Monday, November 21, 2016

Fibular Hemimelia -Boats part 2

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the boats we’re in and how we’re just trying to get to the other side and how the waters are often stormy and how sometimes He waits to the last hour to come to us but HE always comes because He promised He’d never leave us.  
And last night I was thinking about these contrary winds that have come to the ones I love and added more weight to the boat they’re already having a hard time navigating, and my first response is to start a brigade -to bail them out, to get a bucket, to do something besides watch from the shore as they desperately paddle.  And I tell Freddie that I just can’t stand here and do nothing, just stand here helpless.  And he tells me that all I can really do is pray.  Just pray.
And that doesn’t seem enough for me. Surely, there’s something I can do, something I can fix. But I keep looking - and some of these boats, all of them really, are beyond my reach. And I go to sleep defeated and fearful, tears of desperation on my face.

But when I woke up this morning, I could hear water tapping our glass block window in the bathroom, the sound of the abundance of rain. I could make out raindrops amid the kaleidoscope of images filtering into the room -and I felt compelled to kneel.  I pressed my face to the cold, gray tile and cried out to Him, wanting to be made low so that He could be made high.  And I spread before Him all these burdens I couldn’t bear, stretching my fingers and opening my hands to let go of the things I could no longer carry.  And He spoke to me as the rain pelted the glass and He reminded me gently that I’ve never really rescued anyone from a sinking boat, that He’s been in control all along. That I’ve never been at the helm, not really. That I’ve just held tightly to this facade of control, trying to empty buckets of water to save those I love.
And when I get up and open His Word, He comes to me.  In 2 Kings, He brings me to the story of the widow, left with only a measure of oil, whose sons are about to be taken to pay her debt.  And she turns to Elisha the prophet for help. And he simply tells her to find some empty vessels -and not just a few- to ask her neighbors even, and to set them out and to pour out her supply of oil.  And she obeys, and God multiplies the oil and fills all the vessels -every one -and He miraculously supplies her need and secures the future for her and her sons.
And I read Charles Spurgeon, who says to keep this image before you - this image of the widow and her desperation.  And to “bring forth your vessels, even empty vessels not a few. All your need … —needs many, and needs varied. And set them out. Hide none of them away, but put them down one after another, in a long row, all of them. There are needs for your body, needs for your soul, needs for yourselves, needs for your families, needs for the present, needs for the future, needs for time, needs for eternity, needs for earth, needs for heaven.” Set out empty vessels for every need that you have -and like the widow, borrow extra vessels -enough for the needs of those you love -those you so desperately want to save. And stand on the side, on the shore -and watch -watch as God miraculously fills those vessels until they’re overflowing. And Spurgeon compels me to “rest fully assured that the Lord that filled the borrowed pots in Elisha’s day will also supply [my] borrowed needs. Bring out your vessels and see if it is not true. Do not put your cares away in the back room and say, ‘I shall draw them out tomorrow and begin worrying over them.’ Instead of that, while the oil is flowing, bring them here before the Lord, that the oil may have free course, and find suitable storage. Would you limit the miracle? Have you one forgotten need? Make haste with it! Still the oil is multiplying. Come one! Come all! Arrange your vessels and the Lord will fill up your needs by His grace, and fill your mouths with a song.  Fill them according to His riches in glory -through Christ Jesus.”  And Spurgeon reminds me that “you and I are such leaky vessels that none but God can ever fill us. And when we are filled, none but God can keep us full.”

And He’s teaching me that when I think of those boats and those winds and how far it seems to the other side and how weighted down my loved ones seem - that instead of picking up my bucket to do something -to attempt a rescue -that I need to set it down instead -set down the empty bucket instead -and wait for the miracle supplied by the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.  And I am reminded that “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). And I think of that cold tile and my face pressed against it and the burdens lifted from my hands and replaced with faith.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fibular Hememila -When You Feel Like Your Boat is Sinking

A message I heard from an evangelist has resonated with me -maybe changed my entire perspective on our purpose for being -and God keeps bringing me back to this scripture, this life changing truth because He wants to transform me, to mold me into the image of Himself.  

