My Quiet Place of Strength

In God’s hand, a yielded weakness has greater power than an unyielded strength.

Because of my daily struggle with ME/CFS, I often live out my life in baby steps. Take tonight’s taco dinner, for example. Yesterday I browned and spiced the meat. This afternoon I prepped the cauliflower to steam for my “rice”. Finally this evening, I will pull it all together to serve buffet-style as a tasty meal for my family. (And they will do the dishes. Bonus!)

Managing a lifestyle around a frequently debilitating health issue requires loads of thought and planning. Absolutely everything I do comes with a trade-off. If I do “A” I cannot count on doing “B”. My life gets plotted and lived out in segments of days rather than just today. What I hope to accomplish tomorrow must get accounted for in today’s activity as well as the day following.

Can you imagine how discouraging and small my life must seem at times?

I’ve thought about this several times lately as our home has become a bedlam of activity. First came the demanding renovations, followed this past week by the stop-everything-and-pick-up-the-house-and-quickly-vacate mode of open houses and private showings, all while tackling some packing.

Or rather…Brad tackles the packing.

I rest and regenerate between activities.

We’ve discussed this–my beloved and I.

God has given to each of us our strengths and weaknesses–and then He paired us with each other in the most wonderful and remarkable of ways. My husband, thankfully, just happens to have enough energy for the both of us–God’s gift to him (and me!).

The odd thing about strengths and weakness and human behavior is that we tend to do one of two things: 1) evaluate others on their strengths while we evaluate ourselves on our weaknesses, or 2) the other way around.

I tend to view my husband through his assets (probably best for the marriage that way!). I see the energy he brings into the required busyness of renovating, selling and packing a home. And then I see myself on my comfy brown couch. He hustles and bustles. I sit. He takes care of business. I lounge.

Quite the discouraging disparity, don’t you think?

Well, I suppose it would be if God didn’t have a say in the whole thing.

But His word speaks. And, boy!, did it encourage my heart this morning! “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning (repentance) and rest you shall be saved (delivered, set free!); in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘” (Isaiah 30:15a).

God has greatly used ME/CFS to cause me to “walk humbly before my God.” I literally can place “no confidence in the flesh.” After years of striving against what was happening to my body, I have learned to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, follow Him in quiet trust and rest in His plan to set me free (either on earth or in heaven–she said with a grin!).

This is my “in the pocket” place.

This quiet nook of a restful, trusting heart is my strength–God’s gift to me.

“I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only” (Psalm 71:16).

A Wondrous Life

Ever have a morning when you wake up in a funk and, frankly, you don’t care if you snap out of it or not? Your pitiful thoughts resonate with discord and strife, generally fueled by exhaustion. And while your broodings may never quite lead you to wish you had never been born (aka George Bailey on a bridge), you can’t picture things improving…ever…and on that day, you really don’t care if they do.

It is what it is. Give me another cup of coffee or send me back to bed…or both.

Welcome to my day.

I generally don’t feel like this–especially around Christmas. I love preparing for Christmas! I love contemplating how to bless my family through my gifts and cooking, or how to bless others by opening my heart and home on Christmas Day. I love the activity of baking with my daughter or shopping with my husband or son. The concept of celebrating through sharing sweetly nudges me into action like no other. I love that we get to set aside this season to honor Jesus by not just His birth, but His lifestyle. Yay!!

The days preceding Christmas this year, however, find themselves stacked with–not Christmas preparation–but home renovation. While we have our tree up, our decorations are still in boxes, we have no lights on our home, and my thoughts drift to mandatory organization of our kitchen rather than my usual joyful organization of Christmas delights. In addition, the renovation has taken its toll on my ME/CFS, and the exhaustion, which had seemed to be waning previous to reno, has reasserted itself in a bossy, hey-look-at-me kind of way. [Not to mention perimenopause, which sort of makes my life feel like crossing the street and getting hit by TWO monster trucks instead of just the one.]

All these varying components converged upon my thoughts and led me to start a conversation with my handsome husband lamenting how un-Christmas-like everything felt (not that I could physically do anything about it)–all while the dear man tried to frame-out and seal the inside of our windows so we can have a cozy Christmas. [Note: men’s priorities v. women’s priorities–totally different!] Then, our wonderful painter, Gino, showed up, and I exiled myself to our bedroom, where I found myself firmly ensconced in Psalm 105.

This beautiful ode commemorates the history of Israel from God’s covenant with Abraham until He gave the land of promise to ole Abe’s descendants over 400 years later. While the psalm ends with joy and singing, the history itself has penetrating ruptures of deep pain and agony.

