THE THING ABOUT FAITH

This is morning, I listened to our guest pastor discuss Hebrews 11. This is that nice chapter that starts out with: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” That’s a beautifully worded verse, isn’t it? It’s so encouraging! Then there’s the second verse: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” And a list of who “the ancients” follows in a really poetic fashion, with the mention of each ancient beginning with “By faith….” And a sense of righteous reverence rises up in me. I this, Wow! These ancients were amazing. Their faith was so strong.

It really is an impressive list of faith. Even sprinkled by moments of mistakes and doubts, these folks finished as God intended for them to. It’s a good reminder that we will very likely make mistakes, but by our maturing faith we will be found righteous as long as we trust that God is truly a good God.

I also listened to what each of the ancients endured and came out on the other side of, even closer to God. They and all the other men and women we read about in the Bible went through some heavy, burdensome things. It makes you look back at beginning of the chapter and reconsider what is really meant by “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We’re not talking about the hope a child has that they’re going to get a pony for Christmas, or that God’s going to bless you with winning lottery numbers so you can pay off all your debt. These people did the hard things! They did things that exemplify what God means when he says his thoughts are higher than our thought, his ways are higher than our ways and that he’s about to do a new thing. 

08ef2004deac5eb4c1a19b7ceacc0107The Red Sea, sacrificing a son who was inconceivably conceived, a single man telling a pharaoh (himself considered a god) that his God said to let his people go, packing up a huge household, including livestock, and going “over there” because God said to, taking 120 years to build and ark while being mocked by an entire community. No one could fault any of them for saying to God, “You’re kidding, right?” Because we don’t think that way, but God does.

God has never asked me to do the unimaginable or anything as reality-defying as the men and women of the Bible, but in my small world I have had occasions to trust him more than has been comfortable. And it was while I was pondering this fact that our guest preacher moved on to Hebrews 12 which begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….” As I said, I’ve never had to ask God to part the Red Sea for me and thousands of others while an army is at our heels. But I have been overwhelmed by a season of “stuff” that required more money, more energy, or more strength than I had, and stood at the edge of my next step wondering how it was going to be okay, when it was going to be okay, knowing I really had no reasonable option but to go “by faith.”

I was listened to this from a pew at the back of the church. I looked out at the smattering of heads covered by gray hair or no hair among the younger looking heads. And I realized that I was surrounded by my own, personal cloud of witnesses. I attend a Methodist church and you can’t accuse them of being Pentecostal in any modern sense, but I know our older members have a deeply rooted, secured faith that came from doing hard things “by faith.” They’ve been married to the same person longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve buried husbands, wives and children long before they wanted to. They’ve done without and gotten through it anyway. They’ve gotten through things I hope to never have to go through, and things I’ll likely still go through because I’m married, have children, work and, quite simply, because I’m alive.

These beautiful people aren’t wiser simply because their older. They are wiser because they’ve learned hard lessons by faith. They’ve got battle scars that others can’t see. Their armor is certainly worse for wear. They’ve fought battles on their knees. They may walk slower than they did when they were younger, but I know they walk together; and in them is still he heart of a child who knows they are loved by their Father. I love them in a way I never thought I could love anyone, and I thank God for them.

I JUST DON’T KNOW!

You know that feeling you get when you you open the refrigerator door, hoping to find something…anything…that might taste good? And nothing sounds good.

How about this: Nothing sounds good, so you go to the grocery store. After walking aimlessly around for about 15 minutes, you stop in the middle of an aisle and have a total melt-down because you’re surrounded on every side by plenty of things to consume, but none of it appeals to you at all.

Or how about this: Back home is one husband and three or four kids. (Who knows? They start to look like tiny gang members at some point. And you’re beginning to suspect what’s-his-name is not one of your tax deductions, but his actual parents aren’t looking for him – and you understand why.) Regardless of the body count, everyone wants to know what’s for dinner.

And you don’t know!!

There’s just this overwhelming sense of too much and not enough at the same time. You know that there should be an answer, there usually is an answer, but you couldn’t even pick one out from a multiple choice question right now.

