Set Sail!

 

It’s a good thing that I looked in the cabinet this morning, checking on a key ingredient that I needed for my chicken dish that we’ll eat for tonight’s supper.  I thought I had plenty but I didn’t, so I quickly added it to my short grocery list and was able to stop at the store later to pick it up.  Being prepared is important!

 

This small episode fit perfectly with what I read this morning during my quiet time.  I actually learned a new word…..a Greek word.  Well, most Greek words are new to me, but this particular word made a huge impression on me.  I hope it will do the same for you.  The word?

 

Pleroma.

 

Impressed yet?  Hang on.

 

Pleroma was part of the ancient world’s shipping vocabulary.  It has to do with being complete or being full.  Here is what Raymond Brown says about pleroma in his book The Message of Nehemiah:

 

            Pleroma….described the ship’s complement.  Before leaving port the vessel was carefully checked to ensure that there was an adequate crew and that the cargo included sufficient food, drink, medical supplies, spare cloth to replace torn sails, ropes, in fact everything necessary for its journey.  That was the ship’s complement or completeness. 

 

A departing ship today, and especially in ancient times, definitely had to be careful to have all necessary supplies before sailing.  No ship would leave for a journey until it was filled with supplies….filled with all it needed for the time on the open sea.
OK, so why was this word such a blessing to me today?  And why do I pray that it’s a huge blessing to each of you reading this as well?

 

Because pleroma is the word that John uses in John 1:16.  “For of His fullness (pleroma) we have all received, and grace upon grace.”  Again, Raymond Brown says:

 

            John’s Gospel began by assuring its Christian readers that, however great the pressures of life, all their needs would be met out of the abundant completeness and inexhaustible sufficiency of Christ.

 

You see, God doesn’t push His children out on life’s voyage without preparation.  Just like a ship being loaded up in the dock before setting sail, so God loads us up with all that we need for the ride that is ahead of us.  We don’t even know that He’s doing all that work on us most of the time.  All the equipping and the completing comes as we live day by day, getting to know Him better through His Word and through the growth that comes with each new trusting time in our lives.

 

Then the waves come crashing in and the journey is long.  The ocean is big and scary.  Don’t think that when you’re slammed in the face with an unexpected trial, God didn’t know beforehand that it would come.  He knew.  He in His sovereignty ordained and allowed it.  But not before He prepared you for it.  God completed you, and is still completing you, with all that you need for the rough waters all around you.

 

Pleroma!!

 

Grace upon grace.  Unmerited favor from God, over and over again.

 

Blessing upon blessing as we sail through the waters and as we experience God’s complete provision for all we need, before we even knew we needed it.

 

God prepared you, and me, for every single event in our lives before we needed it.  And He then stacks grace upon grace as we live through the tough times…..blessing upon blessing…..growth upon growth.

 

God loves His children.  He’s a good God.  He would never leave us incomplete, lacking what we need.

 

He alone is really all we need.

 

So even when we don’t understand our situations….or don’t like them….or are hurting….afraid….turned upside down….

 

Pleroma!

 

You are complete.  You are filled.  You are ready to sail!

 

Trust your Captain.  He’s got your course all charted, and He’s got you more equipped than you realize.

 

Of His fullness we have all received.

 

Holding My Hand

 

She called two nights ago, our beautiful daughter who lives too far away.  She and I had our usual silly “answering the phone” routine, with our familiar teasing and laughter.  Then she said, “Wellll…..” and I knew something was coming.  Moms know these things.  “I saw the cardiologist today and so I thought I’d call and tell you…..”

 

Then I heard words like echocardiogram….stress test…..enzyme levels……blood work….   Possible this and possible that.  I was calm, because I just am that way, usually.  And because she wants me to be that way.  We’ve faced the unknown before with her, and here it is again, lurking like an unwanted intruder in the background.  Actually, red flags were raised after her double pneumonia last July when symptoms and tests weren’t adding up just right.  Doctor visits, multiple tests, many vials of blood…..then a rheumotologist…..now a cardiologist.  An answer would be nice.  I think.

