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).

 

 

 

THE DRIFT

A good deal of my clinical work is done with couples on the fault line.  Their marriage is in trouble and they come in to see me.  In a best-case scenario, both individuals truly want to save the marriage.  Sometimes only one party does, but often one person can save it, but it’s going to require changing the dance.  The worst case is when one or both come in only to check the box.  They can later say they tried counseling but it didn’t work. Let me make it clear that coming in and merely sitting on the couch is not trying.  You have to be willing to do the work.  The statistics on marriage counseling are not that great and here’s why. Most people wait until it is too late. My wisest couples come in for yearly marriage check-ups.

A conversation I frequently have with my couples is one I call “The Drift.”  I take them back to the days when their relationship was new. We all know how wonderful that falling-in-love feeling is.  During that time you amplify all the positives but turn down the volume on those things on which you disagree, flaws, and potential areas of conflict.  You ignore red flags.  “Isn’t it great we like the same music.  I love his family.  We have the same goals.”  You get the idea.  When your love is new you are close.

 

 

But then life starts to happen.  You have bills to pay, children to care for, a house and yard to tend, and besides, you are tired.  If you are not careful, the relationship starts to drift.  You end up far apart without even realizing it.  He’s absorbed in the television while she sits on the couch doing Pinterest.  They don’t go on dates any more.  She may go out with her girlfriends and he may play golf with his buddies, but they have forgotten how to have fun with each other.  The Drift has set in.

 

 

So my job is to help couples begin building bridges back to each other.  One of the first things I recommend is a bit of advice a very wise pastor shared with our church many years ago.  He said couples need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.  So once every day, you and your spouse need to spend about 15 minutes talking alone, even if you have to lock yourselves in the bathroom to do it.  Believe me, if your kids see you trying to have some couple time, they are going to do everything they can to get your attention. But one of the healthiest and most loving things you can do for your children is to demonstrate that next to God, your marriage relationship is the highest priority.  So at this point couples tell me they don’t have anything to talk about.  That’s because they quit talking long ago without even realizing it.  Or the only type of talking they do is shop talk (Did you remember to pay the mortgage?  What time is soccer practice?), or spite talk (Do you need an explanation here?).  So I suggest that they tell each other three things that happened during the day, and HOW THEY FELT ABOUT THOSE THREE THINGS.  That last part is the most important.  I want to introduce sharing feelings because that is a doorway to intimacy. Sometimes I have to give them a list of feeling words, especially the guys.  Then once a week, couples need a date night.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; going for an ice cream cone counts.  Again, this is done without the children.  Find a sitter or trade out with another couple.  This is necessary caretaking for your marriage.  Finally, once a year the two of you need to get away by yourselves. A good book that will help you with communication, problem solving, and other necessary marriage skills is A Lasting Promise.

Think of your marriage as a bank account.  In your account you make deposits and withdrawals.  You want to build up a good amount of deposits (good will, good experiences) to get you through those lean times.  Often when couples come to see me they have been making heavy withdrawals without much in reserve.  Their marital account is depleted.  So we have to find ways to begin making some deposits.

I have Vince Gill on my mind and in my ear because we just went to one of his concerts.  He wrote a song called Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Awaythat musically describes The Drift.  You can watch a very young Vince Gill, complete with mullet sing it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlUGTof2TWU

The lyrics are powerful:

A wounded love

Walks a real thin line

And no communication

Will kill it every time.

 

 

Wow!  Is your marriage on a “real thin line?”  Good marriages don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.  And a good marriage invites another Person into their union: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm. 127: 1-2.

Do marriage on purpose. Tend your relationship carefully.  Beware of The Drift.  You want your marriage to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

NECESSARY LOSSES

Dropping Off at College: Freshman Year

 

This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media.  Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college.  There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures.  Keep them coming!  These pictures are always bittersweet.  I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child.  There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are.  We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another.  And oh how we hate that letting go.  It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go.  I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development.  These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.  

 

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go.  Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins.  You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands.  Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds.  But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins.  Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds.  And you are very suspicious of this stranger.  He might not have your best interest at heart.  So you refuse the offer and keep your coins.  But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.

 

At the heart of letting go is loss of control.  We think if we hold on we can protect and keep.  But control is just an illusion.  We only have control over our choices, not the outcome.  We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway.  As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning.  You do your best as a parent.  You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries.  You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But the window of time for this training is brief.  When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast.  And it goes by even faster with grandchildren!  We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with.  They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do.  I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?”  Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful.  Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless!  Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special!  You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.  Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing.  We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)

 

There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come.  A look in the mirror is a reminder.  I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift.  But oh how I hate losing firm skin!  Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss.  We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound.  I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!

