Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Road Trip

To Every Thing
"Road Trip!" 

This past weekend, my six-year-old daughter and I went on a road trip, visiting many loved ones along the way. It was rather a whirlwind, and we missed some beloved friends, but it was a fun trip with lots of remembering and memory-creating.

For me, the drive home (with the wee one sleeping in the back seat) was a contemplative time. We had visited most of the places I have spent my adult years, and I was feeling a bit nostalgic.

You see, I've always wanted roots....deeply anchored in a place. My childhood included lots of moves from place-to-place, and I wanted my adulthood to be fixed in  place. I wanted to spend all the seasons of my adult life in one home, one town, one school system (as I am a teacher).

I hasn't worked that way! Instead, there have been many crises that demanded I move and many choices which have pushed me to move. There have been dark, dark times of pain and abuse. There have been shadowy times of loneliness and fear.

With each move, I hoped again that this would be the place I could grow those deep roots. When I moved to my current city, I thought I would stay forever in this place where my parents have made their home. I never dreamed I would have the courage to marry a third time; two abusive husbands were enough for me to tell God that I was done unless He dropped someone in my lap. I never dreamed my husband and I would become a forever family for a 27-month old (who rocks my world!). And I never figured God would give me a man (who also rocks my world!) called to His ministry, who would lead us on a search for a place to serve...which would mean moving again.

And the most amazing thing occurred to me on my road trip this past weekend: I am looking forward to moving this time! Not that I want to leave my parents; I don't. But this woman whom God has called to be wife is excited about serving God, wherever He calls us. Even if it means we're far from my beloved parents and much of our extended family.

My thoughts also wandered to my continuing struggle on how to understand the pain of this world, the suffering that surrounds us, in the context of God's great and abiding love for us. My past is full of pain, but in contemplating those places and times on our road trip, I discovered a truth: I never walked alone.

In Isaiah 43:2, God promises "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." God has accompanied me through every trial and tribulation, and I wholly trust that He will abide in me as we search, find, and move to serve Him.

And He will abide in you, loving you through the darkest times, carrying you when you are unable to walk. He hears our prayers, and when we are unable to pray, "...the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." (Romans 8:26) God loves you. God is with you in all things.

Amen. And amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

He Loves Me

One Great Love
 I am still struggling with how to respond to all the human suffering in the world. Personal suffering such as my friend's cancer diagnosis... Communal suffering such as the tornado destruction in Oklahoma.... Universal suffering such as the knowledge of our own mortality...

I've prayed a lot, read a lot, listened to a lot of music, and thought a lot about suffering, rejoicing, and living. There have been myriad threads of meaning throughout my pondering. But this morning, I visited my friend's blog site and read her last two blog posts. One was prior to her re-diagnosis with cancer; the other was after the bad news came. The post from before the diagnosis of a recurrence of cancer ended with these words:

"But He still loved me. Yes, I had cancer. Doesn't mean He didn't love me. Just meant I had cancer."

One Great Love
Those words reverberated deep within my soul. This is the bedrock of what I know is true: God loves me/you. He knows us, and He loves us.

He loves us when we're happy and pleased. He loves us when we're shocked and miserable. He knew all of our days even before we were formed (Psalms 139: 16), even those days in which we question or doubt Him. So when those days come, He loves us. In our illness, in our disaster, in our mortality. He loves us.

One Great Love
And that makes a difference, personally, communally, and universally. Knowing that God loves us, in all the pain of infertility, in all the agony of terminal illness, in all the grief, fear, and anger we face, gives us a place of solace, of grace, of comfort.

God doesn't create horrible circumstances for us, but He buoys us up through them by His love. Another friend frequently gives this advice, "Just keep swimming." I'm going to add, "And reach for your life preserver: God. He will carry you through the crashing waves because He loves you."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bad News

Glad Tidings
This piece, "Glad Tidings," contains many symbols of the Good News of the gospel. God's people can rest assured that He holds mighty power, great love, and every bit of creation in His hands. I believe in God's grace and love with every part of my being...

