Ms Good Samaritan

 But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead.  Luke 10:29-30, GNT

First Aid Station 2

Perhaps many of you are familiar with the Bible story about the Good Samaritan, but if not, here is a quick synopsis. As the Scripture above begins, there was a man who was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed, beaten and left for dead. Jesus always had a point to make with his stories; something important he wanted his listeners to understand. Both a priest and a Levite walking the same way came upon the man lying beside the road, but neither bothered to help him. Only a lowly Samaritan passing by took pity on the man. He bandaged his wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to the nearest inn, and took care of him. When he left, he gave the innkeeper money to cover any additional expense for the wounded man’s  care.

There are still Good Samaritans in this world. Perhaps you can name a few in your life who have aided you without demanding reimbursement. I can think of a few as well. Recently I had the privilege of assisting someone who is selfless in her giving and I would like to share this story with you. No, it’s not a grief story as much as it is a story to empower us to look about for someone who needs our help. For I have discovered in my own journey that when I am helping someone else, I am less focused on my own pain. When helping someone else, we are both blessed.

My “selfless” friend and I were planning to attend a Christian Women’s Retreat in the next town. It would be just the two of us. We looked forward to this time away which would give us the opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives since we don’t often get to do that. But then another lady asked to join us for the event. It was a special request, asking for much more than she could give in return. You see, this lady has a disease which has rendered her total care. So what she was asking for was more than a ride; she was asking my friend and me to provide the care normally given by her loving husband. Were we willing? Were we up to the task? She encouraged my friend to come to her house to see the care involved, but she never went. Instead my friend asked me if I was willing and if the two of us could provide the care needed? Together we decided to lean on the Lord for strength and commit to taking this lady with us.

I will readily admit that this was no piece of cake. From the get go, helping and observing the technique required to get this lady from wheelchair to car seat made us both aware of the challenges that lay before us. Too late to back out now so forward in faith we would go. The ride gave us time to get re-acquainted, sharing together about our lives. In the back of my mind I was wondering how on earth are we going to manage to transfer our friend as many times as will be required plus get her ready for the day’s events all by ourselves? The only answer had to be God will provide.

As we stood in line to be checked in for the retreat, another friend showed up who had moved away years before. What a grand reunion! And instantly we enlisted her to help us to get our friend settled in our room. Already God was providing! Over the next day, she was often there to provide a 3rd pair of hands in the lifting from wheelchair to potty to chair to bed etc. We were instantly bonded for life while trying to preserve our friend’s dignity without giving her a wedgie in all the clothing ups and downs in the tasks involved. No, we never dropped her on the floor. Yes, we came close, but in those priceless moments I will treasure forever, we laughed uproariously at the funny picture we made in the attempts to do the impossible. Obviously God was there doing the power work because you are looking at one very short, tiny woman, one weak woman with a bad back and a third who was poised in the the “snap” position to adjust clothing for the on and off bathroom detail. (You probably recognize the football term “snap” referring to the football transfer from the center to the quarterback.)

Not to be too vivid in description, but picture four women behind closed doors in the handicap stall trying to accomplish the necessary duty with dignity and grace only to end up howling with laughter. If someone happened to wander in to use the facilities while we occupied the handicap stall, they probably assumed there was a party going on and reverse directions.

These scenes have replayed over and over in my mind. They are priceless memories for me and hopefully for the other Samaritans as well. Our dear friend may never get to attend another Retreat like this one. She may have had to get her fill from the topics, “Love and Forgiveness” to last her the rest of her life. How very brave of her to ask others to provide such personal care. How very brave of her to trust those who have little experience of their own. How so like Jesus to offer hands, feet and heart to bless us all.

After we returned our friend safely back to her home, we collectively breathed a sign of relief. We did not drop her on our watch! Both of us assumed it likely that God supplied the muscle as we shared the willingness to try.

So I have introduced you to Ms. Good Samaritan. She’s the one who said “yes” when it would have been easier to just say “no”. She’s the one who admits that if she had gone to our friend’s home to check out how to lift and transfer, she would have said “I can’t”. But for some unknown reason she didn’t make that house call. Was the “unknown reason” God’s doing?

All God asks is for us to be willing and he empowers us to do the seemingly impossible. Perhaps you will be given the opportunity to reach out and help another when you assume that you cannot. Go ahead. Cross to the other side of the road where someone lies in need. Say a little prayer for help and God will provide. Somehow, like the women in this story, there is a blessing just waiting to be enjoyed . . . and savored in heart-warming detail.

