Friday, December 31, 2010

I Love My Life!

The words slipped out before I realized what I was saying! I was talking to one of my dear friends this past Wednesday, and I heard myself saying, "I love my life!" And I almost wept...and I did weep later as I thought of it. Why?

Because that phrase used to be one that I used a lot, and I meant every word of it. But the events of this past 18 months stole that phrase from my vocabulary. Instead, more than once I heard myself saying just the opposite: "I hate my life!" (and I meant every word of that at the time, too!). So when "I love my life" spontaneously slipped from my lips this week, I knew that it was more than just a chance occurrence. Papa was wanting me to know that He has been healing some really deep wounds in me (duh!!).

I don't want to focus on me regarding this, though. Rather I want to thank God for holding onto my family and me so tightly over these past few months, holding onto me when I couldn't even think clearly enough to want to hold onto Him. And I want to thank Him for "shouting in our pain" over and over until we heard His voice in the storm. And I want to thank Him for surrounding me with so many loving friends that I won't know until Heaven how rich I truly am. And I want to thank Him for setting me free from the need to understand, replacing it with a renewed hunger just to be His little child. As I wrote to Papa in my journal yesterday, "it has been your patient wooing, healing and loving on me that have brought me to true understanding of intimacy with you again—thank you."


So with my future not really any clearer than it was a few days ago, I find myself facing this next year with hope and yes, even joy. I am still grieving, and I will for a long time to come, but I now grieve with clarity about Papa and His love that I didn't have before, and I will choose to step into His embrace when it gets dark the next time.

Romans 11:33-36 seems like a good way to end this note and this year:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (NIV1984)

My prayer for you, all of you and each of you, is that you too will be able to say, "I love my life!" Yes, there will be times when those words may be squeezed into silence for a while, but may the overall theme for all of Abba's children be permeated with this phrase.

I love my life (His life for me and in me),

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, December 24, 2010

"As for me, I will always have hope."

It started yesterday morning in yet another typically distracted time with Papa. I finally realized two very important things: first, that my greatest loss during this past season wasn't my beloved Jettie but the disruption of the amazing intimacy with Papa that He had brought me to over the past few years; second, that He is inviting me back into that intimacy right now, and I don't have to wait any longer to start that journey. And what better time than now in this season of wonder and marvel? In my typically transparent way I paste some of yesterday's entry. Don't be concerned about how bleak it sounds in places--the story gets better.

Papa, the other part of this, of course, is that if I look anywhere but to you for what only you can supply I am short-circuiting your plan for me (or delaying it, at least). Yet as always, I don’t want to view our relationship as a duty, so please, Papa, draw me close to you and woo me away from things that don’t matter. Ora Rowan’s hymn again comes to mind.

Ah, Father! I go back to find the first Ora Rowan entry for this year and it’s from May 16, and I weep and weep. So much loss, Father! Yet what I was mostly writing about there was intimacy with you, and I know all of it’s still true. I just don’t know how to get back to where I was because I am so stuck in grief, so lost, Papa. I know you know where I am, but I don’t seem to know where I am. Yes, Father, as I re-read the entry for that date, I see how lost I am. My failure to lay hold of healing has left me bereft of any ability to get back to that place. When Jettie died, everything seems to have died with her…

Yet I will always have hope. And I see now more clearly than ever how I have substituted human relationships for intimacy with you. Yet how can I change all this? I am miserable and feeling so lost so much of the time. How do I ask, how do I posture myself, to be so inundated by your love that you really do become “all I need”? And what do I do with all this grief?????

Father, my greatest loss in all of this is the journey itself, I think. But I know you are holding onto me, and I trust that at some point this whole thing will indeed result in my being “deeper.” But right now, as you know, I am a mess, and the surrendered/saturated life seems impossibly far from me. And so I wait, still painfully easy to distract, still smarting from my loss.

That was yesterday's entry, and I must admit that nothing changed noticeably throughout the day, excerpt perhaps the "grief of the season" got deeper. But in the back of my mind (deep in my spirit?) God planted a two-part seed from the morning, the quote from Psalm 71:14 ("I will always have hope.") and two of the stanzas from Ora Rowan's hymn:

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless (matchless) worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

And light began to dawn on me in a way that I haven't experienced since Jettie's passing: there is nothing, not even my deep grief, that hinders my re-engaging the journey of intimacy with Papa. I know this is a no-brainer, but for some reason the painful journey had caused me to lose sight of the obvious (my guess is that this was due to my loss of trust in Abba because things didn't turn out how I thought they should--but that's a subject for another time). So it is that this morning with blinding clarity, I saw the way back to Father's embrace (which has never left me--His arms have always been around me, of course), and this morning's entry ended with a new commitment to the Psalm 27:4 life God calls all of us to. In short, I see His beauty again, and it compels me to His embrace and steadies me in my grief.

What makes this rather remarkable in some ways is that, according to experts on grieving, just the opposite should be happening. Christmas is supposed to trigger the worst sense of loss for those who lose loved ones. Perhaps because so many are praying, perhaps because the wonder of the season is so undeniably present--I don't really know--but for me, "I will always have hope." And another of my favorite passages now rises up before me, expressing the now reawakened longing of my heart: "Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you." (Isaiah 26:8-9a) And so the beauty of His love, the kindness of His face invites me closer, back to His heart with the promise of even deeper love because of my brokenness!

I have written in this transparent manner not because I want this blog to be focused on me, but because I sense that there are others whose "loss" has left them in a fog, obscuring the loving face of Papa. May my journey be an encouragement to you: "As for you, you will always have hope" and that hope is God Himself.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

You can access a previous blog where I wrote about Ora Rowan by clicking here.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Still More Reflections On The Grieving Process


