Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Life. Is. Good!

Some days you know your life is good, and you cling to that knowledge to make it through, constantly reminding yourself you are blessed. Other days, it's everywhere! At every turn, with every moment's passing, a whisper through the trees, the light in your child's eyes: Life. Is. Good! Yesterday was one such day, but it was the final few hours of the day that were extra special.

Mom's condition has no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes, when she's had no sleep at all the night before, she is agitated and restless the entire day; other times, I fight to keep her awake so she doesn't have another wakeful night. When I entered Mom's room yesterday morning, I could tell she'd had a rough night. Her things were everywhere. Clothes unfolded, a pajama top in her sock drawer -- those sorts of things. I got her dressed and the day continued with her usual disengagement, her silence and childlike adhesion to me. Despite her lack of sleep, she didn't try to doze, nor was she on edge. It was a "normal" day.

But something happened around dinner time -- a time of the day in which she is usually at her worst. She began watching the airplanes flying overhead, as my grandson does when he visits. She'd point out every plane, each one more special to her than the one before -- and clearly worth my attention. Our streak of Seattle-like weather had broken overnight, and I'd come out on the deck to write in the quiet; my enthusiasm over ordinary aircraft did not mirror my mother's -- at first. When it became obvious her sky watching was more than a momentary flicker in her eye, I joined her. It was then she began asking me questions about things she'd been unable to recall for years. She didn't quite have all the pieces, but she was eagerly trying to make sense of what she had.

"Why am I here?" I explained we all live together because we're a family.
"But I didn't always live here. Who brought me here?" I explained her house had become too much for her to care for, that living alone had become unsafe for her.
"I can't remember it all. What's wrong with me?"

I suppose most people, upon hearing such a question, their hearts would break; but that's the paradox of a condition like Mom's: a question like that is a beautiful, unexpected, glorious milestone! She knows! She knows she is not who she was, that her life is not what it was. This woman is not some empty shell, a ghost; my mother is in there. And it was marvelous to see. A true blessing.

Life. Is. Good!

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Blessing of Do-Overs

Being a stepmother has had its challenges. But, being Olivia's stepmother, is a unique privilege. Maybe its because she is such a great kid. She keeps an open mind and rarely judges others. She is all about relationships. And she is clever. She has a God-given wisdom that -- even at a very young age -- allowed her to see truth although deception was clothed in enticing promises. And Olivia wants to learn. We talk about things that are going on at her school or in the news; she wants to process the information that's constantly flooding her life. It was on one such occasion -- during one of our "processing" talks -- that I was given a wonderful, undeserved second chance.

Olivia is caught between two worlds. One in which she has no spiritual foundation, and one in which her father and I have clear, passionate, life or death beliefs. During this particular discussion, she mentioned something that set off some spiritual alarms for me. Inside I was screaming, "NO! That's not okay. That's not something that's up for debate, or is in any way relative." But outside? The "I'm not shocked" face. (I heard that on a radio program one day, and thought it was one of the best nuggets of wisdom when relating to others, I had ever heard.) And as I sought to control my expression, I prayed. And I let Olivia speak. I listened. I asked questions. "Let me see a picture of this," I said. Before I knew it, our discussion had become a general discussion about looking at other's motivations and seeking to know their hearts, no matter what they appear to be doing on the outside.

Now, that is not where I wanted to go with that. I wanted to tell her exactly what the Bible says, chapter and verse. I wanted to plead with her about the dangers of "losing spiritual ground" and becoming desensitized to the laws that keep us safe. I wanted to put up those "Do Not Enter" signs and lock that door to keep her from going there. But God had wisdom for me to share with her. Wisdom that would help her to discern many future situations, not tell her to avoid this one -- or worse, leave her feeling it is unsafe to speak to me about anything. He gave me an opportunity to do that. A do-over.

