Choosing My Focus

I had my day all planned today, my to-do list made, and the order of that list firmly in my head.  Take Aaron to Paradigm, then the post office, return an item to Gordman’s, stop at the Vintage store to ask about milk paint, run quickly into Dillon’s, probably get gas, home for a quick lunch and indoor straightening, and then outside into this upcoming warm afternoon where I was looking forward to some leaf raking out of our drainage ditches and picking up branches and maybe pine cones and cleaning off the front porch and vacuuming out the van……whew!…..and pick up Aaron and home to make supper and then Wheel of Fortune and ironing and then bedtime before I know it. 

There.

What I wanted to get done today is based on what I need to get done tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  We all know how that is.  None of these errands is life changing, by any means, so if they don’t get done today it’s really not a huge deal. 

And they won’t get done today, at least most of them won’t.  Poor Aaron had a night of hard seizures, so he’s having a day today of sleep along with a terrible headache……and the possibility of more seizures, so I won’t stray too far from him today.  My to-do list pales in comparison to what he endures, and to how I hurt for him. 

I’m extremely blessed in many ways and I recognize that.  Gary’s job allows me to stay at home with Aaron.  Gary is a faithful, hard worker.  Aaron’s seizure clusters don’t happen daily, so he has many days where he feels good and is able to participate in life.   And my greatest blessing?  That I know God and I know that He is in control of our lives, including Aaron’s life. 

Aaron came downstairs this morning, took his morning pills and some Ibuprofen for his terrible headache, and then lay back down on the couch with his soft pillow and his favorite fuzzy blanket and a trash can close by in case he needs to throw up.  And as I listened to him breathing in sleep, I thought that this…..

wp_20170130_09_33_58_pro

This hard thing…..is what has continually over time drawn me ever closer to God.

If all I see, though, is Aaron and this sadness, then my faith will falter.  But I have learned to look beyond the seizures…..the sadness for my son…..the pain…..and to look at God. 

God….Who has a plan.  I read in Psalm 25 this morning, and was so filled with joy.  “O Lord, I give my life to You.  I trust in You, my God!  The Lord is good and does what is right.”  And other verses this morning that confirmed to me that the very thing that causes me the most heartache is the thing that also deepens my walk with God.  God does what is right, even when to me it seems far less than right.

It’s all in where I choose to put my focus.

Then my friend, Jill, posted an article on Desiring God…..an article on intimacy with God, written by Jon Bloom.  It was excellent!  And this statement in the last paragraph says it perfectly:  “Intimacy with God often occurs in the places where we must trust Him most.”

Yes!!  Lying on my couch is my son whom I dearly love, and whom I dearly wish could live a normal life, but God has not willed that to be the case.  But in that pain of my mother heart has grown a deep trust in God, learned over time and in the hard, broken places.

I’m reading “Faith of Our Father” by Dale Ralph Davis, and is it ever good!  Today I read about Abraham and his faith, but how faith isn’t always a piece of cake in the long term.  Our faith can waver, so that’s why we need to keep our eyes on the One in Whom our faith rests.  Davis says, “….if the object of faith is what matters, then don’t be overly worried about faith itself, wondering how much you have, anxious about the ‘amount’ of faith.” 

I’ve heard people say, “Well, God didn’t answer my prayers.  Was my faith not strong enough?”  No, no!  The strength of our faith has nothing to do with us but everything to do with the God that we trust.  He is the strong one!  And He DOES always answer prayer.  It’s just that sometimes the answer isn’t what we wanted, so we tend to think that He hasn’t answered.  In reality, what we’re thinking is that we just didn’t get our way.

I love Davis’ prayer at the end of this chapter I read today:  “We give thanks, O Lord, for the trouble you take to help us go on believing.  Teach us not to fret over the intensity of our faith, but convince us that even a weak faith may lay hold of a strong Christ.  Amen.”

Amen, indeed!

My faith can on some days be weak.  If I just look at Aaron…..his seizures……his autism and behaviors……his here and now…..and his future – then I can most definitely falter.  But like Davis said, may my weak faith lay hold of a strong Christ!! 

I’m not a super parent, but I do have a super God!

And the more I trust Him, the more my faith grows. 

