Saturday, December 21, 2019

Grief and joy

I'm finding myself in a raw place this Christmas season. I don't know what it is--I'm not typically a sentimental person. But this year, I find myself swallowing a lump in my throat and blinking back tears way more often that I would like.

Grief is such a bizarre thing. Here I am, 15 years out, fighting tears as I'm driving down the highway. It hits out of nowhere, and it really doesn't care how inconvenient the timing. Like Sunday, after a bad day where I had made my husband, daughter, and son all frustrated with me (for different reasons--I'm talented like that). Then I had fought the crowd at WalMart, something I'm never a fan of, in search of gifts and stocking stuffers. I was driving home in the dark, which is already not such a great thing for me because my night vision is terrible.

And there was the flag.

After Michael's death, my family had a flagpole installed at the cemetery. There's a light shining on it at night so it doesn't have to be taken down at sunset each day. When you drive down highway 21 at night, you see the flag highlighted against the night sky, behind a glowing church steeple. Sunday night, that flag hit me like a punch in the gut. I can't tell you why; normally when we drive by I like to see it there. It usually gives me comfort, somehow, seeing it waving in the night breeze.

But Sunday, it brought instant tears and a lump I just couldn't swallow.







Here's the thing about grief, though--we grieve because we love. The deeper the love, the deeper the grief.

This Christmas, if your heart is breaking--whether it's from a new grief or one that just seems to have snuck up on you again--I wish you peace. I wish you memories, even the ones that bring tears to your eyes, because that's how you heal. I wish you the time to slow down and take a breath.

But I also wish you joy. It seems strange to put joy and grief together, but I've come to believe that it's normal. It may not seem that way to people who've stayed on the outside of grief looking in, but let me be blunt--unless you've lived through a loss that has rocked you to your core, you don't get to tell people what's "normal" in grief.

So I hope you'll have a moment like I did Sunday night. I hope you'll cry ugly tears, but then I hope you'll think of something that makes you snort and laugh through them. I hope you'll let the memories that hurt your heart also heal it.

Monday, November 4, 2019

What are you chasing?

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"Chase your dreams."
"Go after what you want!"

We hear it all the time, encouragement to chase after our dreams and keep pushing until we get what we're running after. It's the American Dream that everyone wants, right? Work hard enough, for long enough, and don't ever stop setting goals that are bigger and better and you'll get everything.

Yet time and time again, the news is filled with stories of people who seemed to have everything...but no matter how much they chased after all the things and met all the goals and found reward on a large scale, their lives felt so empty and meaningless that they thought the only fix was to end it.

I have to admit, I fall into the trap of thinking that if I can just make it to that next goal, just earn that next thing on the list, things will get easier and happiness will be a given. I stress and strive and work to make sure that "I can do it myself," because that has been my mantra since I was little. I run after the things that are supposed to be important, and I work hard to accomplish all the things...because that's what we're supposed to do, right?

Only, here's the one little problem with me frantically running after all the things that I think are important:

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and then all these things will be given to you too."
Matthew 6:33

Seek God first? But won't that get in the way of my plans to do everything? Won't that mess up all my plans? How can I fit in all the things I need to get done if I'm seeking God's kingdom first?

Because you see, God's kingdom doesn't necessarily look like we want it to. Sometimes, it looks like getting out in the pouring rain to help somebody on the side of the road. Or getting covered in mud helping pull a calf. Or stepping into the middle of a confrontation to speak peace. Or holding your tongue when you really want to spit out something hateful in response to the hurtful words of someone else (that's a hard one for me...). Or turning something over to God instead of worrying about it. Or being still and resting in Him instead of hurrying to do the next thing on the list. Or stepping our of your comfort zone to have a conversation about God with someone who may not be receptive to it.

When I'm seeking God's kingdom and His righteousness, that means I'm focusing on the eternal instead of the temporary. It's really easy to get tied up in the here and now. Bills have to be paid; there are demands at work; the washing machine gives out, there's a leak in the roof. It's easy to start looking at the circumstances around me as what's important and forgetting that they are all temporary. I get tied up in making sure I'm doing all the things I'm supposed to be doing--and I forget about the one thing that matters.

What matters is that I seek God. I should be pursuing Him, running after Him with my whole heart. I should be searching His word and praying in all things. I should be sharing the good news with others instead of sitting quietly on the sidelines, afraid to speak. I should trust in His provision...and His timing (that whole "timing" thing is a hard one for me).

God knows what I need a lot better than I do. He takes care of His creation, and He will take care of giving me what I need (even though that probably won't always match up with what I think I need...). My focus should be on Him, not on all the stuff that distracts me.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

pastors and suicide...

I've debated whether or not to write this post. Even now as I type, I'm not entirely sure I'll hit that "Publish" button. You see, I'm not an expert on anything I'm about to say. I'm not a pastor, and I'm not a mental health professional. Thankfully, I have very little personal experience to draw from when it comes to the indescribably painful and messy thing that is suicide. When that suicide involves a pastor, I'm at even more of a loss.

What I am, though, is the daughter of a pastor. So for just a minute I want to talk to you from that unique position.

