When God Is Big And We Are Small: The Journey Continues . . . .

The old adage, “Hindsight is 20/20”, is certainly true when it comes to the way God works in our lives.  When my husband and I took off on our camping adventure seven weeks ago, we felt like a couple of kids cutting school.  For years we had talked about taking off to explore the places we never got to because of time constraints.  With my husband’s retirement, we realized that the time had finally come.  With our new smallish camper in tow, we were as giddy as newlyweds out on a lark.  Little did we know how God would deepen our faith through seemingly unrelated lessons.

In my last post I wrote about the tragic deaths of two young men in our church. Killed in separate accidents in the same week, we struggled to comprehend the reality that Josh and Heath were suddenly gone.  Three thousand miles from home, our “lark” quickly become despair. But God gently ministered to us in the enormity of the California redwoods through Psalm 46,  

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts his voice, the earth melts . . . .”

Where verses 1-6 spoke to the immediacy of our pain, it is verse 10 that continues to direct our steps:

Be still and KNOW that I am God.”

As the incomprehensible assailed us, Psalm 46 became a blanket that enfolded us with these tender assurances:

“Hush. Stop striving to understand what is far larger than you can comprehend.
Hush . . . be still.  KNOW that I am with you and in the coming days will carry you.
This isn’t the end of the story.
Hush . . . you must trust Me in this.”  

Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .
Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .

Looking back, we can see how God had been preparing us weeks before in our travels.  We had noticed them before we left–little “shrines” along roadways marking where someone was killed in an accident.  Typically a simple cross with a name on it; at other times flowers, teddy bears, and other personal reminders are placed as a memorial.  Our awareness grew as we traveled through Montana, where the State marks every life lost on its roads with a small white cross.  We began watching for them as we drove and were stunned when more than one cross marked a scene.  In this age of “political correctness” we wondered how long the practice of using a “religious” symbol would be allowed to continue. Looking back, it was then that what had been “a lark” became a journey within a journey.  It was as if the roads we traveled on, “scenic” or ordinary, became grim reminders of loss.

When we received the news about Josh and then Heath, we remembered those crosses. They were with us, full of life one moment . . . and then suddenly . . . they were gone.

So what does it mean, to “be still and know that God is God”,
when we are stung by such painful loss?
For us, the biggest thing has been to remember that God is Big and we are small.  

To be still and know is a call to humility.  James 4 speaks to the battle that is on-going in our hearts, especially when life hits hard:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and
purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail.
Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

(Verses 6-10)

"Be still and KNOW . . . ."
“Be still and KNOW . . . .”

Since leaving Montana, we’ve driven through eleven more states.   In that time God’s incomprehensible enormity has been demonstrated in countless ways.  The day after receiving the devastating news, we watched whales basking in God’s Provision off Patrick’s Point and then appreciated the solitude of three days camping in the Avenue of the Redwoods–where God was indeed big and we . . . were tenderly cared for.  After that, visits with long missed family and friends ministered greatly to our hearts.

In the weeks since, we have learned that when life hits hard, it is tempting to doubt God’s goodness. But when we entertain those doubts, the world around us dims as we distance ourselves from Him.  Yet it has been through those struggles, that we have gratefully embraced the Shining Hope of the Gospel, as the Cross speaks:

Death, Loss and Eternal Darkness
for those outside of Christ,
but
Redemption, Hope and Life Eternal
for those who are in Christ.

Today, we continue to mourn the loss of two very special men along with family and friends.  But we have learned to give thanks to God:

  • For His faithfulness in loving us–even in our doubts.
  • For ministering to us–as we have been privileged to witness the enormity and ever-changing diversity of His Creation.
  • For Josh and Heath’s lives–and the assurance that they are safe with Him . . . .

When God is BIG and we are small,
doubt recedes as we find HOPE and SHELTER in HIM.
Giving thanks!

All to His Glory!

A Comforting Grace . . . .

“It’s hard, but God is good.”  Those are the words I find myself repeating when a friend mentions the loss of my father. Some look at me quizzically and a silence lingers as they wait for me to offer more– that I know that he is in a better place (which I do.)  The problem is, when I say anything more I find myself battling unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The odd thing is, until a week ago, I would have told you that I was, “Doing just fine.”

IMG_0015
Christmas, 1953

Few of us escape seasons when we find ourselves battling emotions that appear to come out of nowhere.  To say that I have been surprised by grief is an understatement.  When I received word that Dad died, it was not unexpected. Dad’s health had been declining for several years, to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair the last time I saw him.  Living three thousand miles apart, my brother Norm has been extremely good to let me know about Dad’s overall health–the good days as well as his drastic decline three days prior to his death.  When I said goodbye to Dad last fall, I knew that it was likely the last time I would see him.  I was grateful Norm was there too . . . grateful to see Dad bask in the loving care he was receiving.

