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.”

Lessons From the Loaded Truck

Gary and I appreciate how our neighborhood association has a designated clean-up weekend twice a year. The association rents a huge dumpster and puts it in a field that’s just around our circle from us. It’s the perfect time for us to unload any large unwanted items that are allowed in the dumpster. Our big goal, though, is to cut and trim many of our branches, bushes, and trees that have gotten out-of-hand or have died. This last clean-up time a couple weekends ago was no exception. The weather was perfect in every way for Gary and I to head outside and begin our chopping and sawing. It wasn’t long before the piles were growing all over our couple acres. It was time for the dying cherry tree to go, as well as an old long-dead spruce. Our huge Crepe Myrtles needed to be cut down low, and the violet bush badly needed some work. Off came the bottom branches of our evergreen that we lovingly call our Gumdrop Tree as we try to save it for one more year of Christmas lights. And there were many, many other branches and limbs and parts of trees that needed to be sawed down and disposed of.

We used to use Andrew’s old truck for these days but now that he’s off to college we pile the mounds into Gary’s truck. What a blessing to have this means of hauling all that mess down to the dumpster! We drag and lift and load over and over again. It’s amazing how many loads we haul away! The truck is filled as full as it can be with each trip, that’s for sure. Gary has it down to a fine art of how to load the truck and it works very well. We pile it high, and then Gary uses a rope to tie it down before he drives off around the circle to unload. I either ride down with him to help unload, or I stay back at the house to do other things until he returns. One thing I’ve never done is to run along behind him, yelling for him to stop so that I can take some of the load off and carry it myself; or telling him that I need to rearrange the load; or offering to ride on top of the load to help hold it down. No, that would be silly! The truck is able to carry the load perfectly and the rope holds it secure. I have every confidence in the ability of Gary’s truck to do the job and do it well.

As we loaded Gary’s truck, I was reminded of what I had read in Isaiah 46 recently. God began that chapter by talking about how the Babylonians would load their false gods onto donkeys when they were being attacked. However, soon both the donkeys and the false gods were taken into captivity. Neither was able to help the other. Then in verses 3 and 4 God reminded Israel: “…….you have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you! And I shall bear you and I shall deliver you!” What an amazing promise that is true for believers today as well! It’s true for me and for you! God will be the same for our entire lives, from birth til death. He desires to bear me and to deliver me! He wants to carry my loads and bear my burdens! Just as I could trust Gary’s truck to carry the weight and the amount of our limbs and branches, so I can trust God to carry all the weight and the amount of my troubles and my burdens.

Peter said in I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” This carries the idea of throwing my cares upon God. Just as I threw those branches and limbs on the truck, so I can throw my cares upon God. And just as silly as it would be for me to chase Gary around the circle and try to carry the limbs myself, so it’s silly for me to throw my cares upon God but then try to take them back. Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing every time I pray but still worry and stew over my problems. Why is it so hard to just leave my burdens on the God Who WANTS to bear them for me? Why do I think that by losing sleep, or talking and talking about my issues, or continuing to try to solve my problems myself, or reading the next self-help book – that I can in any way accomplish any more than the donkeys and the false gods did in Isaiah’s time? Oh God, may I throw my worries and hurts and fears and pain upon You, fully upon You, and allow You to bear them and to carry me and deliver me!

Just like Gary’s good old truck!

Matters of the Heart

Aaron is now 27 years old.  I know that he is a man, a grown man, and that fact is very hard to imagine.  28 years ago Gary and I were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first child.  I had made all the yellow gingham nursery curtains, bumper pads, changing table covers, and decorated with yellow, fluffy duck decorations.  Everything was as I wanted it.  And even though I went into labor 3 weeks early and Gary had just changed out of his flight suit when he rushed me to the hospital, we were really ready – for the most part – or so we thought.  What new parents can ever be really ready for the responsibility that awaits them?  And what new parents can ever comprehend the depth of love that washes over you when you first hold that little part of both of you?  Aaron was so little and perfect and beautiful.  And my radar screen was still showing sunny weather with not a storm in sight.

When Aaron had his first seizure and was diagnosed with Epilepsy, and then years later was diagnosed with Autism, we were completely unprepared.  We never, ever expected such a thing to happen to us.  To someone else, yes.  Someone we would read about in a magazine, or hear about from a friend, or receive a prayer request for at church.  The reality of this event in our lives with our Aaron was just so unexpected and unwelcome.  And as I said earlier, when I got home from the hospital after his Epilepsy diagnosis, I cried my heart out with tears for Aaron, for us, and with pleas to God for His grace and strength.

