Our Utopia

One recent night, after Aaron and I had watched an episode of The Waltons, I had a brilliant idea.  Now you must understand that after the program we are watching is over, Aaron wants the television off.  No watching ANYTHING else when our show is over.

Don’t ask me why.  Don’t ask me to explain many of Aaron’s quirks.  He has his own rules in his own way, and he expects us to abide by those rules.  If we don’t…well, it’s not utopia around here.

Back to my brilliant idea.  During our last visit to see our daughter and son-in-law, Andrea had shared a fun song with us.  She played it on YouTube, on their big screen TV, and I LOVED it.  The song is Sea Shanty Medley by Home Free. 

Fast forward to our house on this particular night as Aaron and I finished watching The Waltons.  I wisely decided that while Aaron cleaned up the multiple snacks he carries to the family room to tide him over during our show, and while I finished my before-bed chores, that I would turn to YouTube on our new big television and listen to Sea Shanty Medley.

So, I did just that. 

And Aaron became unglued. 

Watching something…ANYTHING…after our show is not allowed. 

“MOM!!!  Turn that OFF!!” he exclaimed.

And I…being the kind mother that I am…turned the volume up a tad.

Aaron also turned his volume up more than a tad.

So I…remember my kindness…played the song a second time.

Let’s just say that it was quite a relief when Aaron finally fell asleep later.

The next night, after watching the next Waltons episode, Aaron’s head jerked around to me as soon as the last Walton’s goodnight and musical note was over.  He was checking to see if I clicked on YouTube again.

“MOM!!” he loudly said, “don’t listen to that UTOPIA music like you did last night!!”

Oh my goodness, how he can make me want to laugh in the middle of my frustration!

I wanted to correct him.

“It’s YouTube, Aaron, NOT utopia!!  Believe me, this is not utopia around here!”

But I didn’t. 

However, his comment has made me think a lot about our version of utopia.

Utopia – defined as a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.

Aaron’s version of utopia centers around his desire to have his life ordered in those rather eccentric ways that matter to him.  We do it this way every time, people!  If we cooperate, then his life is a place of ideal perfection.  Never mind that ours is not.

But life doesn’t work that way and therefore Aaron’s utopia gets all jumbled up…as does ours.

Yet even more important is our attitude concerning this utopia idea.  Gary and I do get tired of Aaron’s ups and downs…of how verbal he can be when he is angry…of how tiring it can be to try to meet his utopia demands while keeping our own in mind. 

One evening, Gary and I were particularly spent.  We snuck out to our front porch and sat in our rocking chairs, breathing at last without Aaron’s interruptions.

But then this happened.

It was another moment when our attitude was tested.  And we have learned that it’s best to adapt to each of these moments with as much kindness and laughter as we possibly can.  Easier said than done some days.

Back to our utopia.  We have changed our own personal definition of utopia as we have parented Aaron over the years.  Our satisfaction and joy must be centered in trusting God.  In knowing that where He has placed us is where He will give us what we need. 

Let me share with you some beautiful pictures of our utopia.

The pure delight of bubbles:

The sweetness of sharing a beetle with Mollie next door:

The delight he finds in animals:

The fun he creates out of the mundane:

The happiness found in a simple game:

The rapture of all that cheese on his pizza:

Our attitude is of utmost importance.  Our attitude determines our joy.  We can always be looking at that other definition of utopia…an imaginary and remote place of perfection.

Or we can resolve to look at our utopia in the face of our special son.

Barren

It happened to me again two nights ago.  I was sinking into sleep when I think, honestly, that I snorted and woke myself up.  😊

But then I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Instead, I lay there thinking of a picture I had seen just before bed.  Happy news for someone else created in me a longing for some things I don’t have. 

These are the moments that Satan loves.  He uses the tender areas of my heart’s desires to create in me an unsettled feeling.  The dark of the night is his perfect setting to speak words of doubt and unhappiness into my head. 

I’m a captive audience at that point.  The choice is mine. 

Whose voice will I listen to? 

So, I prayed and I thought of scripture.  I eventually went to sleep.  But I awoke the next morning feeling the weight of my burdens still lingering on my shoulders.

This morning I continued in a new study I just began yesterday in the book of Luke.  Right away we meet the priest, Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth.  They were both righteous in the sight of God and walked in blameless obedience to God. 

They were old.