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  Matthew 25:40, NIV

 

This entry was posted on October 17, 2014. 6 Comments

Murder 101

Cain turned on his brother and killed him. Genesis 4:8, GNT

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within lush beauty lurked evil

It must have been awesome to be the first lady of our planet, intimately created from her husband’s rib. It must have been awesome to be married to God’s creation formed from the dust of the ground. It must have been awesome to live in perfection, be perfection, marry perfection, and to top it off, walk and talk with God.

Eve should have left big shoes to fill ~ they would have been big shoes if she hadn’t chosen to listen to a sneaky snake bent on her destruction. Because of her decision and those that followed, we are where we are today. As for us, we know too much about death, but for them it was as if they were assigned a class, Death 101 for beginners. This couple would experience heartache without instruction; they would only have each other to weather the storm of emotions that followed their horrific loss.

After God forced humans out of the garden, he placed angels and a sword of fire that flashed around in every direction on its eastern border. This kept people from getting to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:24, NCV

Security was tight. These angel guys were the best of the best. There was no getting back into the Garden of Eden, their beautiful home. It must have sounded impossible to their ears. Kicked out? You mean we really don’t get to meet with you every evening like before? Just because we ate a piece of forbidden fruit? Was the infraction all that serious? Apparently so.

Perhaps when death did not strike immediately they hoped God had changed his mind. Their first peek at death was knowing an animal was killed to give them clothing. They were to experience death as beginners who had never lived with it as we do today. We are no longer beginners but fully aware of the pain and suffering that follows death, particularly the death of a precious child.

From now on they would live with beauty, but there would also be thorns and thistles where before had been perfection. They would eat, but it would take back-breaking toil to put food on the table. There would be children, but not without painful labor. And there would be death. Perhaps Adam and Eve got over the shock and began to work to make their new home the best it could be. We know that they welcomed children. First there was Cain and then Abel was born. We aren’t told if there were more in the early years, perhaps there were, but the story centers on the lives of these two boys.

As it also happens today, these youngins’ grew up as different as night and day. Abel was compliant and obedient to his parent’s instruction. Cain was unruly and determined to have his own way no matter what his parent’s said. It is in this framework that grief entered. The dispute was over an offering to God. Cain brought vegetables and Abel brought a lamb, the required offering, and God accepted Abel’s gift, but not Cain’s. Cain sulked and became angry. Let’s  pick up the story in Genesis chapter 4.

So Cain became very angry and felt rejected.  The Lord asked Cain, “Why are you angry? Why do you look so unhappy?If you do things well, I will accept you, but if you do not do them well, sin is ready to attack you. Sin wants you, but you must rule over it.” verses 5-7, NCV

Apparently Cain ignored God’s warning because the next verse says that he attacked his brother out in the field and killed him. Then he buried him. God asked Cain where his brother was and Cain retorted, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As it is with all sin, God already knew, but Cain was unwilling to admit the murder and he would be cursed the rest of his days.

Can you imagine what the death of Abel must have been like for Adam and Eve? No doubt they dug up their son and wailed over the loss of him. We know the shock of looking upon death. Death to plants and flowers and sheep for sacrifice was one thing, but they had never seen a dead person before and this was their precious child! Our first parents would have had no idea what this was like. They were beginners. Now they were to experience the horrific, tragic pain and suffering from the loss of their beloved child and not only that, to know that their firstborn was the murderer!

Do you think Adam and Eve looked around for someone to blame? Do you think they blamed God or Cain? Did they blame themselves, remembering that it was their sin that got them kicked out of the Garden of Eden? Or do you think they put the blame squarely on Satan who hid his identity inside the snake?

When my boy died by his choice I was convinced that I was the only mother suffering such a loss.  Of course there were many survivors around the globe, but in my little corner of the world I didn’t know any. Knowing someone else has a similar experience makes one feel less alone, doesn’t it? There are places and groups and friends on social media where we can turn for support. I am blessed to be able to contribute by writing which hopefully provides encouragement for someone at just the right moment when they need it most. God is good about that; His timing is perfect.

Tucked inside God’s somber pronouncements to our first parents were promises of hope. We continue to wait for the end of suffering and the beginning of eternity where the blight of sin will never, ever mar its beauty. God has promised and he always keeps his promises.

