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.

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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.

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

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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.

How Quickly Things Can Change!

This past Saturday, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent some time in the garden.  I ended up with a large bucket full of tomatoes.  Our tomato plants have produced beautifully this year!  It’s certainly the best tomato year we’ve ever had.  I’ve canned quite a few quarts, and as I looked at my overflowing bucket I knew that there would be more canning soon to come. 

Aaron was in a very happy mood over the weekend.  One of his favorite staff from his day group came over for pizza on Friday evening.  When he left, Aaron got to spend some time petting our neighbor’s cat, Dallas.

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There was a favorite television show to watch that night, too.  And the next day there was time outside, time playing Skip-Bo, and tacos for supper that night.  It doesn’t get much better than that!  Simple joys are sometimes the best joys.

Aaron was in such a helpful mood on Saturday, too.  He helped me cook the tacos and set the table.  And then he offered to help me wash the tomatoes from the garden after supper.  We got them all cleaned up, with Aaron stacking them higher and higher on the counter.  We laughed when four of them fell on floor and we had to reposition the tomato tower. 

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On Sunday afternoon, Gary and I had hoped to take Aaron to a corn maze.  However, Aaron started complaining of a sore throat.  We could also tell that he was getting a cold.  We’ve learned not to tell him in advance that we might go somewhere, just in case it doesn’t work out, so he was none the wiser when Gary and I cancelled the corn maze idea.

On Sunday night…..actually, early in dark morning hours on Monday……Aaron had a seizure at 1:20.  Then another and another, until finally he ended up having five very hard seizures in five hours.  He was already struggling with all the head congestion, so the seizures were a little scarier than usual.  He bit his tongue and wet his bed – all the bad stuff that points to hard seizures. 

He slept all day yesterday, Monday, on the couch while I washed all of his bedding.  When he did awaken, he sounded terrible because of his congestion and his swollen throat.  He was running a fever.  He was terribly weak, the seizures having taken quite a toll and then his illness making matters worse. 

He very slowly made it up the stairs in the late afternoon, on all fours like a monkey because when he’s weak he feels safer that way.  He climbed in bed and immediately fell back to sleep.  He got out of bed for an hour, later in the evening, and then slept all night last night. 

I took him to the doctor this morning.  Aaron had pneumonia last year and was in the hospital for a week.  That was my fear now, but thankfully he doesn’t have pneumonia.  In fact, we’re treating this as a virus and waiting to see what happens.  Too many antibiotics last year was really hard on his body for months afterward, so we want to avoid those drugs if at all possible. 

Aaron ate a little lunch when we got home.  Now he is sleeping, again.  Poor guy. 

And I’ve been thinking how quickly things can change.  Sickness with Aaron is more serious than it usually is with most of us.  Sickness on top of five hard seizures has just done a number on him.  He is very slow and wobbly, and extremely tired.

It’s amazing how we could go from this:

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To this:

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To this.

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Hopefully, what Aaron has right now is nothing terribly serious.  But the stark change that he has gone through, literally overnight, is a reminder to me that we just never know what a day……what an hour……might hold for us. 

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In James 1:2, James told us to consider it joy when we encounter various trials.  That word “consider” means to make a judgment.  It’s up to me to decide how I’m going to view my hard times.  It’s my call.  And various trials really mean “multi-colored trials.”  I think we all would agree that trials come in all different colors.  God uses a wide variety of situations in my life to grow me and to teach me. 

But again, it’s what I do with my trials that can make all the difference.  It’s like Aaron’s pile of tomatoes, stacked up on the kitchen counter.  I could have left them there, where eventually they would rot and be no good for us or anyone.

Or I could do what I did Monday while Aaron slept nearby on the couch.  I could use the tomatoes for something good……for something that will benefit us during the cold winter that’s coming.

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It was my decision what I did with those tomatoes.

And it’s my decision what I do with the trials in my life, so often unexpected and unwelcome.  God is waiting to grow me through the troubles I have.  I don’t have to understand them, but I do have to make the choice to let God use them in my life for something good…..and in the lives of others as well, I hope. 

