Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Separation Anxiety

I am tired of snow. There. I said it. I liked it at first, but now…well, now I just want it to all go away and spring to quickly appear! Over the course of the past six days, we've received about 16 inches of snow in small town, Missouri. 

The snow started last Thursday. That morning, I watched, from my window, the beautiful, white flakes fall from heaven; and I welcomed the snow day and time off work. Snow days are one of my favorite things…a cup of coffee and snow peacefully falling outside…ahhh, serenity. I was happy to be home and have the extra time to get things done in preparation for the weekend also. Todd and I were to leave the next morning to visit friends of ours in Kentucky. The trip had been planned for months and we were anxiously counting down the minutes to some much needed alone time as a couple, and much needed time of fellowship with our sweet friends. As the day progressed though, my excitement and serenity began to deteriorate. I no longer looked at the snow and thought of it as beautiful and relaxing. Instead, I felt entrapped and suffocated by it. The thrill was gone. Huge walls of snow closed us in and threatened our freedom.

We watched the news all day on Thursday and again on Friday morning. The snow had come so quickly and intensely, snow plows weren't able to clear the roads fast enough and the interstate was shut down. News reports showed numerous cars abandoned in the middle of the snowy highway; and reporters spoke of people leaving their vehicles to walk to the nearest business seeking warmth and help. Though I was thankful to be safe and warm in the comfort of my home, things were not looking up in terms of our trip. Disappointment and anxiety began to rise within me. I knew there was nothing I could to do to change the situation. So, I turned to the One who could…the Father of details…the One who breathes life and brings spring.

Father, You know how needed this trip is. My heart and mind are heavy with the desire to go;
to rest; to get away. If it’s Your will, please make a way for us, and guide us safely to the
respite of our friends' home. Handle the details and clear the path; and please give me peace to accept Your will even if it means staying home. Thank you, Lord. 

We arrived at our friends' home early Friday evening. (Insert big grin here) With arms open, they greeted us in the drive. Though we go months at a time without seeing one another, we always manage to pick up right where we left off. We love them so. What a blessing to have them in our lives. And, what a blessing to be out of snowy Missouri! The temperature was nearly 20 degrees warmer in Kentucky. There wasn't a flake of snow in sight! And, the sun – oh, the glorious sun! I soaked up the rays like a sponge soaks up water; thankful to be away from the gloomy winter days I’d left behind. 

The weekend flew by, as weekends typically do, and we were back on the road once again. The snow began to appear again as we neared the half way stretch of our drive home. I recounted in my mind how the snow had made me feel separated from my friends and from freedom just a few days earlier. As I mulled over those thoughts, the following verse came to mind: 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Not even… a snow storm.

What “snow storms” in your life make you feel separated? May you be filled with peace and knowledge that while you may feel and/or be separated from others, nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus.

Father, thank you for a wonderful weekend of fellowship with our dear friends. Thank you for clearing the slick roads and for Your hand of protection during our travels. And, thank you, Lord, that we are never ever separated from Your love.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not Your Average Joe

Last week my boys enjoyed Valentine's Day parties at school. My youngest son, Joseph, was elated to receive a fake mustache in his goody bag from his teacher. A fake mustache is totally fitting of Joseph's personality and crazy sense of humor.

My Joseph…sigh…seven and a half years ago, the Lord blessed Todd and I with this guy. Joe marches to the beat of his own drummer, and keeps us in stitches about 99% of the time! He isn't afraid to share how he views life. He is wild, crazy, hilarious and totally unpredictable. Allow me to give you a quick glimpse into life with Joseph….

One Sunday during the middle of church, he decided to take the Slinky from his kid’s bag and strap it on both of his ears. Do you realize how hard it is to focus on a sermon when your kid is sitting next to you looking like Abe Lincoln with a Slinky beard?! And, lest I forget the time he interrupted the parenting lecture Todd and I were giving to let us know he just saw a squirrel! Ironic? No. Just another day of life with my Joe.

My Joe…he is anything but average.

As Christians, we too are called to be anything but average.

“Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you
into a new person 
by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will
for you, which is good 
and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (NLT) 

Oh how I struggle with this. It is so tempting and easy to copy the behavior of this world…to just go with the flow…to be another face in the be an average Joe.

It was all I could do yesterday to not spew hatefulness to the airline who cancelled the flight I had booked for my family's vacation this year. With no advance notice, the airline decided to pull out of our local market. And, while they offered a full refund of our airfare, I was fuming. Smoke was rolling out of my ears and ugly words were spewing from my mouth as I dialed the number to the airline and spoke with the service representative. 

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?” she said. 

Though it wasn’t her fault, I wanted her to feel bad for the stress and inconvenience her employer had caused. I was angry and someone needed to pay. So, without heed, I aired my frustration.

“I am so sorry. This is the hardest part of my job”, she softly replied. 

My frustration morphed into regret and conviction. I had not anticipated her humble reply. The phone call ended and I spent the next hour reading countless negative posts on the airline's Facebook page. Customer after customer had written to complain about the shoddy service and cancelled flights. And, while I agreed with most of them, I couldn't shake the soft spoken apology I received from the service rep.