 

To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Ecc. 3: 6.

 

Dropping Off at College: Sophomore Year

 

 

THE GREATEST OF THESE

 

Our small group has been studying I Corinthians, and we have been camped out for a couple of weeks in chapter 13.  The love chapter.  Most people are familiar with this passage even if they are not churchgoers or Bible-readers, as it is a favorite reading at weddings.  For centuries people have been expounding upon this passage, and writing about love in general.  So I am not sure I have anything new to add.  But if you will excuse the wandering and random thoughts, I would like to share some things.

This morning I woke up thinking about the infinite quality of love.  That is, we have an infinite ability to love, because love is infinite. Specifically I was thinking that when we love more, when we add more people into our love circle, love is not divided.  It is multiplied.  Love does not run out!

Ask any new mother who is holding her second (or third, or fourth…) newborn.  She is overwhelmed with love for this new little one.  But in no way does it subtract from the love she has for her first child, or for her husband for that matter.  She has enough room to love both children, because love never runs out.  Unless we willingly turn it off.

In my work, I see a good number of blended families…second, or third, or fourth marriages.  Think of the different family configurations these scenarios can present.  A common problem I see is something I will call turf wars.  I’m brining my children into this relationship, but I am not going to love yours.  Maybe I don’t even like yours.  It is as if loving these new children, or sometimes adults, will somehow diminish one’s love supply.  Sometimes the children of the new spouse are seen as a threat to the new marriage.  I don’t want you to continue loving your children.  You must now love only my children and me.  And sometimes it works the other way.  The children make no room to love the new stepparent.  They may not want to share their biological parents with these new outsiders.

Or consider friendships that are jealously guarded.  There is only room for you and me (or our chosen group).  No one else gets in.  Learning to love a new friend does not mean I no longer love you.

Now as I write these things, I acknowledge that while love is infinite, time is finite.  We have a limited amount of time, and relationships take time.  That is where priorities come in.  And intentionality.  I am blessed with a number of enduring friendships.  Some I see or talk to weekly, others maybe once every month or so. They are the kind of friendships that are relatively low maintenance.  We are all busy and we see each other when we can.  I know that June is having fun in London with Jeff, and Stephanie is busy with her grands, and others are on vacation or just plain busy! But these are people I love dearly and I know they love me too.  All I have to do is pick up the phone and they will be there.  In a few days Jerry and I will be going to Dallas to reconnect with a group of high school friends.  We have a mini reunion every year that is open to anyone who can make it. It always amazes me how those bonds that were so strong in high school fall right back into place.  I love them across time and miles.

Back to the love chapter. I told you this is random and meandering.  One commentary I read suggested replacing the word “love” with your own name:

Fran is Patient, Fran is kind. She is not proud.  She is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong.  Fran does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  Fran always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I can tell you I fall short, woefully short, on every one of these.  And God has taken every opportunity to remind me.  “Fran are you keeping a record of a wrong, are you too easily provoked, are you persevering with this person even though they are difficult” and on and on.  I realize it is taking me a lifetime to master love as defined by God.

One more though about the infiniteness (is that a word?) of love.  It is in the last verse.  “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” One day, when this earth has passed away, when we are in the presence of Jesus, we will have no need for faith and hope, for those will be realized.  But love will always remain, because God is love.    

HYDRANGEAS AND QUIET TIMES

 

I have to give my sister credit for this one.  We were talking on the phone a few mornings ago.  She is in New York visiting her daughter, my niece, Jacque.  Apparently the part of New York where my niece lives (Long Island) produces hydrangeas in abundance.  I can’t even get mine to bloom!  My sister told me that Jacque went into the yard one afternoon to cut some hydrangea blossoms, and brought them into the house and put them in a vase of water.  They quickly drooped, and by the next morning they were gone.  That is when my sister gave Jacque a tip our grandmother had given us. She always cut her roses in the morning and quickly put them in the bucket of water she carried.  Jacque followed this procedure the next morning and the hydrangeas lasted for days.

 

I became curious about why this technique works so well.  I’m so glad I live in the Google age, because one can research anything. And I can’t pick up the phone and call my grandmother anymore.  It seems that early morning is the best time to cut flowers because they have had the benefit of a cooler night and their stems are full of water and carbohydrates. As the day heats up, flowers lose moisture, their stems are less firm, and the blooms become limp.  They have a hard time recuperating when they are cut and brought into the house.

 

So as my sister and I were talking about our grandmother’s advice, she pointed out the parallel of having a quiet time early in the morning, before the day heats up.  I know my day goes better when I start it with the Bible and a conversation with God.  And many times, if I don’t do it in the morning it just doesn’t happen. There are too many distractions during the day.  I am reminded of the last part of Proverbs 8:17: those who seek me early shall find meThere are other places in Scripture that encourage us to be still and alone with God before our day gets hectic. 

