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!”

Uncle David 3

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

I don’t understand…

He just couldn’t understand why. This boy with curly blonde hair and big blue eyes, looking at me so quizzically. And I’m glad he couldn’t.

This 7 year old boy who loves Jesus with all his heart and has no limitations to his expectations of who Jesus is and what He can do.

It was just a normal morning. We were doing our regular reading routine this morning, the 3 kids and me. All of us a little sleepy and groggy, trying to wake up enough to start our day.

The reading we came to in our “Mini and Maxi devotions” was Luke 5. Peter and his friends had been fishing all night, without catching a thing. They come in to shore, and Jesus ends up using their boat as a makeshift pulpit. Then comes the miracle of a boatload of fish when Peter least expects it, followed by Peter’s well known response: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

spotlight

Maybe I’ve read this story too many times. Maybe I just know too well that feeling of being soiled and not wanting to be too close to Jesus in my shame. But as I read these words, I didn’t expect to see my Joshua’s face contort in utter confusion.  “I don’t understand”, he said. So I tried to explain.

I asked him if he’s ever felt like he’s not good enough to be near Jesus. If he’d ever messed up so much that he felt too ashamed to come close to Jesus. As I talked, my overly expressive boy’s face changed from confusion to shock and horror. All he could say was, “but WHY?! Why wouldn’t you want to be with Jesus?!”

I’ve heard numerous sermons and explanations of that moment when Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “such as these”. And here in front of my bleary morning eyes was this verse being lived out in front of me. Because on one hand, I know that when we compare ourselves to the great glory of God, we find ourselves, like Job, saying “My ears had heard of youbut now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42)  And I believe this is what is happening in Peter’s heart in this moment.

But in comes crashing the beautiful paradox. Because, my friend! This also is true. And I believe this may be what was happening in Jesus’ heart in this moment.  That beyond the reality of who we are compared to Him, He longs for us to come close and just be with Him.

In our filth.

In our emptiness.

In our shame.

I hear the words of Romans 8 ring loud in my heart – “ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And I see Him stooped low, casting off His crown for a manger, so that I can draw close to Him.

I see Him in agony on a cross, so that I can be made clean.

I see Him in all His glory beside God the Father interceding still on our behalf! (Romans 8:34)

And yet how many times have I hidden from Him because of my sin? How many times has my heart reeled with words like Peter’s “Go away from me – I am a sinner?”

As I hear His  words still ringing in the air, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:29) Did you hear that?!

AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOUL!

Oh how I long to be nestled in.

To come to Jesus with a heart as simple and clear as my Joshua’s – with no worry or doubt, just trust.

So come! Let’s not spend another day pushing back the One who gave it all to be close to you. His Promises are sure, His Arms are secure, His Words are true.

It’s time to start really believing them.

Jesus

Posted in Living this Life

The God who sees

So there’s this bracelet …

img_4599

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

Helicopters and God’s faithfulness

I stood here on that cold October morning, the wind whipping my face as I watched the helicopter take off. The helicopter carrying my son away from me.

2017-03-22 (2)

And my heart broke. The night before, Brad and I had rushed to the ER with our boy. What had started with a cold, followed by a fever, had erupted into a full blown seizure. And now this moment– I feel the tears welling up even now as I remember. They needed to get him to a bigger hospital, and this was the best way to do it. I knew it was the best thing for him, but nothing prepares a mother’s heart for this moment. Watching her precious baby being loaded into the back of a helicopter – more helpless than I had ever been.

I stood there today, another cold and cloudy morning. And I watched that same helicopter land. All the memories came rushing back as the wind whipped my face. Some feelings never fade. This day, it was just a demonstration – they brought the helicopter to show us it’s life saving capabilities. And this day, my 8 year old boy scrambled into the back of it to see the place he had once laid as a helpless baby. So big, so strong, so energetic and smart – I sometimes forget.

IMG_9733

I forget the day the doctors told me about an “anomaly” with my “fetus” (I couldn’t believe they would call my precious baby a fetus). The months wondering what we would find in him when he was born. The days in the NICU, the tests, the surgery, the oxygen tanks they sent us home with. I forget that control is but a vapor – taunting us and then slipping away.