They were faithful to God.

And Elizabeth was barren.

In their culture, having children was everything. 

They had nothing, in a sense.

I think of Elizabeth beyond the stories we always hear and the ending that we know well.

I think of her hearing with sadness of the pregnancy of yet another friend.  Of probably faking joy when deep inside she is grieving over what she doesn’t have.  Of perhaps not feeling included in the years of family gatherings, celebrations, large happy holidays…

Of laying awake at night, bombarded with these realities, alone and with a broken heart.

And though we know the end of the story, that God gave her a child, she did not know that this blessing would be in her future.

“…there are those who are true servants of the Lord and yet some trial, some disappointment, that may be life-long, hangs over their lives.  ‘Righteous before God’ yet ‘they had no child’.  A very huge fact and a very deep sadness are pressed together.”   (Dale Ralph Davis)

Do you have a barren place?  An unfulfilled desire that eats away at you in the dark stillness of the night?

I do.

We all do.

What ARE we to do?

We are to live faithfully, in daily obedience to God.

We are to “Commit our way to the Lord…”  (Psalm 37:5)  That means to roll our burdens on the Lord’s strong shoulders.  Literally, that’s what it means.

“…God does His most impressive works in a context of impossibility.”  (Davis)

No BUTS…unless we say, “BUT God!!”

Will God give me what I want? 

I have no idea.

The real question should be:  Will I allow God to put HIS wants into my heart?

Will I want to walk with God so closely that His desires become my focus?

“God tends to begin His finest works in the face of human hopelessness and human weakness.”  (Davis)

Walking faithfully with God doesn’t mean we’ll never have our barren places.

But may we, in the barren, bear the fruit that only God can produce in us, to His glory.

This Gift Has My Name on It!

Gary and I were sitting beside our decorated tree one night before Christmas.  We were not alone for long, as is so often the case.  Aaron soon joined us.  He was, of course, drawn to the presents under the tree.  His observant eyes had seen his name on a gift!

“Look!!” he exclaimed, “this gift has my name on it!” 

His childish delight made us smile.

His childish delight is, in fact, a gift to us.

Yet there are other aspects of who Aaron is that we would not describe as a gift.  Maybe more as a burden?  An annoyance? 

We know that God gave us Aaron, and he is indeed the whole package.  It’s just that some of the contents of that package are not what we would have hand-picked. 

Am I being too blunt here?

This reality of God’s gifts to me carries over into every area of my life.  Gary and I had been married for five years before we had a baby…Aaron.  We prayed for a baby.  God gave us Aaron.

Do I really trust God in this answer to our prayers?

So many times in my life I have prayed over some matter…some decision…some issue.  But sometimes God’s answers are not what I would have chosen.

Oh, they may seem wonderful at the time but later the gift might turn sour. 

What happened?

How easy it is, then, to play the guessing game.

Maybe if we had moved there instead of here.

Maybe if we had joined that church instead of this church.

Maybe if we had raised our children in this way instead of that way.

Maybe…maybe…maybe.

Yet if I am walking with God in obedience, and I am praying for direction, I must trust that the way He leads is best and for a reason.

Good reasons, always.

But not always easy.

I must reach out and take God’s gifts to me with trust.

The children of Israel knew that God led them miraculously out of Egypt.  No one could doubt that.  But then it wasn’t long before they disobeyed God.  Even the manna God provided to them became a source of discontentment and complaint. 

Soon the Israelites were comparing their present lot with the life they used to have in Egypt, creating more unhappiness and grumbling.

I do that, too.  I pray…I take God’s gift of an answer…and then when things get hard, I fight the tendency to complain and to compare.

If only I had what they have…lived where they live…got to go where they go…blah, blah, blah.

Such a trap!

This morning, I read the answer to this dilemma in my life:

“Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Let God by magnified.’  (Psalm 70:4)

I must keep my eyes on God in every area of my life. 

My gladness and contentment is in God alone, not in the events of my life – good or not so good.

So, when I reach out and take God’s gifts to me, may I not focus on the gift so much but instead may my eyes stay on the Giver of the gifts. 

That’s easy to do when the gift is fun and happy.

But I must understand that some gifts are not fun and happy.  Some are hard and sad. 

Yet on each gift, I see the tag.

To:  Patty

From:  God

Thank you, God, that every gift from You is good and perfect.  You didn’t say they were easy and fun. 