It’s a little like the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb:

Relax
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

And the answer is NO. No, you can’t show where it hurts. You don’t know where it hurts.

All you know for certain is that you don’t know how you got here. It’s dark and cold. You hear soft but unfamiliar sounds. You sob silently because you want someone to hear you, to come help you find your way out, but you don’t want to feel the vulnerability of needing help. In fact, you’re not even sure of what ‘help’ would look like.

That’s when the God of suddenlies reaches down to touch his child and you’re flooded with assurance, peace and hope. Your Father heard your quiet cry and found you. He knows you. He sees you. He loves you.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

 

We don’t always wait patiently. OK…we seldom wait patiently, do we? But we should wait patiently, shouldn’t we? We make a list of all the ways God can help us, even though experience tells us the he’s been there for us before.  He’s never left us in the slimy pit, the mud or the mire, has he?

6884915f0952ef38160ee791a080dd18He’s even there in the grocery store, where you’re standing, virtually paralyzed in Aisle 3 and you’re holding back the tears. He’s there every time we cry, “I don’t know…I just don’t know.” In fact, it’s in those moments that we give up that you can almost hear a relieved sigh right before you hear God say, “Finally! Now we can get to work. Follow me. I know a way out.”

No matter where you are or what you’ve done, never forget that you are so loved by the very God who created you!

 

 

REALLY, GOD? REALLY?!

In 1989, Tom Hanks was still 5 years away from playing Forrest Gump. He was still in his early comedic element what he starred in The Burbs, in which “an over-stressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult.” (Stay with me here!)

It was a scene from the end of this movie that came to mind as I listened to 1 Kings 19:1-19 (NIV). (You’re about to learn a lot about how my brain works!)

Long story, short, Ahab told Jezabel about all the trouble Elijah had been stirring up. Jezabel sends a scathing message to Elijah, informing him that he’s as good as dead. So Elijah runs to Beersheba in Judah, where he drops off his servant and sets out for the wilderness another day’s distance away.

It’s here in the wilderness that Elijah plops himself under a broom bush and begs God to take his life. He’s tired! He’s fed up! He’s had enough!

So had Tom Hanks’ character, Ray Peterson. All Ray wanted was a few days of quiet, relaxing restoration at home. In no time at all, his neighbors have pulled him into an unbelievable story. In just under 1 hour and 40 minutes, Ray – like Elijah – has been pushed to the edge of reasonable limits and was fast approaching his breaking point.

No, Elijah is not an over-stressed suburbanite living next to some satanists, but I know a tired man when I see one. I also know a hissy fit when I see one. Elijah had been faithful to God. He squared off against 450 prophets of Baal, demonstrating that there were no other gods than Yahweh. And what does he get for his faithfulness? A death threat from an unstable woman.

What about him?!

Now we get to the source of his troubles. His victory has been rooted in the strength and power of God. His fear is rooted in his focus on himself. To be fair, Elijah needs a break. He needs some care and encouragement. He doesn’t really want to give up or die; he just wants some time for restoration. He is human, after all. His body needs sleep and food. His spirit needs encouragement. And God is gracious enough to meet him where he is. He even sends warm bread for Elijah.

After Elijah had fallen asleep, an angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (Personally, I would have been tempted to ask God if he hadn’t heard me – I’m done!) But not Elijah. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.” (1 Kings 19:6-9 NIV)

And now God has Elijah truly alone. Elijah has had 40 days and 40 nights in which to contemplate God’s question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

There’s so much more to Elijah’s story, but that’s for another post. Today, just be encouraged that even the mightiest of God’s chosen can grow weary. And even when we beg for it to all come to an end, our gracious Father will meet us where we are and give us what we need to keep going.

 

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

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Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

A MILLION PIECES

I haven’t written for awhile because I haven’t known what to say.

I feel broken. I feel defective. I feel confused.

I’ve been in the process of healing, of recovering, most of my life. And just when I’d gotten so far in healing emotionally, I’ve needed to recover physically. And I think I’ve had enough.

