Love For Us

I’m sure that many of you would agree with me when I say that I feel like I’m on a runaway train.  The past month has been unbelievable for the whole world.

COVID-19 has dropped the bottom out of our lives.

Just outside the comfort and safety of my home there lies fear.  Uncertainty.  Danger.

I don’t understand or know what’s really happening behind the scenes.  I know that I need to be wise and to be wary, but I can’t control any of this situation that is swirling around us.

What I can do is pray.  Pray for my family scattered here and there.  Pray for friends.  Pray for our nation and for our world.  Pray for our leaders.

I can read my Bible.  With my mind on overload it seems that I can only absorb a few verses at a time, but that’s all it takes for me to hear God’s voice so strong and reassuring.

If there’s ever been a time for people to assess their relationship with God, it’s now.  I heard a doctor in New York say that this situation is Biblical…epic.  The God of the universe has stopped our world and I do believe it’s time for us to stop and to listen to Him for a change.

I’ve been spending tons of time with Aaron for the past three weeks while being mostly home-bound.  Every day I try to get him out for a walk or a drive, which he totally loves.

A couple days ago we went to nearby Swanson Park, one of our favorite places to walk and to enjoy a splash of nature in the middle of civilization.  Social distancing is not a problem there.  Aaron even obeyed me and didn’t stop to pet every dog he saw like he usually does.

There were flowering trees:

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Impressive thorns:

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Historical plaques that we enjoy reading:

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And our favorite little bridge:

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As we walked, Aaron talked…a lot!  One of his main topics of conversation involved the fact that he was waiting very anxiously for a PC game that Gary had ordered for him Sunday evening.  Aaron had earned and saved enough money to buy The Incredible Hulk PC game!!!

That night as Aaron and I were in the kitchen, he was still (of course!) talking about that greatly anticipated game.

“So, Dad ordered the Incredible Hulk out of love for me?” he quietly asked.

And as so often happens, Aaron’s words stopped me in my tracks.

“Yes, Aaron,” I answered.  “Dad ordered you the game out of love for you.”

I have thought and thought about that exchange…about the deep waters of Aaron’s heart.

And this picture I had just taken that day in Swanson Park came to my mind.

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How God leads our steps!  How He directs the paths of His children!

We live in this world and we’re caught up in what He is doing, but we can know beyond any doubt that He is fully aware of our situations during this frightening time.

 

“It’s from God that the steps of a man have been settled, and He delights over his way.  When he falls, he will not be flattened, for God keeps supporting his hand.  I have been young; yes, I have become old, but I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed asking for bread.”  (Psalm 37:23-25)

 

As the old hymn says, “This world is not my home.  I’m just a-passin’ through.”

God is surely at work in this old world, as He has always been since the beginning of time.  But I know, beyond any doubt, that God is very aware of me and my little family.

He knows our path and He is holding our hands.

Therefore, I can say with great confidence, “Yes, Aaron, our Heavenly Father also ordered this time out of love for us.”

We who know Him are not forsaken!

 

                                    

 

 

What Do I See?

Aaron and I were coming out of the grocery store recently.  Suddenly he veered sharply to his left, leaned over, and proudly held up his prize find.  A penny!  He was so happy to have snatched this treasure!  He proudly held it up for me to see before stashing it safely in his pant’s pocket.

This is so routine with Aaron.  Everywhere we go, he spies items on the ground that most people don’t even see.  Or if seen, most of us wouldn’t think they are worth our time or attention. But not Aaron!

We’ve had to teach him over the years that some things he sees are not treasures and are not even safe.  Things like cigarette butts…yuck!  Or random hair bands, bobby pins, or combs.

Last week, he and I walked out onto our driveway after a rain.  Before I knew it, there he was, leaning over to look at what had caught his eye this time.

“MOM!!  LOOK!!” he exclaimed.  “It’s a worm!!”

 

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A worm.  Aaron just had to look closer at this worm and touch it.  Again, to me it was just another worm, if I even did see it.  But not to Aaron.  To Aaron, this worm was a find worth investigating…worth stopping for…worth his notice.

This is such a strange and difficult time we are in right now.  There is so much to absorb…to hear…to try to understand about this virus and about its dangers.  We are besieged with so many changes and challenges.

