Fixing the Broken

Last night I felt like this:

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Mangled.  Broken.  Greatly in need of repair.

These were Aaron’s glasses a couple weeks ago after an incident at his day group.  Mixing all the various special needs can at times be volatile.  Even I, who have dealt with many pairs of broken glasses, was surprised at the level of damage done to this pair.  I honestly wasn’t sure that they could be fixed.

I took the rather hopeless mess that used to be glasses into our eye doctor’s office a couple days later.  I hoped that maybe, just maybe, they really weren’t beyond repair.  The kind technician couldn’t hide the look of surprise on her face, which didn’t fill me confidence that anything could be done for them.

Imagine my surprise, though, when before long she returned with this:

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WOW!!  Talk about a miracle re-do of what I thought was hopeless!  She received my profuse thanks with a smile on her face and the comment that she loved a good challenge.  I’m thankful that she did, indeed!

Being the mother and caregiver of an adult special needs “child” with behaviors can be exhausting…physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  I believe that about covers it.  And while I don’t want to come across as complaining, facts are facts and truth is truth.

If there’s one thing I’ve wanted to be on this blog, it’s truthful…truthful without being unkind to Aaron in my honesty.  Talking about being truthful, Aaron is just that…at least in his mind.  He has few filters, and totally does not get social norms.  He is often unaware of other’s feelings.  He gets stuck in his own mind about certain issues and is truly stunning in his inabililty to switch gears and judge those issues with good reasoning.  His own comfort is paramount to him, most of the time, so if his comfort is interrupted or his wishes unmet, we are often met with his anger.

And I get tired.  I get angry.  I did last night, when Aaron who had been happy decided to be rude just before bed.  He and I didn’t have our normal cheerful bedtime routine.  He was still out of bed, on his computer, when I went to bed.  I didn’t even challenge him.  I have no idea when he went to sleep.

I spent time with the Lord this morning, reading about the compassion of Jesus and knowing that I needed that same compassion for Aaron.  Somehow, it’s easier to show compassion for ones I seldom or only occasionally see.  Showing that similar level of compassion for Aaron can be very hard to do over the long term, day after day.

I was very surprised this morning to hear Aaron’s floor creaking before 7:30. Most mornings I must roust him out of bed…very unhappily on both our parts, I might add.  I thought this morning he would definitely be a hibernating bear, but no, he was awake and downstairs early.

He knocked politely on the bathroom door, and when I opened it with some dread, I was so relieved to see him with bright eyes and a sweet smile.  He even received the hug I offered!  We were off to a good start!

We sat in the living room, enjoying the warm fall decorations and soft twinkling lights.  I had intended to sit there and pray, but sitting with Aaron was important, I knew.  We talked softly about some of this and some of that.  Then Aaron decided that he could take his pills, but I reminded him that it was too early.  He wondered why, and once again I explained how he really should take them about 12 hours apart.

“So, Aaron, it’s nearly 8:00 right now,” I began.

He immediately looked at his left arm, pushed up his sweater sleeve, and gazed down at his wristwatch perched halfway up his arm.  I just watched with a smile on my face, waiting for what I knew was coming.

“It’s not 8:00,” he blandly stated as he stared down at his watch.

“Well, I just meant that it’s ALMOST 8:00,” I explained.

“It’s 7:41,” he flatly continued.

Gone was the lesson on the 12-hour rule.  Gone was my caring at all at that point about the 12-hour rule!  In its place was my laughter, deep from inside…much needed laughter.

And Aaron tolerated my laughter, even though he had no idea why the time of 7:41 made Mom laugh.  Many times, Aaron gets angry when I laugh, so I don’t…until he is out of earshot.  But today Aaron let me laugh.  This was a gift.

Later, we sat at the table where Aaron ate a plate full of fried eggs with the yellow hard the way he likes them and where he talked and talked and talked…about separatist droid armies and Trandoshans and commandos and clones…and anything but heart matters.  Or the 12-hour rule.

But it was good.  Very good.

It was our normal.

And it was a gift.  A gift from the same God Who also fills our hearts…my heart…with love and compassion for our Aaron.

I know all too well that we’ll have this again:

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But I also know that we’ll have this:

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Thanks to God who fixes our broken!

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  (Psalm 147:3)

 

 

 

The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.

 

 

 

 

Lens #1

Last week, I once again took Aaron to his yearly eye exam.  Doctor visits are always an adventure with Aaron.  Waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room is also a test of my patience.   Aaron stretches and wants to lay down.

