More Interruptions

I had no idea when I posted last about life’s interruptions how greatly our life was about to be interrupted. Death, a most unwelcome intruder, visited our family once again with the unexpected passing of my father-in-law, Edward Lyle Harlow. He died of an apparent heart attack April 30.

I was going by to drop Elsie off for a few hours so I could paint at my office. I was pulling into the driveway when my mother-in-law found him collapsed on the kitchen floor.

The next few hours were a blur. As we sat around the kitchen table, steam still rising from his coffee cup on the warmer, I was reminded again of how our lives had been interrupted.

I was angry. I hurt for my husband, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, myself and our children. I was not at all ready for this interruption.

While are hearts are still broken, our eyes still weeping, the memories too fresh, we have found comfort in the gifts our dear daddy/husband/grandpa left behind.

An avid gardener and lover of flowers, trees, plants and landscapes, it was almost like our dear Ed knew what was about to unfold. Nearly every day since his death two and a half weeks ago, plants he ordered have arrived in the mail, one of which is called “Widow’s Tears.” A fancy honeysuckle showed up that he intentioned to plant along our chain link fence as well as wave petunias, dahlias, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and other plants. He had a sense of humor that was always present even among the most magnificent garden displays as shown in these photos.

Although we have had many moments of intense sadness, these “gifts” have evoked smiles through the tears. Although Eli and Elsie have had many questions and have cried many tears for grandpa, we are taking time as a family to care for his plants and remember him in a beautiful way. There is something so powerful and unifying in watering and tending flowers together as we rehearse stories and laugh about cherished memories of our precious loved one.

Interruptions. We cannot avoid them. We cannot prevent them. We cannot expect them to adhere to our schedule. But in time, we can find beauty rising from the ashes of our sorrow. We can find small, seemingly insignificant things that become the most meaningful moments of our day and if we allow it, we can grow from these interruptions. Just as we are tending the plants from daddy and encouraging them to grow, these interruptions can cause us to blossom more fully into the persons we were created to be. Adversity can be the fertilizer that nourishes the most beautiful gardens.

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Anger; a beautiful release

I attended a spiritual retreat this weekend. One might think it was coincidence that a day before this retreat was to take place that a family I know lost their 11-month-old daughter in a tragic accident. I believe God used this tragedy to reveal himself to me in a new and beautiful way. (***I do not believe God causes tragedy, but I do believe he can use it to form and transform us when and if we are ready to allow that.)

Through our time together, with people unrelated to this incident and most of whom were unassociated with my work through The Sadie Rose Foundation, God’s Spirit revealed to me that I was harboring anger, lots of it.

I admit, when I have the faith to believe that God can raise a child out of a sick-bed and he chooses not too or when I feel he could have easily prevented a tragedy, I wrestle with anger. I don’t just wrestle with it, I get downright mad. When I talk with families grieving their precious children gone too soon, I wonder why. Over time, these have snowballed into a jaded feeling that my prayers are ineffective and I have questioned at times whether or not God really cares. Why does he allow these tragedies to happen? Why do innocent children suffer?

At the retreat, we were given a Scripture to meditate on and to ask what God might be saying to us through that passage. Two phrases stood out to me as I read it again and again.

“They know his voice,” and “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:4 and 28)

I contemplated why these two phrases and wrote the following in my journal; answers I believe came from the Holy Spirit of God.

” Those children whom I call, know my voice. They are not afraid. I give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand. I know your pain. I know you feel these children have been snatched out of the hands of their family, but they are not afraid to come to me. They innocently trust and know and are comforted by my voice.

They do not perish. In truth, they never die. They are transitioned from their bars of clay into eternal life in the spirit.

They are held lovingly in my arms and no one, not death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from my love or can snatch them out of my hand.”

Wow… a new perspective for me. I did not get my “why” questions answered, I probably never will this side of eternity, nor do I claim to understand it. I am not disillusioned to think that this will keep me from ever feeling that anger again, but I know that I felt a beautiful release of anger, a letting go, and a new and fresh peace to move forward.

May the Holy Comforter be near to all who mourn this day and may we hear and recognize the voice of the Gentle Shepherd inviting us to trust him.

Interruptions

No less than 20 inches of snow have fallen outside our window throughout the past 16 hours and it is still coming down. The winter wonderland is beautiful, but it has interrupted our lives in that my husband’s flight was cancelled and now he is making the treacherous journey home in a rental car. He has already spent one more night away from us than planned because of this storm.

Thankfully, we use a wood stove for heat and have firewood stockpiled next to the stove, we have a nice cozy house and I planned ahead to make sure our refrigerator and cabinets had plenty of food. So while we wish for Lee to come home safely, the interruption could be much worse.

