Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sacrifice of Praise on Thanksgiving

Heading into the holiday season this year, my kids have been a bit melancholy. Grandparents and aunties are all out of town for Thanksgiving, and many will be gone for Christmas, too. They are feeling lonely, missing family and friends we won't see during this special time. And it is hard. Ours is a very close-knit family, sharing life very intimately. So, when people aren't around, their absence is keenly felt. Adding to the disappointment is our diet...Thanksgiving just isn't the same on the GAPS mashed potatoes, no flaky pie crust, no jellied cranberry sauce, no fluffy stuffing, no fresh-from-the-oven get the idea.

And, our house won't be bursting at the seams with people. It isn't unusual to have groups of over twenty crowding around our dining room table, filling our home with laughter and gaiety. This year, however, we'll only have five guests (that's still fifteen people, but only five don't live at our house), and that is making folks feel kind of lonely.

Because of the GAPS diet, we won't be going Black Friday shopping, either. We simply don't have the money. That is disappointing...very disappointing.

As I was visiting with one particular child, however, we both remembered family and friends who are missing loved ones, and this is the first time to celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas without their precious husband, father, sister, or brother. That gave us a little bit of perspective.

Then we thought about families who are separated because of the ongoing war on terror. Military families can visit via Skype or Apple FaceTime, which is better than nothing, but they are still separated by thousands of miles. And, they have no guarantee that their loved one will be alive for their next scheduled visit. That gave us even more perspective.

And we've been loving on a family who is homeless, with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. They won't be going Black Friday shopping, either. They barely have the money to pay for gas. Without the generosity of strangers, they won't have any gifts for Christmas, either. Even more perspective...

Those healthy doses of perspective adjusted our thinking a bit. Though we won't be enjoying the sweet fellowship of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we have the hope of celebrating with them again in the near future. And though our situation isn't what we'd prefer, it is definitely worth being thankful for!

Hebrews 13:15 describes bringing a sacrifice of praise to God continually. To a people very familiar with the sacrificial system, the picture would have been very clear...praise isn't always easy. It isn't always simple. It isn't always a result of feelings. Sometimes, praise is a sacrifice! Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, 

"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" NLT

That is most definitely a sacrifice of praise. And it comes from focusing on something beyond our circumstances. It comes from focusing on the God of our salvation. And truly, nothing is more praise-worthy, nothing is more precious, nothing is more worth celebrating than the God of our salvation!

So, on this day before Thanksgiving, I am choosing to offer a sacrifice of praise to the God of my salvation, thanking Him for my family, even though my parents, sister, and only niece are miles and miles away. I thank God for the guests who will surround our table, even if we have just a few. I will thank God for the privilege of celebrating such a precious holiday without fear of reprisal or attack, and I will thank God for those who are standing in harm's way so that I can. I will thank God for the blessings we enjoy, and for the special treats we'll have on our table tomorrow, even though ours is a very different holiday. In the end, I choose to offer a sacrifice of praise, because I have so very much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Worst. Day, Ever.

Last Friday was truly the worst day ever. But it wasn't the circumstances that made the day so horrible; it was my response to them.

Days before I had suffered an epic disappointment, made worse by the pain that disappointment caused my daughter. And I was tired. Caring for special needs kids, especially kids with "hidden disabilities," is exhausting. The burdens and struggles, day in and day out, wear you down. And, I had just begun to understand the depth of my mental exhaustion. Normally a pretty laid-back kind of person, I don't generally freak out about anything. Lately, though, I have been freaking out about every. little. thing. Driving in a new place completely stressed me out; I had never experienced that emotion before. I didn't like it. 

So, I cried. For a long time. But not until I had spewed my hurt, frustration, and disappointment on my husband. He listened patiently while I spewed, comforted me while I cried, and generally did an amazing job taking care of me. 

For my part, as I cried and vented, it was like a dam burst. Every negative thing I had experienced came to mind. The glass was definitely half (or three-quarters) empty. Not my usual pattern, even feeling that way frustrated me. It was truly a no-win situation. 

And then God met me, in the midst of my despair. And He demonstrated the truth of His promise in 2 Timothy 2:13, that even if I am faithless, He remains faithful. I experienced that. 

Ultimately, God is good. Period. Not because He makes my life "feel" good. Not because He protects me from disappointment or heartache. God is good because He is. He just is.

