Rain

Dagny cookies

It was raining as we drove to Charlie’s birthday party, but first birthday parties are a rare and beautiful thing, never to be missed on account of moisture. We ran through the puddles and up the walk to join a festive crowd feasting on loaded platters of goodies and snapping enough photographs to keep Facebook happy for days. The first thing I noticed was the cookie tray, because Charlie’s mom is an ace in that department (see above). Then I noticed the sign (see below).

dagny sign

I thought, “I should blog about that one day,” took a photo of those thought provoking words, filed it away, and never got back to it.

Then Harvey came, and I wondered if those same words sounded too light and trite, too “just smile and bear it and move on.” I don’t believe God ever means for us to plaster a fake smile on our hurting selves and pretend there is no pain in this life. There is pain. Why else would there be so many Bible verses about comfort? We wouldn’t need comfort if we didn’t have pain.

I do believe the words, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Don’t worry. Don’t look into the future and assume that all will be forever lost. God is on our side and has the power to do all things, to provide even beyond our asking. Be happy, or joyful if that makes you feel better about the word choice. Underneath all the present pain or rain, we know the One who makes the sun shine is still in charge.

Still we cry, we suffer, and we struggle to tap into the truth, to draw strength from that which we cannot yet see. Harvey wasn’t the only storm many of us will face this year. And when those storms come, it won’t work to hold our breath until they pass. We have to keep going, keep walking, keep working. And when we are truly trusting, maybe we can even allow our hearts to dance. 

           

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Careless

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I learned to care less about what didn’t matter. (I hope that lesson sticks!) My list of things that matter is much shorter than it used to be. Past decisions, other people’s choices or opinions, plans that don’t affect me, social intricacies, small inconveniences… This doesn’t mean I care less about others around me, but rather that I am careful to conserve my mental and emotional energy for that which I can affect. My feathers don’t ruffle quite as easily as they once did. Computer problems? They look pretty small now. Traffic? Unexpected chores or needed repairs around the house? They aren’t so irritating any more. My “Type A” has slipped, and nicely so.

At times peace and worry warred within me, but peace won out every time. More than one friend commented that she could hear the peace in my voice. I could neither explain nor take credit for that. I began to journal all the “small” miracles that were sprinkled into my days.

  • A good friend, a nurse with very particular views about local medical options, raved about the doctor who would be doing my surgery, as well as the oncologist who would be assisting.
  • The depth and breadth of care and prayer astonished me. Friends and family near and far encouraged me with gifts, cards, texts, and promises of consistent prayer.
  • Just one hour of shopping and $50 yielded four simple dresses I would need after surgery when my body swelled.
  • More than one “chance encounter” led to times of prayer with someone who cared.
  • I was hit with an intense bout of the flu just two weeks before my surgery. How could that be a blessing? It allowed me to see the gaps in my recovery plan. I learned what to buy and how to prepare for several days of limited mobility.

Then the day of surgery came. It was successful. I had very little pain throughout the entire process, astonishing all my caretakers. Many of the post-surgical discomforts I had been warned to expect simply never materialized. No complications arose. No further treatment was prescribed. I am well, and I am changed.

  • I am living more deliberately. I’m more aware of the blessing of tasty food, a soft pillow, a hug from my husband, time to rest and recover…
  • I am expecting less of myself and of those around me.
  • I asked myself why I wanted to be healthy—to keep living—and I’m acting on my answers.

I don’t take my healing as the promise of an easy future. On any day, life can turn in either direction. The gift of getting to stay alive will not be without its moments of pain. And so, joy can only come from trust every single day. Circumstances, no matter what they are, just don’t cut it. Life changed in a moment last July. That may happen again. I have no promise of a similar outcome. I do have the promise of similar peace. So do you:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Next Week: Care More

And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless

YOUARENOWHERE

Youarenowhere

How do you read the sentence above? Where do you insert the necessary spaces? Perhaps you see “You are now here.” On the other hand, you may have read “You are nowhere.”

I saw those letters inscribed in the pavement on a path around Town Lake in Austin not long ago. Most likely, my thoughts were wandering away from the moment, as they tend to do far too often. (I know, I’ve written about this before. It’s a point worth driving home yet again.) Here is how that cemented scribble struck me.

Perhaps we have a choice between the two interpretations. Either we are now here or we are nowhere. Perhaps if we are not living in the present moment, we aren’t really, fully living at all.

