Mother’s Day

[What better time to make a Mother’s Day post than a few weeks away from Father’s Day, right?  Lol.  This is basically a repost of my Facebook status from May 10th]

I realize that I am super late in the 5-Day Bible verse challenge that A.Su tagged me in, but better late than never, right? Here’s day 2 of 5.  🙂

I really hope people, mostly my relatives, don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t me trying to air dirty laundry or disrespect my mom. This is me trying to be real about the reality of human relationships made messy by our brokenness and sin nature; but, more importantly, this is about the abundant redemption God offers, and is working out so beautifully, when we come to Him. God doesn’t call us to pretend that everything is alright all the time, or to put on a show just because it’s “the day” on the calendar for it. His strength is magnified in our weakness as He sustains us and works in our lives.

My mom is an amazing woman in many, many ways. One of these days I’ll write something that details just a fraction of how much God has worked through her to bless not only our family, but others as well.

But at the same time, I can’t help but say that there were, and still are, times when Psalm 27:10 was/is my life preserver, keeping me afloat when our relationship was/is turbulent and unhealthy.

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

For a long time I chose to take this to mean that I could just cling to the Lord and then push my mom away. But more and more I am being challenged to see this as a directive for me to take whatever pain, confusion, rage, disappointment, frustration, etc. that I have towards her to the Lord, and to allow Him to heal my heart and mind so that I might continue to choose to love as sacrificially as He loves me. He is so patient towards me. He always forgives. If I call myself a Christian by His name, shouldn’t I do the same?

This is, of course, so much easier typed than enacted. And I realize that the things that have happened between my mom and I are probably not as intense as what other people have gone through with their own mothers.

It really warms my heart to see all of you posting such beautiful photos and moving tributes to your mothers, wives, sisters, etc. I myself just got back from a great dinner with my mom where we were able to share and laugh together as a whole family.

But I want to make space to acknowledge those for whom Mother’s Day is not so rosy, so filled with warmth. I’ve certainly had my years where that was the case; and, after reading PostSecret, I know I’m not the only one –http://postsecret.com/.

In my experience, the deepest and most searing hurt I’ve ever felt comes from the rifts I’ve had in my relationship with my mom.

So to those who are still in the middle of this and struggling, I pray that there are people in your life who just love on you until you can’t nearly stand it. May there be people in your life who can just listen and not judge, who can encourage you to forgive and love for your good and personal freedom, but just be patient and not preachy with you because it is such an arduous process with no promised ending. May you have shoulders to lean and cry on, people to laugh with and who bring sweetness into your life.

And for the mothers who act out of their own hurt, may there be healing, too. May their lives be filled with love that they might overflow and love out of the abundance.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Get It Done

[Note: I posted this up on the Facebook wall of my church’s youth group on December 31, 2014.  Every year, in lieu of making a list of resolutions, I typically pray about a verse/passage that I will meditate on over the next year.  In 2014, I focused on “abiding” a la John 15.  2015 is all about “being strong in the Lord” and “getting things done” in the spirit of 1 Chronicles 28:20]

I had a really hard time falling asleep last night.

I don’t think I suffer from insomnia, nor do I believe it was the fault of the adrenaline still pumping through my veins after singing T. Swizzle songs with Michael and Hubert. Instead, I place blame solely on the two adults in the attached photo. Many of you know them. They gave an… interesting… talk on relationships once. Getting back to my original point, I don’t know if your parents snore, but God saw fit to place me in a family where two were joined in holy matrimony.

As 11:30 rolled around, I tried to extract lemonade out of my situation by turning it into a game. Was that cavernous rumble the sign of a tongue base snorer? Dad, is that you? As the snores began to increase in volume and mingle, it hit me. An old memory of a family vacation, where we stayed in a two bedroom Residence Inn suite, came rolling through my conscious mind (http://www.residenceinn.marriott.com/tour?fp=2br-fp – scroll down for the floor plan). My mom and I were in one room, while my dad and little brothers were in the other. I remember missing out on the little window of opportunity to fall asleep before my parents (curse the temptation that was Nickelodeon to a girl whose parents refused to subscribe to cable). By the time I pried my eyes away from the umpteenth episode of Rugrats, at around 1/2 AM, and I headed for my room, my mom was already fast asleep and… snoring.

