Happy Anniversary to Shawn and Matt

Today, September 28, 2014, is a very special day.  It is my baby girl’s seventh wedding anniversary.  Shawn and Matt are the “oldest married couple” in our family!  Mark and I, my daughter Susan and Chris, and my son Steven and Jennifer all were married in 2010.  I have had tears in my eyes as I’ve looked at their wedding pictures on the computer this morning.  They are still young, but they looked really young in those pictures, yet they handled the trial our family walked through with maturity and wisdom.

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If you have kept up with my posts, you know that my former husband died six weeks before Shawn’s wedding, just a few days after we had bridal portraits made. She was the one who found her dad after a frantic call from me while traveling home from out of town.  My son was with her at the house, but she was first on the scene.  I have so much pain still at the thought of it.  Twenty-three years old, happily doing all the things soon-to-be brides have to do, and then a tragic interruption.

My future son-in-law Matt, just 23, was a tower of strength.  I know he doesn’t think of himself that way.  He must have been crumbling inside, but he took care of his bride.  And if that wasn’t enough to handle, he stepped up and was strong for me.  I saw in him then the strength and faith in God and compassion that makes him the man he is today.  They have had some very rough places in their marriage.  They suffered a devastating miscarriage a few years ago that opened the door for the enemy to wreak havoc in their lives with depression and all that goes along with it.

But God restores.  May 23, 2013, the Lord blessed them with beautiful little Emma.  And although they have the same day-to-day problems all couples do, they have learned to rise above them.  As I said in my last post, the outcome of all trials if we look to God will be greater faith.  Actually, James said it first–lol–but I have experienced it personally (James 1:2-4).  Jesus said in this world we will have tribulation, but to take heart, for He has overcome the world!  The grace he gives us to overcome cannot come from anyone but Him, so our faith becomes more real and solid as we face trials in Christ.

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So with love and joy in my heart, I want to wish Shawn and Matt a very happy anniversary!  Thank you for your love, care, and compassion for me as I walked through the fire and then through the years of trying to find where I fit in the life of singleness.  I know that you put your own pain aside to be there for me when I needed you.  We have shared so much, but I won’t write about it all.  (Moms tend to embarrass their children, you know!)

I pray for you Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, Ephesians 3:14-19:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in you inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!

Love you so much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Have Found My Oasis

Where do I begin?  I haven’t written in quite some time.  Of course, I journal most every day.  But I’ve been waiting….waiting on the coming oasis that I wrote about last time.  And I have found it!  Oh, the inexpressible faithfulness of God!  How to describe it….you must experience it for yourself.  It is for everyone who knows Jesus.  But testimonies we hear of others build our faith, so I will be obedient to continue to tell my story.

One year ago my daughter Shawn and I were able to attend the Woman Conference at New Life Church, my home church at the time, in Conway, Arkansas.  It was amazing.  Lisa Bevere was our speaker, and I remember her main theme centered around being courageous in Christ.  It was the first time we had worshiped to Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) (Hillsong United, 2013).  And I remember clearly during the chorus, the Spirit spoke to me. The chorus of Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) is this:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,                                                                Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.                                               Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,                                                              And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

As I worshiped with all my heart, the Spirit spoke to me and told me something was about to happen in our lives that would take great faith to walk through, but that He would be with us.  When I returned home that evening, Mark was sitting on the couch starting at the T.V.  He doesn’t watch T.V.  It was then he told me he had gotten a call from our Christian financial broker.  Having made a commitment to diversification, he had violated his own standard without our knowledge and made an unwise investment decision, and our money, along with that of the other investors, had been stolen.

We had been living on the interest on that investment to fund our ministry, Hope Preserved, since 2010.  When the Lord called Mark to this ministry, He told Him that He would have to leave his job, but that He would provide for us.  A couple of months later, his department where he worked downsized, and he was laid off.  We tried to wisely use what funds we had, and they were sustaining us. Now what we had to live on was a limited amount of money in savings and a small rent house which we soon sold.  But God said He would provide, and He is reminding us to exercise our faith in His promise.