I became a "Preacher's Kid" the summer before 6th grade, when I turned 11. You know, that super peaceful time in a girl's life...right there on the verge of losing her mind in the preteen years. I had always been (and will always be) a daddy's girl. Pop was the pastor of a wonderful church in Bonner Springs, Rehm's Park SBC, until the middle of my junior year of high school. He took a bit of a break for a few years, but has been leading Living Word Fellowship in Green Forest for the last 13 years.

So although I'm not a pastor, I have a pretty deep connection with someone who is living out a calling to the ministry. This post dives into that and what I've seen in the many years I've watched Pop navigate the journey of being a pastor. These aren't his views, though, so take what I say for what it's worth--the words of a daughter who has watched her father fight some pretty choppy seas.
***

Suicide is an incredibly complex topic, the last resort of someone who feels all hope is lost and there's no other way to end the pain that they can't get any relief from. It comes from a place of overwhelming despair, and I'm thankful I can't fully understand those thoughts and feelings. Lately, there have been many pastors who have found themselves lost in that darkness.

And for some reason, the world can't understand it.

A pastor is somebody with all the answers, right? He's a leader who has a deep connection with God and spends his hours delving into the scriptures. He's a counselor and a mentor and a teacher--how could he ever give in to the hopelessness that leads to something like suicide?

I don't know about you, but the more time I spend in my Bible the more I'm convicted. I know God is in the mercy business, but goodness--I can't read very long before I start squirming when I'm reading about how I should be patient, slow to anger, in control of my tongue... you know, all those things I'm not so great at doing.

But a pastor? They are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be:

James 3:1 tells us, "My brothers and sisters, do not encourage a large number of you to become teachers because teachers will be held to a higher standard."

1 Peter 5:2&3 says, "When you shepherd the flock God has given you, watch over them not because you have to but because you want to. For this is how God would want it not because you’re being compensated somehow but because you are eager to watch over them. Don’t lead them as if you were a dictator, but lead your flock by example"

Then you have Titus 5:6-9 with,
"Here’s what you should look for in an elder: 
he should be above suspicion;
if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife,
raise children who believe,
and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living.
 It is necessary that any overseer you appoint be blameless,
as he is entrusted with God’s mission.
Look for someone who isn’t pompous or quick to anger,
who is not a drunkard, violent, or chasing after seedy gain or worldly fame.
Find a person who lovingly opens his home to others;
who honors goodness;
who is thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled;
and who clings to the faithful word that was taught because he must be able,
not only to encourage people with sound teaching,
but also to challenge those who are against it."

Those aren't easy standards to meet, and yet they are the Biblical standards we are given for selecting a pastor. You know, the one who has to lead the people by example...when that example is being stacked up against Christ.

This is also the one who hears everything--he catches the tears of mothers who've lost children, of husbands who don't know how they will provide a roof over their families next month, of people who are stuck deep in the stagnant waters of addiction. He's the one who patiently listens to the pain that comes out in the form of ugly rantings over relationships falling apart, or hateful words, or accusations. He's expected to have answers to everyone's problems.

He should know how to convince the wayward son to return,
how to answer every question,
how to comfort the dying,
how to support the grieving,
how to inspire the faltering,
how to encourage the downtrodden,
how to mediate arguments...

In Acts 20:28 Paul says, "Here are my instructions: diligently guard yourselves, and diligently guard the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has given you oversight. Shepherd the church of God, this precious church which He made His own through the blood of His own Son."

Pastors are called to move between one person's deathbed and the maternity ward, and when they get there they should have the perfect words for both. He's expected to be there for all the huge events in people's lives, which often comes at the sacrifice of time with his own family.

Yet, he's also called to raise children who run after God.

As a bit of an aside, 7th Heaven was big when we were in the midst of life as a pastor's family. There was an episode once where Eric Camden (the dad/pastor) had a heart attack. The episode showed all sorts of busy-ness and stress as he went about his day, with that as the culmination of it all. After the episode aired, someone asked my brother if life for our family was really like what they showed. Michael laughed and said, "Mostly, but their dad is home way too much." Pastors are responsible for the spiritual growth of their children, but they are pulled away from them at all hours of the day and night.

All of those responsibilities put pastors in what is often a very lonely role. Sure, there are lots of people around them. They can't go anywhere without being stopped for a conversation of some sort (usually somebody asking for prayers). How often, though, do you think someone asks a pastor if they can pray for him? When does a pastor get to share his struggles? Who does he talk to when he has questions (because the more time you spend in the scriptures, the more questions you'll have) or when he just needs to vent?

Most pastors don't have true friends in their congregation. It's not really by plan, but more by default. Think about the things you do for fun. How often would you invite your pastor to come hang out with you? How often do you call him up after a game and ask if he saw that terrible call that obviously lost the game for us? Sure, you like your pastor, but do you invite him to come over for a barbecue? Too many of us don't want "church people" to see us as our normal, everyday selves...and that goes double for letting the pastor!
.
.
.


When I read back over what I wrote, it seems a bit disjointed to me. I guess, though, I said all that to say this: love your pastor. Let him be human. Ask him if you can pray for him, then spend a few minutes on your knees before the throne and pray God will wrap His arms around this mighty warrior of His.

He needs it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What's in a name?

