Mother’s Day

The older I get the less Mother’s Day is about being honored and celebrated and the more it becomes a day of gratitude.  I am so very grateful for the privilege of being a mother.  Let me say at the beginning, I recognize that Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many. Perhaps you have lost your mother or have a difficult relationship.  I get it. I remember many years standing in the Hallmark store with tears in my eyes thinking, “There is not one Mother’s Day card for my mother.”  It also may be difficult because you desperately want to be a mother and for whatever reason this has not happened.  Maybe you have lost an unborn child or children and this day is a painful reminder.   And tragically, you may have given birth to a child who later died.  My heart breaks for you.

I am richly blessed with three wonderful daughters.  As my wise sister has often reminded me, most of us get two shots at the parent child relationship.  The first opportunity is with our parents, and then later with our own children.  Even if you don’t have the relationship you would like with your parents, you can still resolve to have a good relationship with your own children.  Sometimes our best parenting lessons come by learning what not to do.

The greatest Mother’s Day gift I have ever received is the gift of being a mother.  I can still vividly remember the overwhelming love I felt for my firstborn daughter as she was placed in my arms.  And the surprising relief that I could feel the same amount of love for a second and a third daughter.  A mother’s love is never divided: it is multiplied.

I am also blessed that my grown children live nearby and I get to see them often.  I really like the women they have become, and I enjoy spending time with them even if it is just a quick pop-in visit.  And I am, so proud of them as mothers.  They have blessed me with nine beautiful grandchildren.  It is more than I ever could have wished for! 

There are many gifts in motherhood, but I think the greatest is that it truly teaches us about the heart of our Father.  I can remember the frustrations I felt as a young, overwhelmed mother.  There was nothing I could take to God that he had not already experienced.  “Oh Lord, they are always wantingsomething!” (Yes, I understand.  My children only come to me when they need something.”) “They don’t appreciate how much I do for them!”  (Really? How often do you thank me for all I do for you?”)  As they got older I complained that they were too busy for me.  I certainly didn’t surprise God with that one!  (“Hmmm.  My children are too busy for me too!”)   Of course, I always realized that God was referring to me.  As a parent, God has been so patient and loving with me.  

I remember when my babies were little my precious grandmother would tell me, “These are the best days of your life. One day you will want them back.” She was so right.  The days are long, but the years are short.  Oh, I don’t want to go completely back to the child-rearing years.  But I would just like to have one day, one hour with them as children.  One more handmade Mother’s Day gift.    I would love to have them snuggle up next to me and just bewith me.  Maybe that is what my Father wants: a day to just be with me.  A day when I don’t come to Him with my want list.  A day when I just enjoy His presence.    

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Psalm 127:3 (ESV).

A RACE WELL RUN

When she was a little younger, our daughter ran marathons.  She still runs for fun, but doesn’t do the rigorous training any more that a marathon requires.  Before she started running I had realized what a fun spectator sport a marathon is. We would go with her to her races to be her cheering squad.  We would map out her route and pick strategic spots to wait for her in order to cheer and encourage her.  Marathons are fun!  There are crowds all along the route, cheering, ringing cowbells, and playing music, even if they don’t personally know the runners.  We would see her at the starting line and then drive ahead in our car, or in big cities, take the train in order to arrive at locations ahead of her. Sometimes she would ask us to be at certain spots where she knew she might need an extra bit of support, maybe a particularly difficult segment of the route.  And of course we wanted to be at the finish line, to witness her crossing the finish line and to hear her name announced.  To see her receive here medal.  Proud parent moments.  

There are multiple verses in the Bible that compare living our lives to running a race.  The writer of Hebrews encourages us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.  We each have our own race to run.  Parts of it may be relatively smooth, even joyous, while other parts are tough, like running uphill with a strong wind against us.  Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

I was thinking about these things this morning as we prepare to celebrate the life of a friend who has crossed his finish line. If I use the marathon analogy to think of our friend Don, he could be compared to those special runners called elite runners.    They are different from the other runners; they are world-class athletes.  And they live their lives differently, spending hours training and recovering, and eating healthy foods.  They are committed, keeping at it even when they don’t feel like it.  They are dedicated to running well.  My friend lived his life differently too, spending hours studying and teaching and living the Bible.  He was committed to his Lord.  He ran his race well.  