Yes, God made a covenant of promise to Abraham and, yes, the psalm shares many accounts of God’s presence and provision, yet we can also find times when I’m certain His people must have felt that their season was very un-Covenant-like. Frankly, I like the commonplaceness of this verse: “He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave” (v. 17). During his season of fetters binding his feet with his neck in a “collar of iron,” Joseph doubtless wondered where the true meaning of Covenant had gone. Or how about this little ditty: “He turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” (v. 25). Can’t you hear them singing their lonely hearts out with “I’ll be home for Covenant…if only in my dreams”?

Dreams. The ideals we build up in our hearts and minds this time of the year that frequently let us down. The hopes and emotions that don’t always align with a full scope of reality, which cause our hearts to fill with pain or at least the feeling of disconnection.

As children of God, we each get to live our lives as a journey to God’s promise–which He will fulfill, make no doubt about that. Despite the full scope of God’s entire plan working itself out in our lives, we may find ourselves with a season of fetters or people’s hearts turned against us; we may find ourselves in a very un-Christmas-like season. Like Joseph, though, can we embrace what we do have rather than lamenting what we don’t have? Can we avoid jumping off emotional bridges and focus on the wondrous works of God in our lives?

My reality: my decorations do remain in boxes; my baking has yet to commence (or even formulate!); and, my invitations have yet to get issued, Thus, my house “feels” very un-Christmas-like. In the whole scope of my life, however, this season will be a very small blip. A hardly worth mentioning type of thing. For overall, I do see the wondrous works of God in my life. I see the touch of His hand overspilling His wonders across each nook and cranny of my existence. I see a great and loving God writing a history spelling out His presence and provision and only lightly speckled with minute ruptures of pain. He has, indeed, given me a very wondrous life.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all His wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works he has done” (Psalm 105:1-5a).

Puttin’ On Some Attitude

I’m just going to come out and state it boldly: I can’t choose my health, but I CAN choose my attitude!

Now, I know people who are going to say, “Oh, yes, you can choose your health!” (I can hear you already!) So let me clarify: I can make choices about my health, but ultimately I cannot make myself well. If praying for God to heal my ME/CFS and making lifestyle choices would do it, I would have this thing nailed! I haven’t been able to accomplish this feat because God is the one who maintains ultimate control of this tool He is using to mold and modify my life and heart.

My attitude, however, is another story altogether! I can choose gratitude. I can choose love. I can choose joy. I can choose all kinds of wonderful things. I get that choice! On the other hand–should I prefer, I could choose entitlement, unforgiving, crankiness, or a whole host of not so pleasant attitudes. I still get that choice.

A tactic that the enemy of our souls likes to employ is to strip us of our choices. If he can rob us of our understanding of this, he can keep us spiritually depleted. If he can keep us depleted, he can keep us defeated. We will cease to walk in all who God is creating us to become…which He intends, by the way, to far surpass any current situation.

In light of this, what attitudes do I want to choose to put on then? While the ugly ones have a pesky way of sneaking into my life, I much prefer the attitudes that make me look like Jesus, of course!

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-15).

Sweet and Upright Words

I have a confession to make. As a 50-year old woman of two young adult children, I still struggle using the correct words to teach and train. Anybody with me?

Sad, ain’t it?

Despite my head knowledge that my children have arrived at the ripe old ages of 21 and 18, I find ugly words like “Don’t…” and “Stop…” creeping harshly into my disciplinary technique. Rather than exhorting and encouraging them to more thoughtful and adult actions, I find myself correcting them with that nasty ole “mom voice.”

Example of shame: Yesterday morning I noticed my daughter pouring hot water into her teacup with the pot positioned where it could easily dribble into the “xylitol” bowl. However, instead of using words of respect, I found this gem shooting out of my mouth: “Hey! Don’t pour that over the xylitol!” And, of course, said comment was made in front of her younger brother, who happened to simultaneously chuckle, which I’m certain made her feel about six.

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ugliness that finds its way into the corrective measures I take with my son! Somedays I simply feel like Paul when he penned, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Though perhaps I should cry out, “Who will set me free from this tongue of death?”

I know that a host of mothers have gone before me in this transition of role; of going from mommy to mom to mother of adults. Many have done this beautifully, I am sure, while others like me have struggled, and others even have sadly failed. Sure, these children still live in our homes, but (and I need to truly understand this deep in my heart and mind!) we will lose relationships with them and respect from them if we cannot grant them the respect of a fellow adult. That does not mean that our teaching and mentoring days are over–they have merely changed shape.

God has granted us age and, hopefully with that, the wisdom of those years. Not only that, but He has freely given us the wisdom of the ages: His solid word. When we spend genuine time daily in the Bible, we find that it transforms our hearts and minds. Ultimately, then, we will find that since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), our words will begin to reflect the word we truly “have hidden in our hearts.”

Proverbs 18:21 states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I have watched my words crush my children, but I have also witnessed God use my words to bring life and understanding into their hearts. Interestingly, the words that crushed came in a torrent; the words that brought life settled sweetly and succinctly like a seed well sown.

