Sometimes life is hard, but God is always good

I Belong, Don’t I?

mizzy-pacheco

Photo Credit: Mizzy Pacheco, Pacheco Photography

“And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:6 NIV

My childhood in the ‘70s included lots of hippie food, clothes, and activities. That set us apart from our wealthy, conservative, suburban neighbors. The grass on the lawn grew too tall. The hair and beards of the men in the family grew too long. Our cars and houses were simple, and kind of funky and neglected. Although I felt loved by my family, as an adolescent I also felt my “oddness” keenly. I felt like I didn’t belong.

Some of that  sense of “odd one out” traveled with me into adulthood. Surprisingly, I didn’t find too many other flower children out there.

However, over time, I have come to experience a deep sense of belonging. It comes from being loved by God and a part of a worldwide diverse Christian family.

Ironically, I, who am a Gentile, worship a Jewish Savior. Jesus came to his own and chose disciples from among the Jewish people. I cannot remake myself into a Jew. But, I know He wants me, too.

Recently, I found evidence for this claim as I re-read the account of Jesus Clearing the Temple in the gospel of John:

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get out of here. How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”   John 2:14-16 NIV

My NIV Study Bible note on the verses explains: …”The cattle, sheep and doves were for required for sacrifices. Jews who came great distances had to be able to buy sacrificial animals near the temple. The merchants, however, were selling them in the outer courts of the temple itself, the one place where Gentiles could come to pray.”

Jesus purposely and with intensity cleared the temple for the Gentiles to have a place to pray.

This obviously mattered to him.

So he made a place for me – how meaningful for a flower child like me.

“From my mothers womb

You have chosen me

Love has called my name

I’ve been born again, into your family

No Longer Slaves, We Will Not Be Shaken album, Bethel Music, 2015

 

 

 

Loneliness

Photo Credit: Andi Jetaime

It wasn’t so long ago that I craved solitude – just give me an hour alone so that I could hear myself think. My place on the introvert-extrovert scale rests at about dead center, but as a stay at home mom, the constant verbal chatter of my children often pushed me into a desperate need for silence.

God sets the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6

When I was homeschooling my kids, activities like hiking with my binoculars at the ready to watch birds, swimming distance laps in the local pool, or reading engrossing fiction– all gave me that social break.

But now, it’s lonely time.

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Psalm 25:16.

Our second child is leaving home for college. The first one has been gone for almost 3 years. The youngest is busy with her senior year in high school and, as is proper, needs me less and less.

It’s time to transition to working outside the home, but I don’t belong to a workplace community yet. And so, the time I spend in the house is often too quiet.

This lonely feeling is an alert to pay attention to my interpersonal connections – to connect more deeply to the Lord who promises to be my truest friend.

A man of many companions may come to ruin but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

And it’s time to reach out in friendship to my husband.

I will adjust.

It’s going to be all right.

 

 

bluebirdschicken

Photo credit: Julie Weatherbee

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

My grandmother had faith in Jesus Christ. She walked it out by her acts of kindness, her faithful church attendance, her daily devotional reading of the Bible, and her teaching – mostly through the songs she sang us at bedtime (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.)

My mother followed in her footsteps, after wandering a while in the fog of Eastern religions during her hippie phase. Mom has faith in Jesus Christ and his love for her.

I do, too.

Today I am reflecting, with gratitude, on how my faith is in God’s faithfulness. The chicken comes first, then the egg, so to speak. His faithful love that is enduring leads to my faith and trust in that love.

Recently, I was served at a restaurant by a young waitress with a tattoo of a Bible verse reference on her forearm: I John 4:19. This is the classic chicken before the egg truth: “We love because he first loved us.”

I pray my children and grandchildren will experience faith – the precious commodity of knowing personally the unending goodness and love of God that “continues through all generations”.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11: 6

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.12.01 PMThe Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

I lay back on the hospital bed, trying not to concentrate on my thirst, my hunger, my pain, or my fear. In just an hour or so, the operating room would be ready for me – an add-on surgery patient at the end of the day. After 24 hours of fasting and waiting I would be wheeled in to have my foot opened up toe to ankle for the second time in a week, to fix bones that had popped apart.

As I prayed through the swirl of physical and emotional sensations, I found these words of contrition formed in my mind and I whispered: “Please forgive me for swimming in the shallow end, Lord.”

My personal life wasn’t perfectly smooth, but enough had been going right that I didn’t exercise much faith muscle in my daily activities or decisions. I just did it, as the Nike commercial commands, and then thanked God for the results.

Now, when the fear and pain swelled up into mountainous proportions, I was left with atrophied faith to help me. But I found God’s kindness for my spiritual condition, even as the tears leaked from my eyes and coursed backwards into my ears, I heard His comforting words: “I am with you, even when you are weak.”

