Waiting in Hope . . . .

The diagnosis of cancer for a second family member hit our family hard.  The fact that it involved Luke AND Shannon (married eight years) cast our experience into a realm all its own.   For me, there are moments when I look at them and my mind goes back to their wedding–a day of promises and hope.  During the service, I remember watching their faces as Luke sang a song he wrote for his beautiful bride and watching them recite their vows: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . . .”  Little did we know how vividly those vows would become the standard for living out each day.

Indeed, life has been hard for our family in many respects . . . let’s face it, who would ever sign-up for a double dose of cancer?!! Yet even so, we can say that God has been very, very good to us as we continue to count our blessings.  I suppose that is why this verse from Isaiah has become so dear to me in recent weeks:

 “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides 
You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”
Isaiah 64:4

Waiting is never easy, especially in this “fast-paced, gotta have it NOW, ‘time waits for no one'” world.  I tend to think that the management of time and our frustration inherent in waiting is more intense now.  However, Isaiah proclaims that our times are not unique when it comes to waiting. I  cannot help but marvel at the patience of a God who continues to reward “those who wait for Him.” 

Waiting in Hope . . . .
Waiting in Hope . . . .

In an odd way, it was a relief as we gathered in the hospital waiting room, trusting that our Shannon was in good hands.  Hours passed . . . almost surreally . . . as we talked, read, shared stories, played games, snacked and watched the Surgical Update Board change as the progress of every patient having surgery that morning was listed. We bore the assorted fears that go with every surgery–but the truly heavy weight we bore was wondering what was to come after the surgery.  Having learned over the past year that with cancer, fear lurks to pounce on even the most stalwart faith.  So . . . we waited in hope, knowing that God will continue to work out His Perfect Plan in each or our lives.

Finally, Shannon’s surgeon walked briskly into the waiting room–we followed like ducks looking for crumbs; wary yet hopeful into the conference room.  What came next was a lesson on what I can only call, “productive waiting” that gave us direction and hope.  He started by telling us about the surgery:

  • The surgery went very well–it was minimally invasive and the “mass” was removed successfully.
  • He saw no other evidence of cancer but admitted that we will not know anything about future treatment until the pathology report was returned.
  • He explained cancer “staging” and how it ties to treatment success rates.

Here is what he said and did that helped our family in the moment and gave us a vision for the weeks to come:

  • He smiled at us with kind eyes, as he shook our hands one-by-one.  (Totally bringing us “on board” as a team.)
  • He told us our primary role should be to help Shannon get well enough that she would be able to leave the hospital in three to five days.
  • Tying in with that, he told us to do everything we could to encourage Shannon to allow her body to rest over the next two weeks.

This may sound silly, but by equipping us with hope and direction in supporting Shannon AND Luke, our load was lightened immensely.  When he left us, we felt energized as our fears slipped away!  I thought about how the direction he gave us reflected the wisdom of Jesus regarding worrying:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:34

It has been eight days since Shannon’s surgery.  She came home on “Day Five” and continues to gain strength each day.  Family and friends have reached out in a multitude of ways as we prepare for the Celebration of Christ’s Birth.  We still wait on the pathology report–not anxiously but in faith–trusting in God’s perfect timing.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if Shannon having surgery would “ruin” our Christmas?  I must admit that I was grateful for the question as these words came out of my mouth: “Not at all!  If anything, Christmas has become more precious to us as God has been with us every step of the way.”  It’s absolutely true!  We wait as the ancients did, on the only God who continues to care for His own.

We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.
May Your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in You.
Psalm 33:20-22

Merry Christmas All!

All to His Glory!

When Life Gives You Lemons . . . .

“Life is hard, but God is so very, very good . . . .”  It is a saying I have repeated to myself and to others in recent months after witnessing horrific ugliness on the news, while counseling hurting people or absorbing devastating news from friends and family.  In such seasons, when bitterness threatens to overtake us and fear grips our hearts,  it is important to remember that no matter what happens, we have options:

Option One:  The world offers popular sayings such as, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “Grin and bear it!”  According to Wikipedia,  such sayings encourage “optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.”  However well-intended, such sayings lack comfort, wisdom, direction or even a glimmer of hope. When life turns sour, we can no more will ourselves through a mountain of heartache and trouble, than we can will into existence “lemonade” that is palatable from a bowl of lemons!