As I have been thinking about these things, I have been wondering again what the death process is like. I suppose people have thought about that since the beginning of time.  What is it like to cross over from this life into the next?  For those of us who are Believers, we know that when we leave this body we go into the presence of he Lord (I Cor. 5:1-8).  But how does this happen, what does it look like?  In my mind, death is like the last leg of a marathon.  The spectators are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews.  They are cheering us across the finish line.  In my imagination, those who are waiting close to the finish line are our loved ones who have gone before us, cheering us home. And at the end stands Jesus. Instead of receiving a medal, I want to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  No doubt, my friend Don heard those very words.  Today as we celebrate a life well lived, there is a celebration in Heaven also.  A saint has crossed the finished line and arrived at home. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.  

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.  

MEAN GIRLS

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to a radio conversation about cyber bullying and the effects it has on our children.  The speaker noted that the smart phones our kids are carrying act as real time barometers of their self esteem.  So I thought it might be time to resurrect a piece I published a while back.  By the way, I never did find Glee.  Glee, if you are out there, please reach out to me.  I want to ask your forgiveness.

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice.  Everyone knows that what little girls are made of, right?  But here’s a dirty little secret that every woman knows deep down in her heart.  Girls also have the capacity to be some of the meanest creatures on earth.  Having been a girl myself, being the mother of three girls and grandmother to seven, I have seen more than my share of mean girls. And I know what it means to be both the perpetrator and the recipient of this type of bullying behavior.

 

Usually this mean girl drama is over by the time we get to be adults.  Hopefully by then we have become secure and comfortable in our own skin.  We don’t have to jab or bully someone else in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about who we are.  We become less clique-ish and more open to accepting people who are different from us. And we no longer feel the need to get even for what we perceive as slights.  But occasionally, mean girls grow up to be mean women.  And sadly they produce mean daughters.

 

Let me tell you an unflattering personal story that has haunted me all my life.  When I was in Jr. High, I had a big slumber party one Friday night.  I invited every girl in our circle of friends…except one, a girl with the pretty name of Glee.  I didn’t think she liked me (She probably had a good reason!), so I was determined that she would be excluded.  It hurt her. I wonder now if I missed an opportunity to get to know her better.  I might have missed out on a real friendship.  I’m so ashamed of my behavior, but I have paid for it over the years.  Every time one of my daughters was slighted in some way, I thought of Glee.  And today, when my granddaughters are bullied or left out, I remember Glee.

 

When I was discussing this topic with my daughter, Amanda, she reminded me how far this mean girl business goes back in history.  All the way to Sarah and Hagar, her maid.  You can read the story in the 16thchapter of Genesis.  They are both guilty of dishing out the meanness, but it culminates with Hagar running away because Sarah mistreats her so badly.  However Hagar cannot run away from God.  While she is in the desert she has an encounter with El Roi, the God who sees. God saw her pain and assured her of His love and care for her.

 

What a comfort when our children or we are being bullied.  God sees.  If you daughter is being harassed or left out, God sees.  If there are mean girls in your office, your neighborhood, your social circle, or even your church, God sees.  Go to Him with your hurts.  But the God who sees is also an admonishment.  We can’t get away with mistreating others.  God sees.  When we are too exclusive, God sees.  By the way, we are still paying for the hostility between Sarah and Hagar today. This mean girl stuff leaves a lasting legacy!

 

Writing these words has made me realize that I have a long overdue apology to make. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have located a woman who might be the Glee from my school days.  I have reached out to her for confirmation.  If she indeed is Glee, I intend to tell her how very sorry I am and ask for her forgiveness.

 

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Genesis 16:13 (NIV).

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4: 31-32 (NIV).

LIGHT: MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW

We’ve had days and days of cold, dreary weather.  Gray days that drain you of energy and motivation.  At least that is what they are doing to me.  Maybe sometime this summer I will think that I could have spent this time cleaning out closets and organizing photos, but mostly I have just sat in my chair and read.  Where is the sunlight?

 

In the Bible study I attend, we have been studying the book of 1 John.  Maybe it is because I am so light deprived, but I seem to be drawn to John’s description of God as light.  He uses this reference in his epistles as well as the Gospel of John.  “God is light,” (1 John 1:5); “I am the light of the World,” John 8:12.  John also uses light and darkness to contrast truth and lies, good and evil.  On the surface these seem to be pretty elementary truths, but God has been taking me deeper, teaching me about light.