The impossibly hard times are times rich with learning, if we but let go of our pain and place our focus on God, Who loves us more than we can know.  When I open my hand and place it in God’s hand, then I have also let go of the pain that I sometimes hold too close. 

“Bible faith looks away from itself to the One Who promises and finds rest there.”  (Davis)

I can be thankful that God took my to-do list and added the most important thing to be done, at the very top of the list. 

Trust Him and rest in Him. 

And to be here for my Aaron…..this son that has taught me so much, even when he doesn’t know it. 

wp_20170130_10_48_55_pro

My Priceless New Year’s Gift

I was sitting by our Christmas tree this morning, knowing this is the last time I’ll be enjoying its soft beauty this year.  And it hit me.  Everything I do today will be the last time I do “that” this year, because tomorrow is a whole new year!  My brain, fuzzy from another long seizure night with Aaron and waiting for my first cup of coffee to kick in, tried to wrap itself around that fact.  2017 is almost here!

I’m not really as excited as that exclamation point may indicate.  I mean, a new year is always pretty cool to think about.  But life has a way of pulling us back to reality, especially as we get older, and for me my vision is narrowed to what I have on my plate right now.  I know I need goals, but on days like today, today is about all I can handle.

Up four times with Aaron and once with the dog last night made my reality at that moment very narrow.  It was the tree and the lights…..my coffee…..and the baby monitor beside me as I listened to Aaron after he returned to bed, my ears jumping into alert mode at each change in his breathing.

And one more thing……a word.  The word “grace.”  Sometimes that word may be overused, if that’s possible, and for me may lose its full meaning.  But this morning that word kept going through my tired mind.

Two meanings of this word popped up on my handy phone dictionary app.  They are:

1)      The freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.

2)      The influence or Spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.

Perhaps my favorite grace passage in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  I was drawn to that this morning, and though I know it pretty well by heart, I made myself actually walk upstairs to get my Bible.  Really, walking up the stairs took some effort this morning.  I felt like I should copy Aaron, who earlier went up the stairs monkey fashion on all fours, as he often does.

Anyway, Bible in hand, I sat down and opened to these familiar verses.  Paul had been given his “thorn in the flesh,” whatever that was…..and three times he implored God to take it away.  Implored…..past tense.  It seems that Paul was done with asking God to remove it, and was now able to say in the next verse that God “has said,” meaning that there was an ongoing result of God continuing to say these truths to Paul:

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

One thing I had written beside these verses in my Bible, my memorial stone, was simply:  “Feb. ’92, Aaron.”  That was the terrifying day in Germany, 25 years ago, when Aaron had his first big seizure.  I’ll never forget that Sunday afternoon in our kitchen in military housing…..the terror of him falling backward into my arms…..blood coming from his mouth as he seized and I screamed for Gary……the frantic phone call……the ambulance……the German children’s hospital…..language barriers with doctors…..so much to absorb and to understand and to fear.

But God was there with us bringing His unmistakable peace and calm, due only to His grace.  It had nothing to do with Gary and me being strong, or having a certain personality, or any of that “me” stuff.  I was a momma wreck!  It was totally God pouring out His strength…..His grace…..onto and into me.

So here I was this morning, 25 years later……TWENTY FIVE!!!!…….and God pulled me back to these memorial verses.  Nothing has changed.  Aaron had four hard seizures last night.  God has not taken away this thorn, this reality, this sadness in Aaron’s life and in ours.  But he has, over and over and over again, shown us His grace….His love……His favor…..His strength…..in the middle of our pain and our struggles.

So am I, like Paul, “well content” with this weakness that God has given our Aaron and us?   That phrase means “to take pleasure in.”  Well, no.  I can’t honestly say that I take pleasure in Aaron’s seizures or in his autism.  But I must look beyond all that list of things Paul mentions “taking pleasure in,” and look at those words, “for Christ’s sake.”

For my whole life, really, is to point to Christ.  That’s what following Him is all about, after all.  And if I could handle it all myself, I wouldn’t need Him.  But I DO need Him!!  And therefore, what Paul said is so true.  “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Strong because God makes me that way, and He makes me that way only because of His grace.  Back to that word again…..grace……the outpouring of His favor and strength upon me.

