The Cold Snap

We have a little bush in our front flower bed, a perennial that we planted probably 17 years ago.  In fact, I can’t even remember the name of this little bush, so I just call it that – Little Bush.  This hardy bush keeps its leaves on all year long, which is part of its charm.  In the summer the leaves are green with some maroon mixed in, and in the fall and winter the leaves are mostly maroon.  Small berries also grow among the leaves in the fall, so by Christmas it seems to be all decorated for the season.  I really like my Little Bush!

Last year, though, probably starting in March, I noticed that Little Bush didn’t look so healthy.  Its leaves that always stay were falling off, until finally only stark, naked branches were there.

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This was quite unusual, and I was worried.  Was I finally going to lose my long lasting little bush?  Was there something that I could do to save it?

I kept looking at Little Bush, wondering what had happened.  Then one day an article in the newspaper caught my attention.  The headline said something about how certain trees and bushes in Wichita were losing their leaves.  I read the information with interest because of my little bush.  The writer explained that earlier in the winter we had experienced several nights when temperatures had dipped to -10 degrees or lower.  These frigid temperatures had damaged some trees and bushes that normally held their leaves all winter.

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There was my explanation, I thought.  This cold snap had damaged Little Bush.  Then the article went on to assure gardeners not to worry but to be patient…that most trees and bushes would begin to grow again in the warmth of spring because their roots were not damaged by the extreme cold.

So I waited and I observed.  I checked my little bush routinely and sure enough one day I saw tiny new leaves emerging on the empty twigs.

 

As time went on and the days passed, the warm spring sun and the rains did their restorative work.  Little Bush grew…

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And grew…

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Until finally Little Bush was back, as pretty as ever!

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I’ve had some cold snaps in my life, too…times and events that came unexpectedly and with little or no warning.  Everyone has.

Cold snaps hurt.  And they take many various forms.

An illness.  A diagnosis.  Sudden death.  Lingering death.  Rejection.  Accusation.  Betrayal.  Job loss.  Divorce.  A prodigal.  Regret.  Guilt.

I remember my dad’s victory over lung cancer…how relieved and thankful we were when treatments were complete and he was in remission.  But before the five-year mark came the blood work and the testing and the phone call…liver cancer…inoperable…four more years of chemo…hospice…

Cold snap.  Recovery.  Then another cold snap.

But through it all, our family verse brought us each the warmth and the hope that we needed: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”  (Psalm 46:1)

Sometimes our hard times…our cold snaps…make us feel like David when he said, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long – “Where is your God?”  (Psalm 42:3)

Where is God in our pain?  Oh, He hasn’t gone anywhere!  He’s a very PRESENT help in our trouble, remember?  He’s right here with us.

Right after David said his tears were his food, he said, “Why are you in despair, oh 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.”  (Psalm 42:5)

My little bush had hope because its roots were secure, and so do we who know and follow Christ.  We have hope in our despair because we know that God is sovereign…He is in control…He has a plan…He is present…and He has a purpose for the cold snaps that rock our world.

“I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit.  You have heard my voice.  Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.  You drew near when I called on You.  You said – “Do not fear!”  (Lamentations 3:55-57)

God is near in our pain…near in our pondering…near in our praise that arises even out of hurt and unanswered questions.

I love these lyrics of Jeremy Camp’s song, He Knows:

 

All the bitter weary ways

Endless striving day by day

You barely have the strength to pray

In the valley low.

And how hard your fight has been

How deep the pain within

Wounds that no one else has seen

Hurts too much to show.

All the doubt you’re standing in between

And all the weight that brings you to your knees.

 

He knows

He knows

Every hurt and every sting

He has walked the suffering.

He knows

He knows

Let your burdens come undone

Lift your eyes up to the one

Who knows

He knows.

 

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A Heritage Worth Leaving

We hated to do it, but the time had come.  Our last two remaining pine trees had, or were, succumbing to Pine Wilt disease. 