Not to become bitter, but better.  And then in future cold days that may come, I will benefit from the lessons learned…..learned in the hard times. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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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!!

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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 –

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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!

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The Skies From My Window

Many of you know that I love taking pictures of our pretty Kansas sky.  My favorite place to take those pictures is from the window in one of our upstairs bedrooms.  This bedroom will always be, to us, Andrea’s room – even though she moved from home several years ago.  When I see a particularly pretty sky I will run upstairs, open the window and lift the screen, and fire away with my phone camera.   

As I look back on these pictures, I find that no two are the same.  Absolutely every shot of our sky, on every day that I took those shots, is entirely different……if there are clouds involved, that is.  I don’t usually take pictures of a totally blue sky, though blue skies are nice.  But after a while, completely blue skies would be a little boring. 

Sometimes the pictures are simply beautiful, like the one I snapped last night.  Isn’t this just breathtaking?

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Some inspire awe, like this one.

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Sometimes I see life.

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Other times the seasons show themselves.

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This one view, from the same windows…..the same vantage point……is anything from being the same, day by day. 

It’s a lot like my circumstances in life……like yours, too, I’m sure.  Our circumstances change, sometimes often and other times less frequently.  At times the changes are dramatic.  Other times the changes come subtly, but they come regardless.

Our circumstances may be pleasant, and some of the changes we go through can be happy and pleasant as well.

But other circumstances are painful or shocking, involving deep hurt……fear……dread. 

Last week I found out about two friends who were just diagnosed with cancer.  And I took another friend for some testing after an X-Ray showed something suspicious.  We are still awaiting her results.  Some have already received disturbing news…..others are still waiting, with dread, on what may be.

My circumstances……my surroundings……can on one day fill me with peace and on the next day fill me with worry.  It’s like my view of our sky from the upstairs windows.  Sometimes peaceful…..

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Sometimes stormy……

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I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus.  Moses certainly experienced a variety of circumstances in his life……plenty of high’s and low’s.  From a basket in the bulrushes to the palace.  From the palace to the desert.  From shepherding sheep to leading a nation.  From the parting of the Red Sea to the grumbling of that unhappy nation.  From speaking to God on the mountain to confronting idol worship at the foot of the mountain.  From obedience to anger. 

After the Israelites had given up on Moses and turned to worshipping the golden calf, Moses and God both were pretty angry.  Moses went back to God after things settled down a bit and he prayed.  He said, “God, let me know your ways that I may know you….” 

God’s answer? “And He said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

God’s presence is all that His people needed……and it’s all that you and I need.  He’s promised to be with us, and He’s promised to give His children rest. 

Two things I’ve learned in the years that I have lived.  First, don’t look to my surroundings for rest…..even in the good times.  When life is going well, with sunny skies and soothing views ahead, those things should not be the source of my rest and peace.  I’m thankful when life is pleasant, but pleasantness is not the source of rest.  Only God is to be my strength and my peace.  Knowing Him and depending on Him, following Him and trusting Him, is still the number one thing I need to do when the skies are sunny and beautiful.

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Second, I’ve learned to also not let my surroundings…..my circumstances……pull me down and rob me of rest.  This happens so easily when skies are stormy and life is stressful.  Bad news…..stressful relationships……more bills than we have money……wayward children……    We all know what it’s like.  Life is full of the hard times, unfortunately, and they often happen suddenly.  At other times we live under the stresses day after day as they gradually take their toll.  But still, the rough times are to be a time of rest……..and they can be if we know the same God that Moses knew. 

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For God’s promise to Moses is our promise as well:  “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”  (Exodus 33:14)

Remember I said that pictures of blue skies would get boring?  I love blue skies, but honestly the best pictures occur when clouds are present. 

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So it is with us.  I believe the best lessons are learned when we have some clouds in our lives.  Deeper trust and greater joy have been my experience during the stormier times of life. 