The thing about recovering and healing is that it’s always a partner to pain or illness. If you’re “getting better”, then you weren’t well. The unfortunate truth is that we don’t get to choose, do we?

By the time my family got home last night, I’d decided that I deserved pity. Pity and potato chips. (Don’t judge me! This was my pity party.)

I’d spent the week making a mental checklist of all the things I couldn’t do any more since I’d fallen and ruined my shoulder two months ago. And I got bonus points for the fact that I will most likely never be able to do anything on the list again. I had begun to see myself as broken. But I’d found this photo of a sunset reflected in a broken mirror. “Ah!” I mused. “Perhaps if that mirror can reflect beauty in spite of its brokenness, so can I.” (I know, right! Even I’m gagging.)

I considered doing my own rendition of a phoenix. But I really didn’t feel like rising from the ashes. Honestly, I was far more inclined to wallow in the ashes. At my best, I might have lain on my back and made ash angels, buy I’m unable to straighten out my left arm enough to manage even that!

Seriously, though, this “new normal” stuff stinks! And it seems that the only time you hear about someone’s “new normal” is when life hands them a cruddy plot twist. I haven’t researched where or when this phrase originated, but I have a feeling it was first used by a doctor who couldn’t fix someone or make them feel better and had no idea what to say. It would have been unprofessional to say, “Gee, you’re one really unfortunate person.” So they said, “This is your new normal now. You’ll learn to adjust.”

And most people do. They have no other option, really. At least not a good option. Their family adjusts, too, because this is now their “new normal”.

When you think about it, though, isn’t your life just one “new normal” after another? My daughter will have graduated this time next year. Her father and I will navigate the new normal of sending our baby out into the world, and she’ll work out the grown-up details of her new normal. My marriage to my husband almost 23 years ago was a pretty big new normal. Every new job was a new normal. Bringing a child into the world was a new normal.

So what we really have is a lifetime of constant new normal’s. And they all fall on a continuum between tears of unspeakable joy to tears of unspeakable despair. But God is there for all of it. None of it comes as a surprise to him. The hard part for most of us is not knowing why. “Why me?”

It is just as reasonable to ask, “Why not me?” The day after my pity party, I learned that a man who was less than two weeks from retiring when a car failed to stop at the stop sign. and hit the car he was a passenger in. He was less than two weeks from retiring. Chances are his wife had a Honey Do list waiting for him. He’s now beginning his retirement as a quadriplegic. That’s not a new normal that I think I could handle, and that humbles me.

Last night, my search for some inspirational words lead me to a video that I hadn’t planned to watch – because it was about miracles instead of a miry pit. It, too, shushed my whiny thoughts. It’s worth the five minutes you’ll spend listening to it.

Here in southern Minnesota, people are quick to say, “It could be worse.” Well, it could be better, too, don’tcha know.

I have no idea how to wrap this up. I guess – for me anyway – it comes down to two words. But God. I don’t understand…but God does. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this…but God does. I can’t find the good…but God can.

It’s easy to feel alone…but God is with me, even if I don’t feel him.

 

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

I had intended this post to follow another one I’d posted, but I couldn’t choose between But Wait! There’s More (since I’d neglected to tell you what my Crap of the Month for April was and it’s now May) or Maybe He’s Just Moving the Pieces (since I’m pretty sure God’s quite done with me yet).

I think challenges can run a continuum from an eye-rolling UGH! to an agonizing, life-or-death matter for which there are no words, only tears. So whey say things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it’s important to remember that challenges are relative, and you are allowed to rise on your own schedule, at your own pace. You can cover yourself in bubble wrap, with mascara running down your face, or you can put on a suit and tie looking like nothing ever happened. You can share your story with anyone you know (or even not know!) on social media or you can choose to never share it. However you do it, it may be awhile before you’re able to get up again, and even longer before you are as strong as you were, much less stronger. And “new normal” is baloney! (Just sayin’.)

The bottom line is this:

  • It’s your challenge, and no one has the right to say when you should be “over it”.
  • It’s your challenge, and no one as the right to tell you how much it should hurt.
  • It’s your challenge, and you are not required to minimize it because someone “has it worse” than you.