What do we see when we look around us?

Fear?

Hardship?

Loss?

Stress?

Certainly, most of us can say yes, to one degree or another, to all the above.

But there’s something else we really must keep sight of.  David said it perfectly in Psalm 26:3:   “For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes…”

When my eyes dart here and there in such unusual times as we have right now, may I see…above all else…the lovingkindness of God.

Another version says:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…”

God’s love for us is right before our eyes, every day and every moment of this scary and trying time.

Sometimes I just don’t see it, though.  I don’t see God’s love because I’m too focused on looking way ahead at what is yet to come, usually with trepidation instead of trust.

This verse continues this way:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…and I have walked along in Your faithfulness.”

It’s not MY faithfulness that is being talked about here.  It’s GOD’S faithfulness to me that matters!

We say God is love.  We know God is love.  But sometimes when life is overwhelming, we don’t see His love through eyes of faith.

We don’t understand why we’re being besieged by COVID-19.  Why is God allowing this to happen?

We can’t say for sure, but what we do know for sure is that God loves all of us, and He wants each of us to know Him and to walk along in His faithfulness.

Sometimes I just need to stop, like Aaron so often does, and bend over before God as I look at His love.

When I observe His love and think of His deep love, I know peace that passes understanding.

Peace even in the middle of panic all around.

Then I can stand up again, sure of God’s love right before my eyes, and take off walking again.

Walking in God’s promised faithfulness through the uncertainty.

God’s love for each of us is worth our time and worth our notice.   God makes THE biggest and best difference to me when I’m stressed.

It’s great to stop at some point each day right now, and just ponder the treasure I see right before me.

Thank you, God, that Your covenant love stands right before my eyes!

What Mountain?

I heard it through the baby monitor a week ago yesterday…the awful sound of Aaron going into a seizure.  It was early, early in the morning – the time that we still call night.  I never do get used to that sound.  My heart still jumps as I am awakened and then hurry into his room.  As seizures go, it was not a long one.  Hard, but not long.  The scene was repeated a few hours later, which is nothing unusual.  Only two seizures, though, which is a blessing, and which is rather unusual.  Most often his clusters of seizures involve three or more.  Yet we have learned over the years that having only one or two seizures means he might have one or two more during the day. 

Gary and I both stayed home from church that Sunday due not only to Aaron’s seizures but also because of a strong snowstorm with howling winds that was blowing outside.  This storm also explained the seizures, as I have definitely linked many of Aaron’s seizures to low fronts moving through our Kansas atmosphere.

Aaron was fine all day.  He stayed busy, and he also napped some, but there was no more seizure activity.  That night, he and I watched a television program.  Afterwards, we were in the kitchen putting snacks away and getting ready to go upstairs where Aaron’s nighttime routine would continue.  I had my back to Aaron as I readied the coffeepot for the morning.

“I feel like I might have a seizure,” I heard Aaron say.  But he says this fairly often, and rarely does he have a seizure at that time.  I was getting ready to reply when I heard a noise.  I whirled around to see Aaron’s arms in the air and his face distorting in the familiar way it does when a seizure begins.  It was sudden and so unexpected!  Before I could take a couple steps and reach him, he fell backwards onto the tile floor…just like a stiff, falling tree. 

The sound of his head hitting the floor was sickening.  I screamed for Gary, who came running from downstairs.  I was terrified…more terrified than I remember being since his very first awful seizure when he was seven years old.  Our 34 year-old son was my baby at that moment, and I was distraught.  Aaron doesn’t like crying at all, especially my crying, so he would have been very unhappy if he had seen me at that point.

Aaron will often rally rather quickly from these seizures, so we waited to see if that would happen.  Sure enough, before long, his eyes opened.  Soon he was responding to our comments as he became more focused, and not long after that he was talking some and able to sit up.  We watched and waited, thankful to see him return to normal with no apparent damage done other than a knot on the back of his head. 

I had a hard time going to sleep that night.  I kept seeing him fall and then hearing the sound of his head hitting the floor.  Finally, I slept…but fitfully…playing the awful scene over and over all night long.  Aaron slept well and for that I was thankful. 