 

But all she has right now are positive results….negative results….symptoms….and no sure diagnosis.  So that leaves us with still more questions than answers.  Leaves her juggling a demanding genetics job with multiple doctor and testing appointments.

 

Leaves me with a choice to make as I feel those icy fingers of fear around my heart.

 

It’s no mistake that a couple weeks ago, as I looked through a notebook stuck on a shelf, I found an old note from a friend written three years ago.  She wrote it after I had surgery on my right shoulder.  She ended the note by saying, “It seems that God’s message is often personal.”  And then she wrote down this verse for me:

 

“For I am the Lord your God, Who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”  Isaiah 41:13

 

I remember being a little girl at Knob Elementary School.  Every Friday, one of us King kids would get to spend the night with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  It was a super wonderful Friday when it was my turn to spend the night with them.  I thought the day would never end!  Finally, it was time to leave the school!  I would run outside and look up the hill.  Sure enough, there would stand Granddaddy, waiting for me patiently.  Up the hill I would run to his big smile and warm hug.  Then he would take my hand and we would walk to their house a few blocks away.  I felt totally safe and secure as we walked along with my little hand held securely in Granddaddy’s big, worn hand.  I had no fear…..just total trust.

 

How I need to be that way now with God!  God, Who takes hold of my right hand and speaks to me as a child.

 

“Do not fear,” He says.  “I will help you.”

 

He promises that to my girl, too, in a way that even I as her mother cannot do.  My words of comfort sometimes ring hollow compared to those of our God.

 

“Do not fear.  I will help you,” he says.

 

All around me are friends and family who are going through deep valleys.  Doctors, tests, dismal scenarios, dark diagnoses, uncertainty.  Exhaustion, worry, fear, guilt…..

 

Steve, our age, recovering from a sudden major stroke.  Atha, in the hospital and now rehab for nearly a month.  Scott, her husband, going through testing.  Nicholas, with ongoing life threatening infection and other issues.  A father and son, both with serious cancer.  So many others with cancer.  Parents with the daily heartbreak of children who have strayed from God’s way and are making bad, life changing decisions.  I could go on and on.

 

But like my friend said, God’s message is often personal.  Just for me, and for my Andrea, and for all of you who are struggling right now.

 

“Do not fear,” again God says.

 

No matter what happens, God tells me not to fear.  I don’t need to fear, because He is holding my right hand.  He is leading me.  He is leading you.  He loves us and He desires our best, even if we must walk through the painful times.

 

“I will help you,” He continues.

 

I won’t be left alone to figure it out and to handle it.  Never did God say, “Just handle it!”

 

No.  He said He would be there to hold my hand and to help me.  I don’t know in what form that help will come, but I do know that He has promised it.  He is right beside me.  He can’t be far away and be holding my hand.  He is near.

 

The battle is the Lord’s, and the battle is won through prayer.  I talked and talked to Granddaddy as we walked along after school, telling him about my day.  God wants me to do the same as we walk along, my hand in His.  He wants me to talk to him with familiarity and with the certainty that He loves me…..He desires my best…..He desires my daughter’s best…..He will be with both of us.

 

He will be with you, too.  Take His hand.  Trust Him to be right there, helping you every step of your uncertain way.

 

When you know Him, He is the Lord your God Who waits for you and Who takes your right hand, and Who says, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

 

What better words can I impart to my daughter than these?

 

What better words can I take to heart myself?

 

I’m letting God take my hand today.  I hope you are, too.

 

 

Disappointments

Disappointments.  Not a very catchy, interesting title, is it?  Not even encouraging!  But disappointments are universal.  We all have them in one form or another, nearly every day.  At my age, I’ve had enough serious disappointments that I now count my blessings when my disappointments are more along the line of a bad hair day, getting a cold, missing a fun day with friends, or not getting in on a great sale. 

Disappointments related to Aaron usually come in two varieties.  We are either disappointed IN Aaron for some reason, or we are disappointed FOR Aaron.  We are usually disappointed IN Aaron because of his behaviors.  We are usually disappointed FOR Aaron because of something that hurts his heart, and therefore ours as well.

