When Everything Falls

There was quite a lot of devastating news traveling around last week (not even counting Downton Abbey…) and my heart has been weighing a bit heavy ever since.

trees

I was driving the other day and heard the song “Held” by Natalie Grant. The song always makes me tear up because it’s about a very young baby who passes away. There’s one line in the song that just seemed to hit exactly what I had been feeling:

This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held

The promise Jesus gave to us was not that we would not suffer. Rather, the promise was that in the midst of suffering, we would be carried. We would be held in the hand of a God who not only knows all but who has actually felt the ultimate pain when He died on the cross.

When tragedy strikes someone who isn’t a Christian, I get anxious about what might happen in that person’s heart. You see, if that person takes a leap of faith and cries out to God in prayer, it can be devastating when He doesn’t answer the way he or she expected. That person might then turn away from faith forever, feeling scarred by his or her seemingly useless prayer.

It can be so scary to step out into His grace. We are so used to taking care of things ourselves. We want a guarantee that if we reach out to God that He will answer exactly the way we hope.

Just yesterday I was searching my email archives for something and ran across an email exchange with Tyler on March 29th of last year. It was the day before we found out he had a tumor and we were emailing like we normally do throughout the day. Tyler wrote that he had done some research on the likelihood that the mass was a cyst or a benign tumor and that he was just believing it would be nothing. We both wrote that we needed to remember to put the champagne in the fridge to celebrate his health. There’s even an email from me with just a bunch of star emoticons.

It’s bizarre to read those notes knowing what happened the very next day. That we would walk into that doctor’s office after days and days of prayer from our closest friends and family and squeeze each other so hard when the doctor said the words “malignant tumor” because we didn’t want to cry in front of this stranger.

It’s strange to look at that email thread and then remember that the champagne stayed chilled in the fridge for 3 months while we kept waiting for the good news. While we kept praying. While others kept praying.

God didn’t answer our prayer that the mass wasn’t a tumor. Or that the tumor wasn’t cancer. Or the prayers that the cancer wouldn’t need chemo or that there would only be one round of chemo.

Tyler did get healed (thank you, Jesus!) and I know that is a happier ending than a lot of people get. But we didn’t get all the things we asked for, did we?

If you haven’t experienced God’s grace or been carried by Him through a storm or felt His sweet gift of redemption, not getting the answer you want might feel like a total letdown. Why follow a God who doesn’t give you what you want?

The thing is, when Tyler was sick, God answered prayers for grace, strength, peace, comfort. He also met us in our darkest hours and the time we spent with Him there was so precious. Reading Psalms together, listening to worship music, just being still. He was present.

It was still hard, don’t get me wrong. We dealt with a lot of fear and had a lot of difficult moments. There’s just no doubt that God showed up for us in a big way.

I don’t write this so that you’ll never ask God for healing or to be taken out of suffering. Jesus is Healer! I believe that and have seen His touch heal people in my own life. We should bring all our worries to Him and ask for miracles.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

But let’s remember that our relationship with God is not “transactional”. We desire to be in communion with Him and sometimes that means enduring a trial together. When I’m going through a hard time or I know someone is struggling, I pray that we would understand that Jesus will be there and He will be enough.

The Bible does not say that if we become followers of Christ that we will not endure any suffering or experience any pain. Quite the opposite, in fact, Jesus says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Take a leap of faith in your prayers, my friends, and take heart! He is waiting there with open arms.

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Sunday Thoughts: Growing Roots

The end of the year typically leads people into reflection – on their past, what life is like today, and what could be to come in the future. I don’t always choose New Year’s resolutions but I do like to set goals and think about how things could be different in the coming year.

I spent some time in the book of Jeremiah this morning, reading about God’s promises and prophesies for Israel. Jeremiah is a prophet called by God to spread the message of repentance and turning away from false hope in empty idols.

I was convicted by this passage, which made me think about where I put my trust and the fruit I’m bearing (or, more honestly, not bearing):

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
    with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5-8

Even though I committed my heart to Jesus many years ago, I still struggle with putting my hope and confidence in Him. I let things bother me too easily and often feel like there’s more that God could be doing with my life, if I were open to it.

I want roots that grow so deep in the Lord they never get thirsty. Doesn’t that sound so refreshing?

As part of Threshold in November and December, we have been experimenting with spiritual disciplines. I chose the disciplines of silence and solitude. I have noticed over the last couple of years how distracted I am. I only make time for God when I feel like it and my time with Him seems to just consist of me asking for things. I fill the air around me with music, tv, people and am always thinking about or processing something, whether it’s news, work, facebook or other blogs.

