Lost things…

I do this thing sometimes.

I lose my Joy.

One minute it’s there, and somehow, in the demands and disappointments of life, I misplace it.

So I start patting my proverbial pockets. I know it couldn’t have gone far. It was here but a minute ago….

Bereft at it’s loss, the first place I check is prayer. Rummaging through that pocket it’s plump full of confession, repentance, and petitions. Because as is often the case when I misplace Joy, I have a deep awareness and grief over my shortcomings and an excessive focus on my, as yet unmet, needs. There is a lot of stuff in here. But not Joy.

I dig next into the Word. This pocket is usually full of treasures. I scan text after text that normally shines bright with Joy and find it dulled. Experience tells me it’s likely not the text that has dulled, but me. The words, instead of Joy, bring with them an aching memory of it. Like the nostalgia of fried clams on a boardwalk mixed with sand, the sounds and smell of the ocean and burning of bare feet, it brings forth a Joy remembered and a desire to return, but the Joy itself… elusive and the more I return to it, the more keenly I feel it’s loss.

And this is where God does this thing.

One last pocket to check.

Maybe it should have been my first, as this is often what God uses to direct me back to this lost thing.

I sit and listen to a message given by a brother in Christ in which the spoken words ring loud enough to hear through the noise of our daily life.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

He cares for you.

Then a stop at the church office yields an envelope full of incredible generosity in answer to secret anxiety and one of the many prayers in that other pocket. A need only known to our Father.

He cares for you.

Immediately follows new test results that give some hope and a direction to this gnawing fatigue, infections and insomnia.

He cares for you.

Our pastor’s passionate message on the one lost sheep and His relentless pursuit of … lost things. Lost people.

Luke 15:4

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Because He cares for you.

And then as I sit in worry about these kids and the pocket full of prayers seemingly unmet and unanswered I get a slow trickle of response. Texts from a small group, sweet brothers and sisters who join in our petitioning. Emails from specialists who care and teachers and staff from school that are eager to help. Oh, not an answer to all the questions, but a sweet reminder that God goes before all of this too. Whether I can see it yet or not.

Because He cares through them.

And with each reminder from community, from fellowship in the Body of Christ, there is a spark of that which I search for. That I’d thought lost. Each spark illuminating the way back to Joy. I hold each one to my heart and pray for that spark to ignite a flame. Joy unsurpassed and uninhibited by circumstance because it is Joy in the One who cares for me.

The One who breathes stars, pursues and cares for me and though I may misplace knowledge, I will never, myself, be lost again.

Dissection of a servant heart

I’ve always loved to read, though the content has changed significantly over the years. One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis and though I return to his books often, I’ve recently found a new love of biographies and auto biographies. My favorites happen to be of some wonderful old saints like George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, and Charles Spurgeon. I read through the lives of these incredible brothers and sisters in Christ and they both encourage and convict me with their faithful perseverance and joyful service to our Lord. If you don’t know them, for the sake of this blog, you need only know that the size and scope of their ministries was only surpassed by their great faith and reliance on their God. Which resulted in great Kingdom impact.

And it never fails when I close the book for the night.

I want to serve like them. I want to minister to orphans. Great multitudes of them (or maybe more realistically, foster children).

To save exploited children and show them the love of their Father.

I want to tell of the Good News to the masses. The underprivileged, forgotten, broken, hurting, starving masses.

I want to do big things in response to the big Love I’ve received.

Don’t misunderstand. I also think that sometimes the big acts of service are the small ones too. I find great joy in loving chatting, giggling, exasperating teenage girls in my youth group, wiping snotty button noses in my Sunday school class, sorting dusty, dirty cast-offs for a rummage sale and even scrubbing toilets and windows in the house of my Lord.

But as I read these biographies I found myself wondering if these beloved saints ever wrestled with where they were called to serve? It seems to me that they didn’t. And it makes me wonder if this is my own peculiar stubbornness.

I sometimes look at our situation with special needs children as an obstacle to service. How am I to do all of the things I want to do when there is a constant stream of paperwork, medical bills and appointments.

