Thursday, May 21, 2015

an open letter to my brother on memorial day

You know that I'm still mad at you sometimes, right? Mad at you for leaving me behind, despite all the times I insisted you wait for me when we were growing up. I thought it was just some crazy reaction that I was totally by myself with, but I'm not the only one who has said that if her brother walked through the front door today she would hug his neck and then punch him. And since you taught me how to punch, you know that wouldn't be one of those wimpy punches, either.

Sometimes, I still let myself believe for a few minutes that you aren't really gone. When it gets too tough and I just don't have the strength to miss you, I let myself picture a "Bourne Identity" situation for a little while. It doesn't work for long, but sometimes it's long enough to let me swallow the lump in my throat and move forward.

This week has been full of those moments. Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and I don't know how to react to it. My kids--your niece and nephew who would adore you--are excited because they don't have school Monday, but how do I explain to them that while I'm glad they are excited, it's too hard for me to be excited?

I know why you went to Iraq instead of taking the "safe route" in South Korea when you were commissioned. I understand the passion that drives people to dive into the deep end instead of wading in slowly. After all, that passion and drive were things Pop and Mom instilled in all 3 of us (though our baby sister, believe it or not, seems to actually think before she acts...crazy girl). I know what it's like to have a dream that's so much a part of you it feels like you can't breathe when you aren't living it out, so I know why you were in that Najaf cemetery that scorching August day. I know you were there doing what God called you to do--fighting for those weaker than you who weren't able to stand on their own. You were being a soldier, and that was who you were made to be. Like Rambo said, "Live for nothing or die for something; your choice."

Yes, I really did just quote John Rambo. Aren't you impressed?

It's hard living in your shadow sometimes. I thought it was hard being "Little Mike" when I started high school your senior year, but that doesn't even begin to compare. It seems a lot of people like to see you as perfect now. As your little sister, I feel it's my duty to remind you that that's not true. I don't think people know how to talk about you anymore, and it makes me crazy to see the sad, uncomfortable look on people's faces when I mention your name. I don't blame them--nobody ever really knows what to say. But just so you know, I haven't forgotten all the times you picked on me, or when you taught Jeff the lovely French phrase, "Elle est bete!" that the two of you loved saying around me, or when you came home from college telling me, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch!" and refusing to speak to me in English.

My goodness, you knew just how to annoy me!

I wish you were here. I wish I was still just a little bit oblivious as to the true meaning of this weekend. I wish I could make fun of you for being a big softie with your two beautiful nieces who would have you wrapped around their little fingers. I wish I could see you with your nephew who seems to have his "teelings" right at the surface like you did when you were little. He's a protector, too, like you. He came home one day talking about how he didn't care if the bully was mean to him, but he wasn't going to let him pick on one of the other boys.

I miss you every day, sometimes overwhelmingly so. I've tried to be strong, and I hope you're proud of that even though sometimes I fail miserably. I'm not quite the peacemaker you were because I let my emotions get in the way, but I'm trying.

Know you aren't forgotten.
Know you're loved.

"Bless you, my darling, and remember you are always in the heart--oh, tucked so close there is no chance of escape--of your sister." ~Katherine Mansfield

I love you, big brother. And I may get in trouble one day when I step through the gates of Heaven and punch you in the shoulder before I hug your neck, but just so you know that'll be your fault.

~Mandy 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

lessons from kids' songs

Songs have always had an impact on me. I have (quite literally) 45 different playlists saved on Spotify, each with its own purpose. I've had different theme songs at different times in my life, and even now when I hear one of those it brings up the memories of whatever was going on in my life at the time.

There are songs I sing when I feel on top of the world and songs I sing when my heart is breaking. Whatever the emotion, I probably have a song to go along with it--happy, sad, or anything in between.

Sometimes, though, a song comes to mind at a rather odd time. Take yesterday. I was mowing (it seems that something like that makes my brain start working, too) and two songs kept running through my head on repeat. They were both songs I've most likely known for as long as I've been able to talk, thanks to my mom. They were also both songs I haven't thought of or heard in a long time.

"He's still working on me
to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be,
'cause He's still working on me.
There really ought to be
a sign upon my heart:
"Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part."
But I'll be perfect just according to His plan,
crafted by the Master's loving hand."

"I am a promise,
I am a possibility.
I am a promise
with a capital P.
I am a great big bundle of potentiality!
And I am learning to hear God's voice,
and I am trying to make the right choice.
I am a promise to be
anything God wants me to be.
I can go anywhere that He wants me to go;
I can be anything that He wants me to be.
I can climb the high mountain,
I can cross the wide sea,
I am a great big promise, you see!"

Since I couldn't get the words out of my head, I started thinking. When kids sing those songs, you can see how much they believe them. The joy pours out of them as they sing about how much God loves them and how He has amazing things in store for them. They know that those words are true because they know that God is true to His word. There simply isn't any other possibility.



All they see ahead of them are amazing adventures. They are truly full of promise and potential, not because they know what the future holds, but for no other reason than that they know Who holds the future.


