Friday, December 2, 2011

Black Friday

I hate the word grief. I guess that it is the word most commonly used to describe the way I feel right now but I still don't like it. Perhaps the reason why I don't like it is the voice in my head that says to me, "How does Grief know how I feel! I don't even know Grief!" It is as if Grief is a person. A person who I don't particularly like and who I find extremely annoying, who shows up unexpected, unannounced, at the worst times to remind me how I feel. He doesn't even know how I feel- and I don't want to tell him. He makes me angry.
 I don't like the expectation. The expectation that comes with Grief. The expectation that somehow, someone named Webster put a few words together to describe grief- and that is supposed to describe how I feel. Now, through Grief and Expectation, the world sees me. The world just keeps looking at me through Webster's eyes and supposes that it understands what he describes as grief, so therefore it supposes that it understands me! Then it looks away, going back to its business, knowing its better not to cry over spilled milk. The world looks away going back to the daily routine and putting Webster's definition of grief back on the shelf. The world has no time or use for grief, it is much more pleasant when it stays on the shelf where Webster put it. Grief does not know me, yet I am defined by grief. Grief does not define who I am, but when the world looks at me and sees grief, it reminds me that Grief thinks it knows me.
The truth is, grief really is like spilled milk. It's a mess! Everyone is sitting around the table eating and drinking when the glass of milk gets bumped. Everyone jumps. Everyone screams! People are in shock, some cry. They can't believe what just happened. Immediately people scurry around looking for ways to help. Sopping and mopping begin. The table linens are changed. Clothes are changed. The broken glass is swept up and special care is taken to get all the tiny fragments that went flying across the room. The dinner plate full of milk is thrown away. Then everyone sits down again, with clean clothes, another serving of dinner and the conversation resumes.
But the milk, keeps dripping. It runs through the crack in the table and starts dripping on the floor. The puddle on the floor soaks into the carpet below. As it dries, it leaves a foul smell and an ugly stain. Days later someone asks what that funny smell is and where is it coming from. Then they remember the spilled milk. Scrubbing and cleaning are not going to remove the stain. It is permanent.
I feel like the milk is still dripping. This was not just a glass of milk that spilled, this was huge. My whole life spilled all over the table. It took years to clean up the mess. There have been so many people who have worked so hard to help put everything back together but the milk is still dripping and the stain is still there under the table.
On Black Friday most of the world went shopping. I went to Fritz's grave. It was a beautiful day, as it has been every time I have gone to the cemetery. I was overcome with grief the moment I laid eyes on his gravestone. It was as if the pitcher of milk had just fallen, crashing against the beautiful new stone that had been set at Fritz's head. The milk splashed again over my entire life. Painful. Heart wrenching. Heaving sobs came up from deep within me and spilled all over that grave. I wanted to lay on top of it and sink down into the earth with him. I stood for a long time, paralyzed by the harsh reality that I cannot be with him any longer.
The tears began to slow and my heart became quiet as I sat down at the edge of the stone. The sun shined down on us as I sat there and wrote Fritz a letter. When I was finished I tucked my little dragonfly notepaper into an envelope, sealed it with a kiss, and placed it near his head. A small rock held it in place as I turned and walked away.
 I wanted to leave grief there at the cemetery but it did not stay. It followed me home. The stain is still there, hiding under the table where the milk continues to drip. I am certain the stain is permanent.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Turn The Clocks Back

