Of No Use?

Our neighbors across the street from us had a yard sale a couple weeks ago.  Aaron loves yard sales!  He REALLY loved the fact that there was a yard sale right across the street!  He asked if we could go over and check it out to see if there was something he could buy.  I agreed, knowing that he would end up over there anyway talking to Derek and Gina until I came to the rescue and escorted him home.

Before we left, I remembered that in my wallet was an envelope that held Aaron’s remaining Christmas gift money.  I was always forgetting it was there!  I looked inside and pulled out the cash.  Aaron had $5.00 to spend, and he was happy.

It didn’t take Aaron long to spy exactly what he wanted.  A lava lamp!!  Aaron LOVES lava lamps and has been through several over the years.  He has a glitter lava lamp in his room now, but this was a good old normal lava lamp.   Aaron knew he had found his yard sale prize!

We looked at the sticker and guess what?  It was priced at $5.00!  Could it be any more perfect?  We crossed the street with the “new to Aaron” lava lamp, carried it up to his room, placed it on his already crowded nightstand, plugged it in, and went about our day.

Aaron was waiting, though, for the level gunk in the lamp to begin bubbling.  As he went about the remainder of the day and evening, he kept glancing at his lit lava lamp.  There was no motion, however.  The gunk was still.

“Mom!” Aaron finally said.  “Do you think I bought something that is of no use?!”

I turned my head away so I could smile at his phrasing.  He’s just so funny sometimes…so precise.

“No, not at all,” I responded.  “The lamp just takes some time to heat up the goo inside.”

Gary got home and Aaron happily showed him his new lava lamp…his still not-moving lava lamp.  Supper came and went, as did evening chores and Wheel of Fortune and watching our DVD show just before bed.

As Aaron got into his bed, he sighed with exasperation as he looked at his boring lit but not bubbling lava lamp.

“I think I bought something that is of no use!” he sadly repeated as he pulled his covers up.  I was beginning to wonder myself if the lamp would work even as I told Aaron that it just needed more time.

No one was happier than me to walk in Aaron’s room the next morning, his coffee in hand, and see the lava lamp bubbling in all its globby glory!!  YAY!!!  Yay for Aaron…yay for me…and a special yay for Derek and Gina, whom I was afraid would have certainly heard all about the lava lamp that was of no use!!

Aaron was happy, happy!  And every day since then, when he returns from his day group, he plugs in the lava lamp, totally enjoying the goopy bubbles in all their various shapes and sizes!

Last night, Aaron went to bed talking about how he was going out to eat lunch the next day with a group from Paradigm – his day group.  There is nothing Aaron loves any more than eating out.  So, this morning I wasn’t too surprised to hear him stirring early.  How early?  Aaron keeps a logbook like this:

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This morning’s time was:

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He had so much to look forward to today!  He was ready to get this show on the road!  He supervised me as I poured his coffee and carried it to his room, then told me he would shower and dress.  I went back to my quiet time desk, but it wasn’t quiet for long.

Aaron was soon standing behind my chair, his shower completed and his impatience growing.

“Mom,” he ordered.  “Take your shower and put your make-up on so it will become 9:00!”

I soon realized that Aaron’s hurried mood wasn’t going to improve until he saw me making some headway concerning my shower and make-up.  But I also realized that Aaron’s eyes were very droopy, and his mood was changing even further from excitement to not feeling so well.  He told me his head hurt, his stomach hurt, and that he felt like he was having a dream.  We’ve learned that this often means a seizure is coming.  Aaron was ready to go back to bed, and sure enough I soon heard on the baby monitor the unmistakable sound of a seizure.

I never like Aaron’s seizures, of course, but I especially detest them when they keep him from doing something that he’s looking forward to so much.  No eating lunch out today for Aaron, I thought.  Bless his heart!

And my heart?  My mama heart takes a beating every time I watch Aaron going through this hard part of his life.  He handles all this much better than I do, thankfully.  But as I looked down at Aaron when I checked on him later, look what was in the background.

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The lava lamp.  Aaron’s lava lamp, that he worried was of no use, was performing perfectly there beside Aaron in his bed.

