Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

Scripture Journal Challenge: In The Very Presence of God

It’s kind of counterintuitive really-that my initial response to Dominic’s death would be affirmation of my faith and my response weeks later would be doubt.

But it makes a lot of sense really.

When the unthinkable happens, if your heart is already turned in a particular direction the path of least resistance is to keep flowing downhill.

A bit later, when shock has worn off and your brain wakes up and you begin to do the “math” suddenly it’s not so easy to believe that God is good, He is sovereign and He has a perfect plan.

I wanted explanations!

Like Job I had a list of questions for the Almighty. And also like Job, I found that when He showed up (not in person but through His word) I could only cover my mouth in shame.

When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.
25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73:21-28 MSG (paraphrase)

Here’s the good, good, good news: God isn’t surprised at my anger, disappointment or lack of understanding.

He- like every good parent who recognizes a child is reacting out of ignorance-takes my hand, holds me close and waits until the energy of rebellion and frustration spends itself, and says, “There, there, dear one. I’m here.”

I can’t scare God away. He’s the Perfect Father.

So if you are struggling with questions and struggling whether or not to take them to God (as if He doesn’t know)-go ahead. Hand them over.

He is neither afraid of nor offended by our weakness, our impertinence nor our honest questions. He wants us to let them go. He wants us to speak them aloud, admit to our own hearts we have them and then release them.

Because in the space created in surrender, He can work.

In the gap between our own strength and the awful struggle ahead, He will pour grace, mercy, endurance and hope.

He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

My parents would argue I am young.

My children would laughingly accuse me of being old. (My skin is definitely sagging!)

Some days I feel one way or the other and it has nothing to do with the years I’ve lived and everything to do with the hardships I’ve endured.

But I can say with absolute certainty that I am more sure now than I was before that God is God.

He is good.

He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever been bitter? How do you think it might have informed your feelings about God?
  • Are you bitter now? Have you considered telling God about it?
  • Do you feel God is near you? Why or why not?
  • When the psalmist compares himself to a dumb animal he’s referring to the fact that oxen or donkeys go where their masters tell them to (or not!) and either comply or resist with no real understanding of why they may be asked to do this or that. But we are not dumb animals. We can choose to trust our Master because of past experience and the sure promises of Scripture. How does focusing your attention and heart’s affection on the Truth of Scripture help you surrender?
  • Our flesh will fail. It’s not a question of if but a question of when. Honestly,my flesh has failed many times in these 55 years. I’ve written before that I’m convinced the years of Bible study before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven were years spent preparing my heart to receive that blow. I was not spared, but I was prepared. If you haven’t made a commitment to spend daily time in Bible study and the Presence of God, would you be willing to try to do it now? Have these days of reflection given you any new nuggets to hold onto?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I know You can drag me around like a recalcitrant child or a misbehaved pet. But you don’t. You want me to bring my hurt, my anger, my bitterness, my disobedience and distrust to You.

You don’t run away. You aren’t hard to find. You don’t turn your back on me. You are always a breath away-waiting to hold my hand, wrap my heart in your love and whisper courage to my soul.

Help me run first to You. Always, always to You. You truly are my only hope. My true salvation. My Rock and my Shelter.

Keep my eyes focused on You and not on people around me. Comparison only breeds discontent. I know that one day-one glorious Day-the song I’ll sing will be to my Redeemer and tell of Your faithful goodness to me.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen

On Suffering and Redemption

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

~Julian of Norwich

Truth is this life is not easy.

There is joy. 

Absolutely amazing awe-inspiring, breath-taking joy.

But there is also suffering. 

Utterly devastating, heart-breaking suffering.

Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning

When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.

Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.

It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.  

The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.

~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf.  He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”  

I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.

And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.  

blessed are those who believe without seeing

I have doubts some days too.  

There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.  

It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power. 

Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.

What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.

~Andrew Roycroft, Thinking Pastorally blog, 6.23.19

 

 

Poured Out But Not Wasted

Even if my lifeblood is to be poured out like wine as a sacrifice of your faith, I have great reason to celebrate with all of you.
~ Philippians 2:17 VOICE

In many ways I feel like this season of my life is a drink offering-poured out on the ground-unrecoverable except as a sacrifice lifted to the throne of grace.

But my story is not only loss and pain, it is also life and love. 

I have to be careful to remember that.

 … you may reformulate your story in terms of sadness and pain. Because you lost a child, or experienced a divorce, or killed someone in a car accident, you will never be happy again. Or even worse, you are never allowed to be happy again.

In all of these cases, we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories.

~Cameron Cole, Therefore I Have Hope

Redemption is the overarching theme of my story, of all history.

It doesn’t mean I have to deny the pain and darkness.  In fact, if I try, I diminish His glory in redeeming what would otherwise be nothing but brokenness and loss.

I can lift those feelings to the throne of grace as a drink offering.

I can pour them out at Christ’s feet and trust that even though in the natural there is no way to recapture and restore what has been lost, in His power and love it is never, ever wasted.

And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~Revelation 21: 3,4
they that wait with hope shall not be ashamed

In Love’s Service, Only Wounded Soldiers Will Do

So often we hide our wounds.

Sometimes it’s because others have shamed us into covering up.  Sometimes it’s because our hearts have been stomped on by folks who might mean well but really don’t understand what it’s like to live every day with a messy and unfinished story.

But there’s no shame in being broken. 

And we have no obligation to pretend for those that are uncomfortable with our wounds and our sorrow.

In fact, there is no greater invitation to the good news that Jesus came to redeem and restore than a person whose life makes plain that they are depending on Him for that very promise.

only wounded soldiers will do

 

George, Barbara and Robin: Child Loss, Love and a Lifetime of Service

I’m not a huge fan of the images of Heaven that feature people floating on clouds.  

But I love this one.  

bush reunion

Here’s why:  Because it highlights the lifelong impact of child loss on a parent’s heart.  

You can agree or disagree with his politics or her choice of service projects, but you can’t argue with the evidence of lives lived passionately committed to loving others and doing good in the world.

And I absolutely, positively believe that a huge part of what informed that passion was burying a child.

A heart that has endured such painful loss cannot remain unchanged.  

Brokenness begets bountiful love if you let it.  

And I believe the Bushes did just that.  

I am thankful they are reunited-no more pain, no more suffering, no more waiting for redemption.

So I’ll hang onto this whimsical cartoon as a reminder to my heart that even as I wait, longing for the same, I can choose to live a life of loving service.

As long as I am here, I will reach out

reach down

reach across

to touch the hands and hearts of other hurting humans.  

Thank you,  George and Barbara, for your example.  

Enjoy your reward.