Father,, Today is a dreary day. It is not warm or sunny; it is not filled with joy or peace. The house is a mess. I’m not even dressed. I feel emptied and drained.
Even though I can’t see Your glory in my surroundings, I know You can see The glory of eternity. You see the brighter days ahead. You are already there, Celebrating.
You have not journeyed here to Listen to my prayer… Because You have always been here Right beside me. You are not put off by my Dirt or disheveled appearance; You are not unaware of my sadness– You know my thoughts before I think them! You know my emotions better than I know myself!
Today is a dreary day, But it is just a speck in the fullness of Your Eternal Light. Shine into my darkness Dispel the dreariness around me. Help me to reflect, not the clouds, But the Son!
Thank you, Lord. Even on a dreary day, In Your presence, there is fullness of Joy– Not the giddiness of a sunny springtime, But the glow of a hearth-fire, Sustaining me.
So my praise today may not explode In bright colors and exclamations. But it will be a steady and steadying Ember–warm enough to survive Ready for You to Ignite tomorrow’s fresh flame!
Have you ever noticed in reading through the Bible how often God shows up, not on the occasion of fanfare and praise, but on the occasion of a whimper? When all hope seems lost, and a heart is so broken it can no longer call out– when words are useless and all that is left is a dull, exhausted moaning?
God “inhabits the praise of His people” (Psalm 22:3), but He is also “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). We work so hard to get close to the heart of God, but sometimes, we need to be broken to actually get there. We need to experience the God who finds us in our failures and rescues us from disasters– even those of our own making. God loves us enough to come to us in our brokenness– and He loves us too much to leave us there. God is not a “fairy godfather” who will magically make our circumstances comfortable and painless. But He is a true Father, who will provide comfort and strength to get back up and face the future with hope and courage.
Long ago, a woman named Hagar was despondent. She was a slave who was told by her mistress to sleep with the master so he could have a son. Hagar got pregnant when her mistress couldn’t, and she became proud and disdainful toward her mistress. When she was punished for her arrogance, she ran away into the desert–a foolish and impulsive act, as she had nowhere to go and no one to support her or her unborn son. An angel found her by a spring of water and told her to return and submit to her mistress. Several years later, she and her son, Ishmael, were sent into the desert because of Ishmael’s contempt for his brother. Ishmael was near death, and his mother in despair. Not being able to watch her son die, she moved a short distance away and began to sob. But another angel came and showed Hagar a well of water. He reminded her that God had seen her the first time she ran to the desert, and He had heard her crying this time, too. Hagar was not a queen; she was not a warrior princess or the daughter of a noble. She was not righteous or innocent. She was a rebellious slave; the victim of a sinful scheme, but headstrong and rash. God did not stop her from running away; He did not give her victory over her mistress. But God rescued Hagar and Ishmael. And He blessed them both– on the occasion of a whimper. (See Genesis 16 and Genesis 21)
Today, don’t be afraid to whimper. Don’t pretend that everything is under your control– it isn’t. But be willing to look and listen for the ways that God will show himself. It may be in the words of a stranger; it may be in the beauty of a sunset; it may even be that song on the radio, or a cool drink of water in the middle of a desert. God doesn’t always rescue us from sorrow and pain. Sometimes He rescues us through it.
Today would have been my paternal grandmother’s 118th birthday. I have many memories of my grandmother, and I wish more of them were pleasant.
I remember dreading time spent at Grandma’s house. She wasn’t a horrible woman, but she was not peaceful or kind or warm. Her house was small and dark, with cobwebs and dust bunnies in the corners and under furniture. There were very few toys, and most of them broken. Grandma always wanted my sister and I to be still and silent, and I always had the feeling that she dreaded our visits as much as we did. I had a cousin who loved it when we came over, because she was just a bit older and an only child. If the weather was nice, Grandma would send us all outside, and my cousin would dare us to climb trees, or jump over a pit or some other physical (usually dirty and dangerous, too) activity. When we came in, Grandma would frown and comment on how dirty and sweaty and noisy and un-ladylike we all were.