And when I remember, I find my soul breaking out in song. Not just songs of thanksgiving for how God has rescued our Caleb, but songs of thanksgiving that my God is in control. And reminding me that I’m not.

Because when the dark clouds roll in, I hear these words “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

And when I feel hopeless, my tired eyes read this “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.”  Zephaniah 3:17

When I feel alone, I am lifted by this promise: ““the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders… There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Dt. 33)

And in my despair, I hear these simple words: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Ps 46:10

I didn’t expect this to happen today. It’s been so many years – life has moved on. This morning I opened my Bible and read these words: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live… Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God” Dt. 4:9

I nodded my head, and went on with my day. But when I watched that helicopter land, it slammed into my heart like a tidal wave.

DO NOT FORGET THE THINGS YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN

DO NOT LET THEM FADE FROM YOUR HEART

REMEMBER THE DAY YOU STOOD BEFORE THE LORD YOUR GOD

Oh yes, my Lord, I remember! And I praise You. I praise You – not just for your miracles (which are many), but for Your presence and for Your power. In my lostness, in my confusion, in my moments of despair, You have carried me.  Your mercies truly are new every morning – great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3)

 

Posted in Walking it out

Can you hear Him?

That strangling darkness.

It’s hard to say exactly when it started. When my soul turned from her adventurous thrill seeking self. Was it that trip many years ago where a faltering plane threatened to fall from the sky, leaving me feeling vulnerable and out of control? Was it that day driving in snow when I could no longer see road nor ditch nor car coming my way? Was it merely watching pain move in and out of other’s lives and mis-appropriating that pain to my own – wondering how and if I would ever survive such loss?

Maybe these little moments just all worked together, like bombs going off in my spirit – wall-of-thornsslowly shattering my trust and leading me to suspect what lay around every corner.  I became a mother, and suddenly had a little life to protect. And slowly seeds of desire for control and fear of the unknown bloomed into a wall of thorns, threatening to strangle me and the adventure filled life God had given me.

I would leave my baby safely in one room and immediately envision the terrifying harm that could come to her if I wasn’t always by her side. It quickly invaded all areas of my life – fear lurking in every corner of my world. We would drive somewhere – anywhere – and the possibilities of our demise were seemingly endless. Panic began to encase me, consume me.

Have you found yourself doing this too? I think we don’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing – or maybe we think we’re just going crazy – but many of us play these mind games to some extent. It’s when the mind games start to rule your life that it gets terrifying.

When trapped inside your own head, where is one to turn? How do you get out of a prison that traps you from within?

God has a way of walking in these dark places. It’s not with a spotlight. And it’s not the thunder and lightning of immediate transformation, although I prayed for that so often – “God just come down and save me from this!” When I look back at my life, especially in the dark places, the footprints of God are silent and gentle.

Elijah – the fiery prophet of God. I look at him, and see a man with no fear. I think of the elijah-fireprophet who walks up to the king who is trying to kill him and challenges him to a duel of their gods. I think of a man who single-handedly took on 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. I think of the man with enough faith to douse an altar in water while praying for fire from heaven. Imagine praying for God to send fire in the face of an entire nation – and God responding!

The next day, one woman, filled with hate and evil, threatens him. And he gives up – he runs! “He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’.”

Really, Elijah?! Didn’t just yesterday you experience the power of God come down in FIRE? Didn’t you see the end of a devastating famine in response to your prayer? Didn’t you boldly stand before 850 prophets and a king who has been hunting your life? And now, one woman has threatened you and you turn and run and want to die? How did fear do this to you?

Yup, that’s pretty much me. Minus the fire from heaven and the bravado in the face of hundreds of detractors. Just me – who has seen God’s hand move, who has experienced the touch and presence of a loving God. I may not have lived the big, bold miracles of Elijah, but I have seen God move in ways that confound the mind and make the heart bow in utter adoration. And yet there I was, laying down under the broom bush of fear, waiting for the worst my imagination could summon. Letting the fear consume. Waiting for death.

And God answered Elijah. The angel of the LORD came to Elijah. He didn’t supernaturally reach down and remove his fear. He didn’t even tell him that everything was going to be okay. He told him to eat. The angel prepared food for Elijah! After eating, sleeping, eating again, and traveling for 40 days, he finds himself in a cave, still feeling sorry for himself. Many believe this cave was in the same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

And God comes to him. And God finally speaks.