It seems we’ve had our share of interruptions lately. Unemployment, job changes and a chronically sick child have been some of the larger interruptions, and then there are the small, everyday inconveniences of running late, running behind, and everything in between. The death of our daughter five years ago was a most unwelcome interruption that nearly destroyed me.

Interruptions happen. Life happens. Death happens. Most often I can point to these life-altering interruptions and see that is seems like something terrible is always involved, and indeed, in many cases that is so. But how we respond to the interruptions can destroy us or make us stronger. Obviously, some take a lot more time, practice, and working through than others, but they can all be tools that change and shape us into more loving compassionate and empathetic human beings or can harden our hearts with bitterness and anger.

One of my favorite Scriptures says…

“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

These words have guided me, comforted me and sometimes were the only thing that carried me through my life’s interruptions. When I passed through the waters and felt I would drown in my tears, I was sustained and comforted by this ancient text written by another who knew about life’s interruptions. Although I can’t always see the other side of the river or I feel the heat of the flames consuming my flesh, I find refuge in the Holy One of Israel and know that if I live I live with God and if I die I die with God; either way, I am with God.

In this, I can know that these interruptions have a greater purpose than what my mind can conceive or understand.

If you are experiencing interruptions today, whether they are mere inconveniences or life-altering, I pray that you too experience the comfort of the Holy One of Israel.

Love Challenge

We just passed the annual day of love. I am someone who is generally turned off by the commercialism surrounding holidays – any holiday, and Valentine’s Day is no different.

However, as a child, my dad nicknamed me “the love bug.” I have always loved love and the idea of love. I was born with a strong “mercy gift” and compassion for others that I did not (still don’t) understand. But when I compare myself to 1 Corinthians 13, I also realize how I fall short of true love for myself, my church, my community and my world.

According to 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient. I am not. This is one of my most self-recognized “flaws.” Get-er-done already. That’s my motto. I don’t care if it’s a task, an idea, self-improvement or home improvement, just do it already. And the words “waiting” and “patiently” do not co-exist in my vocabulary. Love Challenge: Embrace the waiting in every situation and trust what God is doing.

Love is kind. Ah, well, sometimes I can be kind. Especially if someone is kind first. But Scriptures tell us it is easy for people to be kind to others who are kind first, true love is being kind even and especially when others are not. Love Challenge: “Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

It does not envy. Hmmm… I don’t envy many material things, but guess what? I envy others’ gifts. I would love to be as even-keel and rock-steady as my husband. I wish I were as gifted with words, math skills, organizational skills… and on and on and on as my friends. This envy has at times prevented me from developing and stepping out in my own gifts because I measure my inadequacies and insecurities against other people’s gifts. Which leads right in to the next two… But first, Love Challenge: Recognize my own strengths and trust that I am who I am for a reason. Rely on God to help me use those strengths for the building of his kingdom and to accept his grace in my weaknesses.

Love does not boast, it is not proud. Ahem… (a little throat-clearing here.) Sometimes what seems like humility and inferiority is, in reality, an ugly form of pride. Yep. I deal with it. Love Challenge: Do not “boast” in or call attention to my insignificance in an effort to have others build me up. Recognize my identity as a child of God and rest in that.

It does not dishonor others. Uh oh. Repeating that embarrassing moment a co-worker shared in confidence, wishing (mentally or by telling others) that “over-spiritual zealot” would stop talking so the service could move along, reliving the past or revisiting moments that are shared only to let others know how I was wronged. Love Challenge: Choose to see every person as God sees them and then to love them as he does.

Love is not self-seeking. Sometimes doing good things can become more for the praise of others than because we should. As another portion of this Scripture says, we can give all we have to the poor, we can give our body to be burned at the stake for the sake of what we believe, but if we do not have love, we have nothing. Love Challenge: Don’t glory in the good I have done or will do. Recognize that the good we do often happens in times and ways that others will never know.

It is not easily angered. I’m not necessarily easily angered, but easily frustrated is a whole different story. I think it correlates with my impatience. Love Challenge: When I find myself becoming frustrated, take time to breathe. Take time to understand the source of my frustration or anger. Is the target of my frustration really the source? Is it worth the investment of time and energy it takes to hold on to the anger or frustration? 

It keeps no record of wrongs. This is one of the toughest parts of this Scripture for me. I. Keep. A. Checklist! Sometimes I’m not even conscious of this checklist, but I know it is there and I can pull those hurts out of my memory box without digging too deeply. I don’t believe we completely forget the hurts that caused our deepest pain, but I do think we can hold on to it by sharing only to retaliate against the perpetrator(s). This one can be really tricky.  Love Challenge: Burn the checklist. When the reminders come, make a conscious decision to let go… again… and again and again… 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Sometimes I think our national and local media would do well to remember this one, but it is a good reminder even for myself. Love Challenge: Do not glorify the bad. Rejoice in and promote truth and light. Even the smallest light overcomes darkness. Be that light, carry that Light. 