He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time.  Nahum 1:9, NKJV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calm waters of His grace

For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.

There is something soothing about calm water, isn’t there? Unlike the roar and crash of waves upon the shore, this water is serene, cool, calming. Doesn’t the picture invite us to dive into the beautiful blue this minute? Ahhh. How lovely. I can see myself relaxing in the hammock with the sun on my face, a cooling breeze, and of course, “maid” service to quench my thirst.

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God and you in calm waters

But there is another thirst that perhaps we don’t think about very often. It is a heart thirst; a longing to have our deep well filled and satisfied. I don’t speculate why your deep well is empty, but if you are surviving the death of someone you loved and planned to grow old with or you are surviving a precious child you didn’t expect to outlive, you know this empty well deep within your soul.

Each heart on this earth has been created with a longing for something greater than itself. Does that make sense? Perhaps this text will shed more light:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men’s [and women's] hearts and minds (a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy).  Ecclesiastes 3:11, AMP

This text is rich with meaning. It says that our Creator designed us specifically to long for heaven; to not be satisfied with things of earth. We hunger and thirst for something better. We have a need to worship and adore. Certainly we can make wrong choices and find ourselves still empty. God and God alone can fill up our deep well within our souls. Only He can satisfy the longing heart.

Recently I had the opportunity to relax in a warm water pool with just me and the physical therapy assistant. It was my job to concentrate on relaxing in the quiet and warmth so I did. I closed my eyes and imagined I was in the picture above while he worked gently on strained muscles, coaxing them to let go of years of stress. I couldn’t crawl back into my mother’s womb, but I could imagine being enveloped in warmth, snuggled and content.

In this hi-stress environment called “life” we’d all welcome a break, wouldn’t we? Those of us on a grief journey often feel that we are highly sensitized to the sights and sounds that instead of calming us, they sound more like screeches of over-stimulation. We reach for something to take the edge off in an attempt to satisfy the soul’s craving for inner peace.

 I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.  Psalm 139:13-14, VOICE

This entry was posted on October 4, 2014. 4 Comments

IV Therapy

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter . . . Job 8:21 

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Laughter may be the last thing you are interested in right now and I understand. At least it was true for me the first months after my son passed away when grief was so raw. And the day I first laughed it shocked me. It sounded so foreign as if I had never done it before and yet I had missed it. I don’t share this to hurt myself or you but rather to embrace what is so difficult in the midst of grief. It takes a long time ~ no deadlines ~ to begin to accept that laughter is a healing balm and it’s okay to let it out. Our loved ones would want us to embrace tears of joy even if they follow on the heels of sadness. Does that make sense?

As the years have rolled on I have often longed to be refreshed by something funny. I have written about my cat, Pipy, who has always provided comic relief and I am grateful for his antics. So this piece is intended to encourage readers to enjoy a good belly laugh and give you permission to not feel guilty about it. You have not “moved on” and left your loved one behind. We will always carry their memories in our hearts and we honor them when we can recall precious memories. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, but when you are ready you will embrace joy again.

Technically I was not ready to hear funny stories known only to his workmates, but they were ready to share. It was unlikely that our paths would cross again and in spite of the pain, my soul hungered for anything that would make him real at such a time of mourning. These people, who traveled to attend the funeral, missed my son too. They couldn’t stay away and yet they felt they were intruding somehow. We tried to put them at ease by inviting them to join us for the meal after the service.

My firstborn son worked in a hospital where he repaired all kinds of equipment needed in the care of children. I was proud of his work; I know he did his best, but I never saw him in his work environment. I never met his workmates until they came to the funeral to support us. They were timid at first, not wanting to intrude on our sorrow, but somehow over lunch they began to open up and share their love for my son. I was all ears. It was in this setting, sitting around the room with plates of food on our laps that we ate and got acquainted. As they settled more easily into their chairs they began to share stories and I was eager to hear them. My son was quite the prankster and of course I knew that. Of the many stories they recalled, there was one that I remember well and I share it here in hopes that if not today, one day you too, will begin to remember the joyous sounds of your children loving life.

It seems there was this incident ~ and they all willingly put the blame squarely on my son as the culprit. The staff worked in close proximity where they charted progress notes, made phone calls and did other office business. This particular day everyone seemed to have business to attend to elsewhere leaving one unsuspecting teammate working at his desk all by himself. Later he said that fact alone should have tipped him off, but he was intent on his task at hand.