So I just found my resolve for this new year.  It’s to come back to the realization that I can’t change a thing, but I don’t need to change a thing.  Recognizing my sorrow and my pain isn’t meant to point to me and to make me the focus.  It’s to point to Christ and to talk about His grace through it all.

“So that the power of Christ may dwell in me,” Paul said.  That word “dwell” means “to pitch a tent.”  Christ’s power is here for the long term, for me, as I rely on Him and trust Him in the hard times and thank Him through all of it.

His grace is here for all of us who follow Him.  What a priceless gift!  So I close with the words of this old song written by Don Moen, perfect for this new year ahead.

 

                     He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,

To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

 

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

 

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

 

His grace is such a gift!  And so is our Aaron.

wp_20161108_12_07_34_pro

wp_20161108_18_27_21_pro

 

 

 

 

A Light In the Dark

It had been a dark day here.  Clouds were thick with not one peek of sunshine all day.  The outline of the bare trees was stark against the grey sky.  The big oak tree out back looked dull, even though its leaves were still clinging to its branches.  It was just a heavy day in the way that often happens at this time of year.

wp_20161209_17_04_07_pro-2

And then suddenly everything changed.  I’m glad that I looked out the window when I did.  The change, though stunning, was very brief.

wp_20161209_17_00_34_pro-2

Somehow the sun did shine through that thick layer of clouds.  And what a difference its appearance made.  Color returned to the world outside my window!  Greens, golds, rusts, and even blacks were so beautiful in those few moments.  And those moments showed me that the sun was there behind the clouds, still shining even when the clouds hid its brightness again.

I don’t know why sometimes God allows His children to endure prolonged periods of heavy, dark days.  I do know that suffering makes us more like Christ.  Suffering is the tool that God uses to form us into His likeness……to show us Who He is……to bring Him glory.  Sometimes it just doesn’t make much sense, though.  And it hurts, deeply hurts.

There is hope.  God hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we can’t see His light.  These few words that I read recently say it very well:

“Light arises in the darkness for the upright….”  (Psalm 112:4a)

This is so much more than our human wisdom.  This promise isn’t, “Just look at the bright side!”  Sometimes there is totally no bright side to see anyway.  Please don’t tell me to try to find one.

The light that arises in our darkness is the Light of the World.  The baby that we celebrate this time of year is that Light.  John called Him the true Light.  But baby Jesus was born into a dark world in a dark manger.  His life was hardship and ended in horrific pain….all because He was the Light.

His light shines into all my dark places today, not only to expose sin, but also to show me the way and to show me that He is there in the darkness.  He is there to comfort……He is there to provide…….He is there to love.

I don’t have to “find” Him.  He shows Himself to me in sudden ways, sometimes even brief ways, like my burst of sunshine on that heavy day.  He brings sweet answers to prayer.  He fills my heart with peace.  He brings a friend to cheer me.  He reminds me of my many blessings.

The dark days grow my trust.

The light that arises in that darkness reminds me of the One in whom I trust…..that He is there and He is faithful.

The light shines best in the dark.  May I remember that truth on every dark day.

My View

I was in TJ Maxx with my elderly friend, Nora, last Wednesday when I got a call from Paradigm, Aaron’s day group.  I was tempted not to answer it, figuring it was Aaron just wanting to tell me about his day.  That could wait.  But I wasn’t sure, so I did answer and I immediately knew that the news was not good.  Aaron was on the other end, his voice thick and choked with anger and tears.  Here we go, yet again, I thought.  How I wish that Aaron could stay happy!

I picked him up as soon as I got Nora settled back at her apartment.  Aaron was asleep, so I had time to talk to the staff, all of us scratching our heads as to what caused his angry outburst that morning……and what the solution could be.  I found out from Aaron later what happened.  He tried to give his good friend two McDonald’s coupons and she didn’t want them.  She wasn’t being mean to Aaron, just honest, but Aaron felt rejected and very hurt, so he just had a total meltdown. 

Thursday was a better day for Aaron.  Then came Friday…..