Not only was this seizure itself of great concern, but what it might signal was also very disturbing to us.  Aaron had a series of falling seizures back in the spring and early summer, sustaining some injuries.  Are those falling seizures returning now?  And if they are, then why?  Oh, the brain is so complex!  If only we could map its intricacies and understand its workings!  But no doctor or researcher has ever been able to uncover all the secrets of what God has created in these most complicated brains of ours. 

Gary and I had relaxed a lot since Aaron’s last falling seizure a few months ago.  But now that familiar fear was filling my heart again.  If left unchecked, I knew fear’s icy fingers would replace the warmth of God’s promises and plans on which He wanted me to focus.

The next morning, I sat as usual at my quiet time desk, asking God as I always do to speak to me the words He wanted me to hear on this day.  I looked down at my current book in the Bible that I was reading, and still am reading.  Zechariah.  Yeah, I know.  What does God have for me in an obscure minor prophet’s writings?  I mean, Philippians or James I could understand, and would look forward to multiple encouragements.  But Zechariah?

Yet one thing I have learned over the years is that God is alive all through His word.  He meets me in my need in every single part of scripture…not just in the more recognizable, pertaining verses but even in the less known.  In this case, the MUCH less known.  But this aspect of discovery in the Bible is so uplifting to me!  It’s like finding a hidden Christmas present under the tree and opening it to discover the most amazing gift ever!

So, on that morning I began reading where I had left off the day before.  The people of Israel were very discouraged as they faced the monumental task of rebuilding the temple in their ravaged homeland.  Obstacles were all around them and they could see no human means to finishing the job.  Dangers threatened their lives.  Nothing was as they hoped it would be.

But…

God spoke.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” 

The people didn’t have the might.  The people didn’t have the power.  All that God wanted to accomplish would come by Him…by His Spirit. 

And then this verse, this phrase, is what jumped out at me on that morning.

“What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain…”  (Zechariah 4:7)

Have you ever felt like your worries and your fears and your problems are a mountain…a mountain that you can’t cross?  The concern over Aaron’s dangerous seizures was my large mountain that morning.  Scary.  Foreboding.  Impassable.

But God leaned down to me there at my desk and had me read exactly what He wanted me to read.  It was no accident that these were the verses I was on in my Bible study book.  God’s amazing grace washed over me.  Not by my might…not by my power…but by His Spirit. 

And that’s why I can stand squarely in the shadow of my mountain and say, “What mountain?!” 

God told Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”

Does it mean that Aaron won’t have another falling seizure?  No.  In fact, the next night he did have another one.  I was close enough to break his fall this time, but it was still very scary.  But all that evening I kept thinking, “What mountain?” 

God wants me to see, even in the hard times, that He will give me all the might and strength I need.  He will also take care of Aaron in the way He knows is best.  I have to trust Him for that. 

I want this mountain to be what I allow God to use to strengthen my faith…deepen my walk with Him…and confirm my trust in His sovereign plan for me, for Gary, and for our Aaron. 

Instead of seeing a mountain, I want to see God over and above it all.  To know that He’s in control.  To be still and know that He is God. 

Oh, I’ll still be upset with the seizures if they keep coming.  But instead of being out of control, I want to remember the One Who is IN control. 

What mountain?

Indeed! 

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My Father’s Grip

I grew up in the little town of Princeton, West Virginia.  My Dad worked for the railroad there; first the Virginian, and then Norfolk and Western.  The railroads were a central part of life there in those West Virginia mountains.  It was coal country, and trains were vital for the coal industry.

The sounds of those trains, heard at all hours of the day and night from our home not too awfully far from where Dad worked, were an ever-present part of my childhood.  Even now, the sound of a train will take me back to those early days. 

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Dad worked his way up the “ranks” and eventually became a train dispatcher.  I don’t know how long it was before he one day told us of his promotion to Chief Train Dispatcher.  I didn’t understand much about his job, but I was always proud that he was a CHIEF Train Dispatcher.  He had a very responsible job, working long hours and often on weekends, or getting calls at all hours of the night to go in if there was a dreaded derailment. 

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Sometimes Dad would let one of us kids go to work with him on a Saturday, especially if he was only working a half day.  I just loved those Saturdays when it was my turn to go to work with him!  I remember entering the old wooden train depot building, where we would walk up a long set of wooden stairs to his second-floor office.  This old building smelled of wood; tobacco in various forms; pencil erasers; and trains, of course.

