Friday, August 21, 2009

Believe, Begin, Become…or …. Can You Take The Heat?

This morning I met with another writer who encouraged me along the path of my first title for today’s required writing – Believe, Begin, Become. Inspired to go home and write, my car turned right instead of left and without realizing it, I found myself in the garden center, among the hardy blooms of late summer, the ones who can take the heat – thus my second title that I could not resist. Somewhere between the two there is a relationship. Stay with me.

Let me back up and say I have been thinking so much about change as we approach the one-year anniversary of our daughter’s death. So much has changed for each of us individually and together as a family. We are changed forever and finding our way through that change. I am reminded in 1 Peter 5:6 that says to “Humble yourself, therefore under God’s almighty hand, that He may lift you up in due season.”

I cannot speak for everyone else affected by Megan’s death, but I have identified some of the ways that I have been changed.
I am forever changed in that I now believe the verse in scripture that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I am not afraid of suffering – or whatever I might be called to do. I may like it one bit, and will never understand the “whys”, but I trust in the One who hears my complaint, knowing that he has a plan and a purpose for all things. I am more focused, more serious and more removed. I am a lot less fun to be around. Sorry.

I am forever changed because during Megan’s illness, God somehow – probably through the prayers or so many- provided me with words that comforted me and others. The words chronicled the journey, marked the time, and provided strength. I witnessed personal healing in myself and you as we watched her leave this life. I reread and the words still comfort me, they guide and direct me, and point me forward.

I am forever changed because though the journey was dark, there was always light. There was always something of beauty that would appear –a friend, a bird or a star, maybe a note, maybe the light in Megan’s eyes…there was a presence in our home that was felt and unexplainable, a sense of God close-up and real. I still feel it – and I seek it out on the dark days that will most likely show up now and then.

I am forever changed because in my grief I have been taken more closely to the cross of Christ with the realization that God never asked me to do more than what he did in giving up his own son Jesus on the cross. And on those days that are still dark in mystery, I go to Gethsemane and sit with Jesus, where Jesus pleaded with God, saying, “Could you just take this cup from me. Is there not some other way? Yet, it is not my will, but thy will be done.” I allow myself to be with Him and wonder in my heart “Did you have to take Megan? Couldn’t there have been some other way?” And I sit there and cry and give it up all over again and I am strengthened and restored. I go there often.

The words that were a gift during my crisis continue to come forth and give me strength and hope for something out there, beyond where I can see. I am told it is a book, a story that will help others and encourage them when they walk through a valley. The billboard that caught my eye shouted it out “BELIEVE! BEGIN! BECOME!” I thought how nice it would be if it was that simple. It reminded me of a quote Dr. Feelgood shared with me by Napoleon Hill, one of America’s first motivational authors who wrote “Think and Grow Rich”. Hill said “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

I wonder where I am in that collection of action verbs. After writing weekly for two years, I do believe more and more in myself as a writer. Confidence is a wonderful thing, something that has not come easy for me in life and now at a very high price. Maybe it is my pain that gives me something to say. Time will tell.

Writing is one thing, but beginning the process of publishing is the start of a brand new career – and I am not exactly fresh out of college! I reminded Dr. Feelgood that it is like him deciding to become a plumber after being a stock broker for 30 plus years. But I have begun and that is the first step. And I am encouraged in my effort even though it is slow and laborious and I must discipline myself like never before (it is why I am no longer fun).

Somewhere in the process, I believe we start to become (like the Velveteen Rabbit). For me I have learned much of what I know from creation which brings back me to the random garden center visit. The flowers in my window boxes have bloomed as much as they can and are exhausted from the heat. It is time for a change (believe). I pulled everything out and replaced (begin) with late bloomers that can take the heat – Blue Daze, Gazania, and Marigolds. Oh, they look a little shocked right now, being thrown into a new environment suddenly, but if I nurture them along, they will grow and bloom (become) until the next season of growth.

Maybe I, too, can be a late bloomer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Today - Don't Miss Today!

August 5, 2009

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I thought I might wake this morning to an onslaught of tears, nostalgically thinking of Megan on her 28th birthday, missing her presence here and the opportunity to make her something special for her birthday dinner. But the tears have not appeared. Something keeps me thinking of the gift of eternal life she has been given. And something keeps me seeing her laughing. It’s like a mental vision today of all the beauty and love she possessed and shared with so many of us. It’s a birthday gift for sure from her and I plan to enjoy it throughout the day. And tonight we will make her favorite, Shrimp and Grits, and sing Happy Birthday to her in Heaven.

I did open her journal just to see what was on her mind in August of 2006 which now seems so long ago. She was thinking a lot about vision for her life and working on personal and financial goals as a young, single woman. She wrote:
“Lord, you have been guiding me in my prayer life as I study about life goals and vision. I don’t know where I will be in one year, but Lord I do know that I want to live confidently in your love – trusting your faithfulness and seeking you every day. God, I don’t know what your plans are for me – just your promises which are always enough. Sarah (in the Bible) waited a very long time. You have not promised me marriage, a family, a home, or even tomorrow but Lord, I trust that you have some plan for me, and God, as I wait daily for that plan to unfold, help me to see that TODAY is part of the great plan you have for me – help me not to miss TODAY!”

I am encouraged by those words to not miss today. It’s easy to stay in the past or mourn the future, but life is for living and there is much to do today. It could be the last day we have. Then again we might have two more years like Megan did. We just don’t know. And we don’t know the impact our lives will have on others as we live out the rest of our todays.