So April’s Crap of the Month: on the last Wednesday of March I fell, fractured the glenoid fossa – pretty much the cupped socket into which the the top of the shoulder rests. (And the irony is that I fell just as I was calculating the odds of falling a second time at this very convenience store! Yes. I had fallen here about two years earlier.)

At first, it was so painful that the kind men who had come to help me may have wondered if my vocabulary was limited to only four-letter words that began with the letter F – one was “fine”, the other was not. By Friday, it felt better. It hurt, but it wasn’t horrible. At least not until 4:00 am on the following Monday. That’s when I got out of bed to pick up something I’d knocked off my night stand and dislocated my shoulder. Now it hurt!

A follow-up x-ray was enough to warrant a referral to a specialist. I really didn’t understand why no one in town could handle a painful shoulder. Even if it required surgery, I thought surely it should have been managed locally.

Nine days later, the specialist explained the problem. The fracture I had wasn’t very common and surgery wouldn’t guarantee that my shoulder wouldn’t dislocate again. Furthermore, based on my medical history, I wouldn’t survive the operation. The treatment plan, then? We do nothing.

Seriously? Nothing?

Apparently so. Of all the glenoid fractures I could have had, there was only a 0.1% chance that it would be the type I had. Which explained the referral to the specialist. It also meant that my shoulder will remain dislocated while it wears away a new area in which to settle. The pain should lessen, but it will continue to be limited in its mobility, reach and strength.

OK. That explained why surgery wouldn’t help, but I didn’t understand how it could be dangerous. So bear with me as I tell you a bit about my “medical history” that eliminated that option.

On July 26, 2013, I was flown to Abbott Northwestern for an emergency open-heart surgery, during which my body temperature was significantly lowered and I was on heart-lung bypass for nearly 9 hours. I’d had an ascending aortic dissection, which is what actor John Ritter died of during the filming of the TV show “8 Simple Rules”. The simplest way I can explain it is this: the aorta is how blood gets where it needs to go in your heart. It has three layers. When you have an aneurysm (which I apparently had), the wall of the aorta is weakened. On the particular evening, my aorta was weakened and I blew a hole through all three walls. That’s when the blood that should have been going into my heart went wherever it wanted to go.

The incidence of any aortic dissection occurs once per 10,000 patients admitted to the hospital; approximately 2,000 new cases are reported each year in the United States. Now, there are different types of aortic dissection. Approximately 65% are in the ascending aorta, like mine was. Of those, patients who undergo surgical treatment – like I was fortunate to receive – have a 30% mortality rate.  Of those 70% who survive, the quality of life differs greatly, ranging from getting back to the gym to dealing with chronic issues.

I’m one of those left with chronic issues, including slurred speech, short-term memory retention, labored handwriting that was no longer “mine”, an awkward gait, poor dexterity, poor balance, and compromised driving skills – none of which can be explained by neurologists, most of which have not been bad enough to make working a 40-hour work week impossible, all of which have really pissed me off for over five years because it’s frustrating and I look and sound like I’m drunk. There hasn’t been one single day since July 26, 2013, that I haven’t experienced pain of some sort.

So…I have a tendency to fall backward. And although I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, none of those falls had been a real issue until the one I had in March.

497e9528820d0a5a025c2c83fc8d4a82My medical history reminds me of the theme song from the Laverne and Shirley show:

Give us any chance, we’ll take it
Read us any rule, we’ll break it

But not always in a good way. I have a fair record of experiencing the statistically unlikely. So while most people listen to the first half of the warnings in a medication commercial, I listen through to the very end – because that is where I’ll be.

I blame my mother. She’s the one who gave me a name that wouldn’t be found on anything you could buy in a store. Even today, no one can have a Coke with LaRonda!

Here’s the thing, though: God’s specialty is in limited probabilities and impossibilities. The aortic dissection I survived is normally discovered during an autopsy. The fracture?There is apparently no protocol for treatment because there haven’t been enough to gather information from.