Sunday was the Norris family reunion, and I was asked to give the devotional.

So, yeah...talking in front of people is probably my biggest irrational fear, and I have a physiological reaction to it each time.

I'm not talking just something little like sweaty hands or something. I turn red--bright red that starts on my chest and quickly makes its way up to turn my face scarlet. My hands and voice get shaky, I start losing my voice (Nathan lovingly told me it was like I was a teenage boy in puberty...yeah, lots of support there), I barely breathe...

You know, just exactly the type of thing you want to see in a speaker.

I wrote out everything I was going to say, fully intending to "stick to the script" and just read. I could do that, right? I'm a writer, not a speaker; surely, though, just reading my writing wouldn't be that big a deal.

And then, I started talking...and instantly I had this crazy thought that it would somehow be a bad thing for me to just read. I mean, who does that? Isn't it a bad thing to simply read a speech? So I started going off script, and losing my words, and feeling myself turn red, and hearing my voice betray me... So, not really a pretty sight.

Honestly, I don't know what I ended up managing to say. Here's what I intended to say, though...

***

When Nathan and I were expecting our kids, we spent a whole lot of time trying to pick out the right names. It was a big deal, and we wrestled over what name was right up until we were about to leave the hospital with our tiny baby girl, to the point that the nurses were prodding a bit because they wanted a name for the birth certificate.

Raiden means "fiery one." Honestly, I chose it because I thought she would end up with Nathan's red hair. That didn't happen, but she very quickly lived up to her name in other ways: she's daring and adventurous on the positive side; on the negative sometimes, her personality is pretty fiery, too.

"Jane" has a deeper, more personal meaning. It's a family name, alternating with "Jean" on my mom's side: Raiden Jane, Amanda Jean, Tammy Jane, Dilla Jean, Prudence Jane... It's her middle name, so it isn't necessarily one a lot of people are going to know and even fewer people will know the story behind. I hope, though, that she will always hold to the importance of the legacy it represents.

Conan Scott was chosen in a pretty similar way. Conan was chosen as a strong name for our almost 9-pound baby who was so much bigger than all the tiny babies in the hospital nursery. It is a Celtic name derived from "conn" which means wisdom and strength. It didn't hurt that it's a writer name (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). My hope is that he continues to grow into his name. Scott is the personal side, following in the footsteps of his Pa and Grandpa. For both our kids, their middle name was chosen to help them remember where they came from.

Biblically, a name is an incredibly important thing. Proverbs 22:1 tells us that a good name is worth more than great riches. Time after time, we're given the meaning behind people's names. In Isaiah 9"6, about 400 years before Jesus was born, some of the names of the Messiah are laid out: Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Those names gave a glimpse of the character of Christ before He came to earth, a picture of who He is and who He will be for us. Likewise, the names of God are used throughout the scriptures to help us understand His character. There are whole studies out there that focus on the names of God and what they mean (Tony Evans has a great study if you're interested) because the names of God provide one of the best pictures of His nature that we can get before we get to see Him face to face.

Our goal, then, should be to live in such a way that our name alone tells everyone our character. I was blessed to be born into a family with a good name: "Goins" tells a lot of people here in my little corner of the world where I come from and, I hope, a lot about who I am. People who really know me know the DeLozier side and all that entails (the good and the bad). 15 years ago, I was blessed to marry into the name "Kilbourn," which tied me to "Norris" by default. Those names and all those conencted to them have been earned by a lot of people through a lot of years. Each generation is tasked with preserving and bettering that name, keeping it intact for those who come after us. If we want them to reflect well on us, we should reflect well on those who came before us.

More than that, though, the name we should always keep in mind is that of "Follower of Christ." When we hold ourselves up as Christians, we are bearing the name of Christ. That means we are responsible for the reputation of the name we carry. My actions are a reflection on the name I've been given, and it's a responsibility I shouldn't take lightly. Ephesians 4:1 tells us to live a life worthy of the calling we've received. I think that can easily be extended to say we are to live a life worthy of the name we've been given. If I am a daughter of the King and bear His name, my goal should be to present His name in the best possible light. His name is worth more than all the riches of this world, so who am I to taint it?

And how amazing will it be on the day that He looks at me and tells me my true name, the one only He knows!

And I will give him a white stone,
and on the stone a new name written which no one knows
except him who receives it.
Revelation 2:17 

***

For some crazy reason, they've asked me to share next year. I think I'll ignore all the lessons I have in public speaking and just read...surely it would be the better choice!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

15 years...

This isn't one of the counts I ever thought about keeping, the number of years since we last saw Michael. This year has been a rough one. As most people know, my wedding was moved to January so that my big brother would be there. I'll never regret that change because I don't want to imagine the other scenario. I have to admit, though, it's tough when your wedding day is also the last day you were with your big brother. I think I've been in a bit of a funk since January 3rd.

I don't know why this year has been so hard. Maybe it's just because this is one of those "mile marker" type years...15. I've found myself being moody and contemplative and even a bit weepy at times, and I don't dare tell people what the heck is wrong with me...because then come the awkward silences and looks of pity that make me crazy.

I saw this post one time, and it is a great picture of grief. It seems like the world thinks that after some set amount of time has passed, loss shouldn't hurt any more. You should be able to "move on" and put the pain behind you.