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There were crisp sounds of radio static as the men talked to the engineers on the trains; telephones ringing; the staccato ping of old typewriters; and the roar of huge trains when they would pass below us. 

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Dad would give me some paper and a pencil, and I would pretend to be working just as he was.  I loved watching the lights come and go on the huge control panel behind his desk, showing the progress of various trains that were running all over southern West Virginia. And always, sooner or later, Dad would take me down the hall to the Coke machine and the snack machine.  He would buy me a Coke and a pack of Nabs, and I was in heaven!

What made the biggest impression on me, though, was when Dad would go down those long stairs and outside to the train track, taking me with him.  Sometimes he would attach a paper message to a pole there beside the track, and then we would wait.  Soon I would hear it…the unmistakable sound of a train in the distance, coming ever closer to us. 

The clickity-clack of the wheels, and the train whistle blowing, blowing, blowing in the distance, told me that soon the train would be bellowing past us…right in front of where we were standing!  And suddenly, there it was!  Huge and black and so very loud and terrifying, too. 

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Yet I wasn’t afraid, even though I was so close to such power and danger.  You know why?  Because my dad held my little hand in his big hand.  He held gently yet firmly.  I trusted him totally.  I knew that where we were standing was safe, and though the train was very loud and scary, my dad knew just where we needed to be to stay safe and secure. 

Soon a splash of red passed by.  The caboose!  The conductor stood outside the caboose.  He grabbed the paper message off the pole, waved at us while we waved back, and the train disappeared up the tracks.  All was well.

In the Bible we read about the man named Joshua, whom God told to lead His people of Israel across the Jordan River into the promised land.  It was a daunting, scary proposition.  But as God gave His orders to Joshua, this is what He said: “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.  I will never fail you or forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5) 

Guess what the words “fail” and “forsake” mean?  They mean “to relax the grip.”  And that’s not all.  In verse 7, God told Joshua to be strong, which means to “reach out and grab hold.”

Do you see the beautiful picture that God is giving us?  This God of Joshua is our God today, for those of us who know Him!  And He’s telling us to reach out and grab hold of Him as He extends His hand to us.  Then let Him do the holding, because He promises not to relax His grip on us!

There are some very scary times for all of us in this life.  Sometimes some big, dark, loud problems happen to us.  God wants us to be strong, like Joshua…reach out to Him and let Him hold our hand beside all the issues that scare us and hurt us and threaten us on so many levels. 

I didn’t understand much about trains at that young age, but I knew they were dangerous.  Yet even more than that, I knew from experience that my Dad was wise and loving and would take good care of me.  He knew just how close for us to stand, and with my hand in his, I knew I was totally safe.

Our Heavenly Father has never said we won’t have problems.  In fact, He has told us that we WILL face hard times…times that will hopefully draw us to Him and to His strong hands.  He won’t let go of us.  He won’t abandon us.  He will keep us safe in our very hard times, even when we don’t like those times or understand their purpose. 

And we can say, with total confidence, “The Lord is for me, I will not fear.”  (Psalm 118:6)  

   

 

 

The Plans I Have For You

I think most of the nation has had a milder than usual winter.  Here in Kansas, we really haven’t had a winter to speak of.  Trees were budding, bushes were bearing leaves, and perennials were poking out of the ground in February!

I shouldn’t have been surprised…..but I was surprised……to walk past my front flower bed one day in February and look down to see that my Salvia had made an appearance.  There were fresh little green leaves sticking up through the ground, unaware that the month was only February.  Salvia don’t look at calendars.  They only respond to the warmth of the sun and the mildness of the nights.

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Something occurs deep underground, in their roots, that awakens them and urges them to respond.  It’s God’s miracle of growth, not tied to the month of the year but to the environment around them.  And even though that environment can at times be harsh still at this time of year……at any time of year, really……their roots stir under the right conditions and so they grow.

I was tempted on that February day to lean over and clear off all the dead leaves that looked like a hindrance to the Salvia’s growth.  But I left the leaves for insulation against the cold nights, and the snow that I knew could still come.