I didn't have this kind of wisdom when my biological children were at home. I wasn't trusting the Lord and praying for my children as I should have been back then. Age, also, has made me a bit wiser; looking back over areas where I erred and working to correct those responses. I now have the time to seek parenting advice that I didn't always have when I was actually raising children full-time. And "stepmothering" allows me to be a friend and confidant, more than the neurotic, "everything is riding on me getting this right", legalistic authoritarian I thought I had to be years ago.

Olivia's mom does all the heavy lifting -- I know that -- but, I hope I can help take care of some of the light work. It is a privilege and a marvelous blessing to do so.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Dementia Reminds Me

Mom knows how to get dressed. She simply has no idea when to get dressed, or what to wear, or even what goes on first. Mom knows how to eat. She has no idea, however, what she is eating, or when she should eat, or even, if she has eaten yet today. Mom is never entirely certain what she should be doing or why she should be doing it. Her brain will not allow her to reason those things out.

From the time I was small, I knew what "being a Christian" looked like. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't make time to read my Bible. I couldn't understand it when I did. I couldn't stop the urges to do what I wanted. I couldn't make myself want to do what God wanted. My spirit would not allow me to crave "Christian" things the way it craved "non-Christian" things.

Mom, no matter how hard she tries, cannot make her brain work the way a healthy brain works. No matter how much she wants it to understand or think logically, it is not capable. I must be her brain for her. I must tell her when to get dressed, what to wear and in what order. I must regulate her food so she knows what to eat and when. My good brain takes the place of her broken brain to ensure she gets the rest she needs. My brain reasons and regulates all those things her brain is unable to control for itself. But she must allow me to do those things. With surrender and someone to help, Mom can live a life of wholeness and happiness.

No matter how hard I work at it, without the Holy Spirit, I am unable to live a Christian life. The Holy Spirit has placed a desire in my heart that I never had without Him. I want to read my Bible -- in fact, I feel out of sorts when I don't. I understand it through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. I want to attend church and talk about Jesus; I want to do things by the power of the Spirit and for the purpose of God's Kingdom. My cravings for my old ways seem to creep up only when I insist on using my broken thinking or my broken will to do things. Providing I surrender to Jesus living through me, I can live a life of wholeness and joy.

I am no more capable of living a Christian life in my own strength, as Mom is capable of living a "normal", healthy life with a broken brain. I am not helpless -- neither is Mom; but neither of us is fully equipped. As I step in to be Mom's brain for her, so Jesus has stepped up to be life for me. Caring for her, filling in for the parts of her that have been damaged or lost is a daily reminder of what Jesus has done -- and continues to do -- for me.

Pray, please, that I might do my work as selflessly as He has done for me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prayer and Preparation

This past Sunday, Mother's Day, I couldn't help but do a little self-evaluation. One thing that bothers me deeply is, though I kept in mind my role as Mom was to prepare my children to leave me, that sounded much better in my head than it translated into reality. I loved doing things for my children. I loved giving them things. I loved being around them. Now, none of these things administered wisely is bad; but when my purpose was to prepare them to stand on their own, I never considered the hardest part was preparing myself.

That's what Jesus may have been doing in Mark 6:45-52. Jesus sent His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee before Him, a short seven mile journey for experienced fishermen. That night there was a terrible windstorm, so terrible they rowed about eight hours and only made it halfway across. Imagine how tired they must have been! Jesus appeared, calmed the storm, and Mark says the disciples were amazed, and they marveled "for they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened." This is where I called a "timeout." What do loaves and fishes have to do with a windstorm? Hadn't the disciples seen Jesus perform lots of miracles? Why didn't Mark compare this to Jesus calming the sea when they awakened Him -- an event he recorded in Mark 4:37-41?