I told Aaron that we would go out to eat when I picked him up at the end of his day.  His choice.  So he chose Denny’s, of course.  He does love Denny’s.  On the way to Paradigm, I talked to him about being nice…..being kind with both his words and his hands.  About talking to someone if he was angry or hurt.  He agreed with everything I said……until he walked into Paradigm.

I was waiting in the van after I dropped him off, waiting for him to come and tell me if they were going to a movie.  But instead, out the door came one of his staff.  She told me that Aaron had become verbal instantly with another client when he walked in the door.  Then out came Aaron, yelling at this staff as he stood on the sidewalk.  He eventually got in the van and off we drove.  My anger and disappointment and great frustration spilled out in harsh words as we drove toward home.  I was so mad at Aaron and mad at myself for being mad, and it just all boiled over. 

I pulled into Denny’s, deciding that it might do us both good to be in a neutral place.  Aaron sat on the curb before going in, saying that maybe he just shouldn’t go in to eat.  I told him to come on and he did, but for most of the meal I just sat silent.  I was exhausted and defeated and still battling my anger.  Aaron was scared……scared because of all the people from whom he fears rejection, he fears it the most from me.  He kept telling me that he loved me……kept trying to share his salad with me…..his crackers, French fries, chicken strips……even reached over, took my hand, and kissed the back of my hand.  Yes, he really did that.  I wonder who saw it, and what they thought of my lack of emotion? 

We ran into WalMart after our meal, where I picked up food for Thanksgiving bags for church, and Aaron tried to help.  I still felt numb, tired.  After I checked out, I looked toward the bench where Aaron was sitting, and this is what I saw.

wp_20161104_11_44_11_pro

Then my heart did stir with sorrow for Aaron as this picture of him was a picture of dejection, and his own tiredness.  Oh Aaron, how I wish your life wasn’t so difficult and hard!  And how I wish you could understand that you so often make it that way, and yet so often you can’t control the impulses you have that make you make it that way.  It’s so complicated!

Aaron went right to bed when we got home.  I went to the patio, baby monitor and my Bible in hand.  I could listen for seizures while I spent some time unwinding and processing……reading my Bible and praying.  I could hear Aaron’s steady breathing on the monitor as I breathed out my prayer to God, asking Him for wisdom to know how to deal with these constant ups and downs from Aaron. 

I called my friend, Wendy, who walks this road that I walk.  She understands and doesn’t judge.  She offers counsel and advice, empathy and understanding.  And I know that she prays for us, for Aaron……prays with love and care.

Aaron was awake then, coming outside to test the waters……to see if Mom was still distant and angry.  He relaxed some when he could tell that I was better.  He smiled when I said that we could take Jackson for a walk around the yard.

wp_20160824_16_32_51_pro_li

We walked down to the back of our yard, around the huge evergreens that hide the very back loop of our property.  It’s an area that is hidden from view as you stand on our patio or look out our windows.  You would never know it’s there until you walk behind the thick trees that keep it hidden.

wp_20161104_13_45_55_pro

I stood looking at the eerie sight.  Branches of the old trees there hang low, gnarled together as they bend toward the ground.  A finger of the neighborhood lake curls around under the limbs, still holding water since we’ve had such a wet summer.  It’s a shadowy and dark place, a little creepy even.  It’s interesting, but not warm and welcoming……not a place I want to linger for long. 

wp_20161104_13_46_11_pro

As we stood there, Aaron talking and Jackson sniffing the bushes and tall grass, it hit me that this is so much like our life with Aaron.  Anyone who lives with a person who has autism…..or multiple seizures…..and takes tons of meds to help them…..knows what I mean. 

Aaron is funny and smart and often kind.  But he is also prone to angry outbursts where he is hurtful and unreasonable.  For days we may mostly see the pleasant side of Aaron, but we know that hidden inside him is still the anger and the frustration that he feels, and sometimes releases.  It is not a fun place, and it is not a place where we desire to linger.  Yet sometimes Aaron makes us linger there as his brain is going through whatever his brain goes through at those times. 

I know that mentally and emotionally I must walk away from the shadows that threaten to engulf me when I am overwhelmed by Aaron’s behaviors.  He needs me, for one thing.  And I need to stay whole and strong, loving and forgiving.  It’s not easy, but I must.  Friends and family help.  A good staff at Paradigm helps.  Gary is my biggest help, taking over when I can’t.  And definitely, crying out to God helps the most. 