I’ve watched the progress of my Salvia over the past few weeks.  The picture from this morning shows how much growth has occurred.  The dead leaves, old mulch, and other clutter hasn’t prohibited my Salvia’s growth at all.  The perennial nature of this flower is alive and well as those new leaves push through all the mess around them.  It just faithfully grows and grows, quietly but strongly flourishing.

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This morning in my quiet time with the Lord I read some verses that are very familiar to many of us.  They are words spoken by God to the nation of Israel, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”   Jeremiah 29:11-13

These are verses of such encouragement and hope for all believers, not just for the nation of Israel during the time of Jeremiah.  But do you know where Israel was when God spoke these words to them?  They were being held captive in Babylon.  They were not in their home country, living freely, but were held as captive slaves in a harsh land far from all they knew and loved.

In the ten verses preceding these verses above, God had given some instructions to His chosen people through a letter written by Jeremiah and delivered to the exiles in Babylon.  God told the people to settle in to their new life in Babylon.  He told them to build houses and live in them; to plant gardens and eat their produce; to take wives and bear children; to increase and not decrease; and even to seek the welfare of their new city, praying to the Lord on its behalf.

You know how long God told them to be faithful in their captivity?  Seventy years.  SEVENTY years.

So when God then said that He knew the plans that He had for them……plans to give them a future and a hope……He also knew that this promise wasn’t coming to pass tomorrow.  He laid it out there for them.   He told them to live as He commanded and to be obedient to Him, even in their dire situation, for seventy long years.

God’s promise was given to them in the middle of less than ideal circumstances.   It wasn’t to be fulfilled immediately.  But while they waited, God wanted them to live their lives fully and faithfully to Him.

In fact, many of those Israelites would never see the promise come to pass.  They would die in Babylon.  Yet God still commanded them to be obedient and live the way He wanted.

How about us?  How does God want us to live every day?

He wants us to follow the example that He continually sets out there in His Word for us to see.  He wants us to be faithful to Him, to obey Him, and to grow no matter what is going on in our lives.

We may be going through awful times so full of grief and stress that we wonder how we can get out of bed every day.  God knows.  He understands.  He loves us.  He provides what we need.  He promises us a future and a hope.

But relief may not come today.  It may not come tomorrow.  Or the next day, or the next.  But like He told His people in Babylon, He says to you and to me today.  “Call upon Me.  Pray to Me, and I will listen.  For you will seek Me and you will find Me when you search for me with all your heart.”

It’s simple, really, but so difficult to do sometimes when our surroundings are bitter and hard and scary.  Call upon Him.  Pray.  Seek Him with all your heart.

Read His Word with an open heart to hear what He has to say to you.  Ask Him to lead your steps.  Obey what you know He tells you to do in His Word.

God will speak to you.  He will lead you to Himself.

And in the middle of your pain and your stress, you will grow.  Just like my Salvia in the middle of deadness all around it and the coldness of some nights…..still pushing through and growing, as God intended.

God loves you.  He truly does have a future and a hope for you as you follow Him, but not always…..in fact, seldom……without the suffering and sadness of this life.

But what a beautiful work He is doing in you and in me as we faithfully respond to His love and to His word in our lives!

So grow!  Grow where God has put you!

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Choosing My Focus

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

There.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen, indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust Him and rest in Him. 

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

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The Scary Place

Gary and I looked at lots of homes when we were house hunting here in the Wichita area over 17 years ago.  Has it been that long?!  The house we are in now was the second house we looked at during those rushed few days.  We at first dismissed it because the inside of the house needed lots of work.  No other houses were right, though, and so we were pulled back to this house for a second look.  I remember standing in the upstairs window in what became Aaron’s bedroom, looking out over the back yard.  At that time there was a large, beautiful pool in the back as well as the big yard.  I was so surprised when I was told that the whole area out back was part of the house’s yard.  And for me, that was largely what sold me on this house.  That yard……

That yard has offered us room for running young children; for walking and playing with our dogs; for endless hours of swimming with family and friends before we covered up the pool; for our vegetable garden; for parties and fireworks; for ball throwing and bean bags and even boomerangs (we ended that idea pretty quickly!); for enjoying wildlife; and for a measure of privacy that we have enjoyed.

