Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Cat Threw Up

My 15 year old son, Caleb, related recently this story to me:

"It was late at night, around midnight, and I was getting up to go to bed when I stepped in something wet. I looked down and saw that it was cat throw up. I was totally grossed out. I had stepped in cat puke! And, even worse, I knew that it had to be cleaned up. 

My first thought was, 'I better go get Mom so she can clean this up right now.' 

But then I had a another thought. 

'You know, I wouldn't like to be awakened from sleep to clean up a mess that someone else found. I bet Mom won't like it either. I think I will clean it up myself, since I'm the one who found it.'"

Can I get an "Amen"?

There are times when you wonder, as a parent, whether your children are getting it. You pour it and pour it, but it doesn't seem to soak in.

Personal responsibility. Owning your actions. Going above and beyond what is required of you. Doing what needs to be done. Helping out when you can. Being kind to others. And on and on it goes. The lessons to teach and to learn are endless.

Then one day your teenager cleans up a hairball by himself and suddenly you know: it's not all going to waste. It's not out of my mouth and over his head. Real change is slowly, but surely happening. Maturity is taking place.

I'll turn around in a few days and Caleb will be graduating high school, then college, and then moving on with his life. And thanks to the midnight hairball, I know now that he will be okay. He can already cook a few simple things. He can load and unload a dishwasher. And he can even clean up something extremely gross when he steps in it. He will make it in this world.

I have never been so excited to hear that the cat threw up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day at my house

I know it may sound strange, but we don't do much for Valentine's Day in our home. Sometimes Kevin might give me a card or bring me flowers, but sometimes he doesn't. And I don't mind. I am not that into Valentine's. For me the beginning of February until mid-February is different.

Seventeen years ago, on February 12th 1995, we lost our second-born to stillbirth. I was 38 weeks into a trouble free pregnancy when I thought, "I don't remember feeling Ansley move today." Thus began our descent into the terrible fellowship of those who have lost a child.

When later I would hold get to hold her in my arms, she looked so beautiful and healthy. But she wasn't moving, or crying, or breathing. She was gone. Already in heaven. So when February darkens the door, it takes me back to Ansley.

I could say also that it takes me forward to Ansley. I try to imagine what it would be like if she had lived. What would her personality be like? Would she get along with her other siblings or would she fight as hard as the other two do? Would she be tall like Kevin or short like me or somewhere in between? Would her hair be red like mine? There are thousands of questions and possibilities.

The bigger question, I suppose, is not what would she be like, but what would I be like if she were here? Though I'm sure I could have learned alot from parenting another child, there are lessons learned in death and loss that cannot be attained anywhere else.

It is better to go to a house of mourning 
 than to go to a house of feasting, 
for death is the destiny of everyone; 
 the living should take this to heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-3

When Ansley died I learned that the best (and sometimes the only) thing I can do for someone who is grieving is to be present. The person who ministered to me the most was there for me. She swept my kitchen floor. She wrote down the foods people were bringing in so that I could later thank them. She answered the phone for me. She simply did whatever she could to give me the space to grieve. I can't even imagine how I would have functioned without Diane.

I learned that when someone is experiencing loss the only appropriate thing to say is, "I am so sorry for your loss and for the pain you are going through." Sentimental ideas about God and His need for another "angel" or a "rose for His garden" might make you feel better, but these thoughts will not minister grace to the person who is hurting.

I learned that God is able to comfort in ways I can't fully comprehend. Friends comforted me; Kevin comforted me; my extended family comforted me. And at times God supernaturally reached down and comforted me when no one else was around. I'm telling you there were moments when I could feel His presence so very strongly, it was as if I was being carried physically.

I learned to say this phrase to myself, "You never know what a person may be going through." I can remember having to do some everyday things like grocery shopping. It was difficult to interact with people. I didn't want to cry and spill my story to a check-out girl, and yet I couldn't bring myself to plaster a smile on and act happy. I'm sure I came across as rude to most of those I encountered. I really didn't care.

Now when I see someone who is short-tempered or ill-mannered, I try to remind myself that she could be experiencing personal pain of some sort.

I learned that heaven is beautiful. I think I have always wanted to go to heaven. Who wouldn't, right? No more tears, no more pain, sadness, or sorrow. But when I had a child go there ahead of me, heaven began to pull at me. I could see my little girl in the arms of Jesus. I could see Him smiling and singing to her. I could see His gentleness and tenderness like never before.