     It seems like kind of an oxymoron doesn't it? A dream come true? To be able to turn the clocks back. It's something that makes all of us wonder about the 'what ifs'?  What if I had pursued a different career or chosen a different course of study in college? Where would I be now? What if I had moved to California or become a missionary? What would life be like? What if I had the courage to teach myself to be a better swimmer and had done a triathlon? Or if I actually wrote the book I have thought about for years? Some might wish they could erase the wrinkles and the gray hair.  For me, the truth is there is not a lot I would change about my own life but I guess it's a natural question to ask. What would life be like if we could turn the clocks back and do it all over again.
     Today is the end of Daylight Savings Time. We will turn our clocks back one hour tonight. Makes me wonder how in the world the concept of Daylight Savings Time was ever started. Isn't that kind of messing with the laws of nature just a little? Would it be stretching it too far to say it was messing with the law of God? Afterall, He is the One who created the times and the seasons.Who in the world thought of this and how did they convince the entire western world to go along with it? A quick google search on the subject told me that Ben Franklin preferred to take advantage of every hour of daylight. He actually suggested that a cannon be used every morning at sunrise to rouse the townspeople from their beds.
      Does anyone actually change the clocks at 2 am? Let's face it, most just do it before going to bed on Saturday night, or go around the house changing all the clocks when they wake up on Sunday morning. It usually takes me a few days, or weeks to get around to changing all of them. You know how it is, by the time you get around to the back bedroom  that no one uses anymore, and take out the owners manual to help you remember how to  change the clock in the car, sometimes weeks have passed. Who has time to bother with all that? Last spring I actually had to buy a new watch because I finally gave up trying to figure out how to change the time. (This was not a simple watch....)
     Year after year we turn our clocks back in the fall and push them ahead in the spring. I always have to say to myself, "Spring ahead. Fall back." in order to remember which is which. Many people look at the time change in reference to sleep. "I gain an hour of sleep" or "I lose an hour of sleep". Personally, I prefer to look at it another way. Of course I like to sleep, but I would rather do it when it is dark. I prefer to be up before the sunrise in order to enjoy the best part of the day for as long as possible.  Fritz was always the exact opposite. We used to joke that if he stayed up just a little longer, and I could get up just a little earlier we could meet in the middle and enjoy some time together. That was back in the days when he was always staying up late working on writing papers for seminary classes. We were always so busy trying to get our kids, or someone else's teenage kids here, there, and everywhere we seldom got much time together during 'normal business hours'.Technically I guess the 'sleepers' are right since the change takes place during hours that most people are sleeping.
Cinderella would have loved Daylight Savings Time. She would not have had to rush out of the Ball like she did and could have spent another hour dancing with her handsome prince. Maybe if she had that extra hour she would not have lost her glass slipper as she ran out the door and down the steps to her coach. But of course that would mean the prince had no way to find her again. I think Cinderella's Ball must have been about this time of year. Her coach was made from a pumpkin, and was driven by a team of mice. Maybe it was Halloween. Wouldn't she have been happy to find out at midnight that she gets an extra hour with her prince and did not have to rush away before her dress turned back to rags.
I enjoy thinking about what I will do with the extra hour I will get once a year. I think of it as a special treat. A gift from God. Many times I plan to spend my hour reading if I have a book that I am enjoying. Some years I have chosen to bake some banana bread or other yummy treat for my sleeping children. Sometimes I have planned to go running when I normally wouldn't have had time. Whatever I end up doing with my hour of time, I am grateful to God. Each day of our life is a gift from Him but the hour that only comes once a year is a good time to remember how special the gift of life is.
     This year I find myself wishing, as Cinderella did, that the clock could go back and I would have one more hour with my handsome prince. That I could stay in those moments beside his bed. Cherishing every minute, every breath, every heartbeat. Listening carefully to every word he had to say. Comforted by the time that we had together. Thanking God for his life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fragrance of the Honeysuckle

As I was out running through my neighborhood yesterday morning I was met by the fragrance of the Honeysuckle. Beautiful, sweet, and pleasant. As I was running along, every so often I would notice it again. When I would turn and look, sure enough I could see the little white flowers peeking out from behind a weed patch along the side of the road or sometimes planted in someone's flower patch in their front yard. It was often barely noticeable except for the beautiful fragrance. I recognized the smell right away. As a matter of fact, I actually was waiting, anticipating its arrival. The fragrance is so distinct it brings me back, reminding me of a time about a year ago.
Last spring I was preparing for the Marine Corp Half Marathon. It was the week before the race so I was planning to do a relaxing 6 mile run in the battlefield. We are blessed to live only a mile from the Spotsylvania Courthouse Civil War Battlefield.  In my quiet time that morning I had been reading about the fragrance of Christ. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 15, "Christ, through us, spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. To God, we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." As I began down the road at the entrance of the battlefield, I was suddenly keenly aware of the fragrance around me. It was so strong I had to stop and figure out what it was. It was inviting and beautiful. I wanted more.
With the contrast of the highway behind me and cars whizzing past, the path in front of me looked so peaceful. The road into the battlefield is quiet and serene. A beautiful place to run. Often a place that has become my sanctuary as I commune with God while I run; surrounded by nature and flooded by this fresh scent of the honeysuckle. It was as if God was inviting me into the sanctuary that day. Running down the battlefield road I smelled it again and again. I felt that God was speaking to me about the fragrance of His presence. It was such a powerful experience of His love for me, I will always associate the fragrance of the honeysuckle with the memory of that day. It will always be a reminder to me of the fragrance of His presence.
As I run down the road, even at times when I can't see that Jesus is with me, when I smell the honeysuckle, it will remind me that He is right there with me- just as He promised- all the time.
The fragrance of the honeysuckle-the fragrance of Christ- The aroma of God.
I prayed to God that He would be so close to me I could smell Him! As He came close, He reminded me that I will begin to smell like Him- and that He wants me to be the aroma of God to others.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feel Your Pleasure