"When do you stop counting?" My sister, whose husband, Jerry, died from cancer less than four weeks after Jettie’s passing, asked me this a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the answer to that question—maybe never, eh? But I did ask Father why I keep remembering even when I am trying to move on, and the following came to me (now confirmed by others who have walked this path). Why do we count? Why do we have a hard time not remembering things we want to forget in our grief? The answer is that our “internal self” keeps track of things! We may wonder why “today” is so hard and why grief seems to be especially hard “today,” and the reason is often that our internal self (sub-conscious, spirit, etc.) is aware that “today” is an anniversary (Saturdays are often hard for me because Jettie died on a Saturday), or that “Christmas is coming” or that it’s simply time to process more grief because Holy Spirit says so! Perhaps that's why grief seems so unpredictable to our conscious minds: our spirits and inner parts of our self are busily keeping track, processing, considering, grieving. Once I realized this it became easier to work with what was happening instead of fighting it!
This is just one of the many things I continue to learn on this journey, and although I am hesitant to keep writing about grief, it seems important for me to do so, especially during this holiday season because such seasons are often harder for those mourning the passing of a loved one. So here are a few more things I am learning about grief with my comments.
  1. During the early stages of grief your judgment about your ability to make good judgments is not trustworthy! During my journey I have already found myself looking back at some early decisions when I was sure that my ability to make decisions was solid only to now ask myself in wonder, "What I was thinking!" Sigh... so I learned that during deep grieving, especially at first, we aren’t even able to decide about our ability to decide, no matter who we are. So what can we do? We can listen to other people, especially those who love us and know us well and perhaps especially when they disagree with us!
  2. So the common advice given to grieving folks not to make major decisions that will be hard to recover from if they are bad ones is solid counsel. But if you do make a bad decision, don’t beat yourself up about it. Come to Papa and ask Him to help untangle it. (But if you heed the first point, you won’t need this one).
  3. On the other hand, it’s normal to think about the future, including wondering about another life partner if that’s what God has for you, even while you are grieving. My thanks to my friend, Tony K., for reminding me of this early in my journey. I was feeling so guilty about thinking about my future instead of just being sad all the time, and his counsel that this was a normal way of coping with grief and part of the healing process was like water in the desert. On the hand, it’s probably not wise to start deciding much about the future because of numbers 1-2 above! Listening to God, listening to others, and waiting for Papa's timing seems a better option to me.
  4. Don’t put deadlines on your grief (thanks to my friend, Bobby B., for this one). The depth of the sense of loss seems to be closely related to the depth (quality and duration) of the relationship. Because Jettie and I had such a good relationship for such a long time, my grief has been, and may continue to be, deep and long. Ours was a rare love indeed, and we had been deeply happy for a long time (not perfectly so—I am tough to live with at times). So I am not telling Papa that I need to grieve a long time based on this, but I also won’t be surprised if I grieve a while longer than I would like!
  5. Understanding everything won’t help, nor is it possible. I am discovering that the reason I want to understand things is that I want to regain some sense of control in my life. This is a perfectly normal reaction to the total loss of control that has happened to me. I am finding that asking God to help me understand some things—the things I need to understand as He defines them—is good, but demanding to understand grows out of fear and a need to control things none of us can control. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a good passage to hang onto even (or more accurately, especially) when your world falls apart and nothing makes sense. Again and again as I have begun the "Why journey" Father has simply invited me to trust Him, rest in Him, allow Him to embrace me, and in His embrace whatever clarity I need comes. (Not that I don't find myself still resisting His embrace at times).
  6. As you progress through your grief, you will begin to hear God’s voice again (beyond His whispered encouragement and love, which for me at least, were always there). That has meant for me that I can now tell the difference between when I am feeling my loss and when I am headed into self-pity. Hearing God's voice helps me make better decisions about what to do with the powerful emotions associated with grief. None of us can control the fact that emotions come, especially at first, but as we progress through the journey we do become better able to make choices that keep the emotions from leading us the wrong way because His voice begins to be clear again. Thank you, Papa, for this one!
  7. I am finding that there is a lot of help out there for grieving people (as you know) and that the "common threads" among them are the most helpful. Whether the source is secular or Christian, there are some common observations about grief that, although worked out differently in each person's life, are true and therefore helpful. (Some of these reflections I am making had their beginning in such sources). Bottom line is again to seek the counsel of others. Grief was never meant to be experienced in isolation (although isolating oneself is often what one wishes to do!).
  8. Finally, I have discovered that grieving is highly visible and well modeled in Scripture. I wasn’t able to see that very well before. Perhaps in a later blog I will elaborate on this one.
So there you have it: yet another "view from the valley." I pray that my experience with grieving, which continues to this very moment, especially as Jettie's favorite time of the year (Christmas) approaches, will be an encouragement to some of you.

I invite you to nestle ever deeper into Papa's arms with me, allowing Him to pull you close even when you aren't sure you want that!

Tom, one of His little boys

Monday, December 6, 2010

The River of God's Sovereignty

     I am writing from yet another "slough of despond," but I wanted to write nonetheless. I am sitting in a hotel room, alone, in South Padre Island, hoping to work some things out with Papa regarding grief and the future. But for now, I write...
     As I have mentioned previously, tragedy tends to cause some people to say some rather odd things about God in their attempts to comfort those who have suffered loss. Nothing seems more odd to me than the statement, variously worded, that suggests that God somehow orchestrates the death of someone we love. The attempted comfort takes various forms: “Well, God just needed her in heaven,” or “Well, all our days are determined by the Lord,” etc., but the meaning is the same—somehow God is portrayed as pulling levers and pushing buttons that somehow cause every event that happens in life, good and bad. But going down that road causes us to end up with a god who kills babies through abortion, kills little children through disease, war and famine, sends massive hurricanes, etc., and that is not a good road to travel! (Please remember, too, that death was never God’s idea nor His plan for us, so death itself was never in His original purpose for His creation, never His choice.)
     A god who causes everything that happens is not the God of the Bible. The God of Scripture is indeed sovereign, but the fact that God is sovereign doesn’t mean that He makes everything happen! That blasphemous picture of God is called Determinism, and that’s the god of Islam, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So what does it mean that God is sovereign? It means that He takes everything that happens within the context of the freedom that He grants to His creatures and causes all of it to fit into His ultimate purpose (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28-29). So we live in a world where bad choices (starting with Adam and Eve) have allowed a huge amount of evil things to happen. But it is also a world where God is always working redemptively (and usually invisibly) to cause all things to work out for His ultimate good purpose: the revelation of the infinite love and goodness which are His glory. How God does this is beyond understanding, of course, but the Bible tells us that there are lots of thing that happen that are not God’s will (it’s His will that no one should perish, but some will perish, etc.). Yet in the end even those things that are not His immediate will somehow will be fit into His overall, eternal purpose (my head hurts when I think about this too much!).
     Why is it so important to understand this about God? A few things come to mind. First, we cannot have a relationship with God apart from understanding this. God’s desire for a relationship with us requires Him to allow us the freedom to make real and genuine choices. Relationships can never be coerced or forced. You may submit to a dictator, but you won’t enter into a loving relationship with him/her! But with the ability to choose relationship with God comes the ability not to choose that relationship and the evil that follows such a choice. You cannot have freedom without allowing for the possibility of evil, but real relationships require freedom.
     Second, as common sense tells us,  you cannot be in a loving and trusting relationship with a god who causes bad things! Thankfully scripture reveals that God is not like that at all. (Who could love a god who “hurts us for his glory” or who could do something but "for his glory" chooses to do nothing?). Understanding that God is good, absolutely and completely good, is a key to our trusting Him even when we don’t understand what’s happening around us or to us. I love how Pastor Bill Johnson keeps things simple in this regard: "God is good. The devil is bad!" 
     Finally, God’s desire for us to be like Him in His goodness requires that His creatures be free to make real choices. My friend Steve Schell recently helped me to see this. Only when we choose to be good are we really good (like our Father). Coerced goodness is not goodness at all. Love (the motivation behind true goodness) cannot be forced, and nothing is more like Papa God than love! So the very fact that we are created in His image means that evil is a possibility because free choice allows for it. But that doesn’t mean that God does or causes the evil, as I trust you can see by now.
     Thus we find ourselves in a world where, because freedom is genuine, freedom results in a world with lots of bad things (like a beloved wife, mother and grandmother dying prematurely from cancer or like mass shootings by insane and evil people, or like a hurricane from hell slamming into the U.S. coast, etc.). But we also find that our loving Father, in some way we cannot comprehend, redeems everything so that it’s good in the end. I can love and trust a God like that!
     I offer two final pictures that may help as I close. First, there is a discussion in The Shack that I think states the truth clearly. Papa says to Mack, “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means that I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
     Second, I personally picture God’s sovereign purpose as being like a huge river, flowing to a distant and beautiful destination. Everything in all of time and creation is being carried along on that river, and people (and other creatures like angels) on the river have complete freedom to do whatever they wish while being carried along in its flow. They can bump into one another, they can fight the flow, move with the flow, go from side to side, etc., but they cannot escape being carried along with the river to the final destination. This is not by any means a perfect picture, but it helps me, and maybe it will help you. There is a river of God’s purpose, flowing through time and eternity, that carries everything along to a good end even while it allows perfect freedom within the context of its flow. I choose to rest in that River, even when things bump into me or even submerge me for a while along the way.