Compounding the impossibility of making palatable “lemonade”,  the “water” the world offers is tainted with pollution and the artificial sweetness of saccharin can never dissipate bitterness or generate hope.  

I appreciate the the directness of Jeremiah 2:13, where God straightforwardly declares the foolish consequences of living apart from Him:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Option Two: We can look at the same mountain of challenges (“lemons”) through eyes of faith; allowing God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to minister to our brokenness.  There is no substitute for drinking in the sweet water of the Scriptures, where conviction by the Spirit cleanses and  brings nourishment to the soul.  Are you looking for assurance in a dizzying world filled with darkness?  The opening words of Genesis cut through the darkness as it speaks light and truth, assurance and hope with this thunderous proclamation:

“In the beginning GOD . . . . “

No matter how bad life appears, God is in control. Since time began; His design and purposes have continued to be worked out in good times and in tragedy.  When the world proclaimed defeat when God’s Only Son suffered and died on the Cross two thousand years ago, Christ was raised in victory as the Savior of all who would trust in Him. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)  God’s Plan will not be thwarted!

Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee  3 weeks later.
Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee 3 weeks later.

Is life giving you “lemons”?  The Bible is full of wisdom, encouragement and hope for those who seek God in honesty and in faith.  Give thanks to a loving God who has a plan and purpose for your life both now and into eternity with Him.

” . . . but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 
John 4:14

All to His Glory!

 

Faith Breathes . . . .

 

This morning I woke up in a panic . . .

my chest pounding hard within . . .

that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach . . .  

fear gripping my heart as I struggled to take a breath . . . .

Does that ever happen to you?  Sometimes the source of what causes such a panicky state is identifiable–in my case, it was “seeing” hundreds of golden spiders lowering themselves toward me in a dream.  But such panic can hit without warning and without a cause that is readily apparent . . . what then?  Having had to confront my own personal issues with fear and anger–yes, the two are often related–and having worked with countless others in the Counseling Room, I have learned:

WHEN FEAR (OR ANGER) GRIP THE HEART, FAITH MUST BREATHE DEEPER STILL.

Faith breathes?  It may sound a little crazy, but hear me out.   In the Counseling Room, when talking about dealing with fear or anger as Christians, we look to the Scriptures for guidance.  Many times we talk about how to walk by faith (not just by sight like the rest of the world does) and learn to view tough times as opportunities trust God more.   In Chapter Two of his letter, James concluded,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”* 

Thus, according to James, it is as faith is worked out in our lives that the evidence of genuine faith is revealed.

The Bible also commands that we be a thankful people before our God and King . . . thankful no matter what our circumstance.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18 encourages,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Now, here is where breathing ties in with faith:

One of the best ways of energizing faith, when overwhelmed by on-going problems or facing the unexpected, is to take a deep breath as you mentally stop whatever you are doing.   As you take in that first breath (making it as deep and long as you can), mentally turn to God and give thanks to Him for His love.  Continue on that vein (recalling every wonderful thing you know about God from the Scriptures) with every breath:

Thank You God that you love me–even when I do not feel or deserve it.

Thank You that You are with me–even though I feel totally alone.

Thank You that You have a plan and a purpose for my life–even though I cannot fathom how this fits into what that might be.

Thank You God for being faithful, even when I fail You . . .

Thank You, thank You, thank You–that You are my God of HOPE!

After reading an article on How to Breathe Properly, written by Karen Lee Richards–patient advocate and co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association– I was struck by how our physical breathing and learning to breathe spiritually are similar.  Richards wrote.

“Breathing affects virtually every part of the body.  It oxygenates the body, revitalizing organs, cells and tissues.  Breathing properly:

  • Fuels energy production
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Eliminates toxins
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Improves bowel function
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation

As important as breathing is to our bodies faith, as it is applied with every spiritual breath we take, is every bit as beneficial.  With every spiritual breath we take, faith fuels our spiritual energy.  Faith improves and narrows our spiritual focus as the toxicity of sin is eliminated through repentance.  Also, as faith is lived out, our spiritual immunity is strengthened as we honor Christ in our lives.  Every spiritual breath we take improves . . . yes, even our bowels(!) as it reduces stress, tension and anxiety.

