Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bad Days Happen... But God is Still Good

No matter how I slice it, today was a bad day.  It started with a wake up scream at 3:14 as Jamie was rushing Piper to the bathroom.  Two words: projectile vomit.  Enough said.  Day two of our "escape from reality" included a healthy dose of reality.... there's NO escaping it.  As Jamie played the role of bedside nurse, I took the other three kids out... feeling completely defeated.  All I wanted... all I DESPERATELY wanted... was family time.  The last month had been so incredibly stressful: friends and family coming in and out; frequent stays at the hospital; split shifts for me and Jamie during the night with my mom and during the day with the kids. We held things together the best we could but it was hard.  Before my mom lost consciousness, she told me that she wanted us to take the kids to Florida after everything was said and done... her last parting gift to the kids.  So, of course, we want it to be perfect... but projectile vomit doesn't exactly scream "perfection."

In the middle of the chaos, I had my first "moment."  I went to call my mom, only to remember that I couldn't.  In the middle of a crowded room, kids in toe, I held it together as I began to think about my parents: my dad died at 54 (three months before retirement) and my mom died at 64 (five months before retirement).  In both cases, my parents threw themselves into work... looking forward to a time when they could retire and enjoy life, their family... a time that never came.  And immediately my heart was grieved... because I thought of Jesus.  I thought about how many times I've pushed Him aside... thinking that I would "get to Him later."  How I haven't made Him a priority.

And even in the chaos of the day, God still shows mercy.  I sit here now at the kitchen table as Piper lays in bed.  I have a moment to myself... and I must admit that my first inclination was to turn on the television and "veg out."  But I immediately thought of Jesus and decided to spend time getting to know Him better.  And I have to say that the weirdest thing happened... like when you first get to know someone that you really like... I was excited to sit down and spend time with Him.  It wasn't a chore... it was a delight.

Looking back on the past year, I get exhausted.  It's been a lot... even for someone like me that works really well in chaos.  Right now, I'm reading a book that's really challenging me: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler.  If you spend any time with me, you know I LOVE MATT CHANDLER.  And the reason I love him is because he speaks the truth in such a way that you can't twist it into something it's not.  I think this book is for people like me: people who grew up in the church but didn't REALLY know Jesus.  And the passage I read today underscored that dangerous reality in a way that hit home:

"Be very careful about going to church, reading your Bible, saying prayers, doing good deeds,            and reading books like this through anything but faith in the living Lord.  Because the result of all that is belief in a phony Jesus and inoculation to the gospel.  You can end up knowing the jargon and playing pretend.  Be very careful.  Watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim 4:16). Some of you are so good that you've deceived yourselves.  God help you." (p. 85)

These words have hit home to both me and Jamie.  We think about how we were raised... by good (albeit, not even close to perfect) parents that tried their best, but who really just pushed upon us a moralist deity falsely cloaked in name of Christian faith.  And God has pressed upon us the urgent need to do better for our children... our responsibility to be better for our kids because we know the truth.  We owe it to them.... but more importantly, we owe it to Jesus.   As I look back on the past year, I can only marvel at what God has opened my eyes to... and I'm so incredibly thankful that His mercy is made new everyday. Even on bad days... God is STILL good.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Time Stands Still

There are moments in your life when time seems to stand still: holding your child for the first time... or for what could be the last time; finding yourself surrounded by nature's most amazingly indescribable wonders; watching a child play when they're left with nothing but their own creativity.  I've been thinking about these moments in my life... having experienced all of them myself; snippets of time when I hold my breathe and pray for a moment of thanks (or plead for an infinite amount of mercy).  And as I've had time to reflect on the past week, I've come to realize what they have in common: In those specific moments, God made Himself known to me.  His presence was there... even if I didn't know it was Him at the time.  His peace covered me... or His joy nestled in my heart... or His strength lifted me up in ways that I will never comprehend... and now I can add the death of my mother to this amazing list of moments that will forever change me.

I won't get into all the specifics, but I will tell you this:  It wasn't always pretty... and I'm not just talking about the passing of my mom or the deterioration of her health.  If nothing else, I need to be very honest about the state of my heart.... the times where my faith faltered...those moments are real... and in the beauty of Christ's redemption, they underscore His amazing truth.  Early on, Jamie and I had times of prayer with my mom.  We laid hands an her and prayed for God's will to be done and for comfort and mercy to be poured unto her.  And in those moments, I said the "right" things... I did the "right" things... but my heart was empty.  If I'm honest... I must confess that I just thought God would choose to be silent.  But, I didn't want Him to be silent... I wanted to feel His presence.  So this is what we started to pray for.  