Gratefully living in His River, looking for grace’s colors,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The View from the Valley Continues

I promise not to write about grief forever! Indeed, I had planned to write about "The River of God's Sovereignty" this time, but I find that my brain is not working so well after driving several hours today. So I will risk giving you yet another glimpse of the "guided grief" that God is offering me. This is "raw stuff" right from my journal this morning. I will follow with a brief reflection and then that's it for this time.

Papa, was it you this morning who whispered to me as my thoughts ran towards Jettie, “You need to let her go”? You have said that to me before, but this time the context made it make even more sense. I was headed into regret, as you know. Father, I know that you don’t mean for me to let go of the memories and the legacy she left for us, but I do know that it’s time to let go of regret and the sense of loss. I suppose that grief becomes selfish at some point if I don’t recognize that for her, things are better by far and that her legacy will endure forever. Papa, I wonder if I had known how badly she was suffering whether I would have let her go even sooner. I cannot imagine the stress she was facing as she fought so hard to stay with us, but much of that was her own choosing, I guess. Still, if I had known that we would fail to lay hold of her healing…I wonder. All along I said that I wouldn’t make her a guinea pig while I “learned faith.” So given all of this, why is it so hard to let go, I wonder? And yet I cannot deny the great sense of loss that hangs over all of us, and so I grieve until you lead me to a different place.

Papa, will I ever start hearing you again like I did before? It is rare that I write any words from you here, but perhaps that is a good thing since so much of what I thought I was hearing during the journey needs to "come under review." Yet I know you are speaking. I look to you as best I can.

Tom's reflections: just a short time after I wrote these words I went for a walk, and God clearly and in unmistakeable ways spoke to me. I cannot find the words to describe how faithful He is in all of this even while I wrestle with the things I let you in on in the paragraphs above. You will find Him just as faithful, I know, and I hope that my transparent ramblings will help you to see how His kindness is unfolding in your life just as it is in mine.

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guided Through Grief

It's been 6 weeks now since my beloved Jettie went to be with her dear friend, Jesus, and I am still grieving, of course. I told my son, Josh, today that it is getting better. At first, it was like being in a hurricane with 100 foot waves crashing over me without any space between. Thankfully, during that season I was mostly numb, living in that numbed and surreal world that follows the death of a precious loved one. Now, the waves are only 25 feet high, and they are spaced out quite a bit so that I actually can see ahead and catch my breath before another one comes! Hey, that's progress!

Perhaps the most precious discovery in this journey through the valley of grief is that God is guiding the entire journey. He has always been powerfully present, of course, even when I was so numb that I could feel almost nothing, but now I am beginning to hear His voice clearly again and know His presence in palpable ways--so good to come back to that point. And because I am hearing Him again, I have been able to hear Him promise to guide me through the grief process. Who better than the God of all comfort, who better than the "man of Sorrows," who better than the Comforter to be our guide through grief?

As just one example, on November 10, I wrote the following:
"You are showing me the importance of allowing you to lead my grieving process. You are helping me to move away from regret and from mourning Jettie’s losses. You are leading me to view the time of grieving as a time of recovery, not a time of suffering. You are reminding me that your Spirit is the Encourager/Comforter, so that you, Holy Spirit, know how to comfort/encourage perfectly. You remind me that others have faced worse things and thrived, etc. Thank you, Papa.
"Papa, I cannot disobey your nudge right after I wrote about you leading me in the grieving process, can I? Yet I am so broken when I look back one year (as I sensed you nudging me to do). Yet through my tears and fears I hear you reminding me of what I wrote in my blog about your promises and that makes me hear you say, 'It’s all still true.' “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, referenced in last year’s entry) is still true, even if we failed to lay hold of its full meaning for us with Jettie. This hurts a lot, Papa, and I am pretty sure you won’t lead me back too often until the rawness of my heart is healed, but it was good to obey you this morning (of course)."

And this has been followed by many, many more times where God's hand has been so obvious as I have allowed Him to lead me. But what's been even more amazing has been how God has guided this process even when I was not aware of it or even aware that I was going where He wanted me to go (I am still somewhat bewildered at times). I am finding that the "chance happenings" of life contribute to my process of healing as well: a conversation with a friend who describes his loved one's last days triggers an outflow of sorrow for me that turns out to be healing, packing things for our move and the "accidental discovery" of something personal of Jettie's brings another gusher of tears that is healing, a song that has memories, etc. I am filled with wonder as I think back over the last few weeks and see how God has been so present and participating in my sorrow. Amazing!

I will stop here. Just wanted to give you a glimpse of our amazing God as seen from the sometimes dim depths of my pain and sorrow. The glow of His care is perhaps even more radiant "down here in the depths." My hope is that you will catch some this glow for your heart as well.

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Receiving and Giving Comfort

I am a rich man, a very rich man, when it comes to expressions of love and encouragement. I continue to be flooded with words of encouragement and compassion as I walk through this dark valley (which became even harder this week with the death of my sister's husband from cancer--he was a dear friend to me).

