The Surprise

I was walking through our vegetable garden one day in early summer, looking at the pretty little plants growing so nicely where Gary and I had placed them.  There was the summer squash on the front row, along with some zucchini.  The tomatoes were already inside their tomato cages that Gary had put up, and behind them were our okra plants.  Cucumbers were on the side of the garden near the tall oak tree.  We have a simple garden this year, not as full as it sometimes is, but enough for us and hopefully some to share with others.

Everything was where it should be, growing as we had hoped at this point, with no visible bugs or other problems that I could see. Weeds hadn’t started taking over yet, either, so I felt content as I turned to leave the garden.

But wait.  What was this?

I stopped between the tomatoes and okra as I noticed a plant growing in a place where we had not put a seedling.  It wasn’t a weed.  It looked for all the world like……a cucumber?  But what would a cucumber be doing here, when the rest of the cucumbers were all the way over on the other side of the garden?

I hadn’t planted it there.  Gary hadn’t planted it there.  Hmmmmm…….

I stood looking at it, wondering what to do.  There are any number of ways that a cucumber seed from last year ended up under the soil and then growing again this year.  I’ll never know for sure.

But what I did know was that I would not have planted that cucumber in the spot where I found it.  It was too near the edge of the garden, for one thing.  It might get all tangled up in the okra or try to climb the tomato cages.  It might want to grow out into the yard where Gary mows.  It might not flourish under the sunflowers that were soon to be planted right there where its leaves had sprouted.

Bottom line……that volunteer cucumber was just not at all where I would have put it.  I didn’t want it there.  I could think of all the reasons mentioned above that I didn’t want it growing where it had sprouted.

It hadn’t been in our garden plan at all.  Now here it was, intruding in a place and at a time that I hadn’t intended for it to be.  I hated to uproot a growing vegetable plant, however.

“Well, OK,” I thought.  “I guess I’ll leave you here while I decide what to do.  You’ll probably die anyway and then I won’t have a decision to make after all.”

And with that, I turned and walked out of the garden……my garden that now held a stray cucumber plant.  A plant that messed up my plan.  One that, honestly, I didn’t want.

I watched that vagabond cucumber plant over the next days…..days that became weeks.  I left it where it was, more curious as time went on to see how it would fare.  And guess what?  My stray cucumber plant grew beautifully!  In fact, it grew better than the other cucumbers that I had so carefully planned and planted on the other side of the garden.

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It wasn’t long before I saw the first tiny little spiny cucumbers growing under its leaves.  I tended it carefully, pulling its curly tendrils away from the tomato cages…..guiding the growing vine out of the yard and back to the garden…..watching another of its vines growing up a tall sunflower stalk.

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The fruit of that unwelcome cucumber has been beautiful and sweet.  We’ve benefited from it very much, and so have others with whom I’ve shared.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t follow my first response and pull the cucumber from the soil!  I’m thankful that I stepped back, gave it time, let it grow, and then enjoyed the sweet fruit…..and the lessons it has taught me.

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One thing we all know, if we live long enough, is that life is full of surprises.  We can be going along just fine, things working out the way we had planned, when BAM!!  We hit the proverbial wall.  Suddenly, things are NOT going as planned.  Now what?

As followers of Christ, we’re certainly not exempt from those detours in life.  In fact, God does put situations and events and people into our lives for a purpose that sometimes only He knows.  Maybe He’ll share it with us and maybe He won’t.  So again, what do we do?

Do we try to fix it?  Get rid of it?  Ignore it?  And if we can’t do any of those, do we argue with God?  Get angry?  Get bitter?

I mean, admit it, there are things that happen to us that that we just can’t see any reason for.  Really, God?  I would NOT have done that.  I would NOT have put that situation in that place in my life at all.  I mean, maybe another time…..another place…..or better yet, not at all!!

So, God, this wasn’t in my plan.  I had my life pretty well mapped out, you know.  Grow up….college….job….husband….kids…..family…..

I didn’t plan on Aaron falling back into my arms that Sunday afternoon 25 years ago, seizing and bleeding and unconscious.  That was most unwelcome.  I didn’t plan on being given his further diagnosis of autism 7 years after that.  I mean, isn’t Epilepsy enough?  I didn’t plan on still being his caregiver when he’s almost 33 years old.  Don’t You know about empty nest?  How welcome, on many days, THAT would be?

