Hope. I sat at the table next to my son, turned on my laptop and scanned my inbox. An urgent prayer request from Pastor Rick. I opened the email. Each word I read seemed to suck another breath from my lungs. It was tragic news. Our pastor’s son had taken his own life. My chest tightened as I imagined Pastor Rick and Kay, hearts broken to the core, trying to process the loss of their child. It was more than my imagination could take and I closed my eyes tight.
When you listen to a pastor, week after week, for over ten years, you begin to feel like you know him personally; though, the closest I’ve physically gotten to Rick was the one time he strolled through the church, patted my shoulder and warmly greeted me. And Kay I have only seen while she spoke from the stage. But to see them, to hear them speak, to read their books, well, you know these are two souls with tender hearts. Mom and Dad hearts. Human hearts. Crushed hearts.
You could be the pastor of one of the biggest churches in America, have faith that can move a mountain, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, but let’s be real, this has to hurt like hell. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that as a Christian, but the reality is, Christ followers are far from being immune to pain here on earth and hell hurts.
“What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” I asked, as much to myself as to my son sitting next to me. We both just looked at each other, still in shock and sadness. But my question has resonated with me since.
There is tragedy in the world every second of every day. You only have to log onto the world wide web to know that the tears shed from broken hearts creates a perpetual wave of sorrow. So when tragedy strikes, where does our hope come from?
Some people find hope and comfort in other people; but we are a very unpredictable species. Sometimes we can be loving and kind, comforting to those who hurt, and sometimes we can be preoccupied and busy at best, even cruel and callous at worst. Some people find hope and comfort in achievement and experiences, a means of distraction from the pain; but how long can you keep a body in motion? Every body needs some down time, and then what do you do? Some people find hope and comfort in things, in the process of acquiring things; but things get old, they break, they rust, they tarnish. Some people find comfort, though maybe not hope, in alcohol and drugs; but I know first-hand the consequences for this kind of grief therapy is unhealthy and the cost is too high.
It’s a broken world and a broken world can’t offer the kind of hope and comfort a grieving soul needs. Our Creator, God, knows this. And He knows the pain and grief associated with losing a precious son. His heart breaks with every heart that breaks, and He sees each tear that falls. He longs for us to call out to Him so He can wrap His heavenly arms around us.
And He knows how much hell hurts ~ and it is His greatest desire to keep us out of it. In fact, it is His fervent desire to have each one of His precious creation with Him in heaven one day. Heaven ~ paradise, a place free from pain and suffering, free from inhumanity and tragedy and most importantly, a place filled with the glory of God. Filled with His glory because that’s where He is ~ waiting to welcome His children, like Matthew, with loving arms. This, my friends, is where my hope comes from ~ a loving God, a redeemer, a place in heaven. And I know from years of listening to Pastor Rick that this is where he and his family have their hope . I also know their hope would be for you to know Jesus the way they do ~ if you don’t, would you consider getting to know Him now?
The sun was shining and a light breeze blew back my hair. It felt great! I looked at the train tracks in front of me and felt grateful for the calm I felt inside. It wouldn’t be long before I would be clackety clack riding the train to my destination, something that my anxious thoughts kept me from enjoying the week before. It’s amazing what a week of adequate rest and sufficient quiet time can do for the soul!
As I waited for the train, a young man sat down on the bench next to me. He immediately engaged me in conversation and before long asked me what I had been reading; that’s when the conversation took an interesting turn.
“The Bible,” I said, “well, it’s really the Bible written in story format.”
“That’s probably good because no one can sit and just read through the Bible the way you could a novel,” he said. I could tell by his demeanor that we might have a differing philosophical view of the book. His next comment confirmed my suspicions.
“After all,” he said, “it’s not really…you know…I mean it’s not like…”
“Literal?” I offered.
“Yeah, they are like stories and metaphors and parables.”
