Friday, September 19, 2008

When Runaways Remain

Around 25 years ago my sister and I became unhappy with how things were taking in shape in our family. Hidden behind a ridge in the mountains of northern Georgia our hand-crafted cabin bulged with three wild-haired big eyed hippie's daughters. (Later there were five girls, but not then) Our feet tended to be bare and we flowed inside and out with little concern for societal norms. We were raised to love Jesus and the land He painted at creation and for some reason two of us had become disgruntled with what I now realize was a beautiful childhood. It was agreed upon that one of us should run away. Now my sister will tell you that though two years my senior she often shared her ideas with me and then encouraged me to act on them. I don't remember there ever being a discussion as to who was going to do the running, but you can probably guess it was me that ended up packing my bags. Early one morning before the sounds of my mother awoke us we whispered our goodbyes. Before leaving, I boldly climbed onto the counter and helped myself to an unopened box of cereal--a BIG No No. Then I made my way as quietly as possible around the wild cherry tree and down a small slope to the back of the house where the crawl space had an opening. For whatever reason, I felt this was as good a place as any to run away to and so it was there I stayed--a disgruntled, disappointed and frustrated runaway. In the end I think we actually had to tell my mom I had run away. They never even noticed my absence. That may have had a good deal to do with the fact that I didn't manage to stay gone very long. This morning as I was reading in John 15 my memory was washed with the pictures of that childhood story. Verse nine of John 15 says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love..." Eleven times in the first ten verses Jesus speaks the word remain. Remain. The word is well translated as in the Greek it means simply to stay, to remain, to abide or consider Eugene Peterson's translation: "I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love." (John 15:9) When you know the depths of someones love you never want to leave. But when the love of those who care for you is called into question then it is human nature to run. If we run then at least we aren't present for the pain of disappointment. Obviously as a little girl I had become disappointed with something happening in our house and I questioned the rightness, the fairness, and the love of my parents. (I had probably been asked to do some unreasonable thing like feed the dogs or fold laundry :-) But my sister and I both felt the best situation was to jump ship, to run. The thought of staying and persevering through something didn't weigh enough to stand a chance against the idea of running. Two and a half decades later I find people still tend to run when things get rough. Some are like me--they don't run that far. The fight they had with their husband just sends them running to call their friend. The frustrations with their children just drive them to the computer. The stress at work sends them for a little retail therapy. The disappointment with themselves sends them to the freezer for the entire container of Moose Tracks. I've been there--literally. Sometimes they run farther though--they leave their marriage. They never speak to their relative again after the last fight. They quit their job and hunt for another one. Sometimes running doesn't seem like running, it seems like a logical solution to avoid a messy conflict. But when we run from God we run from our very source of life and over time the light in our life will flicker and burn out. It may take years, but mark my words it will happen. I've seen it. I've lived it. The two children who lost their mom, the hard working family man who lost two jobs in one year, the family who lost their home, the woman who lost her chance at love all have one thing in common--the choice to remain or run. They're real live people like you and like me and they face insurmountable-how in the world could a good God allow this-it's not fair-it hurts so hard I can't breath-circumstances. They face the gritty questions in life to which there are no good answers and they're hurt, they're disappointed, they're angry, they're frustrated and they're desperate. You better believe they're gonna be tempted to run. The challenges I face seem insignificant compared to those of so many others but still I find myself tempted to throw in the towel too from time to time. I am comforted by the truth that Jesus loves me with the same incredible love that God poured on Him as He faced the gruesome reality of death by crucifixion. What a life changing truth it is when He says to us I love you with that same exact love and I want you to "live in" my love. When you know that you know that you know that you are loved without question you feel so safe, so secure you never want to leave that kind of relationship. My husband has showed me what that kind of love feels like. In him I have found a love that has endured without hesitation or contingency and I've been able to take that picture and paste it on the heart of Jesus to better understand what He means when He says He loves me. To live in the love of God we have to believe in it. We have to stand on the truth of God's Word and declare to our doubting hearts, "My Father will NEVER leave, NEVER forsake, NEVER abandon, NEVER give up, NEVER release us, NEVER fail, NEVER falter. His love is permanent and it is mine." (Hebrews 13:5, Deut. 4:31, Ps. 138:8, Jude 1:24, Romans 8:39) No matter what we face, we face it shielded by the love of God. If we aren't living in God's love it's as if we are a soldier cowering. behind the largest, mightiest, strongest most impenetrable sword ever fashioned shaking and petrified because we can't see the shield. Just because we don't see it doesn't mean it's not there. We are shielded by the God who commands lightning bolts with a single breath. Jesus wasn't removed from the greatest trial known to mankind, He was loved through it and in that love He found the strength to carry out the most heroic mission of all time. Only after He made it through death did God raise Him to His right hand. Joseph didn't receive a 'become the pharoah's right hand-man' free pass. First he was loved through a pit, and prison terms and then he was lifted up into the position God had planned all along. What about Esther? God didn't just change her king's heart and spare her people, He loved her through the fear of risking her life to save her people. Trials are a reality of this life. Disappointment. Pain. They are the stories of the heroes of the faith. But they are only fleeting emotions in the lives of those warriors--the permanent backdrop for every single one of these stories is the guaranteed love of God. Without exception His love is our guarantee. I Cor. 13:13 says, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." When we lose faith, and we will, when we give up hope, and we will, may we remember the greatest of all--the God whose very name is LOVE. In His love may we remain. Pray with me: Lord, Your name is love. Your love is so unfathomable. But I have to admit there are times when I want to scream why, God? Why do you allow pain into our lives? Why do you allow heart break? Why? And yet, Lord if you never answer the why's, won't you fill me with belief in the truth of your remaining love. God help me to live in that love. Help me to linger there, to stay, to put my suitcases down and grab hold of your love with all my might. Thank you, Father. Read with me: Jude 1:21 Listen with me: God loves you--Deborah Klassen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When the Shoreline Changes