So…..this plant that You have placed in my life?  Why did You put it there?  I might agree to it in some form…..over there, in another area, to a different degree.  Here….just let me decide where it goes and how big it grows, OK?  Really, I would never have put it there in the first place…..in case You want to know.

But oh my goodness, what God has taught me over the years from that little unwanted seedling that popped up where I didn’t plan it!

What I’ve learned can be summed up with one verse in one of my very favorite Bible passages.  Psalm 18:30:

“But as for God, His way is perfect.”

There you have it.  Eight little words that speak incredible volumes about God and His sovereignty.

It doesn’t say that His way is easy…..fun…..pretty…..popular…..understandable.

Or fast.  Gary and I are in this life with Aaron for the long haul.

We each have our own situations that God has put, just so, in our lives.  As we stand and look at whatever that is, we must choose whether to accept God’s placement in our garden or to spend our life hating it.

But let me tell you, when you accept that God’s way is perfect and you let Him be that Master Gardener in your life, you’re going to one day see fruit.  You’re going to see growth in your life that you never thought possible.  You’re going to see beautiful fruit like peace, joy, thankfulness, wisdom.

And best of all, that fruit is what you’ll be able to share with others…..especially others who are suffering.  Comforting as you have been comforted…..blessing as you have been blessed.

God does know what He’s doing, after all.  His way IS perfect, and perfectly placed, in each of our lives.

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Fast Forward

Sometimes one thing leads to another, and that one leads to another, and then another leads to another, and it can just be amazing to go back and look at the picture created.  This is what I’m seeing today.  I hope I can connect all the “things and anothers” as I try to show you the beautiful picture created by God.

It started yesterday evening when Aaron went with me to Dillon’s.  When we left the store and were getting into the van, the handle of my crossbody purse somehow knocked off my earring as I moved it over my head.  I found the back of the earring as it poked my skin.  Yep, it had gone down my shirt somehow.  But nowhere in sight was my earring.  I hurriedly searched for it, and so did Aaron, but we couldn’t find it.  I told him not to worry, because things like this can worry him, and off we drove to pick up some pizza for supper.

Still no earring appeared as we got out of the van at home, and I searched around some more for it.  “Oh well,” I told Aaron.  “It’ll show up when we least expect it…..or when I clean the van, sometime in the far off future.” 

We sat down to eat and Aaron asked the blessing.  His before-meal prayers, 99% of the time, contain two statements.  What he says varies depending on the day and the current events of our life, but very rarely does he say more than two things.  This prayer was no exception. 

“Dear Lord,” Aaron began.  “Thank you for the pizza.  And please help us find Mom’s earring.” 

I told Aaron it was wonderful to pray about the lost earring, and assured him that God loves to hear those requests.  And don’t you know that a short time later Gary went out to the van to conduct his own search, and he found my earring!  You should have seen Aaron’s face when I showed him that I was now wearing TWO earrings!  And then when I told him that God had answered his prayer!  Aaron’s face lit up like the sun.  It was priceless!

So the lost earring led to Aaron praying, which led to God answering in a sweet way, which led to……I trust……Aaron seeing how wonderful it is to pray about everything.

It was a good thing for Gary and I to see, as well. 

Then came today, which in comparison to what some others are enduring was really nothing.  But in the moment it was, for Aaron and for me, pretty awful.

I want to preserve Aaron’s dignity in this.  I needed to take him down to the air base to have a urine test repeated this morning.  I told him to use the bathroom when he got out of bed, and then by the time he drank his coffee and we got to the lab, he would need to go again.  I rehearsed the procedure with him as we drove to the base.  All was well.

That was short lived.  As Aaron got out of the van at the clinic, I saw that he was doing what I call “The Potty Walk.”  I was concerned, but he assured me that he could wait until he was in the lab bathroom, cup in hand. 

We walked up to the lab window, where the lone lab worker was a little harried.  I heard a door close and looked around to see that Aaron had already entered the bathroom…..NO cup in hand.  I told the harried lab worker to hold on as I scurried to the bathroom and opened the door…..to find Aaron preparing to go. 

“NO, Aaron,” I tried to whisper as I closed the door.  “Please, can you just wait until I get the cup??!!”

I rushed outside, went up to the window again, where the lone lab woman was realizing my dilemma and was trying her best to get Aaron’s info sticker onto his cup…..the cup he still wasn’t holding!  She slapped it on, and I quickly zoomed into the bathroom……to the most awful sight.