I’m not enjoying any of this. I miss doing community theater. I miss spending the day shopping. I miss driving over 20 miles an hour and leaving the city limits behind the wheel. And right now, I really, really miss being able to type with two hands. But as they say here in Minnesota, it could be worse!

I haven’t shared this for pity. I’ve shared it as a sort of introduction to me. I’ve shared it so there’s some context when you read my posts. I’ve shared it so you can understand the ashes God leaves behind when He makes something beautiful from the things that happened against the odds. I have to believe God will use this.

When I began blogging a year ago, my initial plan was to help people who struggled with the idea that they were loved always and anyway by a God who was nothing like any of the people in their life who’d made them believe they were unlovable. If I choose to believe that the universe is out to screw me, then I have no hope.

What I am choosing to believe is that a very loving God is showing me that there is nothing so statistically unlikely that He cannot manage, and that whatever happens, I can be 100% certain that He’s absolutely got this. He knows He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I’m the one who needs no know it.

 

ARE WE THERE YET?

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think that’s possible…eventually. But they don’t talk about the ass-whippin’ that “doesn’t kill you” in the first place, do they? They don’t talk about what it cost you or what it took to recover. They don’t talk about how it changed you or the scars or the collateral damage it left behind. They don’t talk about the humiliation you felt when it kicked you one last time and left you lying there, exhausted.

Right now, I’m angry and confused. For the first time in my life, I’ve taken a few hits and not given up on my faith in a loving God whom I still believe has a good plan for my life. And I think that’s a big part of my anger and confusion. I don’t understand why I seem to keep getting knocked down.

Let me explain myself first. I know that other people have problems.  I know that it could be worse. I don’t ask why me because I know the answer is why not me. What I want you to understand is that what I survived almost six years ago was statistically unlikely to survive. But I did. And recently, I suffered an injury that is statistically unlikely to happen. Both began simply. Both have changed me significantly. And I have no doubt that I’ve been firmly in God’s hands through it all.

cs-lewis-quote-were-not-necessarily-doubting-that-god-will-do-theI guess what I really want to know is, “Are we there yet?”

I’m tired of healing, recovering, being told there are no explanations.

I feel like God’s has been very persistent in making sure the only answer to any of my questions is him and him alone. But what scares me is this: If what I’ve gone through hasn’t gotten me where God wants me to be, how bad does it to be to get me there?

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.

In Disney’s Aladdin, just before jumping off the side of the building in the marketplace, Aladdin reaches out to Jasmine and asks her, “Do you trust me?”

In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage’s character asks Diane Kruger’s character, “Do you trust me?”

Good question. And it seems that God has been asking me that a lot lately. I thought last year was a “challenge.” (A word here which means it stinks and I do not want to go through it, but I don’t want to sound like a whiney Christian who thinks she’s the only one who has problems.)  I was optimistic that this year had to be better. It was time for God to give me and my family a break.

Instead of a break, it seems more likely that I’m about to get a breakthrough. I know that sounds like a clever line from a televangelist, but I’m actually hoping that this year’s challenges will produce something really good – not like getting a star next to my name for getting an A on my spelling test in the second grade kind of good. A glory to glory kind of good. Let me explain.

We started 2019 waiting for our car guy to get back to us with an estimate to replace the driver’s side mirror I’d managed to destroy. The morning of January 4th, I caught a patch of ice and completely lost control of the car, which was obviously a total loss. I called my repairman to let him know that the mirror was the least of our concerns now. That second car had made things so much easier for us, and now it isn’t worth more than $200 – even with front tires that are less than a month old.

In February, in the middle of a cold, cold Minnesota winter, John woke me before he went to work to tell me the furnace wasn’t working. He’d left a message with a local plumbing and heating company to call me so i could be home when they were available. We had the choice to repair the furnace for “a lottle” (that’s a little, but more), but there was no guarantee it would last long. Or we could replace it for about $4,000. Note that if we had $4,000, we probably would have already spent it on a used car.