As the words of encouragement have come, I have noticed that I appreciate them best when I listen more to the heart behind the words rather than just the content. People can say some pretty odd things when they are giving comfort, and if one were to focus on the content of these he/she could become rather frustrated at times! But not too long ago, as I was voicing some of my frustration about this to Papa, He told me to listen to the hearts of those giving the encouragement. No surprise that everything changed to the positive when I heeded His counsel, eh?

As for giving comfort, I have a story along with a few thoughts. I start with the story.

I once read that the great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, went to comfort the widow of a close friend of his who had recently died. Because of his deafness Beethoven was not comfortable with engaging people in conversation, so when the widow opened the door to him, he quietly went to the piano and sat and played and played. Then without a comment, he left. The widow later said that his visit was one of the most encouraging experiences she had had in her grief. I love this story and can picture it easily, especially because so many have played their songs for me.

This story illustrates the importance of the heart in giving encouragement. The widow caught her composer friend's heart in the music he played. Comfort to the grieving is a heart thing, dear ones, not a head thing. Trying to give explanations or the facts as you see them rarely gives comfort to the one receiving them. On the other hand, sitting silently with the grieving person, touching them appropriately, reminding them of something pleasant from the past, listening to their anguish without feeling a need to "fix them" or their theology--these things speak volumes. And if you listen to Papa, He will give you many other creative ways to share your heart, I think. I know I have been the grateful recipient of many, many heart to heart messages, and I am sustained in my grief by them.

Here are a few other observations about this that I list in rather random order, just for your consideration.

First, I am quite convinced that God doesn't take people, rather He welcomes those of His children whom death takes. Carrying out the logic of God "taking people" even for good reasons, leaves us with a cruel God indeed! (Think about it!). Related to this is the faulty idea that, because God is sovereign, everything that happens is His will. People who believe this make every death His will, everything that happens, etc. But this again leads us to a very cruel God who "kills babies and children," takes grammy away from her grandchildren, etc. Actually, this kind of god is the god of Islam, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are lots of things that happen in this sinful world that are not God's will, as you will realize as you reflect on what happens in our sin-twisted world. You see, God's sovereignty means that He is able to take all things, even the worst of them, and by redeeming them make them fit into His amazing story so that in the end it will totally reflect His glory (goodness). But lots of individual things that happen are not God's will except in the very general sense that He chose to creative as free to choose. I could write more, but not now. The point is that God's knowing is not the same as His causing, and that His sovereignty is seen in His redeeming everything not in His causing it.

Second, death is not healing! I am not sure where this rather strange idea started, but in scripture death is always presented as an aberration from God's original intention and as our enemy. Some have suggested that Jettie's death was her healing, but having watched her die I can assure you that what she experienced was not healing. Please don't feel bad if you said something like this to me! I know what you meant and I heard your heart. But death is what happens when healing doesn't happen (I am not in a place yet to hear Father's counsel about why healing didn't come, of course). But what we mean to say when we call death "healing" is that death, because it is a defeated foe, is the doorway to perfect and eternal healing. And because God is always redemptive, He can take everything, even the times when healing doesn't come, and turn it into something good for us.

Just a few thoughts--I will stop here. I am very much in the throes of grief, and those of you who have experienced what I am going through (and even worse), know especially how hard it is at times to think clearly, so I trust that what I am writing makes at least some sense. I also hope you hear my heart, most of all.

From the valley, deep and dark but rich with Father's grace and the love of His people,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, October 29, 2010

But What About All Those Promises?

     After his wife, Joy, died from cancer, C.S. Lewis wrote a classic work on grief entitled A Grief Observed, which flowed from the journaling of his grief. I sense that this blog may at times be an expression of my grief similar to that (although not nearly so well written or thought out as his, of course).
     Having said that, I just couldn't bring myself to write anything at all until now. The shroud of grief does strange things to us, and one effect for me, at least, is that it has paralyzed my motivation. And at least up to this point, it has also kept me at times from wanting to go to the painful places (which we should not approach except as God leads anyway). But I will try to approach one of those places today.
     One of the things I wrestled most with after Jettie died was the confusion I felt because of all the clear promises of healing that Jettie and I (and many others) sensed were ours for Jettie. Did God change His mind or just plain old "fib" to us? Did we hear God so poorly that we missed the obvious warnings that death was coming instead of life? I am convinced now that the answer to these questions is absolutely not! God did promise to heal. Because He always wants to heal, what else could we expect Him to say (Jesus healed all who came to Him)? So even when God knows we aren't yet in a place of faith to "move the mountains of sickness" He will promise to move them.
     Furthermore, it has become clear to me that God, like any good parent, always urges us to reach beyond where He knows we will get. We who are parents know how this works. From a very early age we are encouraging our kids to reach beyond their capacity. For example, when they start to walk, we deliberately get farther away than they can walk, knowing they will fall yet saying, "Come on, you can make it!" So when God's people face mountains of opposition, even if He knows that this time the mountain won't move, He will still say, "Come on, you can trust me for this one!"
     One of my favorite examples of this is where Jesus invites Peter to walk on water, knowing very well that Peter would sink and need rescuing. Instead of saying to Peter, "You can't make it, you will sink when you are about halfway here," He said, "Come!" then rescued Peter in the midst of Peter's failure of faith. It seems to me that this is what has happened in our case. Even though God knew that our trust level wasn't at the place of being able to fully receive His power to heal, He urged us on, ready to catch us and redeem the situation when we fell. Jettie is certainly better off by far, and even in the indescribable pain of those of us left behind, God's presence is doing remarkable things.
     But does this leave me in a place where I feel like a failure? It did at first, of course, and will again, I am sure, but Papa has quickly moved in to correct any notion that I am responsible for the impossible (that's His realm). Instead, in the safety of His constant, constant, constant loving embrace He invites me to get to know Him better than ever so that next time trust will reach higher than before.
     And so I grieve, O how I grieve! And it hurts beyond my ability to describe (Jettie and I had a remarkably good marriage, and she was my best and most treasured friend while she was here). But in my grief, through the massive confusion, I hear the invitation to know Him ringing in my heart louder than ever before. What else can I do, then, than pursue Him through the pain?

Holding more tightly to His promises than ever,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Are the Most Amazing Woman!

This is the tribute I shared at Jettie's two memorial services...I think it speaks for itself.


