27 November 2010

Navigating the Minefield of Choices and Regrets

In a few short days I will be returning to the place I first launched into adulthood. I dread the journey though I am fairly certain the anticipation of being there is going to be worse than actually being there. At least, I hope it will be.

You see, I am a bible believing, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone Christian now. I only briefly toyed at being one when I lived in the town I am returning to. Without understanding the gospel and having a theological clue, the best that you can do is play at being a Christian. I have a lot of history back there that is painful to remember. I am not that young stupid woman any more and I am not anxious to be reminded of stories about what I did when I was. There are things I did, choices I made in the moments of what I had mistaken for passion or principle and now know were nothing more than drunken self-indulgence and hubris, that I regret. I am ashamed of them. Deeply ashamed.

I don't want to see people who are expecting the woman I used to be, but that's not the worst of it. There are people I will have to apologize to and that's still not the worst of it. The worst of it is I don't trust my choices now. There's a reason "Come Thou Fount" is my favorite hymn. I am prone to wander. I feel it. I don't want to see people who may act as catalysts for that other woman I used to be to return. And as long as I am being honest, I am also vain enough to tell you that I haven't aged well and hate going back to have people talk smack about how much weight I have gained and how old I look. Mostly though, it's that I am not the woman that they knew, and I am grateful to God for the change.

What do we do when we are filled with regret? What do we do when for reasons beyond our control and that rest in God's sovereignty, we have to go back to the scene of the crimes we have committed against Him? How do we find the balance between having no more condemnation and exercising the humility necessary to make amends with those we've hurt in the process? None of us sin in a vacuum. Our sin, like ripples in a fetid pool of water, starts out with us and spreads out to others; sin makes secondary victims or collateral damage. It is the 'gift' that keeps on 'giving.'

I have been more than a little anxious about finding this balance. This morning I realized how selfishly I was considering all this. It's not like God is trying to rub my nose in the filth of my youthful choices. Perhaps I am being sent back as a display of God's glory and mercy. Perhaps this is not about teaching me a single thing but about showing them the difference He makes in the lives of those He calls out of darkness. And while it may be a little uncomfortable for me, it won't be as uncomfortable as hell. That's where I was headed when last I encountered these old friends of mine. That's where they may still be headed and if my God chooses to use a short, fat old woman like me to display the difference His grace and forgiveness make in the lives of sinners, what greater honor might I be given?

Psalm 130:1-5
1 Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
3 If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.

09 November 2010

Bruised, Battered, Blessed

The hard times of life. The times when your are bruised and raw. When it hurts to breathe and each beat of your heart feels like it is sending glass shards through your soul. That's when it happens and you know. Your circumstances are horrible. You cannot imagine why everything has gone so horribly wrong all at once and in a nanosecond you are transported from the abject poverty of puny faith and hopelessness to knowing that you are safely tucked under God's wing. You know that all of your doubts to the contrary cannot keep you from His grace and mercy when He chooses to bestow it upon you.

I have had some of the hardest months of my life thus far come crashing down on me like waves, forming a tsunami of circumstances. Circumstances way beyond of my control, threatening to take my feet out from under me. The last three days have been full of anguish for me. My sister called and through her sobs and heartbreak all I could understand were the words, "Daddy is dying." I knew that he was dying and I knew that I was going to be crushed. Hearing the words said aloud felt like boulders being slowly placed on my chest. The weight of reality settling down hard. What you expect and the enormity of how it feels when the anticipation of grief is realized are always so different. I know that. What I didn't know is how kind and merciful God would be to me. Using unexpected means and people I would have never dreamed of, He rescued me.

There is a price we pay for living with all this technology and ability to travel with relative ease across continents and oceans. When I moved from California to Kentucky, I knew it would cost me being able to jump in the car and within a few hours or minutes being with family I love. I didn't know that I would be in an accident that would make it impossible for me to travel as I have in the past. I didn't know the economy would crumble. I didn't know I wouldn't be able to make it to see my Pop one last time. I didn't, but God did.

