Monday, January 27, 2014

How to know God is faithful


They took him off of life support last night.

After 5 days of tests and scans and praying and waiting and hoping and praying and more tests and more scans, they unhooked him, unplugged him, and we're all just waiting.

My uncle had a massive stroke Wednesday morning. Strokes are scary creatures because the results are so unpredictable and you can't patch a person's brain, a person's being, back together. There's something inherent in the fabric of our mind that mirrors the fabric of our soul. I haven't quite figured out how to articulate that, but without your brain, your body can't function. And without your soul being grounded, attached, connected to your body through the fabric of your brain sort of like Peter Pan and his missing shadow, it's just a body. An empty vessel.

You can patch a heart or a bone or a limb, but not a brain. It's unfair, really, when you consider all that can be fixed and patched and stitched and yet, the brain is different. What are we, who are we, if our synapses aren't firing, if the electrical impulses in our brains don't register, if our dendrites are malfunctioning?

And in the first days, I found myself wondering what do I pray for? Healing? Consciousness? Mercy? A Miracle?

And on Friday, when my mom sent the email that read "Full blown non responsive coma," I stopped hard. Five words that can blow your world to bits, that can tear your tiny filament of faith, that can break your heart wide open. And really, what do you pray for then?

It's a wonder that hearts can survive far more trauma than brains. It's a wonder the amount of pain your heart can hold and have and feel for your family hurting.

And when there's just too much and the words fail because there just aren't the right words to stutter that can measure the depth and the breadth of all that's been broken wide and laid bare, what do you say, what do you pray? What are the words that will ease the pain one heart holds on behalf of a family?

And I remembered then, that verse: "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26

So I came off my ledge of panic and helplessness because when I can't and when I don't know how and my heart is just. so. heavy. Jesus can.

And I can rest in the shadow of His wing while the world goes mad, and the machines push air in and out, and tubes continue to drain, and tears fall, and hearts break a little more.

And I can climb into the arms of the Abba Father and give him all the broken bits and pieces and all the sadness my heart carries for a family broken and grieving, and know that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him." Romans 8:28

I sat in church yesterday and listened to my pastor speak about financial transformation. And yet it wasn't about money. It was about God and His faithfulness.

God is faithful.

I didn't hear what he said after that, and I can't really remember what he was saying before that. Because I stopped on God. Is. Faithful.

There is little that makes sense when we wait for a heart to stop its beating and the lungs to stop their drawing in and letting go. There is little that makes us feel better or makes us okay. It's the nature of grief.

But in the middle of that space, I found myself uttering softy, slowly, reverently, almost like a prayer I finally found the words to, "God is faithful. God is faithful. God. is. faithful." Like if I said it enough times, my heart would believe it to be true.

There's something that shifts when we just lift our chin a little. Our perspective is altered because our eyes tip just slightly upward. And that slight shift from downcast to uplifted redirects the heart. And that changes everything.

God is faithful. He is faithful when I am not. He is faithful when others hurt me or when I hurt others. He is faithful in my mistakes. He is faithful to be unshakeable when all my world is in upheaval. He is faithful.

He does not let me down. He does not make promises and not keep them. He does not disappoint. He does not keep records of my wrongs. He does not lead me down roads and then abandon me. He does not allow hard things without giving me what I need to move forward. He does not leave us to wander aimlessly in our hurt or in our grief. He is faithful.

And in all that faithfulness, lay ribbons of hope we can cling to and rivers of grace we can drink from and oceans of mercy we can swim in.

Today, He is faithful to give me what I need to traverse the hard and rocky road I seem to be on today and more than that, He is faithful to do the same for my family. For today.

Today, God asks that I trust him one step, one moment, one day at a time. And trust that tomorrow will take care of tomorrow.

Why?

Because God is faithful. Always.

There's nothing about death and dying and grieving that is easy.

But God is faithful, always.

Grace always Rises,
Jamie

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sometimes Stuck Happens

When the husband comes in at dinner and sits down hard and looks down at his plate and then up at me from under and says "I got the tractor stuck," I don't know, really, if I should laugh loud and free or be really, really annoyed.