“I think it’s literal,” I said. “I mean, sure there are parables and metaphors and stories, but I believe there are literal principles that can be drawn from them. And some parts are just straight literal.”
“But you can’t prove it. It’s just faith.”
“Every world view requires faith, even atheism. But based on the evidence I have seen, my belief in the God of the Bible requires the least amount of faith.”
“I think people should be allowed to believe whatever they want.”
“You know what?” I said. “I do, too. After all, God gives you and me and him and her and that person over there ~ He gives all of us the freedom to choose Him or not. Who am I to argue with God?”
He was an interesting young man, and by interesting I mean he made me a little uncomfortable, and not just because we had differing views on life. I can’t explain it but he just made me uncomfortable; still, I was willing to continue having a conversation while we waited for the train.
As if to catch me off guard, and looking me straight in the eyes, as he had been doing the whole time, he asked, “What do you think love is?”
I paused for a moment, again feeling uncomfortable, when suddenly the epitamy of love came to my mind.
“Jesus,” I said with confidence. His eyebrows raised.
“Jesus is love,” I continued. “He was perfect, never did a thing wrong, and yet he willingly suffered a torturous, humiliating death for people who would reject him and not return his love. That’s real love.”
“Yes, but in the garden he asked God if he really had to do it.”
“But that’s not all he said,” I corrected, “he finished by saying, ‘but not my will be done but YOURS.”
“But he was scared, he didn’t want to do it.”
“No, he didn’t. Don’t forget he was fully human and experienced all our emotions. Wouldn’t you be freaked out? He was so distressed he sweat blood.”
“Well, blood came out of his face,” he now corrected.
“Okay, he had drops of blood on his face. And yet, he still sacrificed himself.”
“You know what I think? I think that there is a universe and it is all around us and it knows everything that happens and what we think and what we do,” he said.
“I do, too, but what you choose to call ‘the universe’ I call God.”
By now the train came and the question shifted to “Is this our train?”
I am not sure if I verbalized my next thought or not before we boarded the train, but I hope I did.
It was, “And one day God will come back to judge us on all those things we did and the thoughts we had.”
I wish I had the chance to ask, “If the universe is keeping tabs on what we all do, then what’s good enough? By whose standards will you judge?” To me, that is a thought provoking question. And the follow up question, then what does the universe do once it has passed judgment?
A day of judgment is coming and the standard for judging isn’t arbitrary, as it is in so many other world views. The standard is perfect holiness. I can hear my young train traveler now, “No one can meet that standard!” He would be right, no one can.
And so we will be judged and we will be found guilty – let’s face it, even if we lowered the standard, how many of us can say we were even as good as we COULD or SHOULD have been? Everyone I know could be better; not even perfect, just better, and we can’t even meet that standard.
There we stand, found guilty, condemned for not meeting the standard. Yet, that is not the end of the story. Because of his great love for us, God made a way, he had a plan for our redemption, a perfect sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our guilt and do the time for us so we could go free. Jesus. Perfect. Perfect love. The Way. The only way. The way to reunite a broken, imperfect human being with a perfect and holy creator.
Oh, yes, friend, I also believe people should have the right to believe what they want – they should have the right to choose. They can choose to pay the penalty for their own imperfection or they can choose to accept the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. It’s a choice.
There is a train coming, a train bound for glory – the old African American spiritual called it The Gospel Train. Just like the train I am on now, it also has a destination – heaven. And just like today, for me and for my fellow travelers, a payment will be required to board; but only one form of payment will suffice on that train ~ Jesus. If you don’t have him, you ain’t gettin’ on. And yes, I’m being literal and metaphorical, my train traveling friend.
Pain. “Okay, I am going to touch each tooth with a cotton swab that is very cold, I want you to tell me if you feel anything,” the endodontist said.
As he put a little pressure on the suspect tooth, I smugly shook my head. Nope! Didn’t feel a thing!
“Now,” he said, “I am going to take this tongue depressor and I want you to grind on it really hard on this tooth.”