 

I left Bible study the other day thinking about how light can travel, but darkness cannot.  When it is dark in my house, but light outside I can open the shutters and a dark room becomes light.  But the opposite is not true.  If it is dark outside and light inside, opening the shutters will not make the room dark.  It won’t even dilute the light that is there.  So there was my first truth: light can travel into the darkness, but darkness cannot travel to the light.  The rest of that verse in 1 John says that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  God is pure and holy, and the darkness of sin cannot change or corrupt His holiness. But His light can travel and penetrate the darkness of sin.  Remember, dark cannot travel.  When I was in the darkness of sin I had no way to get to the Light on my own.  The Light had to come to me.  And He did that by dying on a cross, bridging that chasm that separated me from the Light.  The Light came and rescued me from the darkness.

 

I’m told I have a weird brain and I guess it is true.  I became more curious about light and did a little research, and if you are not into a lot of technical stuff you might not want to finish reading.  Whew, there is a LOT of information about light available. It is at once simple and complex, obvious and mysterious.  I will try not to put you to sleep.

 

The world “light” appears over 200 times in the Bible, so I’m thinking God wants us to know about it. I found my second truth right away: Light is necessary to sustain life.  I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment (pun intended), because it hit me right away.  God’s first recorded words were, “Let there be light.”  Duh!  As creator and sustainer of life, He knew light was necessary for creation.  Light provides the energy for life to grow and thrive.  When plants are deprived of light they don’t do well and may even die.  Light, by way of photosynthesis, provides the very oxygen we need to breathe.  Many humans become depressed when they go for days without light.  Light is our source of vitamin D and regulates our circadian rhythms.  When I don’t get enough spiritual light, I notice the difference.  I don’t grow and thrive spiritually.  One resource noted that light increases fertility and eases pain. The light of the Lord makes me a more fertile Christian.  When I am getting my daily dose of Light I am more likely to share with others.  And oh how Light eases the pain of living in a fallen world.  I often wonder how non Believers survive.

 

Third truth: Light helps us see.  There is a good deal of neurobiology involving light and vision, but the simple truth is we cannot see without light.  One of my favorite hymns is Be Thou My Vision.  God as Light helps me see things from His perspective.  The Light helps me see people through His eyes. It reveals dangers that are hidden in the darkness and it keeps me from stumbling, from sinning.  Light directs my feet and keeps me on the right path and takes me in the direction He has for my life.

 

Fourth truth: Light purifies.  Light, especially the ultraviolet component, sterilizes. It kills germs and keeps things free from microbes.  The Light (Jesus) cleanses me from the contamination of sin.  Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 

Fifth truth: Light allows us to see color.  In darkness we can see no colors because we need light in order to perceive color.  This gets into biophysics, which is a lot of blah, blah, blah to me, but colors have spectra.  Some spectra are absorbed and others are reflected.  The reflected color falls on our eyeballs and sends a signal to the brain, where we perceive color.  I knew there had to be a spiritual application here so I thought about all the colors of God.  If you ever want to do a study on this, a good place to begin is Exodus, where God gives instructions for the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  He instructs the use of specific colors, representing the deity of Christ…gold for His glory and holiness, red for His redeeming blood, purple for His kingship, and silver for redemption.  Once we have the Light (Jesus), we can begin to see God in His fullness.  The Light allows us to see more of who He is.

 

I guess I could go on and on about light, but this is probably enough for now.  If I studied for the rest of my life I could never learn every spiritual truth about light.  That’s because God’s Word is inexhaustible.  When Jesus referred to himself as the Light of the World there was so much truth and power packed into that declaration!  Thank you, Father for sending the Light into our dark world.

 

Light of the world, illumine me.

 

 

PAIN: GOD’S GIFT TO US

Pain.  All of us experience it.  And we all try to avoid it.  We run from it.  Or we find ways to numb it.  What if the most important thing we can do right now is find out how to live with pain, to walk through it instead of trying to walk around it?