 

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Or he eyes the tempting equipment and tools that the doctor uses, trying to pick them up and test them out before I tell him to stop.

 

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As I sat with Aaron last week and watched him during the exam, I was reminded of the following post from a couple years ago.  This was such a funny moment for me!   Here is what I wrote:

 

I took Aaron to his yearly eye exam today. God bless Aaron’s eye doctor. Next week I’ll be saying, “God bless Aaron’s dental hygienist,” but today all blessings go his eye doctor and to the staff. Oh, Aaron isn’t mean. He just has a very difficult time understanding what the doctor needs from him…..how to express what he is seeing or not seeing clearly…..opening his eyes wide…..not leaning back from every instrument that comes toward his eyes…..things like that. There was one very funny interchange, though, during the exam. You know how the doctor wants you to tell which lens helps you to see the letters on the wall the clearest.

 

Dr. Nelson: Aaron, is number one better? Or number two?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK. Now which is better? Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try again. Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: You mean number three….here…..or number four…..here.

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try these. Number five, or number six.

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try number seven…..

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK, let’s not do numbers anymore. Is this one better, or this one better?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

HaHaHaHa!!!!!! How I wanted to belly laugh!! I do believe that number one was the winner, don’t you??!! 😎😵🤣

 

However accurate Lens #1 was, Aaron was sure that this was the lens he liked the best.  He didn’t waver one bit from that determination.

I’ve been thinking about this as I look at my own life, and the lives of many that I know and love.

Through what lens am I looking at my life?

I just ran upstairs to be with Aaron as he had another seizure today.  I’m thankful he was lying down, so there was no falling and no injuries.  But his seizures, especially after all these years, are serious and scary.  As we get older, and as Aaron gets older, Gary and I do wonder about our future and his future.

In the past days, I have communicated with family and friends who are enduring all kinds of trials.  Two with aggressive and serious forms of cancer, out of the blue.  Tragic family issues.  Separation.  Divorce.  Friends who just bought a house and now he lost his job, literally overnight with no warning.  Lots of chronic health issues with no end in sight.

So much suffering! And the way that I view suffering depends upon which lens I choose to look through.

I know the lens I NEED to be using.  I need to focus on the God that I know and on His word that He has given me.  I may be rattled and shaken, but my focus will be sharp if I’m looking to God.  My faith is in and on Him when I look to Him…not disrupted by all the suffering around me that I or others are enduring.

It’s like Aaron’s eye exam.  I need to realize that lens #2 or lens #3 are not right for me.

Fear is not a lens God wants me to use when viewing my circumstances, or the circumstances of those I love.  Neither is anger…or worry…or a host of other responses that are all too common for me.

I know that when I have my eyes off God, life becomes blurry.  I lose focus.  I lose peace.  I lose hope.

I need to go back to lens #1, for sure!!!

The best way for me to keep my focus is to go to my Bible…to read God’s promises and let His words soak into my mind and my heart.

My parent’s favorite Bible passage is perfect for me to use in keeping my focus:

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore

we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains

slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the

mountains quake at its swelling pride.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

 

God told us we would have suffering and trouble on this earth. But He also has promised to be our very present help, our strength and our refuge, no matter what carnage is around us.  He is a loving Father who takes care of His children.

This is the focus I need.  God is the focus I need.

God is my lens #1.

I love the old hymn, The Solid Rock.  Look at verses 2 and 3:

 

When darkness veils His lovely face,

         I rest on His unchanging grace;

         In every high and stormy gale,

         My anchor holds within the veil.

 

         His oath, His covenant, His blood,

         Support me in the whelming flood;

         When all around my soul gives way,

         He then is all my hope and stay.

 

         On Christ the solid rock I stand;

         All other ground is sinking sand,

         All other ground is sinking sand.

 

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The Turn Signal

A few months ago, as I headed out of our neighborhood taking Aaron to his day group, I noticed that my right turn signal didn’t sound right.  The second time that I pushed up on the turn signal lever and heard that very fast clicking sound, I knew what it was.  Either my front or my rear turn signal was out.  I drove across town, dropped Aaron off, and then before leaving I got out of the van to check the turn signals.  Sure enough, the rear signal wasn’t working.

Bummer!  Of all the days to have this happen, it had to be on the day I had several errands to run instead of just going straight home.  One of the places I had to go was McConnell Air Base…and they are super picky there about things like the speed limit and vehicles working correctly.  Imagine that!

