Often life is hard, but God is always good

Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

O Solo Mio – Loneliness

 

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.

 

 

Pain and Joy at Christmas

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_coverThe Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

I am going to sing this Christmastime, with joy and thanksgiving; kind of like extending Thanksgiving into the month of December, because God loves me and He is close to me no matter what is happening in my life.

Do you remember the story of the Whos down in Whoville from How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Dr. Seuss wrote about how these little creatures held hands around their bare plundered town square and sang together as Christmas Day dawned – and that was after they had woken up to their stripped houses – not even a can of who hash left upon their shelves. The Grinch mistakenly thought he could rob them of their joy and faith by taking away their holiday possessions.

He was so wrong!

How many of us have difficult circumstances facing us? They don’t make it onto social media, and they shouldn’t. It is respectful to keep others’ confidentiality and to save our hearts from too many people knowing our business, but this Christmas season there are financial problems, broken relationships, adult kids off track, and ill health – to name just a few issues.

Like the Whos who sing in their circle, we also need to hold someone’s hand – God’s first and foremost, but also trusted family members or friends. Let’s not forget those whose losses this year will sting – loved ones not here this Christmas and families not all they hoped for and dreamed of.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I intend to post cute photos of the good stuff on my social media sites– the adorable grandbaby, the sweet daughter-in-law, the pretty teenager daughters, and my husband who is still sticking around, but I want you to know I will need some hand holding too for the things that are not all right.

So let’s sing to God in our hearts, and hold someone’s hand, and enjoy the blessings we do have this Christmas season.

Oh Foolish Me and the Kind Protection of Almighty God

Photo Credit:  Sam Javanrouh  Florence, Italy

Photo Credit: Sam Javanrouh, Florence, Italy

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:7-10

I am the child of hippies – of 1970s vintage – and I grew up without much supervision and structure during those tumultuous years, which is not the best environment for a child. One of the positive results, however, was how independent I became, doing things for myself, and on my own, with great courage and “chutzpah”.

Is it any wonder that I would adore the 139th psalm? It speaks of the loving care of a personal God who knows where I am and what I am doing, and guides me and holds me fast.

My parents loved me, though, and one of the special gifts my father gave me was money for trip to Europe after I graduated from college. I cherish this gift more now, but at the time, too, I was ecstatic over the opportunity to travel for eight weeks with a Eurail pass, a backpack, and money for cheese and bread and hostels.

They say Europe is small, but it’s actually dense – extremely varied with its cultures, art, history, languages, and geography, and after seven weeks, I hadn’t seen it all.

Not even close.

Particularly, I longed to visit Italy and see the canals of Venice, Michaelangelo’s David, and St. Peter’s Basilica.   My two traveling buddies had a month more than I (the lucky ducks) and they were content to stay in Austria to explore more of the countryside. I burned to make my last nine days count and see the wonders of Italy.

So I left on my own.

On my own.

At age 20.

(I am a girl by the way.)

What was I thinking? No, I wasn’t thinking, I was impulsively doing.   And the God of the universe protected me – even when I was foolish.

How about that?

I was stalked, pinched, and creeped out, but not harmed. And then, as I stood in line on the ancient cobbled sidewalk to enter the Florentine art museum that housed Michaelangelo’s exquisite sculpture, I struck up a conversation with a young woman with a shoulder bag decorated with a Canadian maple leaf. She was Spanish and traveling with her brother and sister from Madrid down through Italy in their tiny citroen.   And they invited me to go with them. I spent the rest of my precious travel days under the cheerful protection of three Spaniards, eating their food, traveling safely (though squished), in their car and sleeping at night in their tent (on the far side – away from the brother).

What a loving God to protect me when I had “gone rogue”.  What makes him love us so much, not only when we “behave”, but when we are “off the rails” in some way?

“If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:11, 12

Do I Enjoy My Gifts?

Photo Credit: Hannah M. Covert

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! 
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house;
 you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; 
in your light we see light.” Psalm 36:7-9 NIV

So I speak a second language, with some gaps and imperfections, but enough to truly make friends. That is why I learned Spanish. The youth group at my church needed another adult to go to Mexico on the mission trip – a mother, a person who spoke some Spanish. So I went this month and now I am back and I am happy beyond measuring, overflowing with the goodness of God to open up another opportunity to go and make friends in a Spanish-speaking country.