I remember talking to Rachel on night... right in the thick of it... and she asked how they could be praying for us... and through consuming tears, I simply asked for them to pray that Jesus would make His presence know.  The following day, we took my mom to the hospital.  As I stood in the halls of Duke, making phone calls to friends and family, I saw a man that I haven't seen in over 15 years... it was my youth pastor from many years ago. In fact, the last time I saw him was when my dad died.  As we shared a brief hug and began talking, the minutes melted away.  We talked about Jesus.  The books we've been reading. The lives we've been living.  He shared the story of his wife's death.  How she had been unconscious for days... after fighting a 5 year battle with brain cancer and enduring 52 chemotherapy treatments.  How in her final moments she miraculously sat up, opened her eyes and looked at Tim... and then at her two friends and the hospice nurse... then she looked straight ahead as the most beautiful smile consumed her face.  At that moment, Tim asked Denise if she was with Jesus and she simply turned her head and nodded.  Then she rested her body back on the bed and took her last breath.  

As Tim told the story, you could see the hairs sticking up on his arm.  He told how the hospice nurse was beside herself... how she kept saying," That's not possible... that's just not possible."  Even as I type now, my heart is stirred.  I went home that night like a ball of fire.  I couldn't even get through the door before I just started retelling the story to Jamie.  And after everything was said and done, Jamie said one simple thing: I guess Jesus showed up.  And here's the truly amazing thing... there were very specific moments in this journey where we prayed for Jesus to "show up;"  to make His presence known; to pour out His strength on us... and every single time, without exception, He answered our prayer through Tim... a man I hadn't seen in over 15 years,  a man who just "happens" to show up at the PRECISELY right time... answering our prayers with precisely the right words.  That's not a coincidence... as many times as it happened, IT'S NOT A COINCIDENCE.

I wish I could say that my mother's passing was like Tim's wife... but it wasn't...well, not quite.  But it was just as beautiful.  After drifting in and out of consciousness for 24 hours, my mom began to stir.  She tried to talk, but it was almost impossible to understand her. Finally, I was able to make out that she wanted to know that Jamie was going to take care of me.  Then she just kept saying his name over and over, so I ran and got him out of bed.  As he rushed to her side and grabbed her hand, my mom then repeated her request to Jamie... and he didn't miss a beat.  He assured her that he would take care of me and the kids... that everything would be fine... that it was okay for her to leave.  We sat there huddled with my mom... her friends sitting at the foot of the bed and we just prayed that God would take her home... but she wasn't ready.  She wanted to see the kids.  So, once again I rushed through the house, waking the eldest three... which isn't easy at 5:00 in the morning.  Finally, they pulled themselves together and gathered around mom's bed. 

Upon seeing Sydney, my mom moved her hand to grab hers. We sat there with mom, in tears... and we prayed.  Brayden started off asking God to take care of grandma, Sydney followed up asking God to end her suffering and to take her home to be with Him... Jamie was suppose to go next, but witnessing our children's strength and selflessness at that moment was too much for him and he deferred to me... and as I spoke... time stood still.  God was there.  I don't remember what I said... I only remember the peace that I felt.  The kids spent the next 30 minutes playing the piano and then Jamie sent them to watch cartoons. They weren't out the door 60 seconds before my mom passed away.  Jamie and I sat at the foot of her bed and watched her take her last breath.  Looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate we were; how that time was a gift... an ending you read about or watch on television... but most of all, I remember the presence of God... a moment I will never forget. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Moment of Normalcy

I've NEVER been more appreciative of "normalcy" than I am now.  Today, for the first time in a week, I could breathe.  For a fleeting moment, I laughed with my kids... I forgot that I was exhausted, that my mom is dying.  For a small period of time, things seemed normal... seemed.

One of my mom's friends volunteered to man the ship while Jamie and I took the kids out for a while.  So we headed over the the planetarium at UNC and then went to lunch.  As we rode home, I asked the kids if they had a good time and Brayden replied: "No!  I had a REALLY good time." And in that moment we laughed... and then, just as suddenly, I stopped... almost feeling guilty for the joy I was experiencing.  Reminded, when we walked into the house, that our reality right now is hard... painful... emotionally, physically... and, at times, spiritually.

I've had several people email me this week saying that God has placed our family on their hearts... some have even been awoken in the night with just a sense of urgency to pray.  All I can say is that the nights are the worst... when we need the prayers the most.  Jamie and I take turns with mom.  She gets violently ill at times... and there is nothing we can do but watch... and pray.  I can't tell you how many times I've prayed for His mercy; to spare my mom this pain.

Last night, I went out to buy sheets for the hospital bed and noticed that Sydney left her CD in the car.  It was playing the last track of Brit Nicole's The Lost Get Found.  The song is called Have Your Way.  And all I can really say is that it's hard song to hear when you find yourself in a situation like this... when God's way isn't the way we want to go.