I'm sure you were like that once. The future was bright, even though you didn't know what lay ahead. God's promises were all you needed.

But then, life.

Somewhere along the way, life happened and you started singing those words with less joy. You started questioning the future, wondering if you would ever amount to anything, ever find God's purpose for your life, ever become who He intends you to be.

"I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you,
I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel
from the first day until now,
being confident of this,
that He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 1:3-6

God has promised to carry His work on to completion--in you. Not just in the world, not just in those people you see who seem like the superstars of Christianity. God's still working on you, and He's dedicated to seeing you live up to your full promise and potential.

You are a Promise.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

prep work

I was talking to Pop on the phone last night and told him, "I'm not very good at this whole 'patience' thing." To his credit, he didn't laugh me off the phone for stating the obvious.

You see, I've felt like life lately--for a few years now--has just had me hurry up and wait. I've never been very good at waiting. Even when I was little I would tell people to "wait real quick," because I've never been a big fan of waiting a long time.

As I've seen time and time again, God's timing doesn't really fit with mine. You would think I would have a firm grasp of that concept by now, wouldn't you? The thing is, I still have to be reminded of it from time to time.

I've mentioned before a sermon series my parents sent me, from Dr. Tony Evans. In one sermon, he talked about how Joseph's timing and God's timing were quite different. In Genesis 40, Joseph is in prison with Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker. They both had dreams, and Joseph interpreted them. I imagine that Joseph's timing would have had him getting out when the cupbearer did, but that wasn't God's timing. Instead of bringing Joseph up to Pharaoh, verse 23 says, "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

I wonder what Joseph's thoughts were for the next two years while he was still hanging out in prison. I wonder if he felt forgotten, abandoned. I wonder if he struggled with impatience, if he wondered if he would ever find his purpose.

That's my biggest struggle right now:
I'm desperate to know what God's purpose for my life is;
what He wants me to do with all the mixed up interests I have;
how He's planning on using me.

But the answers aren't clear. As much as I would like for them to be written out plainly, they aren't.

What I've come to realize, though, is that God has been investing a lot of time in preparing me for now and for whatever comes next.

In 2012, when this blog started, it was with the word faithful.
2013 was the word follow.
2014 was do not neglect your gift.
2015 is trust.

4 years of prep work, of God getting me ready for whatever He has in store. 4 years of Him telling me to lean into Him and to rely on Him. When you think about it, 4 years is a pretty big investment. Like Tony Evans said in that sermon series I mentioned, God has been preparing me for my purpose and my purpose for me.

I still don't know what that purpose is. I don't know what's ahead on what has already been a pretty crazy path.


I do know, though, that God has promised some pretty amazing things:

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go,
and I will bring you back to this land.
I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
~Genesis 28:15

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
'This is the way; walk in it.'"
~Isaiah 30:21

"Because You are my help,
I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me."
~Psalm 63:7&8
 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

the difference between the head and the gut

I've grown up knowing what my family refers to as the "Sunday school answers." I grew up going to church every time the doors were opened--and even times when they weren't, because my parents had a key even before Pop became a pastor.

I was in Children's Church, Sunday School, Girls in Action, Bible Drill, Kid's Choir, Acteens, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, Summer Summer...you name it, I did it. I could sing the books of the New Testament (To this day I still have to sing them to know the order) and recite the books of the Old Testament. My Bible was underlined and highlighted. I had the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer memorized, along with countless verses.

I had the head knowledge down pat.

The thing is, when times get tough the head knowledge isn't enough.

Now, don't get me wrong--the head knowledge is important because it helps you know where to turn. That's what makes verses pop into your head during the rough moments and reminds you where to look when you're struggling.

As I was reminded Sunday morning at church, though, there's a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it deep down at the core of who you are, from your gut.

The stuff in your head? That can be forgotten or reasoned away. That can be pushed aside and ignored when life has you knocked flat on your face.

It's the stuff you know deep down in your gut, the stuff that's a part of you, that sticks around when you're down in the pit, lost in the darkness. When life has you wrung out and trampled, it's what you know in your gut that matters.

You don't have to remember all the right answers, but there are some things that you can't ever forget.

1. You are loved--deeply.
    At the core of who He is, God is Love. His love is unfailing, no matter how many times you fail.

2. You are not alone.
    Even when you feel abandoned, God's promise stays the same: "The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:8)

3. He is more than enough.
    When things seem impossible and you don't have anything else to give, God has more than enough strength to carry you through. Ephesians 3:20 tells us, "Unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we think or ask, according to the power that works in us.'

When all the head knowledge in the world doesn't help, cling to what you know in your gut--God's promise to be with you.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

He is risen...

"When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and He and His disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, 'Who is it you want?'
     'Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied.
     'I am He,' Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
     'When Jesus said, 'I am He,' they drew back and fell to the ground."
~John 18:1-6

We talk a lot about the fact that Jesus was crucified, and with good reason. It was His death on the cross that saved us, His blood being shed that covered us and made us pure in the eyes of God.