Let’s just say it appeared that the plumbing had sprung a huge leak, but the toilet and sink plumbing were fine.  Aaron’s, however, was not fine.

We got the sample somehow, but it’s probably not the best.  I wasn’t the best, either.  Such a mess!  I didn’t know what to do but to try to clean it up, mostly in an effort not to embarrass Aaron by having to tell the poor harried lab woman, in front of others, what had happened.  I had Aaron standing in the corner of the bathroom and kept telling him not to talk, because he talks so loudly that I knew everyone outside would hear.  Like they didn’t already guess what was going on in that bathroom!  “How many paper towels do they need in there?” everybody must have been wondering as they heard the automatic dispenser churn out towel after towel.

And poor Aaron.  His shorts were very obviously wet, and we had to walk out past people in the lab waiting room and in other areas as we left the clinic.  I waited for a few minutes after leaving the bathroom to see if the lab worker needed anything else from us, while Aaron hid behind the bathroom door.  Finally, we just left.  I felt like it was a walk of shame for dear Aaron.  And I was a mess of emotions…..very sorry for Aaron, and embarrassed, and just weak from all of it. 

The plan had been to take Aaron to Paradigm for his day, but instead we just drove home.  I really wanted to cry.  I stole glances at Aaron.  He was very serious, and very sorry, and very quiet.  That made me want to cry even more.

He turned on his music, of course.  It was the Zac Brown Band.  As we drove along the highway, song #4 and song #5 came on, Aaron checking the back of the CD box to confirm the title of each song as he always does.  Then came song #6, which is more of a rock song, and one I don’t like.  I was in NO mood for that today, so I used the button on the steering wheel to quickly go to song #7.  Aaron didn’t seem to notice, which was good.

Oh, but never underestimate Aaron.  It wasn’t long before he realized that song #5 had played, and now song #7 was playing.  What happened to song #6?

“Mom, did you go past song #6?” he asked.  I confessed.  He asked why, and I told him, and he was fine with that. 

As we kept heading toward home, I thought of how nice it would be if we could fast forward through parts of our life.  I would certainly have fast forwarded through this bad morning!

When we got home, Aaron showered and changed clothes.  Then he went with me to Aldi and to Dillon’s, even though I kind of wanted some time alone.  But once there, Aaron and I enjoyed the shopping, especially looking for what we needed for the lasagna he wanted for supper.  He helped bag the groceries and carry them.  He carried the heavy bag of dog food I got when we stopped at the vet, and he talked to Misha about Spiderman and about Star Trek, which always cheers Aaron up.  None of that would have happened if I hadn’t taken Aaron with me. 

Then at Dillon’s, Aaron saw one of the workers that we know as we checked out.  She stopped to talk to us before we left.  Her life is hard, always full of trouble, it seems……and today was certainly no exception as she shared some things with me.  As she talked, Aaron just stood there listening quietly to every word.  As we left, I told her that I would pray for her.

“Does she have a heartache?” Aaron asked me as we walked out the door. 

I was so surprised at his question, but more at his insight and the empathy he showed as we talked together about her. 

And then later, the best part.  We sat down to a lunch of leftover pizza, and again Aaron prayed as we held hands.

“Dear Lord, thank you for the pizza.  And help B have a good heart.”

Wow.  Just wow.

Aaron usually prays for Aaron, and on a good day he might pray about my earring.  But to pray for this friend that we really don’t deeply know……now that was touching and dear and so impacting.

That would never have happened if Aaron had not been with me…..and he would not have been with me if not for the awful lab experience earlier. 

If I had been allowed to fast forward through our terrible morning in order to preserve us from that bad time, then we would not have had this amazing and very good time.  This sweet time of Aaron genuinely listening to another person share her pain, and then genuinely caring enough to genuinely ask God to help her have a good heart.

So you see, one thing does lead to another which leads to another which leads to yet another.  Did Aaron’s answered prayer last night encourage him to pray for our friend today?  I think it did.  Then his bathroom accident allowed him to be with me to offer help today, and especially to be with me to listen to a hurting friend who needs his prayers. 

We all have those times in life when we want to skip song #6 and go right on to song #7……when we want to fast forward through the pain we’re facing and be done with it, moving on to other better things. 

But with God, His one thing that leads to another thing that leads to the other thing is what’s best for us.  It’s a good thing that He doesn’t allow us to fast forward, as hard and as terrible as some of the things are that we face.  He works all of it out for good if we let Him. 

Help all of us have a good heart, Lord. 