And it hit me.  How easy it would be for me to wonder about all the why’s of Aaron’s seizures and autism…to even feel like it was all sadness and of no use.  But never, never have I felt such hopeless thoughts.  Even in the changed path of Aaron’s life…changed from what we thought our firstborn son’s life would be…there is the sure hope that only God can give.

You see, knowing and following Christ gives to me and to Gary and to Aaron the same hope that God gave to Jeremiah to share with the Jewish nation centuries ago.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

I can claim that promise for us and for Aaron today because we know that God!  We know that He has told us in Romans 8:28 that “ALL things work together for good to those that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.”

God doesn’t plan to hurt us!  He plans to work for our good in order to conform us to Christ!  We have a hope in Him and a future beyond anything we can imagine!

So you see, all the tough times and the sadness and the unanswered questions we may have do NOT mean that this life is of no use.  Absolutely not!!  This life is working perfectly, just how God intended, and in that knowledge – in God Himself – I can trust, and I can rest.

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What Am I Cultivating?

I sat on our patio one recent morning, enjoying coffee while watching birds and dragonflies flitting all around.  The mowed yard, the green trees, the blue sky…it was all so pretty and pleasant.  But then my eyes wandered over to our garden plot.  UGH!!  So much for looking at beauty!

Why?  Because for the second year in a row, Gary and I did not plant a vegetable garden.  Rain…two out-of-town trips…schedules – it all added up to once again, no garden.

Now our  small garden area is a huge mess, full of overgrown weeds and sad neglected old tomato cages.  What a difference to have gone from this:

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To this:

 

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Same ground, but different cultivating.

I read this verse around the time I was thinking about the comparison in our little piece of land from one year to the next.

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”  (Psalm 37:3)

 

God’s desire for Israel was for them to dwell in the land He had promised to them.  He told them over and over that dwelling in the land successfully and fully would require their total obedience to Him.  In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel very clearly what their choice was:

 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”  (v. 15-16)

 

God told them that disobedience would bring death and a curse.  He urged them to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.  And not just life but life AND prosperity.

In other words, to cultivate faithfulness.

This same principle is very true for me today.  I have a choice to make.  God won’t force me to make the right one, but He has told me what the right choice is and how to make that choice.

It’s simple, really.  Choose to love God, choose to obey Him, and hold fast to Him.  Hold fast by hanging onto Him when life is crazy and tiring and disappointing.

I get really tired sometimes.  I know we all do.  Just as I began this blog, Aaron called me from his day group.  I knew he had been having a hard day, and his voice and manner on the phone confirmed it.  I ended up just picking him up early today to avoid any further meltdowns at his day group.  This change in my day was not in my plan.  His attitude today makes me angry and tired.

And guess what I saw before all this happened?  Beautiful beach vacation pictures.  When I hung up from talking to Aaron, I was wanting to just hang up this life with him too, quite honestly.  For a fleeting minute, I wanted to give in to my beach thoughts…have a pity party…and allow myself the “luxury” of wallowing in the wishes for a life I don’t have.

I just HAD to be writing a blog today on faithfulness, right?!

You see, God has put me right here where I am.  This life with Aaron is not what I had planned, but I must see and trust that this life with Aaron is what God planned…for me.

And in this life that He planned for me, I really do want to live it in victory and joy. I want to cultivate this:

 

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And not this:

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It truly is up to me which picture will be the picture of my life.  I choose what to cultivate by choosing whether to love God…obey Him…and hold fast to Him.

I love Him by praising Him even when I don’t like what’s going on around me.

I obey Him by reading His word and finding out what exactly it is He wants me to do each day…and then DO it!

And I hold fast to Him by not allowing my thoughts to digress into selfish wishful thinking and all those “what if’s?” and asking Him to give me grace to love and handle Aaron correctly.

I should know that when God burdens me with a blog, then He’s going to hammer it home to me in a very personal way!  😊

So, wherever you are today…on a public stage or stuck at home…reeling from an unexpected diagnosis…planning a funeral…facing life alone as a single…hurting from unfaithfulness…starting all over in a new life or new church or new friends…losing your job or needing a new one…raising your grandchildren…raising special needs children…

Whatever is your situation, just remember:

CULTIVATE FAITHFULNESS!