Growing up, I didn’t think of Grandma as someone who had ever been young, and noisy, or happy and excitable, or awkward and easily hurt. She seemed to have been perpetually old and cranky and bitter. In hindsight, I can see how circumstances– being the middle child of seven living on a farm; starting her married life living in with a bossy sister-in-law and verbally abusive father-in-law; losing her husband when he was only 50–had been allowed to shape her character in negative ways.
There are some pleasant memories, and I cherish them. Grandma was a good cook. She made wonderful chicken dinners, and a strange candy out of mashed potatoes and peanut butter. She always had cold tea on a hot day. I knew that she loved my dad, and that she could be proud of us, in her own way. I was sorry when she died. Sorry that I hadn’t made more of an effort to know her better. Sorry that she had chosen bitterness, and that I had chosen to stay distant from her.
I write all this, difficult as it is, to say that Grandma–both her good and bad qualities–lives on in my memory as someone I would not choose to be. I don’t want to grow old like her. I don’t want my family members to dread spending time with me while I live, and dig deep to remember something good about me when I’m gone, or justify my bitterness and negativity.
My grandmother claimed to be a woman of faith. And it is not my place to be her judge. But I saw very little evidence of faith in her daily life. I cannot remember ever hearing her pray. She did not attend church. She had a Bible, but I never saw her reading it. Her better qualities, and her walk with Christ were overshadowed by rancor, bitterness, anger, hurt, and pettiness. I do not want that to be my legacy. I want people to know, not just from my words, but in my actions and choices, that God’s love lives in me, brighter and stronger than memories of Grandma.
Shortly before her death, I ended up spending an afternoon with Grandma– just the two of us. She had moved into a small apartment in town, and somehow, it transpired that I had to be in town on Saturday morning for a school event, and no one could pick me up until that evening. We were forced to keep company. It began awkwardly, but as we talked, Grandma opened up about her childhood, her love of music, and more; she asked about my time at school and my love of history. It is the single most pleasant memory I have of her, and I wish there had been more afternoons like it; more afternoons to bond; more afternoons to cherish, rather than dread.
After her death, I learned a couple of things about my grandmother– things I wish I had known earlier. I found an old copy of her high school yearbook, which contained a story she had written. Grandma’s story was full of wonderful details and imaginative characters. She was a writer– and I never knew! I also found out that Grandma not only loved music, she was a singer– an alto, just like me. At some point in her life, she stopped writing, and she stopped singing. I hope that, even if I never saw it or heard it, that she never stopped praying. And I hope that when I’m gone, those who remember me will never have to wonder if I sang, or wrote, or prayed.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day. And it was a good day. It started out cold and wet, but I got to spend time with my mother, my mother-in-law, several other family members, and some dear friends from childhood. It was a happy day, and it ended with sunshine breaking through the late afternoon clouds, birds singing, and a full heart of memories and gratitude.
But Mother’s Day wasn’t always like that for me. For many years, it was one of the worst days of my year. No matter the weather or the company, there was always a shadow of barrenness and emptiness. Yes, I was grateful for my mother; for my grandmothers and aunts and other relatives; for my friends and their adorable children. But I felt shut out– I was not a mother. I would never be a mother. I was always on the outside looking in.
My circumstances are slightly different now, but I am still not a “natural” mother. No one calls me “mama” or even “grandma.” But Mother’s Day isn’t meant to be a day of sorrow and emptiness, and after years of prayer and letting go of expectations, God is showing me how to enjoy and embrace the circumstances in which He has placed me.
I am not alone in this struggle– far from it. For the past few weeks, I have heard from heartbroken people who dread Mother’s Day. Those who have lost their mothers face the reminder of their grief and loss. It is particularly hard on those who were unable to spend precious days with a dying mother due to COVID restrictions, or lost their mother to COVID. Some mothers are reminded of the wrenching loss of a child– still birth, drug overdoses, suicide, auto accidents, childhood cancer– gut-churning emptiness where once there was a promise of joyful life, grandchildren, shared memories, and so much more. Other mothers (and their children) face the pain of separation and severed relationships. Many, like me, face the reminder that they are NOT a mother– not a “real” mother–even if their circumstances or careers are filled with children “not their own.” And some people face multiple circumstances that cause grief, bitterness, alienation, anger, and despair.