If only I didn’t have one fire after another, Lord, the things I could do!!

Then I went to an amazing conference with Hunter’s Hope. An organization that serves families affected by Leukodysytrophy. It was while sitting in on a prayer meeting, fever raging from a kidney infection, that the Lord began to work on my heart.

The chairs were arranged in a circle with Kleenex boxes strategically placed about the small room, as couples made their way in from breakfast. In varying stages of grief, these beautifully brave parents and caregivers shared their deepest, most authentic, genuine, hurts, fears and even heart breaking anger. Then, they collectively placed their burdens in the hands of their Lord, asked for the strength and wisdom to glorify Him throughout the conference, and closed in praise and gratitude for the fellowship and provision given to make the conference possible.

Then, since I was feeling so ill, instead of making connections and asking questions I was forced to just listen and observe. (I tend to do a “doer”, so trust me when I say this was frustrating and decidedly disappointing. NOT what I’d planned.)

What I SAW was HOPE. I saw these same hurting, grieving, struggling servants shining light into what I’ve experienced to be some of the darkest of circumstances.

Because there were many in attendance who were trying to navigate the terminal illnesses and deaths of their young children… without Christ.

I saw these unbelieving families look upon these other, broken parents and wonder at their peace. At their ability to find joy. Wonder at their belief that their God was still good. And it made me wonder…

Did those parents of the prayer meeting realize how well they served their Lord? In and through the pain and daily struggle for peace. It was then I thought of those who God had used to serve me.

A pastor, who having come to Christ at the grave side of his infant daughter and a friend with a daughter with MD would be the only ones I could hear and believe when, in my own grief, I could not believe or hear God. And I suspect these precious families will one day, if they haven’t already, be given the opportunity to serve in a similar way. To be able to say, with confidence, to the similarly afflicted,”He’s still good. And He still loves you.”.

Then, I saw these same hurting parents present all of the amazing ways God has used and purposed their great suffering to ease the hurts and suffering of future Leukodysytrophy families. Dozens of organizations founded, books written, laws enacted, lobbyists created and activists activated to go out and comfort with the comfort they themselves have received.

And then I think, have I truly been willing to serve where He has placed me? In the relentless paperwork, medications, therapies, insurance battles, waiting rooms and fear filled future. EVERY morning when I surrender these children anew, have I surrendered willingly myself to serve where He obviously wants me. And am I doing it as cheerfully and joyfully as I would serving the next project at church?

And the answer is humbling.

Not always.

These last couple of weeks especially I’ve wanted to serve pretty much anywhere but where He has me.

I still want to serve in ways that are more appealing to me. Would still honestly much prefer serving widows and orphans, the homeless and persecuted. Would even cheerfully welcome the opportunity of a great inheritance to pour into God’s kingdom if you twisted my arm.

I’m far more comfortable serving from a place of my own abundance, than a place of my own great need.

Perhaps I do NOT yet have the willing, servant heart I thought I did.

Star Gazing

We live out in rural Wisconsin. It’s kind of easy for me to get caught up in some of the negatives of Midwest living.

Think subzero, hurts to breathe, snot freezes in your nose kind of winters and two week long summers.

But I’m getting better at learning to stop and appreciate the things I overlook in my hypothermia. Like the fact that our view of the night sky is unobstructed and undiluted. Unobstructed because we’re in the middle of fields and undiluted because we’re a fifteen minute drive from a gallon of milk and subsequently any “city” lights.

We’re currently experiencing our two weeks of incredibly gorgeous summer in which we have defrosted enough to turn the air conditioning on and break out the bug spray for our state bird, (the only one that survives the winter) the mosquito. We often stay up and outside as late as possible to enjoy every moment of it.

So yesterday I got to look at that beautiful night sky, not from behind iced and snow blown windows, but from the patio, reeking of “Deep Woods”.

It was magnificent.

How often do I pass a cursory glance over that expanse and only see those scattered few, bright, blessings shining down?