You Are The Most Amazing Woman!
I can’t believe you are gone, beating me to heaven by what I trust is many years! But I know you are now more alive than you ever were here on earth, and so I write this tribute to you in the present tense. “You are” seems far more appropriate when I talk about you now than “you were.” And yes, we all know how uncomfortable you would be with any attention being drawn to you, so let me assure you that we know that it is your pure and childlike trust in Jesus that we see most of all. It is the Lord Jesus whom you love with delicate passion who ultimately receives honor for who you are, my beloved! But I cannot help but remember at this time how truly remarkable a person you are. And in this moment it seems fitting to let others see you through the lens of our many years together.
You are, beloved Jettie, the most amazing woman! In over 41 years of marriage I very rarely saw you angry, at me, or anyone else. You have a patience and a gentleness and a level of self-control that is as rare as a 200 carat diamond. You were thoughtful and grateful throughout this 14 month battle, even in those terrible last days in the hospice center when the enemy stripped you of dignity and of that which was so precious to you: your ability to serve others. We never heard you complain, even as life was being stolen from you. I never heard you complain throughout the entire 14 months. Instead we saw you rally yourself, even at the very end, to be sure that we knew you loved us, and we heard you say “Please” and “Thank you” for everything and “I love you, too” until you could speak no more. And even then your eyes communicated love and gratitude, and concern for us.
You are the most amazing woman! Throughout our 41 years of life together you constantly took thoughtfulness to increasingly higher levels. Indeed, just about everything I know about thoughtfulness I learned from you.
You are the most amazing woman! During our many years together hospitality flowed from you like a river of welcome, embracing all who came within the sphere of your love and care. You defined hospitality to us in the highest of terms, and I will always remember the sheer joy I saw in you as you cooked, cleaned, planned and prepared to bless folks with God’s embrace through your hospitality!
You are the most amazing woman! Serving was your primary love language, and only you of all people would have been concerned about serving us even while you were fighting for your life! Of all the things the enemy stole from you over these past few months, your serving was perhaps the most devastating to you, and to us as we watched. Yet you continued to serve, working when anyone else would have stayed at home, doing as many of your usual tasks as your ravaged body would allow. Never have I seen anyone, beloved Jettie, who epitomized the foot-washing heart of Jesus better than you. Yet it was our great privilege to at last be able to serve you in small ways over these past few months. Few husbands have had the privilege of caring for and serving their brides like I was able to. Few children get to experience the joy of giving back to their mom like our sons and daughters-in-law we able to. Yes, at least for a few brief moments we were finally able to return a tiny sliver of the care you have poured out on us and others for so many years. And be assured, my beloved, that your example of serving will urge us on to live as servants to the end of our time here on earth.
You are the most amazing woman! Your careful attention to detail blessed everyone around you during your time here with us. Excellence is so natural to you that once something was committed into your care, no one needed to have a second thought about it being done well. This carefulness extended to every area of your life and to everything you did. I marveled often at your persistence as you balanced the check book to the penny. Your carefulness made others around you look really good! When you were beside me, whether at LIFE, in the various churches we served or in the West Texas district you always managed to make things work with excellence. No surprise then, that you will be forever known in the Midland Foursquare Church as “Wonder Woman”!
You are the most amazing woman! Many people aspire to humility. You seem to have been born with it! While others would struggle with not being “up front” and the need to be noticed by others, you chose just the opposite. You are the quintessential “behind-the-scenes” person, my beloved, and there is a remarkable genuineness to your humility. Even during these past dark months, when I would say to you over and over, “I am so proud of you,” you would be puzzled by my praise—amazing!
You are the most amazing woman! I don’t know of anyone who defines “quietly passionate” better than you. Everything about you is gentle and quiet, but that doesn’t mean that you lack passion. During your time on earth your quiet passion was perhaps seen most obviously in your loving worship of your beloved Jesus, but you also brought a “fiery stillness” to your relationships with others, your love for our sons and grandchildren and even to our intimate times as husband and wife. You remain an example to the many who are quiet by nature, my dear Bride, demonstrating that passion doesn’t have to be loud or showy to be fierce!
You are the most amazing woman! Being a friend was so natural to you and something you did with great loyalty and selflessness. Your moving to Heaven leaves me without my dearest and closest friend. How many other husbands can really say that, I wonder? And you brought that selfless friendship to others here on earth as well. You make friends slowly, but once the friendship is established there’s never a doubt that you are “friends forever.” I can only imagine what it was like for you to step into Heaven and embrace your Friend, Jesus. And by now I am sure you have moved on to greet the many friends who preceded you into the Eternal Kingdom. And I can’t help wondering how many new friends you will make in the eons ahead! And each of them will find what we have found here on earth: you are an amazingly kind, gentle and caring friend!
You are the most amazing woman, Jettie, and our lives are also forever marked by your gentle strength. Throughout this recent terrible/wonderful journey we saw everyone around us marvel at your strength. The journey has been punctuated with medical personnel saying, “I have never seen…”–always in reference to your strength of will, your endurance and ability to persist against all odds. But you can rest now, dear Jettie, and surrender your strength to the One who makes you strong!
You are the most amazing woman! It goes without saying, at least for those who know you well, that you are one of the most loving persons anyone will ever encounter. And in the past few months those of us who find you so easy to love got to return just a small portion of the love that you lavished on us. We love you, babe, and will never stop loving you as one who loves us so well, loves us so like Papa God loves us.
Rest well in Papa’s embrace, honey. I will see you in the morning, but until then I will tell as many as I can, to the glory of the Lord Jesus, that I know the most amazing woman!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Home at last

For those who may read this blog but not see my Facebook page, just a note to let you know that Jettie went peacefully into the arms of her beloved Jesus this past Saturday night around 8:45 p.m. Like her life, her departure was quiet, gentle and peaceful.

When the pain is less, I will write a tribute to my bride who is (she still lives) one of the most remarkable people I have ever met, the epitome of quiet strength and gracious servanthood that marks the best of God's followers.

Your prayers for us as a family are welcome.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Waiting

Dear friends who read this blog. There was no post last week and I doubt that I could post anything coherent this week either. As I write this my wife has been in hospice care (in-patient) since one week ago Wednesday.

We find ourselves waiting...not for an end but for Jesus and the beginning He wants to bring. We welcome your prayers as we surrender our beloved wife, mommy and grammy into His eternal care. We know to be fully present with Jesus is "better by far."

I will probably post many reflections about all of this some day, but not now, of course.