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The destructive nematode had done its dirty job and now it was time for the tree service to come in and do theirs.  It’s always sad to see once beautiful trees that have stood for years come crashing down in a matter of minutes, then chopped up and hauled away like so much trash.

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In our front yard lay the biggest heartbreak, though.  Our one remaining evergreen…we called it our Gumdrop Tree…that we had decorated every Christmas for many years was dying as well, so down it came and off it went. 

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Just like that.

Gone.

No evidence remains of our once gorgeous trees.  Every piece was cut down, cut up, and driven away in huge trucks. 

Even the stumps were ground down.  Gary finished the clean-up in the following days, planted grass, and that was the end.

I thought of these scenes the following week when I was reading in my One Year Bible.  This phrase jumped out at me in Jeremiah 16:19:  “…our ancestors left us a foolish heritage, for they worshiped worthless idols.”  (NLT)

I instantly thought of my role as a parent, and have pondered since then the sad prospect of a foolish heritage.  My role as mom and Gary’s role as dad has drastically changed over the years. 

We have gone from this:

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To this:

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And it all seems to have happened so very quickly!

Plus…we are planning a wedding this year!!  Yes, Andrea and Kyle are to marry in October!! 

So I see with my own eyes the passage of time…how true is the scripture that says all flesh is grass that withers away.  Like a flower that fades, God tells us.

That’s quite a reminder that life passes quickly.  The picture of our fallen trees was a stark example to me of that truth.  Once stately and strong, they are now gone. 

But I am not that tree.  Though my life may fly by quickly, I have the opportunity to leave a heritage behind, especially to my children. 

To young moms and dads beginning on this journey of parenting, I would encourage you to be intentional as you set out to raise your children.  Live with the end result always in mind, as my friend Jill loves to remind young mommas. 

What will matter most when your children say that dreadful goodbye and leave your nest?  I can tell you that it isn’t whether they have mastered a sport or a musical instrument.  It isn’t whether they have excelled at school and have college scholarships awaiting.  It isn’t that they have tons of friends and a super active social life. 

What matters most is their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.  What matters most is their mastery of God’s Word.  What matters most is that they have owned their faith. 

We leave our children a worthless heritage when we focus our time…our energy…our money…our every effort…on things that will not matter one whit to their eternal souls.  Sports, music, grades, friends, a social life…these have their place, but they are not to take THE first place in our child’s life.  And it’s up to us as parents to guide their focus to what holds true value in their lives, even when they don’t see it that way. 

What useless idols do we worship as we raise our children? 

Fame?  Money?  Popularity?  Technology? 

It’s so easy to get sucked into the mold of this world, thinking that these issues are all important while we ignore the eternal and the spiritual. 

Foolish heritage.  What a tragedy! 

Don’t let that be said of you, dear young parents.  Start now to look ahead to the end result…to think of where each activity and each focus of your child’s life will lead them. 

Remember that God also said:  “The grass withers, the flower fades, BUT the Word of our God stands forever.”  (Isaiah 40:8)

Now that’s a heritage worth leaving!

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Does God Like Me?

“Mom?” Aaron asked last night as he was going through his ever-important bedtime routine.  I was ready for yet another question about what the SS means on the side of the Poseidon…or what kind of vision do the aliens on Pacific Rim have…or what is the quick freeze on The Day After Tomorrow movie?  So I just absently responded with my all-too-often reply.

“Hmmm?” I absently answered as he stood beside me in the bathroom, watching me put something away. 

“Do I have seizures because God doesn’t like me?” he continued.

And I stopped…stopped dead in my tracks at this very unexpected question. 

I looked up from what I was doing, into his very serious face. 

“I just wondered if I have seizures because God doesn’t like me,” he continued. 

Wow!

This is like a question Job would ask, and I wanted to give the right answer without being too shallow or too deep.

I told Aaron that God loves him very much, and that sometimes He allows things to happen.  I wanted to go into full theology mode, but I knew that I could easily lose Aaron, so I assured him again of God’s love and that when we have those questions we need to remember what we know about God…that He IS love, even when we don’t understand what He allows.