In Matthew 14, Jesus performs a miracle, feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. Following this meal, the WORD tells us that “straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”

The dictionary defines “constrained” as compelling or forcing (someone) toward a particular course of action. Jesus “compelled” the disciples to get into the ship and go to the other side -knowing what was to come -a storm of “contrary” winds that would toss the ship.  The dictionary defines “contrary” as opposite, clashing, conflicting, irreconcilable, and incompatible.  

So this begs the question: why? Why send, compel, force the disciples into a boat, headed toward a storm that would cause them great distress and fear? Why stay behind to pray and leave them alone to face the stormy sea? Why wait, as verse 25 discloses, until the fourth watch of the night, near morning, to come to their rescue?

The Christian life, we know, is a journey, not through a placid lake, but through a swift river.  If we don’t paddle, we won’t just sit still, we’ll go backward, lose ground.  But sometimes, when the winds are raging -clashing, seeming irreconcilable, it’s exhausting to keep lifting the oars.  Press forward, that’s what Paul tells us to do, right?  Press “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). It’s the prize, then, that’s supposed to keep us rowing despite our fears and our exhaustion?

Yet, in the boat sometimes, especially at night, I lose sight of the prize.  I just want stiller waters, not stronger arms.  I want the life that the world promised instead: smooth sailing, health, vitality, prosperity, happiness.   So much more appealing than picking up the oar and pressing on.

Ann VosKamp writes that this year one of her sons was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and she describes herself as having joined the club of those who watch their children inject themselves with insulin each day and count carbs and prick fingers.  A club of the broken-hearted, worried parents who get up each day and press on, rowing to the other side with thoughts of the health of their babies.

And I think of the boat I’m in and the weighty things I’m hauling that make rowing especially hard.  Standing in line at Wal-Mart yesterday, buying iron- on letters for Emily’s team day shirt, I begin to sweat.  Even though it’s two hours until I have to be at MECC for the night class that I’m teaching, I’m worried I’ll be late.  The cashier is taking way too much time -and when I get to the car, I realize I’ve forgotten something and have to go back in -and wait again.  My stomach is literally sick and I’m fanning myself with my wallet. Although I know it takes maybe thirty-five minutes to get to the college, my adrenal glands must not have gotten the message.  And someone’s thinking -really, that’s all you’ve got in that boat: anxiety? But if you don’t know, if you’ve never held what I’m carrying, then you can’t imagine what it weighs and how difficult it makes the rowing.
And I think of my family and my friends and these boats that He sent them out in, knowing the contrary winds that were to come.  And I consider what they’re facing -these worst fears becoming truth. And in the recesses of my heart, I know. I know that there are PROMISES made that will come to pass and that my God, He’s faithful to His Word.  And I know He’ll work all this out, but sometimes I forget.  I’m prone to wander and He knows it. He knows I’ll sit in my boat sometimes and feel alone despite the truth of His Word that tells me I’m not Forsaken.  I’ll wonder why my cousins are left to pick up the pieces after their grandfather’s death and their mother’s subsequent suicide.  And I’ll wonder why my mom struggles for breath, to simply breathe in the air God’s provides.  And why my friend and her husband are anticipating the birth of their first grandbaby while sorting through cancer treatment options. And why every 10 seconds a child in our world dies from hunger and 125,000 babies are aborted every day.  

And I could sit here in this boat for hours, my eyes off the prize, and put down my oar and float backward -away from the shore.  

BUT in the FOURTH HOUR something never fails to compel me - to rescue me from myself and the weightiness of despair.  To remind me of the PRIZE -that has nothing to do with health and vitality and prosperity and happiness and has everything to do with JESUS.