 Let me fill you in:

The tractor in question is a small monstrosity. It is probably worthy of it's own address and it is better suited for some very knarly construction site. It's like a forklift extension ladder thing. It was supposed to be picked up today because, well, it isn't ours. We rented it so we could fix our roof and move tiles on and off the roof with ease (and really, what guy wouldn't want a giant tractor to play with?).

Did I mention it's not ours? And that the tractor people were to pick it up this morning?

Ha!!

The best laid plans and all that...

Let's rewind to Sunday.

I came home from my soccer game Sunday at dusk--you know that time of day where the sun is setting and it's getting DARK. The girls are riding their noble steeds (also known as bikes to us commoners) and the husband says "Hey do you girls wanna watch me knock down a tree with the tractor?"

Oh goody! Wait! What? I was pretty sure then that this wasn't going to end well.

The girls were quite ambivalent about this whole tree knocking over business which brought the husband certain lamentable sadness at his lack of boys because boys would certainly be begging to help. But I digress...

Out of curiosity and maybe a morbid sense of fascination, I meandered down the hill to watch this spectacle of tractor prowess.

There were some obstacles to his success though.

And aren't there always obstacles? And our ability to navigate the minefields we find ourselves in determines our next step, our next move, our next journey. And what happens when we make a wrong step? We cave. We plummet. We cower. We run. We stop and we let our shame and our fear overwhelm us instead of running to Grace and living by Love.

The husband's obstacles were trees. Quite a few trees in really inconvenient places. And those trees tripped the husband up. And when the one tree proved to be stubborn and not plummet to the ground accordingly and instead got hung up in another tree, the husband, in all his maneuvering, managed to literally wrap the tractor around the very tree he was trying to displace.







Thus the conversation at dinner.

So he dropped the news like a rock in my pond rippling with all the incessant dinnertime chatter and I asked, "When you say stuck, what exactly does that mean? Are we talking stuck like stuck in mud or something different?" Please be advised we have no mud. One needs rain to have mud and so we have neither. But I thought the question needed asking as the "stuck" piece needed clarifying.

"No, stuck like literally stuck--won't move, can't move kind of stuck."

"Oh." I know, such an intelligent response from an academic minded English teacher, but you all know what weight and meaning such a response carries depending on inflection and what letter we stress and how long we draw it out. "So...what's the plan?"

Let me back up again. Just for a moment. So you can understand the necessity of a plan.

The husband is somewhat notorious (lovingly notorious, but notorious nonetheless) in my family for turning seemingly small jobs into monumental, Herculean events.

My family tends to be movers and shakers. We have a problem. We devise a plan. We execute said plan in perfect coordination.

The husband devises a plan--often the most expensive and the most complicated because those kinds of plan virtually guarantee the project will last FOREVER which seems to be the goal in most cases. But in the execution, he gets distracted somewhat and other problems rear their pesky little heads.

I'm convinced that these problems see the husband as an opportunity for attention; they see him coming and leap into his way so that they can get their fair share. So he ends up will several projects and not just the one he started with.

I understand this about him after a mere decade or so of marriage and in a strange way, it's even somewhat endearing to me. But I have learned that it's good if I allow him to devise a plan and then casually meander in to redirect and refocus that plan so something actually gets finished as it's always a sure thing that a lot will get done, but maybe not finished.

Let me also say that the husband is somewhat notorious for doing--what some might consider--crazy things when he has access to big toys--like, oh, say a giant tractor. I'm told that this behavior is fairly normal for adult men as adult men tend to really stay in the junior high phase for most of their lives with brief forays into adult land, especially in the presence of big toys.

Thus, how said tractor ended up around a tree. And why said wife wasn't nearly as surprised or shocked as maybe I should've been or would've been five years ago.

Never a dull moment with the husband. Never.

Man, I love obstacles bright and early on a Monday morning!

So today, my dad and my brother arrive at oh-dark-thirty to help unstuck a monster tractor.