Dylan, another leader on the trip who knows German from his missionary years in Austria, gave me the compliment of saying I expressed “Genießen” (Ge•nee•sen) a German word that means that I really really enjoyed every piece and every moment of the trip, which I did – every sweaty, tiring, stretching minute, and each fascinating person, interesting place, and real touch of the Holy Spirit.

What delights we are given every day. So small sometimes. So precious nonetheless.

My friend Carol recently wrote about her enjoyment of her surroundings: “Watching the rain roll in before supper time while sitting out in the screened-in sun room, the sound of the wind in the leaves, and soft little thunder that quickly passed over reminded me to just witness how everything shifts and changes moment by moment. Noticing these small parts of life instead of rushing around brings more ease and I feel like just being alive and awake is a treasure; nothing fancy -just paying attention with soft eyes of loving my life, as it is, in all its wonderful imperfections.”

God is called the Father of Lights in the epistle to James: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 NIV

Savor the gifts.

Can I Say “Congratulations”?

ImagePhoto Credit: Kristen W Learn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12: 15 (NIV)

I don’t mean to boast, but I am tender-hearted. My friends know I cry easily when they share their pain with me and I am quick to hug or give a comforting touch when sorrow hits. So I have “mourn with those who mourn” pretty well covered. But that is the second half of the Paul’s command to the Romans; the first part is “rejoice with those who rejoice”.

Harder to do – for me, especially when my friend’s joy comes from a source that I am not sharing – like a big pay raise, a house renovation, a new car, a wonderful trip or vacation.   Remember what it feels like when a friend has a baby and you haven’t gotten pregnant yet, a friend marries when your love life is fraught with difficulty or is non-existent or when facebook photos come through of that smiling couple taking a tour of Italian wineries?

We have different blessings and achievements, not cookie cutter lives following a formula for fame and fortune.

“Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s successes.” Oscar Wilde

This “very fine nature” that Mr. Wilde touts is the goal. My study bible text note declares that “identification with others in their joys and in their sorrows is a Christian’s privilege and responsibility”. We are pushed to get out of our own self-centered thinking and connect to another person’s joy.

Taking this high road loosens up our hearts and actually feels good. Others find more freedom to enjoy their successes and blessings. When I “rejoiced” with a friend not too long ago about a cruise her husband wanted to take her on, it freed her up to look forward to it and not feel guilty for her good fortune.

I want my friends to celebrate with me, too, in true mutual friendship.

And I yearn to trust that my Heavenly Father hasn’t forgotten me when I don’t receive the same blessings as others. He is the one who gives bread, not stones, and fish, not snakes.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Matthew 7: 9-11 (NIV)

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

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.

“Am I Lovely?” Every Woman’s Question

 

"Borrow Somebody's Dreams" Photo Credit: Stefano Corso

“Borrow Somebody’s Dreams” Photo Credit: Stefano Corso

 

It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,”
Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; 
But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” 
And your land, “Married”;
 For the Lord delights in you, 
And to Him your land will be married.” Isaiah 62: 4 (NASB)

Am I delightful? Am I lovely? Well, maybe I was – at some earlier time as a little girl dancing around the backyard in the wind, or a young woman with runner’s legs and long black hair. But am I – this over-fifty woman, tired, overweight and wrinkling- could I be – lovely still?”

This central feminine question begs an answer no matter the age – even the young beauty with her iphone capturing that alluring “selfie” asks it. When I was young I stabbed my own heart with this query, doubting and worrying because I looked at my physical imperfections with such hateful judgment.

“What if you have a genuine and captivating beauty that is marred only by your striving?” (Stasi Eldredge, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul)

I wasted my years of youthful beauty and I watch young women around me doing the same. How is it that we can see so clearly the loveliness of our friends – their wide generous smiles, bubbly laughter, fun curly hair, sparkly eyes, smooth skin -and have no vision for our own?

I hope that age will not steal my beauty. As Charles Dickens wrote, “Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers, and are famous preservers of good looks.”

Author Stasi Eldredge teaches us, “beauty is an essence that is given to every woman at her creation…because she bears the image of God. She doesn’t have to conjure it, go get it from a salon, have plastic surgery or breast implants.”

God thinks we are lovely. At any age. Really, He does.

I am beginning to believe it.

 

 

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