In Loving Memory of Mary

Some moments in time are just moments.  Others make a lasting impact.  And then, there are those moments in time that last forever.

Real, true, undeniable beauty, overflowing from the heart. A shining jewel, a piercing, yet gentle bright light, touching without touch. Making life better. Brightening a day here, lifting the fog of sadness there, bringing clarity to confusion, solutions to questions, and resolutions to problems. All in a day’s work. And all with a smile and graciousness and love for everyone.

Mary made a forever impression. Far reaching, ongoing.

It was and will always be a very special gift from God that I was allowed to experience all she was to so many. I thank God that His plan included more than 15 years when our paths would cross and I was given the privilege to know her and love her.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you”. Phil 1:3

We worked together, and I read this at her funeral. Yes, she truly was that special.

So who was Mary?

She was beautiful. Deeply, all the way, inwardly, outwardly, everywhere, beautiful. On the outside, she always had that “put together” look. The hair, the makeup, the clothes coordinated with colorful, sparkling jewelry. She loved her bling! 🙂 And oh, how she sparkled from the inside too. Inward beauty overflowed in a glittering, glowing cascade of soft light. She focused perpetually on others and how she could brighten their darkness and fulfill their needs. She invited a different perception and outlook with her genuine smile. That smile was always in place, regardless of her feelings or struggles or anything else. Nothing got in the way of that smile, because it was the expression that aligned with her heart. She truly loved and cared for everyone, and her love was reciprocated by so many because it was the response that came naturally with no thought or decision.

A few years ago, there was a time of deep connection for us. It was a God ordained season of a special level of closeness during a difficult time for her. For a season, I was chosen to encourage her and just listen. I am grateful that I was allowed to be used by God in this special way. What a timeless gift that I will always cherish.

We worked in different areas and our paths did not cross every day. But when we saw each other I got to experience that treasured smile and her sweet spirit that reached out to me simply by an exchanged greeting in passing.

I did not even know she was having pain and health issues. I was plodding along in my day in day out routine life, and she was hurting and struggling.  I saw her, yet I didn’t see.  One day, I came to work and learned that she was in the hospital after a diagnosis that there was nothing more that could be done medically. She was dying. She had been off work for over a week and I just assumed she was out on vacation. When I heard this sad news that she was not expected to live and the family had asked some of her special coworkers to join them at her bedside, I felt my world just crumble. No, more like explode. Violently. Immediately. Pieces of my world everywhere. Chaos. Confusion. Questions. So many questions. But no time for that. Even reeling from shock and trying to wrap my mind around the devastating truth, I knew I needed to go to her. For once I did not question what my heart was shouting to me. I did not stop to analyze why I felt this so strongly. I did not, miracle of miracles, second guess myself. I did not wonder about whether or not this inexplicably intense desire was from shock, or selfishness, or anything other than God. I just knew with a knowing deeper than anything I had ever experienced. I felt so strongly about this that I did not even ask my boss if I could go. I told him. I just said I was going because I had to. Praise God for a fabulous boss who completely understood and just nodded.

So seven of us headed to the hospital. Her family welcomed us and called us her second family. And we were. Strangely, it was not awkward at all to be there with her family at such an intensely personal time. I had the honor and the privilege of going to her bedside and sharing my heart with her. She could not respond. But I have an assurance that is not of this world that she listened to my words and graciously accepted them. It was an incredibly sad, yet equally special time that I was allowed to be a part of.

She moved right into the arms of Jesus while we were there. Joyfully and immediately united with Him in an unfathomable loving embrace. So hard for those left behind, but an undeniable hope to cling to in the midst of tears of sadness and loss.

