What’s a Cross?

Recently my dear friend Judi asked me if I felt losing Keith was my cross to bear.

Here is the long and short of my answer…it’s not a cross, it’s a blessing.

About 4 weeks after Keith died, a dear friend who is a fellow widow called the place we are in “a privilege.”  Now, at that point in my journey, Keith had been gone just a bit of time and Christmas was around the corner.  I was not feeling privilege, I can tell you.

But I did remember; I did ponder those words.

For years.

I gotta be honest.  Some days stink.  It is really hard to be a single mom.  Some days, even now, I ache for Keith’s arms around me.

But, yes, I believe it.  It is privilege.

Joy in the journey.

God is there.  At night.  When I have tough decisions to make.  Raising the boys.  When hard stuff happens.  When good stuff happens.  When I am hurt.  When I am happy.  When I am scared.  When I am confident.

The boys have learned things about the provision of God, the sovereignty of God, the love of God that Keith and I could not have taught them together.  They know that they know that they know.  They have seen and tasted that the Lord is good.

I have gotten to see God work in the lives of people simply because He gave me this great need and the foresight to let them in to help.

I have gotten to cry with others on this journey, knowing what they are feeling.  And also to laugh with them.

I have grown and changed…a butterfly out of a cocoon, able now to go different places than I could go before.

I know my Lord better…closer…dearer.

And that changes my whole perspective.

I have always thought of the cross as a place of pain and suffering, and it certainly was that.

But…maybe…it was also a place of joy because Christ knew that through it, the redemption of the world would happen.  He could see beyond the moments to the big picture.

I don’t compare my suffering to that of Christ in any way, shape, or form.  That would be pure arrogance.

But the changes wrought in me…and I do mean wrought…have made a difference.  And in that I can glory.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.- Romans 8:18

Groaning

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.– Romans 8:22-23

Even as I write this, a dear friend is in labor.  She is waiting, expectantly and anxiously, for Baby #3 to make his/her appearance.  Water broken, hard labor not started yet, she is in a holding pattern and has been since last evening.  Nothing to do but wait, watch, and pray.

I am there, too.  Certainly with this sweet sister, as all night I kept waking and dreaming of her, praying for her well being and that of my coming “niece” or “nephew.”

But also in my own life.

I wait, not too patiently at times, for the things of my life to work themselves out, to be born in me and my family.

I long to be the creature I was created to be–me, but different.  Not so sinful, more patient, more loving, more focused on God instead of me.

I want to see the bigger picture, know how to lead my family on the path God has laid out for us.  Sometimes I feel like I am right there, hiking along as I should be over the rough terrain; other times I feel lost in the weeds, tripping over little rocks.  I hasten to what I think is the right way to go, but forget to look where I am going, forget to take all the steps necessary to get there, forget to follow my Guide.

Other times, circumstances totally beyond my control have me laboring.  The world steps in, clouding my vision in the rainstorms of life.  Well-meaning people, and not-so-well-meaning, provide distraction and confusion.  I stumble, I fall.

But I get back up.

Like my sweet friend who cannot escape her labor pains right this minute, I cannot escape mine.  Nor would I want to.

I eagerly await the temporary prizes and successes here on earth…many that are quite meaningful for a season.

But even more, I look toward my forever-prize in eternity.

Labor is hard, but I know that with that first cry, the first look at that sweet little face, it will be all worth it for my dear sister.

With my first cry of hallelujah before my Lord, so will mine.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.- Philippians 3:14-15

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

I want to dance in the lion’s den!  I want to dance in the lion’s den!  I want to dance in the lion’s den! — Tanner, age 4 1/2, singing at the top of his lungs

It isn’t surprising, really.  I have been studying Daniel in my weekly Bible study.  We had Daniel in our school curriculum.  And the boys have been learning about Daniel in Sunday School.  I am not sure what triggered Tanner’s song, but he was gustily singing it for several minutes.

Because of all this emphasis on Daniel in our house lately, I have been thinking a lot about the lion’s den.

I have often felt like I am there.  Single parenting stinks some days.  Having grief as my companion stinks some days.  Having all the household chores and the running people to and fro from soccer to guitar to AWANA to play dates stinks some days.

But am I in the lions’ den, really?

Daniel, an eighty year old man, was looking into the teeth of lions as he was tossed downward.  He knew if he followed God he was going there — down into a pit full of hungry lions.

Even so, he did not waver in his devotion to God.

Can I say the same about me?

Some days, sure.  I am “in the zone” and can say that God and I could tackle anything life could throw at me.  Bring it on!  My God is bigger!

Some days, not so much.

I am burdened by the things of this life in a way that I don’t want to be — and that God doesn’t want me to be.

How do I let go of that?  How do I stay so focused that I am not scared, even when looking at teeth and claws on the way down?

Lesson from a four-year old:  dance!

Sometimes that means turning on the praise music and actually turning about the room.  The boys are often right there with me, and we sing and twirl and act goofy until we all are breathless and laughing, happy to be serving our God again.

Sometimes it means reading Psalms quietly in my room and dancing in my mind.