But here's the truth of the matter: when you love hard, loss hurts hard. When someone has been a part of your identity, the loss of that person turns your whole life inside out...and that's not something time heals.

I hated that there were people who called me "Little Mike" when I started high school. A 9th grade girl doesn't really live that down, even after her brother graduates. Now, though, a big part of my life is spent with people who never knew my brother. They don't see me as Little Mike, and I didn't know that would hurt. I've never been good at conversation with new people, but I didn't know that I would come to dread it because of one simple question: "How many brothers and sisters do you have?"

Don't get me wrong--I love this life I live. I'm blessed in so many amazing ways, and I'm thankful (though not nearly as much or as often as I should be).

There are days, though, when the pain suddenly hits me in the stomach. Days when I want to just ignore the world because I don't want to deal with the petty things people get upset about. Days when I can't really swallow the lump in my throat completely. Days, like this morning, when nothing more than a song brings tears to my eyes.

15 years. It seems like such a long time, doesn't it? Our little sister was 14 when Michael was killed, so this year marks her officially living more of her life without her big brother than with him. I've still got another 5 years before those categories become equal for me, and I can't put words to how it feels even to think about that. It hurts my heart to think that there are some amazing kids who don't get the chance to be picked on and doted on by their uncle.

I see glimpses of Michael in my kids, though. I see Raiden's interest in dragons--to the point where she can draw and describe every possible classification of them--and it reminds me of Michael's obsession with the Civil War when he was growing up. I look at Conan and see a gentle giant who would rather be picked on than stand up for himself, but who will fiercely defend other people. I'm thankful for the glimpses.

I've posted this before, but I'll leave you with words I wrote 3 years ago:

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's like having a piece of your soul cut out,
     only to have people say, "That's alright--you'll live without it."
Sometimes it's like your lungs forget how to breathe,
     or maybe it's just that they don't want to remember.
It's having people ask, "How are your parents?
     This must be really hard on them," and wanting to scream,
     "They aren't alone--I lost someone, too!
Someone who was part of the definition of what it meant to be me:
     Oldest daughter, but middle child; 'Little Mike' at school.
Someone who taught me to throw a punch--and take one,
     but who gave his little sister a valentine with the words
     'Sometimes I may pick on you (just a little)
But you should know I still love you.'"

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's being thrust into the role of oldest child
     with no earthly idea of how you're supposed to fill those shoes.
It's constantly living in a shadow others can't see,
     but one that's so real you can feel it in your bones.
It's trying to decide if introductions are worth it
     because people always ask, "How many siblings do you have?"
     and the debate on how to answer isn't worth the effort:
"Do I say two? Because then they'll ask what they do
     and the pity that follows 'He was killed in Iraq' is too much.
Or do I say one, and lie to make things easier?
     Not easier on myself, because I'll be racked with guilt,
     but easier on the person who didn't know where that question leads.
And nobody bargains for the painful silence."

Sunday, August 11, 2019

count your blessings

This world can be a pretty ugly place sometimes. It's easy to start thinking that the bad stuff is all there is, to get so bombarded by all the ugliness that we forget the world is also breathtakingly beautiful.

So in honor of that:


  • Dirt roads. They remind me that it's not always a good idea to rush though life. Sometimes you need to take things slow.
  •  Friends. I've had some pretty great ones through the years. I'm not necessarily still in touch with all of them, but they've all left impressions on my heart that have changed who I might have become otherwise.
  • Summer. Working in an office that leaves my hands like ice cubes every day even makes me grateful for the southern heat.
  • Puppies, even the ones that slobber all over everything. If you need to be reminded that you don't have to take yourself seriously all the time, play with a puppy.
  • Kids, even the stubborn ones. My kids have changed me. They make me crazy, proud, scared, annoyed, amazed, crazy, thankful, loved, frustrated, and crazy every day.
  • Home. That's been a lot of places over the years, but really it's boiled down to a select handful of people.
  • Family kitchens. It seems like my family always gravitates to the kitchen when we're together. That's where all the good stuff happens--food, laughter, and good conversation.
  • Writing. Sometimes it's the hardest thing for me to do, putting words on paper. At the same time, though, it's often how I keep my sanity. It's how I process the hard parts of life and how I work through things to get them to make sense. It's my passion.
  • Farm life. There are a lot of lessons you learn just from spending time on a farm. I'm glad my kids are getting to learn those lessons...even the hard ones.
  • Books. Lots of them. All types of them. Books piled up on bedside tables and spilling off of bookshelves. Books that tackle hard truths in subtle ways. Books that have taken me on adventures.
  • Physics. It's a mesmerizing subject that has taught me so much about life--about creation, about the Creator, and about myself.
  • Cake. Specifically chocolate...or cheesecake...or pineapple upsidedown cake...or really pretty much any kind of cake. I'm not a huge icing fan, though. Plain and simple is best, nothing crazy and thick.
  •  Books. I like pretty much everything about them--the look, the feel, the smell. I definitely don't agree with Marie Kondo on the whole "get rid of your books" idea. I don't think you can ever have too many. I would fill my walls with bookshelves if I could.
  • Coffee. This one has been a relatively recent development, one that didn't really grab hold until grad school. I'm a fan of anything coffee now--including chocolate covered espresso beans!
  • Family. My family means the world to me. I don't know what I would do without every crazy one of them.
  • Nature. I'm constantly amazed by it, and incredibly thankful to live where I live.
  • Grace. I don't know where I'd be without it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

saint or scoundrel?

