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

 

 

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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THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

 

                     Storm Coming

 

In Oklahoma spring usually brings a rash of storms.  Rain is a delicate balancing act here.  We either get too much or too little.  For the last several years we have been in a drought, so we could use some moisture.  But when it comes all at once it creates problems.

Our part of the country is known as tornado alley.  In the spring it is not unusual to hear the warning sirens sound.  We take those seriously around here, because Oklahomans know how much damage can be done in just a few seconds.  While you can never totally tornado proof your home, there are certainly precautions you can take to save your life.  Some people have storm cellars or safe rooms, while others of us have a designated interior room.

I have a little “Nervous Nellie” dog.  She lets me know when a storm is coming way in advance of the thunder. Sometimes her internal radar goes off a day in advance.  Wouldn’t it be great if something would trigger an alarm when a life storm was approaching?  If we just had a little notice, maybe we could get out of the storm’s path or at least take some precautions.  Sometimes there are some warning signs that we just don’t notice.  At other times we are blindsided, and we foolishly tell ourselves if we had seen it coming it wouldn’t hurt so badly.

Are you experiencing one of life’s storms right now?  Take courage and know that storms don’t last, but you will. You will get through this!  And the good news is, God promises to walk through the storm with you!  Instead of asking the futile question, “Why me,” ask yourself what this situation has for you that you would not get any other way.  Begin to look for the hidden gifts in your adversity.  When you get on the other side of this you may look back and think, “I didn’t like it, I didn’t ask for it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because it made me the person I am today.  It got me to the place I need to be.”   And hopefully you will use this storm experience to encourage others in their storms.

Maybe God is using this stormy time to develop your trust muscles. After my knee surgery I had to go through physical therapy. I didn’t like it!  It hurt!  But that physical therapy made me stronger. And the therapist wasn’t deliberately trying to harm me, he was trying to help me.

It is the same thing when we go through a hard time.  We may think that we have walked with God long enough to have a mature faith.  Then something happens that rocks our world and we find that God has put us in the path of a storm to develop our faith.  Maybe He is using the storm to reveal a new path we are to take.  One of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction.”  Storms provide an opportunity to cling to the promises of God and allow Him to demonstrate His power in your life.

 

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  Isaiah 43:2-3a (NLT).

 

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4 (NLT).

Revised and updated from the book, Seasons: Devotionals for the Seasons of Life.

 

 

 

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THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

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Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT