Posted in Living this Life

Mr. Wonderful

I called him Uncle David – but in retrospect, I should have called him Mr. Wonderful.

It was his answer every time you asked him how he was doing – I can still hear his gentle voice tinged with joy, “well, I’m wonderful, darling!”

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And it’s how he made us feel. Just plain wonderful.  So this morning, as I process the news that Mr. Wonderful is now with His Savior, I find myself rejoicing in that beautifully gentle spirit he carried – but I have so many questions…

I didn’t know my Uncle David in his younger years. I didn’t know him when he fought in Vietnam, and I don’t know the horrors he lived through there. Those were memories he didn’t want to re-live, and that’s where it stayed. And I didn’t know him well as I was growing up – he was my Uncle, but I was on the other side of the world and saw him only every few years.

But as life weaves a beautiful tapestry around us so often, it brought my life and his closer, and I was blessed over the past few years to get to spend more time with this amazing man.

Uncle DavidHe called my kids silly names like “McGillicuty”. He made them laugh and brought so much joy to all of us. He poured life and love and goodness out on us in unending measure. And that’s what my heart can’t get over this morning as I sit here grasping for words in the midst of my tears. That impossible joy in the face of a life filled with much sorrow. How does that happen? I know it’s not an accident.

Because we all know the natural course of a human heart. Pain causes us to close up and grow hard. Life hurts, so we grow a shell around our spirits to protect us. Anger begets anger and we so often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of pain. So when you see a man who exudes joy and gentleness in the midst of such hardness, you have to stop and ask “why?” Or maybe the better question is “how ?”

He endured much pain. Marked by a hard a brutal war when he was young. He tragically lost his grandson a few years ago. His own beloved son died suddenly just last year. He suffered physically, carrying effects of Agent Orange in his body as well as many other struggles. When life hit hard and seemed to overwhelm, he would simply hug me and say he loved me. I would ask him how he’s hanging on, and he would say, “how can it help to be angry?”  He knew the best protection of a soul comes in staying open – but how?

He must have known a secret. A life giving, beautiful secret that the rest of us need to remember. How do we best remember Uncle David? By making sure his spirit is carried on. He was a special man – and the greatest tragedy would be to let that special spirit die with him. Because what keeps flooding  my heart and mind is this: the secret he had is available to all of us. And we honor Uncle David best by finding it and preserving it and letting it mark our own hearts.

In light of a hard life, he responded with gentleness and peace. It makes me think of these words, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These words mark how I remember my Uncle David, and I think this is the secret that he would want to pass on to all of us. How did he do it? I see the answer in the next few words… “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:22-25) I believe Uncle David made a choice to let the Spirit of God shape his heart, and though he wasn’t perfect, he kept in step with the Spirit of God. He reflected a different Spirit than the world has to offer, and we were all marked by that.

I can’t quite stop the tears from flowing this morning. I’m thankful my precious Uncle David is no longer living in such pain, however I will desperately miss him and the light he carried. But I also know it’s not completely snuffed out. Because the Spirit of God that lived in him is alive. And there is no darkness it cannot enter and no hardness it cannot touch. And I know the best way we honor the legacy of this amazing man is to let that Spirit change us in the same way.

So here I sit at the foot of the cross. Here I reflect on the words that offer freedom – “if you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and this – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Oh! and these beautiful words that many know but it takes a lifetime to fully grasp – “For God so loved ___________________ (put your name in here) that He gave His only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)

The everlasting life is what Uncle David is experiencing right now. The changed life is what we got to experience through him all these years. I find myself sitting here on this rainy fall morning asking my Jesus anew to form and shape this spirit that gets twisted by circumstances into a spirit molded by Him. Knowing that in the midst of the unbearable pain life brings us at times, there is freedom on the other side. Uncle David is seeing it unveiled with his own eyes for the first time, but he tasted and reflected the beauty of it all these years. And I want to reflect more of it today and tomorrow and the next. In honor of Uncle David. In honor of the Savior he loved so very much.

Oh – and Uncle David? Say hi to grandma and grandpa for me!!