I hate the fact that I did not continue to nurture the special connection that we shared. That I was usually too busy to say more than “Hello” in passing to her, too busy to ask her how she was doing. Too busy to stop and get myself out of my “work mode” mentality and realize that relationships are so much more important. And just a minute or two every once in a while would not have made any difference at all to my work load, but it would have made all the difference to me on a personal level if I could have been there for her and prayed for her and encouraged her.    After all, she had battled that ugly “C word”, Cancer. Yes, she was victorious, but this disease is well known to regroup and come back for another attack in a wide variety of ways. I knew this. But I just said hello and we smiled and waved at each other and it never entered my mind that anything was different. But everything was different.

Now I believe that for some reason it was simply not meant to be that I would share in her struggle this time around, this ultimate struggle that took her life. Hard for me but I trust God and know that for some reason this was not a part of His plan for me or for her.

My God who supplies all my needs knew I would struggle with this, so He gave me a great gift that I will treasure close to my heart forever. I was told by more than one person that she shared my knowledge of the special bond we had. It was still there, strong and sure, even though we had not connected like that in some time. It is a great comfort to me to know that I was not the only one who felt it, and I believe she knew, as I do, that it was a unique way that God allowed us to walk a path together and touch those deep places…experience Him together in a way that is unexplainable.

My life has been forever changed. Forever. Changed. I have realized with wonder and amazement that I was included in the select group God chose. I was part of those who have the privilege to know and love someone who had such an impact on others. I am honored that God allowed me to know and love her.

Now, I have an acute and heightened awareness of how important it is to nurture relationships. Take that extra moment now and again to remind others that they make your life better and brighter just by being themselves. Not just the people you know well and do life with, but everyone who has a positive impact upon your life. Tell them. Offer encouragement when you think it’s needed. Smile at them when you don’t feel like smiling. They may need that smile. I know I will always cherish hers, especially because I now know that for a time when she would smile at me, she was in great pain and trying not to show it.

I bought a bracelet a while back that I wear in her memory. It has a heart with the breast cancer awareness ribbon all in rhinestones – some sparkly bling for her. I wanted something tangible to remind myself of the things she taught me in our fifteen years of sweet relationship.

Smile. Positively impact as many people as possible, every day. Be compassionate and caring, always. Love others, even those who seem unlovable. Do all you can as soon as you can to uplift others. Brighten their shadows. Lift their spirits. Make it so that when others encounter you they are better for it. Be the embodiment of the love of Jesus to everyone you see.

We are not guaranteed tomorrow.

…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

But I do look forward to the tomorrow in Heaven when I see her. I imagine this scenario in a variety of ways, all beautiful, all wonderful, all good.   She’ll be easy to find. All I’ll have to do is look for the bling.

I came, I saw…

I came, I saw, but I didn’t conquer. Better than that. I was conquered. Me…and all that I think I am or am not, was forcefully moved out of the way and with that big mess set aside, I breathed in spiritually and saw and felt at a level I can’t even begin to describe. God showed me how love and joy and simplicity, with no stuff to distract, leads to compassion and vision that sees what God sees. The process was slow because I am slow to learn. So glad my God is very patient.

I went to Kenya, Africa, on a mission trip. I, as in me. As in… me and Kenya and mission trip together in the same sentence. Completely unreal, yet real. The unknown, above and beyond any unknown I had ever encountered before. And even stranger, I chose to do this. God did not prompt anyone to offer encouragement or give a gentle, or not so gentle, push. He knows I need pushing sometimes and He uses people in my life like that. But this…this was a direct call from God to me. I made the decision to go because I felt so strongly that I was supposed to do this.

So many who know me were shocked when I informed them I was going. Like really-shocked-but-trying-not-to-look-so-shocked… for my sake. And as time marched on, some people even expressed surprise that I was going to completely follow through and not back out. Some were concerned, even though most did not tell me that. Concerned for my safety, yes, but also concerned that maybe this was way too far out of my tiny comfort zone, and what would happen to me? After being plucked from the cozy box I like to reside in and being forcefully thrown many miles and many worlds away from home – arriving in a 3rd world country so very far away, and far removed, from anything I have ever known, would I be OK? Ummm…yes. Or at least, my version of OK.