Sometimes trusting God requires more faith than other times. Sometimes it is easy. But His goodness is not dependent on my circumstances. His goodness is dependent on His character. And His character can be completely trusted. You may disagree with me, thinking back over your own heartbreaking story of God's apparent unfaithfulness. Let me say now that I'm sorry you've experienced such heartache and pain. But your circumstances still don't define the character of God. His goodness can not be called into question because your life hasn't been what you wanted it to be. God's goodness certainly can not be called into question because my life hasn't been what I wanted it to be, but I can tell you for certain it has not been. 

If my life was what I wanted it to be, I would never experience disappointment.
I would never be lonely, or sad, or hungry, or tired, or uncomfortable. But without all those experiences, I would never be the person God has made me to be. The process, just like for a butterfly or baby chick, isn't easy or comfortable, but it is very, very good.

And so, my worst day ever turned into a pretty amazing experience of seeing God's faithfulness in spite of me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sensory Sunday

Getting sensory kids dressed is never simple or easy. But when you are trying to get kids ready for church, it somehow makes everything more complicated. This morning was slightly easier than Friday, but today I wanted to get somewhere by a certain time. Not a good situation. 

My youngest son usually has trouble with pants; the waistband bothers his tummy. So, he is very picky about what goes around his belly. Today, after convincing him to wear clothes (as opposed to pajamas) to church, the pants went on easily. It was the shirt that didn't work. Once I buttoned the sleeves, he couldn't stand the sensation of the cuffs on his wrists. So, we tried a few different shirts before finding one he could tolerate. 

My youngest daughter usually struggles with shoes. And she was true to form today. Her shoes didn't fit. They were shoes she picked out. So, she decided she didn't want to go to church. I gave her the option of wearing shoes or going barefoot. She didn't have the option of staying home. So, she found shoes that DID fit. They were fluorescent orange, with bright pink buckles; not exactly a good color match with a red and black dress. But, I figured shoes were better than nothing. We headed off to church. 

Barely out of the car, my sweet girl began to meltdown, because of her shoes. Again, she demanded to go home. Again, I gave her the option of going barefoot. Her daddy offered to carry her. She refused. All she could think about was the discomfort of her shoes. Panic, induced by the overwhelming input from her uncomfortable shoes, brought on tears (in the girl, not the parent). Finally, we were able to get her inside. Finally, both kids went to their classes and we went to church, albeit thirty minutes late and rather frazzled. But we made it. 

Some days, I don't have the energy for such challenges. Some days, I simply want to get kids up, get them dressed without difficulty, to be able to walk out the door when it's time to leave, and not have to think twice about sensory issues. That is not my life. My children will always be "sensory kids." We can help them in some way. We can provide them with a rich daily sensory diet, we can help them learn to accommodate their most challenging sensory issues, we can help them achieve a high level of function in a world that can so often be overwhelming. But it is tiring, emotionally and mentally. And some days I just don't want to do it anymore.  

Samson's Secret of Success

Samson and success aren't always two words people think of in the same sentence. Honestly, does Samson really seem that successful? After all, he disobeyed God, he married (or tried to, anyway) a Philistine woman, and died a slave. This man who was set apart for God from before his conception, who never (willingly) cut his hair, who God called a judge in Israel; this is the man who defied God's ways, at almost every turn.

Just where is Samson's success? It certainly isn't obvious. The most common sermon topic I've heard on his life is definitely not dealing with success. It is usually an example of why we need to obey God, and what happens when we walk in opposition to God's ways. And with good reason. Samson definitely walked in defiance of God's Law - the very law he was ordained (from before his birth) to uphold!

Yet, when you look past the obvious, a precious nugget begins to emerge, precisely because Samson didn't care about walking on obedience to God. The power of the Spirit came upon him at times, but it wasn't because Samson wanted it. God used Samson to judge the Philistines, but not because Samson wanted to be used, or even submitted to God's authority. And yet, Samson still ultimately accomplished what God ordained him to accomplish.

The reason Samson was successful is because God worked through Samson's life! His purposes were not thwarted, regardless of Samson's attitude, behavior, disrespect, or arrogance. In the end, Samson accomplished exactly what God wanted him to. The angel who spoke to Manoah's wife said, "...he shall begin to save Israel from the Philistines." Judges 13:5 ESV. And he did.