Did you ever think of pain as God’s gift to us?  He created us with the ability to sense pain, to feel it.  We were created with pain receptors all over our bodies.  Simply put, pain works this way.  A painful stimulus (extreme hot or cold, a cut or gash, a twisting of a ligament or muscle, a fracture or break) stimulates pain receptors.  These pain receptors send a message to the brain. The brain then sends the message down the spinal cord and to the appropriate nerves that tell the body to do something. Move your hand off the hot stove! Quit running on the sprained ankle! Stop the bleeding! If we didn’t have the ability to experience pain, we could damage our bodies even more.  We wouldn’t take care of our wounds.  

Psychological or emotional pain works in much the same way.  When we are hurting, something is wrong.  We need to change what we are doing to make the pain stop.  We may need to quit doing the same thing and do something different.  In some cases we may need to move while in other cases we may need to be still. Pain should get our attention.  It should make us stop and ask ourselves what we need.

The body has two kinds of nerve fibers: fast pain fibers and slow pain fibers.  Fast pain is a sharp pain.  It is localized; we can tell where it is.  And we respond to it quickly.  But immediately after the fast pain comes the slow pain.  It is more diffuse, an ache.  Slow pain can last a day, a week, a month, or even become chronic. Sometimes there are things that can be done medically to stop the pain.  The doctor may say, “I can make you feel better, but in order to do that I will need to remove the source of the pain.  You need surgery.  The surgery itself will be painful, but you will recover, and hopefully be pain free.” But there may be other times when the doctor tells us nothing can be done.  We must learn ways to live with the pain.

When people come to see me, they are in pain.  That pain may be a crisis (fast pain) or an ongoing chronic pain.  They may have found all kinds of ways to deal with it, but those ways aren’t working.  They may have tried numbing the pain with substances or activities, ignoring the pain and telling themselves it doesn’t matter, or they have tried various strategies to avoid feeling the pain. But the source of the pain is still there.  So we may need to perform a “psychological surgery.”  (Don’t Google it; I just made that up.  But hopefully you get the idea).  We need to find the source of the pain, examine it, and figure out what to do with it. We do psychotherapy, and just like physical therapy, there are days when therapy doesn’t feel very good.  But hopefully we will get to a healthier place.

I tell my people to look for the hidden gifts in their pain.  What is God trying to teach you?  Where is He leading you?  Maybe that pain is a gift to get you to the place you are meant to be.  He may have a gift for you that you wouldn’t have gotten any other way.  There are days that are going to hurt, but you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.  You lean into God and press on.  Every trial has an end, and when it is over you may realize it was God’s gift to you. You wouldn’t want to live through it again, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but you also realize it was one of your most precious times with Jesus.  Your life is different.  You wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.    

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  Rev. 21:4

Happy…I Mean Holy New Year!

I saw something on Facebook the other day that caught my attention.  It was a challenge to select a person you know, and starting January 1, to pray for their happiness every day for a month.  Sounds like a good idea.  I knew immediately who I would choose.  This person has been through a season of sorrow and she could do with some happiness about now.  And just as quickly, I had another thought.  This one had to be from the Holy Spirit because I could not have come up with this on my own, at least not as quickly.  “Instead of praying for her happiness, pray for her holiness.”  Of course!  That is a much better prayer.  

God is not as concerned with our happiness as He is with our holiness.  If you look at a Bible concordance you will find that the word “holy” is used 650 times in The New American Standard Bible.  I did a quick search and found that “happy’ is used a mere16 times, and the word “happiness” is used only four!  Clearly God is emphasizing holiness.

Now there is nothing wrong with happiness, and I suppose happiness can be defined in many different ways.  I know I am happy when I am surrounded by my family, and as a mom, I am happy when they are happy.  For some people happiness may lie in material possessions: money in the bank, a big house, a fancy car….you can fill in the blank here.  Again there is nothing wrong with nice things, but I see many people in my psychology practice who have all of those things but they are not happy.

For many of us happiness lies in “if only” and the “as soon as.”  If only I had my health I could be happy.  I will be happy as soon as I get that job, find someone to love, graduate and get that degree, lose twenty pounds, and so on.  If only I had more money, a new car, or no mortgage.  We wish our lives away waiting for that thing, person, or situation that will make us happy.  Or we spend our lives looking in the rear view mirror, regretting our choices and blaming our unhappiness on the decisions we made.  I am not saying that is wrong because most of us have regrets. And we are all only one bad decision away from messing up our lives and throwing happiness away.  But defining your happiness or lack thereof on the things we should have done or wish we hadn’t done is a waste.  If only things were different we could be happy.  I’m thinking of two widows I know who miss their husbands every day of their lives.  One has chosen to find joy and purpose, the other cannot find good in anything and is just waiting to die.

