Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Brutal Kind of Beautiful

(Before I even begin this post I am asking that the Holy Spirit would direct my thoughts and words to honor this family and Jesus Christ.)

A week ago Friday morning I woke up angry.

Actually I had gone to bed angry the night before.  Shep and I were in a disagreement about a particular issue.  In my selfishness and anger~ I had shut down any and all conversation.

My phone had been silenced. It had been placed across the house in the kitchen and out of my sight.

Friday morning Shep woke me up with coffee and kind words.  I was still irritated and I wanted him to know it.  So I gave him the proverbial cold shoulder.

Once he left for work I got up and starting doing our usual morning routine.

I think I heard my phone vibrating on the counter.  As I pulled up the messages I couldn't believe how many texts I had missed since the  previous night.

It was an unusually large number for 6:00 in the morning.

As I started scrolling down I stopped mid text and my mind began to race....

There were several texts that I had missed from my friend Chelsey.

(Chelsey and I met 5 years ago on a mission trip.  Our lives intersected at an ordained time by God.  We could not be more different.  She is a gorgeous tom boy...awesome at sports.  I am very girly and would rather steer clear of a ball of any sort.  She is also 12 years younger than I am.  We are in different seasons of life.  She is single.  I am married with 3 kids.  However we both love Jesus and we are both passionate in our pursuit.  Somehow we settled into a mentoring type of relationship.) 

As I read through the missed texts from her I soon learned that something beyond terrible had happened.

Chelsey's older sister, Kyra, had been killed in a horrible car incident.

I had to read the words out loud to even make sure that I was reading the text correctly.

As I read the text out loud I was hit with sudden and strangling fear.

Fear that these words were real.  Fear that this wasn't a dream.  Fear that my friend and her family were in mind-blowing shock and grief.

I was saddened and sick to my stomach.

I had gone to bed angry with my husband for ridiculous reasons.  As I laid there stewing in my bed the previous night my friend was experiencing a horrible tragedy.

She had sent text after text trying to reach me...needing me.

I immediately called my husband and through sobs I began to explain to him what Chelsey's text had revealed.  I asked his forgiveness for my anger and selfishness from the night before.  All of a sudden a shrill perspective had shown light on my shallowness.

After that call I immediately began trying to get in touch with my Chelsey.

In the shock of the previous night's events she had broken her phone and needed me to help her get it fixed.

After dropping my kids off at school I headed straight to her parent's house to get her.

The whole way there I prayed for God's comfort and peace to overwhelm this family.
I prayed that I would know what to say and what NOT to say.
I asked God to help me not fall apart.  I begged him for strength that I knew I did not have.

Kyra was the oldest of 3 girls.  She was a missionary serving in Rome, Italy along with her husband, Reid. They were raising three of the cutest little girls you have ever seen.  They were home for a 6 week break and were scheduled to fly back to Rome just 2 days after the accident.

As I pulled into the driveway, Chelsey came out the front door.  We locked eyes and ran to each other.

That sweet gorgeous tall tom boy friend of mine melted in my arms.  I melted with her.  There was nothing else to do more appropriate at that moment than to cry, wail, and embrace.

This encounter would set the tone for the following week.

A person's grief is their own privilege to have.  Witnessing that grief is also a privilege.

Chelsey spent her next days surrounded at her home by family and friends.  The outpouring of love and support from their home church and community of believers was something to behold.

She would come to my house in the evenings and sleep here.

Night after night there was nothing to do but simply be a witness to the grace that was so obviously carrying her.

It was brutal.

Waves of grief would overtake her.  Memories would flood.  Reality remained in tact.

Shock and numbness took turns.

There was nothing to do but weather it with her.  Sit.  Listen.  Cry.

I was somewhat braced for the brutality of this.  I give God the credit for that.  I believe He prepares and equips us for what He calls us to do.

But I was not braced for the beauty of it as well.

Several nights we would venture out onto the back deck.  It would be close to midnight and all would be dark and still.  Chelsey would play the guitar.  I would sing.  As she played songs of worship to God, a worship flowed forth that was the most beautiful thing I may have ever seen.

Words didn't come.  Tears didn't even come.  Just a melody from aching helpless hands strumming a guitar.

It was what she could do.

She couldn't pray.  She was cried out.  She couldn't plan. She couldn't answer the why's of it all.
She couldn't grasp.  She couldn't change the outcome.

But she COULD play a song of praise to her God.

I almost felt like an intruder.  This worship was other-worldly.  It was her offering.  Her sacrifice.

I just stared and watched the ministry of the Holy Spirit comfort in a way that is not humanly possible.

For children of God this should encourage and console us deeply.

Whenever our brutal moment of life occurs there will be One that is unseen but strongly felt.  One that will sing beautiful songs of deliverance in the midst of our living hell.

This IS the essence of hope my friends.

These eyes have seen it.

Day after day I have beheld a smothering grief that was matched only by a surpassing grace.

Don't we need to know it?