Aaron and I turned from that scene, finally, and went back out into the open yard…..to the sunshine and grass……to the full view of our welcoming house.  Likewise, given a little time, he and I returned to our normal relationship.  I love him dearly.  I know he needs me.  He needed me when he had three hard seizures during the night on Friday.  But he also needed me even more when he was out of control emotionally that day.  He needed me to believe in him…..to discipline him……to try to help him even when he pushes me away……to care for him and to love him.

Behaviors are perhaps the hardest part of Aaron’s disability.  They are frustrating, embarrassing, and exhausting at times.  Families who deal with this need extra love and prayer.  Staff who deal with this need the same, as well as frequent thank-you’s for what they endure. 

Aaron’s behaviors hold him back in many ways…..and could easily hold us hostage in many ways, as well.  But Gary and I know that we can’t let the dark times be our focus.  Like the staff at Paradigm says, today is a new day and we start all over.

We don’t always get to choose our view on any given day, but we don’t have to stay forever where the view is scary and dark.

“Today is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  (Psalm 118:24)

wp_20160605_11_45_55_pro_li-2

 

Wilted

I have some container plants on our front porch.  They need routine watering, of course, but definitely need plenty of water during our very hot Kansas summer.  A few weeks ago, I was guilty of neglecting those plants for longer than I should have.  You know how it is.  I just got busy with many other things.  I would remember the plants and tell myself I needed to check on them, but then once again I would forget to do so in the midst of running here and there.

I had noticed my pretty Impatiens in the corner drooping a little one day, so I gave myself a mental note to water the plants that evening.  But I yet again got distracted and didn’t water them like I promised myself I would do.

When I finally went to check on the plants some time later, I was sad to see that my Impatiens was completely wilted.  “Beyond wilted,” I thought.  “This poor plant is dead……gone.”

wp_20160919_11_46_27_pro_li

I very nearly just tossed the pitiful thing in the trash can, but something made me stop.  I decided to go ahead and water it.  What could it possibly hurt?  So I filled my watering can, gave all my plants a much needed drink, and waited to see the result.

The first time I looked at the dead Impatiens after being watered, it didn’t look any different.  This just confirmed to me that it was beyond hope.  But still I waited.

And wouldn’t you know, by the next day I was amazed at what I saw!!

wp_20160926_10_18_01_pro_li

My once dried up plant was now thriving once again!  It had sprung to new life because of simply being watered.  It soaked up what it needed once that life giving need was provided.

I have gone through times in my life where the bad news and the burdens are overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s been hard to handle the stress, and so I have bowed low under the pressure.

It’s during these heated times in my life that I must not let myself neglect the one important element of what sustains me…..God.  He knows my situation and has even planned my path for a purpose.  But it sure is easy to become distracted from Him as I feel the weight of my fears and burdens.  Someone else felt this way, too, and wrote about it beautifully in Psalm 42:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

When we know God, it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer.  It doesn’t mean we won’t feel despair.  But knowing God does mean that we have hope.  Hope in God is hope well placed.  It’s a hope that brings us to praise…….praise for His help and His presence.

“The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.”

God loves us throughout each day and even gives us a song during the awful dark hours of the long nights.  That song is our prayer as we lay in the stillness of night, when everything seems darker and bigger and more awful than in the light of day.  Our prayer to God…..our deep groanings……our praise…..turn into a song, even when we don’t really hear a beautiful tune at that moment.  But God hears and He is pleased, and He is the One Who turns our prayers into a song.

Just in the past few days I have a dear friend who found out that she has breast cancer.  She will soon begin chemo and then face surgery.  My brother-in-law went in for a heart cath and was told that he will need bypass surgery.  A friend said goodbye to her wayward son as he moves very far away, and she feels she may not ever see him again.  Another friend is watching her son’s seizures dangerously increase as she awaits a visit with their specialist in Memphis.   I could keep going.  It just seems like there is so much suffering and personal attack right now.