Early in March, a friend teased that I must have made someone mad and they’d signed me up for the Problem of the Month Club – kinda like the oh-so-popular Fruit of the Month Club, only more expensive and a lot crappier. And now it seems as though there’s a new sort of bonus round called “But wait! There’s more.”

So…new furnace…no problem! We’d just refinance our mortgage and pay that bad boy off. Now, I’m all for finding the humor in any situation, so I granted that for March, the stress of refinancing our home so we could pay off the new furnace would count as our “Problem of the Month”.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

Now, March isn’t over yet, and today I am typing with only my right hand. Last week, I stopped by a convenience store to get a fountain drink for $1.07 before work. I stepped outside and was seriously calculating the risk of stepping off the curb because, fun fact, I’d fallen at this store about three years earlier. And just that easily, I lost my balance, failed to find anything to hold onto and the full weight of my body pinned my shoulder against the door. I appreciated the very nice men who came to help me up and make sure I was OK. I also apologize to them for using the only four-letter “F” word that came to mind – and word of the hour was not “Fine”. The good news is that nothing was broken, I didn’t need surgery and as of March 1st we’ve had medical insurance.

But wait! There’s more.

I’d already made an appointment with our new orthopedic doctor to examine my right shoulder, which was convenient because it meant I wouldn’t have to wait so long to see her. This was especially fortuitous when that morning, around 4 am, I bent over to pick up something and felt pain that took my breath away. That’s when my shoulder dislocated. So we’ll start April with a visit to a specialist.

But here’s what excites me the most: Over the past couple of weeks, my prayer has changed. I had started out with the usual plea for God to help ease my pain and give me a good report from the doctors. Give me the strength and encouragement i needed to get through this.Then I thought, Wait. Why am I asking for the things God has already promised? Unlike me, He already knows how this is going to play out. I and the medical staff were the only ones who didn’t know.

That’s when my prayer became a prayer of genuine gratitude as I recognized God for who He is. He’s loving, compassionate, faithful and absolutely sovereign.And for the past few days, I’ve had only the lyrics of Mercy Me’s “Even If” on a perpetual loop in my head, my spirit taking constant encouragement from The Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

85a3bbd960542bc7687561576708b29eMy trust in God precedes an infilling of joy and peace that, in turn, allows me to overflow with hope. And the best part is that it’s not dependent on my power, which is usually somewhere between Go Team God! and a poor imitation of Lucy crying because Ricky won’t let her be in the show. Again!

No, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that will give me hope. All I have to do is trust.

However, trusting isn’t easy for me. In fact, I have a really hard time trusting, and God is fully aware of every reason why. He’s been incredibly gentle and patient with me. He may lead me to conviction, but never to shame.

ba81239008fe119c47efbadd069e220aRight now, it’s been a day since I wrote the paragraphs before this. I’m not as gung-ho and positive as I was yesterday. I’m frustrated and discouraged about a few things. But my prayer is still that I would have the eyes to see my circumstances as my Lord sees them; a heart to love those who currently are getting on my last nerve; and the grace to to understand that all the things that I see as trials are actually opportunities to strengthen my faith and help me move from glory to glory instead of laying down in aisle nine and having a hissy fit – if for no other reason than the fact that it gets harder every day to get back up!

I’m quite tired of feeling sorry for myself and being disappointed with other people. I’m tired of feeling hopeless and defeated. And I’m tired of shying away from God’s hand when he asks, “Do you trust me?”

I truly sense that God is “relieving” us of the things that we’ve had blind confidence in. In three short months, He’s “relieved” us of a car, a working furnace and the little physical comfort I did have. None of these things have been anywhere near affordable for us. In fact, it’s all so much like the Minnesota winter we had this year. It seemed that the snow never melted in between snowfalls. The mounds of snow just seemed to get higher and higher, and we knew it couldn’t last forever – but it certainly seemed possible some days,

After the loss of our car, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you trust me?”

I suppose so.

After we got the bill for the new furnace came, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but you’re starting to push your luck now.

After I fell and ended up in the ER, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but can we be done now? I’m kinda tired and broke!

It was then that I began praying to have the eyes and heart of Christ. If I could have that, I know it would be so much easier to trust Him.