This happened before we had ever been called to Waco, first to teach a ministry workshop (that came a couple of months after this), and then two month-long visits earlier this year to do ministry and continue to seek God’s will.  We were led to Antioch Community Church, and taken in warmly, invited to lunches and people’s homes and finally settling into an amazing life group of Christ-followers.  Through much prayer of our own and prophetic words from various persons, both in Waco and Arkansas, it became clear we were to move here.

God was leading us here to Waco to plant this ministry in a spiritual climate where we are learning humility and sacrifice and community in a way we hadn’t experienced. Precious, broken people continue to come for help, more than we can handle, but the Lord has brought someone forward who wants to learn the ministry and take some of the load.  We are able to bring some of these persons in need to our life group for prayer and words of encouragement, and our comrades are always ready to help.

Now exactly a year after the Woman Conference, Mark and I attended the World Mandate Conference hosted by Antioch Church at Baylor University.  Since we have been at this church, we have learned about God’s heart for the nations.  I am truly seeing that there is a world past my front door in middle-class America, a world for which Jesus suffered and died.

Worshiping at World Mandate with thousands of others, the Spirit reminded me of His faithfulness throughout my life. It was like a video playing in my mind of all the times the Lord had been there to sustain me, from my childhood through raising my children, through the death of my former husband and the years of widowhood, through the move to Texas and the difficulty in leaving children and grandchildren.  I was moved to tears.

And then as we began to worship to Oceans, and the Spirit spoke to me again. What did the Spirit tell me?  He said something like this,”You thought your life was winding down. Everything you had envisioned yourself doing has changed, and you haven’t known exactly where you fit in.  But you have only begun to live, really live, for me.  I love you, my daughter, and I have chosen you to be a part of my great adventure.  It will take great faith, but I will be with you. You need only to stay close to me.”

I have been walking toward the oasis, my dead branches cut off, fruitful ones pruned back, waiting on the Lord to show me what it is.  I have found it.  It is Christ!  He is the vine, my life source (John 15), and I am soaking in His Spirit.  You may be thinking, “Didn’t she already know Jesus?”  Yes, of course.  But He is showing me there is much more for me ahead, more than I could have imagined.  And I don’t have to figure it out or worry about it.  All I have to do is abide, live connected to the vine.  When we are connected to Him, the ultimate outcome of every trial will be greater faith.

Jesus, yes, I understand.  I get it, and with your help every day, I will surrender.  How could I not?  You are the lover of my soul, and you are faithful.  Forgive me for trying to make my life work in my own strength.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Submerge me in your love.  I want nothing more than to live for you the rest of my days.  I won’t try to figure out where we’re going or what we’re going to do.  I simply want to abide in you.  Rest and peace.  Freedom.  Life abundant!  Yes, Lord!

God bless you, and thank you for reading.  I know it is a very long post!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…..I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain (abide) in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-2, 5.

An Oasis is Waiting

“You, God, are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you,

My whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land

where there is no water.”  Psalm 63:1

 

I see myself walking through the desert,

dead branches cut away, fruitful branches pruned.

Yet I have peace.

Stripped down to the root,

I know I am still protected.

He wants me to know He is my sufficiency.

So I keep walking.

I am thirsty but no longer satisfied by the trappings of the world.

There is an oasis ahead waiting for me,

a watering place, a place of refreshment.

I want to reach it, so I keep moving forward.

I want to be submerged in it.

It’s as though I’m going back into the womb,

and my umbilical cord is the Spirit.

I know I will emerge forever changed.

 

Father God, keep me on this path.

Show me how to get there.

I want to know you more intimately.

You have taken me away for yourself.

This I know is true.  Have your way in me.  Amen.

 

“I have seen you in your sanctuary

 and beheld your power and your glory.

 Because your love is better than life,

 my lips will glorify you.

 I will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.

 With singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

 Psalm 63:2-5.

 

The Answer to My Question

SMALL STRAWS IN A SOFT WIND by MARSHA BURNS, August 5, 2014

Growth is the epitome of incremental change, and your desire for spiritual growth requires change.  The only thing holding you back is your resistance.  You can’t keep things the way they are and grow at the same time.  Something has to give, and that would be your will.  Be willing to let go of everything that has outlived its usefulness in your environment, says the Lord.