About a year ago I took an interest in a new hobby. I bought myself a road bike and started cycling with a couple of friends. One of them had done a lot of riding with the local cycling club and at one time had even completed a Century Ride, a 100 mile event that I would compare to a runner completing a marathon. This was a whole new world for me. I was the Rookie and had a lot to learn. I loved every minute of it.  We would  load up the bikes and head down to Caroline County on Saturday mornings to ride out in the country where the roads are much safer. Once we had our helmets strapped, our shoes buckled, gloves on and our water and snacks ready we would gather up in a prayer circle before taking off. Each of us straddling our bike with the front tires touching, nose to nose, holding hands much like we did for a long Saturday run during marathon training.
When Shari prayed she would always ask the Lord that we might feel His pleasure as we ride. That was such a beautiful thing to ask of God. That we might feel His pleasure. What a beautiful prayer. Each week Shari would ask again for His pleasure. When I asked her how those words had become a part of her prayer life she asked if I remember the movie Chariots of Fire. Oh yes, from back in the 80's! A good movie that brings back lots of wonderful memories. (Fritz and I saw that movie together with a group of college friends long before we ever started dating!) When Eric Liddell was asked why he felt so strongly that he would not run on Sundays, in his explanation he said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." Shari was touched by those words and began praying that she too, would feel His pleasure. How beautiful. God does allow us to feel His pleasure when we ride. It is exhilarating, refreshing, cleansing, challenging, and peaceful. Much like our life.
I remember Mike Yacconelli speaking at Youth Specialties saying that if he died today he would say of his life, "What a ride! What a ride!" Three days later this well known, highly respected, much loved author and teacher in the christian community was killed in a car accident on the way home from the convention where we had just heard hi speak. Mike Yacconelli was the founder and president of Youth Specialties, the National Youth Workers Convention. His statement about his earthly life, "What a ride!" would become his legacy. He felt God's pleasure in his life.
Last week when we returned to our cars after a couple hours of riding I smiled and said to Shari, "I feel His  pleasure.!" Since then I have thought about those words several times and find myself praying that I might feel God's pleasure at other times as well. As I was driving to school the other day saying my morning prayers, I asked God that I might feel His pleasure as I teach the children. As I seek to give Him honor and glory by showing love to those I encounter, that I might feel His pleasure. It was as if God spoke the words to me- not that I was speaking to Him. I felt that He was telling me, "Feel My pleasure!". God began to open my eyes of understanding to receive this new word from Him. He wants us to feel His pleasure in all that we do. To feel His pleasure when I spend time in His Word, when I spend time with my kids, my friends, my family. When I write, when I run. His word says, "whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Col. 3:17, and then in verse 23, "whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord."The more we feel His pleasure, the more intimately connected we feel to Him. We recognize His voice when He speaks, we hear, we see, and feel His presence, and we are drawn to Him. We experience Him. As we experience Him- we feel His pleasure.
In a time in life where I feel so much pain, it is comforting to feel His pleasure. In the years of Fritz's illness and the days and weeks leading up to and following Fritz's death, our family has faced the crucible of adversity. We have stared long and hard at hopelessness, despair and death. Painful trials have become a lifestyle. Pushing the pain away in order to cope with the trial of the day has been the daily challenge. At the same time, knowing we are on a journey- a peaceful journey in which God has not forgotten us is where we find our peace. I thank God that in the midst of this pain, He is showing me His pleasure. The prophet Isaiah spoke these words long before Jesus spoke them himself saying He will 'give the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness' Is. 61:3. 
Today Kelsey and I will go to Lynchburg to visit Kristin for the weekend. We will get pedicures, go out for dinner, and watch football. We will go to church together before saying our good-byes.
Lord, I pray we might feel your pleasure as we ride today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