I had a choice to make and I chose to focus on what I KNOW.  And what I know is that God is sovereign.  God is in control and none of these events surprised Him or confused Him.  God loves me and God loves Gary, and God certainly loves Aaron.  I cannot and will not ever try to explain the ways of God.  There is no unfairness with God, I do know that.  So instead of wasting time and energy trying to explain the why of our situation, my choice was to trust the Who in our lives.  And that would be God.  I know from my walk with Him for all these years and from reading His Word, Who He is.  I know that His sovereign plan is best even when He doesn’t choose to reveal it all to me.  I trust Him and I love Him and I have found Him always faithful.  Those things I know.

While in Leavenworth, God gave me Psalm 18:29:  “For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall.”  I just love this verse!  It’s my theme verse in so many ways.  Oh, the walls that I’ve run into in our life with Aaron!  I’ve shared many of them in the past few posts.  So many times I’ve run into walls, beat my head against walls, beat my fists on the walls, tried to climb walls with my own strength – but by my God, I can LEAP over the walls.  What a promise, fulfilled in so many different ways in so many different situations.  So I also know that with God, I’m a wall leaper!

But there are also some things I feel, and feel deeply.  These feelings come from within my mother heart.  I think of my heart as having various doors that open when needed.  Doors of love, of wisdom, of encouragement, of laughter, and on and on.  But there is a door that I rarely open because it is too painful.  That is the door of my regrets and wishes for Aaron.  I do not live in regret or in unfulfilled wishes for Aaron, but occasionally those thoughts slip in or that reality hits me in my heart.  Once after Aaron started going to the job skills school, he came home one day and said, “Mom, I’ve noticed something.  All the kids at that school have problems.  What are my problems?”  I struggled not to cry as I tried to talk to him about Epilepsy and Autism.  He was satisfied and seemingly unconcerned, but I knew he was pondering these issues very personally now.  And it broke my heart.  I remember when Andrew got his license and later came home with his used truck.  We had purposely not made this a big deal because Aaron was often jealous of Andrew’s life.  But Aaron looked outside and saw the truck, so he asked if that was Andrew’s.  I said yes and Aaron said, “I wish I could drive.”  Little glimpses like that into his heart made that door of my heart start coming open.  There are times for tears, but not time to wonder about what could have been or might have been.  Living in defeat is not God’s plan for me or for Aaron.

And there are so many reasons to be thankful.  Gary led Aaron to the Lord when he was 6 years old.  Aaron has that understanding.  He can walk, and run, and see, and talk (can he ever!).  Things could be so much worse.  He can read and understand, and even though he can be sooooooo irritating sometimes, he also makes us laugh – a lot!

In closing I want to post a piece that has always spoken deeply to me and I hope it will to you, as well.

 

“WELCOME TO HOLLAND”

 

 

By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. All rights reserved.

 

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability- to try to

 

help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it

 

would feel. It’s like this………..

 

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.
You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans.  The Coliseum.
The Michelangelo David.  The gondolas in Venice.  You may learn some handy phrases in
Italian.  It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.  You pack your bags and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands.  The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!” you say.  “What do you mean, Holland??  I signed up for Italy!  I’m supposed to be in
Italy.  All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy!”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan.  They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of
pestilence, famine and disease.  It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books.  And you must learn a whole new language.  And you
will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.  It’s just a different place.  It’s
slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.  But after you’ve been there for awhile and you catch
your breath, you look around…………and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills and Holland
has tulips.  Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy………..and they’re all bragging about
what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where
I was supposed to go.  That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away………because the loss of that dream is a very,
very significant loss.
But………if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to
enjoy the very special, the very lovely things………….about Holland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

Lessons From the Battered Plants

On Thursday evening we stood helplessly at our windows and watched as the hail fell and the wind blew ferociously. The hail wasn’t huge but was relentless and seemed to go on forever. When the storm was over I stepped outside and felt very disheartened at what I saw – leaves that had blown off of trees and plants were plastered everywhere; branches were snapped and smaller twigs were scattered all around; flowers were shredded; newly purchased hanging baskets were twisted and broken; our vegetable garden partly flattened and mangled. I didn’t even want to deal with it after weeks of planting, nurturing, and then beginning to see the fruits of our labor that we noticed even as we walked around the yard and garden minutes before the storm started.