God used the words of Job to convict me this morning. And from that place of brokenness I pray for those of you who also find your words striking out hurtfully at the precious ones you love: may you spend genuine time before God in His word, may His word challenge and change you, and may He, in turn, use you to speak life into those around you.

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words” (Job 6:24-25a).

The Sweet Joy of Obedience

Believe it or not, last week I floundered in my desire to follow-through on a commitment I had made. Have you ever done that? Of course you have! Who hasn’t? You see, each week I dedicate some time to do a little behind-the-scenes work on my computer for our church. And last week–guess what?–I didn’t want to do it! I plainly and simply did.not.want.to.do.it.

Yet God, with great faithfulness and kindness, reminded me of a solid, old lesson He had taught me years ago:

Joy doesn’t come with the anticipation of obedience–joy comes with the actual obedience.

Yet in order for true joy to flow, I had to remember one key ingredient: Who was I doing this for anyway? The church secretary? Nope. My sweet husband? Not even. To preen the vanity of my own self? Still no. The only way that true joy–not just happiness–could sweep across my heart and spirit was if I offered this ministration as my own personal drink offering to Jesus. If I was willing to take that which had been given to me and pour it out through my service to my church, but as unto Him.

Another gentle reminder that streamed across my mind came from the example laid out in The Law: God commanded the Israelites to offer only the best of their flocks and vines. Their unblemished animals. Their firstfruits. They were not allowed to toss “any ol’ thing” upon the altar: God required that it cost them their highest as a reflection of His worthiness to receive their worship. And do you know what? I bet that the heart of each Israelite who truly worshiped Jehovah–despite any original balking–ultimately rejoiced to exalt God with such a blessed offering. For only the heart of one who has considered the cost, yet offered his ultimate sacrifice anyway, could fully enter into that joyful place of true worship.

We all have our offerings to surrender. Our sacrifices of service. Our personal drink offerings. We all know what it’s like to make a commitment, then struggle with the desire to follow through. We have all balked when we realized the true cost. Trust me, it’s rare to understand the full cost at the onset of our service. Yet God asks us to adhere to each word of commitment we have made. Not merely because of others–but for the sweet joy of walking in obedience to Him.

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).

Fifteen Months

Fifteen months today. That is how long I have been in relapse this time around. Fifteen months. Studies show that each time I go into relapse–especially long ones like this–my odds of recovery greatly diminish. But I haven’t given up hope. Life awaits.

Today, however, seems like a good time to reflect on how my past fifteen months have gone–not so that you pity me, but to help you gain understanding into my (and my family’s) reality. In the past fifteen months I have felt up to attending church three–maybe four–times. I have been able to entertain a guest maybe seven or eight times. I have talked on the phone around half a dozen times. I’ve received two cards and one meal. (Though a friend–who never expects anything in return–leaves a potted plant on my porch about once a month just to let me know she still cares. I’m getting teary-eyed about that dear, old friend even now. And a couple of sweet gals send me little “I’m thinking of you” texts. God uses these three in particular to remind me I’m not forgotten.)

I still need to rest in bed around fourteen hours a day–about nine asleep, the other five just lying there. (My remaining ten hours are spent mostly on one of two couches.) I often go days without even leaving my home–not even to step into the back yard. When I do take a mosey out, I frequently need the assistance of a cane. Because Brad now upholds the responsibilities of shopping and schlepping, we rarely have a home-cooked meal–just what we call “scavenging”–so I eat the most basic of meals that I can prepare for myself. Maybe a can of peas or a piece of peanut butter toast. Perhaps some brown rice. (Though recently we’ve discovered that if Brad can get a crockpot meal going on Saturday evening, we enjoy a lovely family dinner on Sundays! And I can usually manage whipping up one meal a week–generally pasta.) Or maybe Brad just grabs something on the way home.

Since my sweet little housekeeper, Amanda, has been away at college, dust abounds. And don’t even mention soap scum! But I’ve managed to stay up pretty well on laundry and emptying the dishwasher.*

And such is my…our…life.

I suppose you may wonder why our lives are like this. I mean, you probably understand that I have ME/CFS, which keeps me off my game, but you may be trying to figure out what happened to the people. I guess I’m not wholly sure myself. I know Brad feels, as a pastor, awkward about asking for help from our body; biblically speaking, he’s been called to serve our body, not the other way around. And, frankly, I understand helping me could be difficult. Meals? Not everyone knows how to handle a gluten/casein-free menu. Housework? Not everyone knows how to clean with baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. (And I’m honestly too exhausted to explain either issue. And don’t forget how difficult it is for me to have someone in my home.) At the beginning, two people wrote me notes on facebook telling me to let them know if I needed help; honestly, I was too tired to figure that out, so I told them to talk to Brad. I don’t even know if they talked to him, or if he knew what to answer them. And, hey!, I can’t forget all those people–one mama in particular–who totes our son around. (She pretty much thinks Josh is partly hers now! *giggle*)

So the bottom line is that we just leave it to God, and don’t worry about it. Dust is dust. Scum is scum. Peas are peas.