God's Proving

When the power of God invades our life, the impossible is about to become possible. We don’t always recognize God’s work in our lives; it often comes in the form of trials and difficulties, not the happy times we have naively grown to expect, or to think we deserve. We may even feel we are entitled to certain amenities of God; things like good health, relationships with family and /or friends, enough money to live comfortably. These things are not too much to expect from God, are they? However, if we are to recognize His power in our lives, we need to see God’s favor at work instead of seeing trials and difficulties when things don’t go as we had planned. God’s word tells us that there will be trials of various kinds and many will suffer according to the will of God! In the epistle of James we read, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (James 1:2-4).  Peter also wrote, ‘…after you have suffered a little while (the God of all grace) will perfect, strengthen, establish and settle you.’ We want the blessings of God but we tend to reject the trials that go with it. We do not see the power of God in our lives because to us, His work looks more like a pregnant teenager, or a murderer.  This is how the impossible became possible in the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and for Moses, the servant of the Living God. This is how the power of God manifests in us as well.
Mary was just a young girl when an angel appeared to her to tell her she had found favor with God and was blessed among women. Who of us would not be excited to hear news like that! News from an angel! We all would love to hear that God is about to bless us and that we have found His favor.  None of us would anticipate what Mary is told next nor are we likely to think of it as a blessing. Mary is told by the angel that she would become pregnant- not by Joseph, the one to whom she is betrothed to be married, but by God Himself!! This sounded more like a reason to fear for her life than God’s favor at work in her life. More than likely, Mary had not pictured in her mind’s eye that this is what the favor of God would look like. Her response to this news is amazing and shows the depth of her faith and her character.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be unto me as you have said.”  She believed God could do something great in her life. She believed the angel when he said, “For nothing will be impossible.” The power of God was about to invade her life and the impossible was about to become possible.
Moses was a murderer. He also wrote a good part of the Old Testament scriptures that are contained in the Bible. He was a Hebrew who had been raised as an Egyptian in the home of the Pharaoh. He had become upset by the way he saw a Hebrew slave being treated and ended up murdering the Egyptian. He fled for his life, leaving the home of pharaoh and returning to his own people, the Hebrews, to live as they did. After leaving his boyhood home in Egypt and returning to his own people, Moses had an amazing encounter with God. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and tells him that his name is I AM. The Hebrew word that we translate to mean I AM is YHWH. The English inserted vowels in the word so that we could pronounce it, but originally it was merely the sound of breath; the sound of breathing; the sound of God breathing His Spirit into man.   Moses grew to know the Lord in a deep, personal way; the way many of us long to know Him.  Moses’ faith was challenged and deepened by the encounters he had with the Living God. With each encounter, God revealed His character to Moses through His many names. It was in the encounter with YHWH at the burning bush that God told Moses that He wanted him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt into the land of promise. The power of God was about to invade his life and the impossible was about to become possible.
 Jehovah Rophe, the God who heals, was revealing Himself to the children of Israel, by His servant Moses. After the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, following Moses to the Promised Land, they came to a place of testing. The water was bitter and so the place was called Marah, which means bitter. They quarreled and cried, wishing Moses had left them in Egypt where they had been slaves to Pharaoh.  The Lord not only provided water for them but manna and quail to feed them. As they continued on the journey, once again they came to a place where there was no water.  The place was called Massah and Meribah, meaning testing and quarreling. And again they began to murmur against Moses.  This place of testing where the water was bitter would prove their faith. They tested the Lord saying, ‘is the Lord among us or not?’ Jehovah Rophe not only healed the bitter water, he became the remedy for the bitterness of the people, all people, through his Son, Jesus Christ. The impossible became possible as they witnessed God’s proving. 
 If we seek to deepen our faith, we must seek to become more faithful as Mary did; and as Moses did; and as the Israelites did as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  Faithfulness and deeper faith will only come about through times of testing which allow God to prove our faith. God has certainly been my hope, encouragement, strength and help as He has proved Himself to me through his Name.  I have come to realize the trials that I am facing now are the work of God’s favor in my life. Through painful trials, blessing will come. I will be changed, and He will be glorified. The impossible must become possible. 
A few years ago my search for God, by name, began with of a book a friend had given me. One of the names that seemed to touch my heart and speak to me personally as I studied was Miqweh Yisrael.  The Hope of Israel introduced Himself to me by walking me into the most hopeless circumstances I could ever imagine. In the Hebrew scriptures, hope is often connected to the expectation that God is a deliverer who will save those who trust in Him. It urges us to wait confidently for Him to act. Biblical hope is a new kind of strength, enabling us to be patient and enduring regardless of what we face.  This is the kind of strength I would need in order to get through the next season of my life. During the times of not knowing what to hope for, God has been Miqweh Yisrael to me. For two millennia the Christian symbol for hope has been an anchor. What better way to picture the One who is utterly reliable, completely steady, invulnerable to all the forces of evil that threaten us?  If our hope is grounded in God, we will not be destroyed when gale force winds begin to blow in our direction, when fear, pain, grief, and disappointment threaten to overwhelm us. No matter how terrible the storm, we can survive because God is with us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Time We are Given