And then he felt a drop on his head. That made him look up at the ceiling tiles where the drip had obviously come from, but nothing looked amiss so he resumed his work. Then another drop. Again he looked up at the ceiling. No cause in sight. He resumed working . . . then another drop. Okay. Now he was suspicious. He added up the math and smelled a rat. First, his teammates were conveniently elsewhere (actually watching nearby) and second, either there was a leak right above his head or . . .

He push back his chair, climbed up on his desk where he could easily reach the ceiling tiles, and pushed one aside. Yep. Some prankster had hooked up an IV pump timed precisely ~  sending a drip to drop on his head. Brilliant.

This story made us laugh to tears . . . good, refreshing tears. They laughed too, just to recall how fun our son was to work with and relieved that we enjoyed the story. They would miss him. We miss him.

When we meet Jesus in the air we will be all brand new and yet recognizable with the same characteristics of our original design. I am certain that my son will still have his chuckle. I am sure he and his brother will be up to their pranks again and this time all over the cosmos. I dare to think trouble will follow these two. Good trouble; the kind that brings a smile to our faces and doubles us over with laughter. Can’t wait.

For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die.  1 Corinthians 15:43, GNT

 

 

This entry was posted on September 28, 2014. 4 Comments

Where was God?

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God’s eyes are always on his kids

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

I’m going to toss a direct question out there for those of you who are outliving a child. Perhaps you have asked the question either silently or openly: Where was God when my loved one died?

Someone whispered in my ear at the time of my son’s death that God was with him when he drew his last breath. My first thought was ~ then he could have prevented it rather than allow it. You may have had similar thoughts. But there are always life lessons we may glean from scripture and perhaps we can gain understanding to apply to this very important question.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus always saddens and yet fascinates me. Where was God the Father while God the Son, Jesus, was on the cross? Did He go fishing? Was He on a Cosmos Tour? Or was He present? Let’s glean some thoughts from scripture to capture what might have been and then see if perhaps there is a parallel application for our understanding.

If you are a believer and are familiar with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, then you have probably read the story in the Gospels as relayed by some of his disciples. Luke describes events that transpired after Jesus died this way: Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Luke 23:44-45

Matthew adds a bit more detail: Jesus again gave a loud cry and breathed His last. Then the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split apart.  Matthew 27:50-51

Around the time of Jesus’ death, the veil was torn in half. To rip the veil (which was about 40 cubits or 60 ft high) in the temple in half, someone needed to be there to tear it. And to tear it from top to bottom, one would have to be a very tall person. Also, there was darkness on the earth as the sun had disappeared. There was darkness at the events at Mount Sinai too, when God came near the people: Exodus 20:21 says, So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. So God hid Himself in darkness at Mount Sinai. Did God hide himself in the darkness at the cross too? Did God himself tear the veil?

Note there were also earthquakes in connection with God’s presence:  The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it.  Nahum 1:5

But this still does not tell us for sure where God was when his Son died or does it? What about the story in the Old Testament when Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son? Where was God then? Could it be a parallel to the crucifixion? Let’s review the high points of this story.

It had been a long day and Abraham was bone tired and sound asleep when his head touched the pillow, but suddenly he was wide awake. Was that God? Did I hear a command or was I dreaming? O, please, may I be dreaming! Abraham pinched himself. Ouch! That hurt! No, he was not asleep and that was a directive from a voice he had grown to know:

God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”  Genesis 22:2

Not my boy, God, not my boy! I am sure Abraham pleaded and argued in a one-sided conversation, but God spoke no more on the subject. Abraham had always obeyed God even when the request made no sense, but those was nothing compared to what God was telling him to do now. This was the ultimate test. Would he fail? Was it strange that God also pointed out the obvious ~ take your only son, whom you love?

It must have been the longest three days in history as father and son made their way to the place where God had instructed. I am sure there was conversation, perhaps even lighthearted boy talk on the part of Isaac. He had often taken part in sacrifices with his dad. It was a huge part of their way of life so this trip was not unusual . . . yet.

Finally the hard question that Abraham knew was coming: Dad, “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Genesis 22:7

Scripture simply says that the father bound his son and laid him on the altar, but what a loaded sentence! Can you picture the scene? I’ve never been asked to point a gun toward my child and pull the trigger . . . but essentially this is what God asked Abraham to do. There would be fire and there would be death.