Indecisive, overcautious, afraid, over analytical me. Yes, I received a very personal and powerful call from God that I could not deny or hide from. But yes, it was scary, and it felt very awkward at times, and uncomfortable on so many levels. Yes, I had moments of “What am I doing here?” and “Did I misunderstand God?” and “I can’t do this!”

We arrived on a Saturday and our first activity was to attend a church service on Sunday morning in a small community about an hour away. Sunday evening, we had a debriefing and shared our thoughts on the church service and the people. There was some discussion about the obvious evidence of how fortunate we are to have all the material things and conveniences we have in America, and how we should remember our glimpse here of an environment where there is little in the way of material possessions, and yet these people have plenty of what is important.

After the sharing died down, we were given this question: “If you had to leave tomorrow, what would you take away from this?” I remained contemplative and silent. But my mind was the scene of an intensely competitive race as thoughts tumbled one over another, scattered, willy-nilly, and yet, one thought trumped all others. If that question had been posed to me just hours earlier that morning before we left for the church service, my response would have been: “If I can go and not impose on anyone else, when can I leave? I’ve made a mistake and I shouldn’t be here. God didn’t really call me to this. I imagined it.”

You see, that morning getting ready, I went into full blown panic mode. My destructive and fearful thoughts that try to run my life were very busy.

My fast running thoughts went something like this:

“I don’t know these people on this mission team. I’m not like them. I don’t have a passion for this. I’m not excited about this. The schedule of all we will be doing that was shared last night? Others are thrilled and can’t wait to begin. I’m thoroughly terrified. And leave it to me, I did not even know enough to pack the right gear for this trip. I am the only one with a big purse instead of a backpack and a carryon that I actually had to carry all over the airport because it didn’t have wheels. What was I thinking? I’m not cut out for this! I’m the square peg that will never fit into this round hole. This isn’t me. I don’t even know how to pack for a mission trip, much less participate in one.”

And the clincher:  that reoccurring thought, faster and more intense than all the others –

“I’ll mess this up!! I’ll somehow inadvertently hurt the precious children’s feelings. I’ll say the wrong thing to the adults and offend them instead of being an encouragement to them and showing them God’s love. I’ll be a detriment and a burden and create all manner of drama that shouldn’t happen.”

And that was just for a little while Sunday morning as I was getting ready to attend the church service with the others. Yeah, I know. I’m a mess. And yes, I had this same type of panic complete with snowballing thoughts several times during the two week duration of this trip.

But God…

Through it all, God gave me, in His perfect timing, shining, dazzling, unmistakable glimmers of His hope and light. Reassurance and affirmation that He was in this, He wanted me there, and He was working even as I panicked. He lovingly reminded me of what I knew. This was what I was supposed to do. I was where I was supposed to be, even though there were times I felt like a fish out of water on the beach I’d never seen in the unfamiliar sand I’d never felt.

This trip was God’s miraculous gift to me. It was absolutely a miracle that I went, and another miracle that God showed me, in spite of me, how I can help make a tiny bit of difference simply by giving a hug or holding a hand or giving a high five. I could see the difference immediately in the responding smiles and laughter and love reciprocated in much larger proportion than I gave. I also learned that I don’t have to have a passion for missions. I don’t have to yearn to serve others in a third world country to be a viable participant.

All that is required to participate in a mission trip is:

  1. You must be a living, breathing, person, and fairly healthy.
  2. You must have a willing heart to learn what God wants to show you.

That’s it. That’s all. And knowing what I know now, it also helps if you have a spirit of expectancy for when God shows up. Because He will. And He will blow you away with His presence and His love. He will bless you for your obedience in unfathomable ways – in really big God ways.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. Luke 12:48b, NLT

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. Phil 2:5, 7, NLT

As a Christian living in America with an over abundance of comfort and so many things I don’t really need, I have been given much. Much is required of me. And I am to have the attitude of my Savior. Giving up a few conveniences for a short period of time to minister to others does not begin to compare to all Jesus Christ gave up, for me.

