Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Last Post

I've been coming to this post for awhile.  I'm taking inventory of most everything in my life - or at least that's what my friend/counselor Pastor Andy tells me.  It's true.  When my Dad died, it shifted my foundation and I don't understand the full impact of it yet.  It's a big adjustment in uncountable ways.  Big probably isn't the most effective word to use right there, but I'm not always as eloquent as I would like to be. 

I will say it is another order of magnitude of inventory-taking from the season right after Sophia's diagnosis.  Poignantly, my Dad died the day after Sophia was given the all clear.  He got to see it.  Thank You Jesus.

After writing a blog for 7 years, I've come into agreement with God: it is time to move on.  I'm entering into a unknown season, one where I don't share everything God gives me all the time - at least not on an easily accessible public forum.  It is going to be hard for me, as I enjoy the gratification of knowing I've helped people, encouraged them in their faith and (more than a little selfishly) the praise that comes with writing a piece people like.  My love language is Words of Affirmation and when people click "like," comment, email or tell me in person they like what I wrote, it makes me feel pretty darn good, productive and.....deeply fulfilled. 

Writing is a gift God has given me, a gift that touches me at the deepest level.  There isn't anything wrong enjoying the praise that comes from being a useful tool in His hands.  It's just time to have the courage to say Yes to Him using this tool in different and new ways.  It's time to seek His approval alone for a little while.  Does that mean I won't share?

No, I'm on social media (probably too much for some folks) so I will continue to document my family's antics, adventures and the events we experience that move the Kingdom of God forward.  I'm too much of a people person to keep totally silent.

There is an element of discipline and obedience required to go deeper into what the Lord wants to do in and through me.  I've got to be taught to teach.  Also, in order to finish some of the projects He has entrusted me with and will bring to my doorstep in 2016, I need to put this down.  I know I haven't written much lately and didn't quite persevere with #2015TheYearofPrayer like I wanted.  Still, this blog occupies my mind and heart in a way that doesn't leave enough space for the work He wants me to do now.

I read this verse during my quiet time this morning - which put me in a wonder-filled mindset at the timing: For loving God means obeying his commands.  Moreover, his commands are not burdensome, because everything which has God as its Father overcomes the world.  And this is what victoriously overcomes the word: our trust.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:3-5, CJB/NIV)

What is coming is not burdensome, just as this blog has not been so, only the opposite.  It's always been a precious outlet.  It's now time for me to take up my Cross in a little different way - to switch shoulders, if you will and trust Jesus more to carry the load.  I treasure those of you I've told about this change, who received it with grace and humility.  Thank you for letting me know how you've enjoyed reading.  I know that's only  15 of you, but still. 

We are all coming to the end of 2015 - headed into a new year, but more than that; it is a fresh start to lay down what we might have carried for too long, plans we've made that aren't producing the sweetest fruit.  It's time for us, as the People of God, to seek, without any timidity, our purposes and destiny in Christ.  We must press in to overcome the barriers and distractions of this world - to step out from behind the curtain and show the world what He has done, is doing and will do through a Church who loves Him, is learning to love itself and wants to others well.

(Not) Incidentally, a couple weeks back, the Lord gave me "my" word for 2016.  If 2015 was Prayer - 2016 is Love.  I thought that word was just for me until I spoke to my friend Wynter this morning and she got the same word!!  The Lord is setting this world up to see what His ultimate display of love really looks like in His People - His United and Unified Church.  The time is short to do it, so we have to do it NOW.

What I've always tried to do on this blog is answer the question, "What does faith look like in real life?"  So: what does God's love look when His people breath it in and out in every moment of life?

Well, the Spirit has given me 2 verses this year - one for my ministry life and one for my personal life.  The ministry one came much earlier in the year, the personal one only since my Dad's passing.  It is the personal one, Psalm 116, that gives me the idea on how to help people understand the reality of what God's love looks like:

Be at rest, once more, O my soul, 
For the Lord has been good to you.
For you, Lord have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I just have to tell my story of how good the Lord has been to me.  It's that simple.  It's all you have to do, too.

How has He been good to you?
How has He delivered you from death?
How has He dried your tears?
How has He held you up when you were about to fall?

Ironically, of course, you would think this medium would be perfect for that!  But not in the coming season.  I need to craft my story through alternative means and wait for Him to show me how to share it with the world.

I hope you've felt through these sometimes silly, sometimes desperate and sometimes searching posts that I love Jesus and I love you.  I hope You've seen His marvelous power to destroy the shade of death over the lives of my family and friends.  I hope You've seen how He is teaching me to love myself, by drying my tears over Sophia and thereby giving me permission to cry about other things - including my Dad.  I know I've felt like I've hit the concrete so hard so many times, but in reality, He cushioned, or even broke my fall - even pulling me back just in time.

Thank you for reading.  Thank you laughing and crying with me and listening to my thoughts. Thank You for serving me with your companionship.  I do hope it's made a difference in Your walk with Christ.  He is so close - He left it all to come to us and be not just WITH us, but One of us.  He knows you and He knows me.  He doesn't miss a thing and that's a very good thing.  

