When Life Seems Cruel…

Pain and struggle can become this firm foundation for one’s faith and character.  

I thought about this after reading a little bit more about the 25 year old soccer coach, Akkapol Chanthawong, who, no doubt, played a huge role in keeping his soccer team alive, hopeful, and calm for the nine days it took a rescue team to locate them in the Thailand cave they became trapped in.

“He was orphaned (at 10 years old) after a disease spread through his town, killing his parents and his younger brother. He moved to a monastery, but has moved back to the region to care for an ailing grandmother.”  -CBS News

As I read about this coach’s life, I couldn’t help but have this thought.  Of all the people that could have been stuck in the cave with those boys for nine days, it’s this young man…a man who had already learned how to navigate through a seemingly hopeless situation, a man who had already learned that perseverance through struggle and pain is possible. 

His pain became a tool that helped to keep a whole team of young boys alive for nine days.

This is redemption at its best.

When life seems cruel, this is what fills my heart with hope, and yes…even joy.

I know this nightmare is far from over. I see the tragedy and hardship in the situation. I see the unfairness…but then, I read stories like this and I am reminded that our pain and struggle is never wasted; it is never in vain.  

Our past navigation through pain or grief becomes this oxygen mask we extend to another human being in need.  And we can say with confidence… grab hold, don’t let go, rescue is coming.

You Will Never Forget

Every year as the 4th of July approaches I think about July 4, 1992.  For that particular 4th of July, I was approaching the one year anniversary of my mom’s death, July 14, 1991. That was the year I was on my way to meet some friends to watch fireworks and a terrifying thought crossed my mind as I drove along.  What if I forget her? What if the memories begin to fade?  

As this idea swept over my brain, I became so upset that I had to turn the car around and go home. Thankfully, when I arrived back at the house, my then sister-in-law, who had lost her mom when she was 15 years old, wrapped her arms around me and reassured me; you will never forget.

Every 4th of July since the one in 1992, it’s this memory that fills my brain more than any other. I remember those words “you will never forget” and I am thankful they still hold true nearly 27 years later. I have not forgotten.

The more I think about this memory, the more I think it’s an appropriate way to honor and celebrate our Independence Day.

You never forget the preciousness of love; you never forget the preciousness of freedom.

Freedom and Love

A taste of both can change the trajectory of your life forever.  A taste of both fills you with a desire to stand alongside those living in bondage and oppression.  You want others to experience the sweet embrace of unconditional love.  You want others to experience that unforgettable moment when their prison door swings open and the warm sunshine hits their cheeks.

An old post I wrote came to mind as I was thinking about all of this.  Thought I would share it again.

Freedom Circles Back
Written December 29, 2012

The other night I had a rather intense dream about captivity. I know what prompted the dream. I went to bed thinking about my running away from the Lord days. I couldn’t breathe in those days.  I couldn’t find peace or freedom. I was a prisoner and the life I was living was a jail cell.

In my dream, I was both a spectator and a participant. It was like I was there but wasn’t there. Several people in my dream were being held captive and I could feel the hopelessness of the situation. After several years, one prisoner escapes and leads authorities back to help rescue the others who are still being held captive. I woke from my dream in a sweat.

As I thought about this topic it made think again of why I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this blog. It occurred to me that I feel like the prisoner who escaped and every time I write, I  am coming back with a desire to help rescue those who are still held captive. The Scenic Route circles back to show others that there is a way out, that there is a place where you will be able to breathe again.

That’s the beauty of freedom. It is not content to just be free, it desperately wants others to find it too. Freedom circles back.

He Loved Me The Best He Knew How

That first Christmas morning after my mom died, my dad struggled with gift giving. Yet, as I shared in this post, I knew my dad was simply doing the best he knew how to do, much the same way I knew the words, “keep one in the chamber” at the end of all our phone conversations were synonymous with “be careful, I love you.”

The other morning, on the drive to work, the radio station I was listening to was asking listeners (in honor of Father’s Day) to call in and share the best advice their dads had given them. I smiled because I wondered how well the two examples I immediately thought of would go over if I called in and shared them on air. “Keep one in the chamber” that was the first one I thought of… I wouldn’t necessarily call it the “best” advice but it was certainly advice I have never ever forgotten.

The other example, in comparison, was much much better advice… “If you don’t start, you’ll never have to stop.” My dad grew up with an alcoholic father and he’d often tell me this. I wish I’d heeded his advice. I haven’t had a drink in nearly 17 years…but “stopping” was, hands down, one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever been on.

My dad was far from perfect. He had his share of racist attitudes and was highly bigoted towards anyone who didn’t share his excessively right wing beliefs. And yet, there was never any doubt in my mind that he was loving me, his daughter, the best way he knew how.

As I sit here this morning, reminiscing, I don’t ever want to forget the times along the journey when my dad’s love for me shined brighter and more beautiful than all the cracks, flaws, and dysfunction. Here are two of those times.