But take a minute to really examine the nugget; God accomplished what He'd planned through spite of Samson's attitude AND behavior.

Samson didn't submit to God's authority. He wasn't indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He didn't obey God's Law; the only part of his oath that he kept was not to cut his hair, and that was probably because of his own selfish pleasure of being strong!! Samson didn't care. The average follower of Jesus, however, cares...deeply.

If God could accomplish His purposes through Samson, who was SO not seeking to be God's vessel, what can God do through His people who truly desire to, in our frail, broken ways, walk in His way? If God can work through Samson, He can work through anyone! And that gives me peace, comfort, and confidence.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

No Guarantees

When I was growing up, I was of the opinion that Romans 8:28 (which says that all things work together for good for those who know God and are called according to His purpose) meant God would fix up my mix-ups, and life would feel good.

I was wrong!

I was also of the opinion that if I obeyed my mommy and daddy, told the truth, didn't smoke, chew, or play with girls who do, then life would feel good.

I was wrong!

For a long time, I thought that if I did what the "experts" said was right, with my money, and my time, and I followed the Golden Rule, and I worked hard, life would feel good.

I was wrong!

Unfortunately, Romans 8:28 doesn't mean that God will fix up my mix-ups and make life feel good. Romans 8:28 has proven, in my experience, to mean that life doesn't always feel good, but God is always good, and I can always trust Him.

For many years, my bad theology didn't really do me any harm. Each bad experience I had in life could pretty much be directly tied to my own stupid choices, and (based on my interpretation of Romans 8:28) God fixed up my mix-ups and made life feel pretty good. Then, quite suddenly, on a very normal day in November, life ceased to feel good. My precious, and much anticipated baby, was dead. I was four months pregnant with a baby I desperately wanted. And I was doing everything right; getting enough sleep, eating right, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, trying to exercise. I was doing everything right. But my baby still died.

Then, four months later, my sister died. I didn't even get to say goodbye.

And, when I got home from my sister's funeral, my "big" boss was waiting to talk to me; we were being transferred.

Life suddenly felt really, really bad. And I couldn't see anything that I had done wrong. My interpretation of Romans 8:28 was obviously very incorrect. My understanding of God's character was shaken, to the core.

In the years since my heartbreaking, life-shattering experience, I have come to learn what I was looking for in my bad interpretation. I wanted a guarantee, that if I lived right, life would feel good, nothing bad would happen, and I'd have what I wanted. My bad interpretation was based on bad theology. God wasn't created in my image; I was created in His. He is the One who writes the rules, and those rules don't include any promises or guarantees that life will always feel good. 

Instead, what God promises is to be with me through the times in life that are the hardest. And that is very precious indeed.

Actually, the promise never to leave us or forsake us is a distinctly "Christian" concept. Other religions base support and fellowship on performance, and if you don't perform, you get what you deserve. We've begun to think like that in our culture, as well, and in grieves me. Instead of acknowledging that we're all broken and hurting, and extending God's love to each other, we've begun to look down our noses at others who suffer, because we know they must have done something to deserve it. The really scary part is, sometimes I am the one who thinks that way?!

God promises never to leave me or forsake me. He doesn't promise to make life feel good. He doesn't promise life will never be difficult, or that bad things won't happen, or that I'll be rich or beautiful or famous, even if I do everything He commands, just the way He commands it. In this life, there are no guarantees. There just aren't. But if I've learned anything through the struggles and pain and suffering I've experienced, it is that God is good, and I can trust Him, even when nothing makes sense.

I don't pretend to be able to explain why bad things happen to good people, or why children starve to death in Africa, or whether God sends people who have never heard about Him to Hell. I don't know. I don't understand God. But what I do know, and what I've experienced over and over and over again is that God is good and I can trust Him. Does that mean I always like what He does?  NO!!  Not at all. Do I always understand why suffering happens? Absolutely not. Have I struggled with God's decision to allow my youngest children to suffer so greatly at such young ages? You better believe it. But, when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I rest comfortably, knowing that my God will never leave me or forsake me. I look forward to hugging my sister again, introducing her to the nieces and nephews she has never met, and holding my precious Hannah and my sweet Kinza Noelle. I look forward to a big hug from my precious Savior, and He will wipe all my tears away.

Life is oh so hard, but God is so good.

And that is a guarantee.