learning the life of faith

It’s easy to say God’s grace is sufficient when everything seems safe and overflowing. It’s another to experience God’s grace is sufficient when everything seems chaotic and lacking.

It’s easy to say His strength is made perfect in our weakness when we feel strong and confident. It’s another thing entirely to desperately fall back on Him when our own weakness and fragility overwhelms us.

It’s been a week since I didn’t feel like throwing up at all hours and unable to eat or sleep. I’m fine, but my son is not. He’s hanging on the edge of a cliff and we are laying at the top reaching for him to come back up. He’s slowly climbing back up.

(It’s happened many times, but I’ve given up writing about it because a reader only can hear the story so many times. And I’m not into drawing out yet another health-saga – each important, but eventually dulling to us as we are inundated by more stories than we can absorb.)

Most of you are used to hearing about his chronic health problems, used to hearing about his fragility – but as his family, it doesn’t really get easier. We know him and love him; to us he’s just a boy with a full crop of hair and a big heart, who wants nothing more than an airplane ride on his dad’s lap. And good night!, it makes us stop breathing when we see him struggling to get his.

Living with chronic respiratory failure doesn’t come with a clear guide. “There are no right answers,” I’ve heard a thousand times and every time it sounds so off. How can there be no right answers?

But living with Jesus does come with clear answers. He calls us to follow after Him, and in our own cross-bearing He’ll walk with us and deepen our leaning on him.

It’s a hard lesson that I’m slow to learn. One of our pastor’s said recently, “We associate evil with pain, and good with pleasure. But God does not associate things this way.”

It’s a painful process to learn, it involves dying to our flesh and living according to the Spirit. 

When we can’t rescue, we become more fixed on the Rescuer.

When we’re perplexed, we look more to Him who is Wisdom.

When we sorrow, we feel the comfort from the Man of Sorrows.

When we’re anxious, we look to the Prince of Peace.

When we’re overwhelmed, we search for the Rock.

Calvin is sitting peacefully in the PICU now. We are hoping he will continue to make small baby steps of improvements and get back to his baseline. Parainfluenza pushed his already fragile respiratory condition over the edge. If my gut serves me right, we’ll be home in two weeks back at his norm.

Thanks all for your prayers and for reading another of my (overly-reflective) posts when all you really cared about was the last paragraph. 😉 

Burden to Bursting (a devotion for kids)

Occasionally I write for the kid’s section of our church magazine thought I’d share them here to use with your kids, if you’d like. This one is appropriate for the time of waiting between Easter and Ascension. 

Have you ever seen a friend walking sadly on the playground? How can you tell they’re sad? Maybe they have their head down, shoulders drooped, all the while kicking wood-chips while they walk.

Once there were two friends walking sadly together. Cleopas and his friend weren’t on the playground; they were walking along a dusty road going from the city of Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven mile trip! They had a long walk home and as you know, walking goes quickly when you talk with a friend, so they were pouring out their hearts to each other.

They had just had the worst week of their lives, and it wasn’t because of the ordinary reasons that sometimes make us say, “This is the worst day ever!” They didn’t have lost homework or even a lost donkey. They weren’t arguing with their friends or fussing over hurt feelings. It was far worse.

The week before, they had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was normally a joyful celebration—a time to remember God’s faithfulness in delivering them from Egypt and a time of hope, remembering that God had promised to send another deliverer.

But this Passover had been all mixed up and seemed to have gone terribly wrong. Their dear friend, Jesus, a great prophet had been killed, on the very day of the Passover. And this was the one they thought was going to deliver them!
Their hearts hurt just thinking about Jesus, He had loved them and been with them day after day. They had seen the power of God in Him when sick people came to the door and when sinners found life and joy in His words. He had been their friend, their hope for a better future, but now all they felt was sadness and confusion. Jesus was dead and there was no delivery in sight.

Everything they thought was true seemed turned upside down, had they been wrong all along? Jesus joined them on their walk, right in the middle of all the mixed up thoughts and feelings and listened. Of course He knew all about it, but He loves for us to pour out our hearts to Him. They told the whole story to this stranger, not even recognizing it was Jesus! And Jesus gently began pointing to the truth that He was right here and all was going according to plan.

Now, if you or I have something very remarkable happen we might tell our friends the sensational details, show pictures or even reenact what happened. But Jesus, who had just suffered the greatest sorrow and achieved the greatest victory in the history of the whole wide world, began in the most ordinary way–by opening up the scriptures.