Help me to trust You.

“Look!  This gift has my name on it!!”

My Lot in Life

Having Aaron still live at home with us can present challenges in various ways.  One issue that Gary and I face is, at times, trying to have a prolonged conversation with just the two of us.  It’s amazing how often we have the following scenario:

I walk down to Gary’s study and sit in the rocker.  Aaron is safely WAY up on the third floor, in his room, absorbed in a game or a movie.  But somehow, someway, it’s as if the tiniest sound of our voices reaches Aaron’s ears even through his earbuds.  Soon we hear the unmistakable THUMP THUMP THUMP of his heavy footsteps coming down first one set of stairs and then the second set of stairs.  Gary and I look at each other in resignation as Aaron charges into the study.  “MOM!!! (or DAD!!!),” Aaron bellows.  “Did you know that the core of the earth is HOT?!!  Why is the core of the earth hot?  Can we go to the core?  Would you like to go to the core of the earth??”  Aaron doesn’t notice the lack of interest on our faces or hear our sighs.  “No, Aaron,” I (or Gary) reply, “we don’t want to go the core of the earth.”  (Although that thought might be attractive at the moment in order to afford us some privacy!).  “Why not?!!” Aaron asks.  So we tell him that we will talk about this later and we tell him to go back to his room and ponder the core of the earth a bit more and we wait for him to leave before we try to resume our conversation.

I have been known to say, more than once, something to this effect: “You know, it seems to be our lot in life that we can hardly have a private conversation.”  Gary and I laugh as we both agree with this truth in our lives.

However, there are times that referring to my lot in life can take on a more serious tone and one that is defeating.  I may not even verbalize my thoughts.  That thought may be fleeting or if I’m not careful, may take root in my mind. 

My “lot in life” may be an ongoing situation, such as having our adult special needs son still living with us and facing all the challenges that brings. 

My “lot in life” may be a sudden situation that intrudes into my peaceful life.  We all have them.  Health, finances, children situations, jobs…

There is a truth that I must remember when my mind travels to considering my “lot in life.”  That phrase conjures up a roll of the dice…the hand I was given…good or bad luck.

Each of those concepts go totally against my walk with God.  As a follower of Christ my life is not controlled by luck or how my stars are aligned or any such nonsense. 

Here’s how David put it:

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.”   

(Psalm 16:5)

My life’s circumstances are not controlled by chance but are designed by God for me.

God is providentially ordering my life. 

And He is doing the same for yours if you are His child and are following Him.

Therefore, I can…I SHOULD…be content with God’s design of my life.  Even the very hard parts that bring tears and fears.

One more thing.  My “lot in life” is not your “lot in life.”  And your “lot in life” is not my “lot in life.”

When I go to comparing my life to yours then I will inevitably be either discouraged or boastful…and both of those attitudes are terribly wrong.

Again, David said it well:

“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”  (Psalm 16:8)

God is to be my point of reference.  He is the answer to all my questions.

God is the One Who has given me my “lot in life.”

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP

See…And Be…The Blessing

While my husband was mowing our yard on Saturday evening, I decided to run down to the store for some good old fried chicken.  Working behind the counter was a familiar face…a sweet woman who often waits on me.  I always ask her how she’s doing and ask about her elderly mother who lives with her.  She missed seeing Aaron with me and was asking about him.  Everyone knows Aaron…trust me on that!  😊

I ordered my chicken, and then asked for a few more pieces to be added a la carte.  As she filled the container for me, she told me that she would just put in those extra legs and thighs at no charge.  I said no, that I would pay for them, but she insisted on her plan.  The reason?

“You are always so kind to me,” she said.  “I want to do this for you.”

I was so touched…a little embarrassed…and walked away very blessed.

The next morning our pastor shared a meaning of that very familiar word…the word, “blessed.”

He said that to bless means, “To kneel in order to serve.”

He talked about how Jesus knelt down and washed the disciples’ feet.  Jesus was kneeling in order to serve.

We often talk about how we want to be a blessing, to God and to others.  We also talk about God blessing us.

But how can I possibly bless God?

I bless God by kneeling and serving.  I kneel before God, certainly.  But I am also to be like Jesus and kneel in service before the people in my life.

As Gary and I listened to the sermon, it hit me.  God had given me a sweet object lesson of this “blessing” principle just the evening before.