“And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. 
Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” – James 3:10 

While the airline itself could certainly have handled things differently, so could have I. Though the flight cancellation was an inconvenience and frustration, it wasn't the end of the world. I gained nothing from the anger I unleashed on the service rep. Instead, I chose to hide the light God has called for me to shine, and missed out on a great opportunity to show God's love and mercy to someone who probably could have really used a pick me up yesterday! Shame on me.

We will book another flight, our vacation will still take place, and happy memories of a great family trip will supersede the frustration I felt yesterday. Yet, while I'll be able to close the chapter on this aggravating experience, day after day, that service representative, along with hundreds of other reps I'm sure, will continue to receive phone calls from frustrated customers like me. Customers who choose to be average Joes and copy the behavior of the world.

Lord, be with those whose days are filled with hatefulness. 
May they know You and Your love even when they don’t see it in others. 

As Christians, we are called to be anything but average. It’s a daily struggle for me. But, I don’t want to be an average Joe. What about you? What will you be today?

Father God, thank you for loving me despite myself. Please forgive me when I make the choice to be like the world instead of like You. Be with those who receive the blows of my frustrations. May they be as compassionate and forgiving as You are with me, Lord. Help me as I travel the roads in my life to rise above, and be more than just an average Joe. For You have called us to be set apart from the world. Mold me and make me more like You. Teach me to love as You love, and to let Your light shine in me today and always.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Till We Meet Again

It was a Friday in early November.  We were well on our way to a girls’ weekend when her cell phone rang with the news.  Two precious twin girls needed a temporary place to stay.  For my sweet friend and her husband, it marked the second time they opened their hearts and home to foster children.  Excitement filled the motor coach full of women as we continued west down the interstate to our Women of Faith weekend; many of us already smitten with these two sweet girls soon to become part of our lives.  The girls arrived a few days later, and immediately stole all our hearts.   Though they arrived in a whirlwind, we absorbed them into our lives as if they’d always been ours.  And, we loved them fiercely.

Three months passed, and the threads of their young lives wove deeper and deeper into the tapestry of our own.  Though we knew the day for goodbyes would come, the hope that it never would remained. 

“Our sweet girls are going home….
They have been greatly loved and will be greatly missed”, she said.

My heart sank.  I wouldn’t allow my mind to process the possibility of their leaving.  Emotions are easier to stuff when you don’t dwell or think on the inevitable. Besides, I didn’t want to feel the sting of loss either.  And, I knew digesting the information would only lead to heartbreak and tears. 

My eyes caught the girls from across the room.  One by one, members of my church family greeted their tiny faces and embraced their teensy frames.   I began to make my way toward them, but before I could get there, the girls toddled off to Sunday School.  

Oh well.  Wasn’t meant to be I guess.  It’s probably easier this way anyway. 
If I don’t tell them goodbye, then it won’t hurt so much.

Church service was about to start, and I sat on the front row of chairs waiting for the cue to approach the platform with the rest of the Praise Team.   Two little faces entered my field of vision. 

Oh, sweet girls. 

“I thought you might want to tell the girls goodbye”, she said.

My heart leapt and broke as I held each one on my lap, kissed their tiny, bronze faces, and hugged them goodbye.  Sometimes there just aren’t enough seconds in the day.  Sunday was one of those days. 

God be with you till we meet again little ones.  Till we meet again.

As the day progressed, another goodbye lurked on the horizon.  My cousin had asked my family and me to attend an impromptu birthday party at her house for my uncle Don.  We were honored and elated for the invitation and inclusion, but I knew a difficult parting would also be part of the celebration.  So, I approached her home with much trepidation. 

Just don’t think about it. 
We’re there to celebrate, not dwell on the fact that Don has cancer. 
Celebrate.  Celebrate.  (Deep breathe) Celebrate.

I replayed in my head the pep talk I’d given myself, headed in the house for the festivities, and prayed my smile would disguise my breaking heart.

Don is truly one of the most caring, encouraging, thoughtful, selfless people I know.  He can light up a room, and make you feel like you are the most important person in his life.  A real charmer that guy is…and a real joy to know him and call him family.  

When I was a kid, he nicknamed me, “Pretty Lady”.  I can’t begin to tell you how much those words made this chubby little girl feel like a beautiful princess.  Still to this day, I melt at the sound of his voice calling me “Pretty Lady”… and this chubby, big girl feels like a beautiful princess all over again.

During my teenage years, I wrote Don and my aunt, Jeanne, a long letter.  In retrospect, it was a long, passionate, teenage tirade in which I aired my frustrations and my dreams.  But, Don treated it, and me, with respect.  He never discouraged or made me feel like a goofy, passionate teen on a tirade.  Rather, he wrote back a lengthy reply and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.  That’s just the kind of guy he is. 

We gathered our coats and began our goodbyes.  Tears filled my eyes as I embraced my sweet uncle and mouthed my goodbye in his ear.  Sometimes there just aren’t enough seconds in the day.  Sunday was one of those days. 