Today I stepped out on the back patio, gathered the hanging baskets together, and started trimming the dying and drooping limbs. I then turned to the two flower beds in the back to do the same there. And I noticed something amazing. In the midst of the damage there was new growth. There among the pock-marked leaves and shredded blooms were new blooms waiting to open, new leaves unfurling, and bees buzzing about. Life!! And you know why? Because these plants were not uprooted. Their root systems were intact, receiving nourishment from underneath the ground as well as stability to remain standing. Sure, they bear the marks of the storm, and some look very tattered and worn. But there is growth; there is an anchor in the soil; there is hope.

How many times I’ve been battered by the storms of life! All of us have endured the sting of trials in so many areas of our lives. Many trials are prolonged and seem to never end. I’ve felt beaten, defeated, discouraged, scared, tired. But through it all I know in Whom I have believed. My roots are firm in the God Whom I trust. Jeremiah said it very well in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” I may bear the marks of the sufferings of this life but as I remain rooted in God my life can continue to grow, to prosper spiritually, to yield the peacable fruit of righeousness, to have peace and usefulness. I have hope as I anchor my roots in Christ – “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and stedfast…..” Hebrews 6:19.

And so I pray that I will bear the marks of my trials and hardships to the glory of God. I pray that I will continue to grow, to bloom, and to bear fruit despite the scars that may mar my leaves. I pray that through the heat and fierceness of the storms to come I will remain rooted in the Lord with no fear or worry, being fed by Him, and looking forward to the sure and stedfast hope that He provides!

 

Lessons From the Little Black Ant

Let’s face it – life isn’t easy for any of us.  God has allowed Gary and I to be in a place we never even thought about as new parents to our beautiful baby Aaron over 32 years ago.  One summer I wrote some thoughts about persevering as we carry the burdens we face.  It involves an ant:

If you had driven by my house this morning you would have seen me standing in the front yard under our maple tree, watering hose in one hand and coffee in the other, with my hair blowing crazily in our Kansas wind. And to make me even more noticeable, I’m sure, was the fact that I was staring up into our maple tree for a long time. You see, God has often used my gardening as a time to teach me. Object lessons abound and this morning was no different. So I was observing God’s lesson for me this morning in the form of an itty bitty tiny black ant. An amazing itty bitty tiny black ant.

There he was, this little ant, carrying a white load that was bigger than he was. As he climbed up the tree, defying gravity with his load, he never wavered from the task at hand. Other ants were barreling down the tree, passing him as they went merrily on their way, seemingly oblivious to the load he carried. Several times he bumped into rough, curling bark that threatened to stop his progress. Then the wind blew and it buffeted him terribly. He would swerve and I wondered if he was going to fall down to the ground, but he never did. He pressed on and on until finally I could barely see him. I don’t know if he made it to his goal today or had to start over, but something tells me he accomplished what he set out to do. I know that God used that little oblivious ant to accomplish a work in my heart.

We all face those loads in life and I’m no different. I remember some of them in particular as milestones in my life. Usually the loads are painful, for that is when I learn the best. Aaron’s diagnosis of Epilepsy and then several years later of Autism were particularly hard loads to bear. Our frequent military moves were often painful as we once again said goodbye to family, friends, and ministry that we loved. Receiving the news of my dad’s two cancers, and then losing three of our parents in 14 months was at times too heavy to bear. Watching family that we love go through terrible trials takes a toll as well. That out-of-the-blue phone call that came several years ago that changed our lives and has impacted our children continues to be difficult.

I admit that lately I have become discouraged with it all. I have wanted to throw the load down and head merrily back down the tree to a life where things aren’t so burdensome. I’ve become tired of the impediments, the rough tree and curling bark. The winds of doubt and of feeling unused threaten to blow me off course. Worry, concerns, injustice – it all crowds in during the dark hours of the night when sleep won’t come. But today God spoke to me. Not with a mighty voice or an awesome miracle, but He allowed me to “consider the ant” and to be uplifted and blessed.

James said that we can know “that the testing of our faith produces endurance.” Endurance, which means abiding under difficulties. Not dropping the load and running back down the tree but living under the difficulties, pressing on toward the mark, and counting it joy. Thank you, God, for the strength that you promise; for the joy that you give under the loads of life; and for the little black ant that you sent my way today.