The lessons we are learning are hard... painful.  Sydney and I are trying to memorize parts of James and I can't help but think of James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  And to even underscore that, Carson (the worship leader for Bridgepointe) just sent us an email reminding us of this sometimes bitter truth.  It seems like He wants us to hold on to this purpose with both hands... which is really all we can do right now.

Well, we're off to church.  Can't wait to hear the sermon today.  It's about being "All in." Definitely our life motto right now!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When God Undeniably Speaks... and Leaves You Speechless.

About six weeks ago, something happened to me that I haven't shared with too many people.  At the time, I wasn't sure what to make of it... and maybe that's why I didn't mention it... but now, having time to process everything and reflect on the footprints God has undoubtedly left, I can't help but marvel at how He REALLY DOES speak to us today.

On November 11th, Jamie and I had agreed to forgo church because there was still so much to do before putting the house on the market that following Friday. But, for whatever reason, I woke up that morning just needing to hear God's Word... to be a part of corporate worship. So, I told Jamie that I would sneak away to a local church just for a little while and then get back to painting. As I walked into the sanctuary of the church, they were in the middle of worship.  So, I found a seat and almost immediately the worship leader stopped.  She began telling the congregation that God placed a word upon her heart that week that she was supposed to share with someone in the congregation... and that it might not be for someone that regularly attends the church.  (Do you see where I'm going with this?)

She began sharing passages from the Book of Numbers. She talked about Moses and the rock that he struck with his staff... how God had simply asked Moses to speak and that He would draw forth the water.  But, whether it was his impatience, his pride... or simply his inability to keep himself from being caught up in the moment... Moses struck the rock with his staff.  It was this action... this disobedience... that cost him the opportunity of entering the Promised Land.

As the worship leader told the story, she began to relate it to the words God placed upon her heart.  That sometimes we act like Moses: God gives us a command... He places something upon our hearts... But then we try to take over.  We try to speed up the process by taking things into our own hands.  She told us that even when we have the best of intentions... "even when all we want to do is serve God"... we end up derailing the train, so to speak... we end up missing out... just like Moses.  Then she simply said this: "For someone in this room, God wants me to tell you this: Don't move."

Immediately I dropped to my seat and began to bawl.  It wasn't pretty.  I had countless people... strangers... coming over to offer me tissues and telling me that I was in the right place.  I tried to tell them that I was a Christian, to explain why I was crying... but all I could do was cry even harder.  When I finally got home, I told Jamie everything that happened.  And in his epic, dry-witted, spot on timing, Jamie blankly looked at me and said, "So what? Does this mean I can stop painting now?"

Now, I could spend days writing on everything that has happened between then and now... and maybe someday I will.  But, for now, know this: We didn't put our house on the market November 16th.  However, we did go to Rhode Island on that following Sunday... and my desire to be a part of what God is doing there, my belief that He really wants us there, has never been stronger.  But, looking back on it now, God has always known the road our family is traveling.  He knew that Jamie would need to have this time to be here for me and my mom and He allowed Jamie to be at a job that gives him the opportunity to spend weeks... even months... with us, if need be.  He knew that placing our house on the market in November would place an added stress on our lives as we walk this difficult path with my mother.  And on top of that all the setbacks we had the past few months: our septic, the siding, the shingles, the car, the fridge... everything was perfect (albeit expensive!) to bring us to this place of hearing the message that I truly believe was for us.  He knew that our timing was off.  He kept putting obstacles in our way... but we kept persevering.  In our stubbornness, we kept pressing forward... wishing now that our first response would have been to instinctively press into Psalm 46:10... Be still and know that I am God.

For now, God has us here... completely vulnerable, dependent on Him.  We have no idea what each day brings. (Today it has me sitting at Duke Hospital, helplessly watching my mother as she endures the pain of cancer.) But, we're constantly reminded that there is a plan... there is a purpose.  Sometimes He makes His plan known (or, at least, part of it)... in my case, via a worship leader.  Sometimes He chooses to be quite.  But He's always at work... always weaving things together, preparing, working them out for our good.  Through my heartache, I am thankful for the promise of my Savior... for a purpose in this hard life.

My prayer from the beginning of this journey... from the very moment Jared and Rachel extended to us the invitation to join them in Rhode Island... has been for the Holy Spirit to work in me in a mighty way, so that the hope I have in Jesus...the faith I place in him... is genuine... that I TRULY believe the words I speak... that my life truly reflects my love for Jesus... that the person people see is truly the person that I am when behind closed doors. The refining fires of this process are excruciating... but I am clinging to His promise that through it all I will become more of a reflection of Him... and that I will understand and be uncompromising in my belief... more importantly, in voicing my belief... that this is the true purpose of my life.