On November 6, two days before his birthday, I was going to take Aaron to one of Paradigm’s residential homes so that we could celebrate with some of his friends.  We were going to take pizzas and have fun.  Aaron was so looking forward to it!  But he came down with a stomach virus and was unable to go.  How disappointing!  We were disappointed for Aaron, very much.

So a week later, this past Friday, we made the same plans again.  But on Friday afternoon, the plans were canceled once again.  One of Aaron’s friends was having a very rough day and it wouldn’t have been a good situation for us to be in the home that night, no matter how much pizza we brought.  It was going to take time for this person to calm down.  In fact, this client had some words for Aaron during the situation, much like Aaron does when he has a meltdown, and it really hurt Aaron’s heart.  And it hurt and disappointed us, too, for Aaron.

All of this made Aaron act out.  He banged on the car that brings him home, making a small dent in the front of the car.  He yelled at me when he got home, escalating as I tried to talk to him.  He looked in his Friday goodie bag that sat on the kitchen table, and then knocked it on to the floor.  This is Aaron’s way of handling his own disappointments.  Instead of talking about his hurt, he becomes angry.  Talking only makes him angrier, especially my talking to him. 

I had two disappointments going on that evening.  I had my disappointment for Aaron as I was hurt for him in his hurt.  And I had my disappointment in Aaron…..in his behaviors that can’t be allowed, but sometimes can’t be stopped.  His defiance was understandable but unacceptable.  I hid his goodie bag from him as a tangible sign that his behavior was wrong…..and I wished with all my heart that he could just verbalize his disappointment instead of acting it out with harsh words and defiant behavior. 

He finally settled down enough to show an interest in going out to eat dinner instead of yelling, “NO!” as he had earlier.  So before long we met Gary at Outback, where we enjoyed dinner together and especially enjoyed seeing happy Aaron return.  In fact, before we left the house to meet Gary, Aaron said, “I’m just disappointed.”  Wow!!  Victory in three little words!  Aaron expressed his disappointment verbally and I praised him for that as I told him that I understood, and that I shared his disappointment.  I shared it so much that I even watched The Blob movie with him that night.  That movie brought me to a whole other level of disappointment, trust me.  It was painful!!  But Aaron was happy!

He had a rough morning yesterday, Monday, as he returned to Paradigm.  But the afternoon was much better.  Today he got up very early, and at 6:11 I was in the kitchen listening to him talk about The Blob movie that we had watched.  I’m sorry, but 6:11 is a little early to be handling talk about The Blob.  I’m still not over that movie.

Our morning went well, and I was happy for Aaron to be so happy as I dropped him off at Paradigm.  But shortly before 2:30 I got a call.  Aaron was having a seizure.  I had just gotten home from spending the day with my elderly friend, so I was thankful that I was free as I drove to pick Aaron up at his day group.  Poor Aaron!  Another disappointment, this time more for me.  Disappointment for Aaron as he faces these awful seizures……his badly bitten tongue…..his headache…..the interruption in what should have been a good day.  He handles it so well, thankfully unaware of how sad I am for him.

This morning, as I had my quiet time, I did what I sometimes feel compelled to do.  I asked the Lord, as I turned the pages in my Bible, to give me a special word…..something He knew I needed on this day.  Today I flipped from Romans, where I have been reading, back to the first place my turned pages led….to Malachi.  And there in Malachi 3:6 I read these words:  “For I, the Lord, do not change.” 

Simple words, but I knew they were somehow for me today.  As I drove home with Aaron beside me, his breathing having that certain post-seizure sound, I looked up at the sky as very dark clouds rolled in.  There was a mix of bright blue, but coming in were the dark stormy clouds that promised rain.  Our day was changing from bright sunshine to dark cloudiness, just like my day with Aaron had gone from bright happiness to dark seizure concerns. 
 
Disappointments.  Changes.  We face so many of those, don’t we?  And I didn’t wonder anymore why God gave me that random verse this morning in the little book of Malachi.  “For I, the Lord, do not change.”  So in the middle of disappointments, whatever they may be…..and in the middle of the changes that those disappointments often bring…..we can as God’s children stand firm in God’s promise that He does not change.  Ever.