I have to say, I love our little church. We're a small group, one in which everyone is considered family. I love these people more than I can explain, and I trust each one of them without doubt.

One of the most amazing things about our group, for me, is that our Sunday mornings are open discussions, and nothing's off topic. Right now, we're working our way through the Bible for the second time. Our first time through took about 3 years.

We just passed the 1-year mark at the beginning of this month--and we just wrapped up II Samuel yesterday. 10 books down...55 to go. I'm thinking this time through might take longer than 3 years.

On that note, yesterday Pop said that David is painted in two very different lights in the scriptures: saint and scoundrel.

We're all familiar with the stories that show him as a saint. He was, after all, anointed as the future King of Israel while he was still just a boy, watching over the sheep in his dad's fields. He faced a giant when everyone else was too scared, going up against Goliath with a sling and the knowledge that God would fight for him. He unified Israel, conquered Jerusalem, defeated the Philistines, and was the start of a dynasty. He was a warrior, a poet, and a musician whose words are known throughout the world.


Equally present, though, are the stories that show him as a scoundrel. His lust for Bathsheba resulted in an illegitimate child (who later died) and in David plotting the death of Bathsheba's husband. His parenting left a lot to be desired; one son killed the other for raping their sister, and then tried to take over the kingdom. That same son, who happened to be David's favorite, was murdered. His pride and disobedience resulted in 70,000 people dying.

On a side note, there are a lot of lovely stories in the Bible...yikes.

In the light of all that craziness, how in the world could David be called a man after God's own heart? With a list of sins like David's--honestly, he covered most of the 10 commandments--shouldn't he be on the list of people we shouldn't want to be like?

It's easy to keep score and weigh someone's good qualities and successes against the bad stuff. Then, if all the good stuff tips the scale we decide that they must be a good person. Those are the people who never break the 10 commandments--or at least, they don't break the "important" ones.

It's really not that hard to see that David's "bads" weighed pretty heavily against his "goods." By human standards, things like adultery and murder should probably knock him out of the running for the title of "godly man." Thankfully for David, though, that's not what God sees.

When God looked at David, He saw a man who was truly broken by the knowledge that he had sinned against God. He saw a man who messed up, but more importantly He saw a man who repented and turned back to God each time.

Here's the thing. God's scale takes everything we've ever done, good or bad, and puts it on one side. All of that--

all of the times we've helped others or gone to church or donated to charity or read our Bible or tithed or read the right Christian book

all the times we lied or dishonored our parents or used God's name in a way that wasn't meant to honor Him or wanted something that wasn't ours or put the pursuit of something before our pursuit of God (what, are those not the "big" sins you were thinking about?)

--gets weighed against one thing only: the sacrifice of Christ. God doesn't care how many times I've failed or how many times I've gotten accolades for what I've done.

All He cares about?

If I admit that I'm a sinner and accept that Christ died to pay the price for my sins.

That outweighs everything else.


***
If you're within driving distance, come visit us Sunday mornings! We have breakfast and coffee ready at 10:15 or so. Living Word Fellowship is across from the sale barn in Green Forest, AR.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

clay or Potter?

Throwing pottery is something I thought I wanted to try once. Once is the key word there--Raiden got a kid's pottery wheel, and I tried to use it. I can't even begin to tell you the mess I made. Wet clay spinning around in a circle seems to have a mind of its own. I tried to make a simple pot; nothing fancy, just something small that actually looked like a bowl or something recognizable. What I ended up with was nothing more than a mess, and I'm pretty sure I had more clay on myself than actually stayed on the wheel.

Left to me, the clay was less useful than it would have been if I had left if as a lump. At least then it could have been a paperweight or something. In the hands of a Master Potter, though, clay can become some pretty magnificent things.

"The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. 
He said, 'Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.' 
So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 
But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped,
so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. 
Then the Lord gave me this message: 
'O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay?
As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.'"
Jeremiah 18:1-6

This is one of quite a few times that we are referred to as the clay when God is the Potter. Honestly, it isn't the prettiest picture if you go back and read it again. The potter was making a jar, and he didn't like how it was turning out. So he lovingly, patiently, gently worked with the jar, letting it dictate what it should become and following along.

Oh wait--that's not what that says.

Instead, he crushed it. He took the beginnings of a jar and he turned back into a lump.

Ouch.

Here's another passage that kind of steps on my toes:

How bad it will be for anyone who disputes with the very One who created him!
    After all, a human being is nothing more than one clay pot among many.
Imagine the clay saying to the potter, “What do you think you’re doing?”
 

or “You don’t have the hands for this.
Isaiah 45:9

I don't know about you, but I'm not necessarily a fan of the verses that step on my toes like this. You see, I have a tendency to tell God how I think things should go. I'm really good about it--I lay out the full plan so He can see just exactly how to best get things done, because obviously I know what's best for my life.

