Saturday, August 22, 2015

He Knew What He Would Do

“Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming towards Him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said that to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” (John 6:5b-6)

Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing a large family going forth to the place He has told them, Jesus said to Scotty and Emily, “Where will you live, so that you and your little ones will have a place to sleep?” He said that to test them, for He Himself knew what He would do.

Philip knew there was no possible way to feed the enormous crowd. The resources simply were not there.

Trekking across the world and trying to find a home that meets all of the varied needs of our family seems nearly as impossible. Add to it all the inconveniences of the third world. And the heat and the air that’s heavy with humidity.

Oh, and we need an affordable car that seats six…

And don’t forget the kids’ education. That’s rather important.

And like Philip, we have question marks in our minds. No answers. No heaps of bread and fish. No twelve baskets of excess.

Oh, but “Do not tolerate small thoughts of the Lord Jesus”! (C. Spurgeon).

He Himself knew what He would do.

“Jesus said, ‘make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place.” (John 6:10)

"Loaves and Fishes" by John August Swanson
Mercy. Much grass. Soft, sweet, green grass. Rest.

And then abundance. Jesus fed them.

Philip! How you must have worshipped!

Jesus, help us to replace question marks with worship, resting on mercy's grass, and wait to be fed.  Help us to lean on the truth that You know what You will do!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

There is a bittersweetness to Mother's Day for me, and each year seems to bring new facets.

Tonight I sit alone in a hotel room in California, waiting for a work week to start. My family is home celebrating our son's birthday. He turns 16 today. Neither of his mothers are with him on this milestone birthday.

That same sweet family of mine is remembering their Mama today too--who is not here to celebrate. So they bring flowers to her grave.

Last night we had Zack's family birthday meal, but I received the gift. (His came today.) They gave me a new mother's necklace. No longer one charm, but six. It's very lovely and means the world to me.

So this year a birthday, Mother's Day, a memorial, and my absence collide. And it leaves me feeling emotional and maybe even a little fragile.

But the time alone has given opportunity for reflection. And I find that I'm also filled up with overwhelming joy for the story God has written. I never would have planned things this way, yet I will never ask for them to be changed. I have a husband I adore, SIX amazing kids, and a future that surely is blessed beyond what I can imagine--no matter what it holds.

Oh, I've had other thoughts too.

I've remembered my sweet friends, who--like some of my own kids--have a mother-hole in their hearts and their lives. Their moms were gone before they were ready to give them up. And now they are trying to navigate life without their confidante and closest friend.

And I weep for the women who always saw themselves as "Mom," but their bodies didn't get the memo. And God seems far away. They sit in church again, blinking tears away and watching mamas tend to their little ones--while their arms are heavy with emptiness.

I consider my own mom. I cannot find words. With each exposure to new tasks of life and motherhood, I find in my mom a wise counselor and friend. She has done it all before me. She has sacrificed and served. She has made the hard choices. She has loved when it was hard. But I never knew the depth of the "pouring out" it took for her to be that kind of mother--until I tried to be one.

My mind returns to the night of November 17th, 2009, when my youngest one became my first child. She made me a mother. I held her and released my heart to her. For so long, I held babies without feeling--I kept my heart all locked up. Because feeling would be too painful. But I FELT on that night. I felt, and I loved. I gave myself fully to her. And she was mine.

But before she was mine, she was hers. And my heart aches for the loss she feels every day. I love you Autumn. That is all. Love. I cannot repay. Not ever.

I had Chris there with me. We were finally parents together. What a good and kind man he was. What a friend, lover, partner, father!

And the woman who raised him--who shaped him and wept for him and cheered him on... She is not here to celebrate either. And Erika is forgetting the grandma who utterly adored her. My heart aches.

Another woman--one who raised my new husband (and did a darn good job)--she is my cheer-leader. I lean on her and ask the smallest or the biggest thing, and she gives to me. Again and again. And I know she loves me and is pulling for me. She secures hauls of blueberries for my freezer, food for our chickens, homemade pancake mix for our boys. But most of all, love for our brood. 

This life does not last. But it is good. And it is painful too. 

May God comfort you and bring you joy on this day--wherever you find yourself. Happy Mother's Day and much love.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Three Years

Three years. That sounds like a very long time. It feels it too. But I’m not entirely sure what I should feel.

There is this sort of ache—a little numb, a little guilt. Numb because oddly, I still can’t believe the horror of those last days. The agony of the awful suffering—death’s devouring of life. And guilt because I can often talk about “Chris dying” without a tear. It’s a fact. Somehow, it is not my heart’s ache any longer.

Have I become so busy that I’ve forgotten? Or have I played and replayed the grief that it has become old and tired and worn-out? Maybe the joy of a new marriage trumps the sorrow of a lost one? If so, what does this mean about how I loved him?

