Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, May 26, 2017

What Motherhood Has Taught Me: When You Doubt There is any Purpose to all Your Pain

You may call it crazy. I prefer to call it curious.

While anticipating the birth of my firstborn I was eager to fully know what it would be like to deliver the baby who had been formed in my womb. I was determined I would not dull the pain with medication during the blessed, rip-roaring event. I wanted a natural childbirth as far as I was able. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. And, besides, I have a strong aversion to needles. I’ll take a bit of pain over a poke.

But, here's the curious thing: I wanted to feel the pain of childbirth. I preferred to go through the whole labour and deliver and experience the excruciating pain and the exhilarating joy.

So, yeah, I guess you could say ‘crazy’.

Maybe the stranger thing is when I was in the family way for the second time, and I was fully aware of the pain that was ahead of me, but I was curious to know if it would be as intense as the first time round.

And by the time I was expecting my third child, you would think I would not need to wonder any longer, but my curiosity got the better of me. For the third time, I accepted the multiplied pain of childbearing that God spoke of to Eve back in the Garden of Eden.

I consider that bearing and bringing forth a child is a privilege and a blessing. Without any pain management medication, I breathed resolutely through clenched teeth and grasped the sheer strength and endurance needed to bring forth life.

It really was an exhilarating kind of pain. It's true when they say you somehow forget the pain in those first moments when you embrace the invigorating joy of seven pounds of new life placed in your arms.

It’s also true: we are often fearful of pain and suffering. If we can avoid it, we will. And I'm not talking about the punishment of pain in childbirth, but all suffering we endure for the sake of Christ.

What does it look like to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ?

I've always been struck with Paul's longing that he expressed in his letter he penned while suffering in prison.

"that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

His goal and aim in life was to know Christ in an intimate and personal relationship. The great apostle knew that to know the power of new life, he would have to taste suffering and become like Christ in His death.

Paul knew it's the one who suffers much that experiences the all-sufficient grace of God.

In suffering we will experience the exhilarating joy of God's power at work in us.

In the storms of life we will see the lighthouse that stands firm.

In pain our purpose is made clear.

A life without suffering lacks the need to look unto Jesus, the One "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame" and was raised to heights of Glory at the right hand of the throne of God.

Resist suffering and you resist seeing God's powerful hand at work in your life.

Gratefully accept the thorns, the tremulous times, the troubles, and trials and God's power will rest upon those who gladly boast in their weakness.

Suffer for Christ’s sake and you will know a Power that brings forth new life.

This suffering brings us low. It hurts our self-glorification. The thorns press in and sting, but that is when God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In our weaknesses, the power of Christ rests upon us.

Oh, we're not just talking about crazy or curious speculations in life, but the whole purpose of suffering in your life.

The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul said. The one who was shown he was chosen to suffer greatly for the sake of Christ. He was the one who learned to be content in whatever circumstance He was in.

It was Paul who said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Dare I say, 'bring on the pain'?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Even When Healing Takes Time

Three years ago my life came to a crashing halt. The heart echocardiogram on that warm May morning showed my cardiologist that my heart was in dreadful shape. His face was grim and his warning was urgent in that small examination room as he stood over me. I looked down at his shiny navy shoes tied with bright cobalt blue laces and choked back tears.

Three months later, despite what he thought possible, I was split right open and a brilliant surgeon patched up my broken heart, held by God’s Sovereign Hand.

They all told me recovery would take time. Time. That’s all they would say. But, time ticks along like an old Grandfather clock that runs slow, when the days are hard and healing is long.

Time, it seems is the antagonist in a story where immediate results would be more sensational. Who wants to put in the hard work of slow improvement when we can gratify our selves by indulging in instant success that will impress?

That first winter after open-heart surgery dragged on cold and harsh. We couldn’t see it, but hope was tucked deep in our souls.

As the writer to the Hebrews said, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Spring did come as sure as new seasons always do. That long winter finally gave in to warmer days.

As the spring flowers poked through the ground, I stood helpless as I watched wild rabbits relentlessly chew off all the young tulip shoots. Only a few tulips survived.

Flowers fade. Hearts break. Lives are laid low.

Even when life doesn't turn up the way we plan, our hope is secure in the One who died, was buried and rose again.