In Mark 6:35 and 36, the disciples tell Jesus to send the multitude away so they can go buy something to eat. But Jesus says, "You give them something to eat." I'm going out on a limb here, but none of the Gospels indicate the crowd had complained about having nothing to eat. This seems to be a burdened placed on the hearts (or maybe in the bellies) of the disciples. That familiar "someone should do something about this" thing. So Jesus says, "Nah, nah, nah -- your idea, you do it. I'm here; I'm not going anywhere, but this is your moment to use what I've taught you." Just the way a loving mother, mentor, or friend will do. Don't forget, they'd just returned from healing and casting out demons and preaching the gospel; they had already been used by God to do tremendous things. But feed a multitude? Blank stares. So, Jesus showed them.

Now, back to the Sea of Galilee. "Go on ahead; I've got to pray," Jesus told them. Once again, just my thoughts, but I'm thinking Jesus was praying for them as He headed up that mountain; and I'm thinking He may have even been praying for restraint. "Father, I love these children. It is hard to watch them struggle out there; it's been five hours, and they are so tired. Show Me when it's best to go to them, if it is Your will at all." Somewhere around the eight-hour mark, Jesus appeared to His children. "Don't you remember the loaves and fishes? I sought the help of My Father and He did great things through My hands. That's what I've been trying to show you. Did you even call out? Did you try to still the wind with the Heavenly power that works within you?" Jesus wanted them to know, long before that dark day at Golgotha, the mighty power that stills the storm, that feeds a multitude, that raises the dead inhabits His children to the glory of God. He wants us to know that as well.

He may also have wanted us to know, preparing your children to leave the nest takes work; but preparing a mother for their leaving, takes prayer. I am praying for all you mommas today.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Difficult Seasons

Difficult seasons. We've all been there a time or two. But there are some things anyone who has experienced adversity knows:

1. If we keep our focus on Christ, we always emerge a little better for it once we reach the other side.

2. Even though we know #1 to be true, it doesn't always stop us from whining about it.

3. We will regret all the whining we've done when we realize how valuable it would have been to simply embrace the journey and allow it to make us better.

In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus had been preaching all day. Evening had come, and He was looking to retire from the crowds, and rest. He and His disciples climbed into a few boats and headed across the sea. Exhausted and comfortable in the company of His closest friends, Jesus was rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the waves. But a storm arose; His disciples panicked and awakened Him, accusing Him of being apathetic to their battle for survival.

First of all -- and when I speak of the disciples I speak to my own tendencies to act as they did -- if that boat was going down, they were all going down, Jesus included. He was asleep in the boat; had the storm toppled their vessel, He would have been caught completely off guard. On the list of "Suspects Most Likely to Perish", He would have made the top five. To accuse Jesus of being indifferent, even heartless was absurd. The things we do for the kingdom -- worship, tithes, petition for others, ministries -- all bear the name of Jesus Christ. Were He to "sink this ship", we would go down as fools, but He as a liar and scoundrel. His name would be first to perish. To accuse Jesus of anything less than truth and honor is ludicrous.

Secondly, these were seasoned fishermen. How many storms had crept up on them in their days and nights fishing on the same waters? What would these fishermen have done had Jesus not been on board? Who would they have challenged? Who would they have blamed? And isn't that what we do when we're caught in difficult situations we'd rather not endure? "Jesus, don't You care?" 

When Jesus had calmed the sea, these men were struck with fear and awe. "Even the torrent and gale are silent at His command!" They had learned something and, I'm sure, one day were ashamed of their unfounded accusation. This Man who directed the forces of nature had not only their best interests in mind, but a few years later paid for them with His very life. They witnessed a powerful and piercing testimony of His care for them; but what value could have been added to the experience had they simply trusted what Jesus would do for them rather than whining about what He had failed to do? How much differently would their recollections have been had they recalled years later, awakening Jesus to warn Him He might be perishing? But they, like all of us at times, were focused on their own comforts.