I ground really hard.
“Really hard,” he encouraged. I complied. Nope! I didn’t feel anything. Not a twinge of pain.I knew it! I knew it was just a little infection! I won’t need a root canal, I didn’t feel any pain at all! I thought to myself.
“Well,” the endodontist said with a somber tone in his voice, “I have bad news. You are going to need a root canal.”
What? I was too stunned to say the words out loud. What was he talking about? Didn’t I say I didn’t feel any pain on that tooth?!
As though reading my mind, he said, “The fact that you don’t feel any pain on that tooth indicates that the nerve is dead. And…”
Wait, no way! There was more?
“I am concerned about the tooth next to it. You might need a root canal in that tooth as well.”
It was too much to process. Completely contradictory to anything I had expected. If there is a problem, shouldn’t I feel pain in the tooth? Sure, I had discomfort in my gums ~ I knew something was going on. But it was an irritant more than anything. I could overlook it, live with it. It wasn’t something so uncomfortable that it drove me to the endodontist. No, it was my dentist at a routine cleaning that told me I needed to go. Despite a lack of real pain, apparently I had an infection.
My incident with the endodontist got me thinking about pain, and life, and our spiritual journey. You have a lot of time to ponder when you are laying on a chair with your mouth wide open! I wondered ~ is seeking a pain-free, comfortable life always the best thing for us? Or is our pain-free, comfortable life masking an infected soul and spirit?
Sometimes I think the enemy of our soul wants to keep us in a comfortable and pain-free place. After all, without pain, what motivation is there to change, to move outside our comfort zone? Without pain, how will ever empathize with those who so desperately need the comfort we could supply? Without pain, when would we cry out to our Lord and Savior for rescue and redemption?
I know that in my own life I have experienced the most incredible spiritual growth during the most grueling seasons of emotional pain. Before, I didn’t know the depths of my infection. Sure, I had some moments of discomfort, minor irritations, but I could overlook them, handle them on my own. The pain wasn’t that bad but it masked a serious infection. Thankfully, God created pain. He created pain as a way of letting us know something is wrong. We need to make a change. We need help. And when it comes to the state of our souls, we need more than any doctor can provide or prescribe. We need a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Days. It’s that time of year. I reached the end of my calendar and it was time to get my new Zig Ziglar performance planner ready for the new year. I spent an hour writing the number of the day in the little boxes for the weekly and monthly views. I went through and marked out the major holidays. It felt weird to write in the year as “2013” and then I got to the end of the planner and found it included a thirteenth month to get you started on the next year ~ and so I wrote “2014”. 2014? I can barely grasp that 2012 is nothing more than a memory; it’s hard to imagine that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks ~ assuming we still use checks in 2014!
I love this time of year. I love thinking about a new year, a fresh start, new goals, revising my bucket list. There’s nothing like a fresh, clean calendar just waiting to be filled with things to do, goals, and plans. But as I pulled out my new calendar and numbered my days, I had a sobering thought. My days ARE numbered. There is no guarantee I will live to see the date so neatly written in the little box. Even as I reread the first paragraph of this post, I realize how presumptuous I am to say that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks; in fact, what I should have said was, one day I may do this or that. Recent events, both nationally and personally, have made this realization very clear to me. It’s a realization I hope I think about often in 2013, not to bring me down, but to remind me that every day is a gift and an opportunity.
God knows the number of my days here and I am very thankful I don’t. The Mayans sure didn’t. But I do know that my calendar does have an end date ~ every person born has an end date. In Southern California, where I live, there was a radio talk show host I used to listen to in the afternoons. When you listen to someone on the radio on a regular basis you begin to feel like you know them ~ you’re familiar with their quirky words, their laugh, their opinions. That’s how I felt about Frank Pastore. And then one day, a little over a month ago, I tuned in to hear an unfamiliar voice in Frank’s place. Frank had been in a serious motorcycle accident and lay in a coma in the hospital. I could hardly believe it. Sure, everyone who listened to Frank knew that he rode a motorcycle; but he was so vibrant, still so young, doing God’s work and influencing people in his world. How could this happen?