Don't stop seeking Him, ever.  Keep getting closer, even if it is uncomfortable or scary.  Even (and especially) when others don't get it.  He is as close as your breath but even closer - as close as the blood pumping in your veins.  I know He wants to do marvelous things through you, and me.  We are all in this together.  By trusting what He has done and how He is demonstrating it through us, we do overcome everything this world throws at us.

Keep in touch!  I will.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

2015 - The Year of Prayer - Catching Up

From my last post (you can read it here), you would rightly guess I consider tears as prayers at the moment.  If Jesus holds out a one-of-a-kind bottle to catch each one of our tears, that He considers them priceless - so valuable to shed His own blood (even tears of blood) - then I will consider them my glorious sacrifice.

Today is a roller coaster.  I woke up feeling great and was a little concerned I felt so good.  I knew at 10 am, my Mom, my brother and I were to meet to put the remaining pieces into my Dad's niche at St. Luke's UMC's columbarium before they seal it. 
Contents of my Dad's niche

This is where his ashes will be and my Mom will eventually be next to him (although hilariously enough, she doesn't remember if it is the right or the left side).  I even forgot to tell Dave about our meeting.  I was to visit a friend after and then have lunch with another, so I focused on the positive and frankly, felt awesome.

Then as I was driving there, I felt the lead ball form in my stomach.  It is real, it is happening and I'm going to have to deal with it.

I could feel it coming as we stood there looking at his cremains.  A small wave of tears broke on the way to my first visit.  Fortunately I was able to get a hold of a friend.  I just couldn't be alone in the car.  I'm so thankful he answered because it got me through.  I held it together until later when I nearly broke down grocery shopping.

That's when the tidal wave of grief hit me full force in the face.

I shouldn't have been driving because I was crying so hard.  In that moment, as much as I wanted to call someone, I knew it would forestall the inevitable.  I knew this pain would pass but I needed to let it in.  I had to hurt for the hurt to pass.

I am sure everyone could tell when I went into school to get Ella.  It's pretty obvious, even with the waterproof mascara I remembered to put on this morning (THANK YOU HOLY SPIRIT), when I cry.  Ridiculously obvious. 

I've said a lot of popcorn prayers for folks today but mostly I just let my tears speak for themselves.  Jesus wept (John 11:35).  He knows.  I didn't feel any tangible presence of God in those moments but the fact that twice today, at my lowest, the Mercy Me song, "I Can Only Imagine" came on KSBJ, I knew He was with me.  He was reminding me where my Dad is and what he might be doing.  That speaks volumes of God's love and care for me.

Really, my prayer today is not very profound: Lord, This Just Sucks.

I know I'm a writer and a prayer warrior and supposedly this spiritual leader, so I should probably come up with something much more impactful (which my brother pointed out when I said it at the grave site).  But for this moment, it is my truth: THIS REALLY STINKS.  This is my prayer, this is what I'm living.

Everyone has moments like this, leaders are not exempted.  Everyone has those moments or days when we just put our heads in our hands and tell God - in words, thoughts or tears - how much something sucks.  Life on this fallen earth just does sometimes.  And we, in the Body of Christ, need to be available in those moments.  We need to have the openness and authenticity to stand by someone at their lowest, wrap our arms around them if possible, and just agree.  Agree it sucks and don't try and make it any better for a minute.  There will be time for that but take me at my word when I tell you, the pain has to be felt so it will subside.

I'm so glad I am surrounded by people who do that and who I can do it for.

As I posted on FaceBook this morning, I will end this day, this not-completely-but-in-a-few-ways-pretty-crappy day, being grateful.  I'll leave you with the chorus to the song I'm listening to, "Shepherd," from Amanda Cook on Bethel's You Make Me Brave Album.

You will lift my head above the mighty waves.
You are able to keep me from stumbling.
In my weakness, You are the strength that comes from within.
Good Shepherd of my soul, take my hand and lead me on.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tears - An All Saints Day Tribute

As I often do, I'll start this post off with some brutal honesty.

I've never given All Saints Day much thought.  It is a centuries old tradition, especially meaningful in the first 300 years of the Church when so many were martyred.  It still has a place today, and in the Methodist church, on the first Sunday of November, we celebrate the lives of those who've gone home to heaven in the last year.  As a family, we've lost people before now - including Dave's beloved grandmother Mable 18 months ago.  Yet, it's never hit this close to home; so close to pull me out of my self-absorbed reverie to grasp the full meaning. This All Saints Day, the day we put my Dad's ashes in the ground after church, definitely brings the full concept painfully close.

I woke this morning with a song in my head, "Already There," by Casting Crowns (you can listen to it here).  I've listened to that song a lot in the last 6 weeks.  We all have moments where we look at God and go, "What is happening?  Why?  When?  Where?....Huh, God?"  It is immensely comforting for me to be able to say, One day I'll stand before You and look back on the life I've lived. I can't wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit.