These feelings of sadness and loss are natural, but they do not have to weigh us down or control how we face each day. God wants to share these burdens; He wants to carry the weight of our brokenness and free us to experience joy and peace– even in the midst of our pain! And on those days when our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, God is never more than a prayer away. He doesn’t make our grief disappear; He doesn’t erase our memories. But He can redeem them with a changed perspective and new hope.
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.– each can bring bitterness and heartbreak, as well as joy. We do well to pay attention to those around us who dread such holidays, and offer the comfort, hope, and encouragement of a listening ear, a loving heart, and, most of all, a loving God who longs for us to pray in and through our heartbreak.
A young man walked into a local superstore. He was nondescript: late twenties or early thirties, dark hair, light brown skin, deep brown eyes, clean cut, quiet and friendly-looking. He was alone.
He came in by the pharmacy, and started down the first aisle. He saw a woman staring at a box– a home pregnancy test. She looked fearful, tired, and sad. He started to reach out to put a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey! Where’s your mask?! You can’t be in here without a mask– state mandate. What are you? Some kind of COVID-denying homicidal maniac? Hater! Get out of here!” This from another lady at the end of the aisle. The sad woman disappeared around the corner. Without a word, the man pulled a mask from his pocket and slipped it over his mouth and nose. He continued down the aisle. “I hope you get COVID and die!”– a parting shot from the second woman.
The man turned a corner and approached the brightly-colored Easter display area– candy, plastic eggs, plush bunnies, baskets filled with small toys, and lots of plastic grass. One area boasted crosses–wooden crosses on stakes to put in the yard, filigree crosses to hang on the wall, pewter crosses on chains of various lengths for necklaces, bracelets, key rings… A few wall hangings and lawn banners with sunrises, lilies, cute little chicks, and old country churches. More candy. The larger bags were on sale. To the right, there were adorable clothes for the kids– suits for the little boys, frilly dresses and bonnets for the little girls. Most were 20% off. There were “dress-up” costumes, too–rabbit ears and and flower hats and fairy wings. There was even a chicken outfit with feathers. Off to the end, there were deeply discounted Halloween costumes for 70% off–zombies and vampires, witches and skeletons. A special end-cap held yet more candy.
As the man left the area, he shook his head. He wandered over to the Home Decor and craft area in a fog. There he found framed art. “God Bless America!” “Life is Better at the Lake” “Love Never Fails” “Sleep, Drink, Fish, Repeat” “Faith, Family, Freedom” “These Boots Were Made For Walkin'”, plus several with pictures–Wonder Woman, Harley-Davidson, Captain Morgan, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe.
He kept going. There were books and magazines–best-sellers, romance series, biographies, horror and self-help books. Magazines filled with gossip and gaming, guns and glamour, gardening, goddesses, and gigabytes. Just for Easter, there was a special display of leather-bound Bibles, next to the Spring Gardening guides and photographic histories of favorite Major League Baseball teams.
The man bypassed the mesmerizing glow of wide-screen TVs and computers, strolled past the sporting goods and garden center, and turned away from the auto and hardware sections. He spent a couple of minutes glancing at the furniture– prefab and chipboard dressers and bookshelves, patio tables made of plastic or resin or metal tubing; floor-model chairs and lamps already scratched and discounted.
As he approached the grocery area, his eyes widened–aisle after aisle of canned goods, packaged dinners, bags of cookies and flavored popcorn, rows of olives and pickles and hot peppers, an entire section for bread and rolls. And the meats! Large banners announced special prices this week on ham and lamb, rolls, potatoes, and special Easter cakes.
As He left the superstore, there was a bench just outside. The young man sat down, sank His head into His nail-scarred hands, and shed a tear.
I’ve missed posting a couple of blog posts this past week. My husband and I have been ill. We both came down with COVID, and my husband ended up in Hospital for a week with COVID-related pneumonia. As I write this, he is scheduled to be released to come home, where he will continue to recuperate. I will be finished with my quarantine period, but I am still recovering, as well.