God was watching this drama unfold . . . no doubt about that. This was the severest test of Abraham’s life, the only one of its kind in Scripture and the relationship between God and Abraham hung in the balance ~ pass or fail. Give up your only son that you love and prayed for and thought he would never be born. You must kill him to serve Me. How crazy does this sound!

The Bible says that Abraham raised the knife high in the air with Isaac watching his father’s face in horror or did he have his eyes squeezed tightly shut anticipating the pain? I can’t imagine more . . . perhaps you can, but the picture in my mind is clear. The scene was horrific to be sure.

 At that moment the Angel of God shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes, Lord!” he answered.

And He said, Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear and revere God, since you have not held back from Me or begrudged giving Me your son, your only son.  Geneses 22:11-12

Can we combine these two stories from both Old and New Testament and apply them to our question for a possible view of God’s relationship to His children? I think we can. A parallel story to the crucifixion is the story of Abraham ordered to sacrifice Isaac. Father Abraham was with his son the whole time, even up to the point where Isaac was about to die. Likewise, isn’t it possible that the God was with his Son during his agony and death? There is an obvious difference in that once Abraham passed the test, God supplied the sacrifice, but there was no substitute sacrifice at the cross. Father was forced to watch the agony and death of his only Son, for it took Jesus’s blood to wash away our sins. What a heart-wrenching scene for God the Father to watch!

So how does this help me in my struggle? Here’s a possible angle:  God loves each one of his kids. He hates the sin and cruelty we endure, but he gives us total freedom to choose. The enemy pushes and prods and goads us to sin. The more kids he kills, the more he hurts God’s heart. This planet is a war zone with spiritual consequences. Do you agree? There are bound to be casualties because we live with death and destruction all around us. But it is so entirely different and much worse when it happens too close to home, to our family.

God says all things will be made plain one day. It’s hard to wait. But when we are finally able to hug the ones we have loved and longed to see for so long ~ with all of us brand new ~ some questions may slip from mind.

God says he never changes. He’s always been loving and kind and good and has our best interest at heart. Just as he was with Abraham through the extreme test for his obedience, I have no doubt that God, the Father was by his only Son’s side as he suffered and died. You couldn’t part them, not even in the struggle to save humanity.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!  Psalm 36:7, NIV

This entry was posted on September 13, 2014. 10 Comments

Up close and personal

My Love

Pipy look alike. I cannot claim the same. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep. That’s Pipy. I see you sitting there on the floor beside my chair, big guy. You’re going to jump up here any second now. . . and oomph, there he is, right in my face. He does the head bump to my nose, sniffs to see if I’ve had anything interesting to eat lately that he missed out on, and tickles me with his whiskers as he settles down close enough to reach his paws up to knead my neck. Every ritual up to this point is tolerated because I love him, but we both know that kneading my neck is off limits, although he patiently and persistently tries.

Another anniversary is on the horizon now and I can see the “snow-capped peak” of pain rising up like a mountain in the distance. Pipy is a reminder. You see, he was but a pipsqueak a few years ago. Tiny, frail and probably 1 or 2 meals shy of death when he popped out of a soybean field as we strolled by one day. He’s far from skinny now and many meals could be skipped, just like his mama, but looking into his big, almond-shaped soulful eyes reminds me that I had asked my firstborn son, who was visiting us one summer weekend, if he’d like to take him home, but he said, “No”. Probably because of his allergies or maybe already he was thinking . . . planning. . . and he didn’t want the responsibility. Within days he died by suicide.

Flashbacks. Triggers. We all have them. Some may be mildly sensitive, but most are sharp as a tack, especially for me as the months tick off and another anniversary looms up ahead. My heart beats faster, my palms sweat. It’s anxiety, Lord. Do you feel it too? I am relieved when the month of memories passes, but up until then . . . it’s as if there is a distant rumble of thunder, a sense of foreboding as boiling, frothing, raging waves roll towards me threatening to capsize me, sending me into a tailspin as I struggle to give birth to new words, in an attempt to soothe away the pain. Haven’t I done that over and over already? But there is more . . . always more.

I am reminded that Someone else desires to be up close and personal. It’s Jesus Christ, my Savior and Friend. I like the way He talks about the importance of friendship with His disciples in John 15 and shares it with us.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.”