So, when the apples were red and ripe on the trees, I bought more bulbs to plant in the front garden. Time ticked on, a little steadier. Some days began to pick up the pace a little. I thought we were too late to put the bulbs into the ground—September had marched past and October refused to stick around despite my longing for more golden days.

It was early November before we had a chance to stir up the soil in the garden as the sun gently beat down on our backs like a warm embrace, and we planted.

The littlest one took hold of the bag of tulip bulbs. Her Daddy grabbed the garden tools and together we buried 50 bulbs in the dirt.

That same night my son, between bites of an apple--his second bedtime snack, recalled, "Mom, you how I said last week that I didn't miss you that much last year when you were in the hospital? Well, I did, but I think I was able to go on because God calmed me. If every day I thought about how you could die, I don't think I could have handled it—I wouldn't have been able to eat, I would have been exhausted. But, God helped me."

I knew what he was saying. Life is hard. Waiting, suffering, healing, yes they are all hard, but there is always hope.

Last week, another warm day in May, three years since my life was turned upside down, I had another echocardiogram to examine how my heart is holding up from the surgery. After I cleaned up all the cold goop used in the ultrasound I sat waiting in another exam room in the cardiac clinic. The resident doctor walked in with my medical file in the crook of her arm, a Starbucks Venti in her hand and bloodshot eyes. She worked in the cardiac clinic after a 26-hour shift because my cardiologist, she said, is a fabulous teacher. She scrolled over the latest results with me, and we compared them with the last few tests before the teacher-doctor joined us.

No change in the last year and the latest three echos is good news. Three years later and my cardiologist stood smiling down at me. He was taken back at how my children, who were hanging out in the waiting room, have all shot up. There has been a lot of growth in three years. I beamed with gratitude and the resident doctor, weary as she was, observed what hope does even when healing takes time.

There is no doubt that dark, uncertain days and hard, heart-breaking circumstances will come. Don't lose heart.

Hold on to Hope. We read in the book of Hebrews that: “ . . . we who have fled to [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” Jesus has gone before us. He is our hope.

In seasons of waiting, when pain and suffering press in, when time slows and days pass by long and trials are hard, you are never left alone in the darkness.

Hope never fades. And joy, well it is always right there rising out of hard places. Healing may take time, but God, He holds time in His hands. He, “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” is faithful to do just that.

My broken heart is still held together by our only Hope.

And the rabbits still run wild all over our yard. But, for the second spring in a row, fifty bright red tulips stand stunningly in our front garden stretching black faces toward the sky, yielding as harsh winds blow.

Friday, May 12, 2017

What Motherhood Has Taught Me: For the Mothers Weary from all the Voices

At the end of that day, I couldn’t rightly remember if I had actually swallowed the little blue pill. Every night at 6 pm my phone alarm plays the harp to remind me to take the blood thinner for my mechanical heart valve. I still can’t get over the irony that the girl with possibly the biggest rodent phobia ever has to pop a pill of rat poison every single day.

But, it’s the kind of medication that I simply cannot forget to take. Without it, clots will form around the valve in my heart and will stop the valve from opening and clicking shut, preventing the blood to flow through properly. As annoying as the distinct clicking sound can be, it is a good audible indication that my heart valve is still working.

Six o’clock has become known in our home as Warfarin Time.

So this night, I couldn’t remember if I really did swallow the pill. I remember the alarm going off. I remember pouring a glass of water and reaching for the bottle of pills, but then because of a distraction, I couldn’t recall if I followed through with this routine I have had for two and a half years now.

I didn’t even think about it until hours later when I found my glass full of water apparently untouched.

I asked if anyone happened to notice me taking my pill. No one had.

In the end, I had to assume that I did take it, despite the distraction, with the smallest sip of water leaving no visible evidence behind because overdosing on Warfarin is just as dangerous as forgetting to take it a time or two.

But, as I was tucking my littlest into bed she became concerned about what would happen to me if I didn’t take it. I reassured her I most likely took it out of habit. She looked up and probed further.

Why do I need the medication?
What would happen if I just stop taking it?
What if . . . ?

The question hung heavy in the room like a thick haze.

It hurts in the chest to breathe in the harsh reality that your seven year old has lived half her life aware she could lose her Mom and nearly has more times that I care to count right now. We haven’t hidden the truth from our children; we have walked alongside them with a fixed gaze, pointing them to Jesus.