We prayed for him, my family and all his many listeners, family and friends. We prayed that God would heal him so that he could continue to be a part of our world and continue to spread the good news about God’s plan for His creation. But it wasn’t meant to be and December 17th was Frank’s last day here. God knew the exact number of Frank’s days.
Amazingly, Frank spoke of the dangers of riding his motorcycle on the air the very day he would suffer his deadly accident. You can read his testimony here and listen to his prophetic words here (scroll down to see the link). If you listen to this clip from his show, you will know that Frank’s concern wasn’t about his physical death, because he got it. He understood that his days here were numbered. And he didn’t seem at all concerned about spiritual death either, because he knew with all assurance that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior when his time here was done. His concern was for the souls of others, those who didn’t have a Savior to bridge the gap between an imperfect human being and a perfect, holy Creator.
Last time I checked, no one I know had an expiration date stamped on them. But don’t be mistaken, though we don’t know the time, we all have an end date. There’s a country song that says “I wish that you would live like you are dying…” Well, guess what? You are dying! I am dying! Will this realization cause you to live differently in 2013? Will it cause you to think about your priorities? And most importantly, will it give you reason to think about the relationship of your own soul with its Creator? I pray it does and, if you are interested, I would love to introduce you to my Savior. Frank knew Him. Zig Ziglar knew Him. In fact, you may have heard about Him ~ we celebrated His birthday on December 25th!
A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. Job 14:4-6
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:3-5
Lineage. Family history is fascinating…sometimes inspiring, sometimes shocking and maybe even a little scary. I recently had the chance to look through a book that compiled a portion of my family history.
“Dad, did you see the part about the 1930 census? Did all of Grandpa’s family really live in that little house, plus a boarder, too?” My Dad confirmed what seemed incredulous to me – all those people had lived in that tiny two bedroom house with one bathroom in the basement; the house that I always knew as “Nana’s house”!
I tried to imagine my great-grandfather boarding a boat in Italy headed to a land he must have felt held tremendous opportunity. He must have felt a better life waited across that vast body of water; why else would an 18 year old young man leave behind his wife and two sons?
Family history is interesting and I realize that one of my relatives put a lot of time and effort to put together this book that gave me a glimpse into the people and circumstances that led me to be me. I think lots of people are curious about who belongs to them and where they came from. But is where I came from more important than where I am going? And is my lineage limited to the blood and DNA that has been passed down to me from my ancestors?
There is another family history book that is far more interesting than the one that includes some Italian names that are difficult to pronounce. This book is also filled with lineage, is very interesting, sometimes shocking, sometimes a little scary, and includes more than a few difficult names to pronounce!
It is a compilation of human history and it includes an invitation to all of us to belong to another family ~ the book is the Bible and the family is God’s. I love reading the Bible because God reveals to me how little has changed in the history of families. I don’t know about you, but there were and are a lot of broken people in my family chain, and when I am added to the chain, people will look back and see that there were some cracks in my link as well.
The Bible is filled with broken people, less than perfect families, who are in need of healing, just like us. But God doesn’t leave them, or us, in brokenness. He offers us healing by inviting us to be a part of His family through faith in Jesus. Now, when I think of my family, I also think of all my brothers and sisters who share my faith and are part of God’s family. It is a connection and bond that I have found surpasses ethnicity and culture and it gives me a glimpse into what I believe heaven will be like. And I think looking forward to heaven is far more interesting than looking back. One day, whether we like it or not, we are all going to embark on a new journey across a vast expanse. Have you thought about your journey and where you are going?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus
If you haven’t considered being a part of God’s family, I pray you will consider it today.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14
Outcomes. “Lynne, I think you need to focus more on the process. Let each stepping stone be revealed as you are ready to take the next step.” That was a paraphrase of the wise advice given to me by a writer’s mentor and editor at a recent conference I attended. It sounded so good. So wise. So doable. After all, for one year “process” was my favorite word. Everything was about process. Life is a process. Navigating this challenge is a process. Losing weight is a process. In my conversation with you, there was bound to be a process or two woven in. And yet, I still find myself focusing on outcome in the midst of the process. Is it a bad thing to be product oriented as opposed to process focused?