One day several years ago, as I was leaving for work in the morning, I was feeling a little discouraged. The price of gas had risen to over four dollars a gallon. Thousands of people's lives had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Fritz was scheduled to have an MRI of his brain in order to diagnose over a year of unexplainable symptoms. What was happening to our lives! Where was God!
It was the end of September, long after dragonflies, but there he was, lighting on the tall, gone-by Tiger Lilly. Reminding me that he was still there, quietly doing his work, faithful, merciful and loving; intricate and beautiful; beyond understanding. So like my God. Tender beauty in his wings. Strength in his body. Wisdom in his eyes. Comfort and joy in his presence.
The dragonfly has a way of coming back, reminding me that he is still here long after the hot summer season has passed. The day we went for the brain MRI, the dragfonfly showed up in the ladies restroom. Fritz had gone down the hall with the nurse to have the test done, leaving me in the waiting wait. I slipped into the restroom to pray. After a few minutes I looked up and noticed on the wall beside me, a large picture of a beautiful dragonfly. Once again, the dragonfly reminded me that God is with me. When I don't see him, when I am alone and afraid. Even in late October....he came back again....for me.
A few months later we were heading to Dulles Airport. Fritz was driving. I was stressing. The traffic was terrible. Kristin (our oldest daughter) was flying home from Boston, MA after spending a week with some friends of our family. As we inched up the highway, the clock seemed to take giant steps forward. I couldn't stand the thought that we would be late and wouldn't be there when Kristin arrived. This was her first time flying alone and know, mothers are going to worry. I put my head down to pray and when I looked up again my eyes landed on the license plate on the car ahead of me. It read DRGNFLY. I immediately felt the reassurance that God was with us and that He heard my prayer. The dragonfly came back again....for me. Over the years the dragonfly continues to come back when I least expect him, reminding me again and again that God is with me. He knows I need a constant reminder of His presence.
When my grandmother passed away three years ago my aunts and uncles planned to have an estate sale of all her belongings. Before the sale, all the grandchildren were offered the opportunity to look through her things to see if there was something special that we might like to keep. There was a little dragonfly pin. I don't remember ever seeing Gramma wear it, but there amidst a small collection of costume jewelry, there it was, begging to come to me. But it was too late. By the time the word got to my aunts and uncles that I had requested the dragonfly pin, it had found its way to a little antique shop in Cape Cod, MA to be sold!
A year later, in June of 2011 my Mom and Dad had just returned from RI where they had been visiting relatives. When they returned, Mom handed me a little red box. I had no idea what it was. When I opened the box I was so excited to see Gramma's beautiful little dragonfly pin inside. The dragonfly came back again....for me. God is here.
Fritz is confined to bed, too weak to even sit in his wheelchair. He is using the oxygen machine day and night to help relax his breathing. God I need you. Sitting under a tent at the cemetery, the casket right in front of me, it is a hot summer day. The crowd of people around the little tent trying to step out of the sun and straining to hear the words. The last words that were ever spoken for Fritz. I sat next to my mother holding her hand. Our pastor's beautiful wife filled the air as she sang Near to the Heart of God. The dragonfly came under the tent, flew over the casket with the beautiful red flowers laying across the top, then right over my shoulder, past my mother and out the other side. God you are always with us. Thank you for the dragonfly.
I recently met a new friend who shares my passion for dragonflies. When I realized our common interest I could not help but ask her what significance the dragonfly held for her. She explained to me that the lifespan of a dragonfly is very short- only about a day. All they are to do in life they are to accomplish in the relatively short period of time they are given. She continued by explaining that we also must accomplish  what we are to do in our lifetime in the relatively short time we are given and that we never know how long that time will be. How beautiful. How true.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Kernel of Wheat