He pointed out the plan that God had been perfectly carrying out through the stories of the Israelites and the songs of the prophets. He showed them how all these stories pointed to the Lamb, the Redeemer, HIM! And as he spoke the words of scripture, their hearts started to thaw from the fear and confusion and they began to burn, throb and nearly burst with joy as recognition lit their entire being, it was Jesus. And He HAD delivered them from something much worse than the Romans—they were delivered from the clutches of sin which had the power to destroy them more than any Roman.
These two disciples had started their long walk with heavy hearts and sandals dragging, but by the end of the long trip as they sat down to break bread with Jesus, their hearts were light and their feet eager to get up and spread the news—Jesus was alive and God’s plan of deliverance was being carried out perfectly.

I don’t have a time machine to send you back to the Emmaus road, but I can tell you where to find Jesus–open up the Bible, He really is on every page! This week, in your devotions, why don’t you write down your findings of seeing Jesus in the stories and prophets of the Old Testament; ask your parents for help if you’re stuck.

Seeing Jesus made the disciple’s hearts burn with passion, joy and devotion. If your heart is dead and cold and the Bible seems boring, go to your knees. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see Jesus as you read the Word. He is the only one who can wake us up from the sleep of sin and make us alive in Christ. Seeing Him will make our feet eager to worship Him and to share the news of Jesus with others.

Pushing Back the Darkness

It was always there. Getting groceries, watching a gorgeous sunset, chatting at the table with family or on quiet moonlit walks: the darkness.

A few years ago I stared at the super-sized bottle of Tylenol on my counter and wondered if its promise of “Pain-Relief” would work for me. It wasn’t the pain of a migraine or an aching back that I wanted to disappear, it was the burn of searing loss that cut deep into my soul. The kind of pain that fills your dinner plate with tears, sends sleep packing and makes you wonder if you’ll ever feel anything but that searing sensation. I thought it would never leave, sure it would suck me down, chew me up and spit me back out–a cynical, bitter, joyless me.

It started six years ago when my son was born with a neurological malformation from a virus I had while pregnant. It sounds so compartmentalized on paper; in real life, it’s not. Each time I’d see a scan of his brain damage, the guilt made me nauseous. Every time his blind eyes would search for me it taunted me, he had never asked for this. I was supposed to protect him. I didn’t. 

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Doctors will tell you it’s not your fault. But the darkness whispers that it is. It replays the “If Only You Had…” clip every time you hear the suction machine emptying his lungs or watch his body struggle with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. And when you find yourself meeting with the palliative care doctor instead of a preschool teacher, you almost lose yourself to the darkness.

Melancholy never came naturally, I was always a glass-half-full kinda gal. But I couldn’t run fast or hard enough from this anguish. At 32, I was wishing for life to be over. Even the pills doctors prescribe couldn’t fix it. I made my sisters promise that they’d take care of my kids if I couldn’t. My husband wondered if he was going to get his wife back.

Still, I wanted to fight. I was not going down easy. I have a wonderful husband and five children who move my soul every day; I wanted to be with them. It was standing at the kitchen sink that I discovered my secret weapon for the ever present despair: light. I would fight the darkness with light–I would overwhelm the sadness with the goodness and joy that follows me every day of my life.

When alarm bells rang in the night from my son’s machines, I’d run my hand through his thick hair and give thanks for the beauty of his life. My daughter’s hand would wrap his tightly in their sleep; I’d stop to wonder and give thanks that so much love could exist in so much loss. When his eyes searched for me I’d notice the warmth of his smile and his gorgeous long lashes. When his body stiffly jerked in excitement, I’d lean down so he could place his open-mouthed kiss on my cheek. When he squealed in delight I’d give thanks that there was a vibrant little boy in there, wanting to be heard.

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This is the battle of light pushing back the darkness. The darkness is thick but when you turn just a few degrees, there is so much light. Your eyes no longer become accustomed to the darkness, instead they focus on the light of joy and goodness spilling everywhere. No longer do I squint at the brightness; my eyes are wide open and the warmth of that light has seeped into the very spaces of that searing loss. The cracks fill up with joy and healing, even though the scars remain.

The reality is what it is. My son’s days will come to an end sooner than later. And no matter how much I wish I hadn’t even gotten a virus, I did. The darkness has had its victory, but not the final say. I will spend every day thanking God for the gift of Calvin’s life. My family will rejoice that we get to discover beauty and meaning in places few have ventured.

The darkness is just a few turns away but I’m not going back. There’s way too much here.

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Got Problems? (devotion for kids)

This article was originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth as a meditation for kids. Read it around the dinner table or talk it over at bedtime; you might be surprised where the conversation goes!