Today, of all days, when I know it will be so hard, I am desperately clinging to that hope of glory.  There will be a day when those questions get answered.  It's funny to think, too, some of those questions I think are so important right now will not be when I'm standing next to Jesus. 

But for right now, just for today, for the next few hours, I'm not going to ask any questions.  I am just going to rest in the comfort of knowing God has me.  He has us.  He has my Dad.  He has the whole world.  He has not lost His grip. He is  present and able, always.  He is kind and gracious.  He loves me.  He loves you.  He knows it hurts and how badly it does.  He is already at the end of my life on earth but at the same time, and I write this with incredible mystery and wonder, He is right here with me in this moment and time.  I know all of that for sure, even if I don't understand it at all.

For anyone out there struggling like me, on this All Saint's Day, I gained permission from my friend
to post a vision she shared with me this week.  It is SO powerful, it shifted my thought-life about the world to come in a major way.  My friend is working through a decade-old grief and recently had a healing experience in prayer which is nothing short of otherworldly.  It's called Tears and will speak to the heart of anyone who's lost a loved one, as well as all those who've wondered what the Lord really does with our tears.  It's precious.  Please take it in and know the Lord indeed provides this level of comfort to all when we ask. 

Lord, You've kept track of all my wandering and my weeping.  You've stored my many tears in Your bottle, not one will be lost.  You care about me every time I've cried.  For it is recorded in Your book of remembrance. - Psalm 56:8

I asked the Lord for a picture and this is what He gave me.  I share it with you.

I saw your tears, I felt my own - I fell to my knees.  Why Lord, why so much pain - who will carry all this pain?

In an instant I was swept away to a place; a weighty place so beautiful that words alone are insufficient.  I believe it was a secret place, for the most magnificent beings I have ever seen lined the room in majesty.  There were more than I could count and each one was holding a bottle.  Was it a bottle of light?  A bottle of gold?  A bottle of glory?  I could not tell.

No one spoke and I knelt, trembling in fear.  When I looked up, one bottle caught my eye.  It seemed to shine like the stars of Heaven.  The angel holding it summoned me toward it.  As I came near I saw its color; iridescent blue mixed with a majestic purple I have never seen on earth.  I could not take my eyes off such a stunning sight - my eyes were fixed, almost frozen as I looked upon this jar of beauty.  What was stored in such a container?  It could only be something worth more than all the wealth of the nations or all the hearts of men.  What could it be?

As I looked at this amazing bottle, I saw a name written on it - it was your name. The angel tipped the bottle and summoned me to look in - I trembled and tried to look away but I could not; I wanted to see the treasure within.  As I looked, I saw you my sweet friend, crying.  There you were, broken-hearted and tears unstoppable.  Before I could reach out to you, I saw your tears dropping, dropping into the beautiful bottle.  Yes, every tear spilling into this jar, not one to be lost.  As I watched the scene before me, I saw your tears turning into gems, diamonds and sapphires.  Each tear that dropped turned into splashes of beauty that were carefully contained so as not to be lost.   

I looked up at the angel as if to ask why but then I saw beyond the tears - it was a great and glorious ocean, iridescent blue and majestic purple splashing upon the beach.  Each splash formed a beautiful gemstone creating the sand.  Then I saw Him - my Jesus - His eyes the color of the ocean, His smile so joyful my heart could barely contain such magnificence.  He was running and laughing in the sand.  He was playing with someone - a family - I looked, it was you.  You were together - all of you - your faces looked happy, joyful yet filled with a peace I have never seen.  I watched Jesus as He carefully ran His hand through the sand.  It was as if the joy were come from the gems that formed the sand.

Yes, the joy was coming from the gems; the diamonds and sapphires that had been your tears.  The ones He had guarded so closely and stored in this jar of beauty were shining with joy.  How could this be - such pain turned to joy?  I looked again and I saw you crying, yet dancing together in the sand at the same time.  Could this ?  Two worlds so carefully knit together?  One of pain and one of joy?


Immediately the angel tipped the jar so I could no longer see the contents but before me sat another bottle.  This one was gold, so bright I could barely look upon it but I saw for a fleeting moment the name: THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.

I fell to the floor with my face down for fear I would die at such a precious sight.  My Savior's blood - the very blood that was shed for my life.  And then I knew....His blood that come from such a great sacrifice was shed for our tears, your tears, my tears, all the pain of this world.  Those tears were worth more than I could think or imagine and none were to be lost.

In an instant I was back on my knees, tears streaming down my face - tears for you.  The Lord was there holding a bottle - this one had my name on it - collecting my tears; the ones He gave His life for.  At that moment I let go - I surrendered my tears to Him who promised to carry my sadness, my pain, my heartbreak.  I know each tear has a safe place till Heaven and earth are one.  I do not understand but I will trust.

I pray that you will allow your tears to flow freely - for not one is ever lost or wasted and someday those tears will be like grains of sand that look like diamonds filling an ocean that only knows JOY.

I am forever thankful for friend.