I must have tossed and turned for another hour before deciding that I had had enough. Thoroughly frustrated, I grabbed my pillows and marched out to the living room. I threw them onto the couch, curled up into the fetal position, and closed my eyes… only to come to the horrible realization that I was now stuck in a living room DMZ with my mom on one side… and my dad on the other. Let’s just say that I don’t remember being a very pleasant person later that morning.

But as the memory played out last night to the soundtrack of only more deafening snores, I found my reaction to be quite different: I laughed.  Not the kind of wild laughter that comes from an attempt to dodge pain by untethering oneself from reality and going off the proverbial deep-end. Not the kind that succumbs to the pain, marked by a rueful sardonicism at being dealt “a bad hand” and no longer having the will to keep playing. No and no.

Instead, it was the kind of laughter that bubbles up from a soul that experiences what David penned in Psalm 27:13 – “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (NASB). It’s the kind of laughter that bursts forth from someone who can still feel all the feels, but now knows that they can thrive in the midst of it, because they are held in the hands of their loving Heavenly Father who has seen them through, and has redeemed their pain.

Too much? I mean, really? Not despairing over snoring? Is that really a noteworthy triumph/example of God’s goodness?

Well, the snoring didn’t just trigger the aforementioned memory with my nuclear family, but many others with my family in Christ. Like the first Friday back in April where we went through 1 Peter 1:3-9. The first Friday my family spent with my dad in Chicago (I had dropped him off at San Jose International Airport just the previous Sunday). The first and rawest (and not in the positive way Sam uses it) Friday when things were tumultuous at home, and between my parents, and my heart was so heavy thinking about how this felt like one of the “various trials” that God’s children would be grieved by “so that the tested genuineness of [their] faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When I admitted that it felt like the flames were turning my faith to ashes and I was struggling so hard to be hopeful. When Pastor Johnson walked clear across the room and just had everyone in junior high lay hands on and pray for me. And KK, Matthew, and Teru provided me with enough handfuls of Kleenex to clog every toilet in the church… so I took one for the team and just used them to wipe away all my tears.

I had a really hard time falling asleep last night… because I was just so filled with gratitude.

On September 2nd, I booked a Thanksgiving flight for my dad. (See? Sometimes I can plan ahead!) He was supposed to fly in on November 27th, and then depart for Chicago on November 30th. The day after my birthday, September 19th, he sent me a text message saying that all of the contractors were being let go, and that he would be home in two weeks. On September 29th, I successfully converted his flight from a roundtrip over Thanksgiving, to a one-way flight into SFO on Saturday, October 4th. The following Monday, he had an interview with the Space Science Laboratory in Berkeley. A few weeks later, they offered him a full time position.

And on Thanksgiving morning, the screen of my phone lit up with a Google calendar alert that I had forgotten to delete, an alert telling me that my dad was going to be flying in that morning…

Yes, last night I reflected on how grateful I am to have my dad back (even if it’s gone from there being a solo snorer in the house to a duet). But I also realized that my joy is not solely tied to this change in circumstance; instead, I am overwhelmingly grateful to be able to look back on the chapter of my life that 2014 comprises, and say that even though it has been filled with a fair amount of trials, I have not gone through them alone. God has been there each step of the way, encouraging me through His word.

A few weeks ago, I was reading through 1 Chronicles 28, where King David prepares to hand the building of the house of God off to his son, Solomon, who he acknowledges is “young and inexperienced” (1 Chr. 22:5). In 1 Chronicles 28:9-19, David gives Solomon all of the building plans, from the layouts of the chambers and treasuries, to the weight of precious metals for lampstands, and then ends his charge with these words:

“Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chr. 28:20).

I can say quite honestly that I never envisioned being in the place I am now when I first came to San Ramon that first Friday, May 3rd, 2013. That is, single in terms of relationship status, and also in leadership. It’s easy for my mind to have that word connote being alone and abandoned in some ways. It’s easy for my shoulders to tense up as I think of all the things I need to coordinate and how little time I have to do it. It’s easy for me to feel the flames of this trial begin to singe my faith. It’s just all too easy to fear and be dismayed.