In Philippians, Paul tells us that “he count[s] all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his]Lord.” This PRIZE, then, that we’re striving toward is a knowing -an intimate knowledge of our Savior. Paul wants to “be found in him,” to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
To KNOW HIM, we have to be stripped of our religious pretense -to stand before HIM bare, vulnerable, in need.  We have to experience a STORM in order to experience a rescuing, a knowing of who He is, and a transforming of who we are as a result of who He is.  We cannot fellowship in the sufferings of Christ apart from suffering.  We cannot be conformed without being refined.  The dictionary defines “refined” as to bring to a fine or a pure state; free from impurities.  The Prize, then, all along, is FREEDOM in CHRIST, a putting on of a righteousness that isn’t our own.  

I can think about this water and this boat in two ways; I have a choice.  I can choose to see a God who sent me ahead alone to navigate through fearful waves. Or I can choose to see a God whose greatest desire is for me to KNOW Him -to know the strength He provides when the oars are too heavy -to know His methods of rescue -the words and the people and the circumstances that He sends to spur me on. I can see this water and this boat as unfairness or I can see it as GRACE. I can choose to believe that “when God raises the winds and lifts the waves — you can always trust His hand to lift you higher — further up into Himself. And Sometimes when it feels like God’s breaking our anchor — He’s really breaking our idols —- what we were holding on to more than we were holding on to Him.”  

This Grace, this AMAZING GRACE that saved us, this Grace of turbulent times and rough waters, it’s our passage to knowing Him. In Matthew, Jesus eventually comes to the disciples in the fourth hour, walking on the water. Excitedly, Peter attempts to join Him, but sinks because of doubt and fear.  What does Peter do at this moment, this sinking, fearful moment. The WORD tells us he cried out and Jesus, our rescuer, “immediately stretched forth his hand, and caught him.” Aren’t we all in need of immediate rescue? Don’t we all just need to be caught -to be held by this ONE who came to save and not to condemn? And what’s the requirement? What can we do? Like Peter, we must cry for out HIM -and He will come.

Don’t we all need to cry in repentance -repenting of a life lived for the wrong prize -a life lived for the accumulation of meaningless things and selfish desires -for thinking that anything apart from HIM was of any worth -for wanting God to conform to our plans and not seeing the BEAUTY of HIS. I need to repent, don’t you, of wishing I had a different boat, a different weight to carry -an easier way to be transformed. I need to repent, don’t you, of holding on to things (health, vitality, prosperity, happiness, children, family, security, pride, self-sufficiency) more than HIM.

I need to come to HIM, don’t you -because He tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Remember He has carried our burden for us --already borne it to Calvary. I need to cry out - to grow in grace and KNOWLEDGE - because my burden of SIN has been lifted, freely lifted -and the rest is GRACE. And these fears, these heavy-hearted feelings can be REDEEMED, TRANSFORMED, stripped of their power - by the Holy One.