And then I allow myself to study his face in a picture. And I’m overcome.

In an instant, I am back. I am at his bedside, staring in disbelief at his skin-wrapped skeleton. Waiting—praying for him to die. Helplessly “helping” as he vomits one more time and his body quivers from the pain of it all. I am giving pain meds and knitting the torment away. And then I am looking at my aunt’s gold watch at the time of death.

That is the thing about these anniversaries. You recall the heartbreak of the day. There is no space in my thoughts today for the comfort of joyful memories. I am all-consumed with the pain it was to watch my life partner, my beloved, cross the river of death—and knowing he would go without me.

Natural death is so unnatural. It feels so very wrong. The separation is nearly too much to bear. To watch the breath and soul go out of my husband pierced my heart in a way that I cannot describe.

This day brings some of the pain back. And it wants to swirl around me and come up over my head and drown me—but it cannot. Because this is not the end.

I have HOPE that transcends this broken-down world. My God is the Lover of my soul. My salvation and my future.

So I run! Run this race with endurance. I look expectantly for God to order and provide. And He so faithfully does.

Chris finished his race—seemingly too early (but not). And I was allowed the privilege of watching a godly man die. I pray I will finish well, as he did.

Thank you, my dear man. Your legacy lives. Thank you for living and dying well. I can’t wait to see you again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

First Anniversary

One year.

New marriage. New family. New home. New plans. New future.

Same God.

This last year has been both the most difficult in my life, as well as the most overwhelmingly blessed. It has been one of incredible sacrifice and incredible gifts.

We skipped the “honeymoon stage”—not in our hearts, but in our everyday life. Our time alone, I suppose, will come—not in the sweetness of early marriage months—but eventually. In the meantime, we work beside each other in the trenches of big family life. And once in a while we look at the person next to us and think, “Who is this?” How do I re-learn how to love and live with a brand new husband when it feels I can’t get a moment alone with him?

But God’s grace has gushed over us. Our scant time alone is filled to the brim. And though it never feels enough, it is always full. Full of sweetness and sometimes of full of sifting through hurt feelings or shocking differences we find in each other. But always full of love.

When it's hardand marriage is the hardest work I’ve done in my life—I tell myself that it’s worth every moment. Because this marriage matters. It matters for eternity. It matters for our kids. It matters for missions.

And so, on this Winter Solstice—our first wedding anniversary—I reflect on the beauty of the gift of marriage. And marvel that I have been given it again! I remember that it is not how I feel in any given moment. It is about resolve. Resolve to glorify God. Resolve to love. Resolve to serve. Resolve to forget myself.

And the joy—the romance—comes then! I am filled up with gratitude to my God for giving me this man. And for working in us both to make us more like Him THROUGH this marriage.

Happy 1st Anniversary, My Love. Thank you for loving me and making a new life and a new family and a new future with me. Much, much love.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hope for the Hopeless

After Chris' death, I prayed that the Lord would graciously redeem all that pain—that He would not only turn ashes into beauty in my life and in Erika's, but that He would provide me with opportunities to comfort others with the comfort I have received.  I couldn't imagine how that might look. But I knew that my heart was more tender to human suffering than it had been before. And I understood greater depths of the comforts of my loving God—the special nearness of the Father to His aching children.

Last week, Scotty and I returned from a life-changing trip. I believe God answered my prayers. He told me what He has for me—how He plans to redeem the past pain. We spent two weeks traveling throughout Lebanon. My dear husband has lived and served in the Middle East for over 20 years, but now we needed to find out what God might have for us together.  How might He use us both?

Almost immediately upon our arrival, I fell in love with the people. There is a warmth and affection in communication and hospitality that is very unlike American culture. Community is prized far above individuality. But I also saw how this honor-based society often gives way to pride and hate and abuse and murder. And myriads of devastated human beings are left in the wake. 

Hatred is everywhere. And hopelessness nearly chokes them. They are oppressed at every turn. Hunted down or caught in the cross-fire of hatred directed at another. Or they boil inside with their own hate—and they strike. Fear and anger permeates the society and the soul.

Compassion! Where is compassion? Who will show them the love of Jesus? Who will tell them of the hope that transcends this awful world? Who will weep with them when their fellow-refugee neighbor refuses to share water and their slumlord shamelessly exploits their vulnerability and need? Who will sit beside the woman who has been raped and drugged and punched by the man who shares her bed—and she finds no one in her society who takes up her case for her?