 

I knew there had to be a physiological reason why God would tell us to seek Him early.  So again I did a little research on one of my favorite subjects, the brain.  I found out that our brains are actually bigger in the morning!  Researchers using MRI scans found that the brain shrinks during the course of the day, returning to its full size the next morning.  What causes the brain to shrink?  Dehydration!  Just like hydrangeas, the brain loses water during the day.  And at night our brains rehydrate.  Think of a sponge.  When it is dry it is not nearly as big (or useful) as it is when it is fully hydrated. One theory of this mechanism is that fluids from the lower parts of our bodies are redistributed when we are lying down.  Another explanation is that the time of day has something to do with hydration.

 

Our brains are about 85% water, and brain function depends on having that water.  Water is necessary for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters, and essential for removing toxins.  When our brains are fully hydrated, we are able to think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.  We are more alert.  And who knows this better than the God who created our brains. Maybe that is why he encourages us to seek Him early, when we can concentrate, when we can fully attend His word, when we can hear Him.

 

Isn’t our God amazing?

 

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” – Psalms 5:3

 

 

 

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

 

It is well with my soul. There are some days…some seasons in life, when that is that is all you can say.  But it is also the best you can say.

 

It Is Well With My Soulhas long been one of my favorite hymns.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spaffordfollowing the drowning deaths of his four daughters that occurred when the ship they were on sank.  That is really all I knew of his story, but after doing a little research I discovered that he had one traumatic event after another throughout his life.  Yet he could write this beautiful hymn that has helped sustain so many of us in dark days. I love the theology of this song…that no matter what happens in this world, I can know for certain that this is not my home.  I am just passing through, and one day I will live with Jesus in Heaven.

 

When you are stripped of everything in this material world.  When life slams you in the face and you didn’t see it coming.  When you have endured months and even years of a trial that seems to have no end, when life seems hopeless, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Because really, that is all that really matters.  It is the most important thing you can ever say.  When the 6:00 news alternately makes you scratch your head or shudder in fear, when the only voice you have is your one little vote, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  When the doctor gives you a dreaded diagnosis, when you have run out of treatment options, when the miracle you prayed for seems like it is not going to happen, is it still well with your soul?   When you feel forgotten, rejected, and alone, do you know all is well with your soul?

 

When life is good, when you have the world by the tail, when you have love, health, and prosperity, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Sometime I think it is harder when things are going well.  I remember a friend I used to have when we lived in another city.  I have lost touch with her, but occasionally I wonder how she is doing.  When I knew her she was happily married, had great kids, lived in a big house, and had a job she loved.  One day I tried to talk to her about Jesus.  About her soul.  She told me that her life was good and she didn’t want to rock her boat.  Somehow she had the idea that if she let God into her life she was signing on for trials.  I’ve thought a lot about that and in all honesty she may have been right. God doesn’t just save us and leave us where we are.  He wants to refine us, to make us more Christ-like,  But she would have walked through any future trials with a God who loves her and has a plan for good for her.

 

I can tell you in my life, my biggest growth spurts have occurred as a result of trials.  That is where my faith has grown.  I haven’t had a Horatio Spafford life.  In fact, over all I would say life has been good.  But there have been days, seasons, when I had to come right up to a hard truth: I am not in control!  There have been times when I have had to say, “Not my will, but thine.”  And then I’ve had to let go and trust in God’s goodness.  Even in those dark, scary moments, I could say, “It is well with my soul.”  If life gives me the very worst it has (Oh and I hope it never does!  The mind can conjure up some horrible situations,) even if I am stripped of everything, I know it is well with my soul.  This is not the end.  I have a home in Heaven with Jesus, who will make all things right.

 

Can you say those words? It is well with my soul?  If not, I hope you will consider what the Bible has to say.   God loves you and has a plan for your life, but there is one thing that separates you from God and that is sin.  Welcome to the human race, for the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And to make bad news worse, the Bible tells us that the price for our sins is death.  That is what we deserve; but God has given us the free gift (we didn’t earn it) of eternal life because our sin debt was paid by the death of Jesus.  Horatio Spafford said it well:

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

 

If you are not sure that all is well with your soul, I urge you to settle that matter today.  Payment for your sins has already been taken care of.  Just talk to God from your heart.  You might pray something like this, although the words are not as important as the intent of your heart:

 

“Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

If you have prayed that prayer, then you can sing along with Horatio Spafford and millions of other Believers: It is well with my soul.

 

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