Waiting for Him who loves us most.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding love as it's given


I don't know that I have ever written anything quite like today's blog, but here goes.
Like many (most) people, I grew up with some "father" (and mother) wounds and by God's grace I have been healed of many of those and have grown to know Father more as He really is instead of how my perceptions of a "father" looked. But lately, perhaps because I have been getting older and perhaps because I have seen the wounds I inflicted as a father, I have been able to "find love as it was given" to me by my dad (who is still with us at 85 and a truly remarkable man). It's not wise or healthy, of course, to expect a child to perceive love when it's given in ways other than how the child needs it, but as we get older and more whole, it's good, I think, to look and see it in the form it was given. My dad loves me. He always has. And although he wasn't able to express it very well through words, warmth and encouragement when I was a child, I have been blessed to have Papa God show me the many ways that my dad showed love to me. And as a tribute to my daddy, I write some of these here.
My father's love for me showed up often in fishing, hunting, boating and camping expeditions. My dad taught me to love the outdoors and he loved to spend time with us in outdoor activities. And even as I write this, I see how my dad so wonderfully expressed love to us in his pleasure when we caught a fish, bagged our first whatever, set up the tent correctly (at last!), etc. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well! I see it now even if I took these things for granted when I was young.
My daddy also showed his love for me by teaching me lots of things. He was deeply committed to being sure that his children were prepared to meet the world with competence and character. I remember especially his encouragement to us to show initiative and self-reliance (in the good sense). Sometimes he pushed us into initiative a little too soon (I remember having a meltdown when he sent me to buy ice cream at age 4 and they didn't have my favorite flavor), but in those times he was quick to rescue us. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well. I see it now...
My dad also demonstrated love for me by involving himself in the things he wanted me to be involved in. Thus when I became a boy scout, I found my dad there with me, with him eventually serving as scoutmaster in spite of his heavy business schedule. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well, taking time to be with me and showing me how to serve others in the process.
My dad also showed love for me by inviting me along on some of his trips, both business and recreational. It really made me feel special to be taken along on some of those business trips. My dad demonstrated a level of trust in me that built my confidence and laid the foundation for my own leadership later in my life. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well.
Even my father's correction, sometimes rather severe, I can now see as an expression of his love. Proverbs 13:24 says, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." My dad strongly believed this (and the entire Bible) and put it into practice in the way he himself had experienced. Thanks, Dad, for loving me enough to correct me instead of letting things slide!
My dad also loved me by modeling core character traits like integrity, a strong work ethic and generosity. My father started his own business in 1947 and that business is still going today. One of the bedrock values of my father's business dealings was integrity. Did he practice it perfectly? I doubt it, but there was no question about his commitment to living a life of integrity, hard work and great generosity, and I caught these things and never let go of them. Thanks, Dad, for modeling for me what it means to be a man of honor, generosity and service. Your example was a remarkable expression of your love for me, and I am the man that I have become partly because you showed me the way. Thanks for loving me in this way, Dad.
I could go on, but I will stop here. My point is that love can sometimes be more prevalent than we realize, and as we mature we are able to see it because we no longer require it to be given in the way we think it should be given (is true love ever like that? Seems that love sometimes does just the opposite of what one feels is loving!). And I have found something deeply transforming about looking at life through these different lenses that God has provided. Perhaps your life will look more whole as well, if you try them on as well :-)
Finding love that was always there...
Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Power of Kindness

For those who read my blog, I trust you read Marshall's comment on my entry last week along with my response to it. Marshall raises a good point, and I trust my response to him helped clarify things a little. In one sense, revelation by its very definition requires God to break through our cultural limitations in order to show us things. But my point is that until Jesus showed up, the inability of those receiving revelation to fully catch God's heart (even when He expressed it) means that the revelation of the Father by Jesus always trumps any other view of Him. It's not that some of the OT pictures of God are wrong, of course, but that they are incomplete and fuzzy because of the inability of folks at the time to grasp or express things as they are (similar to the Creation story which omits quantum physics, among other things!). But I get a headache (and you probably get bored) when I go too far with this, so enough said for now.

So...just a brief elaboration today on what I tweeted earlier today: the power of kindness. I have been struck of late how important it is for us both to experience God's kindness and express kindness to everyone we possibly can. Kindess is God's preferred method for leading us to change--Romans 2:4b. It's also an absolutely crucial expression of who He is to all people. Graham Cooke is fond of rightly saying, "God is the kindest being in the Universe," and those who know Him well know that this is wonderfully true and readily experienced.

Because God's nature includes infinite kindness, and because kindness is His preferred method for leading people to Himself (where "repentance" always get us), it seems obvious that followers of Jesus would be marked by remarkable and "highly noticeable" kindness. Reflecting God's image via kindness seems to me to be one of the most profound ways we can woo others towards Jesus.
Thankfully, kindness is part of the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us as we live loved, listening and saturated by His presence. So notice that I am not talking about "random acts of kindness" but rather a lifestyle characterized by kindness that is produced as we experience God's kindness towards us and others. "Acts of kindness" are certainly good and are the result of a truly kind heart, but it's possible to "do kind things" without being motivated by that gentle, other-regarding love that God's kindness is made of. It seems to me that most folks, even little children, can read whether or not a kind act is motivated by genuine interest in them or just something we do out of duty. Who wants to be loved out of duty? But when someone really stops and takes time to be kind in a way that suggests I am treasured, important, worth noticing...ahhhhh, now that invites a response, a question, a quest.

Anyway, I am tired and probably not making much sense, but I pray that God's kindness be so revealed to you in the days ahead that you can't help but begin to spill it out on those around you, especially perhaps to those whom others don't see.

Loving the power of His kindness.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 3, 2010

Did God 'Get Saved'?

