Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When Doubt Whispers

I struggle with doubt.  Anyone else? Not just simple uncertainty or momentary hesitation but debilitating doubt.  Doubt that leaves me absolutely paralyzed.  Often the biggest obstacle hindering us from living out the life God has planned and designed for us is our own self-doubt.  Doubt about our worth, our position and our abilities.  Self-doubt is like a whisper influencing and consuming us from within.  Doubt whispers, “You are not good enough…not capable…not special…not wanted…”  If we are not preemptive these whispers become the undertone of our lives and the very thing that stops us in our tracks. 
I cannot tell you how often these phrases or similar ones circulate within my mind. They begin as small faint whispers, but before long transform into thunderous accusations that completely incapacitated me. In my sane moments, I know these words to be from the inciter, my enemy, but too often, I lose sight of logic and begin to spiral into a place of fear and doubt.  Yet I know truth and am in fact really good at speaking truth into the lives of others.  I am often in awe of their unique gifts, confident in their divine capability and well aware of their inestimable worth.  I can assure them they are uniquely and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14); however, I struggle when trying to speak this same truth into my own life.  It is as if God’s promises do not apply to me.  And of course this is nonsense.  His promises are for all!  He has proved this time and time again throughout history and also in my own life.  Yet, one of my greatest doubts revolves around His love for me, or my perceived absence of His love.  During these times, I wonder, does He really love me? 
God powerfully illustrated this for me the other night.  I was attending my final pre-mission’s trip meeting and was missing our regular bedtime routine.  I called when the meeting ended and said good night to each child.  I still had an hour’s drive home, but my daughter, Katherine, made me promise that although she was certain to be asleep, I needed to come in and get one of her “special” kisses.  I assured her I would and told her how much I would be looking forward to it.  The trip home took longer than expected and I then lingered downstairs catching up with my husband, Jon, and getting things prepared for the next day.  Eventually I headed upstairs and into Katherine’s room.  As soon as I opened the door, I was met with an anguished cry.  I headed to Katherine’s bed and found her inconsolable.   I could not understand what was going on.  I tried to gage the situation.  Was she sick?  In pain?  Had she just woken from a nightmare?  Finally through her sobs, I began to understand that she was hurt because I had not wanted one of her “special” kisses.  I tried to assure her that of course I wanted a Katherine kiss and that is why I had purposely come into her room. 
“But what took you so long?” she managed to gasp out. 
It was then that I began to piece together a clearer picture.  She had heard me come home and had expected me to come straight up to her room.  The longer I lingered downstairs, the more she began to doubt my sincerity and my love.  By the time I reached her room she had bought into the lie that I did not want a kiss or perhaps even value her kisses.  Even worse, she began to wonder if I did not love her with the intensity she had thought I had.  Truthfully, I was stunned.  How could Katherine even question my love for her or her kisses?  Hadn’t I always made my love for her clear in words and actions?  How could a few moments of waiting completely unravel years of affection? 
I climbed into bed with Katherine and held her until she was no longer sobbing and then I began to speak truth into her wounded soul. 
“Katherine, is what your feeling truth?” 
Her breathing began to accelerate and her tears began to fall once again as she recounted the incident and its mathematical conclusions.  I quickly interrupted her before her rehashing of the night’s events brought her back to a place of pain. 
“Katherine, do you know that I love you?”
Katherine: “Yes, but…”
“Do I not tell you I love you all the time?  Do I not show you that I love you every day?”
Katherine: “You do, but…”
“Just because it took me a few minutes longer to get upstairs, does that mean that I do not love you and I do not want one of your special kisses?”
Our conversation continued, we recounted instances of my love and repeated my many words of affection, and before long Katherine agreed that the thoughts she had experienced were not truth.  That in truth I loved her more than words and treasured every moment with her and every one of her kisses. 
By the time I left her room her tears had subsided and she knew that her mom adored her.  But as I closed the door, I was still stunned and surprised that she would ever doubt my affection or react in such a manner.  Hadn’t I always covered her in love?  Didn’t my daily actions express my unfailing love for her?
Suddenly, I felt God respond, “Now you understand.”
And that is when I realized I do this all the time to God.  He loves me with a love that is beyond human understanding.  He consistently lavishes me with gifts and blessings.  He demonstrates His love daily.  Yet, with one perceived moment of neglect, Satan’s whisper, “He does not care about you,” unravels all the love and promises that God has securely wrapped me in.  Since the garden this has been Satan’s greatest tactic, weaving doubt into our story.
I remember hearing about an experiment where rats were given a lever and each time they pushed it they would receive a treat.  Once the rats figured out the lever’s function, they pushed it constantly. This continued for quite some time and each time it faithfully produced a snack…until one time it didn’t.  But that’s all it took.  The scientists found that after the lever did not produce its harvest, the rats stopped pushing it.  The lever was reset to function immediately after this incident, but the rats never realized it because they had lost faith in its operation.  Had they tried one more time they would have received their prize.  The scientists applied these findings to human beings claiming we too need only one negative experience to completely undo all the positive ones.  I remember thinking, this could not be accurate, but haven’t I proven this in my life?  Doesn’t God provide us with abundant blessings upon abundant blessings, only to be rejected the moment we do not receive what we think we deserve?  Hasn’t He time and time again proven Himself faithful only to have the one time He appears absent make us doubt Him?
This is why throughout the bible you will find Israel reiterating their history.  It was important for them to recount God’s miracles and blessing in order for them to remember His consistent presence and love, especially during times they sensed Him absent (Nehemiah 9).  Just as I had to recount with Katherine instances of my love and affection, we need to replay God’s faithfulness in our lives so that we do not allow perceived absences transcend His daily presence.  And then we need to recite His promises.  Just as I had Katherine declare the truth of my love for her, we need to affirm His promises of unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10) and His unceasing presence (Deuteronomy 31:6). 
There may be times in our lives that God appears distant or even absent and perhaps like the lab rats we may doubt or even reject Him, but we need to remember that we are just one more attempt from His power and presence in our lives.  We just need to trust in Him for He is trustworthy. 