Aaron went on to bed soon after, but his question lingered in my mind into this morning.  What brought that question into his mind?  What had he been thinking about? 

Gary and I talked last night at supper, just the two of us, about how on some days we feel like it’s Christmas…and on other days, not so much.  What brings on that “Christmas spirit” we sometimes work so hard to achieve?  At times, we don’t set out to create that feeling, but when it’s missing we wonder what we missed.  Are we tired?  Worried?  Overwhelmed?  Broke?  Or broken?

I walked into Aaron’s room this morning, carrying his fresh coffee and finding him soundly asleep.  I spoke to him but he didn’t stir.  Coming back a little later, I pulled back his covers as he grunted…and I was not happy with what I saw.

A wet bed!  A totally soaked bed!

And last night he and I had changed his sheets!  I was happy to mark that off my Christmas To-Do list. 

“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed. 

“What?” Aaron sleepily asked.

“You wet your bed!” I impatiently answered.  I was pretty certain it wasn’t a seizure, so I added, “No more water before bed!”

And off I huffed, mumbling my frustration.  Of all days!  I was feeling pretty good last night about finishing the gift wrapping and most of the grocery shopping, and saving Friday for house cleaning and the beginning of my cooking. 

Plans set.  The “Christmas spirit” picking up!

And now this…this time consuming, unexpected, yucky mess!

As I showered and got myself ready, Aaron’s question of the night before came back to my mind.  I was reminded of how much I wanted to impress God’s love upon him.  How could I do that if I was grouchy with him?  And again, how could I answer his searching question in a way that would impact him?

As I thought about it, God gently nudged my heart.  “It’s Christmas, Patty,” He seemed to say.  “What better time to explain my love than at Christmas?”

All of a sudden, wet bedding and a busy day ahead didn’t matter so much.  The Christmas music playing in my bedroom took on a clearer meaning.  I decided to talk to Aaron on our way to his day group.

He promptly turned on the Christmas CD that was in the player as soon as I turned on the van.  “Number 12,” he flatly said.  Aaron always follows the numbers of songs very closely.  “This CD has 14 songs,” he further explained.  “It’s on number 12 now.”

I smiled.  He seems to think that I want to know this information as much as he does.  But this morning, I was glad to know that I had only three songs to go before I could talk to Aaron once again about his last night’s question.

Number 14 song completely ended, and the CD went to number 1 again before Aaron removed it.  You do NOT remove the CD when the number 14 is still showing.  It must have moved on to the next song, just so you know.

I grabbed the moment.  “Aaron, do you remember asking me last night if God doesn’t like you because He lets you have seizures?” I asked. 

“Yeah,” he answered as he placed the CD in its case.

“Well, this is the perfect time of year to remember how much God loves you.  He sent Jesus down to earth to be born as a baby because He loves you and me that much.  You know that’s what Christmas is all about,” I said.

“Yeah,” he repeated. 

“So you don’t have to wonder if God loves you or not because you have seizures.  We don’t understand all that, but we do know that He loves you a bunch!  Jesus’ birth shows you that every day!” I continued.

We continued talking a bit as we neared his day group.  He was content with that answer.  And I noticed in my own heart a return of that mysterious “Christmas spirit.”  It had nothing to do with this:

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Or this:

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But definitely had everything to do with this!

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My Christmas verse this year, so appropriate for me and for Aaron this morning, is one we all know: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

I need to run!  I have a load of bedding to put in the dryer.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

 

 

These Words

Last night I was helping Aaron turn down his covers as he got ready for bed.  Sometimes there is a moment that is especially poignant with Aaron.  A moment that hits me in a profound way…..in a way that causes me to remember where we were and what we were doing when the moment occurred.  The night before, Aaron….for whatever reason…..was very groggy and dizzy, with slurred speech and unsteady legs.  He was still trying to talk, but with great effort.