Posted in Living this Life

He knows that we are dust

 

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I have a confession to make … I’m not very good at following rules. I don’t mean to be rebellious, I just float through life doing things my way and don’t pay attention to inconveniences like “exit only” signs (much to my oldest child’s chagrin).

So here I sit, thinking about the 10 commandments. I take the Word of God very seriously, and even in my fickle ways, I know that holiness and purity matter in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not being much for legalism, I tend to lean towards the “heart” of these commands, as Jesus addresses in Matthew 5. In spite of that, there are some of these famous 10 that we take very seriously – “do not murder, do not steal”, while other commands we find it easier to fudge a bit – “do not covet your neighbors stuff”. And since I can’t stand inconsistency in life, what gives? Why do we value some of the “big 10” while blowing off others?

This came to a head in my personal life when I was recently challenged to take the Sabbath a bit more seriously. To incorporate rest into my life on a regular basis. In my family, we tend to live an ebb and flow lifestyle – much of it out of necessity given the ministry God lets us be a part of. This means that we go all out for a few months until we can barely pick ourselves up off the floor and then we try to get away to refill and restore for the next “all out” season. This works – but I’m beginning to realize that there might be a better way.

In fact, this is not God’s original design. Jesus often refers to “how it was in the beginning” – so let’s go back there.

In the beginning, God designed a breathtaking creation – filled with intricate minute detail and overflowing raucous extravagances of creativity. This didn’t tire Him out – He is God and this is just the overflow of who He is. But nonetheless, on the 7th day, He modeled for us a day of rest.

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In God’s top ten list of commandments, He says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20)

I don’t know about you, but for much of my adult life, that “keeping it holy” part has meant “go to church”. But I’m wondering if there’s much more here that I have been missing. So come down this road with me a bit – I’m excited about what I’m discovering!

Our modern evangelical world tends to celebrate breaking from tradition. It wants the freedom and freshness of interpreting Scripture “personally” rather than following the age old traditions. It’s not wrong to embrace some of that freedom, but I think we often miss out because we don’t take the time to explore the traditions that we are a product of. Understand them. Follow the links to the original story to find the richness and the ways they feed the souls of generations.

We miss the beauty in verses like these: “Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28 – emphasis added). In our passion to break free of the legalism of the past, we miss little words like “for” – this Sabbath rest, this seventh day, this holy space is a gift from a Creator who knows we are dust and has provided a way for us to walk strong.

And then this! The echoes of our glorious future that God weaves into our present. The promise of what is to come that gives us strength for today. In speaking of that future day when we who trust in Jesus will rest all our sorrows, release all our burdens, lay everything at His feet, the writer of Hebrews says this: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” Hebrews 4:9.

It would seem God is weaving into the weekly fabric of our lives the great promise of eternity! In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon tells us that God has set eternity in the hearts of man – is this part of it? Looking forward to the wonders of eternity by purposefully choosing rest one day a week?

But I mean, let’s be realistic – I’m a mom. 3 kids (and one very handsome husband) want to eat regularly. And I guess ice cream for breakfast doesn’t cut it. So whenever I have thought of “Sabbath-ing” in the past, I have shrugged it off as an unrealistic expectation that obviously doesn’t apply to mothers – or anyone else with regular responsibilities in life. And so I subconsciously resented those who might suggest I should try, wallowing in a little self pity while I’m at it.

I guess that’s why this recent wake up call has captured my imagination. Because what if? What if there was a way to purposefully make this happen? So I’ve been trying to think more pro-actively. Letting creativity have a bit more reign in my schedule. Saying “no” a little more often. And here’s what I’ve discovered over the last month.

It’s not as much about “not doing” as it is about “doing the day differently”. This speaks to a different place in each of our lives. In this interview with John Piper, he suggests that we approach the Sabbath as celebrating a different part of life than we get to live every other day of the week. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1upfCmBy-kA) If your work requires you to be at a desk all day, then go outside! If your work is as a farmer, construction worker, someone who is outside in the elements all day, then sit on your couch and let your body rest! Take a break from the normal so that the different can speak to your heart. Our lives are all unique and each season requires different things from us – the day we take, may actually look like only an hour or two when you have a newborn. The point I’m trying to get at is how to find a window to be purposeful about making your day of rest a priority!