Minnesota Snow

On a drizzly Saturday afternoon a young teen walked his dog along in front of our house. Darryl was outside loading Calvin’s wheelchair into our van, “How are you?” Darryl asked as he closed the trunk. The German shepherd paused as the boy tightened the leash and turned to Darryl, “Could be better,” he said honestly. “What’s going on?” Darryl asked. “Oh, lots of stuff,” he mumbled. “You can tell me about it,” Darryl offered. “Oh never mind, but thanks for asking” and off he went with his dog. Darryl could only call after, “You can come by anytime, okay?”

Have you ever felt like that boy? Like your problems were too complicated for someone else to understand? Maybe your troubles seem too messy, embarrassing or just too personal to talk to about with others.

The Lord delights in kids coming to Him with needy hearts and big problems. Jesus knows what it’s like to be a kid; He was one too! He’s not at all out of touch with your life; He made you and knows every detail about you! He knows your character, your interests, how many hairs are on your head and what you had for lunch. Sometimes it may feel like there is no one you can go to, but that is not true. Whatever your trouble is, you can go to the Lord–especially when you’ve got problems.

You can go to Him when you’re scared. It’s not just little kids who get scared. Big kids (and adults!) get scared, too. Whatever your fears are, bring them to the Lord. In the Psalms David describes God as a refuge and a fortress. He is a real comfort to those that take refuge in Him.

Are you or your friends getting into a heap of trouble? You should not only go to your parents for help, you can go to God for forgiveness and help. Consider the friends you have, do they love the Lord or do they lead you away from Him?

You can go to Him when you’re sick. Have you lain in bed shivering, aching and feeling terrible? Maybe you have an illness that you live with every day. Ask Him for strength and help. He can use even your sickness to bring you near to Him and give you joy and peace in it.

Maybe you’re sad about things you haven’t dared to tell anyone. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus as a “man of sorrows”. He knows what it is to have a heavy heart, so pour yours out to him. Ask Him to fill you with joy that comes from knowing Him and His salvation.

You can go to Him when you’ve sinned. That’s when you should run to Him! It’s a temptation to hide our sin (we’ve been trying to do that since Paradise) but we need to go quickly to the only One who can wash away our sins, Jesus Christ. If you don’t feel sorry for your sin, ask Him for a repentant heart. He can change you from loving sin to loving Him.

Problems in your life do not disqualify you from going to God; in fact, the realization of our problems is often what God uses to draw us to him. We can trust our entire lives to God, the One who has gone to the great length of the cross to rescue us from our biggest problem: sin. When Jesus cried out to the Father in anguish on the cross, there was no answer or comfort. He bore the anguish of sin alone so that those who trust in Him would never have to.

Three Years?!

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It’s been three years since Noah’s open heart surgery at U of M. He’s doing well although there is a 50% chance he’s facing open heart surgery in his teens again. Last week we celebrated both birthdays of our November boys, we do not take either of lives for granted. They are a gift.

Noah’s wit, creativity and tender heart bless us every day. At the moment he is intent on becoming an archaeologist and frequently can be found debating the importance of this career with his sisters. His drawings of Lego guys and ninjas fill the refrigerator, scraps in my purse and notes by my bedside.

The other day I ran downstairs quickly in black leggings and a black top, “Mom! Where did you get that ninja suit?” he asked, thoroughly impressed.

This is a video we made after his surgery, it makes me teary to see all the Lord has brought us through.

Green Pastures

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The past eight weeks Calvin has been free from infections in his lungs. This is our longest stretch; we’ve have soaked up and relished every single second. With his lungs clear and breathing so much easier, other parts of his personality and body have rejuvenated. He wants to stand all the time and his legs jerk like crazy when Darryl comes in the door. His grin stretches from ear to ear as the kids help him unbend and stretch his stiff legs in the morning. We’ve made almost every evening service at church with him and through many services haven’t needed to bring him out even once for suctioning. I feel like we are in the “green pastures” of Psalm 23.

Last night in the evening service the minister asked in a loud and probing way, “Have you experienced the mercies of God?” Calvin, who had been sitting quietly, joyfully let out a long and loud, “Aaaaah!”

Afterward my family came over for coffee. We were singing together one of my favorite hymns, How Firm a Foundation. As we sang, “Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand”, he joined in with noises of joy we rarely hear–such enthusiasm!

I don’t know if it’s coincidental, maybe it it. But I don’t doubt that he could very well know these mercies of God deeply.

I found out later my sister-in-law caught it on video.  It brings to my mind John 9:27,  “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

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