My assignment was to spend 15 minutes in silence and solitude every day. I set out to leave my desk at work and walk the surrounding streets without listening to music or looking at my phone. The goal was to clear my head and just be silent. It wasn’t that I was expecting to hear from God in those 15 minutes, it was more about creating space in my life that was open for Him to speak, without my specific parameters crowding the time.

To be honest, I haven’t been very successful. My first few days walking around the block were consumed with thoughts of where I was going to park in December when Tyler moved to Maine and my regular commute changed. This was such a glaring example of how I fret about stupid little things instead of letting God work them out.

I did have some sweet moments of His presence. One day in particular stands out when I was blessed with some memories of my maternal grandparents who both passed over a decade ago. I also experienced a lessening in my desire to be constantly multitasking. I’m hopeful that this will continue and translate into a more focused heart on God’s presence in my day to day life.

It’s easy to become stunted shrubs in the desert, inhabiting a barren land without even really noticing. I feel like my roots have tasted of good soil but have yet to grow deep. I want more of that good soil.

As we reflect on 2012 and look forward into 2013, I pray that we would not only taste the good soil but plant ourselves firmly and deeply into it. I look expectantly with hope that God is going to bear sweet fruit from my life, despite how barren the land before me may look.

Blessings to you and yours in 2013!

(Pssst… Growing roots has a two-fold meaning for us in the new year. Check out my new blog on organic living at http://simple-roots.blogspot.com)

Woven Together

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100

I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to spend thanksgiving with my family, my husband’s family, and my brother-in-laws family. Tyler’s mom has an incredible gift for hospitality and serving others. Bringing our families together on this day so that we wouldn’t be scattered at separate houses was a very special gift to us all and symbolic of how she views family.

Tonight, as we drove Gram home, I noticed all the homes with one room lit up showcasing families gathered around the table. It struck me because so often we spend our time in separate rooms, not tuned into each others’ lives.

I’m thankful to be part of a family that not only values time spent together, but also opens their home to others, extending their love and generosity even further.

We stood in a circle before the meal, holding hands while little Eli said a blessing (with some help from Mimi!). We ate, laughed, and celebrated and now the 9 of us remaining are cuddled up on one couch watching the Patriots.

I am so thankful for my family. I can’t imagine anything more important on this earth than spending time with the people who share my history and my genes and the ones who have welcomed me as their own.

To my own family, thank you for all the wonderful memories you’ve made possible over the years. Watching the parade, baking special treats and watching Dad try to figure out which way the turkey should go in the pan. We can’t forget Gram’s festive turkey sweaters and fun table games.

To my in-laws, thank you for the traditions that you’ve shared with me, whether we are visiting the extended fam in Pennsylvania or celebrating all together in Maine. Thank you for welcoming my whole family into your celebrations.

Father, thank You for the families that you have blessed me with, both by blood and by marriage. I praise You for the way You have woven us together and I pray for continued unity. We are all part of the same family, Your family, brought together by the grace of Your son. We praise You for all the blessings of this past year and ask for Your favor in the year to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!

May the Hand of a Friend Always Be Near You

At midnight I rise to give you thanks
    for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
    to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:62-64

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I’m thankful for the gift of friendship.

As I write this, I’m watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a classic holiday movie about two strangers who navigate the most ridiculous journey home for Thanksgiving. It makes me think about the wonderful friendships I have formed, sometimes under unusual circumstances or in unexpected places.

Friends are so important in our walk with Christ. They lift us up, ground us, keep us accountable, challenge us, laugh with us, offer a shoulder to cry on, grieve with us and celebrate right along side us. There are many examples of friendship in the Bible: Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Barnabas and Paul. Jesus modeled friendship with his disciples. It is an essential and beautiful part of life.

For a lot of us, Thanksgiving means going home. Back to the place we grew up, where we made our first friends. A lot of people have become strangers but there are those precious few people who we look forward to seeing every time we go home. They know our past and share some of our favorite memories. There’s something special about the people who knew you when you had braces, awkward bangs and loved Limited Too a little TOO much.

I have a few of these dear childhood friends and several more from other stages and experiences in my life. God has very clearly ordained some of these friendships and they have left indelible marks on my life. You know when you meet someone who just gets you? It’s like you are speaking the same language, almost like they have known you as long as your childhood friends. Those people are treasures. Kindred spirits.

As Tyler and I make the move back home to Maine, and away from many of our friends, I have been thinking a lot about how important it is to cultivate and nourish these friendships. I have friends I haven’t seen in months, some I haven’t seen in years. Yet I know we are still knit together by heart and I pray that God would hold the fibers of our friendship together in spite of the distance that separates us.