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”  John 15:9-15

I desire Jesus to be my Best Friend. I desire to love others the way he loves you and me. We humans are often a challenge to love and I am far from his example. I have often thanked Jesus for sending Pipy at just the right time. He allows us to love him and he loves us right back. When he wants to be right in my face I try to understand that he is communicating with me in his love language. And I know that many of you have pets who show you extra love when you need it most. I would love to read your stories.

Thank You, Jesus, for  your loving friendship. Thank you for sending Pipy to give us comic relief and love. Thank you for being both loving and persistent in wooing us into a heart-to-heart relationship with you.

God is . . .

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God is . . .
My Tower that never crumbles;
My Light that never flickers;
My Hiding Place that never closes;
My Shield that has no chinks;
My Guide who never gets lost on the trail;
My Guardian who doesn’t take naps;
My Eternal King whose banner I joyously wave;
My Ocean of Love that never has a low tide;
My Provider whose shelves are never empty;
My Physician who still makes house calls;
My Father who is never too busy to be with His child;
My Creator who knew what He was doing when He made me.

O God, Your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as You? You are the God of great wonders! Psalm 77:13-14 NLT

~Roy Lessin

This entry was posted on August 29, 2014. 4 Comments

Wrestling with God

Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won. Genesis 32:28

~Pain is the price of admission to life on Earth. It comes to us all and can strike at any moment~

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Battle weary, burdened and in need of rest, the trials and tragedies of life continue to overwhelm us, draining our strength. We want to lash out. We want to blame. We want a target for our pain. Things appear difficult, impossible in fact which brings a question to mind ~ have you ever wrestled with God about it? Maybe your imagination can’t stretch that far. But maybe it is in prayer and conversation with Him that we wrestle for answers and understanding. Do you think we have the right to go to God and beat on His chest? To take Him to the spiritual mat, as it were, and challenge Him with tough questions? I say yes because He says yes. Sometimes God is the Wrestler at Peniel.

Perhaps some explaining is in order. There is an old Bible story about Jacob. His bio is fascinating and you are welcome to check it out. Meanwhile I’d like to zero in on a portion that touches me deeply . . . in that deep soft spot where gnawing pain resides, although thankfully it is more subtle now with the passage of time. However it is pain I must learn to live with and I imagine you agree if you, too, have lost a beloved child.

Pain didn’t start with us, however. We have to go way back to the beginning of time and there we will find pain. Bible stories are proof enough that to follow God is to walk not with a swagger, but with a limp. God has always used pain in the lives of those who choose to follow Him. Pain is never our choice; it is what is chosen for us. Why? Let’s see if a particular Bible story can shed some light on the topic of pain.

There are many examples to choose from and three, who have had personal experience with pain, come readily to mind:  Peter, the arrogant hot head, Saul, the violent persecutor who became Paul, and Jacob, the lying swindler who is the subject of today’s story. All three men discovered first hand that God never leaves us where we are, but rather turns us into something useful for His glory. Let’s pick up Jacob’s story in Genesis 32. You may follow along if you like while I attempt to share a bit of his story in my own words (with the help of Pastor Brian Zahnd, wolc.com, who brings Bible characters to life in his storytelling).

Jacob was a twin. He followed his brother Esau out of the birth canal holding on to his heel. Thus he was born a supplanter or “holder of the heel”. He became a fast talker, a manipulator, a hustler. He honed his instincts to size up and use people on his way to the top. He cheated his brother out of his birthright and went on to con his uncle who conned him back. His definition of success was to swagger through life with the confidence of a con man. Life was a race and he wanted to cross the finish line first with his backpack full of riches.

But as it often happens, Jacob’s life suddenly took a nasty turn when he got word that his twin brother was hot on his trail with murder on his mind. Jacob quickly divided his family into groups sending them to safety while he stayed behind to face his brother alone. He prayed that God would save him from the wrath of his brother. Alone in the darkness, with the words barely out of his mouth, he was knocked to the ground by an unknown assailant. Esau? No, it couldn’t be Esau. This guy was way bigger and stronger than he remembered Esau to be, but there was no time to figure out who his attacker was for he was in for the fight of his life.

Let’s “invite” Jacob to continue the story in his own words.  ~ Down we went into the weeds and reeds, tumbling over and over in slimy mud. Who is this madman? Desperation gripped me in a cold sweat. It was hard to get a grip on this guy, but if this fight was to end in death then I was going to give it my all. My mind raced ahead, grimly reminding me of my evil deeds, one on top of the other. Is this how my life will end? Will I never get to tell Esau how sorry I am for everything? For stealing his birthright?