One week ago yesterday I sat in the same row of padded brown folding chairs as a woman with the hair of Greek goddesses and eyes like the sea. She was no stranger to me. A little over two years ago we sat in the same chairs circled around a table in a Sunday School class. As our conversation unfolded, I discovered she had been from New York as had my mother. We shared that in common. As tides flowed in and fell out over the last two years we saw one another--interacted here and again there. I doubt I'm wrong if I tell you I probably watched her far more than she was ever aware of me. Attending the same church doled out opportunity after opportunity to take her in. She was beautiful. It was hard not to notice her. Now, one week later, she is in the presence of God. In an instant the shoreline of our church was permanently altered and with it the lives of her children. In an instant. During her memorial, I felt like someone had forced a vacuum down my throat and turned it on as I listened to the sobs of a little girl robbed of her mommy echo throughout the sanctuary. Overwhelmed by a compelling to fly over the pew separating us and take that precious baby into my arms in human effort to withdraw her pain, I gripped the seat instead. There were many surrounding those sweet children, lifting them up. My best contribution was just to pray; to plead the mercies of a gracious Father over them. There is no answer to the why of tragedies like this--except to say that they are not God's intention. Never, NEVER are they God's plan. But ALWAYS He uses them to bring us to Himself. When left at sea in a fitful storm the only way home is to gaze steadily on the lighthouse's glow. It's the same in life. Amidst gales of inexplicable force, the only way to find home is to look to the light of a merciful, loving and very present heavenly Father. What there is though, in times like these, is the reminder that not one of our days is a guarantee. God's word tells us that our days are numbered, but there's no list telling us who gets how many. If I were to treat today as my last, how would I live it? There's a country song about a guy who finds out he's dying. He sings about going sky diving, rocky mountain climbing and riding a bull--all things I wouldn't mind trying my own hand at. But that's not how I'd spend my final day. What about you? Have you ever considered that question? When God puts people, spouses and children, into our lives everything is changed. I want my husband and my boys to know that they were loved desperately until at times I felt I couldn't breath with the intensity of it. I want to know that my boys are going to continue loving God. I want to know that I did everything I could to fill them with the knowledge of God and His love for them. I want to know I have taught them that God is the source of life and of hope. I want them to know that above all else in life the thing that matters is that they love God. I wonder how much time we spend taking kids to lessons, to sports, to friends houses for sleepovers compared to how much time we spend talking about the heart of God with them. I can give my children every educational opportunity, athletic chance and material thing in the entire world but if I don't give them God I have given them nothing at all. Nothing. This dear lady did something very well. Every Wednesday I saw her at our church with a smile that never fell as she sat in the front row on the padded brown chairs. At her seat, she did the motions to the songs the kids dance team performed. Often I noticed how her daughter--a member of the team--would glance at her mom to make sure she was right on track and her mom was there doing the motions with her, never missing a beat. But she showed that little girl so much more than the motions. She showed her that God mattered and that being a part of the family of God was important. Without question that little girl saw a mother who's commitment to God and her daughter were unwavering. What a legacy. May it be said of us, "Her commitment to God and her family never wavered." If there were one thing I could tell young mothers like myself I believe it would be don't feel guilty about choosing your spouse and your children first. There is not a week that goes by that someone doesn't call with a request--this committee, this luncheon, that children's program, that get-together. And probably ninety-nine percent of the time I have to say NO. Not now. Not this time. I always try to pray about any decision and there are times when God allows me to say yes. But if I never have another tomorrow, I want to know that I spent today investing in the two stewardships God entrusted to me--my husband and my boys. Those are my priorities. And I'll not apologize. In me, my children will never have a perfect mother and my husband certainly did not get a flawless wife, but by the grace of God may they have found a reflection of His heart in their wife and mother. Pray with me: Lord, I ask you to pour out healing on the precious hearts of these children who have had their mother taken from them into your presence. Lord, may I learn from this. Give me a heart that so lives in your presence that when I make the transition from this life to eternity I don't even notice I've left earth. Lord, endow me with knowledge as you did Daniel. Knowledge to teach my children about you in a way that they too become desperate after your heart. In Jesus' name. Amen. Listen with me: Legacy--Nichole Nordeman Read with me: I John 4:7-10 Ecc. 3