     "So what happened to God? Did he get saved somewhere between Malachi and Matthew? Had he reinvented himself into a nicer, gentler God? Of course not! He is unchanging, the same throughout all eternity." (He Loves Me, p. 30, by Wayne Jacobsen).
     I have been re-reading He Loves Me of late, and I laughed out loud at Wayne's question about God "getting saved" between Malachi and Matthew. But our laugh at such a thought is a "nervous laugh" if we are honest, isn't it? How do we explain the various pictures of God we find in the Bible, some of which seem contradictory? Is He a God of wrath and judgment or a God of love or both? Clearly, I can't begin to answer this question with much depth in a blog. Instead I recommend that you read Wayne's book if you haven't already done so--it answers this question far better than I ever could! And of course we always need to remember that Jesus is the last Word in terms of what God is like. God is like Jesus, period. So if you want to know what God is like, ask Holy Spirit to guide you into Truth as you read the Gospels and follow Jesus (I have written about this before).
     But coming back to our question, I would like to suggest a few things here that may help you understand why there seems to be different pictures of God in the Bible (especially in the Old Testament). See what you think of my ramblings.
     First, throughout the Bible the true God, the God of love, is clearly revealed in little glimpses, starting with the creation story which tells us we were created to be in loving relationship with Him and that when He finished creating all things He declared it to be "Very good." And many more sightings of this God who is love are sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. We see Him in the frequently repeated phrase first given in Moses' encounter with His glory (goodness) in Exodus 34:6-7 "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." We also meet this loving and patient God again and again in the prophets, as we see God's anguished heart of love for His people (perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Hosea, but elsewhere too). We also see it in His appeal to His people to love Him ("You shall love--not serve or fear--the LORD your God..."). So even in the rather "mixed" picture of God in the OT we find a consistent picture of who He really is peeking out at us time and again.
     Second, and this is a real key, I think, God has always chosen to communicate to human beings at the level of understanding and in the language of the culture and era in which they live. He can only be understood by humans in the context of what the people can understand at the time. The people who lived in the time of the Patriarchs, the time of the Exodus, even up to post-exilic times, lived in an incredibly vicious and barbaric world. It was a world so twisted by evil that children were routinely abused and sacrificed to "gods," where pregnant women were ripped open during war, and where the concept of "loving your enemies" was inconceivable. Even if God had said this, or described Himself as Jesus revealed Him to be, those who heard it would have had no "vocabulary" to understand it. You can't teach quantum physics to a two year old, you cannot discuss ethics with a toddler, can you? They simply don't have the ability or language to "hear" what you are saying. Indeed, love expressed to young children is often misunderstood by them. A deeply loved 3 year old may yet say, "Daddy hates me" because Daddy has set loving boundaries in place by saying no to something that will harm him/her. Perhaps this is what sometimes happens in the OT. For example, I don't think Joshua and the Israelites could have heard or lived out God's real heart for the people of Jericho. Picture Joshua scratching his head as God tells him, "What I really want you to do is love these people into a relationship with me."!! Nope...there simply wasn't the capacity to understand this or put it into practice in that season of human history. Neither was there vocabulary or understanding for God's people under the Old Covenant to grasp God's love with consistency, but rather as with a toddler, even God's loving acts were misunderstood and misinterpreted.
      So it was that "in the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4) God sent His Son, the Word, as the revelation of Who He really is. Only in Jesus' day was it finally possible for at least a few people to hear and understand, "Love your enemies... because that is what your Father does." Only in Jesus' day was the "toddling" human race (a few of them, at least) ready to understand a God who loved them unconditionally and invited them back into relationship with Him. There is more here, of course, but I must keep this short.
     But, you may say, even Jesus says some pretty hard things and expresses anger towards those who are hard-hearted. Yes, that is true. But if you look carefully, you will see that Jesus reveals to us that God's anger is the anger of love, not of selfishness or rejection. It is the anger of a parent who sees His children doing things that harm themselves and others, not the anger of a grouchy deity that can't wait to punish his subjects. Any healthy parent knows what it is to get angry because of love for a child! Think about it. (One great illustration of this type of loving anger is found in the Visual Bible version of Matthew, with Bruce Marchiano, where Jesus is filled with grief, not wrath, as He declares the "woes" to the Pharisees and where Jesus weeps as he tells Judas, "Yes, it is you!" If you can watch these scenes and "get it," you are on your way to knowing what God is really like, I think! )
     So why is all of this important? Two reasons come to mind: first, it affects our relationship with God, second, it affects our relationships with others. As Wayne so masterfully points out in his book, it's not possible to have a tender, loving relationship with a God of wrath. It is love alone that can invite us into relationship and into intimacy. Relationships cannot be coerced or manipulated, especially not by fear! Second, it's important because we become like the God we worship. Our relationships with others hinge upon our knowing God as perfect love. The world has already experienced more than enough angry "Christians" (who are indeed like the "god" they know, sadly enough). God longs for us to know Him in His love so that we reflect accurately the One who is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love."
     So for me, at least, when I see something in Scripture that doesn't fit with who Jesus revealed Father to be, I simply think "toddler" :-) and return to Jesus' words, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." That might not work for everyone, but for someone like me, it'll have to do.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Keeper of the Well--a Parable

Once upon a time a great and wonderful King created a thriving village called Ekklesia. The village was situated in a beautiful and fertile area that provided abundantly for the people of the village as they tended their gardens and fields. For a water supply, the King provided a remarkable well at the center of the village square that supplied far more water than the villagers would ever need. It was an artesian well that bubbled with life even in the driest of times.

Everyone in the village had full access to this amazing well and could draw from its rich supply of water whenever they had need. And because the people recognized that "life" was in the water, virtually family in the village was sure that the children learned to draw water (for themselves and for others) at a very young age.

Under this arrangement the village of Ekklesia prospered for many years, well cared for by their King and His abundant well. Each family delighted in drawing from the overflowing source, and laughter was a normal sound in the village as various people would gather at the well during the day. Drawing from the well became not just a part of fabric of the life but a part of the nurturing of the relationships in the village.

But one day, after a prolonged season of drought (even though the well flowed as abundantly as ever during the drought), some of the elders in the village became convinced that some regulation was needed as to how the well was accessed. Concerns began to be voiced that some of the families were not as careful about drawing out water as they should be and that some of the children were wasting the water as they played around the well. And so it came to pass that because of unfounded fear, the elders of the village decided to hire a professional “keeper of the well.” This well-keeper was especially trained to be wise and careful in the drawing out of water, and was put in charge of dispensing the water from the well. Villagers who complained about this new arrangement were assured that they lacked the expertise of the keeper of the well and that the best water could be had only if they allowed the keeper of the well to draw the water for them.

And so it came to pass that the free and spontaneous withdrawal of water by anyone at any time was replaced by regulated special times of the day and week when the expert well-keeper would draw out the water and distribute it to all of the villagers at once. The well was "closed" at other times (although a few brave souls continued to access it secretly from time to time!). In viewing this new arrangement, the elders of the village felt that they had served the others well: there would be no waste now, and over the ensuing years a succession of highly trained well-keepers was brought in to be sure that water was indeed dispensed in the “proper manner.”

But it came to pass that problems began to arise in the village. The limited access to the water resulted in poorer crop production and in sickness finding its way into many village households. This in turn led to strained relationships within the village. Even the atmosphere of fear surrounding the proper use of the well added to the strained relationships. Furthermore, the spontaneous gatherings at the well, whereby so many healthy relationship had flourished, disappeared, having been supplanted by the formal, rather stilted times when the well-keeper would perform his masterful work.

And so it came to pass that the village elders met to solve the problems that had arisen. They tried all kinds of solutions: they hired better-trained well-keepers, they adjusted the times and types of distribution of the water, they even tested the water to be sure it was okay (it was), and so forth. But the village still languished and failed to thrive as it once had. (Strangely enough, no one ever thought to explore the basic assumption about the well-keeper. After all, the well-keeper system had been in place for a long, long time, and people had long since stop questioning its effectiveness!)