And that's typically when I get squeezed back down into a lump of clay.

That last passage is one that I find myself saying so much that I have God's reply written on a notecard that stays in my wallet:

"So the Eternal One, who is the Holy One and Maker of Israel, says,
'Are you really going to question Me about what will happen to My children,
or lecture Me about what I should do with the ones I made with My own hands?
It is I who made the very ground on which you stand,
I who shaped the human beings who walk around on it.
I pulled the sky and heavens taut with My own hands,
and organized the army of stars that march across the night sky.'"
Isaiah 45:11&12

 I have no doubt that God created the universe. Studying physics has left me nothing short of amazed at just what it means for God to have spoken everything into existence. The little bit that I understand gives me a hint of just how incredible it is that God set all those rules and principles into motion.

Why, then, is it so hard for me to trust that He can shape my life the right way? Why do I have the crazy thought that I should be telling God what to do with me? Am I more complicated than the laws that govern the universe? In light of what He has created and controlled and accomplished, do I really think that He's going to mess up when it comes to me?

I'm slowly learning to stop trying to control everything. I'm still not very good at the "letting go" thing, but I'm working on it...and for the days when I find myself trying to tell God what to do with my life and my future, I pull out my notecard and read His response. Then I look around me and think about all the amazing ways that He works...and remember that I'm really not all that complicated to Him.

Many find me a mystery,
    but You are my rock and my shelter—my soul’s asylum.
Psalm 71:7
  

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

lessons from my parents

So, I let a couple of big days pass without really saying anything about them--Mother's Day and Father's Day. I have to say, though, I think I've been incredibly blessed in both those departments. I have parents who have taught me more than I could ever begin to list, who have poured themselves into others selflessly, and who have shown me what it means to love your kids well. In honor of both of them (and the arbitrary days set aside on the calendar to say you love your parents), here are a handful of the things they've taught me.

  1. Life is seldom easy.
  2. Love means dealing with the best and the worst in people.
  3. Wealth isn't defined by money.
  4. Set boundaries for your kids, but don't be afraid to let them push right up to the edge.
  5. Fight for your family with everything you have.
  6. You should pour yourself out for people, but don't forget to refill.
  7. "Now you know we don't use those words..."
  8. Just because something's "always been done that way" doesn't mean it should be.
  9. God demands the best of you.
  10. Family isn't only defined by blood.
  11. Help others simply because it's the right thing to do.
  12. "Home" isn't an address.
  13. Give more than you take.
  14. Love hard, even though it means hurting hard, too.
  15. Hold hands.
  16. "Make good choices."
  17. Prayer may not change a situation, but it will change you.
  18. Never be afraid to get your hands dirty.
  19. Say I'm sorry--and mean it.
  20. "Religion" and "faith" are not synonymous.
  21. Say I love you with your words and actions.
  22. Spend your time on the things that are important.
  23. Sometimes, you each need a tv.
  24. Seek God first.
  25. Coffee makes the day better.
  26. The truth will always get out, so save time and just be honest.
  27. Respect is earned.
  28. Stand up for people, even if they don't deserve it.
  29. Bring food.
  30. Trust God's plan, even when--especially when--it doesn't make sense.
  31. Know how to change a tire and drive a standard.
  32. Learn from your mistakes.
  33. Do your best in everything you do.
  34. Mind your manners.
  35. Read good books.
  36. Spend your money wisely. You don't need a $40 shirt!
  37. Follow the Golden Rule.
  38. Laugh.
  39. Cry.
  40. Learn to play cards.
  41. Sometimes you need to play the devil's advocate.
  42. If you know something, teach it to someone else.
  43. Be a good winner and a good loser.
  44. "If you can love your kids through junior high, you'll love them forever."
  45. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  46. You preach a better sermon by how you live.
  47. You help your kids.
  48. Sometimes the best answer is to keep your mouth shut.
  49. Don't think happiness is always found in the next thing.
  50. Support the people you love.
  51. There's no such thing as a half-truth.
  52. Love is patient. People aren't.
  53. Do the right thing even when it's hard.
  54. Don't avoid the hard topics--those are the ones worth discussing.
  55. Take responsibility for your actions.
  56. Be someone people can depend on.
  57. You can't soar like an eagle if you're flapping like a chicken.
  58. You're hardly ever the smartest person in the room or the dumbest.
  59. It's your fault if you're bored.
  60. "Turn off the tv and go do something!"
  61. God can handle your questions.
  62. "I love you way up to the sky!" 
  63. Do what you have to do, then do what you want to do.
  64. Love people.
  65. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
  66. Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
  67.  People matter more than things.
     
    “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” 
      Mark Twain

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

what I see and what God says


I'm a big fan of church signs. I can still remember all the times I was responsible for putting the letters up for Pop when he was the pastor at Rehm's Park SBC in Bonner. I wasn't part of figuring out the words--my only piece of the puzzle was making sure the placement didn't look funny. Since then, though, I don't think there's ever been a time that I drove past a church sign without looking to see what it said.

Lately on my drive to and from work, there's been something of an anomaly--two different churches with the same message on the sign.