I had blessed this deli worker by showing her that I cared about her and her life.  She turned around and blessed me by giving me some free chicken.  I wasn’t showing her kindness for the purpose of getting something free, but my kindness gave her the desire to bless me in return.

As I serve God, I am blessing Him…and He, in return, will bless me.

I don’t mean that God will give me free stuff.  I mean that God will kneel down in His kindness and will bless me with joy…peace…love…grace…and other such sweet blessings that are promised to me all through scripture.

Sometimes, though, we think of serving God in big, obvious, public ways.  Our human nature and our culture tend to value the well-known over the little-known.

Over the years, more and more, God has taken away most of the public ways I had of serving Him.  Instead, God has brought home to me that, well, my home is to be my primary place of blessing God and blessing others.  This is my personal experience and doesn’t mean that it will be yours as well.  But wherever God has put you is where you ARE, by His plan, and that is the place where you can still bless Him and others.

Home can be a hard place to feel like I am a blessing.  The sameness and the drudgery of home life, honestly, can squelch the feeling that I often associate with being a blessing.

Cleaning around the toilet can be a blessing?  Really?!

But I’m brought back to Jesus, humbling himself by doing the disgusting work of a servant.

Washing the disciples feet can be a blessing?  Really?!

Really.

I kneel.  And I serve.  In the place where God has put me.

I don’t choose the place.  I don’t choose the service.

Validation isn’t the important thing.

Serving is the important thing.

For me, I serve God as I serve Aaron.  He was given to us by God.

On a seizure day:

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While we walk:

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Or he TALKS:

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When he wins and grins:

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Or asks for that homemade milkshake:

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The times are precious:

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And so are the children and the homes that we are given!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits.”  (Psalm 103:1-2)

 

No Wallowing!

I am NOT where I thought I would be this week!

I am NOT where I planned, carefully planned, to be this week!

But I do believe that most of us are in the same boat and could say the same thing.  How many plans have been totally disrupted due to all this virus mess and stay-at-home orders?

Trust me, I know that there are some very heart-breaking situations in people’s lives right now – far worse than anything I’m going through.

So, where was I supposed to be this week?  Texas.  I was to be in Texas this week.

My husband and I were going to the Houston area this week.  Our daughter and her husband, Kyle and Andrea, live there.  And our son, Andrew, who lives near Indianapolis, was to be there as well.  Andrew works for an NHRA drag race team.  They have a big national race in Houston every April.

Gary had bought our tickets.  I had lined up caregivers for Aaron, who doesn’t attend these events with us.  He loves his own version of a vacation, which is to stay in his comfort zone of home and of eating out every night, loving the undivided attention from caregivers…and calling us multiple times every day, just because he always has something to tell us.

On Facebook this week, the memories from this time last year have been popping up on my page.  As if I need any help with memories of our fun time we should be having!

We should be doing this:

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Enjoying time together:

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And watching Andrew work:

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I was talking to my friend, Joyce, about it a couple weeks ago.  I told her it’s sad not to be going on our trip to see our kids.  How it’s OK to acknowledge that sadness, but that I can’t stop and wallow in it.  We laughed as we thought about that and laughed even more when Joyce mentioned being like a pig wallowing in the mud.

In the park where Aaron and I like to walk, Swanson Park, there is still a depressed area in the prairie grass where buffalo wallowed in the 1800’s.  In fact, there is a plaque there for us to read about it.  And it’s simply called a “buffalo wallow.”   I had to inwardly smile as he and I stood there looking at it once again the other day.

Then nearby, a short distance from the trail, is this muddy area.

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As we looked at it, I could imagine buffalo and wild pigs wallowing in the mud there.  I could see them with my mind’s eye rolling and relaxing in the goopy mud, in no hurry to move on.

Much like I am tempted to do as I think with regret about where I thought I would be this week.

Oh, I have reason to wallow.  Our kids live far from us and we see them so seldom.  In fact, for many reasons, we haven’t seen Andrea and Kyle since last July.  Their jobs, Andrew’s travels, Gary still working, the difficulty of finding caregivers for Aaron…all make it very hard for us to up and travel as we would so desire to do.

I could most definitely stop and wallow in my misery.  And with each roll in the mud, I could find plenty of reasons to condone and excuse my wallowing!

