Friday, October 29, 2010

What I Deserve

But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness[a] that saved you.) God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich kindness in the world to come. God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It’s not the result of anything you’ve done, so no one can brag about it.   Footnotes:  a. Ephesians 2:5 Or “grace.”  (Ephesians 2:4-9, GWT)

Okay, show of hands -- How many of you have said more than once in your times of trial, "I don't deserve this!"  If you raised your hand (and I hardly think you're in touch with your human frailty if you didn't), you're certainly not alone.  There is no way that we, in our right human minds, would think we deserve anything but life's best. 

Here's how the thinking goes, at least for me.  I've worked hard all my life.  I haven't killed anyone.  I'm a good person.  I've been through a lot.  I'm entitled to better than this.  A good God wouldn't allow me to suffer like this.  I deserve a break.

But when I exchange my "right human mind" for God's way of thinking, I see different.  I realize that I am in no position to be thinking I deserve anything but shame and punishment.

Before you roll your eyes and bug out, track with me on this one.  You see, I was a person who lived fast and loose in life.  I was a party girl.  College was one big blur filled with things you would never want your child doing.  I married a drummer in a local band.  After miscarrying a baby, our marriage fell apart, both of us straying and choosing divorce.  I found the man of my dreams and ended up marrying again, living the good life.  We had it all -- a lake house, tropical vacations and wild parties with our friends.  But then, three years into our marriage, I miscarried another baby.  This ended up being a turning point in my life as stunned, I thought, What did I ever do to deserve this?  It resulted in me softening enough to attend a Bible study one night.  I felt like the veil had lifted from my eyes at that study, and I became a Jesus follower from that point on.

Now, you'd think that would be the happy ending to my story, but it's not.  I thought, as so many of us foolishly do, that my life would get easier once I became a committed Christian.  It was quite the opposite.  From that point forward, the trials flooded rather than trickled in.  We discovered that we had an infertility issue and had great difficulty conceiving children.  "Stupid human tricks", as I call them, were needed to grant us both our eldest and our middle children.  My husband experienced 5 episodes of joblessness over a stretch of only 7 years through no fault of his own.  Hemophilia entered our lives along with the birth of our second child.  And severe allergies, ADHD, SPD and, who knows what else, continue to parade in with our third child.  Ironically, that third child came from a high risk pregnancy where I had to be off my feet for the last 4 months before delivery.  We've grieved the death of both of my in-laws, and said goodbye to a number of good friends who have left this world too early.  Each of these things leaving us traumatized and feeling that this was far less than what we deserve.

But the truth of the matter is that we deserve hell.  You see, even our worst suffering has been better than that, filled with laughter even in the midst of tears.  And we were people who marched through life, gossiping, having sex outside of marriage, cheating on our taxes, lying when it benefited us and being utterly self-centered.  God tells us in His word that this is sin, and He is so good that He can't be anywhere near that.  As I have grown in my faith walk, I have seen how undeserving I am of all the blessings He has lavished upon me (see 1 John 3:1).  As I often tell my hubby, the uglier I am willing to admit I am, the more beautiful God looks!  When I come to the realization of how awful my sin is, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for me becomes even more amazing!

A side benefit to this is that, in light of what I truly deserve, I realize my problems are smaller.  You might laugh to hear that I talk to God in the shower each morning.  (Hey, where else can a busy mom find complete solitude?)  As I was getting cleaned up before yet another hospital run recently, the thought crossed my mind, I don't deserve this.  But this time, the thought came from a position of being undeserving instead of entitled.  I thought, I don't deserve this wonderful hot water running over my head when there are so many in the world who don't even have a safe home.  I don't deserve this refreshing soap and shampoo when there are people who are getting cholera from bathing in a filthy river.  I don't deserve this warm towel, these warm clothes when there are people only 30 miles away from me living under bridges, freezing at night.  Suddenly, God's goodness to me was far more overwhelming than any  hospital visit could be.

What do I deserve?  I deserve to have been the one on that cross.  I deserve hell.  But what do I get?  I get a loving, merciful God who allowed me to be born in a country where my kids get the medical care they need, food on the table, clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.  I deserve that crucifixion, but Jesus took it in my place and gave me eternal joy!  I deserve a crown of thorns, but God has made me His princess.  Wow!  How blessed am I!  How about you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Small Encouragements With Great Love

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)

Sometimes we think we need to do something huge to make a difference for God's kingdom.  But the Lord instructs us to do something simple that has become increasingly rare in today's hurried world. 

Last week, I was delighted by the phone call of a friend 3 states away who knew I had been at the hospital with my son.  She also knew that there were some heavy burdens related to my job.  In her loving kindness, she made a simple phone call and just listened.  We spoke the same language as we shared our angst as parents and ministry leaders.  It was such comfort.  She validated me, which was an enormous encouragement.  And despite her own burdens, she asked me what she could do to help without hesitation.  Where else could I find compassion like that?

In a nation filled with people who call themselves "Christian", this shouldn't be so hard to find. Unfortunately, it seems to be.  I know that I repeatedly make this point, but I see it all around me --  We move at such a frantic pace these days that we are failing to minister to one another in ways that God calls us to.  We run from one good thing to another, without slowing to be that Good Samaritan in someone's life in the simplest of ways.  Rather than listening and offering "poor babies", as one acquaintance of mine used to call them, we attempt to shoot magic bullets consisting of platitudes and false judgments.  Instead of coming into agreement with someone whom we allow to bend our ear, we often tend to do more harm than good as we whiz by.