I drove under the speed limit the entire time I was on base and was thankful that I only had to use my right turn signal once.  But I was sure that this one time would be the one time that an MP was behind me!

I had also promised Aaron that I would take him to one of his favorite stores, Big Lots, after I picked him up.  Our local Big Lots had closed, so I had to once again do some extra driving in my defective van.  I never knew how many times I needed that right turn signal until it wasn’t working!  And I decided a possible conversation with a police officer was a better choice than the conversation I would need to have with Aaron if I told him our Big Lots trip was cancelled.

I wanted to paste a sign in the rear van window that explained my situation…to let others know that I knew my light wasn’t working…to tell them that I really DO know how to use a turn signal.  How many times have I said that very thing out loud about other drivers who don’t use their turn signals?  I was feeling a little guilty, wondering how many of their signals were broken, too.

Sometimes we just can’t see and don’t understand what a person is going through, do we?  We look at the outside and think things look fine, but the inner workings of a person are far more complex than what we outwardly see.  This fact is very true for every single one of us but is very VERY true for our Aaron.

To be clear, I am not saying that Aaron is broken.  What I AM saying is that Aaron’s responses and handling of life situations can manifest outward behaviors that are extremely frustrating for others around him to understand and handle correctly.  His brain is wired way differently than typical people, and so his turn signal often doesn’t let anyone around him know the direction he is getting ready to take until he’s turned that corner and there’s no going back.

Karen Williams wrote in a paper years ago concerning students with autism:  “Rage reactions/temper outbursts are common in response to stress/frustration.  Children with Asperger’s Syndrome rarely seem relaxed and are easily overwhelmed when things are not as their rigid views dictate they should be.  Interacting with people and coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life take continual Herculean effort.”

Williams was writing about young students, but this same description also applies to adults with autism…to our adult with autism…our Aaron – who definitely flipped his turn signal on last week at the theater.

First, the set-up:  Aaron had been home for three days this past week due to our severe weather chances and flooding concerns.  Aaron loves being at home where he is totally relaxed and able to do all the things he enjoys.  But when he must re-enter normal life, like going back to his day group at Paradigm, it is often a huge struggle for him.  And therefore, for everyone around him.

On Friday, Aaron was reluctant to go to Paradigm.  Even the thought of Friday movie day didn’t really help him.  He decided not to go to the theater, despite having his nine dollars in his wallet for popcorn and the prospect of a fun movie to see.  I encouraged him to go to the theater, and his staff encouraged him to go after texting with me.  But no one MADE him go.  However, that is not at all how Aaron saw it.  His anger was getting deeper.

Second, the incident(s):  At the theater, Aaron took a behavioral turn that everyone could see despite his lack of a working signal.  I don’t even know all that happened there, and don’t really want to know.  I believe, though, that his day group staff was told by theater staff that Aaron needed to leave.  No matter what I know about Aaron and what I understand about his autistic outbursts, these times test my love and my patience.  I’m a normal mom who is terribly embarrassed when Aaron blows it, especially in public.

I wonder what all he did there.  Who saw him?  Did anyone we know see and hear our son acting that way?  Now what?

Third, the repercussions:  When I went to pick Aaron up at the theater, he was sitting in the Paradigm van.  Aaron emerged from the van with a very unhappy face, and I knew something not-so-good had happened.  Athena, his kind staff, gave me a very brief update, but Aaron’s still-angry mood told us it was not the time to discuss it.

He and I talked about it on the way to Wal-Mart, and again inside the store.  But Aaron was saturated with frustration and guilt so I knew I could only say so much before I would push him over the edge again.  Two repercussions that initially happen with Aaron, when that angry turn he took is over, are regret and guilt.  He truly wishes that he hadn’t gone so far in his anger.

Aaron was totally compliant in Wal-Mart, overly so.  This is his way of making up for his angry actions.  At the self-checkout counter, Aaron was super helpful.  He held my coupons, helped unload the cart, and couldn’t say thank-you enough to the clerk who assisted us.

“Am I being good, Mom?”  he asked at one point.  “Am I helping?”  And he looked me square in the eyes, waiting for my response and my affirmation.  It would have been so easy for me to say, “Yes, Aaron, but I sure do wish you would have been this nice in the theater!”