And just watch what God will grow in your life!

 

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The Jam in the Road!

I broke the devastating news to Aaron a few weeks ago.

“Aaron!” I began with great excitement.  “We’re going to Houston over the 4th to see Kyle and Andrea, and YOU’RE coming with us!!”

There was a pause.  I often know what Aaron’s pauses are about, but this one was a mystery.  Not for long, however.

“NO!!” he replied with emphasis.  “I DON’T want to go to see Andrea and Kyle!!”

“What?!” I asked.  “You’re always saying, ‘Can us as a family do this or do that?’, so we thought you would love going with us.”

“I DON’T want to GO!!” he blurted out again.  “I want to stay in this house, and I want Casady to watch over me!”

I was surprised at this turn of events.  Aaron has traveled with us in the past, even on an airplane, and has not demonstrated this level of anger at the thought of traveling.  Thus began our big summer sell…yes, sell…as Gary and I attempted to sell Aaron on this idea of taking a vacation trip with us.

Just as we would be thinking that Aaron was warming up to the idea, out he would come with another reason that he did NOT want to go.

“I just like MY house!”

“I want to sleep in MY bed!”

“I want Casady to watch over me!”

“I want to eat out when you’re gone!”

“Are we eating at a restaurant on the way to Andrea’s, or at a STORE?!!”

And even when he saw a commercial about our local fireworks, he had even more ammunition for not going with us.

“SEE??!!  The fireworks start July 4th!  How can I see the fireworks if it’s not July 4th at Andrea’s house?!”

I got lots of deep breathing exercises done during those 3 weeks before our trip.  Lots.

He ran out to the porch one day when he saw me talking on the phone.

“Is that Andrea??  Let me talk to Andrea!!”

So, I put the phone on speaker.

“Andrea!!  Do you have a place in the wall in your house where I can plug in my Nintendo??!”

Seriously??  Does he think that Andrea and Kyle live in a jungle tent?!

But as always, Andrea was the picture of patience as she carefully answered all of Aaron’s questions with as much seriousness toward him and his concerns as she would if she was talking to one of her genetics patients.

He told everybody he talked to…neighbors, day program staff, family…that he did not want to go to Texas.  Everybody told him how much fun it would be, and that he should go and that he would love it.  He didn’t care what everybody said.  His mind was made up.  The big sell was not working.

He and I packed his DVD player on the weekend before we were leaving.  He picked out some movies.  We packed his CD player.  He picked out some CD’s.  We packed his Nintendo DS.  He picked out the game he really wanted to play along with the game guidebook.  We packed his Handy Answer Geology Book because his topic of choice and endless conversations at that time was all about the core of the earth.  We packed his snacks.  He picked out Pringles and Twizzlers and peanuts at Wal-Mart.

There!  We were all set!

Or so we thought…and hoped.  Silly parents!

On Tuesday, the day before we were leaving, I had hoped to get out the door to take Aaron to his day group a little early so that I could get a pedicure.  But Aaron was grouchy about having to go to Paradigm and having to go to Texas the next day.  He was a simmering mess as we drove to his day group.  And when he got out of the car, he threw his water bottle at the fence.

“Get in the car,” I told him.  “I’m taking you home.”

But a few blocks up the road, Aaron begged me to turn around and take him back.  I did.  And a few miles up the road, my cell phone rang.  It was Aaron, who was crying as he told me that this time he threw his water bottle at one of the staff.  I turned around again, picked up my upset son…trying hard myself not to be the same…and took him home.  I zipped down to the nail salon, where there was by now a long wait, so I once again headed home to finish our packing and to deal with angry Aaron.

Aaron was spent and he was sad over his actions.  He walked in while I was loading some clothes into the washing machine.

“Mom?” he calmly asked.  “Can we start over and forgive each other?”

Of course, my heart melted as I assured him that we could most definitely do just that.  I had no idea how much forgiving was in my near future.

The remainder of that day was happy, but as bedtime drew near his mood changed yet again.  He was nervous as the actual day of our trip was now a few hours away.  Everything was irritating him, especially me.