Don't we need to know that the Spirit really does help us in our weakness? (Romans 8:26)
Don't we really need to know that grace is sufficiently given to us according to our need? (2 Corinthians 12:9)

As I think about the words brutal and beautiful they seem like polar extremes.

Death IS brutal.

The death of a vibrant young missionary wife and mother of three goes beyond even that.....unthinkable.

Only God could bring beauty in any of it.

Shattered dreams and broken pieces of this current pain will eventually make a gorgeous mosaic of His glory.

I don't know about you but I need to know that.

The same God that allowed Kyra to be taken from this world also watched His precious Son die a brutal death on a brutal cross.

The outcome brought us grace.  Beautiful, life-giving, life-changing GRACE.

Those words~ brutal and beautiful.  Brutal makes us want to turn our heads and run away, Beautiful beckons our eyes to look and take it in. One repels and one attracts. One incites fear and one brings peace.  One makes us squirm and one appeals to our senses.

No one knows the length of time they have on this earth.

Kyra's time was brief.
Her impact was huge.

Her life spurs me on to imitate Jesus more.  She served Jesus well by serving others well.

I still ache for the family.

I still have questions that will probably never get answered this side of heaven.

But I am also still entrusted with a misison.

Grief and lack of understanding do not give me a free pass to not exercise my faith.

I am very much alive.

One day my time will come and God will call me home.

But until then life is to be lived.  God is to be glorified.

We move forward and become what is beautiful in a brutal and broken world.

Just as Kyra was...

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ."
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

For anyone that would like to view the celebration of Kyra's life and ministry please click the link below.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

He Gives Rest

I walked into Caroline's room this morning and turned on the lamp.

There was no movement.  All was still.

I just stood there.  Stunned.

She was asleep. 

Her body was completely relaxed.  Her breathing steady and strong.

Caroline is usually the last one asleep and the first one awake. 

There are still plenty of nights she will wake up in the middle of the night.  Restless.   Fitful.

For all of her life she has struggled with sleep.

It turns out that a lot of severely disabled children struggle in this way.

We have racked our brains and tried everything.

What we have come to realize is that she has to wind down.....

The rest of us walk and talk and eat and exercise and usually fling ourselves into bed from exhaustion.

She can't release stress in any way.

So night time has always been hard.

There is a lot of screaming.  If you think about it that is one thing  she can do to let off a little (or a lot) of steam.

She will kick the sheets off.  She will turn herself over.  She will kick the bedrail. 

We are used to all of that.

What we are not used to is ~rest~.

When I looked down and saw her sweet little frame enjoying rest I was overcome with joy. 

For her.

It thrilled my heart to see her enjoying the safety of her bed in her room that has been provided for her to enjoy.

I hovered there not wanting to even breathe because I just knew at any moment she would wake up.

But she didn't. 

She slept on. 

Finally I could not stand it any longer.  I crept out and grabbed my phone to snap a picture.  I couldn't wait to send it to my husband who could also appreciate the oh-so-rare moment.

(Turns out the flash did wake her up:)

After getting the kids off to school and beginning my routine I felt the Lord speak in His tender way....

"The same joy you felt to see Caroline at rest is but a taste of My joy when I see you receiving the rest I give you. Come to me.  You are carrying burdens too great for you to bear.  I give rest.  I hover over you my child in the same way you hovered over her.  There is faith in rest.  Strength is given. I created your body and soul to need it."

I closed my bible and slipped under the blanket on the couch.  I laid still and intentionally calmed myself before God.  Eyes closed.  Breathing steady. I simply fixed my thoughts upon Him.

I sensed His joy in my obedience.

In the same way that seeing my child at rest had blessed me~

I had just blessed my God.

"Cease striving and know that I am God...." Ps. 46:10 NASB

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

Friday, August 7, 2015

Disappointed Part 2

Trials and difficulties give us opportunities for faith or fizzle.

In my last post I admitted to a season of disappointment.

Let me clarify:  God does not disappoint. But I believe He is ok with us being disappointed.

God is consistently good.  God is always at work to produce fruit in our lives.

Allowing us to face difficulties, some of them lasting for years, has a way of producing such richness in us that God knows the pain and disappointment will be worth the outcome.

I believe God is good with that.

I always go back to Job.

How can we not?

The illustration is just too easy.

Job was hand-picked by God Almighty to experience pain, loss, grief and terrible disappointment.

God is about the process and proving Himself and us to be genuine.

He knows His own character.

He wants us to know it.  REALLY know Him.

Have you noticed that joy is sweeter after grief?

Grief is actually the catalyst that helps us really grasp joy.

A life without pain can't even really experience the depth of joy.

Y'all....God is all about depth.

Depth takes time.

"God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." Ecc. 3:11

Whatever time God has appointed for your life right is a beautiful for its own time.

It is accomplishing a purpose.

This disappointment can be a beautiful thing if I continue to allow it to accomplish its work.

My pride and ego hate this.

I want to work harder.
Do more.
Pray more.
Sing louder.
Do something to make it about my good works....somehow prove myself to God.

That is my default.