But when I saw his eyes, tired from the bad day and hopeful that he was finally doing something good, I nearly cried.  Right there in the check-out lane at Wal-Mart with holiday shoppers all around me, I wanted to burst into tears for Aaron and for me.  For Aaron, because I fully know that he can’t repair his broken turn signal in time to avoid that wrong turn.  And for me, because I love him and I want to “fix” him, but I really can’t.

I turned away quickly and finished paying.  Aaron helped gather up the bags out of the cart and we walked to the van, happy that the rain had stopped.  When we got home, another storm was coming.  Aaron was concerned about the lightning while he was on his computer, so he wanted me to be sure and tell him if he needed to shut the computer off.

“Mom,” he instructed, “come up and tell me, or call to me from downstairs, OK?”

He waited for me to respond.

“I’m giving you two decisions,” he finished.

I always smile at how he says that…two decisions instead of two choices.

But I thought of how true his saying was at that time.  I did have two decisions regarding more than lightning and his computer.  I also had two decisions about that turn signal issue of Aaron’s.  I could be angry and berate him, or I could be loving and instructive at the same time.  The decision is mine to make, despite how difficult it sometimes is.  It’s easier to lash out at Aaron, honestly, but harder to be loving and patient with instruction thrown in.  Yet the first decision only brings more anger and hurt.  The second decision, hopefully, helps to fix Aaron’s hurting heart and show him a better way to handle his anger.

Back to my van’s turn signal – Gary was able to pick up the correct part and repair it that evening.  Aaron was beside him the entire time, at one point using that moment to show Gary some scrapes on his legs.  Aaron is so oblivious about how he looks in public, and at times it’s really funny.

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But at other times, like the theater incident, it’s anything BUT funny.  How we wish that we could install the part that would make Aaron’s turn signal work correctly and avoid all the damage that’s done when it doesn’t!

How many times do I wish I could paste a sign on Aaron’s back that explains his behaviors?!

I can’t, though.  We just keep driving down this road with Aaron, trusting that some people understand and not worrying about the ones who don’t.  Easier said than done!  But God does give grace and He gives us wisdom to make that right decision…and He redirects us when we don’t!

Aaron’s turns aren’t easy when his signal’s messed up, but we’re there to repair the damage and pray it works better at the next turn.

And sometimes hang on for dear life!

 

God In the Ugly

It’s a cold, cloudy, and blustery day here in Kansas.  I was doing Gary duty with our Great Dane this morning.  Gary is out of town right now, so I was the one shivering out on the back walk while our elderly Jackson took his jolly time doing his morning business.  Why must he sniff every single leaf??!!

I looked over at our Rose of Sharon bushes, standing there in an ugly brown row.  I could hear their crunchy dead pods brushing together in the cold wind.  There was nothing inviting there, that’s for sure!

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But something did catch my eye as I routinely scanned the dead scene.  I walked over to further examine a cluster of branches at the end of the row.  It was what I thought it might be.  A bird’s nest, all tucked in securely among the brown stalks. 

As I looked closer, I saw that this bird had repurposed some plastic to help line her nest.  There were little dead leaves inside the nest that had blown there in our Kansas winds.  I have no idea how old this nest is, or what kind of bird built it, but there it lay nestled safely in the branches.

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I immediately was drawn to how God has told us that He cares for the birds of the air.  He created them, He feeds them, and He knows when even one has fallen. 

He also tells us that if He cares for the little birds, how much more does He care for His children?

I pondered all this as I hurried inside with Jackson, who was finally done with his doings.  I thought about why I was able to see this nest.  I could see it because the once pretty, green Rose of Sharon bushes were now bare of their beauty.

I could see a picture of God’s amazing care because all the beauty, for this particular season, has been stripped away. 

How like our lives at times!

This is the scene that I far prefer.

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I love the lush green growth, and all the beautiful blooms.  And in my life, I love it when things are going well.  I like it when life is pleasant; when I feel like prayers are being answered the way I want them to be; when I’m at peace. 

But we all know that life isn’t that way…not all the time.  Yet when times are tough…when my life feels like my winter Rose of Sharon, all dead and dreary…is when something amazing happens.

It’s in the empty times, when all the goodness seems gone, that I can more clearly see the goodness of God.  I can plainly see His care without the distractions of all the fun and pretty things around me. 

Sometimes I must step nearer and look closer, but there I will see God and His loving care in my life.  God isn’t hidden by all the luster that I sometimes have, and honestly desire to have. 

