Posts Tagged ‘faithfulness’

Thanksgiving Dissonance: Going Deeper

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV)

I keep hearing this plaintive cry of the Israelites from the pain-laced Psalm 137. Though I’m not living in exiIe as they were, I am living in a strange land of my own. It is strange for many reasons, some sharable and some not. As I near completion of radiation for breast cancer, I am also struggling with glaucoma issues that cause me to live my life between the radiation clinic and the ophthalmology office—and the couch. And November is always my month of special thanks-giving.

Though my “strange land” often feels quite lonely, I know very well that I am not alone. Many of you reading this are dealing with your own strange lands. I know. I know because I know some of you personally. But I also know because we all live in a fallen world, the backdrop against which we sing our redemption songs.  Strange lands are sometimes visible to others who live alongside us. But sometimes the strangeness lies deep within, where no one else knows. I think often of author Skye Jethani’s observation: “There is a sorrow words cannot express and no embrace can remove. It abides deep within, and is accessible only to the one who carries it.”

And there is this backdrop of the news. Every single day seems to bring more tragedy, hurt, and heartbreak. It comes in many forms—from earthquakes and floods and mass shootings to sexual abuse and domestic terror and all kinds of silent screams and secret suffering.

How shall we sing a song of thanksgiving amidst all this? Slowly, painfully, I’m finding out the answer. It is totally counter-intuitive. But it is true. We can sing a truer, deeper song of thanks when we walk along paths that push us to go deeper. This is not a new truth, and certainly not my personal discovery. Saints and sages have expressed it in many ways for centuries. When much is stripped away, what really matters most becomes clearer. A few verses (out of many) illustrate this great Biblical truth:

“. . . when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8b KJV)

“. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV)

This is only the tiniest sampling of a Very Big Truth. Here’s what it has looked like in my life lately. When I am at my weakest, I feel His strength all the more powerfully. When He is all I have in the loneliest places, I want to know Him more and more. It turns out the view from the couch—or the radiation or ophthalmology waiting room—is clarifying. 

It’s a deeper Thanksgiving this year. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The tangible blessings I have to count are endless. With six great kids and eleven precious grandchildren (just for starters!) I have more than enough to focus on in the “seeing the glass half full” department. All of us who live with full bellies and warm homes and accessible medical care have myriad blessings to count.

But here’s what I really want to say: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is not always easy. It actually takes quite a bit of practice. But the song is all the more meaningful. And necessary. Beautiful, even. Because, as my grandson Bengt observed many years ago as a 4- or 5-year-old, out of the blue from his car seat in the back of the van: “Dad, I don’t know if you know this. But God is all the light we ever really need.”

Indeed. The Lord gives songs in the night. Day or night in your “land,” sing with me this Thanksgiving.

  

  

  

New Every Morning. Even in January.

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So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.

But there’s also, once I get past my goodbyes to Christmas, something good about January. A sort of cleansing. The house looks pretty good after all without all the clutter of Christmas. And there’s something hopeful about turning the calendar page on to not only a new month, but a whole new year. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead?

There’s a reason why the month is called January. It traces back to the legendary Roman god Janus, who had two heads, one looking back and one facing forward. He was the god of doorways, gates, and bridges, symbolizing beginnings and ends. Reflection and remembering the past. Hoping and praying into the unknown future.

But you moms of young children are not, I am quite sure, spending hours in reflection. You probably feel jolted into January. Back into school routines and (for us in the North) early morning jackets and boots and lunch boxes. And homework. Yes. Homework.

The month doesn’t slow down. Suddenly all the realities of the world we live in can hit hard. New diagnoses. New challenges at work or school. Back to the grind . . . it can be jolting. Suddenly (or so it seems to me since I’m not the one to whom it is happening) I’m hearing of sad goodbyes two of my friends are saying to their beloved fathers. Two precious ones I pray for are either awaiting or receiving stem cell transplants. My only remaining aunt, dearly loved, is facing unexpected surgery. And one very brave very godly young mom I know is commemorating, along with her four precious children, the sudden death of their husband and daddy in a Marine helicopter crash one year ago in mid-January. There can be a lot of tears in January. And a lot of Hope.