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I fall way short on the trusting part of this sentence. I do not always protect those I love from harmful gossip nor do I protect the defenseless and “least of these.” Love Challenge: Trust. Not in others, not in myself, but in God. Protect those who are in my care, whether I know them or not. 

Love never fails. Well, this one I cannot live up to, but by trying to live by the above challenges I pray that I become better at this loving thing.

Read the rest of this Scripture here.

Despite all my shortcomings and failures to live up to this perfect love, I still love love. I still believe that love ultimately wins over hate. I pray that with God’s grace I can live his love in such a way that others want to experience it too.

Anyone else have a love challenge or want to join me in mine?

I’m not a person of faith

I confess, I’m not a person of faith, not by nature anyway. It is not my natural response to immediately call on Jesus when our daughter is diagnosed with pneumonia and bronchitis or when I get a voicemail from my doctor on a Friday evening telling me she’s reviewed my sonogram and to call her first thing Monday morning.

I get there. I cry out to God. I do feel his presence and comfort in the midst of these storms, but I am the kind of person that needs the encouragement of my family and friends and fellow believers to remind me to trust.

I am Peter who has the faith to step out of the boat, but gets overwhelmed by my circumstances. I am David who longs to serve God wholly and completely and yet fall short in my sin. I am Abraham who hopes against hope that God’s “got this” and yet I am Thomas who can only believe by seeing and touching Jesus for myself. I am Mary, in awe and wonder of the work God has done and wants to do in my life. I am Martha who is so busy serving that I forget the “one thing” that is necessary; to sit with Jesus and to rest quietly in his presence.

I chastise myself for reaching out to others, then I read and listen to the messages of love and encouragement and support and I am thankful and overwhelmed at the beautiful friends I am blessed with. I can only pray I encourage others the way I am lifted up.

We are brothers, sisters, family and friends; sojourners in this difficult and joyful life. We are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In this togetherness, we experience a glimpse of the relationship God longs to have with us.

I am so thankful, so very blessed to be surrounded by people who constantly remind me to “Turn my Eyes Upon Jesus.” Because of you, my friends, I am challenged to be a person of faith.

Does God care about lent?

I wrestled with Lenten sacrifices this year. What to give up? What to take on? What is the purpose? Does God really care?

Before I married a Lutheran, I had not heard terms like Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent. Well, I might have heard them, but they carried no meaning.

Although we’ve attended a Shrove Tuesday supper since my husband and I married, last year was the first time I then followed through with a Lenten sacrifice.

I gave up coffee and fried foods. Although I don’t eat a lot of fried foods, I love them and well, coffee is an everyday companion of mine so both were significant to give up.

I stuck with my commitment and felt it was definitely a time of growing within myself. I found the Lenten season to be much more meaningful as I was reminded daily of Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf.

But this year, I couldn’t decide what to give up. I prayed about it and had lofty aspirations of incorporating a Daniel Fast, but I did not want to set myself up for failure. I thought about giving up coffee and fried foods again, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

I decided that unless I got clear direction, I would not do anything specific for this year.

Then, this Ash Wednesday morning, it came to me. “Daily Sacrifice.” Listening daily to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Don’t eat that for now,” “do this,” or “go there.” My prayer is that my life will become totally directed by the promptings of the Spirit.

Is lent for us or for God? As with any ritual, I believe we can go through the motions of lent without it having much purpose or meaning, but I also know it can enrich and empower our faith. It can be for both us and God if it accomplishes the intended purpose of deepening our relationship with Him.

I am looking forward to experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in my life this season and pray that being guided by his presence becomes an automatic response. I am thankful for the exposure to this practice that has caused me to become more reflective of the power of Easter in my life.

Experiencing the holy in everyday moments

I was excited about participating in a “NuDunkers On Pneumatology” online discussion this morning. Pneumatology is just a fancy word for the theologies of the Holy Spirit. With a 4-year-old and a 17-month-old at home, I prepared ahead of time to make sure I would have the perfect quiet atmosphere for the discussion of this fascinating topic.

Yeah right!

Instead of reflective and educated ruminations about the Holy Spirit, I was saying things, “Elsie, get Eli’s underwear off your head.” “Eli, don’t sit on top of Elsie and stop pulling the dog’s ears.” This, all while listening as best I can to an honest and through-provoking discussion about the Holy Spirit.

But this is the beauty of my life; holy moments wrapped in the humdrum of the everyday. My life has many seemingly insignificant moments and yet when I pause and pay attention, I hear the whispers of God in it all. And in my personal experience, that is my pneumatology of the Holy Spirit.

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