When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem the crowd that had come for the Feast went out to meet him shouting, "Hosana!" (which meant "save"!). This is interesting because Jesus' name in Hebrew was Y'shua which means 'God who is saving His people'. The crowd that gathered that day was the same crowd that was with him when he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had spread the news, so many had come out to see Him as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus knew this was the ride down the road that would lead to death. He also knew he had to die in order to live. He had said to his friend Martha just days earlier, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Jn. 11:25. Jesus now turns to the crowd; to those who were crying shouts of Hosana and says, "the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant will also be. Jn.12:23-26.
Jesus had explained to his disciples that he would suffer many things. He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Then He said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
The God who saves, Y'shua, Jesus, chooses to die, that we might live. That is how He saves us. We have to die if we want to live. Paul said in his epistle to the church of Philippi, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ....I count all things loss but for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ....that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. Phil. 3:7-10. Paul also said, "For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain." Phil.1:25.
He who suffered is the One who is saving. He who died has been resurrected and He who was dead now lives. Man was destined to die once, but after this the judgement: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Heb. 9:27,28.
Remember what John talked about on the Island of Patmos? The suffering, the kingdom, and the patient endurance that are ours in Christ. Suffering is part of the plan for saving. Dying is part of the plan for living. Job, whose life was the epitome of human suffering said, "though He slay me, yet will I praise Him." Only by His last breath, as a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, do we live and produce many seeds.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dying to Live

I suppose that dying to self begins the day we receive new life by confessing our belief in Christ. When we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we are saved and we become a new creature in Christ. Our new life consists of daily dying to self as we grow in our faith and understanding of God and our desire to glorify Him with our life. Many of us do not truly begin to understand this concept. We don't understand the covenant relationship that we have entered into with God. And we don't understand that our life is now hidden in Christ and that the life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave His life for us. He loved us. We are called to sacrifice as He did because He loved us. This is so counter-intuitive that we can hardly wrap our mind around it. He died because He loved us and we are called to do the same.
I began to understand this a few years ago when Fritz first became ill. It didn't happen voluntarily or without kicking and screaming in protest. But as God began to peel my fingers off of my life using one unthinkable struggle after another, it was only after my fingers were loosed, my hands open, and my fists un-clenched that I began to see that God wanted me to die to self so I could receive the riches of His glory, the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that I might know Him better. The eyes of my heart began to open and I could see and know the hope to which He was calling me; the riches of His glorious inheritance, and his incomparably great power for those who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realm. Ephesians 1:17-20
Dying to self is hard. Really hard.The flesh puts up a good fight! When Fritz first became sick I was so overwhelmed by life. I remember returning from John's Hopkins University Hospital after receiving the news from the Dr. that Fritz had a disease called MSA which was short for YOU WILL DIE. (That's all my brain heard that day.) I came home asking how can I just go on living?! The answer is that I must die too. The kids were in middle school and high school. They were still young enough that none of them could drive. As Fritz's illness worsened he was no longer able to drive either. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent to three busy teen-aged kids who lived very busy lives. The responsibility I felt with my job was very stressful. Fritz's needs were changing quickly and we had to continuously make adjustments to accommodate his physical limitations.  The worst thing was I felt horrible about worrying about myself at all! Fritz is the one who was suffering. What I was going through was nothing compared to all he had to give up. But I had no choice, if I was going to be able to take care of Fritz and our family I had to figure out how I was going to stay alive.  Emotionally I was alone and afraid. Fritz was the one who had been given a terminal diagnosis, but I felt as if I too, was going to die! This is when I began to realize I had to die to self.
This is also when God began teaching me about the patient endurance that John speaks of. I was already running the race, but I had not been willing to follow the author and finisher who is now seated at the right hand of the Father because of His love for me. I had been just running around seeking pleasure. I had to die to self, to everything I held dear to my heart, and allow God to peel my fingers off my life. I had to trust Him. This was a lot easier to say than to really do. When my understanding of this was not merely words in a song or something nice to say; when it was flesh and blood, my husband's flesh and blood, my kids, and my own, it was the hardest thing I have ever been called to do.  I remember going to our pastor to talk. When Pastor Daniel asked me how I was doing I nearly fell apart. I told him I was barely hanging on. Little did I know, that is exactly where God wanted me, barely hanging on. As a matter of fact, God wanted me to completely let go. To trust Him with my life; with my kids, with my husband, my job, my church, my finances; all that I was afraid of, and all that I held dear.
Fritz is no longer struggling. I am no longer struggling. I do know Him better. He is showing me the riches of His glorious inheritance through His faithfulness every day. His strength in me is like the power he exerted when He raised Christ from the dead. Fritz is now resting. I am breathing. God is reminding me every day that I am alive and He is opening my eyes to see the hope to which He is calling me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


It was 3 0’clock in the morning.
 I startled myself wide awake.
The picture of his dying breath; a smile on his face,
as a kiss lingered on his lips.