Mother Teresa, one of my favorite heroines, earned great respect over time by living out what she preached, "Do small things with great love."  And therein lays the whole mission Jesus calls us to daily.  What Mother Teresa doesn't say is that those little things done in great love can make such an enormous difference in the life of another human being.  Every simple act of kindness affirms the value of the receiver, and echoes back in blessing to the giver.

Here are some ideas for how you might exercise this mandate in your daily life:
  • Take a walk with a friend, just letting them vent as you stroll along the way.
  • Send a silly card via snail mail.  It's always a treasure when we get something in our mailbox that isn't a bill!
  • Bring someone who you know is having a tough time some inexpensive flowers.  How often do we get to enjoy that simple joy besides birthdays or anniversaries?
  • Get together with people in similar circumstances and pray for one another.  No one understands the needs to be lifted up to the Lord like one who is walking a mile in the same shoes!
  • Drop off a loaf of really good bread (even if you didn't bake it) just because.  It warms the heart in more ways than one.
The simple ways to encourage another are limited only by your imagination.  Doing such powerful small things can become our daily act of worship. And once again God can prove through our actions that He is the ultimate recycler of our pains.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You've Got Mail!

Happy are those who listen to me, watching at my door every day, waiting at my open doorway. (Proverbs 8:34, NCV)

The other day I was scanning through some information on a rare disorder, and I read a comment by a mother that set me to thinking.  The parent stated that as part of her daily routine, she now habitually checks a search engine for any new information released on her child's disease first thing in the morning.  Looking for hope and others living with this unique challenge drove her to rush to this expectantly before she did anything else.

I suspect her story wasn't all that unusual.  So many of us parents are looking for that certain something to keep us hanging on with just enough strength to get through the day.  We're looking for that intimacy and that encouragement to lift the darkness of our circumstances.

But even those of us who aren't craving such things have a way of letting our computer take front-and-center in our daily schedule, whether by way of e-mail, Facebook or other venues.  We get knee deep in work challenges, the latest gossip or a corny forwarded joke.

Still, there's a love letter waiting for us each new morning that can make every moment more joyful, purposeful and hopeful.  It's God's will that we would have a personal, intimate relationship with Him, and we can most easily attain that by putting Him first when we arise.  History is His-story, describing how people just like you and I, born in a different place and time, faced the same trials, daily demands, triumphs and joys with His help.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us that there's nothing new that can happen to us that hasn't already taken place before.  Since He is the only one who's been here through it all, we should be eager to hear what God has to say to us about anything we face.  Rather than fleeing to the internet, we should be fleeing to the arms of our loving Father.  And He can offer something that our computer can't -- inexplicable peace in the midst of our storms.

In His classic My Heart - Christ's Home, Robert Boyd Munger describes Jesus waiting each day patiently in the parlor, warm fire glowing, for us to come and sit with Him.  Whether we race down the stairs and out the door, He never fails to still wait for us.  His love is welcoming regardless of our hurriedness or disregard of Him.  How many people do we get e-mails from that give us that level of kindness, forgiveness or consideration?

That's not to say that we shouldn't ever connect with others or use this valuable tool that's the gift of our era.  But if we don't start our day with hearing first from God, we aren't equipped with the filter we need to discern whether there is value to the comments or advice of others.  And that wisdom is definitely something we special needs parents need an extra measure of!

Go ahead, use the restroom and then make that pot of coffee.  But then light a candle and nestle in with the Lover of your soul to start each day.  Only He is big enough to handle and prepare you for everything you will face in the upcoming day.  And He's so very worthy of your time!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Of Fog & Faith

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights..."  (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV)  

We've been enjoying a lovely Autumn in Wisconsin this year.  Cool, crisp mornings give way to warm, crystal blue skies dappled with scarlet and golden leaves ready to make their descent.  Because of the temperature swing within each 24 hour period, we've awoken to frost-covered lawns and roofs which give way to a hovering fog once the sun crests the horizon.  The kids marvel as I push through each low-laying cloud while delivering them to school.  We praise God for the beauty of these unique days, knowing that while mysterious and sometimes scary, the fog won't last long.

How bland life would be without the wonder of this natural occurrence.  And yet, isn't it this very type of thing we try to vanquish from our spiritual lives?  When we find ourselves in the mist of unexpected diagnoses or difficulties, we shake our fists at the sky.  We buy into the lie that we should never feel discomfort or inequity in anything, even with our kids' competitive sports.  When trouble appears, as it too often does, we utter, "How could a loving God allow this?"  But we reveal our endurance to be waning and our memories to be short when we entertain such thoughts.

Today's passage imparts truth we can cling to.  Faith tested is, in fact, no faith at all!  It is by having pressed on through the fog that we begin to trust that pleasant hills or impending warmth lays on the other side.  It's knowing that God has seen us through before that we come to realize that He will never leave us or forsake us.  When we witness the eeriness of that lingering gauze in contrast to the crispness of brilliant color, we have the overflowing joy of seeing how big our God really is.  It's times like these where our faith is stretched and grown, and suddenly becomes beneficial to both ourselves and those around us.

Do you find yourself in a troubling place today?  Is it difficult to see ahead and even know what direction you're going in?  Trust your Creator in those times you can clearly see evidence of His presence.  He remains faithful still.