Easter Reflections

In this Easter season, I find myself wondering about the people who knew or knew of Jesus and lived when He walked among them.  I wonder what that was like.  And I wonder where I would have been if I had been there.

Maybe I’m here, in this crowd.  Come with me and see.

I am a part of the infinite mass of people shouting “Crucify Him!”   I’m in this huge crowd, and I know along with everyone else that the highly esteemed religious leaders have made it abundantly clear that Jesus deserves to be punished.  I’m in.  All the way.  Of course, I do not realize that these arrogant leaders want to stop what Jesus is doing because they fear losing control of their perfectly ruled, perfectly ordered society.  Jesus is really rocking the boat, and they don’t like it.  But I don’t stop to consider or question.  Everyone around me is loudly proclaiming the injustice of what He has done.  I am one of them. I am involved in this angry mob in every way.  I am caught up in the frenzy.  Look – there I am.  I find myself nodding my head, clapping my hands, shaking my fists, shouting right along with them. Why? Because this Jesus…He claims to be the Son of God!!  That’s crazy!! That’s just…wrong!!  And He speaks so strangely, and He says things that make absolutely no sense. Oh, and it’s so cool to be a part of the crowd, right??  The adrenaline rush. The false but strong sense of belonging. The feeling of power over another who has done…nothing. But He is so different, and He is not explainable.  He is the voice of change.  I am fearful of change, just like the religious leaders.  I don’t take the time to seriously consider that maybe what He says is true. I don’t consider that maybe He is in fact the Son of God.  I don’t yet know He is here to save me, at all cost.  All cost.

I don’t see the look of compassion in His tortured eyes. I don’t see the love in His tortured heart. I don’t understand that He knows the nightmare that is about to begin, yet He does nothing to stop it.  He knows that He was born to die.  And not just to die, but to die an incredibly violent and painful death. A way of dying so horrible that even today with all the medical knowledge we have about what crucifixion did physically, we can’t begin to imagine the depth of pain and agony that He went through for us.  And that was just the physical part.  The emotional and spiritual torture takes what He did for us to a level never before, and never again, attained.

I used to wonder how the people could have chosen Jesus to be crucified.  And not only that, they chose Barabbas, a known murderer, to be freed over Jesus, who no one could find fault with. How could they do that?  Both Herod and Pilate wanted to let Him go. Pilate thought that the usual practice of letting one prisoner go free for the Passover observance would be a sure strategy to free Jesus. It was so obvious who should be freed. But the people shocked Pilate, with one voice, in unity, shouting as loud as they could. And Pilate washed his hands, as though that would free him of responsibility.  How could the people have done this?  How could they sentence someone to die who was completely innocent, who was…God?

If I had lived 2,000 years ago as a Jew, seeing Jesus, hearing Him speak, watching Him perform miracles, what would my reaction have been?  I like to think I would have been among those who followed Him. Perhaps I was in with the group of the women who went where He went and ministered to His needs and the needs of the disciples. That’s a nice thought.  Warm fuzzies here. How must it have felt to be with Jesus, a silent listener just soaking it all in like a sponge as He visited and taught and just hung out with the disciples. How wonderful would that have been? But if I am honest, I must say that is wishful thinking. Could that have been me? Sure. But given my personality and my love for the routine and predictable, I don’t know.

I could also have easily have been among those Jews who whispered among themselves as He walked by. The ones who smiled at Him when He made eye contact, but then turned to whisper when He walked past.  Whispers about how He must be a liar, He must be using the power of demons to perform miracles. He can’t be who He says He is. For that to be true defies all that I have ever heard and all that I have been taught. He is the opposite of all the rules, traditions, and rituals of my culture. He wants us to abandon so much of the belief system we have always known and accept a completely new reality. He is not predictable, not routine, not structured.  He is here just like I am, yet He is so not like me, not like anyone.  He must be wrong. Yes, I could have fit right in taking that side.