No, for me Valentine's day isn't about roses, chocolates, and romantic dinners. And yet while there is sadness, there is also great gain. I have been changed. I am different. The pain truly did bring gain. And the greatest gain lies ahead.

For instance, we know that when these bodies
of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, 
they will be replaced by resurrection bodies 
in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we'll never 
have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can 
hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. 
Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here 
seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, 
and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of 
the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! 
The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste
of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts 
so that we'll never settle for less.
2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (Message)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Reason I Write

I have an irrepressible urge to write. I don't have to get motivated to do it; it's just there. That doesn't mean my writing is always good or easy or that it always flows. Blood, sweat, and tears are involved. Mostly tears, since I'm a woman.

I have this stuff that God has put in my heart, and it wants to get out. Paul said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." And I say, "Woe to me if I do not write what God is showing me and teaching me."

Truth be told, I have always written. Always.

I actually enjoyed the writing assignments I had in my school years; term papers being a major exception. My favorite tests were essay questions. I couldn't understand why everyone didn't love them as much as I did.

I kept a diary and later a journal. I took notes. I made lists. I had penpals. I wrote poems. I loved to write. And the thing that I loved most was having my writing read aloud in class. It pushed all my happy buttons! Someone had noticed my writing and thought it was good enough to share . . . out loud . . . with others!

Then came married life, seminary, children, ministry, and I still wrote; but I kept it all to myself. I did rewrite all of my Sunday School lessons for my four and five year olds, but the rest was only for me. Life was busy. And none of my jobs required me to write. So my writing became my way of communicating with God. I could stay focused when I was writing my prayers down. I could remember to pray for all those people that I said I would pray for if I had their names written down to see.

Eventually, writing became my coping method as ministry and marriage became lonely places. When there was no one to talk to about the pain in my life, I could write down my fears, my worries, my anger, my frustrations, my dreams, my desires.

In a very real way, writing was all I had left of myself.

The years continued to pass by and I was lonelier than ever. I would even say I was depressed and without much hope. After all, I had been praying and trusting God to change my husband and save my marriage for years and nothing had really changed; then God in His great mercy stepped in and brought us to the City of Refuge.

COR is a ministry of First Baptist Woodstock to pastors and their families. When the pastor is burned out, kicked out, or has experienced moral failure, where does he turn? Usually, the pastor will move on to another church to serve while all those problems, hurts, and sins go unresolved. COR offers a place of healing, hope, and restoration. (see http://www.souljourney318.com/search/label/City%20of%20Refuge)

It was in this place of healing and restoration that I learned that brokenness is what really connects us to God and to others. If I am good at putting up a front of perfection, people may be impressed with me, but they will not be drawn to me or to the Father. It's my hurts and failures that really resonate with others. Deep down I know I'm not all that. Deep down I know no one else is all that either. When I am finally broken enough to admit my own neediness, sadness, anger, problems, and shortcomings, then that message sings into the hearts of others. Deep down they know the same thing I know.

I'm never surprised when my "desperation and desolation" blogs are the most popular. It's not that misery loves company, but that misery (loneliness) needs to be cut through by the reality that I am not alone in my struggle.

Fast forward through a few years and some good counseling. God began to speak to me about writing for more than just myself. And this blog was started. (By the way, my husband does the editing, and does it well!)

My blog is still read by friends and family, mostly. Once in awhile a stranger will stumble upon it and share a comment. I am blessed. Whether the blog becomes a "thing" or not, I know that I am doing what God has called me to do. God is pouring into me and I am pouring it out to you.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 
2 Corinthians 1:3-5, The Message

In the movie "Chariots of Fire", the main character Eric Liddell tells his sister, "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure." In my life, I also believe I am made for a purpose. But He also gave me the gift of words, and when I write, I feel His pleasure.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Testing... is it really all about pass or fail?

by Shelley Hendrix, Special Guest Blogger

In the Christian world, and even in the secular, we're often told that tests come before promotion or
blessings or a new level. Having been in the Church most of my life, I've heard this a lot! {Preachers and teachers often tell us that it's up to us to "pass the test" so we don't have to repeat it or lose out on the intended blessing God has for us.

But when I read the Bible, and what God is talking about when it comes to "tests" or "testing", it has nothing to do with a sheet of paper, #2 Pencils, or whether or not I've studied or crammed enough to pull off a passing grade.