Those clouds also bring a more intimate walk with God, full of so much beauty.  Hopefully I can reflect Him more as I walk closer beside Him. 

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And I can rest.  I don’t know today how God will give me rest, but He has said He will and I believe Him. 

Rest, and enjoy the view, because with God life is stunning.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

 

 

 

Be A Ladybug!

Every year, Gary and I enjoy our little garden.  No two years are exactly the same.  Last year, for instance, I was hauling buckets of summer squash out of there every few days.  This year, so far, we have had four squash.  Not four buckets.  Just four squash.  Pathetic, I know.

But we have had buckets of cucumbers this year, so that makes me happy.  A couple tomatoes here and there as they slowly ripen; one lone spaghetti squash that has survived so far; some peppers; and always, thankfully, lots of okra.  Okra seems to do very well in our hot Kansas summers, no matter where in the garden we place it or how hot our weather is.  Okra is certainly a hardy crop for the conditions in which we live. 

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There are other reasons that I could say our okra does so well.  One is the tilling that Gary does, such as you see in this picture I took one Saturday after he had worked hard tilling the garden.  I also hand weeded the areas where the tiller couldn’t go, so the garden looked all clean and beautiful for awhile.

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Then there’s the ingenious sprinkler system that Gary designed.  There are three sprinkler heads placed on poles in the front of the garden, and three in the back.  Gary measured for all the pipes that were needed, glued, dug trenches, rigged up the hose and the timer…..it’s really pretty amazing, if you ask me.  And I love it because it turns on twice a day and I don’t have to lift a finger! 

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We also had our soil tested last year, and it showed that our soil is healthy.  That was nice to hear.  I bought bedding plants at a nursery that I trust, and we added some fertilizer into the holes as we planted each one.  With all of these things that we did, our okra have thrived and we’re enjoying every bite of fresh okra from our garden.

But I left out one part of their success……..a very important part, though it comes in a very tiny form.  These:

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Yes, ladybugs.  Every time I cut okra off the plants that are getting taller and taller all the time, I see my little miniature friends.  I call them friends because they work very hard as they help insure the success of our okra.  Ladybugs eat aphids, and so without the help of these little spotted bugs, our okra just might not live.  And if they did live, they might not thrive.  I can’t really see aphids, but I know they are there, sucking the life out of the healthy plants.  So our ladybugs quietly go about their business, eating the dangerous aphids and tremendously helping to insure that we have lots of delicious okra to enjoy. 

Ladybugs are cute, but they’re not really visible from far away.  We see the sprinkler system doing its watering.

We see and hear the tiller digging up weeds, giving us the results of almost weedless soil.

 But ladybugs?  They’re unobtrusive and very little and hardly seen at all, unless you get right down there in the midst of the leaves and really look.

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I had a sweet little Grandma that I think of when I see these ladybugs doing their quiet but valuable work.  She was little in stature…..I definitely get my shortness from her!  Grandma Hollandsworth….whom we later affectionately called Grandma Holly, or just Holly…..lived with my parents for 14 years.  Therefore, I spent lots of time with her and knew her very well.

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One of the most precious memories that all of us have of Grandma, I know, is the picture in our minds of what we sometimes saw when we passed by her bedroom in the mornings.  She would be sitting at the long built-in desk that lined her bedroom windows, her Bible open before her.  Her head covered in beautiful white hair would be bowed, and she would be praying.  She told us that she prayed for all of her six children every day……their spouses…..their children…..their children’s children…..and on it went.  It was quite a long list, believe me!  She would also pray for many others who were not family, faithfully and persistently.

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When Grandma would be taken to see the doctor, she would sometimes have to wait to be seen.  The doctor would come into the exam room, apologizing for making her wait, and Grandma would just smile and tell him that it was all right.  She told him that she used that time to pray for her family.  She had such a sweet testimony of being a praying Grandma.

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Grandma died when she was 99 years old.  She was actually praying when she died.  She was, at that point, in a care home. Her roommate heard Grandma asking the Lord to take her home.  Then there was a sharp breath and Grandma Holly was gone to heaven, just like that……while she prayed.  How perfect! 