Problems grow if they are left unattended. They grow in our minds and in our hearts. They fester like a bad wound and plague us so we can't' sleep and we can't think clearly. The perhaps once small obstacle now seems insurmountable and we second guess and wonder what we were thinking.

My family came loaded for bear. They had all their bells and whistles for every possible scenario. The boys devised a plan of attack and executed it in perfect precision.

What's a stuck tractor when you have back up? The husband called in his back up and they came--granted with much harassment because I'm learning that's just what guys do, but they had his back and together they did what the husband could not do alone.

Going at life alone is never a good idea. Taking down a very tall pine tree alone is never a good idea. But having back up changes everything.

When that pine tree finally cracked itself down, I heard the husband say "That was textbook" as he flashed a somewhat sheepish grin my way. And I realized for him, he had kept his eye on the goal, the prize. For him it was about the pine tree. It had always been about the pine tree. The tractor was just a tiny misstep and he refused to let his goal be deterred.

When the chainsaws finally freed the might tractor from its imprisonment, there was a collective sigh that whispered through the trees. And I saw a weight lift from the husband's shoulders for as much as the tree was his goal, the tractor had become his albatross. He will sleep peace tonight.

Obstacles never just go away do they? We step in that muddy hole and those prints track and mess wherever we stumble. They follow us and plague us and haunt us.

Really the only tactical option is to call for back up and meet those obstacles head on. 

For me, some of my deepest fears are the ones that I have magnified and glorified in my mind. They are built on all the what ifs and imagined reactions. And most of them will never become reality.

But how often do my fears of what I think might happen prevent me from having a hard conversation, or making a difficult decision, or taking down a pine tree with a tractor? 

Peace only comes when we meet those obstacles head on, call in our back up, and execute the plan. 

The husband was blessed that his ending was the one he was looking for. The journey may have taken him roundabout, but the destination was the same. 

Our journeys might not always be the ones we hoped for, but Peace and Grace and Faith are always waiting to be our companions no matter how bumpy the road or how insurmountable the obstacles. We just have to hold out our hands and open our hearts and they are certain to be there, waiting.

Grace always Rises,
Jamie


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Stories that Really Matter

Police Officer Kevin A. Tonn | Galt Police Department, California
Today marks the one year anniversary of Officer Kevin Tonn's death in the line of duty.

He was a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, an uncle, a grandson, a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an officer.

Mostly he was loved.

Because at the end, it doesn't matter the titles we hold or the positions we maintain, what matters is that we are loved and that we loved. 

I remember the phone call I got from my husband.
I remember thinking that this had to be a mistake.
I remember thinking how fleeting our moments are. How we never know when our time is up and the only way to prepare for that moment is to live fully, full of gratefulness and full of grace, right now. 

Stories are never written in a day. Redemption and Restoration are never one day events. No one buys tickets to see the One Act play of someone's redemption. Because it's never just one act. Never just one moment. Never just one day.

The stories that matter are never written in the easy, in the smooth, in the victory. No, those stories begin in the depths, in the mire, in the pain and the hard and the broken and the busted. Why? Because when we find ourselves drowning and overwhelmed by the mire and we have nowhere else to go, we raise our hands and look for Jesus. It's what Job did when he lost everything--his house, his wife, his children, his wealth, his livestock, his reputation. He shaved his head, fell to his knees, and worshiped God.

When we have lost everything, we run to the only One our hearts truly need.

I see how God is writing a new story for my dear friend N, Kevin's (ex)wife. I see how He is gently leading her to healing streams and quiet waters where regrets and what ifs and if onlys can lie in peace. Where the healing waters can wash over her and beauty buds and blossoms from her ashes.

I see how God is writing a new story for Kevin's parents and his sister. How they have come together to form a united front to support and love and encourage others, to bring beauty from all their ashes. How they have turned Kevin's death into good things for his community. How this family has let grace rise from so much devastation and they have drawn lost and hurting people into their circle and gathered them close and made them family, too. And those good things are bringing healing and comfort and restoration to far more people than just Kevin's family.