Just stop and think about what that promise means.  God never changes.  He is always the same, loving us and instructing us and being there for us.  No amount of world changes, of family changes, of my own changes….and the disappointments they bring….will ever change God. 

I’m very, very thankful for that promise today.  I’m very thankful that God gave it to me…..humbled, really, as I always am when God speaks to me so kindly and specifically. 

One more thing.  I’m never disappointed in God.  Never.  And I know that He will see us through all of our disappointments, including the ones IN and FOR our Aaron.     

Lessons From the Toad

I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I watered one of our back flower beds on a very hot afternoon. I wasn’t sure what it was that had drawn my attention and so I leaned down slightly to see what had created the slight movement that I had seen. And there he was, with his head and half of his body sticking out of his little underground home. A small toad! So now I knew what had been living in that mysterious hole that had been dug in the mulch among the pink Coneflowers. I was very relieved that it wasn’t a huge spider, for one thing, and I also thought that this wee fellow was pretty cute.

 As I gently sprayed the flowers in the summer heat, my small toad neighbor just stayed where he was. And as he sat there with a little mound of fresh dirt on his head, I observed some toad behavior that I had never seen before. He lifted his head slightly as the water softly fell on him and then shook his head a bit. He blinked his eyes but didn’t seem bothered by the water that fell over his face. In fact, I thought that he was enjoying the cool shower that was cascading over his hot, bumpy body. It certainly was a very stifling day and I could imagine that he was pleasantly relieved at this unexpected relief from the dryness and the heat.

 

 

As I watched my toad’s reaction to the cool water, I thought of the times in my life that I have felt completely worn out and depleted from the heat of life’s unrelenting ups and downs. At times I have felt dried up and burnt from the stresses that this life can bring. It seems that there is no relief as day after day of disappointments or worries beat down upon my unprotected head. Yet in my heart I know where relief can be found. I can say with David in Psalm 63:1 – “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, My flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Meeting God in His Word and in prayer is where my cool, refreshing relief is to be found. He is there to quench my thirst and His Word is there to revive my dry, parched soul. Then I can say along with the Psalmist, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me.” (Psalm 119:50) I want to let the refreshment that God offers me wash over my spirit. I want to lift my head, blink my eyes in wonder and praise, and let His Word revive me so that when the heat is on, my soul is calm and my spirit is renewed. Thank you, dear Lord, for the little bumpy toad You sent my way!

Lessons From the New Sprouts

 

Yesterday was a beautiful first day of spring.   The bright sunshine belied the fact that we may get some snow this weekend.  Ah yes, spring is a fickle time of year for sure!  By this time of year, everyone is ready for the cold, gray days of winter to give way to the bright colors of spring.  We are ready to listen to the happy chirping of birds and to enjoy the fresh smell of spring that is somehow in the air.  Snow is not something that we look forward to when everything in us is longing for warmth and for open windows and walks in the great outdoors.
 
I’ve become used to looking outside and seeing our brown flower beds.  They are full of faded mulch and the ugly stubs of once pretty flowers.  I didn’t get the dwarf crepe myrtles trimmed back last fall, so those tall dead limbs stick up as a constant reminder that they have had no visible life for several months.  Crunchy dried leaves are piled among the straggly remnants of last year’s growth.  Almost everything is dusty and crunchy, a drab brown and gray palette that does nothing for the senses.  It’s a scenery that is a reminder of what has been……….of what once was………. but now of uselessness and decay and death. 