In the article, Richards differentiates between shallow chest breathing (what sufferers of chronic pain do to minimize pain) and slow, deep abdominal breathing. Richards says, “Shallow chest breathing makes people feel tense” and can induce symptoms that include “mental fog, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, feeling numb and more.”  Yet with slow, deep abdominal breathing, ‘feelings of calmness” are the resulting benefit.

Just as how we breathe impacts our bodies and perceptions, faith as it is applied (or not) also affects our bodily functions as well as our minds and hearts. 

In the final chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage believers living in perilous times to run not from difficulty, but to instead run to the One they loved and served.  Paul wrote to remind his fellow believers that our strength is not in ourselves; that our battle strategy is to stand by faith against evil as God works out His perfect plan through us:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devils schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

No matter what your circumstance, you can know and trust that our Sovereign and Good God will provide the strength and wisdom you need to honor Him with your life.  NOW . . . READY . . . SET . . . BREATHE!DSC01298

All to His Glory!

 

*James 2:26

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

To “Shine Like Stars in the Universe . . . .”

  
How do you want to be remembered?
What do you want your life to add up to?
Where is Christ in your priorities?

When faced with our mortality the cry of the human heart says: “Remember me!”  Our fear of being forgotten runs deep and often inspires the choices we make–good and bad.  The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi, challenging them to raise their sights higher as they rejected the worldly influences that surrounded them:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life . . . .”
Philippians 2:14-16

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered, but rather than allowing fear to motivate us, Christ would have us live out the entirety of our lives in the creative freedom of our faith. That, dear friend, is our means of shining “like stars in the universe . . . .”

In my last post I recommended a booklet written by Dr. Timothy Keller titled, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: THE PATH TO TRUE CHRISTIAN JOY*.  As Dr. Keller challenges our acceptance of the self-esteem philosophy and its influences, he writes about the concept of self-forgetfulness being lived out as gospel-humility:

“Not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself,
it is thinking of myself less.”  

Dr. Keller gives several examples of how gospel-humility can be lived out and then provides a little test as he observes,

The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism.  It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.  Why?  Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.

I have to admit that I often do not receive criticism well–how about you?  Do you become defensive, fall apart or beat yourself up, perhaps because you so desire to please others?  Or . . . do you respond to criticism by hardening your heart saying (or thinking), “Who cares what so-and-so thinks?!!”  Keller says neither the low self-esteem response nor the prideful response are appropriate for Christians.

So how might we respond?  Dr. Keller points to a third option for self-forgetful/gospel-humble servants of Christ:

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them.  They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. (pg.34)

As I thought about gospel-humility working out changes in my heart, I remembered an incident I witnessed a long time ago.  I was a senior in college, sitting in a full classroom with about sixty students.  It was the early seventies, so there was tension on many college campuses between students and faculty–this would be my first taste of it.  The professor was a man I deeply respected, Dr. John Veig.  He was a tall, almost elderly man, who was also my Senior Project Advisor.  As he was speaking to the class, a long-haired hippie-type guy stood up in the middle of the classroom and made a rude remark aimed at Dr. Vieg.  A momentary hush enveloped the classroom as everyone watched to see what was going to happen next.  Dr. Vieg, looking fully into the young man’s eyes, started to smile as he slapped his knee hard and gave out a huge belly laugh!  Amazed by the scene, the tension in the room was completely dissipated as the entire class joined in the laughter and the young man quietly sat down looking a little sheepish.

I did not know it then, but what I witnessed so long ago was a picture of gospel-humility.  Dr. Veig did not become defensive.  Instead, he momentarily reflected on what was said and then chose to reach out to the young man with the love of Jesus and a smile.  Dr. Vieg did the exact opposite of what any of us expected.  (To be honest, I wanted to punch the guy!)

So how might gospel-humility–couched in the love of Jesus–shine through us to reach an ever-darkening world?  Just as importantly, how would Christ have us live out our lives in the creative freedom of our faith?

  1. Prayer will obviously be key as we ask God’s Spirit to help us view the person or situation with His eyes rather than our own.
  2. A growing familiarity with the Scriptures will help you become a biblical thinker (no longer swayed by the philosophies of the world.)
  3. Refuse to become defensive: Instead prayerfully give thanks to God for the offender (that He is not finished with them any more than He is done with you.)
  4. Consider what was said and then respond as the Lord would have you do in wisdom and in faith–I have found that following Dr. Vieg’s example of doing the opposite of what is expected (or what I am tempted to do) can really be effective.