The DVD keeps playing in my mind.
 Pictures from yester-year; from yester-day.
 scenes from our life,
 randomly scrolling across the screen.

Children sitting on Daddy’s lap,
 laughing and smiling for the camera
 as they blow out the birthday candles.

Children sitting on Daddy’s bed,
 holding out cupcakes and Mtn. Dew.
 The oxygen machine breathes softly into his nostrils,
 the bedside tray across his lap,
 the hospital bed, the only way he can move.
 Children sitting beside him
 smiling for the camera for Father’s Day.

The soccer coach. Tall and handsome.
Teaching young men how to dribble a ball
 and how to live their life.

Teaching children.
 Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.
Teaching them to love, and be loved.
 To laugh. To smile. To cry.

A picture of a friend.
 A friend who was kind and gentle.
 Always caring, always hoping, always patient,
 always faithful. 

 A friend who became a husband.
The words inside her wedding band,
engraved forever on her heart,
 “All my love, forever.”

Picture his wife sitting at his feet
 putting socks and shoes on his swollen feet.
 As she ties the shoes,
 a tear falls down her cheek as she says in her heart,
 “It’s an honor to serve you.”

A picture of serving.
 No matter the hour, no matter the day, or the need.
 He considered it an honor.

Sitting in a wheelchair
 confined by his own body.
 Trapped inside of legs and arms
 that won’t listen to him anymore.

 When asked “How are you?”
 he answers, “Pretty good, how are you?”
 On an especially difficult day,
 one might hear him say,
 “Pretty good, I guess.”
 Those who knew him well knew
 he was especially frustrated.

Picture a father and friend
 walking on the shore.
 Bending over to examine sea shells
 and wave battered stones.
 Finding beauty in each one.

 Showing his children
 and those he loved
 how to love life.
 Tender, gentle, and kind.
 Finding beauty in each one.

He taught so many how to love.
 How to love as Christ did.
 As only Christ could.
 He seldom used words to teach.
His life spoke loud enough.

A picture of a terrible day.
Filled with peace.
 A funeral. Filled with hope and love.
 Death filled with comfort.
 Tears that wash away pain. Songs that bring healing.
 A picture of a beautiful day.

Pictures of family and friends.
 Cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles.
 Moms and Dads.
 Holding hands around the Table.
Father, we thank you for this day.

The music continues to play.
 The songs scroll along with the pictures.
 The words echo in my mind as the melody plays.
 The notes gently playing on the keys of my heart.

I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering
There will be a day with no more tears,
 no more pain, and no more fears.

 Be still,
O restless soul of mine.
 Bow before the Prince of peace.
Let the noise and clamor cease.
In a place of quiet rest.
Near to the heart of God

Be still.  
Be speechless.
Be still and kiss the rain.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Patient Endurance

.....Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith....Heb.12:1,2
First of all, the race is marked out for us, set before us. We don't need to know the course ahead of time, we just need to know that if we just keep our eyes open and move forward, we will know where to go. We must fix our eyes on Jesus. Second of all, we know that the author and finisher has gone before us. We need not look anywhere else. No one knows better what path to take but He who not only designed the course, ran it himself, and now waits at the finish line. Don't you want to hear from the author and finisher, Jesus, when you get to the finish line? I want to hear him say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
"I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the Island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." Rev. 1:9 The author and finisher sometimes takes us to an island called Patmos in our race. Is the island of Patmos simply a 'water stop'? A port-a-potty stop? Hospital Hill? (I'll never forget hospital hill. Mile 12 of the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. The hill feels like it's a mile long, and it goes right up behind Mary Washington Hospital. Half way up, the runners pass a huge sign on the right pointing to the entrance to the emergency room.) Could it be when we face an illness? Lose a job? Lose a loved one? Whatever Patmos is, it is merely an island in the big sea of Life. And the author and perfecter has already been there. He has gone before us. He is the One who laid out the course, ran it, then sat down at the right hand of the Father to cheer for us as we run the race. Somehow I picture He and the Father and the Spirit standing up to cheer, especially when we conquer challenges like Hospital Hill or the Island of Patmos. I can picture the three of them cheering, calling me by name. I feel the Spirit in my body giving me strength to run. His hand on by back gently pushing me, and in my legs reminding me that those who hope in the Lord will feel new strength, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. (Is. 40:31) I hear the voice of Jesus, the author and perfecter calling to me, "Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for you souls." Mt.11:30 Oh, that sounds so good. Rest for my soul.
So what is patient endurance really? In Revelation, John refers to himself as our companion and brother in the 'suffering and kingdom and patient endurance' that are ours in Jesus. I think this means we share these three with John because of our belief in Jesus. The suffering, the kingdom, and the patient endurance are all ours. Jesus said to the church of Philadelphia, "since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole earth to test those who live on the earth." Rev. 3:10. Later in Revelation, John writes that when the beast of the sea is given power by the dragon, he will make war against the saints and conquer them. He is given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All whose names have not been written in the Lamb's book of life will worship the beast.  John writes, "this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the  part of the saints. Rev. 13:10. Again in Rev. 14, John calls for patient endurance from the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. We are told there is no rest for those who worship the beast or anyone who receives the mark of his name. Remember Jesus said, "I will give you rest."
Check out what Paul and Timothy say to the church of Corinth in 2Cor. 1:6. "If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer." What is Paul talking about? Is this the same patient endurance spoken of in other places in scripture? What were they, or are we being called on to patiently endure? Look ahead a few verses to 8,9,10. "....we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope.
Set our hope. The race that is set before us. Hope is set before us as we fix our eyes on the author. The race, the course is set. Marked out for us. If we are going to make it to the end, to see the finish, to run the course that is set before us and see the finisher of our faith, we too must patiently endure, and we must rely on God. Only then will we find His rest.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


