn from them, grow because of them, learn to love deeper? To realize that they are all part of God’s Goodness?

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Choices – those others see, and those only we know about…those internal choices which point us to God’s goodness even when we can’t see it. But His goodness is always there.

Our friends from Rwanda lost family and friends to genocide and aids and eventually escaped to the U.S. Did they think of God’s goodness when they were burying loved ones or running for their lives? Yes ~ because they knew then, as they know now, that the God of the universe loved them, loved those around them, loved their countrymen ~ and that one day, all would be redeemed. When they talk of God and His goodness, joy shines on their faces – and that joy can only come from the Peace that rests deep in their souls and knowing that God is good in the midst of heartache and tragedy.

Corrie Ten Boom lived it in ways that are so hard to comprehend. But something about her words get to the deepest part of my soul, and I get it. Because though we will probably never live or die in a concentration camp, life presents everyday-hells that we must rise above if we are to know that peace that passes understanding. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

We are called to walk alongside those who suffer – with humility, a listening ear, kindness, graciousness, goodness. That is exactly what Corrie and her sister did, while they also suffered.  “You will regret burning bridges like a pyro but you will never regret gentleness” (Jen Hatmaker). The Goodness of God.

 

This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Here’s the thing…

“Here’s the thing.” So said the illustrious Adrian Monk.

Yep.

Not always sure what the thing is, but I try to figure it out most of the time.

Lately, with our move from TX to CO, I’ve thought a lot about what the thing is. It always has something to do with God and with people. So Sunday, when our pastor asked us what motivates us to finish the race — the race that Paul wrote about — and the race of life in general — I started thinking about the thing again…in light of God and people and His ever present Grace.

What’s the motivation? Love, for God and others; gratitude, for and to God, for so, so much; the ‘training’ I’ve done thus far; the prize. The thing is the race I’m running, the race we’re all running.

What keeps me in the race? Sometimes I’m not sure I know how to run it, much less finish. I get weary. Sometimes I fall. My commitment wavers — in so many areas. Marriage, parenting, relationships, church, life in general, can so often feel like such an uphill climb. But here’s the thing — we don’t do any of these things alone. We have Someone running alongside us. If it was up to me to finish alone, I’d give up every time. Thankfully, even though I fall, even though I get weary, even though I sometimes want to give up, I get up and keep going. I look toward the prize, the One who loves me and believes in me and is waiting for me at the finish line. He is the thing!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

Will I Ever Learn?

One of my former professors asked me once what the greatest thing was that I learned in college. After thinking about it for a short time, my response was that I still had so very much to learn. Just when I think I have everything all figured out, when I just know I’m finally right about something, life seems to jump up and knock me off my feet…one more time.

I used to be so much more opinionated than I am now; I guess I really truly thought I had everything figured out. Or maybe I just felt the need to speak my opinions aloud, I don’t know. But whatever the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that most of the time, my opinions just aren’t that important, because there will always be others who can out argue me, out prove me, or out think me. And do you know what is really, truly important? Not what I think — shocker! — but what God thinks.

I know that we always grow and change, and I hope I’ll continue to realize my need to be teachable. At my new job, I’m still wearing the ‘I’m in training’ badge, and when people ask how long I’ll be in training, I usually tell them “always.” I’ll always have something to learn — from those who think differently, who look different, who are different.

One of the things that showed me just how much I needed to look outside my comfortable box was when I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  We were on the threshold of sending our oldest daughter to college in the northwest…the crazy, liberal, ungodly northwest. Eeeek!! As I read it, I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I didn’t want to think about seeing my faith from a different angle — it was just too scary and unsure. I was spiritually raised in the south, in the Bible belt, so reading something like that really challenged my faith and I had to ask questions. Yep, QUESTIONS! Sending my baby to the crazy NW, where I wondered if they even spoke English, just seemed like an equally crazy thing to do and had a huge question mark. How could a mother send her daughter straight into a den of wolves? A huge den, at that? What kind of mother would do something like that??