This past Monday I sat in a friend’s back yard, at her picnic table, and we along with another friend were sharing some of the ongoing situations that one friend especially is dealing with.  This wonderful mother and wife, my sweet friend, suggested that we pray.  She bowed her head and started speaking very comfortably with God.  We all prayed, just as if God was sitting right there with us and we were including Him in our conversation……which is really the case.  It was so sweet, and each of us was so encouraged in just the way that we needed.

Just like my wilted plant.  We all felt like this at first –

wp_20160919_11_46_27_pro_li

But after praying, we were encouraged and refreshed…..just like my plant that finally received water.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

The more I wilt, the more I can count on God to give me just what I need as I hope in Him, praise Him, and rest in His arms.  He will refresh me and He will revive me, even in the heat of the trials that I may be encountering.

He’s a good God and an amazing caregiver for us.

And He never forgets us when we need watering!

wp_20160926_10_18_01_pro_li

 

 

            

The Hanging Sunflowers

It’s a little hard to believe that after 17……..yes, that’s 17!!!…….years of living in Kansas, this is the first year that we have planted sunflowers.  I have no idea why we waited so long, but maybe that long wait is one reason that I am enjoying them so much.  And as always, I’m learning more from our sunflowers than just the mechanics of how they grow.  God speaks to me through my growing things, including through my own growing…..which is often a little painful, I’ll admit.

WP_20160826_13_25_33_Pro_LI

Did you know that sunflowers follow the sun?  Maybe that’s a “duh” comment to most of you, but I noticed how our sunflowers………while they were beginning to bloom and before the big flowers opened…….were leaning one way in the morning and then leaning another way in the evening.  In my reading about sunflowers, I discovered that they literally do follow the sun during this “beginning to bloom” phase.  It’s called the Sunflower Dance.  They are the only flower, from what I read, that engage in this dance.  How amazing!

I was super excited when our first sunflower actually bloomed.  And boy, it was a huge one!!  We really planted these sunflowers for Aaron, but he didn’t really get nearly as animated about that first flower as I did.  Of course, Aaron rarely gets as animated about everyday things as most of us do.  Now, if it was an alien standing in our garden……

WP_20160820_10_41_28_Pro_LI

Anyway, this huge first sunflower was just gorgeous.  So tall…..so erect……so bright!!!

But after a period of time, I noticed that the stunning head of our sunflower was drooping.  Being the sunflower novice that I am, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.  I WAS quite sure, though, that as our sunflower head hung lower and lower, I was very disappointed.

WP_20160904_10_50_23_Pro_LI

I thought sunflowers were supposed to be all tall and amazing for their whole blooming life.  I surmised, in all my “wisdom,” that this particular sunflower must have just been too large for its own good.  The stalk must not have been able to support that weight, and so it just could bear it no longer and it sank down in defeat.

But if you look at this recent picture I took of Aaron with the sunflowers, you’ll see that nearly ALL of them are now bending over.  And now I understand why!

WP_20160903_16_43_17_Pro_LI

The sunflower hangs its head when it’s producing fruit!  Sunflower seeds are now ripening in each of those gorgeous blooms, and soon can be harvested.  On the actual sunflower, there are many individual flowers……and behind each flower, there is a seed.  But the seed doesn’t ripen until the head is lowered.

This was a very meaningful discovery to me, and it’s for more reason than just no longer being worried about my droopy sunflowers.  It’s meaningful to me because of ME.  I’ve been a little droopy lately……weighed down by this and by that, as all of us are sometimes prone to be in this life.  I haven’t been sleeping well, and not sleeping at night is when my concerns escalate into giants……giants that like to follow me around all day.

Have you ever been there?  Bothered by both small and large issues in life?  Questioning why things are what they are?  Sad?  Lonely?  Exhausted?  Just weighed down, like my sunflowers……bending low under the weight of stress and worry.

Yesterday morning, I did what I often do when I am feeling overwhelmed……I asked God to meet with me.  Not that He needs an invitation, but there are times that I really know I need to reach out to Him and ask Him to have a talk with me.  I opened my Bible, looked down, and found myself staring at Psalm 77.  Wow!!!  How perfect!!!  Read a few portions of this Psalm:

“In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint.  You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

Sounds a little depressing, doesn’t it?  That’s why this Psalm is called a Psalm of Lament.  But that’s pretty much how I’ve been feeling.  Keep reading:

“I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders.  Will the Lord reject forever?  And will He never be favorable again?  Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?  Has His promise come to an end forever?  Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?”

