Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Surrender, freedom, and joy...

Right now, at this very moment, I am in awe of the beauty and power of surrender.

Take a look at this picture:
What does it make you think of?

To me, this image...that of someone standing with face raised to the heavens and arms wide open and extended...evokes two ideas:

Surrender

and Freedom.


Surrender because those hands are no longer holding on.
Freedom because those hands have no chains.

Surrender because those arms are fully extended with absolutely nothing held back.
Freedom because everything that once filled those arms and weighed them down is gone.

Surrender because it is impossible to guard against what is around you when your face is fully toward the heavens.
Freedom because you no longer fear what is and might be around you. (Ps. 32:10)

And this is me right now--my spirit.


They're synonymous, I think--surrender and freedom. At least with God. And perhaps...just maybe...the freedom we experience is limited only by our willingness to surrender. That's how it seems to be in my own life, at least. For the beautiful and powerful kind of surrender is only possible through trust. And sometimes letting go of pain and fear is even more difficult than letting go of dreams. And sometimes the dreams we cling to so tightly are chains, just as surely as the pain and fear are.


And then there is joy.

I was blessed this morning to read this story on a new-to-me blog. Go read it: Where Joy Lives

That is another picture of the same thing. Read this portion of the story again, and notice what I did:

I let go of my white-knuckled grip on the safety bars, all sense of stability and control slipping through my fingers as I put my hands on either side of his face. I tell him to quiet his heart, to not be afraid, to look into my eyes, to focus on my love. He does so and lets go too, reaches up and puts his hands over mine.

The world around fades away, as calmness descends, and we are no longer aware of anything going on outside our little cocoon of momma-son love and trust. I don’t care or even notice that people are starting to stare at the momma and son who have let go, who are not hanging on to anything but each other

{and faith.}

I stare into his eyes, watching the fear slip away and his face start to shine with happiness. I catch my breath as God whispers to me,

This…

THIS…

is where joy lives.

It is there--here, in the middle of freedom and surrender--where joy bubbles over and colors my spirit and blooms in my life.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Followed and overtaken...

Yesterday, my pastor said something in the middle of the message that caught me. It's been churning in my heart ever since, as a picture...a demonstration...that I knew, but that is now being revealed to me in a way that is even more real.

Here is a map of me in this world. A different kind of map:


Life feels like that a lot. I'm surrounded by things, both good and bad, swirling around me. Often, it seems that the negative ones are closest around me. It also seems that, for every good thing I desire in my life, the alternative is hanging around close-by, ready to clobber me if I'm not careful.

And somewhere, hiding in the midst of it all is God.

Now most humans (myself included) spent/spend/will spend a lot of time searching and working toward those gems. The problem is, when we're striving for success (for example), this is often what happens:

Success moves father away, and weariness and impatience and selfishness and bitterness and jealousy move in. And all the while, poverty and failure are hot on our tail. And God is still somewhere out there.

This seems to be the story, no matter what noble thing we're striving for. Those things we want act like we're the opposite end of a magnet--no matter which way we move, they scoot just out of reach.

Eventually, I came to realize that I was going about it in the wrong way. Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." The problem was, I wasn't quite sure how to delight myself in the Lord. I knew I loved Him. I wanted to serve Him. But I had this nagging feeling that the main reason I wanted to serve Him was so I'd get all those other wonderful things...which meant I was still more delighted by those things than I was by Him. And so I asked Him to change me...to show me how to delight myself in Him.

I started searching...harder and harder, as I clung to His promise in Jeremiah 29:13: "You will seek Me and you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." That's His promise that He's not going to act like the opposite magnetic pole. When we draw near to Him, He draws near to us, instead of scooting away like all those other elusive desires.

If you start reading this blog from the beginning, you'll see that He began to reveal more and more of Himself to me. And as He did, I began to find Him more and more delightful. More amazing. More awesome. More wonderful.

And the desires that my heart used to have keep fading away, more and more, only to be replaced by one greater desire...to know Him, and to walk with Him.

So is that promise a trick? We're not really going to get our desires, because by the time we fulfill the conditions, we won't want them anymore? Honestly...I can easily see how that would make some people not want to search for God, if He's going to make them stop desiring what they want most.

And yet, there's these two verses, which my pastor threw out in the middle of the sermon yesterday.

Psalm 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life..."

And Deuteronomy 28:2 says, "All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you."

I suddenly realized something remarkable about these two promises. Both indicate that all those wonderful things are behind me. There is no promise that I will find them (or that they will find me) as long as I am facing toward them or looking for them.