Don't let what you see
make you forget what I said. 
~God

I'm not really a big believer in coincidences, so two little country churches that I drive past on my daily commute both having the same message seems to me like something I should pay attention to. I've been contemplating it for a while now, trying to figure out just why it is that God is reminding me of this simple message.

Then today I went to biblegateway.com and the verse on their landing page stood out:

"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

You're probably more familiar with versions that say, "Be still and know...", but I think there's a lot of meaning in the translation, "Cease striving..."

Webster's gives two definitions for strive:

1. to devote serious effort or energy

That first definition doesn't sound to bad. I should be devoting effort and energy to the things that are important, right?

It's the second one that catches you off guard--

2. to struggle in opposition

That one gets me. How much of my striving, even when it's for good things, is actually me struggling in opposition to what God wants for me? How often to I push and fight and try to force what I think should happen instead of having faith that what God says is true, and that He has a plan for my future, and that He is in control no matter what I think I'm accomplishing?

It's easy to look at the world and start thinking that what it values is what is actually important: the right career, the right car, the right title, being tolerant, self-expression, success, self-reliance (that one hits me kinda hard, I have to admit)...

In all of the hustle and busy-ness and chaos of the world, it's easy to lose sight of what God values and to forget what He's said are the important things:

~love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)

~do justice, love mercy, & walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

~love God with all your heart, soul, strength, & mind; love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27)

~fear the LORD, walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him with all your heart & soul, and keep His commands and laws (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

When all is said and done, what we see in this world isn't what matters. All our accomplishments and failures fade into obscurity when we view them through the veil of the blood of Christ. And when the time comes, all our crowns will be cast at His feet. We will bow to the One who says,

"I am the Alpha and the Omega,
who is and who was and who is to come,
the Almighty."
Revelation 1:8

"So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."
Isaiah 55:11


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

memorial day 2019

In honor of Memorial Day, I want to share a handful of memories with you...I apologize in advance for how disjointed this post may be, but that's simply because my mind is a bit disjointed right now.

***
There's the time I sat on the pipe fence while my brother tried to saddle Red Cloud for a ride. His role as a Cavalry officer had put him in a big Stetson hat, which made him a cowboy...saddling a horse wouldn't be a problem. I laughed while he got mad at a horse who didn't seem fond of the huge guy who wanted to go for a ride. My offers of help were brushed off with comments along the lines of, "I don't need your help to saddle a horse." So I simply watched and laughed and tried not to rub it in too much when Michael finally said, "Get down here and hold your stupid horse."

***
Or the time when I got a handmade card for Valentine's Day that said, "Though at times I may pick on you (just a little)...you should know I still love you."

***
Michael told me to hang back after a basketball game one night and ride home with him instead of Pop and Mom. What little sister wouldn't love that? So I hung around outside of the gym until he came out and threw me the keys to the pickup. "I think he concusseded me," he said, speaking of a rare opponent on the basketball court who was even bigger than him.

***
Then there's sitting on the bottom stair at my parents, waiting for the knock we knew was coming because of a phone call the night before. I had intended to be in the room with Pop and Mom when the uniformed soldiers showed up, but I simply couldn't bring myself to go in. Instead, I sat mutely, tears brimming, and listened to my parents' strangled sobs as they were officially told that their son had been killed in action.

***
How about all the times I was called, "Little Mike" in the halls of Bonner Springs High School? Talk about a deterrent--there aren't a lot of guys who want to ask you out on a date if that's you're nickname as a 9th grade girl.

***
There's the ugly snort/laugh I pulled out of Pop during the funeral, when I leaned over and said they should be singing "Dixieland" instead of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was the first time I had heard him laugh since we heard the news of Michael's death, and I clung to that sound as a promise that life would somehow continue.

***
There's hugging my baby sister as she got ready to leave the church on her wedding day, knowing I would leave while she was on her honeymoon and fighting the irrational fear that something would happen to me and she would be left in the same boat I have been in--a wedding day that is also the last day I saw my brother.

***
Or all the sweaty hugs after football games as Michael and John came off the field and I went to wait in the truck to ride home with my brother on a Friday night.

***
Then there are all the people who lined the highway that August day, getting out of cars and coming out of houses to stand at attention as we drove by on the journey from the church to the cemetery. My sister says she remembers one little old lady in particular who was waving a tiny American flag, but the picture I see when I close my eyes are the farmers, their work day interrupted, who stood with hats in hands as we passed.

***
There are countless words shared by soldiers who served with Michael, telling us they would have followed Michael into battle anywhere and any time because they always knew he would have their backs.

***
There's the sunlight shining through the glass at Nelson's chapel in Berryville, where we gathered to see Michael after they brought him home to us. I stood outside that room for what felt like an eternity, fighting an internal battle over whether or not I could go in to see my brother in a casket. Though the need to see him one last time eventually won out, I still wonder if I did the right thing when my mind flashes back to the memory of reaching out to touch a white-gloved hand.

***
There are countless family gatherings that somehow still have a piece missing, questions I know I can't answer for my kids about the uncle they don't truly know.

***
I've seen a lot of people posting about Memorial Day. First, I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I hope it was full of joy and laughter and lots of new memories with amazing people. As you celebrate the beginning of summer, though, please remember that Memorial Day is also a day of remembrance--a day we can celebrate because of those who were willing to pay the ultimate price for us. Please remember those who are dealing with a mix of memories, happy and sad, who may have a smile on their lips on minute and be fighting back tears the next.