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All this is why I am delighted to have a great book to recommend to you. It’s a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp called New Morning Mercies. Wait. Don’t stop reading because the last thing you need is a new devotional to stack with all the other unread volumes—or someone putting you on a guilt trip because you never get to any devotional time at all with young kids needing you every waking moment (even those intended for sleep)! Before you give up, let me tell you what I love about this devotional.

First, it grew out of daily tweets that the author sent out, and every day’s reading begins with a tweet-length thought that will fire up your day even if that’s all you get to. Also, it is saturated beginning to end with grace. And if there is anything we moms need, it is grace. That’s because it is full of Biblical truth (thus infused with grace). This truth is passed through the filter of the author’s experience (seminary training as well as training and experience as both a counselor and a pastor) in such a way that it hits us right where we need it. Yes, it is convicting as well as comforting (remember it is Scripture-saturated). Nearly every day it feels as if it were written just for me. Maybe you, too.

I want to leave you with just one favorite quote. But it is very hard to choose because nearly every page I’ve read is totally marked up with “favorites.” And by the way, a note for you Type A Firstborn Perfectionists (How do I know you so well?!): Do not hesitate because you didn’t start with January 1. I first got this book in September and started reading from there. It works perfectly well wherever you start.

From January 10: “The DNA of joy is thankfulness . . . [but] If my heart is ever going to be freed of grumbling and ruled by gratitude, I need your grace: grace to remember, grace to see, grace that produces a heart of humble joy.”

Grace to remember what God has done in the past. (In his Introduction, Tripp reminds us that “remembering is spiritual warfare; even for this we need grace.”) Grace to see His work in what is before your very eyes. Right now. Right here. Even in January.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)

  

What Song Shall We Sing This Thanksgiving?

“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”  In our family, we’re singing a new song this Thanksgiving. Woody and I have just welcomed into the world our 11th grandchild, Bjorn and Abby their third son. Now we are nineteen!  I’d like to introduce Lars Wheeler Anderson and his very grateful little family:

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God gives great gifts, and we are overflowing with gratitude.  It’s easy to sing a song of Thanksgiving just now.

But thanksgiving doesn’t always come so easily.  Especially if we see the giving of thanks as dependent on particular circumstances in our lives. The interesting thing is that God calls us to more: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) In everything . . .  How in the world do we do that? How in this world do we do that?

At this time in America when our country is election-weary and future-wary and fractured down the middle in so many places, how do we do that? It’s hard for Thanksgiving songs to be heard amidst the chaos. It is, after all, an American holiday. And yes, more than a few people are finding their thanks-giving voices more than a little bit strained.

But the question becomes much more personal for so many people I know and love—and pray for every day. How do we give thanks amidst deep personal loss, terribly sick children, scary financial stresses . . . you know the list goes on and on.  But still, we are called to give thanks.

Maybe sometimes it’s easier to sing it. I always think of Martin Luther’s friend’s advice to Luther amidst struggles with depression: “Let’s sing the Psalms, Martin.  Let’s sing the Psalms.” 

So what song shall we sing this Thanksgiving? I offer you my favorite. A favorite because it is so very real. It reflects the good times of life as well as the bad and the sad. But I love it mostly because it reminds us of the true basis of our gratitude. And above all, the One we should thank every day of our lives. It’s an old Swedish hymn, one we sang at the Fall funerals of both of Woody’s parents. One that sings in my heart often.

See the words below.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link.

1. Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side.

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and dreary fall.

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul.

2. Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply.

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair.

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare.

3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain.

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity.

So there you have it: 24 reasons to give thanks.  In the good times and the bad. In a word: Our Eternal God . . . with His Everlasting arms underneath. Always. Forever.

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I’d like to leave you with a picture. It’s a picture that embodies much of my heart this Thanksgiving. It includes so much that I am thanking God for at this time of year. The pilgrims on the table were Woody’s mom’s. They joined our every Thanksgiving celebrated with her. The chairs in the background were my mom’s. I sat in them and admired them each time I visited with her in her little Florida condo; and when she moved to hospice, they were still there . . ., and now here. I love the view out our window. And how I cherish the family God has so graciously given us! Us . . . the ones who once wondered whether we would ever have children!