Last night, though, Aaron was his usual chipper self.   We were going through his bedtime routine as he talked and talked and talked.  He brushed his teeth, swished his mouthwash, helped me set up our diffuser – which means he poured in the water, checked the name of the oil, and took a little tentative sniff – watched as I turned on the baby monitor we use to listen for seizures, made sure I picked out his clothes for the next day and that they were on the back of his desk chair, put his back scratcher and hand towel on the seat of his chair, blinds lowered, desk clock turned around so the light doesn’t bother him, glasses put just where they belong, wrist watch put right beside his glasses, shoes in front of the closet, stuffed animals precisely in place in his bed, covers pulled up, and animal print blanket put on top of the bed exactly right and with no wrinkles.  It’s a process…..done precisely….or we must re-do the process until precision is reached.

It was when we were standing beside his bed, me on one side and Aaron on the other….pulling up his covers…..that Aaron said this:

“Mom, guess what Shauna is getting?”

Shauna is one of his friends at his day group, Paradigm.

“I don’t know,” I replied.  “What is Shauna getting?”

“She’s getting a NEW wheelchair!” Aaron answered.

Aaron had no idea of the impact of his simple answer to my question, and of the many thoughts that cascaded through my mind in a split second.  He just kept talking.

“I told her she should get a PINK one!!” he exclaimed, and then laughed at the thought of a pink wheelchair.

We smoothed his animal print blanket then.  He was finished with pink wheelchairs and had moved on to his bedtime log book…..his notebook in which he writes down the exact time he gets in bed and the exact time the next morning that he gets out of bed.

10:22.

That’s the time he wrote.

So was it 10:22 when Aaron spoke of Shauna’s wheelchair?  Or 10:21?  That fact would be important to Aaron.

But all I knew, after our goodnight hug and after I had turned out his light, is that my 33 year old son was happy about his friend’s new wheelchair.  That was nice of him.  But…..

Aaron wasn’t talking about his friend’s new car.  Or new job.  Or new house.

He was talking with pleasure about her new wheelchair……because his friends have special needs, like he does…..and a new wheelchair is indeed a big deal.

But as Aaron’s mother, this comment from him somehow yanked open that little door in my heart that I try to keep closed.  I try to keep it closed because I don’t want to hurt for him or for his friends.  I want to see his life as a wonderful thing, and it truly is!

But the reality of his life…..and the lives of his day group friends…..is far different from your typical 33 year old young man. Most young men Aaron’s age would be talking about new cars.  Aaron was talking about new wheelchairs.

I’m so happy that he was happy for Shauna.  But my momma heart got a deeper little crack in it last night.

I haven’t been writing lately.  I’ve just been very burdened about lots of issues.  Life goes in cycles like that, you know.  As a Christ follower, I know to be careful during those down seasons.  It’s very easy to be consumed with the here and now, and with all my own worries…..not to mention the serious concerns for some in my family and some of my friends…..and even our great country.

So I’ve asked God to do what I have often in the past asked Him to do, and that is to give me some extra special assurance from His Word.  And God did just that a few days ago.  He gave me a sweet message from His Word, ABOUT His Word.

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It’s from Isaiah 8.  Israel was facing dark times, and so God told them lots of truths about how they were to behave, how they were to act, Whom they were to obey and to fear, and even warned them about seeking answers from mediums and fortune tellers.

And then in verse 20, God said to Israel:  “To the teaching!  And to the testimony!”

That’s it?

Yes, that’s it!

That’s EVERYTHING!

Where do I need to go when I’m overwhelmed with burdens…..with darkness…..with struggles…..?

Where do I go when the reality of Aaron’s life makes my heart sad?

To a book?  To a person?  To an activity?  To food?  To entertainment?

NO!

To the teaching!  To the testimony!

In other words, to God’s Word.  Staying in my Bible.  Reading it with purpose, asking God to open His Word to me and give me direction….this is where I need to go.

Dale Ralph Davis, in his book Stump Kingdom, says it so well:

“Only the light of the written word will carry us through the darkness of our times.  This holds true whether the ‘times’ are dark historical times, dark personal times, or even the end of our present time.”