That Dad is in a better place is without question.  Yet, despite knowing this, I STILL MISS HIM.  I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face light up when I came into his room.  The one Scripture that truly speaks to the emotional loss I am presently experiencing is, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

It is a comforting grace to know that Jesus,
not only walked among us, but He wept for and with us. 

This especially resonates when we read about the death of Lazarus in John 11.  Jesus did not weep when He informed His disciples that Lazarus had died–in fact He initially told them Lazarus had fallen asleep. (verses 11-14)  It was not until Jesus saw Mary* and others around her grieving, that He was brought to tears:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . . . . Jesus wept.”
John 11:33, 35

We talk about this in the Counseling Room.  When we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster after suffering a loss or when experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it is a comforting grace to know that God is not offended by our struggle.  In fact, when we find ourselves colliding with trouble, the Bible assures us that He has compassion on His people. (Matthew 14:14 and 20:34; Mark 6:34)

Yet God does not want us to remain spiritually frail.  During the twenty years I have been privileged to Counsel, I have repeatedly marveled at God’s faithfulness in transforming human brokenness into a loveliness and strength that is fully of Him.  The key to that transformation? Time after time it has consistently occurred in those who embrace the Authority of the Scripture as God’s Spirit has tended to each heart.  Jesus continues to call us to Himself, offering His Comforting Grace to all who seek Him:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.…”
Matthew 11:28,29

Yes, I still miss my dad and trust that I will for some time.  In fact, as I have been able to identify the blessing of His Comforting Grace being worked out in my life right now, I give thanks to God for the sweetness of memories that can never be taken away.

All to His Glory!

 *The sister of Lazarus who would soon anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair– John 12:3.

Lost and Found . . . .

 

Yesterday I received a phone call that I hoped to never hear: “Hey Kath . . . are you sitting down?  Dad died this morning . . . .”  

How does one prepare for the pain of losing someone you love?  I have faced that question with many a Client; searched the Scriptures for glimmers of hope when darkness threatened.  When feeling lost in a sea of emotion, my thoughts inevitably run to the wisdom of Scripture,

My sweet dad . . . three weeks ago.
My sweet dad on “Mustache Day”. . . three weeks ago.

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

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

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and death shall be no more,
nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more,
for the former things are passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

My mind ran in snippets yesterday as I remembered my dad as a much younger man.  He was number five in a line of six children, grew up during the Depression on a farm in Pixley, California.  He was loyal, dedicated to loving his family, and was never afraid of hard work.  My first “real” memory of Dad goes back to when I was three years old, after he returned from the fight in Korea.  I remember the strength of his arms when he picked me up and held me close.  The following years are a blur of Dad working hard to care for our family–even as he struggled with the aftereffects of war.  A memory I especially cherish, is of walking down the church aisle on his arm, to marry my husband of (now) forty-four years.  Even sweeter were the decades that followed, when he embraced his role as, “Grandpa Clyde”. . . priceless!

While desiring to find a a resting place for all the thoughts and memories that whirled through my mind, I could not come to terms with the harsh reality of being separated by his death.  This morning, God’s shepherding hand touched my mind and heart through a post written by Heidi Viars.   In her post, Heidi describes a scene that took place in a parking lot on a freezing cold day.  After coming out of a store, she noticed a store worker, standing out in the cold without a coat.  After loading her packages into her car and seeing the woman still standing there, this conversation ensued:

 “‘Are you OK?’, I asked.

She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, just cold.’

I realized she was watching the car next to us. A man in his eighties, maybe nineties, was occupying the passenger seat. His eyes were sad and his head nervously moving back and forth.

‘I saw him wandering in the parking lot. He was lost and I helped him get back in his car. I think he has dementia. I am just waiting for someone to return for him.’ the woman said.”

I was struck by how the lost elderly man reminded me of my dad in recent years.  Age definitely took a toll on Dad as he fought to retain his independence.  It was hard when he had to admit that he could no longer take care of Mom by himself.  I wanted them to move closer to where I live.  Dad rightly refused the offer, citing his desire to stay closer to his sisters and the rest of the family. The move proved to be a good one.  Mom and Dad benefited from getting their medications on time, eating healthier food and enjoying visits from family.  Even so, the bitter reality of dementia robbed him of the joy of being able to drive when he became hopelessly lost in what had been familiar places.  When Mom died two years ago, Dad’s lostness increased.  “I miss Mama,” were the words he most frequently uttered when anyone tried to talk to him.  Even so, we noticed a sweet gentleness emerge, more in keeping with the farm boy he was when he gave his heart to Jesus at age thirteen.