 

Yet as I drove to an appointment, I saw what looked like the beginnings of buds on some trees.  I saw some pale yellow daffodils blooming beside some one’s house.  Later, at home, I went out with our Great Dane and while he explored the yard, I decided to do a little exploring of my own in one of the flower beds.  I bent over and looked closely.  Then I gently moved aside some of the dry and faded mulch.  And there, under the all the dullness of the mulch and the dirt, I found the tender green shoots of our garden phlox poking through the soil.  Behind me, as I searched some more, I found the young sprouts of our tiger lilies coming out.  Jackson and I walked to the front yard, and there as I did some more gentle digging I found the fresh green of my salvia showing among the dead growth of last summer.  In the corner of that flower bed, without any digging needed, was the unmistakable soft and fuzzy newness of my lamb’s ear.  From a distance, the scenery was still dull and lifeless.  But when I took the time to look, I could see the beginnings of new life.  I could see the hope of a beautiful spring starting to emerge from the seemingly lifeless ground. 
My journey on this earth is full of ups and downs………..the seasons of life shift and change as time goes on.  There are seasons of growth, seasons of calmness, seasons of joy……….and then there are those seasons when I feel a chill in the air, seasons of storms when the sun is hidden, and seasons when I feel that around me I only see the fading of what was.  The drabness of my current sad situation threatens to overtake my vision.  Looking out the window of my life only reveals a dusty mess.  We all have these seasons of life.  Sometimes the seasons change suddenly.  In a flash, we go from happiness to despair.  At other times the shifting is more subtle.  Days and months flow by, and we begin to slowly realize that life has altered and there seems to be no way to get things around us back to the growing, thriving standard that we once knew. 
 
I know that in the dreary days of winter, my perennials in the flower beds around our house are safe underground.  They are alive, though not seen, and they are being fed by the moisture that comes.  Even the cold, harsh snow will give them the sustenance they need in order to survive.  So it is in my life…….in your life…….as we follow Christ.  The seasons where we only see gloom and coldness are really the times that we have an opportunity to rest under the care of our heavenly Father.  Let Him nourish us with His Word, with how He speaks to us in the listless times through the Holy Spirit, and how He uses friends to encourage and lift us up.  The reasons for our dark times don’t even always need to be understood or explained.  Many times, God just wants us to be still and to let Him work as we lay buried in Him.

Then one day without even digging, we will see the sweet evidence of growth.  New shoots will be emerging from the gloom of our lives…………shoots of hope, of joy, of peace………the fruit of many lessons learned.  Isaiah may have been talking about the millennial kingdom in Isaiah 61:11, but I believe we can claim these verses for our lives as well:  “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” 
 
Just as sure as I know that my garden phlox and salvia and lamb’s ear will return, so I know that God will cause His righteousness to prevail and His praise to spring up in my heart once again.  No matter what stress and change and disappointment we face, we can know for certain that God has a season of growth ahead for us………a season of beauty……….a beautiful spring up ahead.  

Psalm 46

Today on the radio I heard David Jeremiah talking about those times that we come to God with such heavy hearts that we don’t really even know what to say, and so we just ask Him to speak to us in a special way.  I guess hearing him say that has caused me to think today about one of the most meaningful times that I did just that.

In May of 2000, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He went through months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation, and was doing very well.  After four years we were all resting easier about his condition, praising God for His healing hand on Dad.

I’ll never forget the day in early November of 2004 when our phone rang.  It was my mom and dad calling me from West Virginia.  Some routine blood work that had been done a few weeks earlier had shown that some of his levels weren’t quite right.  On the phone that day, he and mom broke the news to me that a liver scan had shown that Dad had liver cancer.  It was inoperable, but chemo was once again an option.  However, we knew that this was very serious and possibly terminal.

None of our family was expecting this news.  We were all devastated, of course, and so sad on many levels.  The next morning after receiving this awful news, I sat at the table with my coffee and my Bible.  I was trying to find the motivation to work on a Bible study I was doing, but my heart wasn’t in that.  Finally, I just called out to God and said, “Oh God, You know that I am so sad and so hurt over Dad.  Please, Lord, I need to hear from You right now.  Please speak to me.”

I opened my Bible randomly.  I had nothing marked, nothing stuck in the pages of my Bible that would have caused it to open where it did.  I looked down to where I had opened it and saw Psalm 46.  This was a special Psalm to my extended family.  Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Beside that verse I had written, “‘Dad, cancer: 2000.”  Then verse 10 is my mother’s verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”  I had her name written beside that verse.