Take this verse for example: Job 23:10b says, "...when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." (NIV)

Or this one, James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (NIV)

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not an argumentative person, and I can totally see the relevance to the illustration many teachers use when they say that we need to be responsible for how we handle tests because how we respond will have an affect on what happens next. But, I want to share something with you that God has shown me in my studies. For one, I've come to realize that far too often, Westernized Christians view the Bible through a Westernized culture's lens. We are so accustomed to being "tested" by our teachers, bosses, parents, co-workers, spouses, and our friends to see if we can pass the test they place in front of us.

Think of all the reality shows now that have to do with catching people when they think no one is looking! It's frightening, really, to see how people behave when they think no one sees.

In tests, there are questions posed, and answers given. If you know the right answers, you pass the test. If you don't know, and you try to guess, you might find out how creative you can be, you might get some right; but, let's face it, you probably won't pass. If you don't know and don't care, you are pretty much guaranteed to fail. Follow me so far? That's how we view tests and testing. It's all about our score--our ability to perform well enough to pass and move on up.

But what if God's tests have nothing to do with this kind of thinking?
What if God has a higher purpose than simply to show us how much of a failure we are and how far we need to go in our striving and self effort to please Him when the tests come? What if it's not about us pridefully seeing how far we have come so that we are able and capable of passing His tests?

What if His purposes for testing us have more to do with purifying us from pollutants, exposing weak places so He can bring His strength to fortify us? What if testing us was more about His loving work in us than about our proving our love for Him by whether or not we pass or fail?

We are all familiar, at least to some extent, of the work of a goldsmith or silversmith. The goldsmith takes the precious metal pulled out of the earth. Metal that is not much to look at when it is unrefined, and yet he sees what it can become! The goldsmith knows that what he is holding in his hand has the potential to become something great--given the right time, pressure, heat, and more time, and more heat, and more pressure....
As the goldsmith patiently works with the metal in the refiner's pot, he has to stay with the metal, watching carefully, stirring when necessary, raising the temperature at the right time, and letting the temperature cool before permanently damaging the metal he is so carefully protecting and perfecting. You see, it's not just about the gold being purified, it's also about the intented purpose for the gold's future use!

As the temperature rises, impurities that have attached and enmeshed to the pure metal rise to the surface of the liquified gold during times of intense heat. The goldsmith feels the heat produced through this testing process--testing not to see if the metal is truly gold, for he already knows it is!--but testing which means purifying, to remove any and every single thing that doesn't belong within the gold. As he watches these impurities rise to the surface in the midst of the heat, he skillfully removes them himself! He exposes what is really inside, knowing full well to expect there to be impurities. Would he have rejected this gold had he known of its impurities--obviously the answer is no. Gold is gold. But some will require more heat and more pressure, and only the goldsmith is qualified to make the determination of how much heat, how often, and how much pressure will be applied.

The goldsmith knows that the testing and re-testing, and testing again are vital because some impurities are far more deeply attached to the gold than others, and greater heat will be necessary to expose those so they can be removed. He know the testings have been accomplished successfully when he is able to see his own reflection in the liquid metal beneath his face.

And, once this happens, he is then able to move on to the reason he began this process in the first place. You see, he knows the purposes and intended destiny of the metal he has now purified. He knew it before the process even began! Will it become jewelry to enhance a woman's natural beauty? Will it become a coin to help fund the work of ministry or to purchase necessities or desired goods? Will it become ornamental to bring lasting beauty to a home or church or city? Gold has been used in so many various ways, but the gold itself doesn't get to decide how or where or when it will be used. Once it has been purified, it's only job is to surrender itself to the one who patiently and carefully tested it, purified, and perfected it for its purpose.

So, no, I definitely don't believe God is waiting to see if I'm going to pass the tests I've been given. I don't believe I'll have to re-take the test if I don't muster up enough strength, courage or godliness to pass it this time around. I do believe, though, very strongly, that God tests me, raises the temperature, and adds pressure over and over as He is gently and very carefully exposing the impurities that remain within me so that as I surrender to His touch, He can remove those things that would only serve to hinder and pollute me if they were to remain.

May we, with Job, faithfully declare, that when He has tested us, we will come forth as GOLD!

I am honored to have Shelley Hendrix, my friend and mentor, here on my blog. Shelley will bless you with her wisdom and grace. She is the real deal; authentic, transparent, and seeking after God's heart. Her life (like mine and yours) is not always easy, but her God is trustworthy. I know you will enjoy reading her blog.  Thank you, Shelley, you have blessed my life !

Enjoy more good stuff from Shelley at www.shelleyhendrix.org.