But God has shown me 2 things in 1 Chronicles:

1) He Can Be Trusted:
If God could help the “young and inexperienced” Solomon build His house, He can be trusted to build our youth group in 2015 and beyond, to make us even more of a family and united Body that reflects His goodness and love. Yes, there will be work for all of us to do, but above and beyond that, we can “be strong and courageous and do it” because God is with us.

2) He Has Given Us One Another So That We Can Build Each Other Up:
Does the phrase “be strong and courageous” sound familiar to any of you? I’m sure Joshua 1:9 was a memory verse for many.

I did a search of the phrase and it turns out that in Deuteronomy 3:28, God tells Moses to “charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him.” And later in Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of [enemy nations], for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

In the middle of tough times, I’m all too prone to retreat into myself and away from other people, to forget God’s promises and, once in self-imposed isolation, to falter under the weight of my own doubts and fears.

What I saw between Deuteronomy and 1 Chronicles, from Moses and Joshua to David and Solomon, is a pattern of mutual encouragement that is, from the very beginning, something that God desires for us to do for one another.

Speaking for myself, it has been such a blessing to know all of you! Each time I’ve faltered, whether that was over family strife or with ministry leadership changes, there has been no shortage of listening ears, prayer partners, encouraging words, smiles, hugs, offers of boba, etc. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the internal tide of my thoughts turn from worry, to joy and hope, and I know that I didn’t get there alone.

All in all, I had a really hard time falling asleep last night because I was just so filled with gratitude… as I reflected on how truly blessed I am to know all of you.

Happy New Year, brothers & sisters. Thank you so much for walking with me through the valleys and peaks of 2014. I greatly look forward to, as one of you so succinctly put it in a letter, “kicking butt in 2015.”

Amen, amen.

He Will Give

One of my favorite places in the world is Saint Mary’s College Chapel.  I am so blessed to live less than a 10-minute drive away from this sanctuary, this place where I can consistently find a quiet, peaceful space to sit, relax, and enjoy the overall privilege of slipping away to just be with God.

Things were tense at home last Thursday, and I felt really agitated and anxious.  In times like those, all I desire is the comfort of my Father, to be in His presence and feel Him bring my soul out of chaos and into serene stillness.  Time spent with Him gives me clarity of mind and He renews my strength and resolve to continue to live with Christ’s love towards the people He has brought, and will bring, into my life.  When I arrived at the chapel last Thursday, I sat down in one of the pews in the back.  Even though I have been to this place many times, I still like to spend a few moments to take in my surroundings.  At the front is a crucifix:

This picture really doesn’t even capture one-tenth of the beauty of this place.  The stained glass windows have a deep, rich purple background, and when the sunlight filters through them, the interior of the chapel just swims in a multitude of colors.

After a while, I knelt down on the kneeler board, took off my glasses, and just closed my eyes.  I silently reveled in this experience of tranquility, and when I opened my eyes, I looked back up at the crucifix and saw this:

Which is exactly what you would expect to see if you’ve got really poor eyesight and have gone without your corrective lenses.  I knew that the chapel was beautiful because I still remembered what it looked like when I had my glasses on, and as I reached to put them back on again, I just felt really grateful to have them.  

That thought stuck with me for a bit, and as I thought about what life might be like without them, if I didn’t have insurance or a job and could all of a sudden not afford them…  A small amount of panic began to rise in me as I sat with that thought and the implications of being without corrective lenses began to play through my mind.  I would be in pretty bad shape.  It would be infinitely harder to get around.  I could no longer drive.  I would be unable to do my job.  A lot of the things that I pride myself on being able to do, would be impossible for me.

And I really believe that at that point, God prompted me to remember a certain passage in Genesis that I had read earlier that day.  After Joseph interpreted the dreams of both Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and his chief baker, and the events came to pass (Pharaoh reinstated his chief cupbearer, but executed his chief baker), the chief cupbearer forgot all about him, and Joseph languished in prison for “two whole years” (Genesis 41:1).  After that, Pharaoh had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret for him, and the chief cupbearer suddenly remembered Joseph.  

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in meGod will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:14-16)

When I first read over Joseph’s answer to Pharaoh in verse 16, I felt like rolling my eyes a little.  What a “Sunday school”/get-me-out-of-this-tight-spot answer.