This just happened last month. I am still laid up with my foot in a cast and pain and depressive thoughts continue to be my daily companions. Yet, I know that I when I was submerged in the deep end, I came out with a better understanding of the faithfulness of God to be with me, no matter whether I am strong or not.

 

 

Are You My Mother?

Are you my Mother? bluebird

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

“He shielded and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. The Lord alone led him;” Deuteronomy 32:10-11 NIV

Are you familiar with P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book, “Are You My Mother?”: The newly hatched bird emerges to an empty nest and begins a prolonged search for his mother, asking extremely unlikely candidates, “Are you my mother?”, until his own mom returns to his nest with a worm and his heart is filled with a rush of recognition and affection.

I want to point out the parallel between mother love and God’s heart for us. He is like a mother in his protective, compassionate, and intense emotionally-connected nature. When his protective nature is described using the analogy of a mother eagle who “stirs up its nest” and pushes the fledglings out to fly, we are not shown a God who leaves and flies away as the babies tumble earthward. Instead, in this Scripture, the mother eagle spreads her wings and carries the young eagles on them. Our motherly instinct is to allow our kids to grow and be stretched, but we do not leave them. Our hearts, our prayers, and our help remain entirely present for them.

When my son married, my mom’s heart expanded to include his new wife and stretched, with acute pain, to accept his independence, yet at the same time, I am intensely connected to his well-being, and that of his new family.

In addition, we, as moms, feel for our kids when they have physical or emotional pain: injuries, sickness, heartbreaks, or disappointments, God feels for us as well. “Jesus wept” (John 11:23), often used as an example of the shortest verse in the Bible, represents the loving sympathy of God for those two sisters who lost their beloved brother Lazarus.

Our Heavenly Father is depicted as a mother who wants to gather us up under his wings like a mother hen (Matthew 23:37). The Lord is “compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8 NIV) This truth is echoed in Psalm 145, and 86. We can trust this warm, protective love of God and “like a weaned child” can rest upon his breast in trust and contentment. (Psalm 131:2 NIV) Let’s open our hearts to be mothered by God.

bluebirds - Easter

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. Psalm 62:11, 12 NIV

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen” is one part of The Nicene Creed that flows from my lips when I attend a liturgical church service. I can claim an understanding of the strength of God with his special creative levels of “super power”, but David, writing in his 62nd psalm, pushes me past that truth to a deeper, and more important, foundation: “…that you, O Lord, are loving.”

“Loving: committed to his people’s salvation and blessedness,” writes my Bible commentator in the text note. This powerful God uses his great strength to come through for us, to help us, to strengthen us for what we must do, and to provide the salvation that we truly need.

What a wonderful combination of qualities! Often strong people are out for themselves: their personal achievements, their own wins, their acquisition of wealth and education. But our God is out for our good.

Do we believe that?

“For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven….For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;…” (The Nicene Creed)

For you, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Broken Hearts and Infertility

bluebirds - infertility

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34: 17, 18 (NIV)

I was twenty-six years old when I got married. My plan for kids was to work full-time for exactly two years then start a family.

Having trouble conceiving was nowhere in my frame of reference, so I was emotionally blind-sided when it happened. Add to that living far away from friends and family when we began going to specialists and taking tests.

The result of all the anxious medical effort was “undefined infertility” and no guarantee if or when we could have a baby.

My yearning for a child burned like fire. How could I feel that horrible? No one ever told me about this desperate pain! For months, I followed my inner city pastor’s wife down the aisle of the church to the prayer altar after services. She always passed my pew with streaks of tears down her face. If she – a church leader- wore her heart on her sleeve, so could I.

My inner world was one quivering cry of doubt and despair. I had no trust in the outcome. I held onto one tiny scrap of faith that God was good and wasn’t punishing me.

There is no way around any mountain of suffering. Honestly, even now, my trust in God is mostly based on what He has already done, not what He will do, but He still acts on my behalf even with that “little faith”.

Now that is a good God – one who doesn’t hold back mercy or help until we are wise, strong or filled with faith.  He leans in when we are in despair and breathes life into our lungs.

Years later, I did become pregnant and we had a beautiful baby boy. Two lovely girls followed. “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” Psalm 113:9. I am overwhelmingly blessed with the gifts of my children, but they didn’t come as a reward for my faith-filled prayers, spiritual surrender, or organized plans. God just gave them to me, and I am profoundly grateful.

I don’t know why I was spared more years of infertility heartbreak.  I pray diligently for those women I know who are walking through disappointment in this area – for strength, for hope, and for their heart’s desire.

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