But it came to pass that the great and loving King, becoming aware of this sad situation, sent a new well-keeper to town. And this person began to change things radically! He actually encouraged folks to access the well whenever they felt the need and even suggested that they train their children to do so! Many in the village were shocked and frightened by this, as you can imagine. But some of the families actually did begin to draw their own water, whenever they needed it, as much as they needed, and their crops and households noticeably improved. And some of these brave folks even took to gathering spontaneously at the well and found a joyful health returning to their relationships with the others who did so. The whole atmosphere of the town was beginning to change because of these courageous folks who dared to draw their own water. (They even discovered that they could train one another without the expert help of the well-keeper, and thus the movement of water increased noticeably as the months and years progressed...).

I deliberately leave this story unfinished! ☺

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fear, Faith and Peace

     Once again I find myself writing from the midst of our own journey through the valley. Today's big thought came this morning as I realized that exercising faith doesn't automatically make fear go away. Rather we walk through our fears based on the decision to trust God. Fear eventually goes away as we surrender and pray our way (by faith) into the place of rest in Papa's embrace. But even if I don't get to peace all the time, I can still trust Him in the midst of my fears.
     So...the following is straight out of my journal from this morning (slightly edited). I don't often do this but felt led to share transparently what's going on right now :-)
     Papa, I am not sure why you are having me re-read Hinds’ Feet on High Places, but I suspect it will read differently now. The last time I read it, I didn’t even notice that the two companions who escort Much-afraid are named Sorrow and Suffering! Papa, for sure the na├»ve, Pollyanna-like attitude I had in the past has been blown away. Jesus, you said that we would have tribulation in this world, but somehow I thought there was a way to avoid it and still get to the high places. Yet you have told me all along that there would be challenge!
     Papa, this thought just came to me: I keep expecting faith to take away the feelings of anxiety that I sometimes wrestle with, but that doesn’t always happen, I guess. Certainly it appears that the apostle Paul wrestled with anxiety at times. On the other hand, there is a peace that passes understanding that we can get to, but faith merely opens the door to that place. We surrender ourselves all the way to the place of rest after choosing once again to transfer our confidence back from us to you. But one of my challenges continues to be my unawareness of my emotional state (or unwillingness to stop and deal with it). I think of how much fear came into me as I read yet another book on how to deal with cancer. Papa, what should I have done differently? I know you will show me because you love me and want to show us your ways. And even as I write this I realize that I had no clear leading to read the book at all! Sigh…but I am smiling as I write. “Listen, listen to me…” (Isaiah 55:2-3) comes to mind. Ah, Father. I get afraid and then I seize control and then I become even more afraid. Only you can rescue me from this vicious cycle, but I am grateful that I am not nearly as enslaved to it as I used to be!
     Ah, Father. I know this, I think. But I still try to make it more complicated than it is!
     Father, more now than ever I see that you are massively re-adjusting a paradigm I have had about suffering. Somehow I have unconsciously thought we could be exempt from pain and suffering. I am confused, Father, in some ways, because I don’t know how it is that we can pray for healing, etc., with conviction yet also accept everything as permitted by your hand. The Shack seems to have a better handle on this than most other things I have read, yet even there the suffering is unspeakable. How have I missed this? And where do we go from here? I know it’s not going to change your promises to heal, but clearly I should at least get over my surprise that bad things happen! And surely I should look for you in the midst of the storm and for how you are going to work. Beyond that, I wait for you.
     Papa, thank you for reminding me on the walk that healing is ultimately a spiritual thing, not just a physical thing. You always have to over-rule the natural things to bring miraculous healing, of course, and that helps me not fret so much about eating, etc. We want to be wise, Papa, but we can trust you to guide us just as you have promised. It’s amazing how even “good things” and/or well meaning things can take our focus off of you and put it back on us or our problems. Thank you for beginning to rescue me from this once again!
     Thank you, too, Father, for reminding me yet again that your answer to our fears is always, “I AM with you” or “I will be with you.” We look for solutions, for relief, and you offer yourself, a far more precious gift!

Thanks for listening to my heart poured out to Papa today,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Useless but priceless!

My office is filled with useless, priceless treasures. They include a picture of a Ferrari my son Jon drew for me when he was little; a pipe cleaner twisted into "I love you" from Kendall, a precious young girl in the last church I served; countless pictures of various quality drawn by grandchildren; little trinkets given to me by my precious Jettie; and many more. And if you go to other places in our house you will find more of these treasures: boxes of rocks and sticks collected by my sons when they were little and we would walk the beaches of Whidbey Island together, assortments of other "finds" by my sons; all of Jettie's love letters to me from the summer before we were married, etc.

In addition to these tangible and visible things around me, my mind is filled with countless memories related to these treasures and many memories of acts of kindness, love and generosity.

Why do I value these things so highly? Because without exception they are expressions of love for me and often for others as well. It is love as the motive that gives "useless" things infinite value.

Not too long ago (January 13) I had an epiphany about these treasures as it relates to God and recorded it in my journal. Here's what I wrote: "Wow, Father, as I go back to November 13, 2008, and read the words about doing everything because of love for you, you bring to mind the little 'useless treasures' that little children bring to their parents. It’s the love that gives them meaning and value—the motive behind them—not the perfection, appropriateness or intrinsic value! And that’s how you are with us, isn’t it? Wow! No wonder you tell us to live with no regrets and no wonder Brother Lawrence encouraged us to do everything out of love for you!"

I suppose this whole line of thinking may not mean much to some folks, but as my life has been reduced to what really matters through the journey we have been on, I am more aware than ever that whatever I offer to my Abba is from His perspective remarkably imperfect. The best of us is able to offer God something He doesn't really need (He needs nothing) and that falls far short of His infinite perfection. But whatever we offer in love is of immeasurable value to Him. This is so liberating to me! There's something that gives me great hope about being able to offer God something that brings Him joy not because it was perfectly executed but because it was given because of love for Him.

God, of course, has made this clear in more ways than one. First Corinthians 13:1-3 especially comes to mind. "Without love..." Love for whom? Perhaps love for the other persons, but most certainly love for God given that the Great Commandment is to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength!

It is possible, of course, to offer something to someone else for motives other than love. And as we all know, it's certainly possible to offer God even our obedience because of motives other than love for Him, but my guess is that these offerings bring Him little joy. What parent wants to be served, given gifts, obeyed because of fear or self-interest? But what parent doesn't rejoice when a gift of love, however imperfect, is offered? And I wonder if this is true most of all because when love is the motive what we are really offering most of all is ourself to the other person. Yes, I think that's it, isn't it? The most "useless" gift when given in a love that gives myself along with the gift is the most precious treasure I can give...

Ah, Papa. I cannot offer much that is slick, polished, competent, but I will bring you my "trinkets of love" with the encouraging knowledge that the useless becomes priceless when I bring them to you in love!

Tom, one of Abba's little children