In some areas of life, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to focus on outcome. Take, for example, doing the taxes. There is nothing enjoyable to me about the process of getting our records together for our accountant. Nothing. Enjoyable. At. All. In fact, I will postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. So focusing on the outcome, a possible negative outcome that may include garnished bank accounts and hefty penalties helps me get the job done.
My daughter recently got married. Preparing for a wedding is no easy task, especially when you are a detail-oriented person. It is a process that is long and sometimes joyful and often stressful; but I believe this is a time to embrace the process along with the outcome. The wedding planning process can be an opportunity to make more memories that add to the wedding story itself – to the outcome that is so fleeting in comparison to all the planning that comes before the big day.
I am trying to apply this advice of appreciating the process and not focusing on the outcome to my writing, but I am finding that I need to enjoy and focus on both process and product at the same time, like two chords in a musical strain. For me, I need to know that I am working towards something tangible, complete and hopefully meaningful to someone somewhere. I want to know that the chords of words I am stringing together will ultimately make a song. All the while, I want to be able to enjoy the tempo of keys being stroked, whether the cursor is moving forward or backward, and ideas taking shape and stalling out and taking shape again. I really want to enjoy the movements, the solos, and the accompaniments along the way; but I also want to relish in the finale, applaud the finished product and cheer for an ovation.
And so it is with my Christian life. One day I will stand before the Lord, my life a final product, and He will look at the outcome. On my own I would come before Him in filthy rags. Nothing I have done or will do on my own will make me good enough to stand before a Holy and Perfect Creator. But because of Jesus, I can stand before God in white robes of righteousness. Still, I want to make the most of this process called life in the tiniest of hopes that I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I need to embrace the process of refinement that God so graciously and lovingly applies to my life so that my outcome, my life, will serve as a living sacrifice to the one who gave all for me…and for you. Perhaps the better choice is to be both process and outcome focused: two parts, two chords, one beautiful song.
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
Mothers. One of my greatest blessings has been to be a mother. I wish I could say that I executed the role of motherhood perfectly. All the time. Without fail. No regrets. But if I said that, I have two beautiful children who would find time to leave me a comment or two to bring me back to reality. Reality is that I am an imperfect mother.
For example, it seemed our son had a bump or scrape on his head every day from age one to age two. It didn’t matter how closely I watched him, how near I kept him, or how much I padded the furniture, he just seemed to take one tumble after another that caused some kind of bump or abrasion on his poor little head. I was sure I was the worst mother in the world. But like most active little boys, he grew out of that stage intact only to enter another equally challenging phase.
My daughter was not as physically active as a youngster, but had her share of hurts just the same. Missing friends at birthday parties, not being able to try out for the cheerleading squad, broken hearts – it didn’t matter how closely I watched her, or how near I kept her, or how much I tried to protect her heart, there were hurts. At times I would have nightmares that one of my two children would end up on some talk show, speaking from the shadows with their voices altered by a modulator so that no one could identify them – all because of the mistakes I had made as a mother. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Scrapes healed, tender emotions passed and, to my knowledge, no one ended up on a talk show.
I love my children beyond measure, and yet my best efforts at being their mother have always fallen short of perfection. I am grateful that God does not measure my worth by my works – as a mother or in any other area of my life. He does not expect me to save myself by what I do or don’t do. What a wonderful gift is God’s grace that saves an imperfect mother like me!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8