And I Press On.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

24 hours with a Brain Tumor

"My 24 hours with a Brain Tumor"
There are haunting moments in life, minutes of time that we cannot unsee or unfeel or simply store in some unretrievable bank of our minds.
The memory of calling my mother from the parking lot of Lonesome Pine Hospital, crying, no wailing, trying to form the words to say that Josh had a brain tumor will never leave me. I can hear her voice, a gasping confusion. I can feel the chill of November air - and the world seemingly stand still.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I listened to my voicemail, a nurse calmly relaying my need to come into the office to discuss CT scan results. I can still see the doctor’s face, a resolute, unblinking stare, trying hard to form the words to say that I had a brain tumor.
For twenty-four hours, almost to the minute, I lived with what I believed to be a brain mass, a measurable, 8mm lesion near my pituitary gland.
Sometimes we hear things with an inability to grasp their significance, but I know brain tumors. I know blood vessels that can pool blood into raspberry-like masses. I know craniotomies and cavernous angiomas and the bitter taste of those words on my tongue and on my heart. I know waiting rooms and waiting for news and heads shaved and stitched. I know fear.
Driving home with swirling thoughts and remembrances, I was no longer the watcher and the waiter, but this time the owner of this thing -this 8mm matter that could challenge, could change, could claim, my life.
Inside the house my babies played piano and guitar, laughter floated down the long hall and into the car where I sat, quieted, so unlike me. After blog posts and updated statuses and questions and praises and verses written on notepads and sticky notes and index cards, my voice was silent.
Perhaps HE knew that I needed to listen before I could open the door and tell that man -the one who listened to my past and knew how painful things had been before, how miscarriages and divorce and loneliness and fear had left me raw and grasping. The one who slept alone his first few months of marriage so I could hold a little boy with a stitched up skull whose blond hair the doctor gave to me in a plastic bag just in case I would need something to smell and to touch. The one who counted his son’s nine toes and told me it would be okay and has driven too many eight hour trips to Baltimore to count. The one who stood outside an operating room when my uterus tore during the delivery of his only little girl --and held my hand when I understood that no more babies would be birthed. The one who didn’t leave when anxiety took me under and fear became my mantra.
In those moments- on the way to the office, driving home, in the driveway, if I know me, I was afraid, questioning, shouting unfairness, wondering how many more things needed to be added to my list -my long list of trials and storms.
BUT, I underestimated the JESUS in me.
I cried leaving the doctor’s office, lost my keys and found them in the men’s restroom where I had entered by mistake. I imagined my husband and children’s lives lived without me. I was shaken. But I was not undone.
Something different came to me, something that straightened my shoulders and strengthened my resolve. Something that I couldn’t quite name because I had never quite seen it before. In forty-one years, I’m not sure I’ve rested, settled, quieted as much as I did in those moments.
This thing that came to me was so different from the fear that came in that waiting room in Knoxville, watching for the doctor who said that if I saw him come through the operating room door, he would be bearing bad news -news his nurses couldn’t carry to a young mother. Or the thoughts that came, after only seven months married and eight weeks pregnant, waiting to hear that Freddie’s brain surgery had resulted in no residual damage. So different from the crying times when I let the little ones spend a night away from home, questioning yet another decision made. Or times wanting so badly to simply be accepted -to feel I was good enough. Good enough wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend and teacher and housekeeper and decorator and money saver.
Christ named this thing for me -called it HIS STRENGTH, whispered that I’m not who I was. HE showed me my list from HIS perspective-those powerful storms designed, dealt, given to me -and the name at the top of the page was my name: Highly Favored.
I could see HIS hand working through this stream of difficulties, turning my reliance from myself to HIM, turning my faith from myself to HIM, turning my life from myself to HIM. I could see the JOY shifting from my plan to HIS.
I could feel this letting go that felt like being held.
Mary, she was first proclaimed Highly Favored, dealt a list that included unwed, pregnant teen, worried mother, lonely widower, only family member at the cross. HE took her list and through it, blessed her life -and yours and mine.
On the pages of my list he crossed through each dark moment, each fear, each doubt and wrote above the words in an ink of blood: MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT.
I sat in the car still settled, still silent and fully believing that HIS plan was greater-that whatever HE wrote next, whatever HE added to my story would be written for my good, my transformation and for HIS glorification.
I walked into the house to Freddie- and later that night drove to my Momma and Daddy’s house to them and my brother -and to Kelly’s house to her-each time through tears telling the news that I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
These five especially, they know me -my insecurities, my fears, my anxieties, but that night they heard the JESUS in me -as I allayed their fears and reminded them that HE was always good even when we could not understand.
And that I was NOT afraid.
The next day, I had an MRI and prayed in that white tunnel until I eventually fell asleep. On the way home, the same nurse called again-this time to simply say that there was no tumor.
My mom is a firm believer that God removed those 8mm of tissue and others believe that the CT was simply misread. I believe that God, in HIS divine Sovereignty, revealed HIMSELF to me through the sufficiency of HIS STRENGTH.
Christ first revealed HIS resurrected body-the TRUTH of the gospel - to Mary Magdalene -and commissioned her to go and tell the brethren. When Christ transforms something within us, HE expects praise!
Glory with me in HIM tonight -and pray with me that HE would continue to perfect that which concerneth you and me -until we see HIM face to face!
And, if you belong to HIM, you are highly favored, too! HE is crafting your list to mold you into HIS likeness!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fibular Hemimelia and GRACE