So why am I at such a loss right now? Why am I finding NO words to comfort or encourage my friend?

You see, my friend received some bad news a couple of days ago. She fought breast cancer... and we all thought she had won. Instead, the doctors found four malignant nodules in her lungs.

My friend and her husband have spent today considering how they will tell their five children, ages 6-19, that Mom is sick again.  No matter what, this is bad news.

I don't know what her treatment options are at this point. I don't know a specific prognosis. I just know that my heart hurts for my friend, her husband, and their children. What pain they are facing!

In a search for understanding, I reread my recent post about my own infertility and how I've learned to trust God, even in that pain. I can envision that God has a reason for that pain, even when I can't understand it. I can hope that good will come from my infertility, somehow.

But it seems a cruel thing to say to my friend and her family that good will come from her cancer...that God has a reason for this pain. And I don't believe God inflicts us with painful events/circumstances. He can use even horrible circumstances for our good, but He doesn't create them for us.

I have prayed for this friend for many months, and will continue to do so. I will pray for a miracle, which I know God can do. I will pray for peace that surpasses all understanding, because peace is certainly not what one would normally feel in this situation. And I will pray that God will give me words that comfort and encourage, lift-up and hearten, perhaps even inspire.

In the process, I pray that I will deepen my  understanding of the interaction between God's grace and love and the universal experience of human suffering. How should I, as a Christian, respond to instances of human suffering? How can I bring the eternal truth of the Good News when someone is confronting bad news?

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Am Not Hannah

Nor am I Rachel, Elizabeth, or Sarai, or any of the other myriad women in the Bible who were "cursed" to barrenness and then "blessed" by God after years of fervent prayer.

Nope, not me. Because I never received the "blessing" of biological children. I stayed "cursed" and barren.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love my children. This isn't about being dissatisfied with them. It's not even really about being dissatisfied at all! But my infertility will always be a real pain of my life. And Mother's Day will always be a time of love, celebration, and a little pain. It will always be a time when I remember unanswered prayers.

And that's what I want to write about today: unanswered prayers. I know that I'm not the only person who has them; how do we, as Christians, approach the pain of unanswered prayer? I mean, we believe in God Almighty, who has the power to do anything, who loves us. Why would He refuse to fulfill some of our deepest desires?? Birthing a child is clearly something God approves...

A flare of temper by my youngest child this Mother's Day weekend gave me an insight into a way to understand this. We had told her no about something she wanted, and she reacted with a stomp and a snarl, reminding me of a time when I was six or so. My mother had told me that I couldn't camp outside with my cousins; I was incensed! "Everybody else" was going to camp outside, even the cousins my age. Why did I have to sleep inside with the babies? I can clearly remember my outrage.

What I didn't get at the age of six-ish was that "everybody else" was a boy. My camping-out cousins were all boys, aged 6-15. My mom knew what she was talking about! (Just like I did with my daughter this weekend.)

And that's the thing that allows me to let go of the pain of infertility most of the time: Someday I will understand God's reasons for not blessing me with a biological child. Someday I will deeply and truly know that His way was right and best.

And so I trust God in all things. Those things that seem right to me, and those things that seem wrong to me. The deep and abiding joy of meeting my adopted children... The pain that strikes me when I'm invited to a baby shower...

I don't have the omniscient perspective of God, but I can trust that He has my best interests in mind, even when His decisions cause me pain and anger in this lifetime. Like a parent protecting their child from dangers s/he doesn't recognize.

I must admit that I'm looking forward to the day when I gain understanding of the painful things of this life!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Personal Pronouns

Detail from Good.
It's so easy to get focused on ourselves, isn't it? At least half of my thoughts start with "I..." or "My..." Probably more like three-fourths of my thoughts!