We talk about the Pharisees and Pilate and Herod. We quote the crowd who yelled out, "Crucify Him!"

But we tend to forget one major point: "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." ~John 10:17&18

Jesus was crucified, but it wasn't the mob or the Pharisees or the rulers in Jerusalem or the nails holding Him to the cross that day.

This was the One who simply spoke "I am He," and those who had come to capture Him fell to the ground, the One who put a man's ear back on his head when Peter cut it off with a sword.

This was the One who willing laid down His life for us,
"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!"
~Philippians 2:6-8

His love for us was so great that He allowed Himself to be crucified--the very action that gives us the word "excruciating"--just so that each one of us could be saved.

As is said in the Passover Seder, "It would have been enough." 
But the story doesn't end there.

On the cross, looking out at the people who put the crown of thorns on His head and the nails through His hands and feet, He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

In the midst of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for God to forgive us.

"It would have been enough." 
But again, the story doesn't end there.

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.'' Then they remembered His words."
~Luke 24:1-8

Again, it would have been more than enough.
The amazing thing is, the story doesn't end there, either.

He is risen indeed. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

best laid plans...

I pulled out my quote notebook this morning (yes, I have an entire notebook dedicated to the quotes I find and love and just have to write down somewhere--doesn't everybody do that?). I was looking for a very specific quote, and I had a post planned that would fit nicely with it.

The thing is, my quotes aren't organized. Kind of like in my life, physics and writing and Bible verses are all jumbled together with no real rhyme or reason. I can usually remember which side of the page a specific quote is on, but that still means I have to scan through at least half the book before I can find what I'm looking for.

This morning, while looking for the Mark Twain quote I was going to write about, I came across this:

The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me;
Your love, O LORD, endures forever--
do not abandon the works of Your hands.
~Psalm 138:8

I've struggled a lot with not knowing what's in store for me. Here in just over a month, I'll finish my Master of Science in Education and Physics, which follows my Bachelor of Science in Physics...but I have no idea what I'm going to do with my degrees.

Teach? Maybe, but I've come to find out lately that to be able to teach high school I will have to go through an alternative license program (despite the fact that I've taught and that part of my degree is education--gotta jump through those hoops, though).

Write? Maybe, but I've come to find out that it doesn't go very far in paying the bills.

To be honest, I'm scared about the future. I'm not good at not knowing. I told my best friend that not too long ago, and she told me that apparently that's something God is wanting me to be good at since that's the lesson He's been trying to get through my thick skull for so long (those weren't her exact words, but when you've known somebody for 20 years--wow, that's a crazy thought--you know what they're really saying when they're trying to say it nicely).

The thing is, even though I don't know, God knows. He has a plan in mind, and He's working every little thing in my life to bring me to where He wants me. Maybe I'm taking the long road because I'm just so stubborn that I fight against Him trying to shape me into who He needs me to be, but no matter how many twists and turns there are in the road, it still leads to His purpose for my life.


Yes, sometimes--most of the time--I wish God would clue me in on His plan. I wish I had a road map, something to show me the whole path planned out nicely. But God doesn't work that way. He does, though give me a promise:

"...He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 1:6b 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

laughter in tears

This past week, my family said goodbye to one of the best men I've ever known, Charles Edward DeLozier. I've been trying to find the right words, but they don't come. Last summer I wrote about both my grandfathers and how blessed I am to be part of the legacy of each of them, and those words are no less true now that both those men have stepped from this world to the next.
 
While there were tears at Papaw's, there was also something that might come as a bit of a surprise--laughter.

Lots of it.

It filled Papaw's house as old friends told stories and family dropped by to reminisce. It came from tales of stock car races, mowing escapades, and rescues from possums. It came from finding trays from t.v. dinners, bowls from frozen pot pies, and popsicle sticks--all neatly organized and saved just because you never know when you might need them (popsicle sticks make great splints for broken fingers, you know).

It was at the funeral home office when they were straightening out all the details and my uncle asked, "Is that your best offer?" because his dad always haggled for everything. It was at the funeral service when my dad said that maybe Papaw's comment of "That boy could tear up an anvil" was meant as a compliment when taken in light of Papaw rolling a dump truck, getting a mower stuck in a pond, and falling through a roof with the chainsaw still running. It was in my cousin's words in an essay read at the service, saying if you weren't doing something Papaw's way you weren't doing it right.

It was at the graveside when the family stood around talking for far too long, remembering good times and people gone on before us. It was in the thought of reunions taking place in heaven and the memory of "singings" held at houses long ago. It was filling the church building as people ate food prepared and brought by loving hands to serve as a comfort.

In the midst of tears, there was laughter for only one reason--because in the midst of our tears, there was God. Because of Him, there was peace in the knowledge that one day we will all be together once more, for eternity. There was comfort knowing that Papaw didn't have to struggle to breathe. There was joy knowing that he was reunited with his wife, brother, grandson, nieces, and a whole host of family who were all there to greet him, and I bet their laughter mingled with ours was a beautiful sound in Heaven.