To be remembered as one who shone like a star in the universe” is not such a lofty goal for those who live and love in gospel-humility.  No matter what you may be facing, refuse to be discouraged as you trust in Him each gift-of-a-day.

 All to His Glory!

*Timothy Keller, The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness–The Path to Christian Joy, printed in the UK by a division of 10ofthose.com, 2013.

On Loving Porcupines and Prickly People ~

 
 “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  
I Corinthians 13:7-8a

What do porcupines and prickly people have in common?  They need determined, creative, risk-taking people in their lives who are willing to reach out despite their outward appearance.  Porcupines are known, not only for their daunting quills, but many believe they shoot them at anything that comes its way.  (The truth is, they do not/cannot shoot their quills but apparently will spray a noxious stink that will deter most intruders.)  People and other animals DO get pricked by their quills when they get too close!.  Prickly people, on the other hand, are not equipped with outward barbs but their body language seems to send out a stink that warns:

Do Not Touch!
Stay Away!
Don’t Even Try . . . .

In other words, porcupines and prickly people (can’t we all be included in that category at one time or another?) need the steadfast love and mercy of Christ. Before discussing  insights into how you can love the prickly people in your life, I invite you to watch a  small miracle I found online that demonstrates creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking love to (of all creatures) porcupines!  Personally, I have always thought of porcupines as cute and wistful.  We see them mostly alone (for obvious reasons!) and at first glance they appear to be fine with their singular status.  However, what we “read” outwardly about porcupines (and people) can be deceptive.  Hit the following link to observe a little fellow named “Stinkers” on the receiving-end of creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking outreach:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5I5H7EeC8k
Picture of Porcupine by J. Roberts
Picture of Porcupine by J. Roberts

Do you see what I mean?  Bridging the obstacles of those outward prickles made for a delightful encounter! It is a skill each of us needs to think about if we are to honor God’s command to, “Love your neighbor.” 

How can we apply this example to prickly people? I gained insight into this challenge when we still had three teenagers living in our home.  (Let’s face it, trying to love a prickly teen can can be very daunting!)  Ross Campbell’s book, How To Really Love Your Teenager  helped me come to terms with MY side of the problem. There is nothing wrong with self-protection (note the gloves the young woman wore to reach out to Stinkers!)  However, when we form our own barbs to guard against getting hurt by the one we are supposed to love, we no longer reach out in the love and mercy of Christ.  Instead, we actually compound the problem!

Campbell suggests breaking down those barriers through intentional light touch.  I started by putting my hand on the shoulder of our prickly teen as I put food on the table.  I then looked for other creative ways to love that teen as I became more willing to risk the occasional barb that got through.  The big moment came when I had to address a problem.  Instead of distancing myself to avoid the potential barb, I sat down next to that teen, listened to what they had to say, put my hand on their forearm and then prayed:

Thank you Father for _____”s life.  Thank You for the privilege it is to be their mom and for loving both of us as You do.  Help me Father to be the mom _____ needs to help them become all that You intended.  Please work in both of our hearts Lord, so that we will honor You in what we say and do.  Amen

The thing I remember most about that encounter was that when I thanked God for that teen and asked God’s blessing on both of us, the barbs of self-protection on both sides of our relationship came down!  

I have since learned to love the prickly people I encounter in ordinary life as well those I meet in the Counseling Room with what I refer to as “broad-spectrum love.”

Broad-spectrum love is rooted in God and is therefore sacrificial. 

Broad-spectrum love listens and prays for the neighbor who is obviously hurting.  It is intentional and patient, in respecting the boundaries of the other while praying for the walls to eventually come down.

Because loving sacrificially and creatively is a God-thing, the Scriptures are very instructive:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
I John 4:10 & 16
 
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
 Philippians 2:3
 
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  
Ephesians 5:21
 
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 
John 15:13

As God has worked in my heart I have learned to not be intimidated by the prickly exterior of others.  Truthfully, part of me actually enjoys the challenge of prayerfully penetrating the prickles with the love of Christ Jesus.  If there are such people in your life whose prickles cause you to prickle (!?)–don’t run . . . PRAY!  Trust God to provide all you need to love that other person in His stead and be blessed!

All to His Glory!