When I developed a horrible case of strep throat in college. The University medical clinic prescribed the wrong medicine and the infection continued to get worse and the pain became excruciating. While curled up in a fetal position, I called my dad and groaned…”I am in so much pain; I don’t know what to do.” He drove the 80 mile trip up to rescue me, took me to the emergency room, and then drove me back to his house and nursed me back to health for the next several days.I wrote about it here.

When I finally became willing to divulge just how bad things had gotten in my first marriage. I picked up that heavy phone and through trembling tears I cried out for help.  Dad, I’ve got to get out of here. There was no “I told you so” lectures, although I deserved them. Instead, he met my pain and desperation with compassion…I’m here for you…let’s figure out what needs to be done.

I am grateful for the imperfect dad I had in my life.
He loved me the best he knew how.
Sometimes, as you look back, that’s more than enough.

Before Understanding

“Take up your cross and follow Me.”

Take up your cross…

I’ve been reminded lately of how the peace doesn’t show up, the doubt doesn’t begin to subside, and the joy struggles to burst through… until we do.

In His Kingdom, obedience comes before understanding.

It’s in this journey when we begin to see how the cross that we bear or the thorn in our side is being redeemed and used for His Glory. He gives us eyes to see and we begin to scratch the beautiful surface of His redeeming love, the depths and the lengths of His mercy and grace.

Take up your cross…and follow 

Watch as scales begin to fall..
Watch as new paths are carved out through the wilderness…
Watch as springs of living water appear along your desert path…

Eyes open wide

feet firmly planted

His joy becomes your strength

Take up your cross…and follow

The Best Wine

I have one coworker in particular who regularly inspires me to pray more than I worry. There’s been countless times when I’ve bumped into Michelle at work, expressed a concern on my heart, and she will right then lift up the need in prayer. It’s not even a bow your head, close your eyes moment but more like Jesus is standing right there next to her, right there in our midst, and she is simply including Him in our conversation.

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer vacation for kids in the area. Sundays and summertime are always a little interesting at church and at my job. So many of the wonderful volunteers who help to make things flow smoothly are enjoying family vacations away. We couldn’t “do” church without volunteers and the Lord always has a way of using holiday weekends and summer schedules to remind me of all the beautiful hands and feet who dedicate their time and use their gifts every week.  Did I mention  we  I couldn’t do church or my job without all the help they provide?  So grateful for them!!

And nothing reminds us how grateful we are of something than when we experience a shortage of that something. We tend to remember the great value of something when what we value is suddenly not there. The absence or shortage reminds us that we don’t ever want to take the fact that needs get met and jobs get done for granted. We recognize that when needs are met and jobs get done it is truly a gift…and we praise the Provider and Giver of every good and perfect gift!!

I wanted to share a cool God moment with you all from last weekend. I knew, because it was a holiday weekend that it would be a challenge to find enough volunteers who were in town and able to serve. On Sunday morning, as I was driving to work, I received a text from a family of four who couldn’t make it to greet because a tree had fallen across the main road in their neighborhood…it was the only way in and out of their neighborhood. I had also received a couple of other last minute calls and texts throughout the weekend of folks needing to be out due to sickness. Instead of going directly to my knee jerk reaction of worry, I decided to send two of my coworkers a text message, telling them the situation and asking them to please say a prayer.  In true fashion, Michelle immediately replied to my text with a prayer.

And in true fashion, Jesus responded.

A few minutes later I receive this text from one of our rock star volunteers…

I shared this text with the coworkers who had prayed and simply shook my head in awe at how the Lord hears our prayers.  I then had this thought come to mind.

Lord, you don’t simply turn water into wine…You turn it into the best wine!  (John 2: 1-11)

I’m sharing this moment with you all today because I hope it encourages you the way it did me.

It reminded me of a few important truths about the big God that we serve…

He hears our prayers.
He likes to answer our requests in ways that exceed our expectations. (Ephesians 3:20, John 6:12)

Keep blowing us away Lord!

i can’t explain it


I’m convinced that it’s God’s redeeming, relentless love that eventually cracks open the eyes to a heart
Once you see it; there’s no way to unsee it
Once you taste it; there’s no way to un-taste it
And those things that once only tormented you like thorns
now
somehow, someway
also
become treasures for the trip
I can’t explain it
I can only embrace it

Hopelessly Stuck on Hope

 

I was out on my run yesterday and was thinking again about how I’m often compelled to write about the same thing over and over. I’ve gotten to the point where I just go with it.

Lord, if I sound like a broken record, then let me be a broken record stuck on hope.

After hearing about the death of an old family friend this week, one of the first things that came to mind was the note my mom left behind for my family after her death. It’s the last few sentences that have stuck with me through the years.

“I am not alone. I have crossed over from death to life, and at this very moment, as you read these words, I am with my Savior, our Lord Jesus. I’ll be waiting for you here.”

I’ll be waiting for you here…
Those words encourage me so much. Those words are powerful, comforting and courage inducing.

You know… that person plans to cheer you on as you cross finish line…I’ll be waiting for you…

You know… that person plans to be at the airport to give you long overdue embrace as you get off the plane and arrive home again…I’ll be waiting for you

This morning those five words made me think of this scene from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, when Red finds the red box and letter Andy left behind for him to find.