All the while God is trying to help me stop striving. Just sit tight.  Listen and stay close to Me.

That is all.

To the multi-tasking OCD girl that I have become...this method is offensive to me.

"What do you mean slow down? Rest? Listen?"

"How is that doing  anything?"

Here is the gist:  in all of my striving I am really doing nothing. 

But in my resting...He IS DOING EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Disappointment. Devotion. Living.

We are a fickle bunch.

If we are disappointed with service at a restaurant~ we usually don't go back.
If we are disappointed with a person~ we lose trust.
If we are disappointed with a song~ we change the music selection.
If we are disappointed with circumstances~ we look for a way out.

Disappointment is a tough thing.

All of us, in some way or another, are dealing with disappointment.

Or are we?

Maybe you just don't admit that you are disappointed.

Maybe you just don't deal with it.

Disappointment in our culture calls for a quick fix....a change.

People refuse to live disappointed.

Marriages end, relationships fall apart, rules don't seem to matter when disappointment is on the line.

We look for anything and everything to help us NOT BE disappointed.

But what about when nothing helps?
When a quick fix won't fix anything at all?

When the disappointments settles and you are left to feel and absorb and DEAL with every bit of it.

I will be completely honest.

Right now I am in the midst of disappointment.

It would be easier to lie and act like I am not dealing with unmet expectations and deferred hope.  The fake smile would make you feel better and it might make me feel better too.

But I can't muster it up.

A week or so ago I told the Lord that all I had to bring to Him was my disappointment.

How is that for a devoted follower of Christ???

I felt such guilt and shame for even admitting it.

How could I not muster up some measure, however meager, of gratitude and thanksgiving?!?

I had none.  And today~  I still don't have much.

God's Word has been some solace for me.

My man and a few very close friends have spoken truth to these ears.

I have taken days to process and meditate....and there are more to come.

God has remained so true to His nature.

I don't sense any anger.

He is loving me through this.
He is letting me rest where I am.
He is tenderly leading me at a slower and more gentle pace.
He is not leaving or forsaking his disappointed child.

He is simply loving her back to wholeness.

I am broken and tired and weary and sad and disappointed.

And He knows it.

But I am also abiding.

I am devoted to my Savior and my God.

Disappointment and devotion can coexist.

They can walk together and hold hands and wait for God to illuminate the next step.

My pastor preached a sermon this past Sunday entitled, "Grace to do the Hard Things Well".  Tears streamed down my face as I drank in each word and prayed for continued grace.

I do not feel like I am doing anything well these days.

But He can.

He is faithful when I am completely faithless.

He is strength when I am sapped.

He is water when I am dry.

He is full when I am empty.

He is hope when I have none.

He simply IS everything I need.

He is devoted to me when I am disappointed.

Today He nudged me toward a passage of scripture that He knew would speak to me.

John chapter 11 tells the account but I will give you the high points.

Mary was a follower of Jesus.

She had a brother that she dearly loved name Lazarus.

She and her sister, Martha, sent for Jesus when Lazarus became sick unto death.

They knew of His ministry.  They knew he could heal and restore.

Jesus did not come.

Here was a devoted follower of Jesus dealing with disappointment.

A couple of days later Jesus did come to their home.

Martha rushed out to meet Jesus.

Mary did not.

I have always thought that Mary was angry with Jesus.

Maybe she was.  But maybe she was just empty...and tired....and sad...and disappointed.

Maybe she didn't want to bring her disappointment before the Messiah.

In verse 28 of John chapter 11 we read that Martha goes and gets Mary.  We read that Jesus wanted to see her.

That is Him.

He wants us. He calls us by name.  He wants us close.  Even in our disappointment.

He knew her sadness and He knew He was her solution.

Devotion met disappointment.

He doesn't shrink back from us.  He isn't angered by us.  And (I have to remind myself of this one) He doesn't tolerate us.

He loves us.


Just as he called Mary that day in the midst of her disappointment I sense Him calling to me in mine.

Mary had a choice.

She could get up and go to him or choose not to.

Verse 29 gives us her choice.  It says, "so Mary immediately went to him."

These 6 seemingly inconsequential words describe me and probably so many others as well.

In our disappointment~ we still go to Him.

I choose Jesus.

The disappointment lingers and the wonderful truth is that He never leaves.

In times of grief and pain you see friends who cannot sit through it with you.

But then there are those who refuse to leave your side.

There are the friends that stay even when they cannot say anything or do anything to make it better.

They simply cannot leave.

Because they love.

He is that and so much more.

There is character to be built. There is perseverance and faith that must be proven genuine....

Somehow disappointment is part of this teaching process.

So I am choosing to trust my Teacher.

He is my God.
He clothed His glory in skin and came to this earth to live and die for me.
He rose again and claimed victory over death.
He sends His Holy Spirit to encourage and equip me.
He spoke the world into existence.
He knows the end from the beginning.

My disappointment does not make Him anything less than He is.

But it teaches me more about the depth of His grace, mercy and love for me.

Come ye sinner poor and needy
weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
full of pity, love and pow'r.