What I started to learn then was something about trust. Wolves are everywhere, even in the Bible belt, and I was over confident that my children, that we all, were “safe” there. I had to come to a place of trust that what she had learned from us would take her into the world (where I know we are supposed to be) with love and respect for others and differences, and yet keep her grounded in who she was and who God was making her.

Now, years later, my sweet girl actually lived through college in the northwest, and I actually lived through her going to college there. She still lives there and is alive and well, and I know she’s being a blessing to those who know her.

But most recently, I’ve begun to question more than what my kids are doing — whether they’re ok moving here or there, or having this relationship or that one. Or even if they’re thinking the same, believing the same, as I do. Not that I don’t look at those things…I always want the best for my kids. But that’s just it. What is best? Where and Who is best? How should I know? I don’t. Yes, I believe God gave these kids to us and us to them. And yes, we have a responsibility to raise them in light of eternity and with wisdom given to us by God. And yes, we spent many hours in prayer for them (and still do). But none of that automatically gives me an enlightened understanding or vision about what they should do or about how they will live. Whenever they struggle or question life or God or what is right, I struggle with them.  I know without a doubt that God can handle their struggles, way better than I can. But then the questions start to come back: questions about my own faith and understanding of how I’m supposed to live and love.

And now I’m at a point where I’m having to trust that what God has done in my own life, with my own faith, will keep me grounded as I learn to appreciate people right where they are – and for who they are. That over-confidence I had with my daughter, and that at times I’ve had with all my kids, that ‘safety zone’, I’ve also had with my own way of thinking. I thought I was good at loving others; and it’s easy to do when most of them think the same way I do. But I’m beginning to learn that there is a difference between what I thought about people, how I thought I loved them, what I secretly expected of them, and what is truly true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I see and work with people everyday who are very different from those I’ve chosen to shelter myself with. And I really really want to love them, right where they are, in that Philippians 4 kind of way.

I’ve continued to ask questions and learn to love others who are different than I am… a lot different. And that is a good thing. Thank heaven they aren’t all like me…oh the thought!

I’ve begun to question what I’m doing…and why I’m doing it. Not question the validity or importance of what I’m doing — but how to be truly honorable — toward God and others, and why I’ve been placed where I am. And tying it all together is tough; learning how to stand for Truth in a completely non-compromising way while loving and accepting others right where they are – no judgement, no requirements, no expectations.

I wouldn’t trade any of my life, because I know without a doubt that God has orchestrated every corner, every situation, every person. If I could, I might change some of the things I’ve done, that I’m not proud of. Because I know I could have been kinder, more merciful, more loving, more graceful. Those are the virtues I learn again and again every day, and I hope I’ll be worthy of them and able to impart them to those around me – today, with whomever I may meet, with those I work with, with those I’ll run into at the coffee shop or at work or at church or at the food bank.

And I hope I’m worthy of what they have to teach me, because I still have so, so much to learn.

What to pray?

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

I got a message yesterday from an old friend. I love hearing from old friends, but this time it was about “one of those things”; he wanted to tell me that our mutual friend’s wife died suddenly in the morning.

I feel great sadness for my friend. He was one of my best friends in college, and since then he’s been through more heartache then most people go through in a lifetime. Some years ago, he lost both parents and a grandmother in a tragic, hard-life scenario. But he picked up the pieces, and although I never met his wife, I’m sure she was the biggest helping-hand God used in his recovery.

All day yesterday, I thought of my friend and the shock he must be feeling. All day, I thought of his son, now a young adult, who must be at a loss to know what to do, what to feel. All day long, I asked God how to pray…what to pray. I really had no words. Still don’t.

But I know there are times when words just don’t work. Sometimes I think they get in the way. Sometimes there are only tears, only groanings. This is one of those times of trust, trust that the Holy Spirit will do the ministering to my friend and his son. God knows what I certainly don’t. They don’t need my words – or those I lack. I know we are here on this earth for each other, to help one another and be a support. But in times like this, the best support we can give is just to be.

Lord, help me to just be – be a vessel to cry out to You for others in their time of need. And when I don’t know what or how to pray, may I trust in your comfort and goodness and mercy.