I sat listening to children bouncing on a trampoline, squealing with mock outrage over an overzealous sibling with a hose full of teeth chattering well water. I sat laughing, as our newly acquired (officially egg laying) chickens squawked over the commotion and ran crazy poultry circles around their coop.

And content, I gazed up. Focused in. To those bright, obvious, stars and then past them. As I panned across that sky, a thousand more came to my attention. These blessings aren’t as bright. They seem to get lost in the vastness in which they’ve been scattered, but the sheer volume of them is breathtaking.

Lord! How I overlook your blessings!

Oh, I see those that are closest at hand, that shine the brightest from here. I see the obvious food on the table, clean water from taps and roof over our heads. I see the ones that are measured biggest from my current vantage point.

But what about the others?

The ones that from here, under the heavens, appear so much smaller and less significant.

The gift of less. Is that a star, or a meteor? I can’t quite tell from here…

The gift of trial. Perhaps it’s a passing plane or satellite? Maybe if I squint…

The gift of the broken AC, water heater and car. The disability denial. The breast lump. The endless special forms that come with special needs. Certainly if I had a better vantage point, I’d see them more clearly?

And I think, someday I will. Someday I’ll look down on them from above and I can’t help but think those stars that wink so small from here, will flare brightest in light of eternity. Those blessings so much harder to distinguish living in the world will be clearest in their proximity to the Light of The World.

But some of them He shows me here. When His telescoping Spirit reveals small glimpses of what it must be like to gaze down on the twinkling blanket of blessings He’s laid over me.

Remember that lump of last month? That sure didn’t shine brightly as my biggest blessing when first I glimpsed it.

Then they told me it was precancerous. That these lesions are only found via mammography because they spread outward, instead of up, without forming a palpable lump. That I was two years from my first mammogram and if I hadn’t had that cyst that prompted the imaging, which found the lesion…..

And that cyst? It disappeared a few days after the partial mastectomy that removed all trace of the lesion with clean margins and no further treatment.

Some blessings sure shine brighter than others…. depending on my vantage point.

The lumpy, bumpy road…

This road we’re on sure has a lot of stones in it. The narrow path can be hard to navigate. Trying not to fall to the left or the right is tough when this road less traveled never seems to stay straight. Instead, we’re full steam ahead on a journey that has more twists and turns than the county fair roller coaster. I heard someone say once that if you’re bored as a Christian, you’re not doing it right. If there is any Truth to that, I have to believe we’re really rocking this following Jesus thing.

But the really cool thing I’m finding about maturity is that my reflexes have greatly improved. Usually, at a new bump or bend at break neck speed, I start with crying out. Right away I know to approach the One Whose stamp of approval has been placed on this detour. I occasionally start with the “Why me”, followed by (a little bit whiney), “What is it about me that requires THIS much correction?” Or maybe “What am I NOT learning?” and sometimes, “How long, Lord?”. This is a much quicker stop than it used to be. Because, well, reflexes. Muscle memory? Practice?

Next, I move on to remembering. Because when I’m nervous or scared or just plain tired, I know that I fail to practice some basic safety measures like looking in the rearview mirrors. Looking at where I’ve been reminds me of how I’ve gotten through, and Who is always traveling WITH me. Over every rough patch, through every close call, I can find strength in remembering that those situations seemed precarious at the time too, so surely there is hope yet for this one.

Then I slow down and remember to check those side mirrors and watch my blind spots. Because, in remembering, I’m reminded that this is when the enemy delights in trying to destroy. Destroy my peace, destroy my calm and destroy my deep breathing exercises. A bit of defensive driving here is absolutely crucial. I grab hold of that manual, that map, that Word of God and speak Truth to myself where lies threaten to sneak up on me.

This last couple of weeks I had some difficulty navigating. We hit a few bumps. The A/C went out in my van. Which isn’t such a big deal unless you have a kiddo that doesn’t regulate their body temperature well. Then, there’s the water heater that suddenly quits. And in the midst of a cold shower, another bump. Or rather, a lump.

In my breast.