In the pause, she switched her thoughts and asked me why I have so many wrinkles. She’s an honest little soul, that one. And well, maybe not the most flattering thing for a woman to hear, those are way easier questions to answer.

She reached up to point them all out, maybe to smooth them or count each one, when I told her flat out those fine creases on my face are not wrinkles; they are beauty lines.

She turned toward the window that was veiled with the roller shade for the night and her eyes lit up as the sun was going down. She laughed with me and pointed her finger knowingly, charging me with the accusation that I just made that one up.

I did, I confess. I made it up. But, beauty lines sound so much more graceful than wrinkles. She can run her finger along the furrows of my beauty lines and we can both be reminded that real beauty is more than skin deep.

As I age, the more clearly I see the lines etched and stretched on my body are marks of beauty in life as they have come from the gift of living out many days. But they are fleeting.

Our hearts will stop pumping, our bodies will die, our wrinkles or beauty lines or whatever you call them, will fade. It’s souls that are left at the end our lives.

It’s the hidden heart that rests in God, the meek, quiet spirit precious in God’s sight that is unfading in beauty.

In the sixteen years of being a mother I have learned a few things about motherhood.

Maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I have barely a clue of how a woman who desperately longs for a child and holds three close to her heart opens her hands up and gives them back to the Lord.

Barely a clue. But, I’ve learned it comes with a breaking. It comes with the crucible. It comes with waiting and refining. It comes with denying self and believing God is the only One who will satisfy our hearts.

It comes from the Giver of all good gifts. It comes from trusting in Him and believing that He gives us all things for our good and for His glory. And there is lasting, unfading beauty etched in all of that.

The taller my children have grown, the more I have needed to get wisdom and understanding.

The more difficult the lessons in life have become, the more I need the Lord to strengthen my faith.

The louder the discord of voices have become the more they drive me to seek the voice of Truth.

It’s those voices that haunt us as mothers.

The voices that hurl all your faults in your face, so that your heart heaves and howls over all your fears and failures; these voices can make you bleed thin.

The tormenting voices that stir up emotions in the stillness of the night lash out at you.

The hostile voices that disturb the peace in the hidden places of the heart unsettle you.

The deceitful voices that speak lies in the dark valleys of every life mess with you.

The cruel voices that scream with comparison that you will never ever measure up can shred you up to smithereens.

Honestly, how do any of us get any sleep the way the voices shriek in our secret chambers?

How do we still these menacing voices as mothers?

Maybe if we see that the seasons in motherhood are made up of so much more than countless diapers and cautious young drivers and curious minds earning degrees.

It’s more than sleepless nights or childhoods zipping past way too fast. It’s more like the seasons are all the joys and all the sorrows that structure our lives.

As mothers, our days are spent in soul-searching longing and heart-wrenching labouring.

The times of waiting and of weaning, the receiving and the giving, the nurturing and the letting go, they don’t end in this life; they spin in cycles and wring us out of ourselves.

Those seasons that burst forth with new life seasons and the seasons that squeeze the life right out of you are all apart of this life as a mother.

Those who continue to long and those who live with the longing unmet mature in these seasons as well. We’ve all been made to nurture and receive and give back.

For all of us this breaks us down to the very fibre of our beings. 

The truth is we all call out in the night, at times our tears will be our food day and night, and we will grow weary from our wailing.
The many voices will trouble us, the fear threaten to choke us. 

But, right there: be still and know that God is God. Rest in Him. Silence the lies and trust Him.

Motherhood has a way of stripping us down to grow us into women who hold children near to our hearts, but open our hands to give them back to the Lord.

And when you can’t remember if you have done everything just right, run your finger along every good gift and count every grace that He has etched and stretched across every season of your life.

We simply cannot forget. Our hearts need it. It is time to give God thanks in everything. Those voices will fade away as the One who is Truth quiets you with His love.

Friday, May 5, 2017

When Life Hurts: Loneliness {And Fourteens Ways to Drive Loneliness Away}

No one escapes loneliness. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how much family surrounds you, there are times in all of our lives when we feel completely alone.

I’ve known loneliness in my life. I’ve been lonely, as I’ve lived with the people who know me the best, as I have left large gatherings teeming with people, while sick and shut-in and while well enough to get out.