Davis then told about Robert Bruce, an old minister in the Kirk of Edinburgh, who on the day he died asked his daughter to set his finger on the last two verses of Romans 8:  “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“These words – that is always the Christian’s slogan.  Only in the teaching and the testimony is there light and help and anchorage.  The Christian is the man or woman who wades through the affairs of life always saying: ‘Set my finger on these words.’”

Wades through the affairs of life……the unexplainable, the sad, the hard, the heavy.

I must wade through it all with my finger on God’s Word.  No other substitute will give me the peace and the comfort that I will find as I read what God says to me in His Word.

I can’t tell you why Aaron has special needs.  I won’t say it doesn’t hurt, sometimes more than others.

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But let me tell you about God.  Let me tell you about His love.  Let me tell you that He is sovereign.  Let me tell you what He has written.

“To the teaching!  And to the testimony!”

 

 

 

 

Tucked Away Promises

I woke up yesterday morning to the faint sound of thunder, so I went first thing to my favorite window and saw this:

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What a beautiful sight any time of day, but to me a special morning blessing!  It only got better a short time later when I went outside and saw a faint second rainbow in the sky.

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Before long, the lightning got brighter and the thunder was louder.  Then came the rain.

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And after the rain, our rainbows reappeared.

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The same scenario repeated itself as soon more rain fell.

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I was up and down, inside and outside, and enjoying the rain with Gary as we watched from inside the garage.  Some of the lightning was close and scary.  Some of the thunder was loud and unsettling.  But we were safe.  And we were thankful for the rain, which brings growth and nourishment to our yard and gardens.

I was especially touched as I read once again the verses from Psalms that I had just read the day before:

“But as for me, I will sing about Your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about Your unfailing love.  For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.”  Psalm 59:16

The rainbow that I first saw reminded me of the fact that it’s vital for me to have a grasp of God’s promises before the storms hit.  It’s so important for me to have that knowledge of what God has to say to me, found in the Bible, tucked into my brain and my heart.

I need to be reading His Word, remembering His promises, and learning WHO God is…..and doing this every day.  Days add up to weeks, then months, then years.  Looking into His Word, listening to God, talking to Him……just like looking up every morning and seeing a beautiful rainbow that catches my eye and grabs my attention.  That’s what I need to be doing with God’s Word.

Then one day…..BAM!!!  The storm hits, in whatever form that takes, and even though the beauty of the rainbow may be hidden by clouds, I can still trust that it’s there.  I can still trust that God is there, with His promises that are highlighted in my Bible and hidden in my heart.  I don’t need to be afraid, distressing and exhausting though my situation may be.  That’s because I’ve gotten to know God intimately over those days and weeks and months and years.

Not it’s time to put into practice what I’ve put away.  It’s not the power of positive thinking.  It’s the power of God’s promises…..of God Himself!!  He will give me comfort and safety in the storms.  He will be my place of safety in my distress.

And I could also sing this old wonderful hymn this morning in church:

          Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

          Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above.

          Join with all nature in manifold witness,

          To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Morning by morning new mercies I see.

          All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

          Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

At the end of the day, I can see God’s hand all over my life.

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God’s Backing

Last Wednesday night, Aaron and I were watching a DVD.  I heard a sound coming from him as he sat in his favorite chair.  I looked over to see his head arched back in that all too familiar way, his arms raised above his head, and his face starting to contort into a seizure.  Surprise seizures like that are always a shock, no matter how many times we see them.

I jumped up and removed his glasses, grabbed some paper towels, and noted the time for our log book.  Gary was upstairs by then, so we just stood beside Aaron to be sure that he was all right.  A two minute seizure is typical for him, but sometimes it seems to take forever as we wait for it to be over.

Aaron’s seizures are most often at night, though more and more are occurring at other times.  Night seizures are actually more dangerous, other than the risk of falls during day seizures.  And nocturnal seizures prevent us from seeing the postictal stage, which is the time after a seizure when Aaron is recovering from the effects of it.  During the night Aaron just sleeps, but during a seizure when he is awake we are there to see him coming back, so to speak……becoming aware of his surroundings and of us again.