But as I sat inside the chapel and thought about how utterly helpless I felt as I realized how quickly and absolutely my life would change without the ability to see, I pondered afresh how he could say what he said, without any hesitation, to Pharaoh.

I came to see that I definitely take a lot for granted.  And what’s worse, even though I might not ever voice this opinion outloud, my actions and attitudes show that there is a part of me that believes I deserve good things.  Moreover, another portion believes that that is so because I possess an inflated view of what I think are my own abilities.  What do I have that I have not worked for, that I do not, consequently, deserve?

Joseph, on the other hand, had come a long way from being his father’s favorite, the envy of his older brothers, and the one who had unabashedly shared two dreams that his family would one day bow before him (Genesis 37).  I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, put Joseph through the trials that he went through to show him what I got a glimpse of today – that we see, breathe, move, and exist by the very grace of God alone.  There is nothing I bring.  There is nothing add.    

Joseph knew this to be true after seeing God’s mighty arm take him through each and every painful, seemingly impossible to redeem situation he found himself in, and it was from such a deep conviction born of experience that he told Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

God will give.  God is giving right now.  God has already given.

Too often I strive for what I don’t have, and I end up forgetting that there is so, so much that I already have been given.  Why can’t I exercise more gratitude?  Why can’t I exercise more faith in God’s provision knowing that He will never change?  

I know I need to.  I pray that as I recount all the ways God has shown His mighty arm and redemption in my life, that I would become humble and confident like Joseph.

Five Favorites (Vol. 7)

Five Favorite Photos from this Fourth of July Weekend with my Family.  I’m really glad I got to spend time with my Dad again.  Can’t wait to see him when he comes back in September (God willing)!

1. SFO

 Self-um-father-daughter-ie!  Even though this photo was snapped at 2 in the morning last Friday, we’re all SMILES =D

 

2. Happy Belated Birthday

My aunt ordered a cheesecake, my Dad’s favorite, from Junior’s.  Ten candles just for fun and making-wishes-sake!

 

3. Opera at the Ballpark

My Dad happens to really love the opera, so we went to AT&T Park on Saturday to watch Verdi’s La Traviata.  My brothers and I like garlic fries – yum!

 

4. Sunday Brunch

After church, we headed to Lake Chalet near Lake Merritt in Oakland for brunch.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the food was great!

 

5. Fortunes

We had Chinese food for dinner on Sunday, but my mom and brothers didn’t want their fortune cookies so my Dad and I split them.  My two fortunes are on the left; his are on the right – he got the same exact ones!

Blessed

 

I’ve been going through Genesis these past few days, and last night I got to Sarah’s death in Genesis 23. I won’t get into my feelings on Abraham marrying Keturah just two chapters later, and having 6 more kiddos… yup, I’m sure I’ll share that never and just generally keep my fingers away from the keyboard as far as those events are concerned. I’m probably just being weird about it anyway.

Anywho, in this chapter, Abraham goes to the Hittites in order to obtain property that he can use as a burial place for his deceased wife, Sarah. He specifically singles out “the cave of Machpelah,” owned by “Ephron the son of Zohar,” and offers “the full price” for it (Gen. 23:8-9). Ephron, however, counters by offering to simply give Abraham the field (Gen. 23:11). Abraham instead bows down before them and says this to Ephron:

“But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there” (Gen. 23:13).

Ephron then tells him the price, four hundred shekels of silver, which Abraham weighs out and gives him for Machpelah (Gen. 23:14-16).

I don’t know about you, but I normally don’t argue with people when they tell me to pay less than full price for something. And to be honest, I felt a little incensed at Abraham’s insistence on paying the full amount and being fair in that way. Is that strange? Yes, I think so, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still felt that way, and I remember muttering to myself that it would be easy for a man so obviously blessed by God in every single way to be so generous, so magnanimous. I contrasted my family’s financial struggles and began to feel pretty embittered. Yeah, I could give like that, too, if God had blessed me as abundantly as He blessed Abraham.