And if any of you have experienced this kind of bump in your road, you may know the kind of road I traveled this week. It took a twist at the ultrasound, after the mammogram, when the radiologist ordered the core needle biopsy. Though I’d been in regular prayer over all our bumps lately, I will admit that the big medical words like radial scar and inter ductal carcinoma had me doing more of what would be considered, praying continuously.

I prayed continuously as they prepped for biopsy. I prayed continuously when that room looked more like a crime scene than an exam room. I prayed continuously that I would not lose my lunch, that I would remain conscious, and that they would finish soon. And as it was all over, I prayed for wisdom for the staff that would interpret the results.

Curled up with a couple of ice packs that evening I was still praying. My busy mind in direct contrast to the stillness of my living room, I made a familiar stop at “Why me”. Because I was feeling a bit…. afflicted.

Why us? Why finances? Why always medical problems? Why SO HARD? Why can’t we have “those” problems instead? You know, the ones those other people have? How much longer, Lord? And this whole pity party collided with gratitude for a Father that tolerates the questions of His struggling children.

So I finished my devotional. I finished my daily reading and I prayed for the ability to hand it all over to Him. For a peace that surpasses circumstances. Because I knew He could provide it, I turned off all the lights and crawled into bed.

When Psalm 41 flashed insistent through my head.

I don’t know Psalm 41. Is that in the first book, or the second? I’ll look tomorrow.

I tossed, turned, fluffed and got back up to take some more Motrin. Then tried again.

Lord, I know You already know those biopsy results and You’re already ahead of our every need. Please help me remember that and rest in You.

Psalm 41

1, 2 & 3…

That seemed rather specific so I picked up my phone and looked it up quickly on Blue Letter Bible.

Psalm 41
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.
2 The Lord protects and preserves them—
they are counted among the blessed in the land—
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
3 The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness.

Giggling and crying, because that’s how I roll when the Creator of the universe lowers Himself to not only hear my prayer, but whispers comfort in illuminated text. I shut my phone off and went to bed. And slept.

The air conditioning is still broken, the water heater still needs to be replaced and biopsy confirmed what’s called a radial scar. Benign, it should require no treatment, but will at least need to be removed.

But I have it on good authority that we are being protected and preserved and we will be delivered in our times of trouble. Not to mention being sustained and restored. I’m feeling far more peace about the road we’re on.

What Do You Have To Lose?

I just found out I lost another former classmate to suicide. Yes, I said it. Suicide. Because if we truly want to be there for them, we need to be willing to “go there” for them…to the uncomfortably dark places they’re in.

My heart has been breaking a bit today. Not just for the loved ones that are left behind (I’m so sorry) but also for the despair experienced by the one they lost. Because I’m acquainted with the kind of pain that makes you resent a sunrise, loathe your next breath, I can’t help but wonder if they knew the only One that can meet you in despair, and pull you through. Yes, this is where I’m going to talk about Jesus. The only topic more taboo, I think, than suicide.

Every grieving loved one left in the aftermath of suicide knows, you can’t be with them every moment.

I’ll say it again, because if you’re grieving their loss, you’ll be doubting and agonizing over that statement.

You couldn’t be there. You couldn’t have know exactly when that moment of hopelessness would come. We don’t have that kind of control, though we wish we did.

So for those currently in despair…this is your HOPE.

Jesus can save you here just as He does for eternity. I know, because in despair is where I experienced the LIVING God, as close as that next dreaded breath.

Just as any of your loved ones would tell you, you are absolutely welcome to call me, text me, reach out to me, and I will love you as best as I know how. But unlike some others, I’ll tell you honestly that I’m also very aware I’m not enough. At some point I know you will be alone when that despair crawls in and settles so heavy on you that you can’t breathe, a darkness so pervasive, you can’t see clearly the painful destruction you’ll leave behind. When all you can see and feel is agonizing pain.

So, I implore you. Set aside whether you recognize your need for a Savior. Set aside your belief of the existence of heaven and hell. Set aside any past hurts from religion or the church. You need not even share your weakness with anyone else!! But, please, give Him a try. In the privacy of your own home, PRAY. As if your life depends upon it. Because. It. Does. Ask, seek, knock. Storm the gates of heaven with your cries for help. Grab hold of His robe and DO NOT let go until He reveals His face to you. He will not disappoint. You will not regret it. What have you got to lose if I’m wrong?