This reality, however, must continue: my hope rests in Christ alone! As with all other situations in life, if I (or you!) look to others, we will become disappointed and disillusioned. We will lose heart and hope. God never designed other people to fulfill us. AND I trust that God will make something beautiful out of this season. I simply refuse to live a wasted life.

When I was a little girl, I had a grandmother who sewed and quilted. She absolutely loved beautiful fabric. LOVED it! And with all those pretty floral prints, she would sew up for herself some charming, sweet dresses. In her retirement years, she took all her leftovers and hand-stitched gorgeous quilts for each of her five grandchildren. She had tucked away each and every salvageable piece of her dearly loved fabric, and turned them into inheritance pieces for her descendants.

If a simple, homespun grandmother would do such a sweet, kind thing for her grandchildren, how much more would a loving, heavenly Father do for His children? He wastes not one thing. He saves and savors each precious piece, and through His own hand-stitched process, turns scrap material into lovely works of divine inheritance.

“For I am confident of this one thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

He’s making something beautiful in me! How could I not feel His excitement?!

*I would find myself remiss if I failed to mention that I can take myself to my weekly chiropractor appointments (now), as well as stop off occasionally at Sprouts unattended. In addition, Brad takes me out to eat every once in a while. 🙂

What God Came to See

Like all normal parents, I suppose, I relish the joy of watching my child succeed in any venture. When she was in high school, I loved watching my daughter dance or act or sing. I delighted in hearing the applause and accolades just for her. As for my son, I savor each hoot and holler when he triumphs in a sports endeavor–of which there were many in football. This baseball season–not so much.

Nope. From that point of view, his baseball season has been painful. While praising our son on one hand, his coach rarely puts him in a game, which has served as a point of confusion to us all–especially since he’s a good ball player. And I’m not sure it helps too much when other parents come to us and voice their own confusion. While it does comfort us to know we’re not just imagining a skill level he doesn’t possess, it also kind of just “bums us out.”

And I know, that as parents, we do not stand alone in this.

Many parents have walked this path before or alongside us–and many will walk it after.

Yesterday I was able to go watch my son’s baseball game. (For those of you who know me, or who follow my blog, you know this does not come easy.) While I did, indeed, watch his game, I did not for one moment watch my son play. Drained from the exertion it took to go to the game, I immediately went to wait in our car as soon as it ended.

Expecting a disheartened baseball player to slip into the back seat (especially since we gave up four runs in one inning and lost the game), I was surprised when a joyful son took his place instead, immediately inquiring as to my health with his very first words. As a matter of fact, the three of us chatted and goofed around all the way home, simply enjoying the day together.

But yet I could not help those feelings of hurt from arising–all the wonderings of why coach continually excluded my son from playing. Although I have told myself–and others–time and again, “It’s okay; I’m not raising a high school baseball player, I’m raising a man of God,” I could not suppress those disconsolate emotions from raising their ugly little heads.

I finally reached a conclusion: one month–just one more month of baseball. I can do that. Just one more month.

How self-defeating is that?

Then this morning, God spoke a new understanding into my heart. A joyful, illuminated understanding! One I can’t wait to share with you, because if you haven’t felt this as a parent–if you desire God’s highest character in your child–you will.

The greatest thing my son has to offer his team is NOT his bat or his glove–it’s his character. Yet godly character does not prove itself when things are hunky-dory. Godly character proves itself when life doesn’t go as planned–when it’s painful, when you’re getting your nose rubbed in the dirt. Those situations serve God’s greater plan–the witness and testimony that support the words of a Christian. Even a teenaged Christian.

A current statistic says that 70% of teenagers raised in church will walk away from their faith once they graduate from high school. (For a great blog on this, read http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/ .) Think about that. Look at your youth group, Christian high school, or, in this case, Christian baseball team, and calculate how many of those teenagers will still serve Christ a year from now–or two–or…

With this in mind, I see that that the truest gift my son can give his team is the way he lives out his faith when the cards aren’t dealt his way. His attitude when coach doesn’t call his name. His encouragement for his teammates when they get to go do what he deeply longs to do.

Learning that God is still good and still God despite painful circumstances stands strong as a lesson one can never embrace early enough. Likewise, choosing a God-honoring attitude–not a self-indulgent one–brings a far greater joy to God’s heart than all the playing time in the world.

So, what do you think God (his heavenly Father, the same One who said, “I will never leave you”) came to see at my son’s game yesterday? I now know, He came to see a living testimony. While all the parents watched to see a son on the field, He came to see eternity taking root in a young man’s heart.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (I Samuel 16:7).