It was a very special time of worship for me that morning.  I said, “Oh, thank you Lord, for reminding me of Who You were to all of us during Dad’s cancer in 2000 and of Who You still are today!”  And so I added the date of 2004 to that verse as a reminder of this wonderful word once again from God.

It was a Friday morning and I knew that back in West Virginia, Dad was at the Men’s Prayer Breakfast that he always attended.  That meant that Mom would be alone, and so she and I could really talk.  I called her and for a few minutes we talked and cried together.  Then I said, “Mom, God did the most amazing thing this morning.  I asked Him to speak to me and so I opened my Bible……………”   But Mom interrupted me before I could say anything else.

She said, “Wait!  Don’t tell me!  Was it Psalm 46?”

And I replied, “Well, yes, but how did you know that?”

And she said, “Yesterday when we got home from the doctor, your dad went back into the bedroom and stayed there a long time.  When he came out I asked what he was doing, and he told me that he was reading Psalm 46.”

Oh wow!  God was reaching down to us, so many miles apart, and showing us that He was there…….that He was aware of our need and of our hurt……..that He hadn’t forgotten us…………..that He truly was a PRESENT help in our trouble.

God gave us four more wonderful years with Dad.  We would often say to each other, “Remember Psalm 46!”

What a faithful and awesome God we serve!

Lessons From the Stray Flower

It’s the time of year to call it quits – as far as my flower gardens, that is. My beds of beauty at this point on the calendar are mostly dead or dying beds of brownness. I had noticed for days that I really needed to buckle down and get it over with. All the areas that had once provided color and beauty were now dull and ugly. My flowers had done as well as they could during our history-making summer of stifling heat and drought. Now most of them looked spent. Not only tired and exhausted, but many of them positively dead. The garden would be lovelier without the dead growth, and our eyes would be pleased to look upon beds that were bare rather than beds that were full but wasted.

I gathered the tools that I needed for the job. Small pruning shears, large pruning shears, garden gloves, rake, broom, and my trash container. I walked out back to the two flower beds at our patio and got to work. I bent over and began clipping with the small pruners, being careful not to pull the perennials up by their roots. Hopefully next spring these once beautiful flowers will grow again if I leave their roots intact. I worked among the Black Eyed Susans, the Shasta Daisies, and the Garden Phlox first, snipping and cutting. The trash container was filling up fast, so I emptied it into the large trash can and came back to continue the cleaning. When I came to the Tiger Lilies, I grabbed the large shears and began whacking away at the tall, tough stalks. They fell over the area where once they had stood tall and regal in their bright orange blooms. I’d scoop them up, toss them in the container, and begin again with the pruning. Death was all around me. Everything that was once full of beauty was now only brown and crisp. Dust was puffing up around me, getting on my clothes and in my hair. It was a place of dryness, of has-beens and what used-to-be.

And then I saw it. The little pink blooms laying on the ground caught my eye in an instant as I cut some dead stalks away. They seemed so out of place amidst the drab decay all around them. I paused and looked at them laying there so sweet and still. They were small but their beauty was enormous next to the ugliness all around them. They made me pause and catch my breath as I drank in their beauty and enjoyed the message that they gave to me. I smiled, refreshed in a special way, and then continued with my task at hand as I kept them in my sight. I tried not to disturb their blooms that reminded me of the beauty of the past and promised me of more beauty yet to come in the spring.

 

I have had times of great joy and beauty in my life. I thank the Lord for the memories of those times, and for the daily blessings and moments of happiness that still occur in my life every single day. But as is true with every one of us, I have had times of bleakness. Times when all around me things appear to be full of sadness, heaviness, and pain. The chopping and the tearing away take such a toll on me. I get so tired. The dust swirls around me and I long for clean air and a refreshing touch. That’s when God bends down and speaks to me the clearest. There in the midst of the uncertainty and the heartache I hear His voice. His still, small voice speaks to me in sharp contrast to the darkness all around me. Through His Word, as I read and meditate on what He says, I am refreshed and encouraged. I remember His promises and His blessings of the past, and I know that He will be faithful yet in my future. God is like that little stray, blooming flower – catching my attention with His beauty and soothing me with His presence. Oh Lord, may I, like David, say: “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.”