A thanksgiving challenge for you: Take a picture of things for which you are thankful. Make a list. Sing a song. Maybe sing a new song . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!    

Watching God at Work … Happy Mother’s Day!

Bird's nest with blue eggs

C.S. Lewis said it best: “We may ignore, but we nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with Him.  He walks everywhere incognito.”  (from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 75) 

Yes, He often walks incognito through our world. But now and then we get glimpses.  I’ve had more than a few “God glimpses” recently—and most of them seem in some way to involve mothers.  

First, there is the flurry of activity among mama birds in our neighborhood. We walked by a picturesque little robin’s nest a couple of days ago. We also have a mama bird (I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe) building a nest in our front entrance. It’s really quite a mess (not at all picturesque like the robin’s). But I have learned that warm and cozy and safe homes don’t need to look Pinterest-worthy.  They just need a mama.  (I don’t dare try to take a picture of this one, BTW, because mama bird is very skittish and protective, and I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship.)

Then there are other mamas through whom I have seen God lately.  Mamas who embrace their children with God’s love even when they are lonely (Dad’s gone again for work?) or chronically sleep-deprived (Whaat? This 7-month-old baby still isn’t sleeping through the night?) or even comforting their children (“It’s going to be all right, honey”) when their own heart is shattered by grief into a million pieces (All right? How can it be all right when the love of my life, the father of these children, is snatched away from me in one tiny terrible moment?)  Through these mamas—and so very many others, I see God. He’s the only explanation.

Last Thursday I had the joy of hearing moms at a local Mom to Mom share their hearts about this past year. These are just snatches of what I heard (composite paraphrase):

  • I’ve recently come to see how different parenting with God is from parenting without Him. Also how different parenting alone is versus sharing the journey with other moms.
  • This is the church being the church. It is my primary source of spiritual nourishment.
  • Mom to Mom has ignited a fire within me that has been simmering for a long time.
  • Here I can be completely myself. I am listened to without judgment. I am reminded that I am not alone. Both my Titus 2 leader and the very practical biblical teaching help me release my burden of perfectionism and trust God with my kids.
  • Moms suffer from a kind of occupational irony. We spend our lives continually caring for others. Who cares for us? This is the one place in my week where I don’t have to prepare anything: coffee, goodies, or childcare.  Here I am not only cared for but also given dignity and confidence in my role as a mom. A rare gift in our culture.
  • In this past year, not much has changed in my circumstances. But a lot has changed in my heart.

Two recurring themes in what I heard: We are cared for. We are loved and accepted—even welcomed—here, just as we are. No matter what. Really. No matter what. And our hearts are changed.

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like grace.  Sounds a lot like God. “Surely the Lord is in this place . . .”  (Genesis 28:16a) Because the deep deep love of Jesus flows through the “Titus 2 Moms” who have themselves received that love, these moms feel loved. And they can pass that love along to their children.

One reason, I would guess, why “the world is crowded with Him.”

So, as Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, a shout out to all of you who love your children, another mom, or even a would-be mom (I have not forgotten) with His love. Through you we see glimpses of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Heart Talk on Hurting Hearts

Photo by Flickr user bored-now

Photo by Flickr user bored-now

It’s February. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m thinking about hearts. But my thoughts at the moment are not the stuff of Hallmark cards or romantic gifts or candlelight dinners—though I actually do love all those things.

This year my thoughts are overtaken by other kinds of hearts. Broken hearts. Anxious hearts. Losing heart. Or more accurately, not losing heart.

It seems a lot of precious people I know are grieving. Deeply grieving. Daughters for their mothers. Parents for their sons. A brave, beautiful, Godly young mother of four for her beloved husband, gone from them all in an instant. Too many broken hearts in my world. And, I would bet, in yours, too.