I love you, and I will miss you.

“I’ll miss you too”, he said.

We celebrated my uncle Don on Sunday.  More than likely, the next time we gather, we will celebrate him again.  It breaks my heart to think he may not be present with us then, but I know a much grander celebration awaits!  For there are many who look forward to welcoming him home, and I look forward to the day when I am reunited again with them all.  Now that, that my friends, will be a celebration!

God be with you till we meet again.
I love you, Don.  Please tell grandma hello when you see her. 
I know she will be so excited to see you! 
God be with you till we meet again.  Till we meet again.

Father God, You know our sorrows and collect our tears.  Goodbyes can be so hard, and sometimes our arms and our hearts feel empty. Replace our sorrow with the joy only You can give, and heal our hurts.  Thank you that we never have to tell You goodbye – for You are ever present and always walk beside us on every road in our lives.  Help each one of us to feel Your presence and comfort as we look forward to the day we are caught up in the clouds with You and meet each other again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Kitchen Table

Every morning, before the sun wakes up…before my boys are stirring…before the street outside my window is buzzing with cars…I sit at my kitchen table, soak in the peacefulness and the serenity, and I pray.   It’s a routine I started several years ago, and one, to be quite honest, I wish I’d started long before that.  It took a personal battle with cancer to make prayer time at my kitchen table a routine priority though.  It’s amazing how quickly priorities can change when you find yourself on a slick road.

In April 2006, I was diagnosed with high grade bladder cancer.  The doctors said we needed to move quickly to remove it; for without some type of intervention, the cancer would likely take my life within five years.   A few days later, we set a surgery date, and began making preparations.  The surgery was complex and complicated. If I survived, the recovery would be extensive and long.  There would be many side effects and alterations to our lives, but, I would be alive...and, if the cancer was contained just to my bladder, the surgery would give me freedom from the disease that held my life in chains.

Jack was just three at the time of my diagnosis; and Joseph was only nine months.  I couldn’t bear the thought of not being around to see them grow.  There was a chance Jack might remember me, but Joseph?  My heart ached.  Along with grief, anger and bitterness filled my mind.  One Sunday morning shortly after my diagnosis, I reached my breaking point.  My emotions spilled out and as I stood in my kitchen, I shook my fists in the air, and screamed at God.

Haven’t I had enough, Lord?  Why?  Why me?  Haven’t I paid my dues?  I don’t have any of the risk factors for this cancer.  It makes no sense. Why not give it to this person or that one?  They fit the bill way more than I do.  Why me, Lord? WHY ME? What did I do to deserve this? 

On and on I cried… on and on I screamed until I finally collapsed in the chair at my kitchen table.   Aside from my breathing, the house was still once more.  And, in the stillness…and the quiet serenity of my seat at the kitchen table, the Lord began to speak to my heart.  There was no booming voice from heaven.  No bolt of lightning or clap of thunder.  There was instead, a gentle, soft whisper. 

“I could have allowed any one of my children to have cancer, Angela. But, you…well, you can
turn it around.  You can choose to wallow in self-pity and consume yourself with bitterness;
or you can show others Me.  You have a choice to make.  Turn it around.
 I will give you all the grace and dignity you need for the battle.” 

Like a mother cradling and hushing her little one, the whisper cradled and hushed my weary heart and mind.  Peace filled the places in my mind that had been wrought with fear, grief and bitterness.

Grace and dignity, Lord.  Grace and dignity.  Please save me. Please. Please help me through this battle, God.  I don’t want to face this alone.  I need You.  I don’t want to be without You. 
Please Lord.  Please….

That morning was a turning point in my life.  Sometimes we have to hit the point of desperation before we realize our need for a Savior.  And, saved I am.

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.” – Psalm 118:5

Thank you for meeting me each day, Lord.   I love joining you at the kitchen table every morning.  I praise you for the peace and freedom only You can give, and I give thanks that You hear my cries.  May You be what others see in me – for I don’t want to be me without You.  Please be with those facing difficult battles right now, Father.  For every road traveled and every battle fought, may we call upon You for grace and dignity.

As I close out today’s blog post, I leave you with the lyrics I wrote for the song, “Without You”.  It’s a song from my heart…a desperate prayer written in a time of great need.  May it bless you and point the way to Him. 
Verse 1
Secret sins, skeletons, and the lies that I believed
I can't get back all of the time that's passed; sometimes it's hard to breathe
Help me leave behind all that haunts my mind
and all I don't want to be...
Lord, give me words to speak; give me thoughts to think
Cause I don't want to be me without you
Give me songs to sing; and give me air to breathe
Cause I don't want to be, be me without you

Verse 2
It's a scary place when you run the race, and temptation shouts your name
Help me hear your voice amidst the noise, and break free from these chains
When the thoughts creep in that just lead to sin
And all I don't want to be...

Here I am at your throne
Though I may be all alone
Here I am on my knees
Cause I don't want to be...