Sometimes, I admit, it means picturing myself twirling in Keith’s arms again.  That one usually makes me smile as well, because, as great a guy as he was, the man could not dance.

Sometimes it means putting my feet on my Father’s, holding on tight and dreaming of some day.  When I was a girl, these dances with my earthly dad had me dreaming of being a grown-up lady and dancing with a groom.  Now, I dream of a different Groom, and that dancing will be glorious.

Now the lions don’t look so bad; the drop down the hole does not look so deep.

Not bad theology, kid!  Keep it up!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. — Hebrews 12:2-3

Best of Books

One of the best books my boys read in Kindergarten is The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  The lessons in it are not just for them.

In the book, the old tramp (a homeless person of yesteryear), Armand Pouly, enjoyed sitting outside the restaurants of Paris in the evening, dining on the odors coming from inside them.  He had quite a routine, and could almost, almost, feel like he was inside dining in reality.  He would even wipe his face when he completed his “meal.”

Through the course of the book, however, he realized that rather than merely dining of the memories of meals, he needed to get out and work so that he can have the real thing.  This realization came when he began to care about the young Calcett family.

There are times when I merely “dine” on my memories.  I remember what it was like to be married, what Keith looked like, felt like, smelled like, sounded like.  These are pleasant memories.  I had a wonderful husband, and I miss him.

Then, like Armand, I realize that I cannot dine on the memories forever.  I am in the land of the living.  I am not done with my jobs here.  I must care and I must raise my family and I must carry on, not just for Keith’s sake, or the boys’, but for my own.

I want to jump into my new life with both feet, eyes wide open, and dine on each and every moment as it happens.  I don’t want to be on the sidelines, waiting for life to happen, enjoying simulations of happiness; I want to feel the real thing, and I won’t unless I am willing to dine on the life I have been given.

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He ALWAYS gives us what we need…HIM!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10 B

My Prodigal Heart and Bubble Wrap

A couple months ago, something in the sermon at church had me praying for prodigal children.  As I was praying, I realized that I, too, was a prodigal of sorts.  I have a prodigal heart.

Let me paint the picture.  I have a great life.  Surrounding me I have four wonderful, loving, compassionate, smart sons; gobs of friends who love and care for me emotionally and physically; a great family who has my best interests at heart; a warm and beautiful home filled with plenty of food and clothing for all of us.  I have a relationship with God that continues to grow as He teaches me and prunes me and prepares me.

Yet, I want to wander.  I want to take my inheritance and go, instead of waiting for the right time, God’s time, instead of completing the learning and training necessary to be a child of the Master.  I want what I want, not just physically but emotionally, and I am willing to forsake the Plan for that.  I am drawn by the open road, and want to do things the easy way, instead of the right way, God’s way.  I am led astray by the foolishness of my own wayward, impatient heart that wants things that are not mine to have now, maybe not ever again…like a husband.

This is what I need:  bubble wrap.  I need to have bubble wrap around my heart, insulating it against the lures of the world, against the lures from within.  Lures that draw me away from God’s plan will only cause heartbreak.  Sometimes I need bubble wrap around my whole body.

I want the package of “me” to arrive safely at the Master’s feet, unharmed and untainted.  I want to always want what He wants for me in my life.  I want my life to be so wrapped up in becoming the Bride of Christ that everything else pales in comparison.  No pun intended.  This is the real deal, what I want, what I need, to strive for daily.

Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  -Psalm 25:4-5

Going on a Joy Hunt

Some days are hard.  Yesterday, I missed the feel of Keith’s arms around me.  Maybe it was because I have had a lingering cold that has sapped some of my energy and some of my emotional buoyancy.  Maybe it was because his name came up several times in conversation this week as I shared part of our story with new friends.  Maybe it was because it was another Friday night–alone.

I went to bed early, choosing my mini pity-party over anything productive.

I awoke this morning feeling a bit better after a longer night’s sleep, but not back to normal.

Time for a joy hunt!

A devotion I am doing (www.walkingwithgod.com) has me writing down scripture and analyzing it–and asks me to name a blessing from the day before.  No room for requests; just a blessing.

Expanding this concept, I decided to go on a joy hunt.  In less than a minute, here are the things I found to be joyful about:  my kids; my warm, comfortable home; my bank account having a positive balance; my boatload of friends all over the country; my loving family; my country; my church; my dogs; my health.  (free association here, not listed in order of importance)

When I was in college, we had a prayer circle going, thanking God for things in our lives.  A young man I did not know well stated each time he spoke the same words:  “thank God for milk.”  Now, I don’t know if he was a huge milk fan or if there was some deeper significance behind his praise of milk, but it made an impact on me.  Though this happened 20 years ago, I still remember it.  Seemingly simple things, but worthy of thanks to Him who created them.  The essence of a child-like faith expressed!

I could continue my joy hunt to that level of detail and probably fill pages and pages in my journal, but I think I will stop here.  I am feeling better–realizing I am blessed beyond measure.  Pity party over.

Feeling low?  Go on your own joy hunt!

Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning. 
Psalm 30:5B, New American Standard Bible