We have always said that the thing we would miss the most about Grandma was her prayers for all of us.  We won’t know this side of heaven just how impacting her prayers were in our lives, nor the impact that her prayers are still having in our lives and the lives of family members that she never even knew. 

Grandma didn’t make a big show about her faithful prayer life.  She definitely never bragged about it or tried to draw attention to herself through her prayers.  She just quietly went about doing what she knew God wanted her to do.  And she prayed because she loved Him and she loved all of us. 

Scan0005Grandma was like my little garden ladybugs, just daily doing what she knew was right.  I wonder what difference her prayers have made in so many lives……what fruit her faithfulness is still producing today.

The prophet Zechariah, whose name means ‘Yahweh remembers,’ was one of the prophets who encouraged the returning exiles in Jerusalem to complete the temple.  The people were discouraged as they compared the smaller, simpler temple they built to the grandeur of the former temple.  But Zechariah told the people in Zechariah 4:10 to not “despise the day of small things.”

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” God said in verse 6. 

We tend to notice and value the big and the bright and the noisy.  But let’s not despise the small things……things like little ladybugs doing their work……things like a Grandma’s quiet but fervent prayers.

The smallest acts can produce the most beautiful fruit.

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Who Is Aaron Supposed to Be?

I love this picture I found on FB this morning. 

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Aaron certainly has opened our eyes to a whole unique and special way of viewing his world…..which becomes our world as Aaron pulls us in, willing or not.  It doesn’t matter to Aaron if I am busy or tired or embarrassed or if I’ve heard or seen the same thing a zillion times.  To him, each experience seems refreshingly new and fun and definitely shared.

Like yesterday at the grocery store.  I decided to run back to the produce section after I saw the pretty cantaloupes in a fellow shopper’s cart.  Aaron loves everything about the grocery store, except maybe for the aisle with toothpaste and body wash.  If you lived with him awhile, you would see that those items are not a priority or an interest of his.  Unfortunately.

Anyway, I was examining big round cantaloupes while Aaron was pointing out the cool, spritzing water that was spraying over the vegetables nearby.  You would think that this was the first time he had ever seen this gentle spray, but it isn’t.  It’s probably the 753rd time I’ve told him what it is, but he was as excited as if he was seeing it for the first time. 

I turned and headed for the registers after deciding against any cantaloupes.  I knew that Aaron was lagging behind.  I was already in the florist section when I turned to look for Aaron.  There he stood, large and loud Aaron, holding up an artichoke.  His face was just a huge smile as he held his prize up for me to see.  I had to smile, too, standing there among the sunflowers and daisies.  What is it about artichokes that always, always grabs Aaron’s attention?  We have examined them, cooked them, and researched them…..but still Aaron will find those artichokes and hold one up for me to see as if it’s the very first artichoke that we have EVER encountered. 

I smiled and then shook my head no as several surrounding people were turning their heads to see who Aaron was showing his artichoke to.  I could see them making the connection……wondering, I’m sure, about Aaron. 

Maybe if we all saw our world through Aaron eyes, we would smile more and laugh louder and keep our curiosity sharper, even as we age. 

So let me share with you a few snapshots of Aaron in his world.

Making a funny face while we played Skip-Bo, trying hard not to laugh:

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Putting a clothes pin on his earlobe, which is totally nothing new…..but you wouldn’t know that if you looked at how intense and serious he was on this night.

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Playing Skip-Bo, knowing that Mom is looking out with eagle eyes for his cheating attempts.

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Waiting for me to go through the Wal-Mart line, and smiling like this when I looked up and saw WHERE he decided to wait……the chair at the bank desk. 

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Noticing after he got his teeth cleaned that the digital clock on the counter was flashing.  “Your clock is destroyed!” he exclaimed as he pushed by his hygienist and tried to fix the clock.  Incorrect time is intolerable!