It was between 10 and 15 minutes after this seizure that Aaron’s eyes opened and he lifted his head from the back of the chair.  It takes some time then for Aaron to register anything.  He still can’t talk for awhile after his eyes open, and he doesn’t respond to things we might tell him to do.  He’s just really out of it for some time.

On Wednesday night I sat on the ottoman where Aaron’s legs and feet were resting.  I rubbed his legs and talked to him.  His eyes were huge as he just stared at me.  He kept those big eyes glued on my eyes, and I just looked back at him as I softly talked to him.  He didn’t respond……only stared with that blank gaze.

I decided to move my head from side to side.  I moved to the right, and Aaron’s eyes moved to the right.  I moved to the left, and again his eyes followed me.  I repeated the moves, and so did Aaron.  I smiled, but he just continued staring.

I sat there looking back at Aaron, assuring him that he was fine.  But I was thinking of how I would hold little baby Aaron in my arms as he fed, or as I rocked him and sang to him, or we just snuggled.  I remembered how he would follow my eyes and my face with his precious little baby eyes, fully trusting me as his mama.

My fully grown man of a child…..still my Aaron……was following my eyes in much the same way that he would follow my eyes as a little baby in my arms.  Just as he trusted me as an infant, he was still looking to me and trusting me in those moments following his seizure.

I tried to blink my tears away before Aaron became alert enough to notice them.  I didn’t want to scare him……plus Aaron has no appreciation for tears.  He would call me a cry baby when he could finally talk, of that I was certain.

But I couldn’t blink away the memories of Aaron as a baby as we continued to sit there in a kind of stare down.  I was like any excited mother after the birth of her firstborn.  I felt that no woman ever, past or present, had ever felt as blessed as I felt when I held and examined my perfect baby son.  I was so thankful and so full of joy at this precious gift Gary and I had been given!

Never ever even once did I dream that I would be sitting on an ottoman staring still into the eyes of my son, but this time my adult son who had just had one of many hundreds of seizures he has had over the years.  Why would I have ever looked down at my baby boy and thought, “I wonder if someday Aaron will have Epilepsy or autism?”

We all wonder if our children are going to be healthy, but a healthy baby like I had lends itself to a confidence that health will continue.  So when Aaron was older and we started noticing some differences in him……and definitely after his first seizure……our reality changed, big time!

But what didn’t change was our trust in the God we know.  Gary and I knew the character of God.  We had walked with Him long enough to know Him well.  And that knowing led to instant trust……trust that our Father knew what He was doing, even if we didn’t.  It doesn’t mean we didn’t cry, especially me.  It doesn’t mean that over the years we haven’t been very tired, very discouraged, very worried, very sad.

But God always, always, always reaches out to us with a personal touch from Scripture…..a still, soft voice in our hearts……a comfort that can only come from the Holy Spirit…..a peace that truly passes understanding……a promise that we have read a zillion times but suddenly is just for us at that moment.

Just the day before that latest seizure, listen to what I read in Psalm 138:2.  I love the New Living Translation of this verse:

“I praise Your name for Your unfailing love and faithfulness; for Your promises are backed by all the honor of Your name.”

God doesn’t make groundless promises.  His promises are backed by ALL the honor of His name.  And that’s all we need.  We don’t need explanations or answers or reasons or guarantees.  The honor of His name is enough, totally enough.  He is sovereign, in charge, and full of love for Aaron and for me and for Gary.

So I thought of all this while Aaron was staring at me and I stared back.  I had a little prayer meeting there, with some praise for His unfailing love and faithfulness…..and for His dependable promises.

God and His promises are there for all of His children, just when we need Him.  I’m so thankful for Him and for His certain plan in my life and in Aaron’s.  He has proven Himself more than enough for us more times than I can count.

I got up from the ottoman finally, and began to get things ready for us to head up to bed.  Aaron still stared at me.  Finally I could tell that he was coming around…..was more alert.

And of course, many of you would be able to guess the first word out of his mouth when he could talk again.

“Mom?” he said.

Why was I NOT surprised at that?!

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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