“As for me,” the Psalmist said, “I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.  You are my help and my deliverer…”  (Psalm 40:17)

If things are pretty all the time, I won’t always give as much thought to the Lord’s thought for me.  But when life is rough and even feels empty, I can better see His thoughts for me.  I see the form that those thoughts take…the loving care He has for me…the help He brings to me…how he strongly delivers me.

Sometimes seeing God happens best when I’m rid of the most. 

I’m loving the view of this little nest today, unhindered by eye-catching distractions.

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And I’m loving that I have a Heavenly Father who is thinking of me today and using such simple means to show me how truly awesome He really is!     

Remember When?

Aaron loves looking at a particular picture of me and Gary, taken back in the day.  WAYYYY back in the day, to be clear.  This picture was taken at Gary’s Army Flight School Banquet upon his graduation.

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Aaron has always said that he thought this photo was of our wedding, so I am often correcting him about that as I repeat over and over that this was taken four years after we were married.  Aaron doesn’t sweat the details, though, and he continues to tell us…and others…that here are Mom and Dad at their wedding.

But there is another detail that Aaron loves to share the MOST as he either talks about this picture or gets to show it to people who come to see us in our home.

“In her wedding picture,” Aaron begins (and I know exactly what is coming!), “Mom used to be skinny!!”

Emphasis on “USED to be skinny.”

As in I was…in the past…not the present…in the FAR distant past…skinny.

Aaron will randomly tell this bit of news to anyone who has ears, including people who barely know me.  He will share it within the context of any conversation, out of the blue, ignoring people’s curious looks and my rolling eyes in my red face.

Yes, Aaron, I USED to be skinny.  Those WERE the good old days.

I’m able to laugh as I tell this story, even as I constantly try to keep Aaron FROM telling it in order to hopefully teach him some manners or some tact.  Yet Aaron’s focus on the past…on MY past…has also taught me an important truth.

The prophet, Haggai, helped with this as well.  I’ll explain.

Haggai was the first prophet that was heard in Israel after the Babylonian exile.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem and Haggai encouraged them to finish building the temple.  Fifteen years had passed since any work had been done on the temple.  God promised to be with them as the people agreed to once again build God’s house.

Yet later, as they stood at the site of the temple, God knew that the people were very discouraged.  He also knew why they were so down in their spirits.  So, God spoke to the leaders and to the people through Haggai.

Haggai 2:3 – “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

God, through His prophet, just cut to the chase.  He hit the nail on the head as He revealed openly what He knew they were thinking.  And what they were thinking was that compared to years ago, this beginning of a new temple looked dismal and ugly.  In fact, the Israelites…especially the older ones who remembered the former glory of the old temple…knew that the new temple they would build would in no way compare to the beauty of the past temple.

Who could help but be discouraged as they stood there remembering the glory that used to be, but would not fully be again?

But God didn’t just leave it there.  He continued to speak, telling the leaders to be strong, and ended by saying:

Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land – declares the Lord – and work, for I am with you, declares the Lord almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear!”

I’ll tell you that there are times and there are ways in which I am much like these Israelite Jews as they looked at their current circumstances and compared them to what used to be.  And for me it goes WAY beyond remembering my skinny days!

Ten years ago, God set Gary and I on a path of great hurt and loss.  The details are not what matter.  What matters is that God was surely with us each step of the way.  He did indeed tell us to keep working for Him in very difficult circumstances, just as He did to Israel.  He told us to be strong even when we were tired on every level.

What kept us going?  The two promises that God gave to Israel were ours as well.  God said, “I am with you…and my Spirit remains among you.”  I can promise you that God kept His promises to us.  His strength, His peace, His Spirit, was always present and enabling in our lives.  His Word was powerful!

I love what John Mackay says about God being with us: “This is what distinguishes the advice of the world, ‘Be strong.  I know you’ve got it in you,’ from the counsel of Scripture which recognizes that we have NOT got it in us, but that God’s presence with us will make all the difference.”

Circumstances can get very ugly sometimes, but I am not to focus on what’s around me.  I am to focus on God and on the fact that He is with me.  He will not fail me.  He will not desert me to my enemies or to my runaway thoughts.

God also gave Israel a simple three-word command.

“Do not fear,” God said.

Again, John Mackay: “The Lord’s faithfulness in the past and the present is the basis for future encouragement.  It is not the appearance of the building, but the presence of his enabling Spirit that will make the crucial difference.”

Not the appearance of the building.  Not my surroundings, but rather the God Who surrounds me with His protection in every way I need.

So, what’s your “Remember When?”