The look of the yard has changed with time, just as we have.  The pool is gone; dozens of dead pines and other trees have had to be cut; fences are not there now; and once young trees are now tall and strong.  But our back yard, despite the changes, is still a place that is home to us.  That yard beckons us, whether it is to work or to play; to sit or to walk……our yard is home and is a place of comfort to us.

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There are two big evergreens at the back of our yard, visible from our house but not too near.  I sometimes think of our yard as ending there because you can’t really see around those big trees.  You must walk around them to see what lies out there in the very back part of our back yard.

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There is simply a small area out there that is our property, where Gary mows and where more trees grow to both sides.  And it is there where a finger of the neighborhood lake weaves in a curve.  This part of the lake is dry for a good part of the year, but is full of water when the rains come.

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It is this section of our yard that is, to me, fairly creepy.  There are some trees there, one especially, that is wild and untamed.  Its branches are tangled in a mass of knotted wood and long thorns that threaten if you get too close.  It’s a dark place, especially in the summer when leaves and underbrush are growing.  I feel cold in this area, even though this is still our yard.  It isn’t warm and welcoming like the rest of our yard, but is a little ominous and foreboding.  I like to walk back around those large evergreens where I can see our house and the rest of our yard, safe and welcoming.

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I was standing in this area of our yard a few days ago while Aaron and I took our Great Dane, Jackson, for a walk.  Aaron was having fun exploring the dry creek bed, and Jackson was sniffing everywhere and everything.  I still didn’t want to linger long here, but as I did stand there I was reminded of one of our favorite Psalms and of the very wonderful lesson we learn from it.

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We often think of Psalm 23 as the one we read at funerals.  But David wrote this Psalm from his life as a shepherd, before he became a king.  He compared our God to a shepherd, a life that David knew well.  Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters.  But…..He also is with us during those times that we must walk through dark valleys.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” 

Often shepherds in Bible times found themselves in desert areas, where there were deep valleys.  Those valleys were full of danger.  Danger could come from bandits, from sudden raging floods, or from wild animals.  The valleys were frightful…..a place of threat to the sheep.  But the good shepherd kept a close watch, using his rod to beat off wild animals and his staff to gently guide the sheep away from danger.  Sometimes there was no other way to go but through the desert valley, but the sheep knew that they could trust their shepherd to guide them through the dangers.

So it is with you and I as we live this life.  Honestly, if left up to me, I would have chosen some different paths than those that God has chosen for me.  But God knew best for me, and He continues to know where I need to be and what circumstances need to be around me.  He has proven Himself undeniably faithful and loving to me, even…..and especially…..in the very hard times.  He has a reason, a purpose, for every dark valley and every unwelcome event in my life.  He may choose to let me know the reason now, and He may not.  That’s where trust comes in…..the trust of me, a sheep, for my loving Shepherd.

I have dear family and friends who have been in, or are still in, one of those dark valleys.  To each of you I say that God, your great Shepherd, is with you.  He will protect you and He will comfort you as only He can.

To Paul and Goldie whose daughter, Jennifer, went to heaven only a month ago after such suffering.  To Janet, my dear friend who is fighting cancer.  To Nancy, whose sweet father was just put on hospice.  To Steve and Dona, whose lives have been radically changed when Steve suffered a massive stroke over a year ago.  To Dan and Wendy, who face untold stress and grief as they watch their precious Elijah suffer from severe seizures.  To Sarah, Anna, and Kyle, who have had more loss this year than I can fathom.  To Linda and Laura, who will always grieve the tragic death of their son and brother.  To Kurt and Jill, whose son Nicholas just endured yet another infection and brain surgery.  To my sister, Mary Beth, who somehow goes through each day with a smile as she struggles with a muscle disease.  To Karen and Bill, who have heartache that just can’t be told.

And to so many more of you, each with your own battles……your own valleys…..your own dangers and fears.  Let God be your Shepherd.  Know Him and trust Him.  Know that He has a reason for every path that you take, and His reason is one that is born out of deep love for you.  Someday we will understand.  And in the meantime, we need to trust our Shepherd to have our good nearest to His heart.  For he truly does.

“Surely goodness and mercy (lovingkindness) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

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