Lamentations 2: 22- 24
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mother of the Year

So, I have a confession. I thought this post was for you. I knew God laid it on my heart and I bathed it in prayer. Yet, it did not flow eloquently or effortlessly. I struggled with it. It consumed me. I wrote and I revised and I wrote and I revised. My heart had so much to say, but my fingers could not articulate the thoughts. So I continued to ponder this message and pray to God for its content. That is when He revealed the problem. I had not yet grasped the lesson that I was trying to convey, therefore, how could I be the messenger? It was going to take more than writing it out; it was going to take living it out. So, like Jacob, I have been wrestling with my failures and weaknesses. And similarly, like Jacob, I may forever walk with a limp, but I will overcome. (Genesis 32:22-32) Thankfully, I may not be where I want to be, but I am no longer where I was!
I received a text from a friend of mine the other day. She had been under a lot of stress in her roles as nurse, mom, wife, and student. On this particular day after having cleaned, studied, volunteered in the classroom, played with her kids, and prepared meals, she found herself losing her temper with her son.  He had taken the laundry baskets full of freshly folded clothes and dumped them on her living room floor. She found him swimming, dancing and jumping through them. On a different day she may have corrected him with kindness, but on this particular day she scolded him in anger. After sending him to his room, she sat on her couch and cried. In her text to me later that evening she referred to herself as “mother of the year”, but instead of wearing that title as a badge of honor upon her chest, she wore it as a pendant of shame around her neck. I have heard countless women brand themselves in this manner and truthfully I have sarcastically seared myself with the same scorching iron, but for some reason, it touched a nerve with me this time. I thought about that text for days, pondering its meaning and my own unsettled reaction. What I realized is that, regardless of the playful tone, this comment was another attempt to belittle our worth and undermine our efforts. No matter how much we accomplish, no matter how many things we get right, we allow our failures, missteps and oversights to completely supersede our successes. And to persecute ourselves further, we compare ourselves to others in ways we could never match. With the live feed of everyone’s achievements pouring in from places such as Facebook and Twitter, we are receiving regular reminders of our deficiencies. As children we felt the sting of other people’s pebbles, but as adults we seem to prefer to inflict our own scars. The truth is, we weigh ourselves with inaccurate measures and we allow these results to influence our view of who we are.  In a world that esteems individuality, we still contend for sameness. But we are not the same; we are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) In the original Hebrew text, the word 'wonderfully' means: unique, set apart, uniquely marvelous. We should appreciate our differences and acknowledge our individuality.
Therefore, it is time to permit our triumphs to determine our value and allow each other’s accomplishments to motivate us. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1)  I know because I have been personally blessed by these amazing mothers in my life. Their examples have influenced me, inspired me and bettered me. 
So, this is to them and this is to you (and apparently this is to me), The Mothers of the Year:
I do not admire you because you are perfect. I admire you because in your imperfection, you have stayed, you have strived, you have persevered, and you have grown. 
You have lain on the floor of your son’s bedroom slaying dragons and diverting boogeymen into the wee hours of the night. You have held back your daughter’s hair and cleaned buckets. You have overcome frigid temperatures to make snow forts and sledding ramps. You have worked two jobs when you ached to be home and you have given up your own dreams of success for a full-time position as a domestic engineer. You have prepared hundreds of cookies for fundraisers and school parties. You have fulfilled birthday fantasies equipped solely with icing and fondant. You have raced from soccer games to dance rehearsals to play practices in order to foster your child’s gifts and interests. You have fought for your child’s label, but have not allowed that label to become their identity or to determine their capacity.  You have spent days in doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. You have read the same books over and over again until their covers tore and their lyrics looped continuously through your mind. You have homeschooled and seen the light ignite from within their eyes. You have cancelled dinners and rejected invitations in favor of bedtime routines and bible stories. You have been an audience of one to each evening’s flute performance and violin demonstration. You have exhibited patience when you were drowning in demands and distributed grace when you were disappointed. You discussed strategies on Minecraft and overcame King Koopa in Super Mario Land. You bandaged external wounds and embraced internal ones. You performed French manicures, paraffin pedicures and intricate updos in preparation for school dances and recitals. You hosted sleepovers that were absent of sleep and still greeted your guests with chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. You praised your child’s accomplishments and encouraged your child in the midst of failures. You allowed your kid to frolic in mud puddles and splash in the rain, focusing on the laughter and not the disarray. You documented their lives with videos and scrapbooks in your efforts to freeze time. You held your child when they would not let you go, and let them go in faith when they would no longer hold on. You coached softball and mighty mites with little experience and after working full days. You have struggled with a diagnosis but not once allowed your child to recognize your pain. You built Lego models, Lincoln log houses, Geo-Trax communities, and Hot Wheel roadways, and then played within these imaginary worlds until the next adventure beckoned. You have gone from hero to villain in the eyes of your child, and remained unwavering in your affection and persistent in your availability. You have rented prom attire, toured colleges, and shopped for bridal gowns while recalling the precious face of your newborn and inhaling their sweet scent. You have labored, adopted, fostered and mentored, and come to understand the unconditional bond of motherhood. 
You are patient. You are kind. You are honoring. You are selfless. You are forgiving.  
You protect. You trust. You hope. You persevere. You never fail.
You are a mom. You are LOVE! (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)


Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15, 2014
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Ps 10:1

Some days it seems as though sorrow is a permanent fixture. It welcomes you as you rise, hangs on your walls, and follows you through your day. Sometimes this sadness is my own, my uncle’s passing, my grandmother fading, my children hurting. Other times your heart aches for those around you as grief engulfs their lives. In those moments we question God, His goodness, His existence, His love. How can there be a God when the world is contaminated with evil and pain? Where is God when I am hurting and broken and lost? I know I am not the first to ponder these questions or even to put my thoughts to paper. In the passage above even King David, whose intimacy with God far surpasses my own, sometimes questioned God’s presence in his life. There have been many blogs, books and conferences investigating this topic and the questions go as far back as the beginning of time. In the time of Genesis, Job protested:
“Even today my complaint is bitter;
    his hand is heavy in spite of groaning.
If only I knew where to find him;
    if only I could go to his dwelling!
“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
Job 23:2-3, 8-9
I was pondering these questions the other day as my girlfriend shared the loss of her aunt. Pain veiled her face and the recent grief of my uncle rose up inside me. Where is God, I wondered.  At that moment I heard Him gently revealing to me, “Your eyes are focused on the wrong place.” And as the words pierced through the pain, I realized that all the while I was pondering His existence and presence, I was rubbing the beautiful, pregnant belly of my friend. Suddenly my focus changed and I felt like my eyes were opened.  In that moment, God graciously flashed moments of my greatest pain before my eyes, but in these glimpses He revealed to me His consistent presence and His unfailing love.  My best friend arriving at my grandfather’s funeral just as I felt I could no longer breathe, my first daughter being born on the year anniversary of Jon’s cousins death establishing beauty from ashes, my girlfriend’s invitation to new life when I was ready to end my own, my son’s kisses on my tear-streaked face and my husband’s embrace at the end of a day whose weight had seemed unbearable. 
It is true, in this life there will be pain; death, divorce, conflict, suicide and loss. In these moments, it is inevitable to wonder if there is a purpose to this life that is littered with pain.  One girlfriend recently commented, “We are made to suffer.”  In her anguish, I am certain it feels this way, and I know I have allowed pain’s snare to lead me to similar conclusions. Yes,we will suffer, but we will also rejoice.  And in our suffering, we will also experience life. 
The most horrific day for me was when my cousin died in March of 2005.  He was only 16.  He died in a car accident not far from where I live now.  I revisit his death regularly.  The injustice and senselessness have caused me to question God’s character and has the ability to incapacitate me. At the time I felt so unbelievably guilty as I carried my unborn child within me to the funeral while my aunt and uncle buried their own. I felt raw sitting in the pew.  Moments such as these reveal your vulnerability and defenselessness.  The pastor lovingly shared how the Virgin Mary lost her own child tragically and therefore heaven could relate. In those moments I felt Katherine Rose flutter within me for the first time. I was not sure at first, but then the sensation came again.  The despair did not lessen with her movement, but it helped to realign my focus.  We are not made to suffer, but there will be suffering. 
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NLT
It would be so easy to allow the world’s troubles to engulf us as we question the purpose of our existence and the futility of our efforts, but rest assured, He has promised beauty from our ashes…
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3
I cannot understand the purpose in the loss of a child or in a number of other sorrows.  I cannot imagine trying to look beyond the grief that consumes you, but what I can assure you is that there will be a day when your eyes will see God’s goodness, in the smile of a friend, in the majesty of nature, in the joy of laughter.  Then your eyes will begin to refocus and as you look back you will see, that even in your grief, God was there holding your hand, or bringing you a meal, or sitting next to you in silence, or like me fluttering from within. This is His promise, And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 ISV

