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Recovering from three strong night seizures.  We had to cancel his therapy appointment, which to Aaron meant cancelling our lunch plans.  I was nervous about taking him into a restaurant, fearing another seizure, so instead we went through the drive-through window at Little Caesar’s and got him pizza AND breadsticks.  He was happy.  I was happy.

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And finally, sunflowers.  Aaron has wanted sunflowers for such a long time, so this summer while I was in Houston to see Andrea, he and Gary planted sunflowers around our garden.  He has watched them grow and grow and grow, until now they are much taller than he is.  Now he can’t wait for them to bloom.  He was looking at the sunflowers one day when they were much smaller.  “When are they supposed to be the size they’re supposed to be?” he asked.

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I smile at the way he phrases things.  His unique way of expressing himself is a big reason I started this blog.  I can remember wondering, when Aaron was much younger, how he would turn out.  In a sense, I wondered when Aaron was supposed to be the Aaron he’s supposed to be – to borrow Aaron’s wording. 

Well, Gary and I pretty well know that Aaron is now the Aaron he is supposed to be.  Some days that can be discouraging, I’ll admit……on the seizure days or on the hard behavior days or on the days when we are tired and really don’t want to see another artichoke.  Yet Aaron is who he is supposed to be because he is who God created him to be. 

But God gives grace when we need it the most.  He really does.  I don’t think I even realize sometimes in just what forms His grace comes to me.  Yet I do know, often in retrospect, that making it through the frustrations……the fears……the failures…..is the hand and the grace of God upon us. 

And I am so thankful that God gives me pause more times that I can count……moments to pause and enjoy Aaron’s world through Aaron’s eyes.

So you see that the sunflower in the above picture is just too perfect.  Aaron is waiting for his sunflowers to be the size they’re supposed to be and to bloom.  Gary and I see that Aaron is who he is supposed to be, and that every day he blooms in our lives, teaching us to see the world through different eyes. 

I pretty well know, too, what Aaron would say if he looked at this sunflower picture.  “What?!” he would probably say.  “That sunflower is wearing shades!!”

Better to see you with, Aaron.  Better to see you with. 

 

 

 

 

All I Need to Know

He threw the glass across the kitchen this morning.  At least it was a plastic glass……and at least it was empty.  So began our morning.  Aaron got up just in time to go out to Gary’s truck in the driveway and hug him goodbye.  He was happy and I was hopeful.  Yesterday was up and down with Aaron.  He didn’t like me for awhile but then settled down and we had a nice evening.  We watched Wheel of Fortune, and played Skip-Bo later while eating strawberries.

Simple pleasures, but not always such a simple life with Aaron. 

This morning as we walked back into the house after his goodbye hug for dad, he decided that Mom was the bad guy again.  He told me he wasn’t going to go to Paradigm today, and on and on. 

Oh, the complexities of his mind!  The challenges of autism!  Physical issues I can handle so much easier because the flesh and blood of those special needs is right there to see and somehow grasp.  But the workings of the autistic mind are sometimes anyone’s guess, and this morning I was in no guessing mood.

So I launched back after his verbal barrage got to a certain point.  I pointed my finger at Aaron and I very firmly put him in his place.  But Aaron rarely stays in the place I put him.  I may feel better for a few seconds, but then he opens his mouth and his resolve is more set than ever……his resolve to win the war, even if he loses a few battles in the process.  I know this about Aaron, but I sometimes act despite what I know.  I act on my feelings, and I often regret it. 

The rest of the morning was filled with Aaron telling me he wasn’t going to talk to me anymore, all the while talking to me to tell me that he wasn’t going to talk to me.  Over and over and over.  He also didn’t want me to talk, so I mostly remained silent, which actually drives him crazy.  There was no winning for either of us at that point.

Aaron went to Paradigm, wanting me to come in with him so I could tell Barb to be sure he was nice……and Barb told him the same thing I had said earlier, that he was the only one who could be sure he was nice.  I don’t know for sure how his day has been.  I don’t know for sure that I want to know.