Philippians 3:13  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.

Moving away from family for the first time as a mom and grandmother has brought me to a place of wrestling with God about who I am now.  What is logical and reasonable to my mind doesn’t fit with the resistance in my heart.  This working-it-out process with God has been painful, but He has been merciful, as He always is, in showing me truth about myself.

Born into a world that is controlled by our adversary, we begin our lives learning how to survive, to force our way in and try to find the answer to the question our hearts want to know:  “Why am I here?  Do I matter?”  We see ourselves in the faces of others and in their responses to us.  And there begins the tension.  If only we could know and accept at the early age of infancy that we are born to die:  To die to self-interest, to striving, to making our own way.  We are born to die to flesh and live in spirit, in His Spirit, in freedom.

But it is for mercy that we are not allowed to be spiritually reborn in this way, for He wants our hearts, by choice of our will, to be given to Him that He might live through us.  Is anything valuable without sacrifice?  His sacrifice on the cross proved we are valuable to Him.  The willing sacrifice of our lives proves our love to Him.  And then we can go home.  Everything stripped away:  Self-protection, futility, strife.  Our souls are now satisfied.

Weekend before last we made a quick trip home to do some repair work on the home we have for sale, and naturally I wanted to get in all the time I could with kids and grandchildren.  But it was stressful and unsatisfying.  Spending time with the Lord this week, He showed me that I was forcing my way in, frantically wanting answers to the questions in my heart:  “Are you glad to see me?  Do you still love me?  Am I still important?”  Again, tension.

I’m genuinely thankful and excited to be on this new path the Lord so clearly has led Mark and me to take, but I can’t walk down this path and keep everything the same.  I’m not an in-town grandmother anymore.  My family can’t just drop over to my house.  I can’t meet them for walks with the children.  I can’t bring them all together under my roof.  I have to let go and embrace the new path.  But I am still a mother, still a grandmother, still me.  I am just realizing how much of my identity was wrapped up in being loved and accepted by them and a part of their lives.

God spoke intimately to me through Galatians 5:16-18 in The Message:  “My counsel is this.  Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit.  Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.  For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as a free spirit is incompatible with selfishness.”  Sinful self-interest.  That hit me between the eyes.  My frantic need to be loved and affirmed was all about me, which is pride, and it put me into bondage to self.

I started writing this blog over a year ago after the death of my mother.  Sitting with her through the night as her life ebbed away stirred in me a passion to find out the answer to this question:  Who did God create me to be?  And now I know.  It’s so simple that I can’t believe I didn’t see it then:  His.  I was created to be His, nothing more, nothing less, a dearly loved child of God.

Embracing the truth that my identity is in Him will bring freedom and give me the ability to love not for what I can receive, but for what I can give.  And though my interaction with family will be different living away, it will be good, and it will be healthy, and it will satisfy my heart.  Lord Jesus, I still have so much to learn about being yours.  Help me be willing to see myself as you do.  You are the one who knows me best.  Amen.

 

Safe Harbor

The words “safe harbor” keep coming to mind, that Christ is our safe harbor during all the storms of life.  Sometimes the water is smooth, and we sail through easily with the praise of God on our lips.  Sometimes the water is choppy, and we can manage okay if we send out a few prayer requests and dig in a little deeper into the Word.  Sometimes the seas are downright rough, but still we manage with the help of our prayer warriors and seeking godly counsel.

Then sometimes we are completely cast overboard.  We look for someone to throw us a life preserver, something we can hold onto and stay afloat, and sometimes someone does.  We can climb back in the boat, praise God for our narrow escape, and go back to living life as usual.  But sometimes there is no life preserver.  You thrash around in the water as best you can, but panic seizes you.  You realize that there is nothing or no one that can put you back on the boat.