     The words don't come as easily. The thoughts don't flow like they once did. What once seemed natural like breathing has stopped. Fritz has passed from life to death to life. I now have a choice to make. To breathe or to flat line.
Remember the water stops? Runners who need to be re-hydrated? Some elite runners thinking they are invincible, running right on by without stopping; their bodies accustomed to intense physical training. Are they the ones who win the race? Are they the overcomers?  What about those who quickly hydrate along the way, recharged and refueled, ready to tackle the next mile. Are they the overcomers? Many are not very serious to begin with. They have not disciplined themselves to train, and the only goal they have is to finish. Stopping to take their water, they look forward to the chance to stop and drink it, happy to rest while walking.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time. Just one goal- finish the race. Get to heaven. Doesn't matter what it looks like along the way, a long as when its over, you don't go 'there'.  A few people don't make it. You see them lying in the road, collapsed from muscle cramps, exhaustion, or dehydration. The ambulance workers tend to them, carrying them off the race course on a stretcher.
Remember the woman at the well? She was not an elite runner by any stretch of the imagination. She was not disciplined enough and had made many mistakes along the way. But she was consistent at least. She came to the well everyday, and she knew how she should live if she really wanted to do things right. She knew what the law said. Because she knew the law, she thought she wasn't good enough. She thought she was a failure. But she didn't give up; she kept trying. She kept coming to the well everyday for water. At least she knew what she needed when she was thirsty. She was a good runner, until one day Jesus deliberately interrupted her life, giving her living water so she would never be thirsty again. She realized she is good enough. She is not a failure and she is an overcomer. Her discipline, her weakness, her failures, and her ability to believe Jesus' words are what made her an overcomer. She became a great runner.  When Jesus changed her identity as a sinful woman to an overcomer she passed from death to life. She became more than a conqueror.
Our friend John wrote in his letter to the church, "we know we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers....this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (Jn. 4:14) It wasn't enough for the woman to know who He was, she needed to allow Him to change her life. To believe Him and obey Him and be changed by Him. She drank the water. Her identity was changed. She went back to those she knew and loved them like never before by allowing them to see the change in her life that was a result of her encounter with Jesus. She believed she was more than a conqueror. Because of her new identity in Christ, she was transformed by the renewing of her mind. She knew, as we are told in Romans (5:15-21) the gift is not like the trespass. The trespass brought death to many, but the gift that came by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, the living water, overflows to many. The gift, the water, followed many trespasses and brought justification, new life to all who will drink it. Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The scripture says, offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. The woman at the well offered herself to God as one who had been brought from death to life. All the runners are given the same choice. Run hydrated or hardly run. Run like you're thirsty. Live or die. Die like you're living or live like you're dying. Drink the water or pass on by. Drink the water and be changed, or flat line. Tasteless. Lifeless. Breathless. Flatlined.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. If God is for us, who can be against us? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. For me! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who shall separate me from Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, we face death all day long! All the runners face death with every step, and with every breath. No matter what we bring with us to the well or what we have to draw the water with. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Neither death nor life....nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:28-39