But there’s this verse that makes me stop my wallowing and listen to God instead.

“God is my allotted portion and my cup; You take charge of my lot.”  (Psalm 16:5)

Simply put, this means that God takes care of my circumstances.  Things around me may become shaky, but I can be unshaken as I stand firm IN my circumstances.

Why? Because I believe in God’s direction and providence in my life.  I love the note on this verse in my ESV Bible:   We can have “…contentment with the arrangements of one’s life, seeing them as providentially ordered.”

What a difference it makes to know and to trust God!  To know without a doubt that my interrupted plans are because of His plans for me that are far better than I can know or imagine.

Isn’t that what trust is all about anyway?

So, I acknowledge my sadness as I look at what might have been.

Then I move on.  I don’t jump in the mud and relish it.

“I have set the Lord continually before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  (Psalm 16:8)

And I will not wallow!

 

 

One Thing

I’m sitting here looking at my blank computer screen, wondering how on earth to write this post.  I write better when I can be totally up-front and honest about life.  But sometimes I can’t be that way because some matters are private, involving issues and people that prevent open sharing.

Was that catchy enough?  Do I have your attention now?  HaHa!

I really wasn’t trying to reel you in with my first few sentences.  I am, like I said, just being honest.

Recently, Gary and I had a “thing” happen.  It’s easy to say the typical phrases that we often here, such as what I just said.  “Things happen.”  Or here’s another one – “Life happens.”

Yet as a follower of Christ, I know better.  I don’t get upset when others, or when I, make those statements.

“You know, things just happen,” I have often said.

But again, I know better.  I know that God is the One Who is in charge of my life and who allows every single “thing” in my life to happen.  In reality, my “things” don’t just happen…they are permitted or ordained by God.  I am His child and He is in charge of all aspects of my life.

Most often, when we say that “things” happen, we’re not referring to happy “things.”  Usually, we are talking about stressful “things.”

Gary and I have had some recent stress.  Don’t we all?  We had to make the difficult decision to put our sweet Great Dane, Jackson, to sleep.  Not long after that, Aaron had a drop seizure on our stairs and ended up with eight staples in his head.  And then this “thing” intruded into our lives.  It’s not a happening that occurred, and then is over and done.  It’s more like a dark cloud of long-term wrong that will hover over us…well, forever, really.

All these “things”…all this stuff, plus many more daily stresses…can just be overwhelming and exhausting.  But two other “things” have taken place as well…in my heart, which is the best place for God to work HIS things.

One “thing” is that my mother’s favorite verse has been rolling around in my head for days now.  It’s Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I love, though, the meaning of “be still.”  This is how I have been saying this verse recently: “Quit striving, and know that I am God.”

I can’t make “things” not happen.  I can’t always change situations.  And even if I try, the doors often remain closed.  The damage is done.

I have a mental image of being tied up with ropes.  Those ropes are the “things” that have or are happening in my life.  I twist and turn and pull and flex against those awful ropes, trying to be free.  But God wants me to stop that!  He wants me to relax and to simply trust Him…to rest, and to know that He is God.  And as God, He will handle all my “things.”

All this sounds so good, doesn’t it?  So spiritual and so right.  But how on earth…really, how on this old sinful stressful earth…do I quit striving?

God gave me a huge part of that answer over the past few days.  It’s found in the first few verses of Psalm 27.

David talks about his “things.”  He says that evildoers want to devour his flesh.  He is surrounded by enemies, adversaries, and whole armies…literally…who want to destroy him.  He was living in caves as he tried to survive.  His treatment by King Saul was totally unjust and evil.

It’s awful to be hated.  It’s awful to be the recipient of unjust treatment.  It’s awful to be on the run, either mentally or physically…running from the pain and the wrong and the hurt.

So, in verse 4, David says, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek…”

Let me stop to say that I can tell you what my one thing usually is when hard times come, especially injustice.  My one thing is to think that if I could only talk to this person or to these people, I’d tell them a thing or two!  Or on a nicer slant, my one thing may be to try to have a pleasant, open talk with them. Surely, they will listen!  Just give me one chance, Lord, to handle my situation…whatever it is…by doing that one thing that will make ME feel better.

But what was David’s one thing?  He asked God to let him behold His beauty in the tabernacle, to meditate and to dwell in the temple.

In other words, David’s one thing was to worship God.