Then in the darkness of the water, you look up, and across the waves, you can see a dancing sliver of light.  You frantically dog-paddle toward the light, and it becomes a teeny little brighter.  You think, “This is too hard.  I’m not that good of a swimmer.  I thought I was, but I don’t have the strength.”  But the light is beckoning.  And each time you bravely take a lunge toward that light, a wind seems to come up and push you a little closer.

“I am the light of the world.”  The words come from someplace deep inside of you.  “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”   “I have come so that they might have life and have it to the full.”  “For I know the plans I have for you….to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.”  The words keep coming…”Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The Word continues to come forth from your inner being and gives you the courage to keep slowly moving forward as the light gets brighter and shows you the way.  You know those words and you know who the Word is.  “Where can I go from your spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  You stop struggling and let the wind of the Spirit carry you home.

As a light from a lighthouse, He beckons us on until we make it safely back to harbor, safely in His arms.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  But sometimes he doesn’t allow us to get back into the boat.  He lets us feel the panic or the ache or the longing or our great need so that we will struggle our way to Him and know that He is enough.   No matter how many times we are cast into stormy seas, He will always show us the way to safety because He is the light.  And though we may lose our way for a time, in Christ we are never lost.

This post was written as an entry in my journal during my season of singleness.  I had lost my equilibrium when my former husband died.  Now seven years later, Mark and I have moved to Texas and away from family following the direction of the Lord.  It has felt at times as though I have been cast overboard as homesickness overtakes me.  I know those times may intensify, as it has only been a couple of weeks since we moved.  So to read this post that I wrote so many years ago comforts me, because I know He is with us and has a good plan for us.  Jesus continues to be my safe place, the one who holds my heart.  He is your safe place too.  No matter what you are going through, look for Him.  Run to Him.  He is faithful.  He will carry you through.  And if you will say yes to His will, it will be an amazing ride.

Following Jesus to Texas

What do you do when Jesus says, “Follow me”?  His command is quite literal, but most of us live our lives unwittingly telling Jesus to follow us.  “Lord, follow me while I buy a new house or pursue this business venture or plan this vacation.  Protect me from making a bad decision.  Catch me when I fall.  And thank you so much for blessing me.”  It is the way I’ve lived most of my life, not wanting to truly believe that He requires me to give up everything.

The problem is we forget God is sovereign, and truly we think we are, not so much in a conscious way, but we think we are in control.  As a result, we take on all kinds of stress by trying to make our lives work according to the standards of our culture.  The Lord brought the following verses to mind in rapid succession this morning:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:14-15.

You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  I Corinthians 6:19-20.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.”  Luke 18:29-30.

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.        Psalm 90:12.

Giving up everything means giving up control.  It means holding things loosely.  It means living with a kingdom mindset, meaning everything belongs to God, including our very lives, and is to be used for His purposes and His glory.  It means simply trusting Him and believing Him when He says He will take care of us.

One week from today we will be moving into a duplex in Hewitt, Texas, just outside of Waco.  Our house has not sold yet.  Our children and grandchildren are all here in Conway or Little Rock, except for one daughter in school in Memphis.

My Mother's Day present from daughter Shawn.

My Mother’s Day present from daughter Shawn.

Our friends are here.  Our ministry was birthed here.  We are trusting God for our very provision, because Jesus has said, “Follow me here.”  If we had the slightest doubt, we wouldn’t be going.  But He has given us loads of confirmation, so much that not to go would be disobedience.

These words by Oswald Chambers describe it best:

“If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark. In the spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense, and leap by faith into what He says. Once you obey, you will immediately find that what He says is as solidly consistent as common sense.

By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it.”  Excerpt From: Chambers, Oswald. “My Utmost for His Highest, Enhanced Edition,” May 30.

Jesus, the time has come.  Faith for the journey-that’s all I ask.  Thank you for trusting Mark and me with this assignment.  You have blessed us so much already.  I can hear the words to Misty Edwards’ song in my head right now, “The point of life is you.”  (Forerunner Music, International House of Prayer.)  Have your way, Lord Jesus.  We love you.  Amen.

Here is an interview with Misty Edwards you will enjoy: http://www.cbn.com/tv/2286453678001

Not that I have already obtained all this or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-14.