More deep breathing for me as I stared down at my toes that did not have their needed pedicure.

The departure morning dawned with us having to awaken angry Aaron, who wanted none of this trip.  We were finally in the car, packed to the gills, with one quick errand for Gary to run before we left town.  I ran to the back of the car to adjust some things and had to smile at Aaron.  There he was, earphones already in use, with all his food and music and movies and coffee and pillow around him.

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We weren’t too far down the highway when Aaron decided to take a nap.  This was a good thing in more ways than one.

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And when he woke up, he was a new man.  He was happy and talkative…in a very nice way…ready for a rest area stop and full of new life.

Maybe we made the hard sell after all?!

We headed back down the highway again.

“Can we stop for lunch?” Aaron asked.  “At 12:00?”

Of course, Aaron wanted lunch at 12:00!  Those who know Aaron know that he will rarely eat lunch before 12:00.  There he was, sitting behind me, watching his core of the earth movie…wearing his sweater with his shoes off and his striped blanket over his lap…wearing his headphones…crunching on his peanuts…

Aaron very much wanted his normal to travel with him.  The reason he did not want to take this trip is because his normal is at home, not in the car and not on the road and not at Kyle and Andrea’s.  He feels no control when his normal is disrupted, and having no control is both scary and maddening to Aaron.  The behaviors we were seeing was, for Aaron, his normal way of expressing his loss of normal in his life.  But for us, it was very frustrating and exhausting to deal with his handling of these concerns.

It was classic Autism 101.  And we were just beginning our class.  We had no idea of the tests that were yet ahead.  Like these storm clouds south of Dallas, we were headed into an Aaron storm.

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The first one hit us about 40 miles from Houston, near the Sam Houston National Park.  Not rain and lightning, but red tail lights.   Those tail lights up ahead of us on I45 were not a welcome sight.  Traffic jam!  And not just a little traffic jam!  We were stuck there, creeping along very slowly, for over an hour and a half!

Aaron lost his happy.  We nearly lost our cool.  The day had totally gone downhill yet again.

“Can we just HURRY with this vacation?!” he asked.

Oh, if only!!

Finally, we pulled into Kyle and Andrea’s driveway.  We could hardly wait to get inside, to hug our kids and hug the doggies, to stretch our legs and our backs, and just be out of that car!  Except for Aaron, who angrily informed us that he was NOT getting out of the car and he was NOT going into Andrea’s house and that he WAS going to stay in the car all night.  Twelve hours in the car wasn’t enough for him?!

But I knew what was going on with Aaron.  He was a nervous wreck about going inside this new house that did not hold his normal.  Even the fact that Andrea was there didn’t help him at that point because her life in this strange house was just that…strange.  She was married now, she and Kyle living together, and all of it was just too much for Aaron.

Gary and I went inside to barking, ecstatic dogs…to hugs from Andrea and Kyle…to the smell of supper and the warmth of family.  But poor Aaron, still out in the car, was only anticipating a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable start to this vacation.

My heart went out to him even as I battled my desire to yell at him.  One day in, and this vacation was not the happy time that I had hoped it would be.

I went outside, where I found Aaron struggling to gather up and carry as many of his things as he could.  He would carry as much of his normal into this strange house as he could!  Finally, he headed toward the door, his arms as full of his blanket and movies and music as he could carry.

I got him in the house, then went back to the car for some things, and when I walked into the kitchen a minute later there stood Aaron, talking for all he was worth about the core of the earth.  It was so classic!  So totally Aaron!  And so lovingly Andrea as she sweetly conversed with him about a subject so out there…but again, so Aaron.

Andrea walked with us upstairs to the bedroom Aaron was using.  She had it fixed just perfectly, complete with a big soft stuffed dog bearing Aaron’s name, perched on the bed.  She knows her Aaron so well!  We showed him that Andrea and Kyle did indeed have outlets in their walls!  We got all his devices plugged in.  We showed him how his bed would be just fine…how there was a lamp on the table beside the bed…how he could see at night with the light from the window.  He was relaxing, at least a little, though still full of concerns.