I was so ill when discharged me home after three months in ICU, doctors warned us that we should do everything possible to not be exposed to even the common cold. This was necessary precaution, but it didn’t do any good for my basic need to interact with other people.

My outings were limited to medical appointments, which only reminded me of how much I was shut out from the rest of the world. I was able to stay connected to the outside world through social media. While Facebook gave me the illusion of being connected, it left me more isolated and failed to make up for real life connection.

They say we have never been more connected as a society and at the same time we have never been so lonely. Loneliness has become an epidemic problem. 

We have withdrawn ourselves from one another. We keep ourselves busy and distracted. We say we have a lot of friends, but do we really cultivate deep friendships?

We’ve made it more about width than depth when it comes to our social circle. We discard relationships as easily as clicking ‘unfriend’.

I can tell you I know the bitterness of loneliness in our online world. But, I have also known the sharp sting of it in a real wide web of people.

No one with a heartbeat will escape loneliness. And it will stab at your heart. There are seasons in life that will leave you more prone to loneliness. When death takes away loved ones, when health fails and leaves you shut-in, when children take wing and fly from the nest, when for any reason you are abandoned in a bustling civilization, loneliness hurts.

But, even in your loneliness, don’t be deceived into believing that you are alone. 

We do need to do better for one another. We all know how much it hurts so why do we leave one another in our loneliness?

Are we keeping ourselves so busy and distracted to keep away from doing the real work of relationships? 

You stay busy with activity and you lose out on time to really connect by simply being together. It is happening in our homes, our neighborhoods and our churches.

“What should we do about it?” we ask.

There is no shortage of ways to drive away loneliness. 

Think about one of these ideas:

Reach out to someone who needs you as much as you need him or her. If you are lonely, guaranteed you can find someone else who is lonely. Make it a priority to care for others who are lonely.

Take a break from social media. If you are on any social media, regularly evaluate the level of distraction it is for you and if it is hindering real life connections, step back for a set time.

Go for a walk with a friend. Get outside, get some exercise, and do it with a friend. It provides opportunity to talk about life.

Invite a neighbour in for tea. Sipping tea with a neighbor is a lovely way to develop a friendship. Whether it is in one of your homes or in the yard while the children run around with wild imaginations. Step outside of your comfort zone and get to know a neighbour.

Host a family game’s night. Everyone bring treats and games and you are set for families to spend an evening together. Build settlements, yell “Pit!”, split your sides with laughter at the charades, and get sticky caramel sauce all over your chin.

Be vulnerable and invest deeply in friendship. It takes time and faithfulness to stick closely to someone through thick and thin and build enduring friendships. The joy that comes from having a friend you can turn to at any time is worth more than any cost it might demand of you.

Visit a senior who lives alone. Some of the loneliest people in our world are seniors who are living alone. Aging, health limitations, and busy families cause those who have celebrated many birthdays to be more prone to isolation. Let’s do better at making sure those who live alone are not so lonely.

Include a single person in your family’s activities. Don’t be surprised when a friendship with a single person blesses your family just as much or more as your family may encourage him or her. Set another place at your family meal table, laugh loud with them as you play Dutch Blitz, be available to listen to their hopes and fears.

Plan a simple party in your neighborhood. All you need are simple invitations and a neighbourhood. The party could include ice cream. Other ideas include road hockey, a community dinner, or picking up garbage on the side of the road.

Stay connected with family. God places us in families and the joy that comes from family is as real as the heartbreak that can come from fractured relationships. Live with an attitude of humility with whomever grows up into your family tree.

Attend your church meetings. Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Open up your lives and homes with those whom you regularly gather together to corporately worship the Lord. Grow in the grace Lord Jesus Christ together, pray together, sing together, exhort and build one another up.

Join a community of people with similar interests. Pick up an old hobby or acquire a new one. Surround yourself with others that can help you develop your abilities. Support others to develop theirs. Always be ready to discover something new.

Get to know someone who is different than you. Don’t close yourself in. We are all unique. Always appreciate those who are not the same as you. They can expand the world you live in and help you to develop compassion for those who suffer from things that are foreign to you.

Brighten someone’s day with a smile. Just do it. A genuine smile can transform a person’s day. Be generous with your smiles.

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