Losing Chelsea

Unconditional love:  Is that why God created pets?  I think so.  They can’t do anything for us except show us unconditional love.  They will survive on a minimal amount of attention, but they will thrive on love lavished on them.  We are like God to them.  We determine when they will eat, when they will go out and come in, where they will sleep, and if they get a walk or playtime with a ball.  They watch our every move.  I like to call them “eternal optimists.”

Chelsea was special because no one wanted her when Mark found her being offered for adoption on a store parking lot.  She had been abused and would have surely been put down if he hadn’t taken her.  But just like in ministry, my husband is drawn to those who have no hope and need to know the unconditional love and healing of Jesus.

Mark and my stepdaughter Michelle loved this funny little dog that could jump a six-foot fence and run faster than a speeding bullet to catch a ball or a Frisbee.  Slowly trust was built, and Chelsea had found her safe place in her new home.  When I came on the scene, she had to have time to accept me and my dog Maggie, but she did, and we became part of “the pack.”

Chelsea was gentle and affectionate with us but very wary of strangers.  She didn’t want to be away from her people and would take the screens off the windows to try to get in if left too long outside.  As a result, we still have no screens on any of our windows.  She would never leave our yard even if she jumped the fence, but would come scratch on the front door or just wait for us to come home if we were gone.  She liked to sneak up on our white couch in the front room, leaving her dark hair all over the sticky fabric.  That drove me nuts.  But she was part of the family, and we loved her just the way she was.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, we took Chelsea and Chloe, our little Bichon, to my daughter and son-in-law’s house and put them in the backyard with their dog while we all left to attend our grandson Colton’s birthday party.  Our house is for sale and was going to be shown that afternoon, so we couldn’t leave the dogs at home.  When we went back to pick them up after the party, Chelsea was gone.  She hadn’t wanted us to leave her there, but we didn’t think she would leave their yard.  No doubt she was looking for Mark.

The search began.  Driving, driving, and more driving.  Handing out fliers, talking to everyone we saw outside.  Posting on websites for lost pets, posting fliers around town.  Even after Mark had hip surgery that Monday, he was back out there with his crutches looking the very next day.  Family members and some friends tirelessly searched.  Michelle’s boyfriend Spencer came in from Memphis and searched day and night for three days, followed by Michelle when she got a day off from work.  Our daughter-in-law Jenn drove around many days with babies in tow in carseats.  Hopeful leads came in, but all were a dead-end.

How long do you continue to search?  In the end, we know that she is God’s dog as are all things He created.  There has to be a release, but when a dog is lost, there is no closure.  I cannot imagine the anguish of parents with missing children.  When my little Maggie died because of an auto-immune response to tic fever, I was able to hold her and say goodbye with my family gathered around.  Mark would have liked to have that kind of closure as well.

Now I’m asking the Lord what it is He wants to teach us through this experience.  And I think I know.  He too loves us unconditionally.  We are completely dependent on Him to save us, or we will perish for all eternity.  There is nothing we can do to earn His love and nothing we can do to lose it.  All we have to do is say yes to Him and receive.  He hurts when we hurt.  And He will come looking for us if we wander away.

Most of all, I’m brought to the realization once again that love and pain go hand in hand.  If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve over the loss of who we love.  When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He bore the physical pain of crucifixion and emotional pain of separation from the Father.  He loved us when we were unlovable, bruised by the enemy and hurt by the world.  If I can trust that Jesus would do that for me, then I can surely trust Him with the life of our little pets that bring us so much joy.  And I can praise him for enlarging our hearts, for to not know sorrow is to not know love, and to not know love is to not truly live.

Chelsea, you were a good dog.  Maybe you will show up one day, or maybe you are already jumping and running in heaven.  Jesus, thank you for bringing more of the knowledge of how you love us through our time with this little dog.  Wherever she may be, we will trust that she is safely in your care now.  Amen.

Chelsea

Climbing Out of the Pit

Life is a series of peaks and valleys.  At any given time, you are either on the way up or on the way down.  I’m finding that the higher the mountaintops, the deeper the valleys.  In the mountaintop experiences, I’m close to God and everything is right in my world.  No problem seems insurmountable.  With God, all things are possible.  I am more than a conqueror.

When I start the descent into the valley, the feelings of loneliness and desolation began to come on me with greater and greater intensity.  Having surrendered all my props, the things of the world that used to fill me, I can find no comfort.  I know I should run to the Comforter, but I am too paralyzed to move.  I am in a trap of the enemy’s making, but I have walked into it willingly.  His lies pound me, stealing all peace, all hope.  There is a haze over my eyes that makes it hard to see truth, yet I know the truth is still there.

In only two weeks’ time, it felt like my relationship with God was gone.  I knew that wasn’t true, but I had no desire to go to my secret place to find Him.  I had trouble remembering what it felt like to be in His arms.  I had had a stomach bug that lasted a week, leaving me feeling weak and vulnerable.  Following this our dog Chelsea was lost, and Mark had hip surgery.  Time was frozen as everything normal in our lives stopped.  Family and friends rallied to find Chelsea, but to no avail.  Watching Mark diligently searching, even though on crutches, and seeing his grief, I sank deeper and deeper into a pit, not able to get out.  At these times nothing makes sense in my world.

Finally on Sunday morning, I took a faltering step toward Him, uttered a very simple prayer, and opened my favorite devotional, just to read a few words, climbing slowly on my knees to get back up.  Then as the worship began in the Sunday morning church service, there was an explosion in my spirit-He is there!  He have always been there.  I am the one that moved away.  I am coming back.  I hear Him say in my spirit, “It’s okay, child.  You can’t lose our relationship.  I’m only as far away as your weakest cry for help.  Be still now.  Be at rest.  There is only grace.”  Restored!  Not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who He is.

Lord, thank you for the pain in the depth of the valley, for not letting me escape into the world and its comforts, for making me face myself.  Thank you for allowing me to live in the black-and-white zone.  There is no neutral.  Jesus, I would rather dwell in the deepest pit and feel the pain of not being in your presence than to be satisfied in this world without you.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

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Going Home

IMG_0148.JPG (2)Emma Elyse is one today.  Her birth and my mother’s death occurred just days apart. When my daughter Shawn married Matt in September 2007, her dad had died just six weeks earlier.  I was so worried that my mother would pass away and that Shawn would go into labor at the same time.  I was sick thinking about the possibility that a death could cast a shadow on another joyous occasion. If a mother could order times and seasons, I would have done everything in my power to separate those two occasions.  But that right belongs to God alone.

Last week Mark and I traveled up to my hometown Blytheville for my niece’s high school graduation, exactly a year from the date of my mother’s passing, May 15.  I had not been back since her funeral and had not yet seen her headstone in place at the little cemetery in Manila, Arkansas.  At the time she passed away, she was suffering mentally and IMG_0454physically with Alzheimer’s, so it wasn’t hard to give her up and let her go to be with Jesus. I was so focused on getting back to Conway before Emma was born that I don’t think I shed a tear at the funeral!

However, on the trip up last week, traveling the familiar path home, memories came flooding back as we passed through the little towns where so many aunts and uncles lived, all gone now.  My thoughts didn’t focus on a very ill mother, but the healthy one who gave me life and did her best to take care of me in the midst of her own burdens and brokenness.  I was going to the home of my childhood, but my mother would never be there again.  The tears came.

We think we can leave our past behind, but it is always a part of us.  When I went off to college, I vowed never to return to my hometown to live, too many childhood and teenage wounds.  I wanted to get as far away as I could.  My scholarship allowed that to happen, so I went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the other corner of the state. It is obvious that the Lord had planned another path for me, but He never wanted me to forget where I was from.  He wanted me to make peace with it. Now, finally, I see all the ways God protected me, keeping me innocent at a time in my life that I was very needy.  I clearly see and appreciate the sacrifices my mother made for my brother and me.