After school yesterday, Emily talked of her friend who was so worried about her math test that she cried in class.  “Mom,” she said, “The teachers always tell her that she overthinks things.  Not me! I just go with the flow, whatever floats my boat.”
Sometimes I think that if I could trade places with anyone, it would be this fiery nine-year-old whose attitude, no, whose God given design brings me such JOY.  If you know me, then you know that I’m one of those over-thinkers.  Maybe it’s why I’m pretty good at teaching literature, but over analysis sometimes comes at a cost.

Yesterday, I was reading about the life of Martin Luther –if you know much history, you’ll remember that he started the Protestant Reformation.  He nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenbergh in protest of such practices as buying indulgences that guaranteed forgiveness of sins and ultimate salvation.  He also authored hymns, among them “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” 

What you may not know is that Luther was an over-thinker, someone who agonized with fear and anxiety related to salvation and eternal life.  He had obsessive thoughts of never being “good enough” for God and, as a result, going to Hell.  These obsessions plagued Luther throughout his life –and he struggled with fear that is hard to be put into words.  Today, he would have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder –not what many laugh off as a need to be overly organized, but as a disorder that plagues the mind with doubt.  YET, Luther claimed that the only relief, the only remedy from his anxiousness, came from God whispering ONE WORD, ONE TRUTH: GRACE. 
God brought this realization to me yesterday, whispered this truth, His spirit communed with mine: had Luther not suffered, had his life not been characterized by anxiety and struggle, had he not sought truth, not sought God for help, then the entire Protestant Reformation may never have happened.  God, in His Infinite Wisdom, ordained his suffering to bring about a revival of TRUTH, the salvation of many souls. 

Ethan has a “bucket” list on the cork board in his room –among the items on his list: ride a bull, read a chapter book in a day, win a car race.  I noticed an added sheet to his list the other day –and one bulleted statement stopped me for a moment, brought tears to my eyes: no more surgeries. 
Sometimes as parents, as friends, as sisters or aunts or cousins of those who struggle, we wonder why.  We wonder what God is doing –why has my eleven- year- old had six surgeries with more to come? Why does my uncle have Alzheimer’s? Why is one of my former students facing cervical cancer? Why is my friend in a joyless marriage?

And there’s only one answer: GRACE.

God’s grace, if we remember, brought Christ to the cross where He suffered, the Bible says, as none as suffered before or since –and this suffering, this brutal seeming unfairness inflicted on one who had no sin, purchased our redemption.

2 Corinthians 4:17 states: “ For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 
Did you know that your suffering –your God ordained trials and troubles, will one day result in an eternal reward? That one day, you will lay your crown of suffering at the feet of Christ –at the feet of the one who knows suffering –who prayed for the “cup” of suffering He was about to endure to be passed from Him –yet accepted God’s will and took our place.

If I asked, you would say that you believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God: TRUTH.  Yet, HE plainly tells us that we will suffer. 1 Peter 5:10 states: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”  He tells us, plainly, that our suffering will PERFECT, ESTABLISH, STRENGTHEN, and SETTLE us.  I want to be perfected, established, strengthened, and settled –and it will happen through suffering.  And, I want this for my son, my uncle, my former student, and my friend.

What if, through your suffering, like Luther’s, God will bring many souls to salvation? What if HIS plan really is BEST? What if HIS WORDS are TRUTH? What if we just TRUST HIM? What if we simply seek refuge In God, our MIGHTY FORTRESS and give HIM glory through our pain?