Remember when:  You were loved.  You weren’t alone.  You were important to that group.  You were included.

Remember when:  You had a job you loved.  You had the money you needed.  You made a difference.

Remember when:  You had your health.  You had your spouse.  You had your children close.

Remember when:  You sang.  You taught.  You were a part.  You mattered.

Remember when:  You had your parents.  You had a family.  You laughed.  You talked.

The list is endless, isn’t it?  Life changes.  Sometimes suddenly…other times, slowly.  But change is inevitable for all of us.

What doesn’t ever change is God.  His presence is with His children, steady and stable, always constant.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

When the past tries to capture my attention, I know I must look to today…to what God has for me today…to Who He is today…and to His promises that are true…TODAY!

And I can declare from experience that out of our deepest pain of yesterday will come our most beautiful usefulness TODAY!

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The Broad Place

Anniversary:  the yearly remembrance of an event or occurrence.

We typically associate the word “anniversary” with weddings, don’t we?  Which, by the way, Gary and I will celebrate such a remembrance this Saturday.  39 years!!!  I wonder how this is possible…and then I look in the mirror and realize that yes, indeed, this is true.

But there are other anniversary dates as well.  Many are full of happiness, yet sadly, many are just the opposite.  In my Bible, I often make a note beside certain verses that were especially meaningful to me during good times and during not so good times.  I jot down the date and make a short entry about what was occurring when that particular verse, or verses, impacted my life.  I call these my memorial stones, taken from the way that Israel would memorialize important national events by building a stone memorial.  Israel would thus remember what God had done for them there, just as I can remember what God has done for me through significant sections of Scripture during significant times in my life.

I came upon a memorial stone this morning as I was reading II Samuel 22:18-19.

“He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.”

I looked at the brief notation I had made, and memories came flooding over me.  The year was 2008 and the month was May, ten years ago.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since Gary and I were blindsided by the events that took place.  I really can’t say more about it, but I knew that God’s hand was in it as a direct answer to prayer even though there was much wrong involved.  Our lives have been forever changed…forever scarred…yet forever touched by the hand of God.

You see, after verse 19 comes verse 20:

“He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.”

So now, ten years later, I can truly say that God has brought us to a broad place.  But what does that mean?

Well, places of hardship and distress in the Bible are usually referred to as narrow places.  They are places of being closed in, confined, and full of danger.  But broad places are places of peace and security, where you can stretch and grow and see all around.

I can look back on the past ten years and see the progression in our lives from the narrow to the broad.  I can also attest to the fact that God was very present with us through the awful narrow passages, and He is also very present with us in the broad place.  We need Him in both.

You see, coming from the narrow to the broad doesn’t mean that we have achieved perfection.  Wrong done still carries a huge impact in our lives.  But God’s presence also carries an impact even larger than hurt and pain carries.

Time is ever so slow when we travel from the narrow to the broad place.  There are many, many dangers.  It’s easy to doubt God…to quit serving Him…to blame Him…to resent others…to gossip…

But the painful journey is also the perfect time to hear God speak to us through His Word.  It’s a time for us to take one verse at a time and ponder it, apply it, and let God use those verses to heal us.  It’s a time to learn to look to God and not to anyone else or anything else.  The most disastrous events in our lives cannot hold a candle to the amazing grace and love of God that He delights in showing us, if we but let Him.

David, King of Israel, wrote these verses in II Samuel 22.  He certainly saw his share of turmoil and rejection and danger and sin.  Yet he also wrote this, in II Samuel 15:26:

“But if He (God) should say thus, ‘I have no delight in you,’ behold, here I am, LET HIM DO TO ME AS SEEMS GOOD TO HIM.”

Do you see what David was saying…what he was doing?  David had a grip on God’s sovereignty, as Dale Davis says.  Part of the journey from narrow to broad is being able to understand this:  that we must be satisfied with letting God do to me what seems good to Him.

I did NOT say being satisfied with letting God do to me what seems good to ME.

Sometimes the cancer is not cured.  Sometimes the prodigal does not come home.  Sometimes the lay-off still happens.  Sometimes the grave is where we visit the one we love.  Sometimes restoration is not granted, as happened to us.

Yet regardless of all the “sometimes,” we can say that EVERY time, God knows what is best for my life.

So I hang onto Him, in total trust, and know that my good is of utmost importance to Him.  My good may come at great cost, but it is also of great value for all of eternity.

I’m stretching in the broad place today, thank God!

And so can you.

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