It can be very tempting in times of sickness or unexpected struggles to ask, “Where are you God, in all this?” And, while some would say it is not appropriate to question God, I think this is a good question to explore. There is nothing wrong with the simple question, if you are seeking an honest answer. Here is part of the answer I’ve received over the past two weeks:
Where: I know all the “correct” and spiritual answers– “God is everywhere, omnipresent.” “God is seated on His Throne.” “God is right beside you, and His Spirit is within you…” These are big answers, true and Biblical. But they can be very cold comfort when you see your husband struggling to breathe, or when you are exhausted and frightened. God is omnipresent, but He is spirit– invisible and undetectable through our physical senses. We can “know” He is present, but we can still question His “Presence.” But when we are seeking His presence in the question, there are so many wonderful and comforting answers. God IS Everywhere– so that even when my husband is miles away in a hospital room and I am alone in our apartment, God is in both places at the same time, providing rest, wisdom, and healing! God IS on His Throne– orchestrating timing and people to offer their skills, advice, services, prayers, encouragement, and more. David and I have been sick, and even in danger, but God did not abandon us. He provided for us to be able to get David to the hospital at the right time; He provided friends and family to help us– even strangers to pray for us and encourage us. God’s Spirit gave us strength and courage to ask the right questions, make decisions, and trust Him through this process. And God will continue to be working within, and around, and through us as we continue to heal.
Are: We may claim that God is omnipresent and omnipotent– always present and all-powerful– but often when things don’t go according to our plan, we question. Not so much where God is at the present moment, but where WAS He? Why didn’t He stop this from happening? And where will God be tomorrow, when the medical bills start to arrive? Doesn’t He know or care about the aftermath? The fall-out? When will my husband be able to return to work, if ever? How did we get exposed to COVID? Why didn’t God prevent it? How much more will we suffer? But once again, God IS omnipresent– not just in space, but in time. God knew this would happen long before we had ever heard of COVID. God has already seen the future play out. He knows the end from the beginning, and every step in between. I tend to get lost in all that I cannot see– past and future, why and how–but God is so much bigger than all that. There is NOTHING that can take God by surprise or cause Him to fail in His plans for us. God spends a great deal of time throughout the Bible reminding us of His promises; many of which are promises of His Presence, His Provision, His Protection, and His Peace. He never promised that our lives would be easy, problem- or worry-free, or boringly comfortable. Such lives don’t shape us or develop our character; they teach us nothing about God or ourselves. God wants us to have an abundant life– a life full of “LIFE”! And that means facing challenges that show us how to trust our Loving Father, and cause us to see the depths and breadth of His Love and Power.
You: God is Spirit; He is invisible and indescribable. Yet He is a personal God, and wants a personal relationship with each of us. It is easy to lose sight when I am worried or suffering– I forget the heights and depths of what God has done to pursue that relationship with me– ME! I never have to ask “Where is the God of the Universe?” I can ask, “Where are YOU?!” And even though God is Spirit, He also has a “body”– US! God is in the welcome voice of loved ones, and the hugs (even virtual ones during these days of quarantine) of family and friends. God is in the offers of help and advice from friends and strangers alike. God works through US to bring us together, to encourage, and strengthen, and guide us every day– on good days and difficult days alike.
GOD: Illness gives one plenty of time to think, reflect, and meditate on God. It is a stark reminder that I am NOT God (and never could be, thankfully), and that God knows and always does BEST, even when I can’t see or understand. I know many thousands of people have not survived their COVID journey– they didn’t recover; they lost their husband or wife or other loved ones. God doesn’t stop being God when we don’t get a “happily ever after” ending. Some day, David and I will each die. We will leave or be left behind by other loved ones. God is still GOOD; He is enduringly FAITHFUL; He grieves WITH us, just as He rejoices with us. He SUSTAINS us, and He REDEEMS us.
Where are you, GOD? YOU are everywhere, always, and perfectly where and when and how YOU should be. And I will praise YOU!
I know several people who had a very Merry Christmas this year. Some of them flew to exotic locations and spent Christmas on the beach, or in a big city with lights and dozens of family members. Some of them spent a cozy Christmas in a cabin with roaring fires and glittering snow-covered trees, eating sumptuous meals and unwrapping expensive gifts.
But most of the people I know spent a Christmas that wasn’t “post-card” perfect. Some of them were alone in a small apartment with no presents and no heat. Some were working at a job they hate because they had no other option. Some were grieving loved ones lost in the past months. Some of them are facing economic mountains– debt, job loss, medical bills or taxes they cannot pay, no money for rent or groceries… Some are battling cancer or alcoholism, anger, or fear. Some are estranged from their families, or separated from loved ones because of COVID, or deployment, or divorce. And some are facing persecution, starvation, homelessness, disease, or war.
Christmas comes, whatever our circumstances– and so does the Christ Child. Jesus didn’t come to the earth to bring us all “better” circumstances or worry-free holidays, but to deliver us from eternal death, and equip us to endure the circumstances we face in life. Jesus himself came in chaotic and stressful circumstances, and He came, knowing that He would face rejection, hatred, injustice, and death on a cross.
There are millions of people who spent a “Merry” Christmas and missed the whole point. Some of us indulged in a gift-giving frenzy that left others in the cold. Some of us allowed envy, fear, greed, or bitterness to color our Christmas. In the process, many of us lost sight of the true gifts of Christmas– Peace, Joy, and Goodwill. In fact, “His divine power has given us EVERYTHING we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
And these gifts are not temporary, like earthly Christmas gifts. They are always available, and they never break, expire, or grow dim. My prayer for this year(and the year to come) is that we all may find–and share!– these eternal and astounding gifts, this “inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade…kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4)
Christmas Day may not always be merry in this life, but because of Christmas we can face an eternity that will never disappoint, and we have a living Hope that can carry us through even the darkest hours!
We’re getting ready to enter the Lenten season–six and a half weeks of reflection and preparation before Easter. Lent is not a celebration in the traditional sense– it is solemn and reflective, personal and, sometimes, painful. It is a time of getting “real” about our sinful condition. The Bible says we have all fallen short of the Glory and Holiness of God (Romans 3:10) and deserve God’s wrath. The natural consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and permanent separation from the goodness of God.
There are many ways we can react to this reality. I know many people who resent God’s Holiness and His laws. They do not want to face God’s righteous judgment; they believe that God’s laws are cruel and unjust, and that they do not have to answer to anyone greater then themselves.
Others want to bargain with God. They feel that if they relent– if they set a goal to do more good than harm, if they strive to be better than “the next guy”–God will weigh their good deeds in the balance and judge them in comparison with how bad they “might have been.”
But God doesn’t judge on a curve– He doesn’t judge us by our measure, but by His. And none of us “make the grade.”
If that were the final word– the end of the story– there would be no reason to relent, and it wouldn’t make any difference if we were resentful. But God, from the very beginning, designed a different outcome. His judgement is just, but it is not without hope or remedy. God Himself has given us the chance to change– to repent. Repentance is agreeing with (not resenting) God’s judgment, and responding (not bargaining) with changed behavior and a changed attitude.
Lent begins when we confront the great gulf between God’s Holiness and our sinfulness. It stretches through the realization that sin and its consequences surround us, hem us in, and poison our world. It is a time of sadness and gaping loss, when we long for healing, for hope, and for a home we’ve never seen. It is a time for reflecting on the cost involved–not just in human suffering, but in God’s suffering as a human. God, who could have, in His righteousness, destroyed even the memory of mankind, chose to share our sufferings– hunger, cold, exhaustion, rejection, heartbreak, betrayal, death– to that we could be delivered into everlasting life.
Lent ends as we remember Jesus’ death and burial– His ultimate sacrifice for our debt. It ends with a shattering trumpet-blast of hope and joy on Easter Morning. Our sadness and loss is NOT the end– Sin’s power and poison are illusory. They have no power over our Great God.
It can be tempting to respond to our present circumstances with resentment. It can be tempting to relent in our rebellion– trying to bargain with God, and minimize the cost He had to pay, trying to pay the price ourselves with a show of good behavior and a superficial devotion.
But God’s great Love and Mercy should draw us to worship and true devotion. As we reflect on the great gulf between sin and holiness, it should cause us to gladly repent– to lay on the altar all the substitutes and lesser things that keep us from full communion with the Lover of Our Souls.
Our prayers during this season may be difficult. They may be filled with grief, loss, and pain. But they may also be filled with hope and joy as we anticipate the gift of Grace. And they should be filled with praise. After all, Lent is a season; a season to reflect, a season to repent, a season to mourn, but a season with a beginning and an end; a season that gives way to celebration and a sure hope of resurrection!