And just as those words left my mouth under my breath, Ephesians 1:3-4 popped into my head:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”

My aforementioned thoughts should give you an idea of just how “holy” I am. Please don’t think that I’m someone who has all the right Scripture at all the right times out of my own effort. Nope. My home group just finished our study of Ephesians and I am 100% positive that the Holy Spirit brought that up for me because, well, I’m not one who actively seeks to have her heart and motives checked. And I am equally certain that God spoke and said something along the lines of, “Iona, I have abundantly blessed you, but it is you who doesn’t truly value the blessing of being in Christ for what it really is, and as it should be.”

And He’s right. He is so, so right. I do truly equate blessing with financial prosperity. And because that’s not something I have right now, I naturally don’t feel so “blessed,” and I’m being eaten alive by my discontent over my perceived lack, my anger at God for His failure to provide and His clear favoritism of others, and my jealousy at what others have.

The picture you see above is of the damage sustained by my car after my mom backed her car into it upon her return from working a graveyard shift.  This happened about 3 weeks ago, but I’ve been stewing over it ever since, to the point where I have been very cold to her when we’re both at home.  It’s so bad, and I know it’s because I’m choosing to let it be this way.  I’m choosing to allow myself to be angry at the money I’m shelling out for a rental car, the deductible to get this fixed, the time it has taken to orchestrate everything.  There were other repairs I was planning on getting done, but I don’t think my paycheck can sustain all these things at once, which means I’m forced to push the repairs back.

All in all, I am feeling things get tight financially and I am absolutely not Father I-Will-Pay-Full-Price-For-That Abraham.  But no matter how tight things might get financially and otherwise, I need to remember that I am blessed in Christ because He died for my sins, even the ones I have committed in my unrighteous anger over this accident, and God looks upon me as having Christ’s righteousness.  And when I die, and all these things I allow myself to get caught up in concerning this present world are long forgotten, I will be in Heaven with my God for all eternity.

I.  AM.  BLESSED.

As I meditated more upon this foundational, eternal truth this morning, Psalm 32 came to mind:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

The  blessing in Christ, of being forgiven for ALL MY iniquity is a blessing that can never be taken away.  However, if my actions are any indication, such a blessing can be taken for granted.  The blessing itself does not change, but I can change in my appreciation of it.  It is done at my own peril, though, and at the high cost of my full joy and peace in the Lord.

But I thank God for His reminder last night, and for piercing the thick miasma of anxiety and bitterness that I’ve been choking on with His truth.  

I.  AM.  BLESSED.

And if you know Christ, no matter what you are going through, YOU are blessed, too.

“Let now the weak say I have strength
By the spirit of power that raised Christ from the dead
Let now the poor stand and confess
That my portion is Him and I’m more than blessed

That They Might Laugh

On Sunday, March 30th, I dropped my Dad off at Mineta San Jose International Airport.  My Mom, two younger brothers, and I knew that he was headed off to Chicago for what could be up to a full year contract.  However, as of that moment, we didn’t know if we’d have the opportunity to really see him much in the interim.  Money would be extremely tight since not only would my dad continue to have to pay rent for the house we live in in California, but he’d be paying for all of his expenses out in Chicago as well.  Any extra funds for a plane ticket would more than likely have to be saved up for times when he’d be able to fly out for a possible job interview back here in the Bay Area; there was no wiggle room for a purely leisurely trip back just that we could see one another.  Strained financial circumstances pushed such a thing into the realm of the “superfluous.”  

What a painful reality.  April came and went.  My brothers’ Spring Break actually started the Monday right after our dad left.  When we went out for their first all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ experience, I felt a twinge of sadness as I realized that I couldn’t necessarily call this our first family outing for KBBQ.  I know we all wished that he was there to enjoy that experience with us, and it would have been a great first experience for him, too.  Instead, I’d learn that it was just one of many things that would be added to an ever-growing mental “When Dad Gets Back” list.  A few weeks later, we celebrated Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and then the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, on our first Easter Sunday without him around.  

May was a lot toughe1781051_10202744129458591_4525321226863162366_or, though.  My mom’s first birthday without him.  My mom’s first Mother’s day without him.  How can there be people who believe that human beings are replaceable, expendable?  While my brothers and I are great when we’re her children, try as we might, we don’t even begin to touch my Dad’s place as her husband and the father of her children.  Sitting with your own pain seems so, so easy compared to having to watch someone you love in pain when every effort on  your part does nothing to relieve it.