These aren’t earth shattering words. This isn’t a fresh revelation etched in stone. God speaks one simple question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then come raw displays of nature’s power – the earth shattering power of wind, the ground rumbling in a mighty earthquake beneath his feet- but God wasn’t there. Next came the silence.

elijah-cave

The winds died, the rumbling ceased, and in that quiet, Elijah heard it again. That still, small whisper of Almighty God asking one more time, “what are you doing here, Elijah?”

My soul stirs in hope at the simplicity of this moment. My raging fear stops cold and lies down at Jesus’ feet. After listening to Elijah’s complaint, God simply points him back to the task at hand. It feels to me like He’s saying, “I’m not done, Elijah! Don’t quit before the story is over. Don’t sit there in your pool of self pity while I have more for you to do! Get up, and do the next thing” In my despair, I had a hard time seeing God. I wanted Him to show up in a bolt of lightning. There were no flashes of mighty power in that moment of time. Instead, all He whispered to me was “keep being faithful – to the calling, to the life I have given you”. He gave me tools to disentangle myself from the vice of fear – that story is for another time. But I discovered life again as I walked through the wilderness, clinging to His still, small voice – my Shepherd’s promises at every turn. Too many to number.

“He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23)

“His mercies are new every morning”  (Lam 3)

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Is 43:2)

“…the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Dt. 31:6

Awake my soul and sing! His promises never stop, so let’s keep walking – we will find Him there as we go.

432deeb52eba0976c6437f5a163e1331

Save

Posted in Living this Life

I believe

The words pounded through my head as my feet pounded the pavement.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty…”

It feels like yesterday in my heart and soul.

bruge streets

“Creator of heaven and earth…”

These thoughts crowding my mind – racing so fast, they can make you fear for your sanity sometimes.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son our Lord … MY Lord!”

How did I end up here? Trying to escape the cycle of bombarding thoughts, walking the streets of Brugge, Belgium, simply because I didn’t know where to go or what to do? How to quiet the noise inside my head – screaming at me from the moment I woke up until I finally found escape in sleep?

“He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”

It had been a long journey to this moment. Months in Amsterdam, telling people about my Jesus – the one who promises freedom. All the while, crumbling inside from my own lack of freedom. Trapped in my insecurities, in my doubts, in the dysfunction I had come to see as “normal”. To set me free, God had to undo me; so here I was, walking these streets, undone.

And I remembered those days when I was a kid. Long Sundays in church, reciting a liturgy I thought was old and “dead”.  They called this the “Apostle’s Creed” – it didn’t mean much to me back then – just words we said every week.

“He descended into hell. On the third day, He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father…”

I remembered sitting in that college cafeteria, telling a wise professor that I was beyond all that now. I was exploring new ways to worship. He didn’t say much, only gently reminded me to not forget those who had gone before me – “You are standing on over 500 years of history…”

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic  (Christian) church…”

Suddenly the scrambled thoughts started slowing down. I found myself mouthing the words, savoring each precious morsel… “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting”

bruge 2

There are many ways to worship, but in this moment, walking those old cobblestone streets, God set me free from the tyranny of the new. He brought those words to life in my heart on that day in Brugge, Belgium, and I no longer had to figure anything out – I knew. And that simple knowing quieted the screaming voices in my head.

My God showed me that as long as I clung to what I knew was true, He would lead me through what I didn’t know. Though emotions may soar to great heights and plummet to sordid depths, nothing can shake the reality of this foundation. I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER – I wanted to shout it from the rooftops… Here is where I could plant my feet and not be shaken.

In these days of confusion and fear around the world, it doesn’t take much to feel like a “wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) Headlines scream terrifying news at us, the pundits on TV tell us what (and who) to believe, people are displaced, having to flee their homes – it’s hard to know who to follow and what to trust in anymore.

“When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened” (Lk 21:9)  I still believe in God, the Father Almighty”

We are surrounded by the constant shifting shadows of life – today I choose to plant my feet on the one thing that will never change. I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt 24:35)  I still believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting

And in the threatening waves, Jesus whispers, “Peace, be still”.