I see how God is writing a new story for my husband. Kevin and his family are largely responsible for introducing my husband to Jesus. Kevin and my husband met while working at a youth camp one summer. Their stories of growing up and causing mischief and pulling pranks are enough to double one over in laughter. And the regret of not being able to create any more stories pulls at my husband, haunts him. But he has been wrapped up in all this family love and he has been drawn in and through and there is healing and there is laughter in the remembering and there is beauty from his ashes.

When we let our brokenness become God's story, miracles are birthed in the dark places.

When we walk that dark night of the soul, when all seems lost and God seems so far from us, when all logic and rationality to life has been smashed and cracked, when all light has been sucked away into the vacuum of depression and pain, that's the space where a new story begins.

And it will probably be hard and it will probably be a long season and we won't see it happen or see where we're going for a while, but in the middle of it all stands Jesus. And we have to remember that because we won't feel it. And He gently begins to push aside the curtains that veil us from the light and when the tiniest shaft of light fights its way through, we'll know it's Him. And we'll know He's crafting something beautiful. That our ashes won't always be ashes. That it won't always be so dark or so hard or so broken. That our stories, our hearts, will be marked and scarred by life, but Jesus' scars run deeper and it's because of His scars that ours are healed. 

There's no explanation for why or how Kevin died. Tragic. Unexpected. Unbelievable. There's only moving forward. There's only embracing the now and remembering then and living today. In a world of uncertainty and broken people and busted hearts, there's always hope. And there is always grace.

Praying for my dear friends today as they remember.

Grace always Rises,
Jamie

"To comfort those who mourn...and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." 
Isaiah 61:2-3

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What A New Year Needs

Some usher in a new year with parties.
Some usher in a new year bittersweet.
Some usher in a new year with hope.
Some usher in a new year with quiet reflection.
Some usher in a new year with promises of change.

 

I've never been big on resolutions. Those unattainable dreams that wreak havoc on my conscience when I blow it. I figure life is crazy hard as it is and I don't need to add unreasonable expectations like I'm never going to yell at my children again.

Like I will always put the laundry away immediately after I fold it.

Like I will pledge to make a homemade dinner every night of the week.

Like I will clean my house from top to bottom every week.

Like I will resolve to never having piles of clutter and will put everything away in its place.

Like I will exercise everyday and never eat sugar again.

Like I will never bite my nails again and I will always go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Trying to keep my resolutions only means I will strive and stress and suffer because I am but a mere mortal. I have made resolutions before. And I have broken them always. For me, my resolutions last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. 

Unless a resolution is spoken into your heart from the heart of God it doesn't have staying power.

I cannot change me. Sure I can strive and try and work harder and live with guilt and regret. I can exert untold amounts of effort in order to achieve a very small improvement, but at the end of the day, I will only be more tired and unchanged. I will break my resolution and when I do, I will be sorry and sad and I will beat myself up hard and deny myself the only thing that probably my tired soul needs: grace.

Only Jesus can change me and He starts by transforming me. Transformation is the only thing that really leads to true change. And when I mess us, because it's certain I will, there's grace to cover me and Jesus to pick me up and the Holy Spirit to guide me.

And the thing is, the resolutions I would choose for me are but superficial band aids on very deep holes in my heart. They are but symptoms of a heart issue, a soul issue. And sure if I fixed all those things, it would look good. But it wouldn't be real. It wouldn't be true. It would be fleeting and fickle. And chances are when I fell off that pedestal, it would hurt like the dickens and I would be worse for it. And those holes and wounds and broken places in my heart would be bigger and deeper.

I'm thinking that this year, the only thing I really want is more of Jesus. More of Him and less of me. More of His grace and less of my criticism. More of His love and less of my judgment. More of His heart and less of mine.

How can a soul go wrong by wanting more of Jesus? Everything else will pale in comparison and all those other things that look faulty in my life will be put into perspective and will be shuffled into the place and the spot they need to go. And by default, all those other things will be changed because my heart will be being transformed by the One who calls me beloved.


Grace always Rises,
Jamie