We’ve had lots of storms in Kansas lately.  On our way back from Topeka recently, Gary and I drove through the beautiful Flint Hills.  There on the horizon were storm clouds, and we were headed straight into them.  There was no avoiding the storm.  No matter what road we took, the drive home led into the storm. 

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And again yesterday, driving Aaron to his day group, we were facing storm clouds.  There they were, dark and threatening. 

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Driving into a storm reminds me of living with Aaron.  It also reminds me of Moses.  I’m reading the book of Exodus, and in chapter 3 God spoke to Moses in the burning bush.  He told Moses of the job He wanted him to do…..to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  And Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 

The first part of God’s answer was simply this: “But I will be with you…..”

God didn’t say, “Oh come on Moses, you’re the man!  You’re so great!  I know you can do it!”

Moses’ sufficiency rested only in those six words that God first spoke: “But I will be with you…..”

Moses’ sufficiency rested only in God.  Not in himself…..not in his family…..not in his royal connections from years past.  No.  The strength and wisdom and courage that Moses needed rested only in God.

I’m not proud of the times I blow it with Aaron.  I’m not proud of Aaron’s behaviors on the bad days.  I often feel like Moses.

“Who am I, that I can parent Aaron?  Who am I, that I can have patience enough on the bad days to tolerate the behaviors?”

And God’s answer for me is just the answer He gave to Moses: “But I will be with you…..”

It’s no mistake that I am Aaron’s mother.  God put me on this road because of His sovereign plan for me and also for Aaron.  I may feel on some days that I can’t do this correctly, or do it at all, but this is where God has put me.  God doesn’t make mistakes.

So here I am, driving on this life road and headed into yet another storm.  I know I’m not alone in this.  I know of others who are feeling the pressure of the dark clouds on their horizons, and are soon overcome with rain and lightning and thunder.  But if you’re God’s child, He is with you.  He promises you strength, wisdom for the asking, peace in your inner being, and joy deep down.  Whatever your situation…..your worry……your pain…..your secret turmoil……your fear…..your failures, God’s word to Moses is God’s word for you…..for me…. “But I will be with you….”

I don’t always feel this fact.  But I know this fact to be true, this fact of God being with me, and so I can rest in that knowledge even when I don’t feel it.

After I dropped Aaron off and drove home yesterday, this was my view.  All the time I was driving into the storm, just behind me was the lifting of the clouds. 

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It’s true of my life, too.  God will relieve the burden, even if the situation remains.  He relieves my burden by reminding me of Who He is, like He did to Moses.  And reminding me that He is with me, always. 

Even when I say, “Are you sure, God?  Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?  And look how I’ve messed up!!”  And He answers once again, “But I will be with you…..”

Dark clouds, or bright sky.  Angry Aaron, or happy Aaron.  God is with me.

On some days, that’s all I know.  But on every day, that’s all I need to know. 

 

The Signature

It was last December 13, a Sunday afternoon, when I heard my text notification buzz.  Reaching for my phone, I saw that the message was from our friend Dona in Texas.  My first thought was that maybe she and her husband Steve were coming up our way and wanted to stop in for a visit.  But I gasped when I read her text.  Then I read it again to be sure that I had understood it correctly while hurrying downstairs to tell Gary the news. 

“Please pray,” Dona texted.  “Steve has had a major stroke and is being airlifted to a hospital in Dallas.” 

How could this possibly be happening?  Steve is our age, healthy and very active.  He had recently completed his Master’s; taught in the aviation department at LeTourneau University; and was a Colonel in the Texas Civil Air Patrol. 

All that day, Gary and I prayed as we waited for more news.  And my mind went back over the years of our friendship.  Dona and I went to college together at Piedmont Bible College, where Gary later joined our ranks as a student and Steve came as an aviation instructor at the Missionary Aviation Institute there.  Steve and Dona fell in love at the same time that Gary and I were doing the same.  And on May 26, 1979, Gary and I were married……and so were Steve and Dona.  We even married at exactly the same time in the evening, though in different towns.