June, I suppose, was no easier, really.  Our Father’s Day greetings were given by phone and by snail mail card with chocolate (Dad’s favorite).  The older of my two younger brothers became one year older, and the younger of the two graduated from middle school.  

So many milestone events missed in just a few months.

We looked ahead to July and realized that our birthday greetings to him would have to follow the pattern laid out on Father’s Day.  And then a Dad-less summer?  In August, both brothers in high school.  Both on the football team.  Would he miss all of their games, too?

But then there was word of a plane ticket booked.  

“Dad, did you land an interview?”  

“No, but I miss my family.”

photo (1)

So tonight, I get to pick my Dad up from SFO, and next Monday, I’ll be dropping him off at SFO.  But we’re not there yet, so I will dwell on “hello” and not “goodbye (for now).” 

I’m still in Genesis right now, and while the story of Abraham and Sarah’s struggle to conceive is not new to me, certain lines in these 3 passages stood out afresh:

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai  your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her.  I will bless her, and she shall  become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?  Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:15-17).

“The Lord said, ‘I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’  And Sarah was listening at the tend door behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years.  The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:10-12).

“The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised.  And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.‘  And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:1-7).

Abraham fell on his face and laughed.  Sarah laughed to herself.  Incredulous laughter at the thought of having a child in their old age, when they were so advanced in years.  Sarah questioned if, “after [she was] worn out, and [her] lord [was] old, shall [she] have pleasure?”  She thought herself too old for a child, too old for the possibility of such happiness.

But God did not laugh.

“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, not that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.'” (Genesis 18:13-14).

And in God’s timing, she did.

Isaac is a Hebrew name meaning “he laughs” or “laughter.”

When I think about the immense hurt both of my parents are carrying right now, and then I think about the possibility of things being alright between them, I laugh.  Incredulous laughter.  Laughter ladened with so much pain, 1 part of longing strongly diluted and overwhelmed by 3 parts bitter disbelief that it will ever happen.  And when I drink this concoction I feel it burn my throat and churn my stomach.  Under its sway, utterly intoxicated, I despair.  I refuse to pray for what my heart still can’t seem to stop piercing itself over in the wanting – for my parents’ marriage to be redeemed and made to bring glory to our God.  I want it so badly for them, but the delay, the time passing… the potential seems to fade ever more.

But is anything too hard for my Lord?

No.  I don’t believe so.

And so I pray, Father, that they, the parents whom you have given me, might yet laugh and love.

The Dinner That Almost Wasn’t

Little Bro #1

Little Bro #1

 

You see that cool teenager up there?  He is one of my two (not so) little (anymore) brothers.  That photo was taken a few Saturdays ago at the closest Chipotle to our house.  Do you know what he was up to from 8 am until 1 pm earlier that same day?  Why, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  Poor guy.

A few weeks prior to that, I told him that I would take him out for lunch after his test at whatever place he wanted.  He suggested Chipotle because it’s his favorite, and I agreed to it, marking it down on my Google calendar.  However, in the days that followed, I must have mentally gone back and forth on that decision about 20-30 times.

Every time I told him to study, and he told me “later” because he wanted to rest, or just flat out refused, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time he didn’t help with the dishes or folding laundry, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time I heard him blasting a song on his iPad that I didn’t approve of, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time my eyes fell upon some new dress in a shop window, and I thought about how I could expand my personal purchases if I just stopped buying things for others, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

I know… I’m pretty twisted, right?

A couple months ago I checked out a study on Romans by John Stott from my local public library.  I had been praying about going over a book of the Bible with the junior high students on Friday nights, and it came down to either Genesis or Romans.  I was leaning towards Romans because of just how much it really goes into the Gospel, but I also like the foundation that gets laid in Genesis (literally and figuratively, har har).

At the very back of the study booklet is a section on “Guidelines for Leaders,” and the very first point under the subsection on “Preparing for the Study,” was this little nugget:

Guidelines for Leaders

Preparing for the Study

1. Ask God to help you understand and apply the passage in your own life.  Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others.  Pray too for the various members of the group.  Ask God to open your hearts to the message of his Word and motivate you to action.