And there is the answer to my question about how to quit striving against my “things.”

Worship.

David’s one thing that he asked of God when he was going through all of his awful “things” was the opportunity to once again worship God in the tabernacle.

“There is only one place where your heart can be healed, restored, satisfied, and protected.  It won’t be healed by winning human wars.  It won’t be satisfied in human acceptance.  It won’t be restored when you have meted out vengeance.  It will only be filled, satisfied, and at rest when it is filled with the beauty of the Lord.”  (Paul Tripp)

When I focus on God, I am not focusing on my “things.”  I am instead aware of God’s greatness in the middle of my “things.”  His power is what upholds me.  His plan, however vague and unknown it may be to me, is one which I can accept because in God’s beauty I see His love for me.  I experience His peace and His grace when my eyes are on Him, and not on my “things.”

We all have those hard “things.”  Some of you are enduring much more difficult “things” than mine.  May we all learn to worship God even when we are surrounded by our pain and fears and sadness.

Then to rest…quit striving…and let God be God in our lives.

“Quit striving, and KNOW that I am God!”

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The Sprinkler Rainbow

“MOM!!”  Aaron yelled one evening not long ago as he rushed into the house.  “Come look at what Dad and I saw in the sprinkler!!”

It was just after supper and I was busy cleaning the kitchen as my mind was skipping to the next thing I needed to do.  That next thing was NOT to drop what I was doing and go outside to look in the sprinkler. 

Aaron commonly does this to us…insisting that we come here or go there or look at that in order to see or hear something that to him is just amazing…and to us is often not. 

Yet we have also learned, over our years of life with Aaron, two important lessons.  One is that taking the time to see what Aaron sees is sometimes a source of great joy and wonder and fun.  We might miss something fantastic if we don’t stop to look when Aaron says to stop and look.

And number two is that if we don’t just go ahead and listen and look, we will not have peace until we have heard and seen whatever in the world it is that Aaron is hearing and observing.  The price of peace is certainly worth a look and a listen.

So outside I went, following Aaron as he led the way through the garage and out to the front yard. 

“LOOK!!!” he exclaimed as he pointed toward the spraying water.  “A RAINBOW!!!”

I obediently looked, and sure enough…there through the mist…was a rainbow.

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Now I’ve seen rainbows in the water’s spray before as the sun shines on the droplets just right.  I’ve seen sprinkler rainbows lots of times.  But seeing the colorful prism through Aaron’s excited vision made that rainbow a very special sight indeed!

The moment was so sweet and brought a huge smile to my tired face.  Plus knowing that Gary had shared the discovery of that rainbow with Aaron, full of the facts surrounding the reasons why there even was a rainbow, brought me extra joy.  It was very well worth the extra minutes out of my day.

This past week I had what my good friend, Atha, would have called the “mulligrubs.”  That’s a real word, by the way.  It’s an old word for being down…on the sad side…having the gloomies.  Atha always understood me and I understood her, and we both understood those old down moments…or days.  Atha doesn’t have the mulligrubs anymore because she’s in heaven, but I’m still here on this earth where I sometimes battle the mulligrubs.

There are several reasons why I was gloomy last week, none of which are particularly important.  What’s important is that I was letting my emotions, my worries, and my stresses get the best of me.  Even my prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling, not going very far, and this definitely left me feeling even worse.

God talked to me in my gloom, though, and reminded me of what Paul said to Timothy about contentment.  He said that godliness…WITH contentment…is great gain.  But how to be content?  Especially how to be content when the tendency of my heart in those moments…or days…is quite the opposite.  That’s because my focus was on ME…not on God…and not on what God was trying to get me to see.

But God, ever patient, reminded me of another truth.  It’s found in Psalm 50:23 and says, “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.”  This concept is nothing new, to me or to you, but I am ever amazed at how being thankful can quickly become buried under all my “me stuff.” 

It’s like me in the kitchen the evening that Aaron saw the sprinkler rainbow.  I was focused on the task at hand, and then the next task, and the next, and the next…becoming overwhelmed with all I had to DO.  But stopping to listen to Aaron, to follow him outside, and to observe the pretty rainbow added a splash of joy that I needed that day, even though I didn’t think I did.  I had to stop…to take the time…to really SEE what needed to be seen.

A sacrifice. 

A sacrifice is not only something that I give, but a sacrifice should cost me something.  Otherwise, it’s not really a sacrifice in the true sense of the word.

So what does a sacrifice of thanksgiving cost…to me?

A sacrifice of thanksgiving costs me…me.

It means I lay “me” aside and I dwell on other things for awhile…or other people…or other situations. 

It means I sacrifice myself in order that I may focus on God’s good gifts that are all around me.  When the going gets tough, and the burdens are heavy, and the heart is lonely, and the concerns are just too much…then is when I need to follow God outside of all that, and to look through His eyes at what is around me.

Through the mist that might obscure my vision, if I just stop and look, I’ll see a rainbow.  Splashes of God’s blessings and color all around me.

I have a loving heavenly Father…a house…food…eyes to see…ears to hear…clothes to wear…a car to drive…flowers that bloom (at least some of them!)…a faithful and hard working husband…hands and legs and hair on my head (even on my all-too-often bad hair days!)…our sweet new friend, Jess, at Subway – who remembers Aaron and just gave him some money for Chubby, his stuffed piggy bank…and Aaron!

Aaron…who consumes my time and concerns my heart and confuses my plans and convicts me that God is very real and very present in our lives. 

Aaron…who showed me the rainbow in the sprinkler, and once again helped me to also see God. 

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God’s Many Colors

We’ve had a couple days of stormy weather here in Kansas; and for any of you who know me, you know what that means.  Sky pictures!!  I just love looking at our beautiful skies here in the flat land, especially from my vantage point in our daughter’s former bedroom, up on our third floor.  I have taken hundreds of pictures over the years from that same spot.  These pictures show many various scenes of the same scene, if that makes sense.  No two views of our sky are ever identical.

I’ve learned a lot over the years by watching our God-given sky.  It’s no surprise that I’ve also written about it in the past.   The Skies From My Window

We get some amazing storms here in Kansas.  The variety of pictures is limitless.  I love our sky here no matter the season or the weather, but I do have to say that the most stunning skies are the ones that present themselves during the storms.  Just look at some of the shots I took during our storm from two nights ago.

From the beginning:

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To the middle:

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To near the end:

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All were gorgeous in their own unique way.

I was thinking about yet another storm that roared through during the night last night.  Bright lightning…ferocious winds…heavy rain – we got a hefty dose of all that.  God pruned our trees during the night, for sure, as we awoke to lots of small branches all over the yard.  And though I couldn’t take pictures in the dark, the vivid lightning is still fresh in my mind.

The storms outside our windows have often reminded me of the storms that also come into our lives.  Whether the storms of life come in with a soft wind that builds over time…or if the storms blow in with a gusto that knocks us off our feet…we all face them, at one time or another, and another, and another.

And just like the majority of my most beautiful sky pictures are taken during the storms, so the majority of my most beautiful experiences with God happen during my storms of life.

In fact, James  – when speaking about our trials of life – uses the word “various” to describe them.  And guess what this word can also mean?

Multi-colored!

Just like my stormy, colorful Kansas sky, so my trials are described by God as being multi-colored.  Here’s what James says:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter VARIOUS trials, 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.”  (James 1:2-4)

Storms, and trials, can be intimidating and even dangerous.  But God uses James to tell us that we need to consider – to make a conscious judgment – about our multi-colored trials.  And that conscious decision is to face our storms deciding to be joyful.  This joy isn’t of our own nature, but is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  And sometimes it takes awhile to feel that joy, that’s for sure.

And remember that joy isn’t happiness.  Joy is a deep-in-my-heart contentment because I know and trust that the God Who brings the storm is the God Who brings it for a very good reason.  I can look ahead to what He promises will come as a result of the storm, too.

Endurance.  That means “abiding under difficulties.”

And endurance produces perfection, which is maturity.

And maturity makes me complete, which means “full development.”

These traits aren’t just academic notes on a piece of paper.  They are real characteristics of a Christ follower who has endured the many difficulties and trials of this life on earth.

Just like the most vivid skies are stormy skies, my most vivid pictures of God’s character have been taken during the storms and trials of my life.  I have learned the most about God during those rocky times that I have needed Him the most.

Sunny skies are nice, and pleasant, and restful, and needed.

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But stormy skies are teaching skies for me…huge, magnificent photos of God’s mercy…God’s grace…God’s love…God’s protective arms around me.