“I’ll keep an eye out for you, and the chess board ready. Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.” – Andy

I then had this thought cross my mind. Red had found a treasure buried in a field and that treasure was worth pursuing. For some reason this made me think of the verse in Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.”

Red “buys the field” that he found by purchasing a bus ticket, courageously leaving his old life behind, and grabbing hold of the hope waiting for him across the sea.

Not Home Yet

“All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong”

I can’t shake the sense I’m supposed to write about this. Sometimes, in my quiet time, I’m hoping the Lord will place other words on my heart other than the ones that have taken root overnight. Sometimes, I’m just not sure how to share the words.

My husband’s work had a team outing yesterday afternoon to watch a Lookouts baseball game together. Family members were invited to join in the fun. It was my first experience with sitting in the comfort of box seats at a baseball game. It’s definitely like first class on a plane minus the warm washcloth to wash your face and hands off. 🙂 We enjoyed watching the home team win in the shade and under a fan. It was a pleasant and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

It was also a nice distraction after hearing the news the night before of an old family friend who was recently diagnosed with tumors in her liver and rapidly declining. I shared this news with you all yesterday.  Over the speakers, motivating and upbeat snippets of songs would play in between innings or at bats.  One of snippets they played was actually a Building 429 song called “Where I Belong”. They would play it as someone went up to bat and one of their teammates was on base trying to make it home.  Pretty clever, I think.  Most of the time, the person in charge of the music would fade the music out and we’d only hear…

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me…

On one occasion when they played it and stopped it short again the little boy behind us continued to sing the final word of the verse…take this world and give me Jesus.  

There was only one time during the whole game when they kept it playing longer and we heard the final word in the verse get played…Jesus

The final word is Jesus.

As I sat there taking in a relaxing ball game, I was grateful for the reminder again this week that even when the score seems lopsided or painfully unfair today, love wins in the end.

“For it is written:
As I live, says the Lord,
every knee will bow to Me,
and every tongue will give praise to God.”~Romans 14:11

Friends That Are Family

I sat on my couch last night brainlessly scrolling through Facebook until I came upon a post from an old friend that jolted my brain back to the reality of life. The post was written by her husband, Leon, giving everyone who hadn’t heard an update on Susan. Susan went from feeling tired for a few days earlier this month to being diagnosed with liver cancer a week later. After spending 3 days in the hospital, she is now home on hospice to spend her final days with Leon and her beloved dog in the place where she loves the most.

After reading this news, I sat in disbelief, crying, as his words sunk into my heart. I reached out to Leon, left him a message and cried some more. I’ve broken down in tears multiple time in the last 12 hours as I think about these dear family friends and the hard and painful road they are now walking down. I want the Holy Spirit to give them that peace that only He can give. I want them to feel His presence in such a personal way that there is no doubt He is walking through this valley with both of them. I write these words this morning through tears.

I’ve known Susan and Leon since I was about 8 or 10 years old. I remember the first time they came to our house and being introduced to them. My dad and Leon worked together for years; Susan and Leon would often stay with us whenever they were in town visiting. They were several years younger than my parents. My mom and Susan became great friends. My dad and Leon were like their own little comedy show…they fed off of one another and always kept my mom and Susan laughing or just shaking their heads. Occasionally, after my mom’s death, Susan would share stories with me about my mom. I would love getting to hear about conversations she had with my mom.

When my dad had his life changing stroke in May 2012 that left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair, Leon and Susan would visit my dad on a regular basis and, sometimes, take him out to lunch… just to give him a break from staring at the walls of his caretaker’s home. They were the only local friends he had. My dad would often call each of us at random crazy times, not realizing that not everyone is wide awake at 2:00am. Susan and Leon made time to talk to him. Prior to my dad’s death, I would come home to Arizona for a visit and Leon and Susan would often meet me for lunch. We share a bond. My parents.

I guess this is why the news of Susan’s health has hit me so hard. Susan and Leon are like the aunt and uncle I never had.

Dear Lord, I lift Susan and Leon up to you today. Thank you for the way they loved my parents. Thank you for all the ways they’ve loved me.

some thoughts on broken handles

God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever. ~Vance Havner

I remembered this quote again as I thought about a coffee cup I broke yesterday morning at work. I was hurrying along with an armload of items and the bag holding this cup slipped from my grip. I heard the breaking sound as it met the concrete floor. I knew what I was going to find even before peering into the bag. The handle had broken into several pieces. The cup itself was fine.

I thought about how often this happens when coffee mugs break. The handle of a mug is the most vulnerable section of the whole beautiful creation. However, even though we tend to toss these cups into the trash, the truth is, a broken handle doesn’t make a cup unusable.

Broken handled cups have seemingly lost their “curb appeal”but that doesn’t mean they can no longer serve the purpose for which they were created. A broken handled cup can still be filled up; it can still hold that which gets poured into it and out of it.  A broken handled cup can still provide those who thirst…a drink.

Our broken, imperfect, and flawed journeys still serve a purpose.  A life that has slipped from your grip and has broken into pieces very well might turn out being the most necessary (dare I even say most beautiful) part of the whole journey.