And so many anxious hearts. Some await the results of the next biopsy. Or they wonder what the next doctor’s appointment will bring. Hope for their husband? Help for their son? Better treatment options for the disease or depression?  Many hearts I know cry out “How long O Lord, how long?” Will this last IVF finally work? Will the adoption ever be finalized? Still others worry about finances and employment (or unemployment) issues. Is there really a job out there to support their family? Or their marriages, breaking apart at the seams though no one else knows. Can this broken place be mended, this marriage restored and made new?

I hope you are still reading after this gloomy start. Because God has been reminding me that hearts are His business. In His Word, He talks about the heart all the time. Over 1000 times, actually, throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted,” we read in Psalm 34:18, “and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He “heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) The Prophet Isaiah, in a passage Jesus later applied to Himself, proclaimed that “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (Isaiah 61:1)

This same God of the brokenhearted knows about anxious hearts as well. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and have sorrow in my heart everyday?” the Psalmist cried out in his angst. (Psalm 13:2) One of my favorite passages is Psalm 94:18-19: “When I said ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

Wait a minute! Joy? Joy? Are you kidding? In the midst of grief and pain and anxiety . . . joy? Not happiness, you understand. Joy. Author Walter Wangerin says it best:

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must, for those who depend on it) disappoint us.” (Reliving the Passion, p. 31)

Maybe, just maybe, this is the key to not losing heart, which is the third thing I’ve been thinking about. How do we help one another not lose heart? It’s certainly at the heart of the mission of Mom to Mom: encouraging moms—all moms (whether with rejoicing hearts, broken hearts, anxious hearts, exhausted hearts—all kinds of hearts) to “not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)  We’re called to “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong; do not fear; your God will come….” (Isaiah 35:3-4) We’re called to walk alongside, listen more than talk, love and pray and cook and care for kids and . . . so that we point them to the only One Who can give real joy.

All so that one day, one day, for all hearts who trust in Him, “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10)

In the meantime, keep looking to Him “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) OK, moms, I know you are weary. Of course you are. It comes with the job.  But you know what I mean by not losing heart…

A Firm Grip

I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  I’ve been with lots of moms—in Ireland, in Illinois, in Texas, and closer to home in Wisconsin.   As always, I come home seeing many mom-faces before me, hearing many mom-stories playing in the back of my head.  And as always, I’m both praising God and praying more because of all the moms I’ve met.

You moms are incredible!  I am continually amazed at the strength, the patience, the perseverance, and the fierce love you have for your children.  It’s a love that continues to love even when loving comes hard.  It’s a love that loves kids through their toughest ages and stages.  It’s a love that persists—and maybe even grows stronger—when you’re a single adoptive mom of two special needs kids, or a mom who’s had to file a restraining order against your children’s father, or a mom who’s parenting alone because Daddy is incarcerated.  And maybe hardest of all, it’s an everyday love that perseveres 24/7/365, day after ordinary day.  I hear your stories, I see your faces, and I honor you as heroes.

But I also know that what you are doing is hard.  Very hard.  And you cannot do it alone.  Which is why one particular picture persists in my mind.  I keep seeing this picture not only because it is a picture of my daughter and granddaughter walking along the Irish Sea.  Of course that helps—but I actually have much better pictures of these two special people.  The reason the picture is ever before me is because it reminds me of you.  It reminds me of what you are doing every day with and for your kids.

But it also reminds me of God.  It reminds me of God and what He does every day for you and me because we cannot walk this walk alone.  Whether you are currently single or married or “feeling single” even while married, you do not have to walk this “mama-walk” alone.  Hear what God says to you:

“Don’t panic.  I’m with you.  There’s no need to fear because I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength.  I’ll help you.  I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. . . That’s right.  Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.  I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.’”   (from Isaiah 41:10,13 in The Message)

In the NIV we read that God will “uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) and “takes hold of your right hand.” (Isaiah 41:13).  Just like the picture!  But I do like the “firm grip” Eugene Peterson describes.  And these are just two of many verses in the Bible that talk about God holding us.

No matter what you’re going through today, no matter how mundane or ordinary or overwhelming your day, He’s got a firm grip on you.  Can you feel it?

Faithfulness, Fruit, and “Calling Back”

Wedding photo

“I thought you’d like to see a picture of the kids you helped me raise.” The picture on the Christmas card was of a beautiful young couple’s wedding. The words came from a proud mama, a Mom to Mom “alum,” who was overflowing with joy at the ways in which God has grown and led her three young adult children.

But her words took me back many years—nearly two decades—to when I first met this woman. How different things were in her family then! Beth (not her real name) was struggling mightily in her role as mom, grappling with family dysfunction and anger and not wanting to be at Mom to Mom despite a friend’s insistence that she come. In fact, she was so angry and overwhelmed that she told me years later that she saved up all her bad language to use on Mom to Mom days because “if my leader knew who I really was, she wouldn’t keep on loving me like she does.”

But her leader did keep on loving her. Mightily and stubbornly, with the never-failing love of our God. Eventually Beth came to know not only her leader’s love, but the love of her leader’s God. I remember a note Beth wrote me one summer after a couple of years at Mom to Mom. “Just think,” she said,” Before Mom to Mom, I didn’t even know your God. Now He’s my God, too.”

Not only did Beth come to know God—but her whole family did as well. They joined our church, put the kids in a Christian school, eventually got involved in Bible studies and went on mission trips and testified mightily to the grace of God during times of grave illness. One of those now grown-up kids was the groom in the picture, marrying the young woman he met at his Christian college.

The fruit of faithfulness. Especially—and above all—the faithfulness of our God as He works in lives as He draws them to Himself. But he also uses our faithfulness. Faithfulness of dedicated Titus 2 leaders. Faithfulness of the administrators who make a ministry like Mom to Mom happen. Faithfulness of childcare workers who lovingly care for the children of moms who need to be at Mom to Mom.

Recently I had a vivid reminder of the mighty work of Mom to Mom childcare teams. I visited a new (first year) Mom to Mom in Maine where I was amazed and delighted to learn that their whole childcare team is made up of volunteers. Heroes, I’d call them—the men and women who care for kids so that their moms can grow as Christian moms.
Mom to Mom child care workers receiving recognition and thanks.

The day I was there, the moms were honoring and thanking these wonderful childcare workers by each bringing something for a Christmas basket for each worker. Some moms had baked cookies, others made a small ornament or wrote a note or bought a small treat to add to each basket. The baskets were overflowing. And so was my heart—to see both God’s faithfulness in this wonderful team and the gratitude of these moms. And I thought of the investment being made which will bear fruit for years to come. “If only,” I thought. “If only the women who have worked so hard as leaders and administrators and childcare workers could see into the future to see the fruit of such faithfulness.”

Gift baskets for childcare workers

Back to that picture on the Christmas card. It also made me think of my Mom, who for years prayed faithfully for this Beth and her family. I believe Mom was at one time Beth’s Titus 2 leader—I’m not sure. But she knew about her and her family and tried to encourage them in every way she could. I wished that Mom could see this picture and read Beth’s note. Maybe she does.

This week—December 19, to be exact—is the third anniversary of my mom’s death. But her prayers live on, as I mentioned in a long-ago blog (“Deathless Prayers”). The reading for December 19 in an old-favorite devotional Mom often read, Streams in the Desert, includes a poem by an unknown author which always reminds me of Mom, of Mom to Mom, and of God’s faithfulness when we are faithful to “call back” about His faithfulness and provision to those coming along the road behind us in mothering. I share it with you as an encouragement to all of you who ”call back” to other moms—whether through leading a small group at Mom to Mom, sending a note (or an email, a text, a tweet) of encouragement, caring for kids so moms can grow in Jesus. Or praying “deathless prayers” over the moms and families Jesus so loves.

Call Back

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perhaps, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low.
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the lofty air was still.

O friend, call back and tell me for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet sprint in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky—
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back—
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

This Advent season, I hope you’ll keep “calling back” about the One whose birth we celebrate. He is faithful. He calls us to be faithful. There’s a picture ahead of you somewhere of the “kids you’re helping raise.”

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