My family dynamics are nothing if not complicated. Pop was my 'step-dad'. The only time I ever made that distinction was to spare my father and my siblings on my father's side any pain or angst at hearing me call someone else, "Dad." My father and I came to an understanding about that before he died. He told me that the only grandfather I had known, who was technically my 'step-grandfather' was the best step-father any boy could have and he never thought of him as anything but his dad. I told him I understood because I had one of those too. My Pop was my last surviving parent. The last one to know me as an adult knows a child they care for, correct, encourage and watch bloom into maturity.

The anguish of knowing he was dying in California and I was in Kentucky unable to say goodbye to him was unbearable. Grief does horrible things to your ability to process information. I had confessed to my best friend that I was having terrible thoughts that I didn't want to have. I begged God to take them away and then it happened. My phone rang. It was my step-brother. A man I confess I have held little affection for over the years. I always assumed his resentment of my mother being married to his father would keep me from ever appreciating him. Age and circumstance change perspectives. He told me he was at Pop's bedside and was going to put me on speaker phone so I could say whatever I wanted to say. He told me he knew there was no way I could make it to California in time. Humbled and grateful, I got to thank my Pop for being the best dad a girl could have asked for, and for being the model of a man in my life. One who loved selflessly. One who guarded and protected those he loved. When I had finished, my step-brother said, "He heard you! You did great, he opened his eyes and he only does that when he recognizes voices. He heard you!"

I cannot begin to tell you what a kindness that was to me. He didn't have to make the call. He didn't have to assure me that Pop heard me. But- God uses means that we don't expect to bless us when we need it most. I knew at that moment God had gathered me up in his arms and was holding me close. I am grieving . I have moments when I feel like I am falling. Moments when I realize I will never again hear him say, "Hello, my darling!" Or hear him giggle at something outrageous I have said to get exactly that reaction. And then I remember God's kindness and mercy. Pop isn't being buried until December 4th, which gives me time to try and figure out the logistics of getting to California. The holidays are never a good time to look for cheap travel, but God uses means I never expect and if I am supposed to be there, I will be.

Dad has received permission to be buried in a historic cemetery. Pop's family was one of the first families to settle in Sonoma County. A lover of family and history, he wanted to be buried with them. A lover of family as well, I want to thank all of you who have been praying for me. My family in Christ has sustained me through so many trials. A lover of history I want to remind you to look back at the ways God has been faithful so you too can be looking forward to being blessed in unexpected ways.

Lamentations 3:32
32 For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.

05 November 2010

Parched Worry

Ever notice how painfully time moves when you're waiting to hear how someone is doing? Each second feels like coarse-grained sandpaper moving slowly on sunburned skin. It is agonizing. Yesterday my sister had bilateral lumpectomies. Her four hour surgery turned into seven hours. Her outpatient surgery turned into admission and being on a ventilator. I am approximately 2400 miles away from her as the crow flies. As the heart loves I am right there beside her. (Post Script: She is off the ventilator, alert and talking. Thanks be to God!).

I should be grateful to God that she is receiving good care. I should be thanking Him that her cancer was found early. Our mother's wasn't. I should be doing a lot of things that good Christians do, instead I am doing what I do best. Worrying. Worrying because I am not there. Worrying because if I was there, those doctors and nurses would really have to act right, that's my sister they are treating. But I am not. I am worried for her kids who are there and how they may need me and worried because the kids are there and don't need me.

Our Pop is recouping from some serious health problems. He doesn't know that she has cancer. He doesn't know where he is most of the time. He thinks he's been left in the jungle, wearing nothing but a diaper or that his sister forgot to pick him up from camp. My aunt has been dead for 30 years. My step-brother told me about 10% of the time Pop is lucid. He's grumpy. He's tired of feeling bad. My sister is supposed to be caring for him. She was diagnosed with cancer two days before he came to live with her. The plans were already in motion. He lived on a small island in Hawaii and needed to be on the mainland for care. My sister's home needed to be remodeled to accommodate his needs. All that was done, plane tickets were purchased, family took off work to fly with her to get him and bring him back. Good Christians will tell you they rest in God's sovereignty and perfect timing. Me? I am not so good. I can't help but wonder what He's doing and how it can possibly be good.

My financial and physical shape won't allow me to fly out there. How can that be right? I am the Christian in the family. I am supposed to be there to be a rock. I am not supposed to be here left waiting for someone to text me how she is doing or to tell me what is happening next. I am supposed to be there to make sure it is all happening as it should! Even in times of crisis my pride and hubris know no bounds.