Megan wrote a little later in her journal:
“…thinking a lot about what I want my life to look like 5,10, 50 years from now – listened to part of Andy Stanley’s series on Discovering God’s Will…he said when you have a vision for your life and seek God’s will, the options are fewer and the decisions get much easier and clearer to make.”

I suppose we revisit our visions for our lives as life moves us through many passages. Like our friends who have just held their first grandchild – visions of future and hope for this new life; like our young friends who married this past weekend and we danced the night away in celebration; like a drive across the country to start a new life; like the start of college and first grade; like new jobs and new friends; like the three-year-old who is fighting cancer with good spirits; like planning a pilgrimage of sorts to find healing and hope; like writing almost 100 missives to communicate love and gratitude for today as we all live out our todays. In each example, life becomes simpler, options fewer, and decisions easier. Today is part of God’s great plan for each of us. Don’t miss TODAY!

20A - Zone 4

August 5, 2009
While riding the train to the airport, I noticed him. His head was covered with his sweater and he looked like he had been sleeping there for some time. Unlike me, boarding pass in hand, I doubted he had a plane to catch. Maybe the train was home. I have read about people who will ride all day just to have a safe and cool place to sleep. It gets them through the day. I admit the gentle rocking of the rail line and the steady hum of the motor is soothing – and supporting public transportation, I like to think it is safe.

I keep thinking about the sweater-covered rider. It is a mental picture of me on many days - wanting to shut out the world, board a train with no destination, blocking the light of day. Thank God, I haven’t resorted to train sleeping. But maybe we all do in our own creative and struggling ways. Being homeless doesn't always look like the tired man on the train. Homeless can be all cleaned up with designer clothes on; homeless can be a state of wanderlust, riding trains to nowhere, not caring about the final destination. Homeless can be a state of busy-ness – filling up hours with meaningless activity. Homeless can be a heart that can't feel, cry, or connect. Homeless can be a choice in one’s state of mind. The choices are many –fill in the blank with victim, entitlement, denial, lethargy, pride, ego, and on and on. When you are homeless, you have been convinced by an unworthy source you have no where to go. As Dr. Feelgood reminds our family “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”.

In trying to save some money, New York is offering one way tickets to homeless people who have a family member in another city who will take them in. They must have their destination confirmed before they will issue the ticket. It sounds like a compassionate plan, doesn’t it? I wonder how it will work when the person actually shows up on their welcome mat with a sweater over his head and a hungry stomach.

As Christians we have that family member, our father in heaven, who has given us a boarding pass to Heaven - because we trust in Him. He welcomes all of us just as we are with all of our baggage. It’s been His plan throughout time.

I am saddened to think some will ride the train of life daily until death and not have a ticket for a better destination when this life stops. Some think they can just stay on the train, ride as long as they can through life, print their own boarding pass with little thought to the train stopping.

And it will stop. As we approached the airport, the conductor announced that all passengers must get off the train at the end of the line. As I gathered my things, I looked through the crowd of people, hoping to get one more glimpse of my inspiration. He had gotten off somewhere along the way – gone from my view, but not my heart and somehow I knew he had his boarding pass. One day he won’t be homeless.

Win- Win

July 24, 2009

I have been at my desk, tending to work, missing nature and my garden. But I open the window and there it all is –order, blue sky, breeze in the air, birds singing, and the sweet smell of the hostas just starting to bloom. I had nothing to do with any of it and I am grateful.

A devotional this morning reminded me that God has gone to great measures to preserve our freedom of choice and that a spirit of thankfulness to Him in all circumstances is a way to know God personally. Job asked the question, “Can I be only grateful to God in the good things in my life?” If God is with us in our darkest moments – and I know He is – then is he not a God that goes before us on our good days? The breeze blowing in on my shoulder is an affirming “yes”.

Somehow when things are running along smoothly, with many good choices around us, we tend to take all the credit. We become confident in our contacts, our degrees, our reputation, our accomplishments, our possessions. We forget to thank God in the good times. We forget to spend time with him. Then when the tough times come, it is even harder to turn to God, much less be grateful that He is still by our side and we become angry and blame him for our misfortunes. Satan must really enjoy this scenario – ignore God when I am strong, blame God when I am weak – it’s a win/win for Satan because we have chosen self as our own little god. What would happen if we trusted and thanked God for our good days, and trusted and thanked God for our bad days? I think God is brilliant in giving us a choice. It’s a win/win for him. No matter what we do or where we live, we have a God who goes before us and as the book said “gone to great measures to preserve our freedom of choice”.

If we seek to develop a spirit of thankfulness, we put someone above ourselves. We step aside and let another guide us. We are humbled for the help or guidance we receive. We trust it and give thanks for it. We live it out. We are reminded that if it wasn’t for God, we would not be this created human being with an ability to choose.

When Job had it out with God, God allowed him to have his say and then fired a series of questions at Job that no one on earth could possibly answer. Questions like: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you ever given orders for the morning? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or seen the gates of death? By the time God finishes questioning him, Job gives up and says he will be quiet. But God is not quite finished and continues this line of questioning. Finally Job understands his very small place in the world and confesses to God that he spoke of things to wonderful for him to know. Read Job 38-42 and you will be in tears, humbled by your smallness. You will look out your window and feel the breeze and marvel that you even have the privilege to live in the world of this creator.

How could we choose anything but to be thankful? How could we choose anything but to seek His face every day in all that we do, wherever we are, whatever task is before us?
When a special friend was heading off to college, I wrote and reminded her to think often of the verse in Isaiah 30:21 that says, “Whether you turn to the left or the right, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it”. And if we choose to follow God, it is the win/win of all time, all eternity.