It’s so easy to leave the here and now. We look backwards, asking the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve questions that send us down a judgmental path of evaluating our own now finished words, choices, and accomplishments (or lack thereof). And for what? Does it help anything to rehash last night’s conversation and wonder if we were foolish or intelligent in our comments? Does it help to wonder endlessly what might have happened if we had chosen a different course of work or study in our youth, or settled in a different town or…

And then, of course, there’s all the “what if’s” and “how-am-I-going-to’s” that can draw us into a future that hasn’t yet arrived—another waste of time, most of the time.

I’ve been faced with a surprising set of health challenges lately. Boy, talk about the temptation to look behind! Could I have prevented this? Should I have gone to the doctor sooner? Would I have done something different if I had had more information? And then there are the future “worries” that try to sneak in and steal my joy. A dear friend, one facing similar challenges, said it best: “I wake up every morning and I say to myself, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, and I’m going to rejoice in it.'”

Do you feel good today? Praise God for that. If yesterday was a “disaster” or tomorrow is going to be tough, so be it. TODAY you feel good. Is today one of the tough days? Never mind what might have been done differently in the past. Time travel is not an option. Never mind whether or not you will face the same, or even greater, difficulty tomorrow. TODAY, God’s grace is sufficient. Always, He is kind, loving, and enough. So, today, you are now here!

Hope

(Shared by a member of Men Living R.E.D., Northwest Bible Church, Spring, Texas.)

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“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Although this verse is about suffering for doing good, it also applies to the way we handle difficulty. If we mope around like the world is coming to an end, who will be compelled to ask about the hope that is in us? If we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, that our joy is not in this world, we may provoke the question, “Why are you different?” Let me share a personal story —-

Back in my Texaco days, I was running a meeting and my daughter called me. I ALWAYS answer for my family – no matter what I am doing (sorry Texaco). I put the meeting on pause and answered.

My daughter had been in a minor car accident and she was pretty shook up.

I turned away from the meeting and went quickly through the Dad questions: Are you okay? Yes. Are you safe right now? Yes. Is anyone else hurt? No. Are the cars blocking the road? No.

Big sigh of relief – Okay, honey you are okay. Everything is okay. Cars are just equipment. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Do you want me to come get you? No, I can drive it home. Be careful. Sit for a few minutes and relax. I will look at it tonight. Not to worry. Everything is going to be fine. I love you.

It was over quickly, and everyone in the room could not help but hear the interchange. I told them that she was fine; it was just a fender bender. No big deal; she just needed to talk to me.

After the meeting and over the next few days, almost everyone came up to me to talk about the phone call and my handling of it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I learned that it spoke volumes about my relationship with my daughter. The Dads in the room were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the accident and inconvenience and expense. The Daughters in the room were envious that their own dads were not as understanding. They saw my relationship with my daughter as something special. All of these conversations naturally led to talking about eternal things.

Why did I tell this story? Three lessons learned:

1 – Perspective – keep your eyes fixed on the real prize – show the hope that is in you.

2 – Don’t forget that everyone is watching – especially and even more closely during the down times.

3 – As the Holy Spirit said through Peter — Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.

Is the way you’re living right now compelling any questions about HOPE?

Pennies or Heaven

sunshine unsplashed

I’ve heard two great sermons lately. Okay, I’ve heard more than two, but there are two I’d like to tell you about. They fit together well. Here’s the short version of the second one first:

We have the hope of heaven!!! (March 2016 Austin Stone) In other words, no matter what is happening right now, we can look ahead into an amazing future, one worthy of great rejoicing even on the days when our present day is full of the muck that life can bring.

We need to drop our pennies!!! (March 2016 NorthWest Bible Church) Let me tell you what I mean. A few weeks ago, my pastor said, “You can let a penny block out the sun.” Huh? Here’s how.

  • Grab a penny.
  • Go outside on a sunny day.
  • Hold the penny up close to your eye in just the right spot, and it will obscure that fiery ball.

Yes, the sun will still be there. Yes, there will still be light. But you will not be able to see the sun itself.

We sometime do that with our troubles. Both our hard times and our joyous times ought to draw us to the Lord who loves us. But do they? Sometimes. Sometimes not. In every circumstance, we can focus on God, responding with prayer and praise, or we can zero in on our circumstances alone, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on only the difficulty at hand, drawing it ever closer to our eyes. When we do that, we are letting our pennies block out the sun, the light and power of God’s presence. Yes, he’s still there. But we manage to nearly forget about him in our shortsighted obsession with our problems.

What pennies are we holding today? What brilliant sunshine are we missing? It’s time to drop our pennies and take a good long look at the sun, the son, the God who is always enough.