Not only that, I must be moving in the opposite direction. You cannot be followed or overtaken if you are standing still.

What direction should I be moving in? The answer is not just any direction. Moving toward poverty will not give me love. And moving toward selflessness will not bring me hope. There is only one direction that the promises hold to, and that is toward God...seeking Him and finding Him. For goodness and mercy will only follow me if I am letting my Good Shepherd lead me. If I am following Him.

This, then, is what following God looks like, and this is the picture that flashed through my mind on Sunday:

This is how life works. And this is the reality that I am starting to discover...for these things are overtaking me now that I'm not searching for them.

Life with God is so incredible!

holy experience

This is why, for today's Multitude Monday, I am thankful for:

358. Him speaking through my pastor on Sunday.

359. These pictures that God gave me

360. Psalm 23:6

361. Deuteronomy 28:2

362. The bounty of vegetables coming from my garden

363. The financial blessings that have caught me by surprise in the last few months

364. The peace that clings to me regardless of what goes on around me

365. The reconciliation I had hardly even asked for that God did

366. The patience and love that I sometimes can’t figure out what hidden spot inside of me it came from

377. His strength extended to me when I hardly dared ask for it

378. And grace because I don’t deserve a single one of these gifts.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How God cares for my children...

God is amazing in big earth-shattering ways. But He's also amazing in little carefully-planned and perfectly-executed ways, too.

As I shared on Tuesday, we lost a cat who had very much become a part of my children's lives. Well...because I shared that part of the story, I must share this part as well.

The kids asked us, just hours after we buried Lila, Monday night, if we'd get another cat. We assured them we would, as long as it was female, for we need another good mouser. Besides, Marshall (the cross-eyed male we still have) will need another cat to snuggle up with this winter, for warmth.

On Tuesday, I watched my kids demonstrate the strength I blogged about.

Wednesday, I saw a post on Freecycle from someone who had kittens that needed homes. I emailed her, but she didn't respond until after this story was over. (Obviously God's doing, as you'll see.)

Thursday has, for two months now, been scheduled as the day when I'd take the kids on the 40-mile trip to the Humane Society to get our 7-month-old puppy spayed. (It's MUCH less expensive than the vet.) The trip requires drop off in the morning and pick up in the evening, so we planned to make a day of it, visiting the library there and spending hours at the pool.

So we packed stuff for the day, had fun fulfilling our plans, and then, when 4:50 rolled around, we packed up our stuff, changed out of our bathing suits, and drove back to the Humane Society to get Macey.

I got there, and while I was waiting my turn, I realized that they probably had kittens needing to be adopted. I asked about them...and was told that the adoption office had just closed up for the day. I was a little disappointed, for the kids would have had a wide selection to pick from and it would have been a great ending to a fantastic day. But still...this is Ohio and free kittens are to be found on almost every farm around. We'd find one sooner or later...and probably sooner.

I got a very-happy-to-see-me puppy, went back out to the car, and started to pull out...only to see a woman and her two daughters get out of their car holding two very cute kittens. (I know, I know...almost all kittens are very cute.) Anyway, they were obviously there to be surrendered, since that's the only reason anyone would be bringing cats at that time of day. So I rolled down the window, asked a few questions, and a few minutes later I had three kids begging me to call Daddy and see if we could bring two kittens home.

Late that night we were all praying, and again my kids were giving thanks. But what my son gave thanks for struck me.

"Dear God," he prayed, "Thank you for Jasmine and Peppermint. And thank you that Mommy scheduled Macey's appointment for today, and not yesterday, and not tomorrow. And thank you for getting us there at the same time as the lady was bringing Jasmine and Peppermint so we could have them."

He's right. There are dozens of tiny things--just in our own lives--that could have gotten us there two minutes later, or two minutes sooner. That doesn't even include whatever circumstances contrived to bring the woman and her daughters there in that exact minute.

It amazes me to think of how many tiny little things God kept His hand on, just to bless my children with two kittens who couldn't be more perfect for us...For not only are they both females, but Jasmine is adventuresome and curious, yet totally content to be held and cuddled, just like Lila was. My girl loves how she's different from Lila, yet she's got the same gray spots on her paws. And Peppermint is a tiger-striped tabby and very shy and quiet...just like the cat that was my son's before she mysteriously died in the yard months and months ago.

Not only does God know when a sparrow falls to the ground, but He hand-picked two kittens for my children, then went to extraordinary lengths (planning some of it two months in advance) just to deliver them into our hands.

I know that some would say that He could have gone to a lot less trouble to save Lila's life on Monday...yet that would have invalidated everything that Tuesday's post was about. This story is an illustration of a God who sees a much bigger story than we do...who not only transforms what life throws at us, but who also wipes our tears and guides dozens of tiny circumstances-- just to deliver tiny bits of life to ease our hearts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life without walls and locks...

This isn't the post I had planned on posting yesterday. But I hadn't planned on yesterday ending the way it did.

My oldest had a relationship with her cat, Lila, like I've never seen. I'm not much of an animal lover, yet it brought me such joy to watch my girl go outside and call, "Lila-kitty!" ...And then watch this bundle of white and gray streak out of the woods and across the yard. Lila was a very small cat--only about 5 pounds full-grown--and she'd do this little thing where she'd hop up on her back paws so her head would touch the hand that reached down to scratch behind her ears.

Sometimes they'd come back up to the house, side by side while Lila's tail twitched, and other times they'd settle down in the grass for some time together.

But yesterday evening, a car caught Lila unawares, right in front of the house.

We knew there were dangers to loving cats that lived outside. Lila was the last of the original three we got two years ago. And yet...even my sorrowful little girl knows that Lila wouldn't have been happy kept safe in the house.

Lila was an amazing hunter...and she loved hunting in the rain, especially. (And boy did she look skinny sop 'n' wet!) Her balancing skills put the other cats' skills to shame. (I never knew there were different degrees of feline agility.)

If we had kept her inside, safe and secure, then she would have been just like every other indoor house cat that sits in a window, wishing it could be out living the life God made it to live. If we'd kept her safe, she wouldn't have been as special as she was, and she probably never would have become as beloved as she became when she was out, fulfilling the dangerous role that God created her to fill, and that she did so very well.

Last night, as I was laying in bed wishing all those things you wish at a time like this, God whispered something to me.

I'm gifting your children with strength.

My children are so amazing. Last night, when we prayed as a family, all three of them, with no prompting from us whatsoever, gave thanks. Thanks for letting us have two years with Lila. Thanks for giving my girl all those wonderful moments. Thanks that they "will never walk outside and find God dead on the road." Thanks for "that verse that says we can hide in the shadow of His wings."

This morning, my son did his sister's chores for her, unasked, while she sought solace in her music on the piano. And my little brown-haired wonder asked me if we could try to find a grey-and-white stuffed kitty for her big sister. And the one who lost the most told me that she quit being afraid that Lila would get hit by a car, because she was always so careful crossing the road...and she's glad she quit being afraid, because she enjoyed Lila's life so much more.

My children are strong. They do not have hearts that shrivel up into self-pity when life strikes a blow at them. They cry, and they give thanks for the gifts that were, and the gifts that still are, and the gifts that will be. They reach out to each other. They turn to the God who is surely becoming much more than just the One their parents worship.

And they can still sit down on the piano and with a guitar as they are right now, playing, "My Savior, Redeemer. You lifted me from the miry clay...You lived, You died, You rose again on high...You opened the way, for the world to live again, Hallelujah, for all You've done." And "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee...You alone are my strength, my shield..."

I have the same choice regarding my children that we had with Lila. I could go crazy working to keep them sheltered. I could put up walls and locks around them so that it is more difficult for life to hurt them...or rather, I can try. But I'll never totally succeed. Sooner or later, they will lose the rest of their grandparents. They'll lose me. They'll be hit by other things that I cannot control.

And in the process of reinforcing my walls and locks, I would take from them the life they were created to live...the life that brings out what makes them special.

God is seeing to it that they'll have the strength to face what He knows is ahead. He is showing them that His peace and joy are always there. He's teaching them how to live in the midst of a world marred by sin.


holy experience

And so, for yesterday's Multitude Monday, I am thankful for:

313. Lila’s life

314. And her death

315. That her death was “clean” and quick

316. The way she came when my girl called her

317. That she was never once mean

318. That she was always willing to be picked up and cuddled, yet she wasn’t annoyingly insistent

319. That God led us to that particular batch of kittens to pick one out.

320. That my girl picked the scrawny little flea-infested thing Lila was, rather than the tabby that the rest of us would have chosen.

321. The pictures we have

322. The memories and stories that last.

323. My kids’ strength

324. Their love for each other

325. That God has already taught them to run to Him for comfort

326. And that their trust in their Heavenly Father’s love is already deep enough to survive this sorrow
Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion