Mother’s Day

I celebrate it now, differently than I used to.

While we live in a society that has varying definitions of what a family is and how it operates, I find it interesting to think about how we all still rally around Mother’s Day in a similar fashion. Street corners are filled with stands selling teddy bears and roses, ads are centered on selling that “perfect gift” for Mom, and warm sentiments are shared. Minds wander “home” to wherever Mom abides, whether it’s the childhood stomping grounds, across the seas, or in heaven.

Although I can’t call my Mom and let her know I’m thinking of her or send her one of the beautiful cards displayed in the stores, Mother’s Day is still a day to celebrate and remember the one who demonstrated grace, womanhood, and life. From gently reminding me, her tom-boy nine-year old stomping across the dining room floor, to “walk softly;” to teaching me how to cook food and “properly” set a table; to encouraging me to talk to Jesus about all my hopes, dreams, and questions because there’s no safer place to go with the biggest things on my heart; she cared, loved, and mothered intentionally.

The word “grace” has been running through my mind today. I remember the process of living, learning, and growing that Mom would let me in on in her life. It wasn’t just me, the child, her daughter, who had lots of areas to grow up in life. She, the grown-up, the mother, was learning and growing too. I remember lamenting the lack of growth in my life…how I would fall down over and over again. She would remind me that none of us are perfect. We’re all on a journey and we all have ways we need to grow. We need to encourage each other and extend grace to each other, she would say. I want to be more full of grace–God’s grace. I want to extend it more freely.

I’m thankful today for the grace Mom extended to me and demonstrated for me. I think it has helped me to understand better, the grace that God—the perfect father—extends to us, His children.

And on this Mother’s day, my mind wanders “home” to heaven and I feel rather homesick and eager for the day I can go there too, and join Mom and the throngs celebrating Jesus–the ultimate celebration of the One who makes living and dying worth doing!

I love you, Mom, and will forever be grateful for your impact on my life!

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An Agonizing Dance

From a distance, I see her arms and face raised towards heaven as she moves about in choreographic abandonment and joy.  What beauty and talent on display!  Slowly, step by step, I inch closer, keeping myself discreet, hoping to get a better view of this free and elegant expression of worship.  Yet, as I move closer I realize her movements don’t come easily, but are deliberate and painful, as if her joints are inflamed and each movement of the dance brings with it a fresh flood of suffering for the dancer.  Her arms and face raised toward heaven are longing and aching for heaven itself.  Yet, the abandonment and joy remain clearly written across her face, even in the agony.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and [a]cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give     you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord and wait [c]patiently for Him…

Waiting patiently.  We’ll just say that patience and waiting has pretty much been a forever struggle of mine—I’m impatient, and it seems to be something that God is forever whittling away in my life.

I used to have such a glamorized view of the process, imagining that a sure sign of being at rest and having conquered the struggle of patience would be the absence of struggle.  If somehow I could shake myself of the struggle, and feel completely at rest, then surely that would mean I have victory over the problem.  I quit believing my own philosophy when I stumbled across this fairly innocent phrase in this rather familiar Psalm and dug deeper.

Rest [to be dumb, by implication to be astonished, to stop;--cease, forbear, hold peace, quiet self, rest, keep silent, be still, tarry, wait.] in the Lord and…

Wait patiently [to twist or whirl, i.e. specifically: to dance, to writhe in pain or fear, to wait, figuratively:--bear, bring forth, calve, dance, drive away, fall grievously (with pain), fear, form,grieve, hope, look, be in pain, be much pained, rest, stay, tarry, travail (with pain) tremble, trust, wait carefully, be wounded] for Him.

I have to admit, it’s hard for me to understand how words such as dancing and pain, hope and fear, resting and travailing can all exist as a description for the same thing.  My mind has a hard time wrapping around the fact that a description for “waiting patiently” would include “writhing in pain or fear.”

So much for my flowery idea of all struggle ending when I finally get the hang of this patience thing.

And yet, as I look at life, I realize that waiting really does involve a continual “being wounded” ….and the process of it can be beautiful, if I allow it…

The agony of praying for a lost soul year after year, hoping, waiting for results…Waiting, day by day, to watch God unfold the pages of His story for me when all I can really understand and see is the here and now and history…The endless wait until the time when we can join loved ones amid the throngs in heaven…the longing for that time to be now…

I’m learning that the victory is not so much in fighting against and quenching the struggle as it is in embracing Christ and the agony with hope for what is promised…in being intentional about where I go with the struggle rather than trying to close off the feelings. . .

It’s a God-ordained process and the only way to really see the beauty in the end is to embrace the agony of the here and now.

In the Face of Pain…

An article I wrote for a ladies magazine a few months ago (for you young ladies–check out Daughter’s of Promise), which still speaks my heart today…

It was a crisp, sunshiny November day in the Colorado countryside where our family eagerly awaited my brother’s wedding.  It began with quiet moments with God and chatter with the family in the small living room of the downstairs apartment where we were staying. We ate a yummy breakfast, cooked by my mother, and made plans for the day.  It was happy and innocent and full of excited anticipation for the week ahead of us.

Seek to please me above all else.  As you journey through today, there will be many choice-points along your way….” read the devotional for that day (taken from Sarah Young’s, Jesus Calling).

Jesus, help me to live this way today. Help me to continually choose You at each point I come to.  

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” These were the words I highlighted that very morning in my Bible. I sat there pondering the heaviness of those words, the passion with which they were stated.

Then we set out across the Colorado countryside, the three of us in our van—Mom, my brother and I—to make the fifteen-minute drive into town to meet up with Dad and brother.   

Little did I know how much that fifteen-minute drive would completely change my life and the direction I thought I was headed in this journey.

I do not remember most of the drive, and the details of the events that followed are recorded as a large blank spot in my memory, with faint glimpses of medics, anguish, and tears. For that drive cruelly brought an end to my mother’s life as our minivan met the metal of a vehicle larger than itself, crushing the bones and heart of her body.

As the day went on and I tried to wrap my injured brain around what had happened, the only question I did not ask more than once was where my beautiful mother was.  My mother had died.  This information was far too big, the pain too immense, for even a struggling memory to forget.

And just like that, in a matter of several seconds, I was thrust into a lifelong journey I did not ask for.  I had no choice in it; I would not choose it if I could.  It is a journey of tears, of raw grief and continual pain.  It is a journey of learning, at age 20, how to live again; a journey of finding God in the broken places; of walking into deep dark valleys and crevices in order to discover the light and life of God.

I wish I could say that walking this journey of pain has brought about more clarity and answers to my questions of life.  I wish that for the next ten paragraphs I could write a ten-step list of “How to Handle Pain and Grief.”  Unfortunately, that is not how it is, and I do not expect it ever will be that way. In fact, the longer it goes, the more questions it seems I have.

Why God? What were You thinking? What could Your purpose be in this? Are You sure this is the journey You meant for us to walk? Because, You know, You are God, so maybe You could just go back and redo that detail.

Yet, amid my many questions, I can know for sure Who God has been to me in it all and how He is leading me on this journey of much falling down, of struggling to get up, and of remembering Who the Strong One is and who I am to Him. It is a journey of believing truth, preaching it to myself when I cannot believe it, and worshipping God in it all.

“Truth” and “worship” are two words that have become incredibly real to me. They are two “lifelines”, I guess you could say, to which I cling, and are intertwined in so much of life. Focusing on truth leads my heart to worship.  Worshiping Christ for who He is and all He has done for me, reminds me of what I have experienced in the past and know to be true.

I have come to realize just how much Satan attacks truth and my worship in desperation to draw me away from Jesus.  He combats truth with lies and shoots down worship with ingratitude and despair. When things do not make sense, and my mind tries to sort through all the pieces and put them together in a logical way that fits my understanding, I find the need to run to the truth of God’s word and claim the promises for myself; continually reminding myself of truth, preaching it to myself.

Ocean waves and ripples would be a pretty good description for life right now and it amazes me how easy it is to sing praises and trust God’s strength when I feel strong. Yet, the Christian life has very little to do with my emotions and how I feel, and everything to do with the One who gives me life and every breath I breathe.  What about the times when I am incredibly weak and the feelings are far from praise? Or when looking at my future is like looking at a death-sentence because life seems so daunting and I feel so weak that it is hard to believe I could possibly step forward and still survive? There are meals to cook, a large house to clean, and appointments to remember.  Not to mention the deeper things such as decisions to make, family to care for, grief to process, and no mother to help me do this! How can I begin to dream about the future when I barely feel the strength to process the here and now?

Well-meaning friends quote verses, encouraging me to simply cast my burdens on the Lord, and He will take them, and I will feel so much better.  What if I do not even have the strength to cast my burdens? Who says that what is right for this journey is to fix the problem and be freed from the pain? What if the power of what God has to show me is only found in walking this journey, step by agonizing step?

Think truth, Kristi.

God reminds me Who He is: In Psalm 37:23, David says that “The steps of a man are established by the Lord and He delights in his way. When He falls, He will not be hurled headlong because the LORD is the one Who holds His hand.”  I get the picture of a father and his child walking along a rutted, dirty path. The child tries his best to step over the big ruts and potholes, but often catches his foot and nearly falls. Yet, because the father is grasping the child’s outstretched hand, strongly, gently, lifting him over the potholes, the small one is not thrown head over heels into the ditch. His hand is tightly grasping the hand of his father’s; the weight of his body is fully dependent on the strength of his father’s arm.

This is Who God is to me.  Daily, hourly, moment by moment, He grasps my flailing hand in His and gives me what I need to live each day.  When I do not have the strength to cast my burdens on Him, He comes beside me, girds me up, and helps me to carry the load. It is in my weakness that His power is perfected.

As I surround myself with truth, my focus is shifted off of all that does not make sense and on to Jesus, Who is Truth, Who is Love, and Who is so intimately involved in the details of my life. He delights in my way (Ps. 37:23), and even though my journey looks different from what I ever would have imagined, He still has not forsaken me. Even though my life sometimes feels rather devastated and totaled, His plans are still to prosper, and are still for good and not for evil (Jer. 29:11). Even though the sting of death feels so strong, God is still stronger, the victory is still His.

Knowing these truths helps me to stand up with Job and sing “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord.” The only place where the deepest needs of our hearts will be met is in the place of worship before God.  It is a worship that is not found according to my circumstances and surroundings, but by being loved and surrounded by a God who is in control and who is worthy of every breath I breathe.

If I could Send a Letter to Heaven

Mom,

It is hard for me to believe that you’ve been in Heaven for 6 months now. My mind often wanders to where you are and I often wish I could join you there. I miss having you here—your smile and laughter; your insight; your love for people, especially your family. I miss the way you lived life fully—you searched God’s heart for the answers to your questions about life. You were always learning and growing. I miss spending time with you—sitting in your bedroom asking you questions and talking about absolutely anything that came to our minds. I miss your input into my life. I miss talking to you on the phone when we are apart. Have we really been apart for six months and not talked on the phone at all? And yet I still find myself tucking things away in my memory to tell you the next time I get a chance to talk to you or e-mail you.

It’s Mother’s Day. Your day. The day set aside for celebrating you because you are my Mom. Yet, this year the celebration is touched with pain because you are not here with us for the celebration. I can only imagine the joy and wonder you must be experiencing—really the best gift you could have on Mother’s day. Yet, for us left behind, this day serves as a reminder of your absence and of how much I miss you.

My heart aches for another chance to be together with you—to celebrate you with you—and to thank you for all you were to me and taught me in the years that we did have together. Yet while my heart aches for your presence, I can’t help but continue to celebrate who you were, the relationship we had together, and all that we experienced together. I can celebrate the life you have given me and lived before me.

Thank you, Mom, for living those 19 years so faithfully with me. For making right choices, for setting an example and leaving a legacy of following God that I can now look back on and continue to learn from even though you are not with me anymore.

I think of my relationship with God and how much you affected it and poured into it, pointing me toward Him over and over again as I grew and faced new stages of life. Thank you for encouraging me to seek Christ with all my heart and to follow wherever He leads, even when it’s hard and scary. Thanks for teaching me that by living it.

You prayed, Mom. I remember various times when you would remind me to talk to Jesus about life and the things that are on my heart—whether dreams and aspirations or fears and struggles—because He is the best one to talk to about those things. And you exemplified a life of prayer, praying for us children as we grew up and headed out into life, praying for Dad as he lead the family into unknown places, praying for other friends and loved ones.  I remember not so long ago, when you read the verse in Revelation that talks of the prayers of the saints mixing with incense and ascending to God and how much it meant to you on behalf of friends you loved so much who no longer had their mother here on earth. It meant so much to you because it gave you a word picture of how God is still receiving and hearing the prayers of parents who have already passed on. Little did you know how much your own children would need to know that. I have clung to that verse so much since then.

You involved yourself in the lives of others and cared passionately for what they were facing. You cared because you wanted to see them experience God and know His love. You were always so interested in the lives of others—asking questions, listening, showing value to people that crossed your path.

Thank you for sharing your journey with me—for not only letting me in on your victories and strengths but also on your struggles and weaknesses. I think of your openness in dealing with fear and your readiness to combat fear with faith in God. Rather than living life in the shadows of what could happen, you stepped forward in the light of God’s truth and stood firm on His promises even when it was difficult. And you were always ready to learn and tell about what you had learned in your journey, giving glory to God for His work in your life. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a learner, to continually be searching God’s heart and learning more and more about what it means to follow and imitate Him.

I could go on much longer about what you have gave me in the 19 years of our lives together, but this year the thing that I’m realizing more than ever is just how much you invested in my life and prepared me for this time in my life—The words of life and truth that you spoke into my life that I can now look back on and remember and cling to as I continue to grow and face this life on earth. The relationship with Jesus you exemplified and encouraged me to live. Jesus—the only strength to cling to and constant to depend on when all else is falling apart. Thank you Mom for seeking His heart passionately and for leading the way and setting an example that I can continue to follow even though I cannot be with you anymore.

I love you so much, Mom, and miss you like crazy. I wish we could be together today, but I am so grateful for the years of life we had together and for all that I can take with me from here because of your influence on my life.

“Though I Walk…”

If you’re looking for eloquence, search elsewhere; because, for this girl, eloquence is a bit of a foreign word right now.

“Why?” You ask.

It’s pretty hard to sum up life these days. Because, some days my mind flies at 100 miles an hour from point A to B, then off to Z and back to point B again. Other days, my mind still feels dull and numb with shock.  There’s a lot to think about, a lot to process when everything you know as normal is suddenly changed into a new reality and you’re left to re-learn how to live life.

So, I may not always have words to describe life from day to day, but there are a few things I can tell you about with words.

I can tell you about how God has sung—or perhaps shouted—over me this past week. How He’s reminded me of His promises again and again and again. How He shows me Who He is and who I am in Him.

It’s amazing to me, how God persists in His pursuit of me in this journey He has brought me on. Such as when I’m driving home from work and a flood grief overwhelms me and the tears overflow.  I cry out to Jesus to help me process all this. During that moment, I tune into the radio that’s singing in the background and hear the following words—God’s words for me:

Higher than the mountains that I face,
Stronger than the power of the grave,
Constant in the trial and the change,
One thing remains

Your love never fails, It never gives up
It never runs out on me

Because on and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I’ll never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
Covered by the Power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can 
Separate my heart from Your great love…”

Kristi, you may know nothing else right now; you may not know what to think or how to think or how to do life right now, but there is one thing you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt: I do not change, my love does not fail. I’m higher than any mountain you’re facing now, or ever will face. My strength far surpasses the power of the grave—no matter how powerful it seems to you right now. Remember, I do not change, therefore, no matter what you face, my love for you does not change. Rest in Me. I love you.

I will add that God continued to drive these truths deeper the rest of the week, as every time I got in the van to go somewhere, this song would play on the radio.

I can tell you about how God is teaching me patience. I have always been one to enjoy “To-Do” lists. Not because I enjoy all the to-do’s, but because I like getting through them in the quickest, most efficient way possible and crossing them off my list. So when God takes me down a path that requires time and energy and emotion, I realize again the need for patience. Because this is not something I can just “get through” and cross off my list of experiences. I am reminded that “quick” is not always the best rout, because what if—what if­—the things God has to teach me are in the process of feeling and experiencing this constant pain? What if it is during this very dark time that God will shine His glory the brightest?

I’m reminded of a picture God gave me several years ago during another painful time that I was wishing to just be “through”. A picture of two crosses: I was on one cross, and Jesus was on the other, and tears were streaming down His face. He was crying with me. God does not arbitrarily give me pain because He likes to see me writhe in it. He does not hand this pain to me and leave me to figure out what to do with it all. He gives me this pain because it is part of His good plan. He weeps to see me hurt, but He knows that in the long run it’ll be for my good and His glory. He walks this journey with me—carrying me all the way. 

So I choose, again, to walk this road, however long it takes, because this is where God has brought me and there is no place I’d rather be than with Him.

Because though I walk through this valley of the shadow of death—though it hurts and it’s excruciating, and many times I have questions and doubts, and wonder if it really has to be this way—I will fear no evil, because I know that my God is with me. I know that He is good and no matter what happens He will not change.

He understands far more than I ever will. So I rest in Him, in His love and His promises.     

Jesus, help me to rest in you, in Your promises. Thank you for your love that truly overwhelms and satisfies my soul—that is all I want, all I really need.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord. Take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

Surrender

Raw pain. Open wounds. How does one learn how to live with these?

I remember back to when I was on Chemo treatments and the struggle that would come when Thursday mornings would roll around and I had to go into the hospital for yet another treatment that would leave my body heaving with nausea and thoroughly fatigued.

Everything in me did not want to wake up those mornings. I remember I would stay up as late as possible the night before and then sleep as long as I could before getting up and heading over to the “Chemo room.”

I remember asking my kind nurse questions about the chemo that was being pumped into my body; questions about how she would prepare it behind those big heavy doors—not because I didn’t trust her, but because I was curious and wanted to know. I remember how she told me that she had to wear a mask and gloves that went up to her elbows because if she dripped the chemicals on her skin, the chemicals would begin to eat away at her skin.

And that’s going into my body?

Yet, deep down inside I knew there was no way around it, and that ultimately these treatments that felt like poison dripping into my veins would be good for me in the long run. The doctors are far more educated than I am in understanding what was happening in my body, and they had my best in mind. They longed as much as I did to see healing. I saw the pain in my nurse’s eyes as she approached me each week with the hook needle and when she gave new “flushings” of saline and heparin. I felt her care and encouragement with every 3 hour dose of chemotherapy during those rough 18 months.

I remember how Mom and I would watch for rainbows and butterflies and other signs from God to remind us He was in control and was walking with us down the path He had chosen for us. Eventually, there was light at the end of the tunnel and my treatments came to an end. The long Thursday mornings, the nausea—it was all over and life returned back to “normal”.  Nevertheless, I’ve always looked back on those days with the realization that, although I would never ask for them to be back, I would never trade the experiences God had given me because God had taught me so much—he had shown me aspects of Himself that I never would have seen otherwise.

And now God has brought me down a new path. He has allowed me to experience a new kind of pain. And He, the perfect Doctor, knows what’s best for me. He wants what is best for me, and He will only do what is best for me and will bring Him most glory.

He knows that in the long run it can produce beautiful results.  But those beautiful results cannot be seen or experienced without the pain or the process of experiencing the pain—the weekly infusions…the intense nausea and exhaustion…

Just as the chemotherapy infusions were needed in order to stop the growing tumor in my brain, so also the wise and loving Doctor knows that this tragedy, this process of experiencing pain can produce the good kinds of growth that are needed in my life if I allow it.

This weekend has been one of raw pain as reality continues to show itself. Some days it is like receiving hourly doses of chemotherapy, and my insides want to completely reject it.

And I’m once again reminded of the power of choices:

The choice to believe even when I don’t want to, that God is good.

The choice to be okay with feeling and experiencing pain every single day—to accept this calling in life

without giving a deadline for it to end.

The choice to believe that for as wrong as everything seems at times, He’s in control—He has a plan and

knows what He’s doing. He sees the big picture. I don’t.

The choice to focus on Christ and see the confirmations that He’s given me in the past weeks to

show me that He’s in this with me.

The choice to receive the love and gentleness that He’s lavished on me.

The choice to kneel in the midst of all the pain and worship my God and King and to acknowledge that

He is Lord.

The choice to let this make me a better person.

Surrender. I want it. I want to know more about it. Lord, show me more—show me how. 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God for my hope is in Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 
Oh my people, trust in him at all times
Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.”
Ps. 62:5-8

Choosing gratitude

An empty picture frame sat resting against the wall behind her recliner in the bedroom.  A project she had planned to finish when she got home. I picked it up and recalled the conversation we had weeks ago, before I left for Colorado. She was describing to me her most recent decorating idea: she was going to turn the frame into a marker board or chalkboard and hang it in a prominent place where all could see and access. And whoever wanted to could write words on it—words of things they are grateful for. And we’d fill the frame up with gratitude.

Gratitude: that was her song…one of many….her walls and notes declare it, her life displayed it.

A motto hangs in her room reminding us to “Count your rainbows, not your rainy days.”

Rejoice always [always!], pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

(I Thess. 5:18 and Phil. 4:6, emphasis added)

I’ve heard it often, the difference between giving thanks in all circumstances, versus for all circumstances…of the importance of continuing to give thanks in the hard times…

It’s become so real to me now. Both the struggle to give thanks and the freedom, the joy that comes in giving it.

And, thanks to Mom, there are reminders all over the house to give thanks, to trust God, to find the reasons to smile—I see them as final messages from her.

Yes, life is hard right now. And as I sat tonight with my brothers and sisters during Bible study, the last thing I felt like doing was joining in on the songs of thanks for God’s bountiful harvest and blessings.

It’s an exercise with a ripple effect. In choosing to give thanks, I can then enter into the fullness of joy that Jesus longs for me to have. The more I make the choice to thank and praise, the more I experience joy, and the more my vision clears and expands to see God’s huge hands at work.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I’m overwhelmed at the thought of all that I have to be thankful for.

*        For the gift of a beautiful Mom and an amazing legacy to follow…the gift of memories, of having had a friendship with her…for the sweet gift of knowing where she is and knowing that I’ll see her again someday

*        For the incredibly beautiful body of Christ who has surrounded me and my family over the past 2+ weeks and given me a tangible picture of the hands and feet of Jesus

*        For friends who pray for me and hold up my arms when my strength is low in the heat of the battle

*        For signs of God along the way

*        For little miracles and answered prayer that have taken place from November 6 and since

*        For both the beautiful sunny days and sweet-smelling rainy days on which I can get out and enjoy fresh air and exercise when my mind needs cleared

*        For music that is often heard wafting through the house and encourages the heart and lifts the spirit

*        For God’s promises, that can be trusted

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built up with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the bridge from known to unknown, and know: He holds.” –Ann Voskamp

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