Our life as believers is not supposed to remain stagnant, without growth. Growth means growing pains, and growing pains come when difficult seasons befall us. But we are not without a Savior and Friend who will remain in the boat with us.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Love Is a Gift... Any Day of the Year

Today I will have the distinct pleasure -- and incredible blessing -- of spending the day with some of my family. Of course, it's Mother's Day, and I'm not alone in that; but today I will celebrate their love for me. I'm sure that sounds a bit self-centered, but it's actually quite the reverse. The folks that will share their time with me today, love me for me. They are so loving, so forgiving, so gracious, they love me in spite of my mistakes and wrongdoings. What a fabulous Mother's Day gift!

As I study more and more about Jesus' ministry, I begin to appreciate His love for me and notice time and again how He demonstrates its foundation in who He is. Ephesians 2:1, says I was dead in sin, and on my own, had nothing worth His love. Isaiah 64:6, tells me I have not one redeeming quality or worthwhile achievement except that which my benevolent Creator has given or His Spirit enabled. Ephesians 2:4-5, tells of the great love, mercy and grace God has shown me because of who He is. But what is woven all throughout Scripture are marvelous examples of His unconditional love for each one of us. One in particular caught my attention the other day:

"Then the multitude came together again so that they could not so much as eat bread." ~ Mark 3:20

Yep, that's the one. These people had seen the works Jesus had done; they were either amazed or offended. Regardless their attitude, their reaction was no different. Those who wanted to be healed or entertained by Him pursued Him; those who wanted to accuse or humiliate Him pursued Him. Pressing, imposing, craving, grasping -- all for their own selfish motives. He'd been accosted in the synagogue, thronged by the sea; even in a house where He, no doubt, relished a delicious home-cooked meal, they respected no boundaries. 

But Jesus loved them anyway. He loved them by wanting more for them -- more than they wanted for themselves. They wanted bones mended or tremors calmed; they wanted sons and daughters restored or purses filled; they wanted food on their tables or crops in their fields; they wanted laws and tangibles; they wanted a Messiah that met their expectations. Jesus wanted them to know life instead of death; Jesus wanted them to know an identity free of shame; Jesus wanted them to know peace that passes all understanding and hope beyond this world; Jesus wanted them to know righteousness and joy. Jesus wanted them to know how much He loved them. 

The same holds true today. Will you worship Him for who He is?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

With Love, Mom

God's Dear Child,

I want you to know just how much I love you. The times I held you, the times I watched you succeed and fail, the times I watched you walk away -- they all did something very profound to my heart. But this was never about me. Or, at least, it should not have been.

I know there were times I was tired or frustrated; I was short with you, and wanted my own way, and maybe, disciplined you too harshly or too quickly. Perhaps I should have spent more time talking to you -- or listening to you. I made mistakes, and I hope you will forgive me for them -- not because I lie awake in torment each night, but because one day you might. Because forgiveness makes you a better person. Because forgiveness keeps you from negating all of the good because of the bad. Because forgiveness is obedience to God -- if you care about such things.

You are growing: growing up, growing old. But I pray this is more than just an outward transformation. I pray there is maturity -- not worldliness, for worldliness makes us cold and hard on the outside, and hurt and delicate on the inside. Seek maturity that allows you to be kind when kindness isn't called for, and soft when everything within you screams for cast iron walls around your heart. A maturity that causes you to walk a little taller with fearlessness and certainty, even on roads you've never traveled. A maturity that sees beyond what is into what can be; and sees beyond what can be into what you must do to make it so. A maturity that knows pain and sweat and failure -- I mean really knows it -- that thrives on those things like a health food nut on nutritional yeast! They may not be as coveted as the delicacies of life, but they are the rock on which balance and completeness are honed. A maturity that is wise and patient; that sees the big picture, and knows it has not been painted for you, but is crafted by you, and countless others.

Perhaps I have said all these things before. Perhaps you have dismissed them because you know who I am -- my faults, my weaknesses. Allow me to challenge you to listen now to a woman who, with age, with maturity, and with Jesus Christ has seen a better way. Has seen the person she wishes she could have been -- for you. Be that better person. Be all the Lord has intended you to be. Right now.