Tag Archives: Trials

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

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3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

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5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

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As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

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Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

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After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

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Why this is not “the end”

There’s been a lot of buzz this week about TV series finales. I’ve never watched Breaking Bad but I’ve heard a good bit of talk about the way that this series ended – “cleanly” and “decisively” – according to entertainment fans and critics. The closure of Breaking Bad has prompted a lot of chatter about famous final episodes of shows like M.A.S.H, Dallas, Lost, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, etc…

I find it interesting to listen to these conversations about open-ended finales versus settled endings. I never watched The Sopranos either, but couldn’t help hearing all about its infamous end. The black screen sparked outrage from fans. What happened?!? We’ll never know. There’s no definitive answer to Tony Soprano’s fate.

Seems to me (for the most part) we want to know the end of the story.

Today, I’m preparing to teach a high school health class on the topic of eating disorders. It’s a subject I know all-too-well from personal experience. And yet, I take sharing my story as a tremendous privilege and opportunity. While it pains me to remember and reflect on that part of my life, it also gives me hope. It’s redemptive. Eighteen years later, I can look back at that season of suffering and give thanks that it wasn’t the end of my story.

I think about loved ones – dearest family and friends – and the suffering that so many of you are experiencing right now. Your hearts are heavy and your spirits are weary of illness, chronic pain, broken relationships, confusion, financial uncertainty, and grief. Life has been interrupted. With you, I cry out to God. We seemingly stare at a black screen and wonder – what happened? Is this the end…

of a dream?
of security?
of being able to do things we used to enjoy?
of family as we’ve known it?
of hope?

(Jeremiah 18: 1 – 4)  – “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Ever felt like a lump of clay? Me too.

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(“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You are the potter, and we all are the work of Your hand” – Isaiah 64:8)

Ever felt broken, humbled, crushed, messy, and marred? Me too.

“Marred” is an unusual word, I think, that we don’t use very often.

 “… the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

To be “marred” means to be spoiled or disfigured, and there’s one other place in Scripture (that I can find) that uses the word “marred” –

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness …” (Isaiah 52:13 – 14).

This is our Messiah.

About this Scripture in Isaiah, Matthew Henry said: “His visage was marred more than any man’s when he was buffeted, smitten on the cheek, and crowned with thorns, and hid not his face from shame and spitting. His face was foul with weeping, for he was a man of sorrows; he that really was fairer than the children of men had his face spoiled with the abuses that were done him.”

While His essence was unspoiled and holy, Jesus willingly became disfigured and broken. On the cross, He suffered for our sin and our suffering. Because we are marred, the Messiah became marred.

It means everything to remember that the cross was not the end of the story. Because of the empty tomb, we believe in the patience and the power and the purpose of a God of new beginnings.

On the potter’s wheel, the marred lump of clay isn’t discarded. The soggy mass doesn’t get tossed aside. The wise and gracious Potter takes the marred clay into His hands. He reworks and shapes it as seems best to Him. The mess is not the end of the story. God turns the mess into a message.

I don’t how our stories this side of heaven will end. But I do know that on the other side of heaven our stories will have just started. They’ll be no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21: 3 – 6).

This illness, this brokenness, this uncertainty and fear, this grief and heartache. These sufferings are not the end. We know the End.

The One who says that He is the End is also the Beginning.
I am making everything new!”

Resources –
Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Isaiah 52: 13-15
Lysa TerKeurst – “When you give your mess to the Messiah, He can turn into a message.” from What Happens When Women Say Yes to God. See also “Turning North” – http://lysaterkeurst.com/2011/03/turning-north/

At Just the Right Time

My gerbera daisy is blooming with glorious golden blossoms. Although it’s October 25, it’s going to be close to 80 degrees here in North Carolina today. Perhaps it’s not that odd that my plant is enjoying an Indian summer.  What’s curious to me is that this is the first time this daisy has bloomed all year.  I haven’t seen any color (other than green) on it since last summer (2011). For me, gardening is not an area of expertise, but I think gerbera daisies are usually treated as annuals where I live. But this one held onto its green leaves throughout the mild winter, and I left it alone to do its thing come spring. But spring came, and the daisy didn’t do its thing. Bloom, I mean.  It survived but didn’t thrive. Until October. Until an unexpected season.

I know there’s probably a horticultural explanation…like maybe I was supposed to fertilize it or something.  But now as I look at these beautiful blossoms, I prefer to see God’s perfect timing on display.

Ecclesiastes 3: 11 says that God has made everything beautiful in its time.

Leading up to the fall, 2012 had not been an especially challenging year for me personally, though I observed a great deal of grief and loss around me. Dear friends lost their spouses and parents.  I grieved alongside, but it’s different, I know.  Except for the painful loss of a beloved friend and pastor, my mourning has been at a distance.

Spiritually speaking, I’ve been healthy and green, as in: spending time with God in the Bible and in prayer; leading women’s Bible studies; and serving with my church community.

One day in the late summer, I felt an inner prompting to sign up for a Bible study: When Life is Hard (written by James MacDonald).  I thought this a little odd because I couldn’t necessarily say that I was experiencing anything hard. But I studied counseling in seminary, so I reasoned that God must have in mind for me to take a refresher course.  You know, to help someone else.

Like my daisy, I am a late bloomer.

Earlier this year I was surviving. Now I am thriving. Not in a cheerful, carefree, outward kind of way. Rather, I am thriving in an unexpected season. A season that has brought uncertainty and sadness and fear.

In a new way, I’m experiencing the most fruitful dependence upon the Lord. I need Him to nourish my joy, peace, and faith and I find that His presence and hope are increasingly real.

While I was still in the “summer” phase of this year, I also signed up for a Bible study on Romans 5. The first eight verses were already pretty familiar to me, but now I feel as if I am reading them through new lenses. Perspective is a gift, even when it’s packaged in pain.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Believe me, in these verses, I have come to appreciate more fully the part about trials producing endurance, character, and hope. But you know what has meant more to me than anything? The little phrase I never noticed before: “at just the right time” (verse 6).

If Jesus met my greatest need at just the right time, I can trust Him to take care of everything else.

At just the right time.

In an unexpected season, trust Him to give you what you need, not just to survive but blossom and thrive.