There is a stirring in our hearts to be the hope-bringers.  Pray with us! The task seems full of impossibilities, but we feel confident in the Lord's call. And "He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it." (I Thes. 5:24) 

We read this while in the city of Byblos, Lebanon (from Streams in the Desert, June 23):

"So he said, 'Come.' Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' " (Matt 14:29-30) 

Peter had a little faith in the midst of his doubts, says Bunyan; and so with crying and coming he was brought to Christ. 

But here you see that sight was a hindrance; the waves were none of his business when once he had set out; all Peter had any concern with, was the pathway of light that came gleaming across the darkness from where Christ stood. If it was tenfold Egypt beyond that, Peter had no call to look and see. 

When the Lord shall call to you over the waters, “Come,” step gladly forth. Look not for a moment away from Him.

Not by measuring the waves can you prevail; not by gauging the wind will you grow strong; to scan the danger may be to fall before it; to pause at the difficulties, is to have them break above your head. Lift up your eyes unto the hills, and go forward—there is no other way. 

Dost thou fear to launch away?
Faith lets go to swim!
Never will He let thee go;
’Tis by trusting thou shalt know
Fellowship with Him.

We pray for faith to look not at the waves but at Christ. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Letter at Two Years

My dear Chris,

How I miss you!

On this day two years ago, I held your hand for the last time. I kissed your smooth forehead. I looked into your pained eyes—trying to imagine with you the paradise for which you were departing in just mere moments. I said "goodbye." I watched your chest rise for the final time.

And then I stared at your emaciated, soulless body—so overjoyed for you to be finally delivered from the horrors of the valley of death. I tried to envision the bliss that surely tasted sweeter than my earthly mind could fathom. You were at last with the Lover of your soul.

And then I collapsed. My dearest friend was gone from me. My daughter’s daddy was out of her life forever. Just after you died, I would frequently dream that you came back for just one day. And it felt so good to be in your company and your arms again. I had so much to tell you. And then I would wake with that awful, sinking feeling—the realization of my alone-ness. And one time, I picked up my phone to call you because I just had to ask you something...and then remembered that no one would pick up. It was as if I lost my arm or leg. I didn't know how to live or make decisions without you for a while.

But, I learned. Eventually. The same Jesus that was with you in heaven was also with me. And so I could keep living. Putting one foot in front of the other. I could love and laugh with our girl. And joy began to return—sometimes in ounces, sometimes in bucketfuls.

Chris, you taught me so very much. You taught me patience and fortitude and grace. You were called to many years of pain and sleepless nights and scary doctor visits and awful treatments and news that went from bad to worse. And shattered hopes and dreams. And too-early goodbyes. And one of the most drawn-out deaths possible. You were stripped of every last shred of modesty but never lost your dignity or grace. Your prayer to "die in the saddle" (of ministry) was answered. Your death was the most important lesson in all of my life.

Eternal perspective came to me from that valley. But sometimes it slips away a bit. I forget the lessons I learned. I forget what you taught me—the  lessons you learned from your Savior and Friend. I start worrying about things. I snap and say unkind words. I lose my temper. I start to think that this life is all there is and that I have to make all my dreams come true here. (You know me and all my weak spots.)

And so, I'm thankful for this anniversary. A day to remember those lessons. And to remember you, my sweet man, and all the ways you reflected your Lord. A day to look back so that I may walk forward with purpose and grace.

I've had many gifts. The gift of a decade with you—living and growing with you, loving and being loved by you. The gift of parenting with you. And your death—bitter as it was—was also a gift. The lessons learned could not have been learned otherwise. (And your dying ministry reached far beyond your wife. You taught thousands how to suffer well.)

And now, I am quite confident you know about my newest gift. Erika and I are now two of eight! The Lord has answered your prayer and has placed the solitary in a family (Psalm 68:6)—and quite a large one at that! I have a godly and kind husband, and Erika has a father and five siblings. Our new family members have their own dear one in heaven—where you are. And so we often wonder if you and Bev know our story and if you have sweeter fellowship because of it? And I also wonder if you do most of the talking?

Guess what? God gave me another talkative husband! There are a few other ways in which you are similar, but more that you are not. The important things are there, though. Scotty loves the Lord, he loves me, and he loves his kids—all six of them. You'd like him a lot. Like you, he's passionate and excitable. It's one of the first things I liked about him.

We don't know where the Lord will take us, but we pray for hearts that are willing to be poured out always and for hands that hold our plans and hopes loosely. Our prayer is much like the prayers you and I prayed together.

How different, though, is this plan from the dreams we dreamed! But I wouldn't change one thing. And I am absolutely certain that you agree. Our God is a loving Sovereign, isn't He? How thoroughly you know this now! His purposes are grand and good. And you see and understand them now. I still walk by faith.

Thank you for living life with me while you were here. I will see you soon, my dear man. Much love.