Although the calendar doesn’t say that spring is here yet, officially, you sure couldn’t prove that by the gorgeous weather that we have been enjoying. Days have been warm and sunny, birds are singing, robins have been spotted, and even that particular smell of spring has been in the air. My Salvia, Black-Eyed Susans, Garden Phlox, Peonies, and Shasta Daisies are all peeking out of the soil, showing off their fresh green growth. Many trees and bushes are budding, and I’ve seen Bradford Pears in full bloom as I drive around town. It’s a refreshing and peaceful time of year – a time of stretching and breathing deeply of the warm air, full of the smell of damp earth and the promise of warmer days ahead.
Two days ago the winds began howling, not at all unusual here in Kansas. These winds, however, began to change direction as night fell. Instead of blowing strong but warm out of the south, they started blowing out of the north. The temperatures dropped dramatically and then sometime during the night the rain began to fall. In the wee hours of the morning there was a different sound. No longer did we hear just the strong winds and the pattering of rain on the roof and windows. Now we heard the sharp pinging of sleet as it was blown against our window panes. The early alarm from my clock only made me want to hunker down further under my warm covers. I didn’t want to face the unwelcome cold that had intruded upon our beautiful spring-like weather, or look outside to see what sight might await me.
Sure enough, one look outside confirmed what I knew in my heart to be true. A light snow was falling, mixed in with stinging sleet – covering the emerging new growth of my flowers and the fragile little buds on the trees and bushes. The wind mixed with the snow and sleet made me cringe, not only for those who had to venture out in such a mess but also for the tender new growth all around me that was being hammered by such ugly weather. Later it was my turn to walk outside and face the cold, to clean off the crusty accumulation on the van, and to hope that I didn’t slip and fall on the icy cement. The sky was heavy and gray as I scraped off the van, and though the snow and sleet had stopped falling, the clouds looked like they would soon open up again and shower us with more of the frozen mess.
Yet in the midst of this wintry scene around me, I heard a sweet sound. Loudly and clearly from a nearby tree came the welcome song of a bird. It seemed that this bird was singing as confidently as he could, unaffected by the cold and the ice and the snow. He continued as I worked to free the van windows of the ice and snow, singing his sweet melody over and over. And with that beautiful bird song, I began to experience hope. I knew that this storm was only an interlude in the cycle of winter becoming spring, and that spring would soon triumph. I knew that we would be hearing many more birds, and that they would build their nests and fill them with eggs that would hopefully hatch to produce more beautiful singers. The pretty flowers and bushes would continue to grow, and before long we would be delighted by the gorgeous colors all around us. The stony grey and white of this cold day would be gone!
All of us have enjoyed many days of blessings and peaceful periods when life is relatively smooth. The minor annoyances that occur are not enough to upset the flow of daily life. But then one day the winds begin to blow and things become a little uncertain. Finally, the direction of the winds changes and life really is turned upside down. The rain that was falling but was tolerable suddenly changes to brutal, stinging sleet and snow. Our beautiful growth, our pretty new flowers, our fragile buds, are threatened by the harsh circumstances around us. We want to hide from the trials, to pull the covers up and not venture out to face what we know will await us outside. But face it we must………the sting of death, the hurt of betrayal, the fear of a doctor’s diagnosis, the grief of a wayward child, the certainty of aging, the loss of finances. Whatever has clouded our lives and covered us with icy reality cannot be ignored.
But oh, we have hope! Just as clearly as the bird’s song filled me with the certain knowledge, the hope, of a coming spring – so we have a certain knowledge that God will never fail and that He has so much in store for us………..so much beauty, so much joy, so much sunshine and peace. The prophet Jeremiah knew about suffering and hope. He said, “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers, and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have HOPE. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I have HOPE in Him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)
How powerful is that reminder from God through Jeremiah! As the bird reminded me of the coming spring, may we also be reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in every stinging storm that we face. And may we be faithful to sing out His praises and look forward with great hope to all that He has in store for us!
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!
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.”
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!
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.