I remember when the school called and said my youngest was on her way to the ER by ambulance. As I drove to meet them at the hospital, I started singing praise songs. I finally understood what it meant to bring a sacrifice of praise. During those terrifying minutes of driving praise was a precious commodity and I had very little left to give. I had even less desire to give it. But sacrificing your last remaining bit of praise is never squandering it. Not when you sacrifice it to Him.

So now as I type and confess my worry, remembering the value of praising Almighty God, I feel a little sheepish. Why hadn't I remembered that praise relieves worry before this? Waiting for the Lord is agonizingly painful. Waiting without hope will desiccate your soul. Parched worry finds its cure in Living Waters. It is no wonder God's Word tells us so often, "Remember!" We are such fearful forgetters. I need to take some of my own medicine. Frequently I tell people to look back at all the times God has been faithful and demonstrated His love, care and concern for them. Remember the times His timing has been perfect and hold fast to the fact that He cannot be less than He is. Remember that when life is hard and if you have to, scrape the bottom of your heart to find the remnant of praise there and sacrifice it to Him, do it. Even if you don't think you can or can't find your want to, just do it.

Hebrews 13:15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

Jeremiah 17:13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.

John 7:38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"

Psalm 111:1-10
1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all {my} heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly.
2 Great are the works of the LORD; {they are} studied by all who delight in them.
3 Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever.
4 He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.
5 He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever.
6 He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure.
8 They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness.
9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do {His commandments} His praise endures forever.

02 November 2010

Opening My Window

I exercised my right to vote today. I thought about the "Iron Jawed Angels," suffragists and suffragettes that made it possible for me to vote. Without the 19th Amendment, I could only complain about the state of politics in America. Now I can complain with a smidgen more power. I do not take this privilege lightly and I do not scoff at the power of one vote. Dissenting opinions are important for balanced growth. That being said, I will be so happy a week from now when most of the votes are counted and the media blitz has died down. I am sick to death of Politicians and Media.

I want to have my "Howard Beale" moment. I am as mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore. This election has to be one of the most despicable displays of moral depravity to unfold in decades if not centuries. I know politics is dirty business and I know that it has been that way from the start but really, does it have to be this bad? Really? Ads had to be taken out where politicians seeking votes had to say things like, "I am not a witch." Or the infamous "Aqua Buddha" ad that played right here in my new home state? Really? This is what we have come to?

The media has had such a heyday telling the current administration that the American public is tired and they want something different. People are unhappy. But I ask you, what good has any of that kvetching done? Did it boost their channel ratings? No. All that has happened is the partisan political machinery on both sides has been placed in hyper drive, launching mudslinging and muckraking right past light speed and into ludicrous speed, to borrow from Mel Brooks. How is that helping? Making endless prognostications and playing out different scenarios as if they are reporting news. Bah!

Let me just say this to the media. Frankly, I do not care if Sarah Palin is getting ready to make a run in 2012. All the media speculation about whether or not she is or whether her reality television show will help or hinder her makes me want to scream. First of all, Reagan starred in Bedtime for Bonzo and some other C movies and that didn't stop him from being president. You want to report what the majority of folks are saying out there in the homes you bathe with your slanted 'news' at 6 and 11 each night? They want to see someone with the intestinal fortitude to run for office on their ideas and solutions. They don't want to hear any more platitudes and empty promises. They, like me, are bone weary with the moral turpitude of our garden variety politicians on all sides. We want some folks with integrity and gumption. We want to see some folks who aren't afraid to go completely against the flow of what has become normal. We want to see that someone gets it. We are afraid of losing our homes, losing our freedoms, losing our way of life. We are tired of your privileged selves acting like you get it when you don't. If you got it you wouldn't spend your fortunes slinging mud, you take out ads giving us solutions. Detailed solutions.

What have we done so wrong in our country that we haven't been able to produce some heroes and/or heroines lately? Have we become so 'rights' oriented that we are unable to count the cost and responsibility of having those very rights? God spare me from sensationalized television and political ads for candidates I am loathe to choose from. God help me to remember that You set the standard for right and wrong.

Daniel 2:20-22
20 Daniel answered and said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him.
21 "And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding.
22 "It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.