Of course here and now I know that He wasn’t wrong at all. He was so right, perfectly right. And He wasn’t demon possessed or crazy. He stood firm against the fierce and intense flow of insanity as the only sane one. The Anointed One, the real and true Messiah. The Savior.

We have what those who lived then don’t have. We have the Bible that shares His life and death and resurrection. We know what happened to Him and we know why. We know the story. But if we aren’t careful, “we know the story” can become “we know the drill”.

Easter Sunday services.  A celebration of what Jesus did for us.  But if we aren’t proactive we can easily miss it – present physically, but not mentally or spiritually.  We are busy with our busy lives.  We can get lost in those Easter tradition details and forget the significance. We allow our minds to just keep on going like the Energizer Bunny.  Jesus-was-crucified-and-died-and-rose-again-I-hope-it-doesn’t-rain-during-the-Easter-egg-hunt-but-it-did-rain-yesterday-I-hope-it’s-not-muddy-will-everybody-be-on-time-this-year-will-Johnny’s-girlfriend-pick-a-fight-again-in-front-of-everyone…Our minds wander, and our hearts wander instead of focusing on what really matters.

This year, join me in making a choice.  I choose to focus on Him.  I choose to think through every single detail of His incredible suffering and death.  I choose to experience afresh the true story of God’s elaborate plan to save me.  I choose to ponder the fact that Jesus was left utterly alone in agony because God could not look upon the sin state of the world that Jesus was embracing, bearing, and pulling up from the depths of evil and depravity and despair.

Is 53:3-7

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.   

I choose humble and all encompassing gratitude to Him for my very life.  I choose, because He chose.

 

I am (not) an Independent Woman

I am Woman.  Hear me roar.  Several lines of this classic song have been going through my head for…oh, about a month and a half now.  Can’t you hear my roar?  No?  Maybe it’s in secret code.  Or maybe it’s only for select audiences.  Namely, an audience of one.  Me.

So I had another adventure in the ongoing relatively uneventful saga of my life.  I guess my single independent control freak  woman-ness needed to be taken down several (many) notches.

I decided I would stoop down to look at something that seemed really important at the time.   Ms. Grace here stumbled backwards trying to stand back up and fell…and instinctively put my right hand behind me to break my fall (yes, I am right handed).  I successfully broke my fall.  Yay me.  But my wrist did not fare so well.  I thought at first it was sprained or wrenched or whatever, but after continued swelling I decided a trip to Urgent Care was warranted.  They were supposed to confirm a sprain and wrap it up and send me on my way.  They did not follow my instructions.  Imagine that.  Don’t they know I’m an Independent Woman?  Yep, that’s me.  Thank God for wonderful girlfriends who know that persistence pushes me out of the way when I need help, like when I realized I could not fill out Urgent Care paperwork left handed.

A follow up visit to the Orthopedic doctor confirmed the fracture and the slight misalignment of the radius bone in the wrist area.  I now actually know the name of a bone in my arm. 🙂 I got a big cumbersome splint from hand to above elbow and I was to return in 10 days for a cast.  Living life like this was very interesting.  I learned to be resourceful and found there were some things I could do, just not in the normal, easy, efficient way.  I learned that everything takes longer to do and some things are just meant to be impossible.  Even Independent Woman has to ask for help sometimes.  Hate that… but shouldn’t.

Why is help such a bad word for me?  Why do I take such pride in my supposed independence that really is not mine at all?  Sometimes, I finally have to give up and allow help, or just give up and not do what  I was trying to do.  But that pride that comes when I can pretend the accomplishment is all mine is quite a rush.  That sounds terrible…  Well, it is terrible.  Because it means I’m way too attached to pretending.  Wow.  This is me, being transparent.