My typical days at home are filled with cooking and dishes and laundry and decisions. So where I used to say “I can’t just stop doing all that”, I now ask myself how I can plan ahead so that for one day a week, I do less. That Sunday morning rush is my undoing – so I’ve asked my family to let me find a different way and not make a breakfast that morning. Sometimes I plan ahead and buy muffins or something they can grab that’s special. Sometimes it’s just a frozen waffle – but it’s something that won’t make a mess I’ll have to clean up later, and it’s something that I don’t have to make.

I pick out the kid’s church clothes the night before.

I spend an extra half hour Saturday night emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up the sink, taking care of details so that I won’t be drawn to handling the mess at all on my Sabbath – it has a place to go and I can deal with it again on Monday.

I am a putterer. If I have to walk to my bedroom, I will clean 5 things on my way and then forget why I was going in the first place. I have a terribly hard time sitting still – my kids sometimes have to remind me to just be with them and not do something else on the side. This one day, I let myself sit. I watch my kids play. I play with them, and when that voice in my head tells me to take care of the dust bunnies under the couch, I let myself smile and say, “tomorrow, dust bunnies – tomorrow”.

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I rest from my phone. That random little game that I unwind with some nights. Those check-ins on the world of facebook and instagram – all the things we just “have” to do can suddenly wait. It’s about curbing impulses to cultivate a quiet space. I’m finding that part harder than I had expected, but it is so freeing!

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I light a candle that I love. A candle that is special and I save for just this day. The gentle smell reminds me of beauty and makes my soul breathe. It’s an echo of the age old Jewish tradition of lighting the Shabbat candle, and it makes me smile. (http://www.jtsa.edu/the-meaning-of-the-shabbat-candles)

These are things I do to remind myself that God cares. He cares about our work and He cares about our rest. He cares about rhythm and balance and peace. He cares about our health. And so I want it to matter to me as well.

The irony of all this is I sit here on a Saturday plunking out these thoughts on the verge of our busiest 6 weeks of ministry in the year. Tomorrow is my Sabbath, and then it will be 6 weeks before I get the opportunity to practice this again. I needed to write this today – so I could be reminded in August that this matters.

Since this is all a new focus for me and I feel like I’m experimenting, asking God to show me new things, I’d love to hear if this is something important in your life. How do you set the Sabbath apart? I’d love to learn more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Living this Life

The God who sees

So there’s this bracelet …

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

It was a hard week, last week. A few days ago, we got some news that shook me.

More than how this specific situation affected our lives, the news started a wave of emotions that seemed beyond my control. I was having a nuclear moment in my soul and I couldn’t make it stop.

The enemy of our souls will latch on to any opportunity to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) And this was the moment he grasped.

I was consumed with emotions. I felt anger. I felt confused. I felt frustrated. I felt hopeless. I felt darkness. Every morning, for these few days, I would wake up consumed by these feelings. And let’s be honest – that’s all I’ve described so far is feelings. We all know feelings can lie. So I did the only thing I know to do when feelings rage out of control – cling to the One who is always in control. The Word of my God and His promises.”From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Ps 61:2)

And when I turned to His Word, these are the promises I read, that stood as a strong tower over my heart: “For this is our God, forever and ever. He will be our guide even to death… LORD, YOU are the portion of my inheritance and my cup… He restores my soul… my flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name… The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of your hands… Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace … He who calls you is faithful and He will do it… Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Ps 48:14; Ps 16:5; Ps 23:3; Ps 73:26; Ps 33:21; Ps 138:8; 2 Pet 3:14; 1 Thess 5:24; James 5:8

Though these words didn’t stop the onslaught of feelings that were combating the truth of these beautiful promises from God, I clung to them nonetheless – and I prayed. I asked God to intervene. To help me find my way back to peace and joy.  And in my moments of despair, I asked Him for some tangible expression of His presence in this mess. It was a simple plea from a hurting heart.

Now, my friend, hear the rest of this story…

Because I have this friend. I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks nor talked with her over that time, so she knew nothing of my situation. This friend walked up to me just a couple days after this desperate prayer and said she had something for me. She said she thought I would understand. And she gave me a bracelet.