Thank You, Jesus, for modeling friendship and for being the ultimate friend to us. I ask for your blessing and favor over all my friends tonight, scattered as they are. I praise You for the way You have put people into my life who have become unexpected gems and beacons of light. I thank You for the way they sustain me and teach me about myself and what it means to love others. I pray over the transition in our friendship and that the road between our houses would still be well traveled.

“May the hand of a friend always be near you” – Irish Blessing

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

Released From Perfection

To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.
Psalm 119:96

I’m thankful to be released from the false promise of perfection.

I am a recovering perfectionist. I have spent most of my life figuring out the absolute right way to do things so that I could get the best possible outcome.

And I have failed and disappointed myself time and time again.

I worked with the late Bill Bicknell who used to say, “The best is the enemy of the good.” (I think this quote is attributed to Voltaire) Bill taught this in the context of quality in public health practice. Essentially, when we strive for perfection, the cost of getting there is not worth the end.

This idea of striving for unattainable perfection came up again last week at a faculty workshop led by one of my colleagues at BU. She was sharing some new teaching methods she had used in her courses recently and gave the disclaimer that they haven’t all worked perfectly, she’s just been willing to try. Some of her experiments have failed but some have yielded pretty incredible results in the classroom.

I don’t have to depend on my own abilities or plans to yield a life of excellence but I do have to be willing to step out on a limb and accept that sometimes I will fail. The security lies in God’s sovereignty: His abilities and plans know no limits. He is not handicapped by doubt or forces out if His control. He IS in control.

We are not.

That reality terrifies us but really, we should speak this verse and breathe a huge sigh of relief. We don’t have to be perfect!

Our pride gets in the way here because we WANT to be perfect and we want so desperately to be able to control it. But until we stop striving for the impossible and obsessing over the details, we won’t get to taste the improbable yet incredible glory that God bestows on us when we learn to walk in His way.

Our version of perfection will never measure up to God’s greatness and the cost of trying to get there on our own is far too high.

Thank You, Jesus, that you died for all my gross imperfections and continue to cleanse me from my sins. I rejoice in the freedom of letting go of an idol that only serves my pride instead of the goodness we trick ourselves into believing we will produce by being “perfect”. You are perfect, Jesus, and I pray that our striving nature would strive to be like You and not a worldly version of perfect. Thank You for lifting this burden from me!

In the Light of His Presence

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.
Psalm 89:15-18

I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in Threshold this year. I remember hearing the facilitators describe the experience at a workshop last year and thinking, wow, I would love to do that.

To explore some of the most challenging questions in life with a small group of people who are learning how to say yes to God’s big plans for our lives is a true treasure. In the three short months we’ve been together I have learned so much about the rich diversity of stories God is telling in us.
Stories of redemption, promise, and hope.

Each of us has a unique set of experiences and gifts that God is weaving together in a much larger story. We may never know or understand how our individual lives connect but I believe in the great purpose He has laid out on the path ahead.

I feel the light of God’s presence each time we meet, piercing the darkness of the world and inviting us into a better way. A brighter path.

Thank You Father for the opportunity to connect in this way, especially during this season of transition in my life. I ask for Your blessing upon each participant and on our facilitators. I pray that we would each increase in our courage and boldness as we uncover Your deep purpose for our vocations.

Wisdom from the Greatest Generation

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Psalm 78

I’m thankful for my wise and wonderful Grandmother. My Gram is a treasure to everyone who knows her and especially to me. She has always provided wisdom and encouragement to me from the time I was very young. She is sharp in her intellect and kind in her actions. She has accomplished so much in her lifetime as a nurse and advocate for the elderly (She even made it into the New York Times!).

My Gram continues to amaze me with how she spends her time and her talents. For the recent election, she organized a van to take the residents in her community to vote.  She also collaborated with the municipalities to ensure that those who couldn’t get out to the polls were able to fill out an absentee ballot. She helps facilitate a current events discussion among her peers every Friday and takes classes at the University of Southern Maine. Did I mention she’s in her 80s?

My Gram has taught me so much about faith, family, work, love and what it means to be a woman of strength. She continues to pass her wisdom down through the generations, sharing her experience and her heart with my niece and nephew and even my friends. I can’t wait for my own children to get to spend time with her. She truly embodies what it means to be a part of the Greatest Generation.

Gram, thank you for being such a pillar of strength in my life. I cherish the time we spend together and am so looking forward to being a bigger part of your life in Maine. I love you so very much!