Monday, August 15, 2022

Friendship Sweeter Than Cupcakes

Have you ever considered just how much God loves you? Better than that, have you ever taken the time to really consider the many ways He demonstrates He loves you each day? James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Every good and every perfect gift are from God who, though He is the Creator and Sustainer of the heavenly bodies, does not shift and change, rise and set as they do. He is consistent and does not show favoritism, shining on one while plunging others into darkness. We all have been given the opportunity to know Him, to spend eternity with Him, and to experience His abundant blessings. And He never stops giving! One of my favorite blessings has come in the form of friendship.

A few years back, one of my coworkers asked my maiden name. Upon hearing it, he said he thought we had a mutual friend. "Who's your friend?" I asked. "Heath," was his reply.

I don't know about you, but there aren't too many Heaths in my life. In fact, there's only one. And to be honest, this Heath is so special, I don't think another would compare even if there was one. Heath and I went to elementary school together. Just before junior high, I switched schools, and we lost touch; but the memory of his thousand-watt smile and his incredible drawings never faded --Oh! and his mom; his mom is where he got his "special." That woman was amazing! 

Heath and I love to stroll down memory lane. We talk about classmates and parties and plays and teachers. We talk about our mothers, both "homeroom moms" for our class. Heath raves about Mom's "famous" cupcakes and how much he liked having her around. From time to time, we'll do breakfast, and I bring her along. He treats her like a celebrity every time! We talk about the games we played on the playground, field trips, and the great songs we learned in Mrs. Mina's music class. We share what our lives were like outside of school, something we never really discussed when we were kids. And though it is wonderful fun, there is a much deeper blessing in it: seeing my life through someone else's eyes. 

I have seen my childhood through the lens of pain, betrayal, addiction, dysfunction. I have seen the "good stuff" Mom did --the decorating, the cupcakes-- as ways she pretended to the world that we were normal despite the chaos in which we lived. To me, it has been a callous denial of the injuries I suffered. But Heath reminds me that school was a safe place, full of caring and talented teachers who taught for the love of teaching in a time when local schools were a place of community in which parents were fully invested. And it was a place of character and childhood wonder. Heath remembers Mom's cupcakes with joy: colorful treats, a special labor that made our classroom parties a little more sweet. To him, they are the product of someone who cared enough to make our childhood memorable. His enthusiasm is contagious and I begin to see them not through the eyes of a hurt and broken woman, but through the eyes of a child, loved by a lifelong friend and blessed by the Father who loves her enough to send him to her. In this season, I have received a good and perfect gift in a friendship sweeter than cupcakes!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Simple Truth

 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. ~ John 8:32

What a wonderful truth! I remember how free I felt days after choosing to have a relationship with Jesus. I felt relieved. What did I have to do? What did I have to fear? Nothing! I felt the freedom that comes with being unburdened from penalty, from worry, from decisions I wasn't equipped to make. Whatever happened, I was assured Jesus would handle it. But, I have to be honest, things started happening that appeared to be beyond His control, or maybe He was just too busy to deal with them right then, or worse-- maybe I deserved them for all of my past junk. What was happening and why did I no longer feel free?

Let me first point out, God's word does not tell us the truth will make us feel free. God's word tells us that knowing the truth --with a deep understanding that comes to us through the Holy Spirit-- makes us free, changes our status from slave to freeman. If you are feeling overwhelmed, burdened, in bondage, you have believed a lie. Somehow, somewhere, you are walking in that lie, basing your decisions or your actions on that lie. The truth does not oppress; the truth sets us free. Perhaps you don't believe what God's word says. Perhaps you don't believe you are sinful and condemned to hell outside of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are relying on your own righteousness, pointing out your own good works or trying some new ones, to prove just how free from sin you are. Perhaps you don't believe you are loved enough that Jesus would pay the penalty for your sin and give you His innocence, His righteousness in which to stand before God. Perhaps you don't believe He will never leave you or forsake you. Perhaps you have taken on more than God has required you to do. Perhaps you don't believe that freedom is a free gift of God's grace, that we believe it is ours in Christ Jesus and it is! Whatever lie has got you bound, the truth will set you free. I stopped feeling free because I had been sidetracked, deceived by a lie; but --praise God!-- I had not stopped being free! It is truth that makes us free, and the Truth, Jesus Christ is eternal. In Him we are free eternally, no matter what we feel!

We're humans, finite and foolish. If that wasn't enough, it's hard to live as free people in a world that is still bound, a world ruled by one who desires to keep us weak and bound and deceived, the father of lies. His demons are working hard for him, to throw us off course and send us right back to shackles. But we have to embrace truth, and what better place to find it than in God's word? We read it, we study it, we memorize it. We simply start each day with truth. We obey and embrace the truth. We lift up our prayers and our praise to the One who is Truth. We look for opportunities to share truth with others, understanding they have the right to choose bondage over freedom as we once did. We talk to Jesus throughout the day, asking Him to speak truth to us in each and every situation; we ask Him to speak truth over each thought that enters our minds. We do not follow a lie back into slavery; we believe the truth and we are free!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Are You Sure God Is Good?

How would you describe God? If you listen to Christian radio or attend weekly worship services, there are lots of songs out there that describe Him as Healer, Waymaker, Promisekeeper, Refuge, Fire, Provider. The Book of Psalms records song after song of all that God has done and will do. And if you've been around the church for any length of time, chances are you know the words to many of those songs or have one or two of those psalms memorized. But, when your spouse is in an accident that leaves her brain damaged to the point she is not the woman you married, or your children have turned their back on God and if you don't stop talking about Him, they'll turn their back on you as well; when the bills just won't let up but the troubles just keep on coming, can you hold fast? Can you declare with certainty God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He is good!