Because what hurts the most is the thought that our loved ones may some day be forgotten.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

What are you worth?

I've stared at the blank page for quite a few days now, unsure of what to write. I've sunk into a place I've found myself many times--what if nobody reads my words? What if they don't mean anything to anyone? What if I work and put something out there and nobody appreciates it? What if my writing never goes anywhere, and it's all just a great big waste of time and energy?

It's a dangerous path once I get started on it, where my brain starts spiraling down to questions that most people would probably say I was crazy for asking. Really, though, it all boils down to the same question I've had running through the back of my mind since I was little:

What if I'm not good enough?

Have you ever been there? Does your mind whisper your fears so loudly that the rest of the world gets drowned out sometimes?
It's easy for me to see my faults. I could list more than anyone else could ever dream up about me, and even then someone would probably have to make me stop writing (not speaking...one of my faults is that I get tongue-tied and stumble over my words). Ask me about my strengths, though, and you're likely to hear crickets.

And even then I get the feeling that people are going to think I'm fishing for a compliment.

 I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't worried about what people thought of me, when I wasn't intensely aware of every flinch, every misstep, every word that didn't come out right.

Here's the amazing thing, though. Even if all my worst fears are true--if I never measure up and nobody ever reads my words--I have the assurance that to one person, I was worth everything. One person chose to stretch His arms out and let Himself be nailed to a cross when He could have easily stepped down. I fully believe that His words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," were spoken to cover each and every one of us, at the moment when we least deserve it.

There's a line in "Reckless Love" that says,

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

No matter how I feel, there is One who sees my worth because He sees me through the cover of the blood of the perfect sacrifice. Even though I could never be good enough, He gave everything...for me.



Friday, April 19, 2019

...at the foot of the cross

Lydia closed her eyes at the strike of the hammer against nail, wishing she could close her ears against the agonized cries. She wasn't supposed to be here. Abba didn't want her to see the crucifixions, and she had never had a desire to go against his wishes in the past. Today, though, something was different.

She couldn't get that man's eyes out of her mind. She had gone home after the rooster crowed this morning, trying to forget the prisoner who had been taken before Caiaphas, but that had proven impossible. Neighbors had stopped by to tell her father that Jesus of Nazareth was on trial, speaking in hushed tones of Pharisees and miracles and prophecies. All those things had piqued her curiosity, so when her mother had asked her to go to aunt's to borrow some necessitates before the Sabbath, she found herself drawn to a place she had always avoided.

As they lifted the man to the top of a cross, Lydia took note of the sign above his head, placed there so everyone would know his crime: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

"If you're the Son of God, save yourself!"

"You said you could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, but you can't even get yourself off that cross!"

Those were the mild taunts, the ones least filled with hate. The words poured out from everyone who passed and every soldier stationed there. Lydia didn't know how long she stood there, hearing those hateful words, waiting for him to respond to them like the thieves hanging at his sides were doing. Their words didn't surprise her, but the words she heard from him did.

"Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing," he cried, his eyes lifted up to heaven. They didn't sound like the words of a criminal to her.

Lydia noticed a woman at the foot of the cross, alternating between reaching out to the man on the cross and weeping into the shoulder of the younger man standing at her side. She would bury her face, but then start and desperately look back up at the man on the cross, as if afraid to have him out of her sight. Lydia could feel the tears hot on her own face as she watched.

Three crosses stood on the hill that morning, and one of the prisoners began calling out mockingly, "If you're the King, why don't you rescue all of us?"

Jesus didn't answer any of them, Instead, he looked down at the pair standing at his feet and said, "Woman, here is your son," then turning his gaze to the man, said, "Here is your mother." The man on the ground nodded, pulling the woman into the protection of his arm, holding her up as her sobs shook her body.

The other prisoner mustered his strength and cried out, "Don't you fear God? We're getting what we deserve, but this man obviously did nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me."

The man hanging on the cross, broken and bleeding, turned his head to look at the thief hanging at his side. His eyes filled with an unimaginable expression, one of forgiveness and understanding, and he said, "Today, you will be with me in paradise."

Suddenly, the day turned to dark. People looked around in fear, many rushing away, but Lydia couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight in front of her. All time was lost as she stood, mesmerized, tears streaming down her face for this broken man whose crucifixion even the sky seemed to mourn.

She didn't know how much time had passed when she heard him call out words she had heard her father recite: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" They were the words of King David, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

What kind of criminal would ask that?

Someone held a reed up to his mouth, a sponge attached to its end, but he didn't drink it. Instead, he cried out loudly, "IT IS FINISHED."

At his words, the whole earth shook. Lydia dropped to her knees, terrified, yet not wanting to take her eyes off of this enigma of a man, hanging on a tree, forgiving the people who had put him there, promising paradise to a thief. His head fell forward, and the darkness fled. 




***
This is the fourth installment of a series of fictional accounts of the events leading up to Easter. Though I've taken creative liberties, I've tried to remain true to the gospel accounts.


 

memorial day 2021

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