One of the biggest reasons I turned away from my Christian upbringing in high school was precisely because I felt like most of the Christian adults in my life, as well as the youth my own age, “talked the talk” without “walking the walk.”  (Note: Of course I now realize that I was even more misguided.  Not only did I not talk or walk, but in my scathing judgement of those around me, I was failing in Jesus’s command to not judge others, but instead to examine myself and make sure that I allowed Him to help me deal with all of my issues – Matthew 7:1-5).  And yet, it’s still so easy for me when I lead studies, to just let verses concerning God’s commands just fly out of my mouth at other people with the intent of having them learn something.  What I always seem to fail to realize is that God desires that apply those very things to my life first, to struggle in my obedience, to attempt to persevere, and then to come humbly before others with the same passage and lots of love and compassion for the difficulty of what God calls us to do, but encouragement as a sister in Christ who is in this struggle with them.

I’m thankful for Stott’s wisdom in pointing that out very clearly in his guidelines because it’s so important to remember.  As James 1:22-25 says:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was life.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Not just hearers, not just talkers, but doers.

Last Sunday, the lesson in The Little Oak Grove was on “Barnabus Shares” (Acts 4:32-37).  Here was the Teacher Challenge:

Barnabus Shares

Two lines in particular stood out to me:

1) The new believers in the Early Church shared because of their abandon to God…

2) But remember God’s generosity toward you.

When I first read over the passage, I was honestly a little nervous about coming in to teach the Pre-K kids because, well, 99.999999% of the micro-fires that break out on any Sunday morning concern situations where “_____ won’t share wit meeeee!”  I could just imagine going through the story, admonishing them to share with one another, and either being met with blank stares or resounding no’s.  

I remember waking up that Sunday morning a little panicked, but I just prayed that if I had concerns about just talking about the act of sharing itself, that I be able to get across the reason why we are to share, the motivation behind the action.  It was a bit halfhearted because I still have this funny doubt that God really cares about me and all the little details of my whole little life, but as I made my bed and placed my gigantic Hello Kitty pillow in the middle… Aha!  I grabbed HK and once I got to the classroom, I took up a little baby doll, too.  

After I went through the story of Barnabus found in the illustrated children’s Bible, I held up my pillow and asked if anyone knew who it was.  Almost all of the girls, and a few of the boys, screamed, “Hello Kittyyy!”  I affirmed their answer and talked about how much I really liked Hello Kitty.  I admitted, though, that I often have a bad, selfish attitude about it.  At that point, I clutched the pillow and made a mean face as I said, “This is my Hello Kitty!  I don’t want you to touch her!”

Oh boy… most of the kids giggled at my antics, but one little girl frowned back at me, clearly offended.  Oops!

I asked the kids if they liked my attitude and they, of course, said no.  I told them that God didn’t like that kind of attitude either and instead calls us to share; nevertheless, the reason He calls us to share is not just because He “said so,” but because He is so giving and generous to us.  I asked the kids if they remembered what Christmas was all about and they screamed back, “Jesus!”  Absolutely.  I held up the little baby doll and told them that God had given His precious and only son to us.  Easter was not that long ago, so I asked why that day was so important.  There were blank stares, but after some coaxing, they could say that Jesus died on the cross.  Yes.  Jesus in turn, gave up His life for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God and live eternally in Heaven with Him.  Even though there was nothing worthy about us, even though we sinned against Him, God in His love and overwhelming generosity, shared His Son who shared His life so that we might live.

I’m not sure how much our kiddos grasped out of all of this, but I know that it’s something that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing up to my mind because if the episode I began this post with is any indication, I clearly still haven’t quite grasped it either.  And even when I do, I allow myself to forget God’s generosity to me.  In Romans 8:31-32, Paul writes:

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him  graciously give us all things?

Father, 

I pray that I would always purpose to reflect on The Gospel, that I would never grow cold and ungrateful to Your sacrifice for me, that I would live with abandon to You, and that Your generous love would flow through me to others.  And this, of course, is my prayer for those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, too, so that we might freely give to one another as we have received from You, that needs might be met and the Body strengthened.  And for those who do not yet know You, Lord, I pray that their lives will be touched and transformed by Your abundant love in Christ, that they would experience true freedom in all areas of their lives.

Amen.