And what have you to gain if I’m not? Relief? True joy? The assurance that you’re NEVER alone? Fully and truly loved?

Twice Saved

I met her twenty years ago, before either of us had met Jesus. Back then she sat in her recliner opposite the matching one her husband occupied, wearing what I would come to recognize as her typical uniform of worn out flannel and faded sweatpants. Hair cropped short and not a stitch of artificial color on it, or her face, she sported twenty year old glasses and a deep, rough, smokers laugh as she told stories of hunting and “mudding” and cleaning fish with her bare teeth. Okay, I made up the last part about her teeth, but she definitely cleaned her own fish, along with anyone else’s. She was “butch” before being butch was cool. She fascinated and scared me in equal measures…and I was dating her son.

Over the next several years, we’d shop together, eat together, smoke together and laugh together. Turned out she wasn’t as scary as she seemed and neither was her son. I married him and gained her.

She liked to tease that she liked me better than him and that there were no refunds, he was mine for good. But she’d prove over and over again that she loved us both the same. She called me her daughter, and he was still her son. She’ll always be my Mom.

We built our home, and our family, right next door to this lady with the men’s size 10 feet. And those feet would regularly make the trek between the houses for awhile. Three grandkids would soften and delight that rough around the edges lady in ways I hadn’t seen coming. They’d light up her face and dull her colorful vocabulary.

Until those work damaged arms screamed loud for pain meds. And the doctors gave them.

And then gave more.

Until that hard working, hard loving, hard living Mom stayed put in that worn out recliner for years. Barely recognizable, she stopped working, stopped loving and stopped living. Sometimes only awake for a few hours a day.

We thought we lost her for good then. That generous lady that sent diaper coupons to distant nieces and nephews starting their own families, dozens of bottles of baby soap and lotion to the ones that were close, paper plates and napkins for every family get together and cards to everyone for every occasion.

Then, just when we were grieving our own personal tragedy…she met Jesus.

Now, when a person taking enough oxycontin to bring down a horse tells you they’ve been talking to Jesus, you don’t take them too serious like. You start believing that this is about to be another personal tragedy. And you start crying out to your own personal Jesus (the One that tends to speak to you through His Word, in your prayer closet, not in the flesh) for some relief.

That’s when it happened. It turned out her Jesus and our Jesus were the same and He told her to dump out her pain medication, that she didn’t need it anymore. So she did.

Because Jesus can reach you even in a drug induced fog and when He tells you to do something….you do it.

Twenty years of narcotic use fell away like as many chains, gone as quickly as those pills skittered and slid to the bottom of the garbage can. And those doctors that gave them to her? Kept her for three days to witness a miracle by the Great Physician. No withdrawal, no pain. Until they finally said they had no reason to keep her and no medical explanation for what just took place.

Her miracle wasn’t without some consequences though. Twenty years of increased doses did some damage to both brain and body but for the next two years she learned to live and love hard again and we enjoyed every minute of learning to live with, and love her, back.

She played BINGO, returned to competitive shooting, watched middle school orchestra concerts and elementary school programs. She went to movies, the town fair (complete with kiddie rides), filled grandkids full of junk food and ice cream, and even learned how to use a debit card. She laughed, and played, and even though she might not have had the capacity to read and study the Bible, I absolutely believe she knew and trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

In fact, she’d tell you He saved her twice.

Today, my greedy, selfish, heart is a little disappointed it doesn’t appear that He’s going to save her a third.

I’m grieving the pending loss of our Mom and Grammy from this world while trying to remember to be grateful for the gift she was. Trying to thank Him for giving her back to us once, long enough to soak up her silly personality and sweet generosity at a time we desperately needed both.

Praising a loving Savior powerful enough to save us from both the grave, and the chains that bind us here.

Rejoicing in the knowledge that no matter what, we will meet again, in heaven.