How can we have the capacity to feel joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, at the same time?  Why does God allow us to be stretched to both extremes?  Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 that “for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  He endured not only the excruciating pain of the cross, but the unimaginable sorrow of being separated from the Father.  Why?  For the joy set before him.  What was the joy?  We are, those who call upon Him as Savior.  He endured it all so we could be with Him through all eternity.  He endured it so we could be healed and have abundant life.

We feel joy and sorrow at the same time because we are made in the image of God.  It is Christ in me, the hope of glory. It is a gift.  If we can’t feel our pain, our brokenness, the depth of our sin, then how can we know our own need?  It is what drives us to seek Him. We are incomplete without Him.  We cannot know the joy and the fullness of life until we have tasted of the divine in our relationship with Jesus, that which we will one day partake of fully as meet Him face to face.

Tomorrow there is going to be a one-year-old birthday celebration for Miss Emma.  IMG_1039With the birth of every grandchild, my heart stretches and stretches to hold more love.  Isn’t that exactly like our God?  His love knows no limits.  He is love.  Jesus, I am overwhelmed by your goodness.  Thank you for the gift of life and all it contains.  Let us never become numb to the joys and the sorrows of this life, but let them wash over us and bring us closer to you. Holy Spirit, help us to not be afraid to feel, for you have truly created us to be like you and to know you in ways we can’t even fathom right now.  Incredible. You are amazing, Lord.

Happy birthday, sweet Emma!  Nana loves you.

 

Becoming Less

The decision has been made to move to Texas.  A lease has been signed on a rental, and we are in the process of getting our house ready to sell.  When we finished the paperwork last night, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach as reality hit.  This is actually going to happen.  The Lord has given us so much confirmation that we are to go that to not move would be disobedience.  Whether it’s for one year or ten years, we don’t know.  We are excited because we’re certain He is leading, but it won’t be easy.

The other morning I was led to John 3:30:  “He must become greater; I must become less.”  Of course, in this passage John the Baptist is talking about Jesus, but it applies to our lives as well.  As we continue walking with God, the Holy Spirit gradually conforms us to the image of His Son.  Sanctification is a process of dying to self, our fleshly nature, and becoming more like Christ.  In the natural, this is often a painful process, but in Christ it ultimately produces inexpressible joy.  Oswald Chambers speaks of this as attending our own white funeral“:

No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a white funeral-the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection-a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose— to be a witness for Him. (My Utmost for His Highest, January 15.)

The Spirit showed me this principle also applies to us as parents.  I see my children with their own families established, adults now carrying adult responsibilities.  They don’t need me in the same way anymore, and those precious little ones are theirs.  I raised my children as well as I could, though certainly not perfectly.  And I loved every minute of it.  The fact that I am close to them and they welcome me into their lives is a mother’s reward.  But Mom isn’t in first place in their lives now, nor second place, maybe not even third.  And that is healthy, the way it should be.

To be called by the Lord to spend the rest of my life for His purposes is a gift.  I know that He is calling me unto himself, and I know that whatever God chooses to do through Mark and me will impact our family for Christ for generations.  God says in Exodus 20:6 that he will show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Mark and I are called, with all our weaknesses and imperfections.  We are humbled and grateful.  We will be obedient.

So I cheer them on, my beautiful family.  I will pray for them, encourage and support them, and be a part of their lives forever.  There will be many, many visits and phone calls and face-time.  But I let go of my need to be connected in the same way as when they were children and teenagers.  I let go of needing them to need me, my fear that if I move I will somehow lose them.  And I praise God that He has given me a legacy in three wonderful children, an amazing daughter-in-law and sons-in-law, and five (so far) grandchildren.

Lord Jesus, you must always become greater in my life, and I must become less.  I welcome that.  But I also acknowledge that I have become less in the lives of my children, as it should be.  White funerals are painful, but they are necessary as we pass from one stage of life to another.  What has been cannot be recaptured.  What will be is in your hands.  I trust you, Lord, and I entrust my children to you, the Faithful One.  Thank you for the blessing of family, and thank you for this new adventure with my husband.  I know it will be wonderful and that you will work it for good.  In your precious name, amen..