Where is God when I am unhappy?  When I grieve, when I hurt?  Doesn’t He care about my needs?  I believe He does, but I also believe His primary concern is for my spiritual needs. God is not some kind of cosmic Santa Claus standing before me to hear my wish list.  Instead, I stand before Him, aware of my utter neediness and spiritual poverty.  Without Christ and the salvation He brings, I have nothing but a death sentence hanging over my head.  Jesus came to bring me right standing with God and everlasting life.  So even if I had nothing more than that (and that is a lot!), I should be happy.  Jesus said He offers abundant life, so shouldn’t that abundance include happiness?

If God cares so much about us, why do we go through seasons of anguish?  Try to get a mental picture of what is making you unhappy, sad, and stricken with grief.  An unhappy marriage, estrangement from a loved one, a financial loss, bad news from the doctor…whatever it is.  Now picture that thing as a giant anvil and imagine God has placed you upon it and is chiseling away everything that does not look like Jesus.  That is holiness in the making!  

Are happiness and holiness mutually exclusive?  In the 1600s a man named Thomas Brookswrote at length about the connection between happiness and holiness.  He claimed that happiness and holiness were one in the same.  That the only way to true happiness is throughholiness.  Matthew Henry later wrote that only those who are truly holy can be truly happy.  When I started thinking about these things, I recalled stories about those who have been imprisoned and martyred for their faith.  The apostle Paul and Corrie and Betsy ten Boom come to mind.  Every December I do advent readings, and those usually include letters Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison.  In a letter to his beloved Maria he wrote: “I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas.”  How could he say that from a prison cell?  He knew the happiness of celebrating Christmas with empty hands but a full heart.

Every year at this time I look for a verse or a word to claim for the New Year.  I think my word will be holiness because God keeps brining it to my attention. I’m guessing I will go through another refining period. And as I think of all holiness means I realize I have much to learn.  I’ll keep you posted.

PUTTING THINGS IN ORDER

Last night I did something different, something I have needed to do for a long time.  Together with some of my friends I began a three-week class called “What Do I Do Now?”  It’s a class that not only gives you a great deal of information about what to do when a loved one dies, it helps you organize everything you need and get it into one place.

 

I promised myself four years ago that I would get things together because that was when Jerry suddenly became very ill and was unable to communicate.  In addition to being gravely worried about him, there were things I needed to take care of.  Life doesn’t stop when someone becomes very ill or dies.  There was information I needed from him about bank accounts, passwords, and ongoing business transactions.  I needed to access the contents of his briefcase but I didn’t know the combination.  With the help of my daughters I muddled along and happily, Jerry recovered.  I wish I could tell you I followed through on my resolution, but once the crisis was past so was the urgency to get things done. This year we have been more intentional and have made inroads, but there is still much to be accomplished.  So when this class became available I enrolled.

 

I have to tell you the first night was overwhelming.  I am surprised at my reaction, because I wanted to bolt!  The facilitator told us at the beginning of her lesson that last night would be the hardest.  “What could be so hard,” I wondered.  I’m still asking myself that question this morning.  Why was my reaction so strong?  This is just taking care of details.

 

I think it’s a combination of facing my own mortality, revisiting the possibility that I might lose my husband, all the decisions that will have to be made about what to do with my physical remains, my earthly possessions, and even my dogs.  Things I guess I am still not wanting to think about. But the harsh reality is that one day Jerry and I will die.  “Pass away” sounds so much nicer, but that’s just semantics.  We will leave this earth behind and enter into the presence of Jesus. That’s the good news.  The bad news is there will be hard things to do in the aftermath.  If I go first I want to make things easier for Jerry and my girls, so it will be helpful to have things done in advance.  And if he goes first I want to make things easier for me, so having everything in one notebook will help.