Our friendship grew during the time that Gary completed college, Steve continued to instruct missionary pilots, and Dona and I worked.  Life was simple and sweet.  One day Steve told Gary that he wanted to teach missionary pilots how to fly helicopters, but one thing needed to happen first……..Steve needed to learn how to fly them.  Steve decided to try to join the army, learn to fly the choppers, and then go back to training missionary pilots when his time was up.  Gary had been in the army during Vietnam, so Steve asked Gary to go with him to the recruiter’s office in order to keep an ear out for anything that wasn’t quite kosher. 

Gary and Steve went to several appointments together.  Some people would say as luck would have it, but the four of us knew that it was as the Lord would have it that Steve did not go into the military, but Gary did.  Steve and Dona ended up living in Tennessee, where Steve was an air traffic controller.  Gary and I lived in six different places during his time as a military pilot. 

Steve and Dona remained dear friends over those years.  We visited each other when we could, with Steve and Dona coming to see us at several places where we lived, including here in Wichita.  They moved to Texas several years ago, and Steve remained active in aviation both as an ATC instructor at LeTourneau University, and as a commander and pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. 

Then came December 13.  It was a cold, rainy Sunday in Texas.  Dona had stayed home from church with a cold.  And Steve was found after church, lying beside his vehicle in the rain, mostly unresponsive.  A major stroke.  Airlifted to Dallas, where he spent weeks in the hospital and in a rehab hospital.  Home now, facing continued extensive rehab.  God has been so gracious to Steve.  Much of his function has returned, though he is still profoundly affected by the stroke. 

His life has dramatically changed, as has Dona’s, in ways that most of us never consider until we are faced with the reality of something like this……something completely life changing.  Dona writes about their life and about their Lord, and sends it out as emails.  She’s written these devotional and inspirational pieces for years.  What a treasure they are!  And especially now, as she has allowed us to walk with her as she walks with Steve on this path full of twists and turns.  She and Steve have always been examples to us of steadfast faith, but never more so than now, when their faith has been tested as never before.

In November of last year, Steve and Dona sent Aaron a birthday card.  There at the bottom was their signature.  Steve signed his name.  Dona signed her name.  That’s how they always did it.

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Then in April another card came from Steve and Dona.  My dear friend, Atha, had died and I was still reeling from her unexpected death.  Dona knew how my heart was hurting, so she pushed aside her own pain and she sat down to write some very encouraging words to me and Gary.  And then as she ended her note, there it was.  The signatures.  Steve…..and Dona.  But look at Steve’s, written with his left hand when he is right handed……and written after having to learn how to write again. 

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I burst into tears when I saw it.  Dona’s words were uplifting and so sweet, but Steve’s signature is what really got me, because it showed volumes to me of where Steve was now.  What a difference from November to April!  What life changes he is having to adjust to! 

And so is Dona, who is with him every step of the way.  How her life has changed!  Steve walked out the door that Sunday morning, and their world as they knew it collapsed.  But I know they don’t really think of it that way.  They see God’s hand in it all……they trust Him completely……and they are putting into practice the rock solid faith that they have cultivated in our loving God all these years.  But it’s still hard.  It’s not without frustrations and fears and tears.

Back on May 26, 1979, Steve and Dona promised to be faithful to each other, too….for better or worse, richer or poorer, and in sickness or health.  So did Gary and I.  Steve and Dona’s promise has been put to the test, and they are passing…..with God’s grace…..with flying colors. 

Gary and I are very, very thankful that we have another year to celebrate our joint wedding anniversaries.  We are very, very thankful for the enduring friendship that we have shared with these dear friends.  We are very, very thankful for their example to us of steadfast love in the life changing hard times. 

And I’m very, very thankful for Steve’s signature that is so telling on many levels.  It tells of sadness, of strength, of progress, and of grace. 

Which means that Steve and Dona’s life really has God’s signature all over it. 

Happy Number 37, Steve and Dona!  Here’s to many more!