I've been very aware of all of my "I..." thoughts lately. I've even been listening to the lyrics of Christian music, mulling over "I..." statements. (There are lots of them!) I'm much more comfortable with lyrics like "You are worthy" than "I will serve You." Not that it's wrong to say "I will serve You!" I've just been struck by how very much my thoughts/our thoughts as humans are self-oriented.

Even my thoughts that supposedly aren't focused on ME often turn out to be so. We went through a time of frustration with our six-year-old recently. She was being extremely snippy and uncooperative. I found myself feeling VERY frustrated... by my lack of success in changing her behavior! I realized this when I exclaimed to my husband, "I just wish I could DO something!"


Then on my walk this morning, while I was listening to one of those songs that made me think about pronouns, I remembered my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Albrecht. She taught me the difference between subject pronouns and object pronouns. All you have to do is insert he or him for I or me. If he sounds right, use I. If him sounds right, use me. So "It's from my dad and ___" becomes "It's from my dad and him." Then you can correctly place me in the sentence, knowing it's right to say "It's from my dad and me."

What does all this mulling tell me about God? Because really, it's all about Him, right? It's not about whether my daughter cooperates or not. It's not about whether I can change her behavior. It's not about whether my elbow has healed enough to kayak or bicycle. It's not about the sadness I feel at losing a friend or family member. It's certainly not about knowing subject pronouns from object pronouns.

It's about God. God's plan. God's will. I pray he helps me keep that focus instead of getting distracted by all the "me" thoughts in my head!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

That Moose is Rich.

Actually, I thought the moose at the zoo was a bit on the mangy side. It had a couple of bare patches and a healing sore on its ear. But it was close! The kids were feeding it leaves, it was so close to us. And that was awesome!

It was a beautiful spring day, full of God's wondrous creatures, and finding a moose so close to the fence made it a practically perfect trip to the zoo. The fact that it ate at least one leaf from each of the kiddos was almost unbelievable! But that isn't the best thing... by far.

Let's back up a bit.

We've been waiting for a church call for almost two years now. There have been times of impatience and discouragement, but mostly it's been a very positive and happy waiting-time. Full of blessings.

My husband continues to search for a church to pastor, and we continue to wait, but there's a new feeling of anticipation for us. It just seems like God is working on matching us up with His chosen flock.

And along with this, we've been feeling the drag of  too many things, kind of like shedding a skin that's too tight. There have been many Do we really need this? conversations among us lately. Obviously, we moved it once, about a year ago, thinking we did. But now, many things are feeling superfluous.

So we're talking, and sorting, and pushing at the limits of desiring and keeping. This has been especially difficult for our six-year-old. She has lost many things in her life, and has a strong desire to keep everything.

Seriously, everything.

She would still have her size 2T sleepers if I hadn't bargained over the years, buying bigger clothes and "trading" her for her too-small clothing. She still occasionally bemoans the selling of her daddy's old truck (which we did three years ago!). So you can imagine how the idea of getting rid of things has gone.

We've had lots of conversations about how God will always provide for us (Matthew 6: 25-34). About how she still has plenty of toys/clothing/furniture/etc, even after we've "cleaned out." About how much of what we have is surplus to our needs. About how many children in the world don't even have enough to eat, let alone toys or extras. About how Mom and Dad will always make sure that she is taken care of. About God's great love for us (Bible: Genesis-Revelation).

Okay. So back to the zoo. The kids are feeding leaves to the moose. Except our daughter stops. And looks intently around the moose's habitat. And finally says, "That moose is rich."


She says, "That moose is rich."

I say, "What?"

She says, "Look around, Mom. That moose is RICH! Look at all those leaves. Look at all that grass. Look at the trees. That moose is RICH."

I smiled, finally getting it. I gave her a little hug and said, "Yep, Sweetie. That moose IS rich. And so are we." She snuggled in a little and said, "I know."

That moose is rich.

Me, too.

And you?