So do I trust him?

In John 6:66-69, Christ’s disciples had a choice to make: “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

I trusted Him today. I suppose I can trust him tomorrow. Even if!

READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

As far back as I can recall – at least as soon as we were required to do book reports in school – I discovered there was one thing I could do to minimize my effort and maximize my grade. I most clearly recall using this technique when I had a book report due on one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Fair warning: If you’re a teacher, this may make you cringe.]

I don’t remember if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read or if I’d preferred to not read, but I had a book report due and little time left in which to do it. I think it was my mother who suggested it first. I read the summary on the back of the book, chewed it up a bit, and regurgitated it in a form that my teacher actually liked well enough to give me an A.

I became so skilled at synthesizing information, that I did it all the way through college. Although, in college, I probably spent more time researching commentaries, reviews and critiques on the assigned reading than I would have if I’d actually read it.

This might not seem like a particularly egregious habit – unless I confess that I was an English major who aspired to teach children the wonders of literature. (I know.) To be fair, if a degree had been available in researching literature, I’d have gotten a doctorate in it and been a very happy camper!

I did know better!  When I actually read the material, I fell in love with the words, the subtle nuances and rhythm of a sentence, the symbolism, the art with which a character was unfolded. It could be beautiful…but it was time consuming.

I’ve done the same thing with the word of God. I didn’t see a problem with it, though. After all, isn’t that what church is all about – listening to a preacher tell you about God, sharing the big stories in the Bible. Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath – they’re lessons that teach you that God is big and in charge, and you should be obedient to him and kind to others.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Fun fact about LaRonda: When I was younger, I fantasized about reckless passion. I imagined reading a beautiful love letter in which someone described how very much they loved me, that they yearned to be with me every chance they had, that they would die for me, built a home for me and, (this was added as I got older and learned about expenses) once they’d finished the construction and paid the mortgage off, would come back to get me so I could live there with him forever. What a romantic fantasy!

However, instead of actually reading the letter, I left it in the envelope on a table where I could see it, taking comfort in the fact that I knew it was a love letter. When friends came to visit and would invariably ask about the envelope, I’d say, “That? Oh, that’s my love letter. Yes…. Isn’t it wonderful?” Naturally, I’d say it in a soft, whimsical way, trailing off to insinuate an intimate mystery that only I and the one who loved me could understand.

But this isn’t simply the fantasy of a silly girl. This is the Gospel. It’s the greatest love letter ever written. It’s about a reckless and passionate relationship that God wants to have with us. I had been content with hearing about God. I had not been hearing from God, and God had a lot to say…to me.

During his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them who others said he was. There was a variety of answers, but the one he was longing to hear was that he was Immanuel – God with us. If we knew the Son, we knew the Father. He was the part of the trinity who agreed to a back-up plan for our reconciliation with our Creator before we were created.

669a0d1e281b953b71df9ab0cf423f5cWhich begs the question of Immanuel, “So who do you say I am?”

I know the answer I hope to hear, but I can have a pretty ugly heart and a fairly judgmental spirit. I also have have a great fear of rejection, so I prepare myself for the worst. I know, though, that if I believe he loves me, then he loves all of his creation and expects me to, as well.

So, I’ve been asking God to help me see people as he sees them, so I can love them the way he loves them because I don’t have a natural inclination toward grace and mercy.

To be fair, though, I don’t like myself all that much either. In fact, from the first time I heard that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, I was convinced of one thing. My neighbors were screwed.

So I was surprised to realize recently that the first person I would see with grace and mercy would be me. As a child of God. I am lovedanyway and always. And I am lovable. There is nothing in this person whom God created that disqualifies me from being cherished and beloved; if by no one else, then by God himself. And that understanding shows me what it feels like to be flawed and loved again and again. And that feeling helps me understand why it’s so vital for me to treat others with the grace and mercy that helps them stop feeling “less than.” And that understanding largely comes from reading the ultimate love letter to the world from the greatest Lover we’ll ever know.

Hmmm…Maybe there’s hope for my neighbors, after all.