We fight on into the night, the silence broken only by the sounds pounding flesh. I willed my body strength, but we were ridiculously mismatched. Clearly he could take me, so why didn’t he and get it over with? It’s obvious he’s playing with me. I’m his prey, his pawn. Just as the foggy whisper of dawn nibbled at the edge of darkness, he made his move. It looked like a lightening bolt passed between us and zapped my hip. Searing pain like a hot knife engulfed me. I writhed in agony on the ground. Did I catch a glimpse of his face or was that pain talking?  He was trying to pull away now, but I clung to his neck with a grip tighter than I knew I had. I would not let go. The agony of pain was nothing compared to the agony of soul. My wretched life passed before my eyes . . . it couldn’t end this way. I must have a blessing. Please . . . I must have his forgiveness! Defeated and crippled for life, would he now leave me here alone? I held on for dear life. I felt his hot breath on my neck when he finally spoke,

“Let me go, for day is breaking.”

I dug my nails into his skin. Through clenched teeth and with a voice strained from fatigue and pain I cried,

“No! I will not let you go unless you bless me!”

Then he asks me my name. I told him. Then he said the most amazing thing,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.”

I relaxed my grip, stunned by his words. Though in agony I could hardly wrap my mind around the blessing I had just been given. I was no longer Jacob, “supplanter”, but Israel, meaning “‘God prevails”. How awesome. I could scarcely take it in but I would have plenty of time later to replay the greatest event in my life. Now I must ask him one more question,

“Please tell me your name?” He leaned down to my ear and softly spoke, “Do you really need to ask?”

No, I didn’t. My heart knew. I began to quiver with emotion from head to toe. I had wrestled with my Maker .  . . and survived to tell my story! How is that possible?

And Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. Genesis 32:30

Heavenly Father,

As hard as it is for me to admit and even harder to be thankful for . . . over time, lots of time . . . I have come to be thankful that You brought about pain in my life. For it was in the horrific crucible of losing my son that I truly found You.Thank You for reminding us through Jacob’s story, that it is through wrestling with You that we prevail. Amen.

Hymnlines: “Part the Waters”

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Hebrews 6:19

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This doggy looks like he’s having the time of his life. Does this picture remind you of you? Boy, it does me . . . the dog paddle part anyway. I have no claim to fame in the swimming department. In fact, dog paddling is the only stroke I mastered . . . minus the chunk of driftwood. Perhaps the wood would have kept my head out of water. But it’s tough swimming strokes after suicide. We have no strength. We have no interest. We’d rather drown. But God tosses us a life preserver ~ or driftwood so we keep paddling.

There is a song that Evie Karlsson sings that I just love. The words have much meaning in my life ~

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

I do feel like I am going under, Lord. Don’t you see me frantically paddling, kicking my feet, but getting nowhere? Thanks for the piece of driftwood, but I need more. I need your hands under me, guiding me like a rudder to safer depths and maybe soon I will even touch bottom and stand up on solid ground.

Knowing You love me through the burden I must bear,
Hearing Your footsteps lets me know I’m in Your care,
And in the night of my life You bring the promise of day,
Here is my hand, show me the way.

Lord, take my hand. Lead me to safety. I know you know everything about me and those around me. I know you know far more than I know about those I have been forced to say goodbye to. I know you know I long to understand why. I know you know I find myself blaming you and others for his/her death. I know you know you can take the blame for you took all our sins and laid them on your one and only Son at the cross and left them there. And He arose to everlasting life, showing us the way to life eternal. So that horrible “goodbye” was not final.

Knowing You love me helps me face another day.
Hearing Your footsteps drives the clouds and fear away;
And in the tears of my life I see the sorrow You bore,
Here is my pain, heal it once more.