And here is where this story takes my breath away. Two weeks earlier – long before I had hit this wall, while my days were humming along as normal – she had sensed God whisper in her ear that she was to give this to me. She hadn’t seen me since then, and so at her first opportunity, she was obedient to the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Two weeks before I would ask God for a tangible expression of His presence with me, He had already answered my prayer! He had prepared the heart of my friend, He had whispered to her heart, and His gift to me came through her beautiful hands.

This gift came to me on the exact day my heart was hurting the most. And God doesn’t miss the details – most bracelets don’t fit me well – they are just too loose, too big. This one hugs my arm like it was made for me. And to top it off, this bracelet was hand crafted in Africa – where I was born!

Friend, do you hear it in the wind? That still small voice echoing clearly through the storm? Saying “I see you. I know what you’re walking through. And I care.”

This isn’t just my story. It’s all of ours. Maybe like me, you’ve walked down long, dark roads. Maybe you have felt despair when the heavens have been silent. Maybe, along with me, you have found the faithfulness of God in those silent places.  But then sometimes when the storms are spinning in our souls, His voice breaks through in a gentle whisper.

Sometimes God chooses to capture the smaller moments when we least expect Him to show up. And in those moments He displays a beautiful truth – that He is with us. That He sees. That He truly does catch each tear in a bottle and hold it close. (Ps 58:8) He promises that when we walk through the fire, He will be with us. That the waters will not overpower us. (Is 43:2) And to be honest, that’s all I really need. Not answers to my many questions. Not a “fixing” of all my problems. Just His presence, here with me know, telling me that He sees.

So as I see that bracelet on my wrist tonight, I catch my breath. And in Him, I rest.

Posted in Walking it out

this is my story – this is my song

There are some moments in life that pass by quickly and get covered by the dust of passing time, only to be re-discovered years later as a pivotal moment in your life.

Not too long ago, I found myself driving through my old college campus, and as I rounded the backside of  the parking lot, I suddenly felt like I had stepped back in time about 20 years… feet in darkness

I was walking back to my Mission Ave apartments after an evening class with Dr. Dorsett.  I don’t remember what class was about that night, only that I was talking with God as I walked. And then I heard something stirring in my heart.  It sounded like the voice of my God, and it asked me this: “ Will you speak for me? Will you go where I ask and say what I want you to say?”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.

I heard the same question again. And my heart leapt at the possibilities – of where God may take me and what I might live for Him … and yet my lips uttered a quiet, resigned  “I can’t”. My heart desperately wanted to, and yet my head was clamoring with all the insecurities, questions, self-doubts … all the reasons why I would mess everything up. “I want to,” I found myself muttering under my breath, “but don’t you see I just can’t?”

And quietly life went on. I found myself wandering a bit. From Minnesota, down to a handsome young man on a reservation in Arizona, and then away… far away to Amsterdam.

beautiful Amsterdam , canals in downtownThere my heart was stripped bare. Like Aslan with Eustace, the strong claws of my God cut deep through my dragon skin and I was given new skin, a new life.1  And Jesus quietly whispered to my heart, “here, in this rawness, in the pain of finding your way, I will walk with you

I wandered some more. Back to the US, back to Minnesota, and on until I finally found my home with that handsome young man in Arizona. I found my home among a beautiful brown skinned people, so similar in heart and culture to the dark-skinned people I had grown up with in Africa. I love them as my own family – I got married among them and had my first two children among them.

Hopi Sunset

In the midst of such wonder and joy, I found myself in the middle of a wilderness I had never imagined for myself. A vast, dark, consuming cloud of fear descended on my life. A barrage of worry, a fear of loss, of death, of life – this world that I had always been enamored with now just seemed to hold threats, and I thought at times I was losing my way. And in the swirling madness, my sweet Jesus, gave me His Word, showed me the way out by the power of His promises, and whispered to my heart, “here, in this darkness, I will walk with you”