We wonder sometimes, don’t we, if God has just quit caring….or if maybe we don’t feel Him so much anymore because the deeper we hang low, the farther away He becomes?  Which then means that I’m responsible for God pulling away, and that’s really depressing!  But listen to what comes next:

“I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will meditate on all Your work, and muse on Your deeds.  Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God?  You are the God Who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.”

It’s what I think about that can make a huge difference in my emotional well being.  Using my mind to remember God’s past goodness, His sovereignty, His Word, His hand in my life……all these things are what I need to ponder in the darkness of the night and in the light of my busy days.  God has, and He does, make His strength known to me when I need it most.  And sometimes His plan does include the burdens that pile on to me and bend me low.

BUT……and this a huge “but”……..when I am burdened and bending low is when God is producing fruit in my life.  Just like my hanging sunflowers out in the garden producing their fruit, God uses the low times in my life……if I LET Him……to produce some needed fruit.

And so my thoughts turn to Romans 5 and I am once again reminded that:

“……we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Delicious seeds are growing out in my garden among my once dancing and then erect blooming sunflowers.  Birds…..and maybe Gary, Aaron, and me……will one day enjoy those mature seeds.  But right now, the sunflowers look a little weary as they sag and droop.  Yet if I kept the tall, bright sunflowers all the time, there would be no fruit.

And so it is with me.  If things were always fun and wonderful, I would miss so much that God wants to teach me.  I wouldn’t be a partaker in the fellowship of His sufferings that He tells us is the only way to grow and learn and be more like Him.  I would have no substantial fruit…….only outward beauty that matters nothing.

WP_20160904_10_51_25_Pro_LI

My little issues are really just that……small and not such a big deal.  But they are a big deal to me in many ways, and it’s what God seems to want to use at this point in my life to draw me to Him.  And that pull toward God is best accomplished when I am bowed down, hanging low, and thus producing the fruit that He best grows in the drooping times.

So may I patiently let God do His growing work in my life, praying that I produce the fruit He desires.  And maybe…..just maybe, if I obey……that fruit will also be used to honor God, and bless and encourage others.

It can be your story, too, this time of hanging low and producing fruit.  May we all remember the hanging sunflowers!

 

 

 

The Shriveling Sunflowers

Aaron had been wanting us to plant some sunflowers for quite some time.  This year I finally bought some sunflower seeds…..giant sunflowers, no less…..and while I was off to Houston to see Andrea in June, Gary and Aaron planted the sunflower seeds.  They rim our garden on two sides and have grown, and grown, and grown some more.  It’s been fun to watch them as they have progressed from little seedlings to what they are now.  They are indeed giant sunflowers, living up to their name as we hoped they would.

WP_20160709_17_20_35_Pro_LI

WP_20160820_10_41_28_Pro_LI

One day, though, Gary announced that he would need to move two of the sunflowers.  That’s because those two thriving plants were in the way of the sprinkler head that Gary had installed in that front part of the garden.  I was tempted to say that we should just throw them away.  We had enough sunflowers and wouldn’t even miss those two, I thought.  But something stopped me from making that suggestion.  I also admire Gary’s care of our plants and animals, sunflowers included; so I just watched one day as he carefully dug two new holes, gently took those two intruding sunflowers, and placed them in their new locations. 

It didn’t take long, though, to see that this move had taken a severe toll on both the sunflower plants.  They were no longer standing straight and tall, but instead had drooped dramatically.  “They won’t make it,” I thought one day as I went to the garden to pick some produce.  “The change and the move was too much for them.  We really should have just thrown them out.”  You can see how pathetic they looked.

WP_20160815_15_11_07_Pro_LI

WP_20160815_15_11_39_Pro_LI

I could have pulled them up right then and tossed them in one of our trash cans outside.  But again, something stopped me……and I’m so glad it did. 

I’m glad because in only six days from when I took those pictures of our very sad sunflowers, I again went out to the garden and was amazed at what I saw!  Look at this!