Thursday, February 13, 2014

Good-bye Zio

February 13, 2014

My very first post -this is very intimidating. There is an expectation of greatness which I am sure is completely self-imposed. In the past, this thought has hindered me from getting started, but not today.  There will probably not be greatness today, but there will be a beginning and I can only grow from there.
My uncle died last week. Although he has battled Parkinson’s for some years now, the call surprised me.  I could hear in my mother’s voice that the world had just experienced true loss. I was waiting to hear that my grandmother had passed. It is a call I am semi-consciously waiting for almost every day, especially since my grandfather passed a year and a half ago. Nonna has Alzheimer’s but perhaps a better description would be that Alzheimer’s has her. This disease has taken her and imprisoned her in a cell that while familiar is completely impenetrable. She is there but inaccessible. Alzheimer’s has changed my life and I am sure it’s infiltration will provide plenty of reflections, but those are for another day. Today, it was my uncle. He had died in his sleep. 
My heart was heavy and my words were few. Immediately my heart longed to be with my cousins who lost their father and their hero, their children who would never really know their “Nonno”, and his wife who lost her best friend. In the days after people would try to offer words of encouragement and I too tried to do the same.  However, the truth is, the world lost someone extraordinarily special and no words could compensate for that. 
The funeral came and I was thankful to be there with my mom and my sister. As soon as we walked up the steps of St. Peter’s church memories of childhood flooded over me. This place reminded me of him.  I could almost hear the walls whisper his name. We entered the doors and were greeted with an Italian rendition of Hallelujah.  The melody hung in the air and as words clung to my soul. We sat in the pew behind childhood friends and waited in expectation as the family said their final good-byes in a funeral home not far away. Brief, hushed conversations interjected the uncomfortable silences that filled the sanctuary. The family arrived later than expected and left me wondering how hard it must be to say a final good-bye and to close a coffin. Perhaps we think we can put off the inevitable? 
They walked in, huddled together, tear-streaked and grief-stricken. The service was filled with scripture, music and stories. The priest shared a personal and moving eulogy which was further evidence of my uncle’s gracious character.  Tears glistened in the eyes of each person present. Once the priest finished speaking, my three cousins proceeded arm-in-arm to the front of the sanctuary. Together they shared their sadness and their loss, but also their beautiful memories and the legacy their father had left behind. 
The tears that had been rolling down my cheeks were now like rushing waters and suddenly I could hear a groaning begin to internalize. I tried to control the sounds from surfacing, but it did not take me long to realize I was powerless.  The heaviness engulfed me with moans and groans that were not my own. They came from a depth deep inside and made me aware that I was not alone in my sadness.  Romans 8:26 came to mind,
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
While knowing what he was about to do, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus overcome with sorrow for his friends.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit was interceding for me and shared in my grief.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness. (Hebrew 4:15)
What a beautiful assurance to know we are not alone, Jesus Christ has sent us the Counselor to be with us, plead for us and comfort us.  I no longer tried to resist the sounds, but allowed them to engulf me, knowing my grief was heard, and seen and shared.    
The mass ended and we left in silence, but I am so thankful that the day did not end there. We all went to my uncle’s favorite restaurant. The place was filled with memories and laughter, family and friends. We spent hours sharing stories and celebrating his life. Our mourning turned to gladness as we remembered a life well-lived.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.