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He didn’t want to come to supper, but finally he did come down.  He ate, all the while talking to Kyle about Star Wars matters.  Kyle engaged him perfectly on that topic.  Aaron was literally shaking all over, partly because of pent-up nerves and partly because he was SO excited to be talking about one of his favorite subjects with someone who knew all about it, too.

The next three days were quite a mixture for all of us.  Aaron was at one moment happy and funny, and the next might be angry and insulting.  He had some good times when Kyle’s mom, dad, and cousin came over for the 4th.  We ate burgers and watermelon and watched some fireworks.  He spent a little time here and there petting the dogs.  But he didn’t want to go anywhere, and we knew not to push him.  He was happiest when we went out to eat one night.  But we didn’t take him to the beach or a museum or shopping.  Heat and crowds and Aaron’s mood was a volatile mix.  It was not the vacation that I had hoped it would be.

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Aaron was more than ready to leave on the morning of our departure.  “I want to live in MY house, not HERE!” he declared.  Nice.

Aaron’s normal was spread around him on the back seat as we made good time leaving Houston and trucked up the highway toward Dallas.  But south of Dallas we saw them…the red lights of stopped cars!!

“Is that a JAM in the road?!” Aaron asked, almost in a panic.

“I’m afraid it is,” Gary answered.  And sure enough, we crept along again for over an hour due to an accident up ahead.

Later, in Oklahoma, we had another slow down for construction.  Aaron got so that every time he saw backed up traffic ahead, he would ask the same question.

“Is that a JAM in the road?!”

How perfectly that describes our life with Aaron…and not just on this vacation, but nearly every day.

We get jammed up trying to understand and manage Aaron’s behaviors…his way of thinking…his expectations…his demands.  We are forced to move at a much slower pace than we want because Aaron won’t respond to any other speed than his own.

“Oh, he’s just autistic!”

That’s so easy to say, but wow, the complexity of what this autism involves!

I cried twice at Kyle and Andrea’s.  Cried out of sheer frustration, disappointment, anger, and sadness.  Cried because I realized how tied down and unusual our life is with Aaron.  Then came guilt because I felt that way.

UGH!!!!!

I was anxious to get back in my Bible on Monday morning.  Nothing comforts me and encourages me like opening God’s treasure chest full of His words.  One thing I read in a devotional book I’m using was Psalm 12:6:

“And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.”

Boyd Bailey said, “The Bible is our handbook for holiness and happiness.  We steward it well when we honor it above our own wishful thinking.”

My wishful thinking about life with Aaron isn’t what often honors God or helps with our big road jam.  But when I read the Bible and listen to God, I do find what Boyd Bailey also says:  “We listen for instructions in our obedience.  We listen for encouragement.  We listen for rebuke.  We listen to the Lord’s flawless words because we know we are loved by Him.”

The traffic jams on our road with Aaron will continue.  They will come and they will go.  Up and down.  I mess up.  I don’t have all the answers.

But I know where to go for all that I really need, and for God’s Word and for His love I am ever grateful.

God knows the road ahead for us with Aaron.  The map of His Word will guide our attitudes as we journey.  God will go before us, behind us, and most importantly He will be beside us.

There isn’t a jam in any road that’s too big for God!

 

 

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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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 Plan

Today is a super special day!  You see, it’s my anniversary…OUR anniversary!  The day that Gary and I said “I Do!!”  It was 39 years ago that I wore the beautiful dress that my mother had made, every stitch lovingly sewn by her hand.  39 years ago that I walked down that aisle of the brand new Johnston Chapel Baptist Church, the first bride to do so in our new sanctuary.  39 years ago that I joined my hand with Gary’s and we embarked on our new life together. 

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Doesn’t it sound perfectly romantic?  And it was!!  It was because we planned it that way.  Every bride plans her wedding day to be exactly as she wants it to be.  We’re watching our daughter, Andrea, plan her wedding to Kyle now.  It’s fun to see their special day taking shape. 

No bride and groom plans for things to go awry on their special day.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned on the big day, but the plan is for all to be as perfect as possible.  Perfect plans, planned with perfection…the dress, the tuxes, the flowers, the attendants, the food, the music…each checked off the list as the plans take shape. 

The PLAN!!

Fast forward 39 years, to this morning.