WP_20160821_14_47_12_Pro_LI

WP_20160821_14_46_19_Pro_LI

Both sunflowers had grown!  They had not only grown, but they were each producing the beginnings of a sunflower BLOOM!!

Sure, they still looked a little worse for wear.  They still carried some scars from being transplanted.  Some of their large leaves were still wilted, and many of the damaged leaves had died, shriveling and brown.  But if I looked up above the evidences of their past stress, I could see life……new leaves, new growth, and definitely a sunflower bloom.

A couple days later the bloom on the sunflower at the end of the front row, the one that had looked the most hopeless to me, had opened even more.  Other sunflowers in that front row were now blooming as well, but this one had beat them to it and was holding its own among the taller, less damaged plants.  My miracle sunflower!

WP_20160824_16_31_22_Pro_LI

Have you ever felt like life was going along just fine?  You enjoyed where you were…..what you were doing…..who was surrounding you?  But one day things changed.  Maybe it was over a matter of time, long or short, or maybe it was sudden.  But you found yourself transplanted, in a sense, from what you loved…..from what was comfortable…..even perhaps from people that you enjoyed being around.

When life changes like that and we are put into the unfamiliar or the unwelcome or the uncomfortable places, then it’s natural to shrivel up as we react to the shock of such changes.  We don’t have the strength on most days, we think, to continue on like others around us seem to do so easily.  Don’t they see our pain?  Don’t they feel our sorrow?  And even if they do, they really don’t……totally. 

But the real issue is our own adjustment to our new normal, trusting the One Who transplanted us in the first place.  Why did God think it was OK to yank us out of our growing place and put us somewhere else……somewhere that we never asked to be?  Yes, we said we trust the Lord and we trust His plan and all that, but we never dreamed that His plan would be so difficult.

Those sagging sunflowers had two things that I had not counted on nearly enough.  Roots under the soil, and sunshine up above.  The roots took hold, and the sunshine gave strength and growth, despite the trauma of being uprooted and replanted.   Those sunflowers had elements fighting for them that enabled them to eventually perk up and once again grow like they were meant to grow!

Moses looked at the children of Israel in the desert after they had just crossed the Red Sea.  They didn’t like being slaves, but this freedom business wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, either.  They had just seen God open the waters of the sea so they could cross over.  Moses then reminded them of a valuable, life changing truth.

“The Lord will fight for you, while you keep silent.”  (Exodus 14:14)

Oh, how many times I have doubted God and His plan in my life!  Or if I haven’t exactly doubted, I have deep down wondered about why I am where I am.  I liked where I was before.  I liked how things were going.  But this business of having God yank me out of my place I loved……even the place He had at one time PUT me……is not all it’s cracked up to be in all the sweet devotional books I have read.  It’s just hard sometimes…..and exhausting.

I have felt like my two sunflower plants sometimes.  Shocked……tired…..unhappy…..positively wilted. 

But what God told Israel……what He tells me……what He tells you……is still true, every single day.

He will fight for me.  There’s something to be said for being rooted in Him, and for feeling the warmth of His Word in my heart even while I’m trying to adjust to this new place.

And God doesn’t need me to do anything while He’s fighting.  Just keep silent.  “Be still and know that I am God,” David said in Psalm 46. 

My keeping silent is sometimes the hardest part of all.  I want to complain…..to question…..and most assuredly to suggest to Him a better plan.  A better place in the garden.  A better will for my life.

But He just wants me to zip my lips and watch Him take care of every issue and every concern and every worry and every frustrating moment and every sadness.  I think that about covers it.

And God will cover it, too.  He will fight for me while I am silent, watching and waiting for Him to take care of the battle.

Then one day I’ll notice something.  A bloom.  And some new leaves.  I still might feel some scars and see some not-so-pretty leaves, but I will see that I AM growing.  I AM still alive after all the stress.  Not because I am so strong, but because God is so able.

He did the fighting for me while I just did the lip zipping and the trusting.  I may never understand the reasons for all the upheaval, but I don’t need to understand.

I just need to obey, and then to enjoy the new life that God gives me.  New blooms…..new chances to thrive again……new experiences. 

WP_20160826_13_25_33_Pro_LI

An opportunity every day to look past the stress and into the face of the One Who is fighting for me with everything He has……and that’s more than enough.