So when the storms come, as they certainly will, may I not spend the time hiding and worrying and doubting.

May I clearly see the storms, not as an intrusion, but as instruction.

And may I spend the time taking picture after picture of the beauty that God is painting for me, using the palette that only He holds.

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What Is

It happened to me again several weeks ago.  An innocent conversation…a random comment…and I found myself having to corral my thoughts into line with some principles that God has hammered home to me over and over again for years. 

I want to be honest about what happened, but I also don’t want to alienate family or friends.  I don’t want anyone to think they can’t share their life with me.  So here goes.

This person was talking to me about his upcoming retirement, and then the plans that he and his wife had.  Later, as Gary and I drove away, I shared with Gary how I had that twinge of longing as our friend talked.  And how I knew better than to dwell on it and to therefore give Satan that opportunity he always looks for, the opportunity to push that door fully open that I have allowed to crack open, even just a little bit. 

You see, our life with Aaron is a life far different from typical couples our age.  Gary and I are not fully free to do many of the things that our peers are able to do.  And that’s OK…truly OK.  But sometimes the comparisons come, and if I am not careful then I can wallow in misery, and therefore open myself to sin and defeat.

The very next day…literally…after this conversation, I was at my desk as usual in the early morning.  I opened my Bible and my study book to the section of I Samuel that I was reading and was soon amazed at how God spoke to me in those quiet moments.

I read about Saul’s son, Jonathan, and his deep friendship with David.  Saul was the king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had told him that his reign would end with him.  His family would not inherit the kingship.  This meant that Jonathan would never be the king.  But who would be the next king?  David…Jonathan’s dear friend.

Jonathan knew this.  He knew that he would never be king.  In fact, in I Samuel 18, Jonathan gave his robe, along with his armor and his sword, his bow and his belt, to his friend David.  This act was a symbol of the fact that Jonathan was surrendering any right he had to the throne…surrendering it to David.  And not only that, but Jonathan continued to be an even better soldier and leader than his father, the king.  Jonathan certainly behaved in a godly, kingly fashion, even though he knew he would never assume the throne. 

As Dale Davis says in his book, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart: “For Jonathan, then, the kingdom was not his to seize, not his to rule, but his to serve.”

And then this, which impacted me so greatly: “Maybe a tragic life isn’t tragic if it’s lived in fidelity to what Christ asks of us in the circumstances he gives us.”

Did you catch that?  Living in loyalty to Christ IN the circumstances He gives us! 

That’s what Jonathan did.  He lived royally even though he would never in reality BE a royal.  He lived in covenant relationship to God, faithfully, IN his circumstances.

This is exactly what I am supposed to do, every day.  I thought that morning of I Timothy 6:6, of what Paul told Timothy.  Paul said that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  The note in my study Bible says that this is “an inner satisfaction with the situation that God has ordained for him.”

But how on earth is that possible, day after day…that inner satisfaction with situations in life that are so often very UNsatisfactory?!

This satisfaction is only possible when I realize that it doesn’t come from ME.  I can’t manufacture this deep peace.  Only God can do that in my heart as I surrender all my rights to Him and then obey Him by trusting Him. 

It’s realizing that God Himself loves me, and He is the One that has given me what I have in this life, hard as some of it may be.

My circumstances are not the hand I have been dealt.  My circumstances are not bad luck…or good luck.  They are not the luck of the draw.  Nor are my circumstances due to karma, or any other such nonsense that we sometimes are inclined to believe. 

God chose me and He saved me, and as His child I know that each occurrence in my life…every situation…is entirely under His authority and in His plan for me.  I know He loves me and I know that I can trust Him, totally, to do what’s best for me and what will cause me to give Him glory.  What a waste if I don’t!!

So when the pain comes to my heart and my life…when I’m inclined to settle in the negative thoughts and desires and questions that pop up so unexpectedly…I have the responsibility to do one thing right away.  That one thing is to talk to my Father and let His loving arms surround me with His peace.  And then obey, like Jonathan did.  Just live in obedience, step by step, and know that God will honor that obedience in my life.

He may not honor my obedience by taking away my situations, but that’s not why I am to obey. 

So the bottom line in all of this is just this: 

May my circumstances not dictate my response, but may my response be dictated by God’s character.

What is…is…because God is the One in charge.

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And He is a very, very good God.