I had a plan for this morning.  I was going to sleep in on this Saturday morning.  My normal wake-up time is 5:30. That’s a.m.  So on a Saturday, I love having no alarm go off.  I love waking up when I wake up, which is never real late but any time past 5:30…A.M.!!…is late for me. 

Part of my careful plan is to even set the coffee-maker alarm for one hour later than normal.  Ahhhh…luxury!!

Therefore, you can understand my irritation when our old Great Dane stood up this morning in our bedroom where he sleeps, and halfway shook himself, and woke me up.  I knew…I just KNEW…what I was going to find.  Jackson doesn’t get up off his mattress on the floor very easily now because he is so old and stiff, but the one time that he will get off his bed is when he either has to go potty, or he already HAS gone potty.

This morning it was the latter.

And it wasn’t even 6:00 yet…which means it was five something…too close to my normal wake-up time for this Saturday morning when I had so carefully planned to sleep late!!

And yeah, there was poop involved, on the floor and on his bed.

I did finally go back to bed after the clean-up, but it just wasn’t the same.

Happy Anniversary day!

Dear Gary had given me flowers yesterday evening, and this morning they were joined by the sweetest card.  Then later, coffee cups in hand, we walked down to our little Mulberry tree with Jackson sniffing all around, and we picked mulberries.  It’s so us, this simple kind of thing.  It’s the simple life that we love in the place that we are.  I was planning breakfast on the patio with the birds and me and Gary, then making his favorite cheesecake, and on I went with my planning.

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Then the back door opened.  Gary and I saw Aaron coming across the yard.  He was early to get up, as well.  We both looked at each other, knowing what we each were thinking.  Aaron joining us wasn’t really in our plan for this morning quite yet.

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Aaron wondered what we were doing.  He was unimpressed with the fact that we were picking mulberries.  He wanted us to be back in the house, where we could see that he had his coffee and where we could listen to him talk.  But we continued picking our mulberries while Aaron walked back to the house, a little in a huff because his morning wasn’t beginning as planned, either.

Soon I did fix our breakfast, where Gary and I were once again joined by Aaron.  He was still a bit huffy and on edge, but bacon helped.  I thought it was quite ironic that he was wearing a shirt that said, “No Bad Days.”  HA!!

I wish it could be that simple, but with Aaron it’s just not.  A day not going as he so carefully plans can set him on the wrong path for sure, and Gary and I are dragged along as well.  But breakfast, and joining me as I watered the flowers, and going with Gary to the hardware store, did a world of good for Aaron…and for us…and so our day has been going along just fine.

Not perfect, though, as we would like to plan for our anniversary to be.  But it’s us, with Aaron, and it’s really what it’s supposed to be.

39 years ago, in that pretty church with all our plans coming together, I would never ever have dreamed of having our 33 year old special needs son still living with us.  It’s not that we don’t love Aaron.  It’s just that having ANY child with special needs, and all that this life entails, would never have been in our master plan. 

But our life, with Aaron, WAS in God’s master plan for us…because He is the Master of our lives.  We’re not.  It really is that simple.

Yet not that easy, on many days and in many ways.  We have questioned and struggled and been angered plenty of times over these years.  And still, God reminds us that our plans are not always His plans.  He tells us that He knows the path that we take, because it’s the path that He put us on.  It may be a path with suffering and pain, with questions and even anger, but it’s always with God beside us and under us and all around us. 

I’m thankful that God also forgives us, because we don’t do this very well on some days.

I looked at my cup of tea this morning as we ate breakfast on the patio, Aaron included.  My tea was in a wonderful mug that our friend, Terri, helped Aaron make for me while we were out of town last week.  He wasn’t sure that he would like painting, as he calls it…and he still isn’t sure that he liked painting.  But he is very proud of that mug.  He even opened the running dishwasher the other night when friends were over so that he could show them his mug that he made for Mom. 

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I will treasure that mug.  I will treasure our Aaron, even on the trying days, with God’s strength.

And I will treasure the careful plan that God has made for our life, including the trying days, with God’s strength. 

Our life began with a plan, and our life will end with a plan. 

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God’s plan!  The best plan!!

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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.