 

This year I am doing a Bible study of the book of Daniel.  Instead of approaching the book from a prophetic standpoint, our study is focusing on the sovereignty of God.  “God is in control,’ is our overarching theme.  So in my lesson this morning I was challenged to consider areas of my life that make me anxious, and write a Bible truth that corresponds to the situation.  I didn’t have to think too long.  My notebook from last night was sitting on my desk in plain view.  The verse I wrote is one of my favorites, Isaiah 41:10:

 

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand. (CSV).

 

I might need to tattoo that verse on my right hand.  (Don’t worry kids, I won’t!)  God’s promise brings my anxiety level way down.  It is wise to be prepared, but ultimately God is in control. He knows the road ahead of me, and He will walk it with me.     

 

 

LOOKING BACK AT AUTUMN

Today I have re-visited an excerpt from my book, Seasonsand brought it up to date.  Even though we are very early in September, the title will make sense as you read on.

 

Looking Back at Autumn.  What a strange title for the beginning of September. This Labor Day weekend has still been as hot as blue blazes here in Oklahoma, and we can only dream of cooler temperatures and falling leaves. But it will come, although not soon enough for me.  So this morning I will drag out my fall decorations and transform my house from summer to autumn.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees; the crisp, cool air; the excitement of children going back to school; football games; pumpkin patches.  I can almost smell a cigar box from my grandfather’s drug store filled with a new box of Crayolas and number 2 pencils.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

As I think about the seasons of my life, I realize that my autumn days are winding down.  I would like to think I am in early or mid-autumn, but the reality is that I’m more toward late autumn.  At any rate, winter is coming.  Just as autumn is my favorite season of the calendar year, I think it has been my favorite season of life.

Autumn is a time for reaping what we have sown. I must have sown well, because I have a wonderful family, a career that I enjoy, good friends, and most important, a relationship with God.  Autumn is a time for us to count our blessings and give thanks to our Lord. It is a time to reap the bounty and celebrate.  Did you ever notice how many fairs and festivals there are in the fall?  Something inside us just naturally wants to celebrate the goodness of the life we have been given at this time of year.

But as I write these words, I am aware that autumn is also a time to let go.  Just as the trees lose their leaves in the fall, we begin to experience many losses. From something as vain and trivial as the loss of firm skin, to the profound loss of life, we must let go.

In the autumn years it is time to take stock. What is the legacy we want to leave behind?  Have we accomplished everything we hoped to do?  Are there still items on our bucket lists?  Are we ready for winter?

There are so many rapid changes in autumn.  A tree that was barely changing color a few days ago may be a vibrant orange today.  So it is in the autumn of life.  Change happens quickly.  As I write these words, I think about how many changes Jerry and I have gone through I the past few years.  Life can change so quickly.  A few years ago I didn’t think twice about long days of walking through European towns.  Now I wonder if my knees would let me do another trip.  Jerry was fine one day and gravely ill the next. Two grand children are now married, two are in college, and we only have one grandchild left in elementary school.  Changes.

Autumn is a time for shorter days and longer nights. Some days I feel like I don’t get as much accomplished as I used to.  I go to bed with my unfinished to-do list swirling in my head.  I need more rest than when I was younger.  But I have also learned at this point in my life that some things just don’t matter very much.

While I write, I am watching a squirrel outside my window, working feverishly.  He is probably trying to find a way to get inside my attic so he can stay warm this winter.  Don’t get me started on squirrels!  But I wonder as I watch him, “Have I put away enough for winter?  Have I prepared well?”  Most baby boomers are concerned with their retirement incomes, but preparing for the winter of our lives goes beyond money.  Have I invested enough in my children and grandchildren that they will be with me in winter?  Have I taught them everything I want them to know?  Are there friendships I need to preserve?  Have I taken enough care for my body?  Hopefully I will still need it for a while.  As I watch the animals prepare for winter’s blast, I need to think about how I want to spend the winter of my life.  I would like to age well and exit gracefully.  What will I do with my days?  Can I still make a contribution in the winter of my life?  As I contemplate retirement from my psychology practice, I want to be very intentional about how I spend my time.  I don’t want to fill up every day of the week with activities, however worthwhile those activities may be.  I want some time just to be.

As I ponder these things, I will be grateful for this beautiful early autumn day.  They say we will have rain and cooler temperatures today.  Thank you, Lord!  I will enjoy the bounty of family and friends.  And I will give thanks to the One who provided this good harvest.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians6: 7-10 NIV).