Here’s my pain, Lord. I am ready to hand it over to you. Knowing you hold me up in the raging waters, knowing you will part them and lead me to shore, knowing you are the only one who can heal me I hand over my pain to you. I choose to lean on your everlasting arms. You love me unconditionally and I love you back. You will supply my every need and I thank you for that. And when the storms of pain rise within me threatening to engulf me once again, you are my anchor.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

If there is even one person within earshot of my words who thinks drowning is an option, please listen. I know the intense, insatiable pain of losing a child, but adding our deaths only doubles the pain on those left behind. I know the temptation to blame others and to blame God for I have experienced both. So where to turn? Turn toward the sun; turn toward the Son of righteousness. Believe in the One who knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. It is he who has an undying love affair with you. Who else can claim to care that much about you? He shares your pain and someday, in the not so distant future, all will be made plain and when you are reunited with your loved one, all of this pain-filled world’s history will fade from view and we will be free of the enemy at last and home at last.

My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me,  and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27-28, CEV

 song by Charles F Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking wounded

For God so loved…John 3:16

We are the walking wounded, friend. I see your pain, feel it in your words; it is both pulsing and palatable. This is not a path we would have ever chosen, but it is ours to walk. We do it hand in hand, walking with an unseen Guest who knows our grief first hand. It was God and His Son, Jesus Christ who agreed to a plan that they would not have chosen either if there had been another way to save mankind from self-destruction in the hands of evil management of this world.

In God's hands

In God’s hands

From my years on this journey I have the “vantage point” of reflection while looking back to remember all the stages and how God has led. You may not factor God in the equation and that is okay. But if you don’t mind I want to continue this train of thought.

I was born with an empty backpack waiting to be filled. All negative things were easy to store in my backpack which grew heavier as I grew older. I got busy raising a family, therefore, like most of you, holding down two jobs. There was always something to push my nose out of joint so in the backpack it would go. Maybe it was a snide remark made by a coworker or boss that I was afraid if I spoke up I’d be fired. Maybe it was a smart remark  from one of my children as he skidded out of the driveway staying away until he thought it was safe to return . . . and I’d have forgotten. I have a memory like an elephant . . . for pain that is. So in the backpack it goes. There’s always room for more pain in there. Sound familiar?

And then the unspeakable happened. Suddenly, tragically, we lost our firstborn child to suicide. That pain would not fit in my backpack. It was the size of Mt. Everest and broke me. I shattered like shards of glass splintering in all directions. There was nothing left to salvage. The me I knew and others around me knew,was no longer. It seemed as if time should stand still now. The atmosphere void of oxygen. Not even a heart left to beat.

Perhaps you would describe your experience differently or maybe you are nodding in agreement. You can add more sentences and we would all nod in agreement for we are familiar with the trauma of sudden death. It sucks the life out of the living making even thinking about living impossible . . . for a time.

But I do have good news. God can recreate. It’s His specialty. He loves His sons and daughters on Earth with an unconditional love ~ a love so awesome He would agree to watch His own Son be murdered by our ancestors. He loves us still; both Father and Son love us inside and out. And they know the trauma we live. They suffer with us in our grief.

“Spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the Devil is one long, continuous struggle. The battleground has front lines and rear flanks. There are soldiers of Christ and backsliders gone AWOL. The Enemy has a strategy, and he’s out to kill, maim, and wound. But God’s strategy is to advance His kingdom and reclaim enemy territory. ” ~Joni & Friends

God is fighting for us and Satan is fighting against us. And we are caught in the crossfire in this battle between Good and evil. There are converts on both sides. You and I have met both. Perhaps in your grief you have met those who don’t give you the time of day. In their ignorance they are allowing the enemy to speak through their mouths and work through their actions. This may be more than you can comfortably swallow and that’s okay. What I am suggesting is that the picture is much larger than our minds can fathom. The whole world groans with the actions of the enemy and God misses none of it. He hurts when the enemy destroys a child, any child. and too often it is our child. God is not the destroyer. Satan is. (John 10:10)

So where is the good news? This is how I describe it. God is recreating me brick by brick. I don’t know when I will be completed; perhaps I am a work in progress until Jesus returns. But I now know where to turn. I turn to God. I take off my heavy backpack and drop it at His feet with words that go something like this. “Here. You take it. I’m done carrying it.” This is an act of total surrender to a Power greater than myself who sees time from beginning to end and “giving up” is giving Him permission to act in my life. Surrender must be practiced daily for it is too easy for me to want to get behind the wheel and take over again. And even though my heart is often very heavy, my steps are light and my mind can sing His praises because I know I don’t have to fix what I am incapable of. That’s His job and He does it with love.

 Recreating brick by brick

Bricks of hope, forgiveness, faith, love, trust . . .

 

This entry was posted on August 15, 2014. 6 Comments