If your answer is "no," I'm gonna give it to you straight: it doesn't matter what you think. The truth of the matter is --and I'm gonna say that again-- the truth of the matter is, God has never been anything but good. Goodness is an attribute of His character, and He cannot betray His character; He cannot contradict Himself. God's word reveals His character, and His word is truth. So, if His word says He is the Healer, He is. If His word says He is a Promisekeeper, He is. If His word says He is the Waymaker, He is. If His word says He is a trustworthy Refuge, He is. If His word says He is a consuming Fire, He is. If His word says He is Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, He is! 

But, being human myself, I sometimes need an answer to the "yes buts," you know those things that usually tumble from our lips in the form of a whine just after someone speaks the truth and we don't like it. It goes like this:

"God is for you, not against you."

"Yes, but I lost my job again, my husband is still sick, my son is not doing well in school, and my car won't pass inspection without major work."

I've been there, and it's hard to imagine your Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who created and sustains all things, whose way is perfect, not shelling out some cash or a little bit of healing for one of His children --especially a child so faithful, right? What kind of Father doesn't give His kid a helping hand? At least, cut them a break! I've said it. I've even gone so far as to think God was some ill-spirited, lying sadist, sitting up above, taking out all His evil designs on saps like me; collecting and keeping all the spoils for Himself while watching us suffer. But here's what God showed me:

#1. There are no spoils for Him to collect. They all belong to Him anyway, and it is infantile and arrogant to think we own or will gain anything He could possibly need or want.

#2. I have children. More than once, I have thrown myself on my sword for one of them. More than once, I haven't. There have been specific instances in which I needed to be lavish in my giving of assistance. There have been specific instances in which it benefited them to get the bigger picture and walk through something really unpleasant. Not once have I refused any one of my children help because I wanted their LEGOS for myself, or I thrived on being particularly mean, or I didn't love them. They may have cried in frustration, slammed the door to their room, talked trash about me, packed their bags, even stopped speaking to me; I never withheld my help out of anything but love. But I did withhold help as they imagined they needed it.

#3. We have a choice: believe it all or reject it all. We can't believe Jesus died for us, or God created the heaven and the earth, or that there even is a heaven without believing it all, every word from Genesis to Revelation. We can't define God as we choose: good or bad; we have to define Him as truth says He is. We simply do not have all the facts. No matter what our situation looks like right now, if we believe the truth, things will look better with God's hand in His time.

So I encourage you, as tough as it is, stand fast, hold tightly to the truth of His word-- declare it, say it out loud to yourself at every opportunity-- and your faith will grow. You will know the truth and you will know the God who is good no matter what!

(Photo courtesy LuAnn Matin)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Do You Know Where to Look?

When I was a kid I loved Highlights magazine. Sitting in the doctor's office pouring over the Hidden Pictures pages. There, in the midst of the forest was a baseball bat, an ice cream cone, a pipe, and a rocket ship. As I've gotten older, I've noticed the drawing has gotten much less professional or I've simply gotten more adept at finding the comb in blades of grass. Go, me! It's easy to find the stuff when you know where to look. But what happens when things aren't where they're supposed to be?

You see, I've been divorced --twice. Had cancer and regularly battle autoimmune junk. I've had my share of severed relationships, even with my own children. I've been so broke that dinner was a piece of bread with a couple spoonfuls of pickle relish. I've had to give up money, property, and my rights to being right just to keep my sanity. I've been physically and sexually abused. I've lost people that were so near and dear to me I believed that loss would be my breaking point. I don't even own a vehicle. I care for my mother who-- THANK GOD!-- can still walk and feed herself; everything else is on me. I've wanted to be "a famous author" since I was twelve --I write but I'm certainly not famous, and I've not made enough for a month's rent at the Dew Drop Inn, much less the thirty-acre cabin in the woods of which I dreamed. My one shot at an overseas vacation was derailed by COVID. 

However... There's been God. Always

Based on what I've just described, it might be easier to find the hat in a tree stump than find God in my life. And there were a lot of years He wasn't invited. But even when I pretended He wasn't there, even when I clearly didn't want Him there, He was waiting to be seen. 

My first divorce taught me I never want to be that terrible to any living soul ever again. The second taught me I should have listened to God --the real God-- instead of inventing my own. Sickness is part of being alive in this post-Eden world. My relationships are still a work in progress (aren't they all?) but now God holds my hand as we walk through them together. Broke is broke: being without money is like being without a lawnmower -- it's just a tool. Same thing with giving up stuff -- sanity is the endgame; besides, none of it belongs to me. The abuse is part of my story --always will be, but God says it's not the final chapter. Loss has not been a breaking point, but a turning point: I'm not the first one to grieve, but experiencing it equips me to pray for others who experience it, too. I've lost twenty-five pounds and gotten into killer shape just by walking more! Caring for Mom has been a summons to draw closer to Jesus, to seek Him all day throughout the day, and to watch Him reveal His plan in all of this. My dream hasn't died until I have. My overseas vacation was exchanged for the "nightmare on ice" which I haven't been able to explain --yet. (But I've got a pretty great story to tell!) 

In all these things, God has been with me, working, turning them around for my good. To have a front row seat to what He is doing is a privilege. He has been there in the quiet that follows the word "cancer", in the fear of starting over --alone, in the empty cupboard and in the courtroom and along the white hot sidewalk on the way to the deli. He is still there, weeping in the room where evil is done and childhoods are ended. He is in the hard days and the whys?. He is there, right where He is supposed to be.