Then came those words a mother dreads. In the dark of the ultrasound room, the doctor told us that there was an “anomaly” with our baby boy (a boy! We were going to have a boy!) Next came the barrage of tests to determine exactly what the “anomaly” was – the doctors called my baby a “fetus” and offered to run tests to see if we should end the pregnancy – the horror of such words still make me shudder. Months of tests and monitoring and not knowing, until that beautiful day my baby boy exploded into our world and it has never been the same since.  We experienced the truth that there are no “anomalies”, only perfect creations of God, knit together as He sees fit. We saw miracles, unexplained healings and parts held together by invisible hands – and yet God saw fit to use the hands of doctors to do more healing. Surgery on my 3 day old, 10 days in NICU, a baby having to go home with oxygen tubes in his nose – swirling confusion, loneliness – nothing makes a mother feel smaller than knowing she can do nothing for her baby but pray. caleb

But pray! There is nothing a mother can do that is more powerful than that – pray! And in those exhausting, breathless days, my Jesus came close and whispered to my heart, “here, in this place, I will walk with you”

 

Life has moved on, as it always does. Years have passed, that fragile little baby boy with a weak heart is now a strong big boy with an irrepressible belly laugh that takes over a room. We have different scenery out our front door than we did back then. Our days are filled with all the joy and stress, laughter, tears, and busy-ness of full time marriage-ing, all-consuming parenting, and constant ministry. But some things will never change. He continues to whisper to me, “here, in this place, I will walk with you”

 

And so when I found myself in that parking lot last year, the memory – those words- came flooding back and took my breath away. “Will you speak for me? Will you go where I send you?” And my heart knelt, and I saw Him in a new way. He didn’t give up on me, on my halting and ashamed “I can’t”. He didn’t move on to the next better candidate. He just kept walking with me. And as He walked with me, I discovered that He was never asking if I could … He was simply asking if I would. He, who walked with me in the brazen streets of Amsterdam, through the swirling darkness of fear, in the midst of such confusion and pain in the NICU, in the daily pressures of now, will continue to walk with me through whatever He asks of me. And He will give me the words to speak.

 

And so today I echo the words of Moses in Exodus 33:15 when He begged God to simply walk with him.–presence And I rest on the promise of God that followed his bold request: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33) There is no other life for me.

Posted in Living this Life, Walking it out

You can fight outside

“…if they want to fight, they have to go outside”, she said, “because my home will be a home of peace”

The words struck my young heart. And have been lodged there ever since. They weren’t directed at me – but part of me wonders if they were intended for me.

Some moments never leave you. Some moments come to us in a single sentence, and transform our lives forever… or shape our futures… or heal our pasts.

You rarely know it when it’s happening. These moments don’t contain lightning bolts. They come as a gentle whisper to the soul. Sometimes I feel like Elijah, looking for the presence of God, and not finding Him in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire… “but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face…” 1 Kings 19

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How was I to know, at a mere 12 years old, how my God would shape my life through this simple woman’s words? Standing in her kitchen, watching her make dinner while eavesdropping on a conversation intended for someone else, she simply explained the power of peace in her family. She articulated a concept that I had never heard anyone put words to.

I wonder how many years passed before I thought of those words again. But they lay like a seed, planted deep in the recesses of my heart. But those simple words gave me framework on which to build my marriage. A foundation on which to build my family. The courage to take a stand and declare, “My home will be a home of peace.” Though life became tumultuous – there existed an idea – a possibility. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 shafts of light

There are more words in me – planted by people throughout my life. Gentle whispers sent into my life like shafts of light.  Some I harvest – some are still growing. But today, I celebrate all those moments. I celebrate every person who has spoken into my life.

And I think about the words I speak – the crumbs I leave behind as I walk. ”Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29  That unsuspecting bystander who sees me and my entourage of 3 in a grocery store, all of us at wits end. That it may benefit those who listen. That child who’s done something wrong and looks into your eyes- waiting for what’s to come… That it may benefit those who listen. That person sitting next to your family in a restaurant… That it may benefit those who listen. That nurse caring for your sick child… That it may benefit those who listen. Every soul, longing for some crumbs of grace to fall – something to point us to our Maker. crumbs 2

May I leave behind a trail of grace that changes lives as mine has been changed.

What words have been spoken into your life that have changed you?

meditation of heart