Time has slipped away all too fast for our family, but the words of the woman standing watch over the elderly man in the parking lot brought a comforting perspective, “I am just waiting for someone to return for him.”  In a sense, that is exactly what has happened these past two years with Dad.  We have enjoyed him as Dad has waited in hope for the return of His Savior.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.
He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”

I Peter 3:18
(New Living Translation)

Of the snippets that continue to run around in my head, the words from John Newton’s, Amazing Grace, come continually to the forefront,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Feeling lost?  Desiring to be found?  There is no one greater than the Good Shepherd of our hearts, to lead us safely HOME.

All to His Glory!

There’s No Place Like Home . . . .

Call it what you will–

Utopia . . .

Heaven on Earth . . .

Paradise . . . .

There is a longing in the human heart to regain what was lost at the Fall when sin entered the world.  Humanly, we go to great efforts to construct our own version of “home”, but it can never last apart from being reconciled to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I have had to break this news to many a struggling Client (and have reminded myself when dismayed by the attitudes and/or actions of myself and/or others): “This is not heaven!”  

In the final hours before His arrest, Jesus talked to His disciples about HOME in John 14:1-3.  Knowing He would soon be leaving them and the world He had dwelled in for thirty-three years, Jesus encouraged them with these words:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
My Father’s house has many rooms;
if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

It is our hope of heaven that gives us peace in trying times . . .

In Christ we look forward to what, one day, will be our Forever Home

Truly . . . there’s no place like HOME!

But what about now?  How are we to respond to the pain and suffering of those we love brought on by disease?  What are we to do when men blatantly commit unspeakable acts that overwhelm our human sensibilities? It is scary to face the realities of pain and heartache in this world; to think about evil and the end times,  Yet the Bible speaks of such things to encourage and strengthen God’s people.  I found comfort in the words of Jesus that in previous days have made me uncomfortable.  Jesus sought to enlarge the vision of His disciples’ thinking about HOME in Matthew 24:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (verses 7-14)

There's no place like HOME!
There’s no place like HOME!

The Apostle Paul underscored the temporariness of our earthly bodies by referring to them as “tents.”  In II Corinthians 5, verses 1 and 5, Paul ministered to the hearts and minds of his fellow-servants of Jesus Christ with these words about our Forever Home:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. . . . God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit.

No matter what you are facing or may face in the future, hold fast to the faithful provision given us by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Truly, there’s no place like HOME! 

All to His Glory!

 

This Is Not Heaven!

Are you lonely, discouraged, disappointed or distraught?  Welcome to life!  I do not mean to be insensitive or flippant, but sometimes we need an ice cold splash of reality in our faces to remind us that this is NOT heaven!  In fact, it is my hope that you will be encouraged by this reminder because it underscores the very reason Christ Jesus came to this earth.  Philippians 2 presents a realistic depiction of the sacrifice He made in leaving heaven to enter the world as we know it:

  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
  did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
   rather, He made himself nothing
  by taking the very nature of a servant,
  being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
  He humbled himself
  by becoming obedient to death—
  even death on a cross!  (Verses 5-8)

We celebrate Christmas as a season of remembrance: when God’s Son left the purity of heaven to enter this very dangerous and sin-polluted world.  Jesus came to save those who would trust Him for heaven.   

Think about His life on this earth, it was about sacrifice from beginning to end.  Jesus was:

  • Born in a barn to parents who would soon be on the run, seeking to protect their baby from a crazy king bent on His destruction.
  • Raised in obscurity in a poor family and in a town regarded with disdain.  (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46])
  • Rejected by those He came to redeem, He certainly knew the pain of loneliness, disappointment and suffered the cruelty of men.  ( He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.   He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”  [John 1:10, 11])

We celebrate Christmas when we take our minds off ourselves and the world around us, to embrace the Hope of Heaven that belongs to those who have faith in Him.

“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:12, 13)

There is no lonelier place than feeling discouraged, disappointed or distraught in a crowd . . . especially at Christmas.   But take heart, there is more to life than circumstances that can change with the tides.    Instead of avoiding the pains of life by filling those moments with busyness or chatting about nothing, turn your attention to the One who came down from heaven to save you and praise Him:

Thank You Lord for loving me and for saving me from myself;

Thank you Jesus for granting me the hope of heaven; help me to go deeper in appreciating all that You sacrificed for me . . .

Thank you God for Christmas as a season of remembrance . . . may You be magnified in my life this day and always!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:1-3)

 All to His Glory!