And help us not push the fast forward button.

 

 

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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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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My Priceless New Year’s Gift

I was sitting by our Christmas tree this morning, knowing this is the last time I’ll be enjoying its soft beauty this year.  And it hit me.  Everything I do today will be the last time I do “that” this year, because tomorrow is a whole new year!  My brain, fuzzy from another long seizure night with Aaron and waiting for my first cup of coffee to kick in, tried to wrap itself around that fact.  2017 is almost here!

I’m not really as excited as that exclamation point may indicate.  I mean, a new year is always pretty cool to think about.  But life has a way of pulling us back to reality, especially as we get older, and for me my vision is narrowed to what I have on my plate right now.  I know I need goals, but on days like today, today is about all I can handle.

Up four times with Aaron and once with the dog last night made my reality at that moment very narrow.  It was the tree and the lights…..my coffee…..and the baby monitor beside me as I listened to Aaron after he returned to bed, my ears jumping into alert mode at each change in his breathing.

And one more thing……a word.  The word “grace.”  Sometimes that word may be overused, if that’s possible, and for me may lose its full meaning.  But this morning that word kept going through my tired mind.

Two meanings of this word popped up on my handy phone dictionary app.  They are:

1)      The freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.

2)      The influence or Spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.

Perhaps my favorite grace passage in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  I was drawn to that this morning, and though I know it pretty well by heart, I made myself actually walk upstairs to get my Bible.  Really, walking up the stairs took some effort this morning.  I felt like I should copy Aaron, who earlier went up the stairs monkey fashion on all fours, as he often does.

Anyway, Bible in hand, I sat down and opened to these familiar verses.  Paul had been given his “thorn in the flesh,” whatever that was…..and three times he implored God to take it away.  Implored…..past tense.  It seems that Paul was done with asking God to remove it, and was now able to say in the next verse that God “has said,” meaning that there was an ongoing result of God continuing to say these truths to Paul:

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

One thing I had written beside these verses in my Bible, my memorial stone, was simply:  “Feb. ’92, Aaron.”  That was the terrifying day in Germany, 25 years ago, when Aaron had his first big seizure.  I’ll never forget that Sunday afternoon in our kitchen in military housing…..the terror of him falling backward into my arms…..blood coming from his mouth as he seized and I screamed for Gary……the frantic phone call……the ambulance……the German children’s hospital…..language barriers with doctors…..so much to absorb and to understand and to fear.

But God was there with us bringing His unmistakable peace and calm, due only to His grace.  It had nothing to do with Gary and me being strong, or having a certain personality, or any of that “me” stuff.  I was a momma wreck!  It was totally God pouring out His strength…..His grace…..onto and into me.

So here I was this morning, 25 years later……TWENTY FIVE!!!!…….and God pulled me back to these memorial verses.  Nothing has changed.  Aaron had four hard seizures last night.  God has not taken away this thorn, this reality, this sadness in Aaron’s life and in ours.  But he has, over and over and over again, shown us His grace….His love……His favor…..His strength…..in the middle of our pain and our struggles.

So am I, like Paul, “well content” with this weakness that God has given our Aaron and us?   That phrase means “to take pleasure in.”  Well, no.  I can’t honestly say that I take pleasure in Aaron’s seizures or in his autism.  But I must look beyond all that list of things Paul mentions “taking pleasure in,” and look at those words, “for Christ’s sake.”

For my whole life, really, is to point to Christ.  That’s what following Him is all about, after all.  And if I could handle it all myself, I wouldn’t need Him.  But I DO need Him!!  And therefore, what Paul said is so true.  “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Strong because God makes me that way, and He makes me that way only because of His grace.  Back to that word again…..grace……the outpouring of His favor and strength upon me.

So I just found my resolve for this new year.  It’s to come back to the realization that I can’t change a thing, but I don’t need to change a thing.  Recognizing my sorrow and my pain isn’t meant to point to me and to make me the focus.  It’s to point to Christ and to talk about His grace through it all.

“So that the power of Christ may dwell in me,” Paul said.  That word “dwell” means “to pitch a tent.”  Christ’s power is here for the long term, for me, as I rely on Him and trust Him in the hard times and thank Him through all of it.

His grace is here for all of us who follow Him.  What a priceless gift!  So I close with the words of this old song written by Don Moen, perfect for this new year ahead.

 

                     He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,

To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

 

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

 

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

 

His grace is such a gift!  And so is our Aaron.

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