Back to my current adventure.  I went back to the Orthopedic doctor 2 weeks later for another x-ray and a cast.  Or that is what was supposed to happen.  He came in the room and told me the x-ray looked worse.  The bone had drifted slightly so that it was further out of alignment and he recommended surgery.   What???  Wait.  Hold up.  This is not the right page or the right result or the right idea!  I’m frantically searching for this scenario in my head, and it’s not there.  I never imagined that this was even a remote possibility.  This came out of nowhere and I find myself, horror of horrors, unprepared.  This just isn’t right, but it is happening anyway.  So I struggle to wrap my mind around this new reality and start my usual reworking and regrouping process at warp speed. The Planner has to come up with a new plan, pronto.  I admit this is a rather useless coping mechanism, yet it makes me feel like I’m doing something.  More pretending.  Ouch.  I allowed my useless coping mechanism to trump what I should have been doing.  Stop. Breathe. Pray.

A week after surgery I went back to the doctor to get – Praise God – a removable hard splint that I can take off when at home.  He gave me some restrictions and exercises, and released me to return to work.

It’s a few weeks later now.  I’m gradually regaining function.  It’s little things, like I can tie my tennis shoes, put my makeup on, use both hands to wash my hair.   Things I never thought about before. Now I get excited when I can do something I have been missing for weeks.  It really brings home God’s complex orchestration of all the body’s moving parts and how they work together.  I found a new appreciation that I want to keep.

Independent Woman took a spill and landed on the hard, unforgiving concrete.  Healing takes time.  This wake up call also takes time to completely process and learn from.

And what of this self made pretend independence I’m so proud of?  I found it to be a fair weather friend, again.  I am reminded, again, that whatever taste of the independent life I am blessed with comes straight from the hand of God.  The more I rely on Jesus, the more I learn that this is where I should always be. Relying on Him. Leaning on Him. Trusting Him.  To truly be independent, I must be fully dependent on Him.  Paradoxical and illogical, but then that is the beauty of the Christian faith.  It does not make logical sense, yet it works perfectly.

I am not a self made roaring Independent Woman.  Not really, not ever, not at all.  I am a much loved child of a Savior and King who longs for my consistent trust that He will take much better care of me that I can.  In fact, His care is the best.  His best, all for me.

 

 

It is what it was

You do what you gotta do.  You do a lot of praying, a lot of wishing and wondering and questioning and searching, while just trying to function at some small fraction of a normal level.  You’re overwhelmed, overloaded, and over-exhausted.  But because of the hope in Jesus Christ and His grace, you make it through the deep dark jagged-sharp-edges-to-watch-for place of crisis.  Then, very gradually, slowly, painfully, and with no small amount of love and encouragement and prayer from friends God has placed in your life, you breathe again, a little, ever so briefly.  And then another breath, and another, over time.   You continue to lean on God and you begin to put one foot in front of the other ever so slowly…forward, backward, an unscripted dance.

Though the surreal horrible time has passed,  there are still unforeseen changes on the horizon that sometimes catch you off guard.  Your guard is still there.  It has served you well and continues to provide some level of at least imaginary security when you feel anything but secure.

Time passes.  You discover one day that you are functioning sort of normally more days than not.  You feel more of life in brief moments, and these moments occur more and more frequently.  Your life with God’s help finds a new routine, and you plod along day by day doing your best to enjoy the blessings that you have.  You learn to move on past the past toward the future planned for you.  You ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.  The. End.

Wait – Hold up.  Not so fast. My story is a real story, not a fairy tale.  I’m a long way from the end, even after such a long time.  That’s sad but it’s where I am.  It is what it was.

There have been a couple of times in my life when fear and pain and anger and grief melded together into searing flaming hot coals that plunged straight into the center of my soul.  Because of the love of Jesus and His balm of peace and comfort, I have healed and continue to heal as I continue to learn.  I used to think that I had already been through the last chapter and closed the book.  No, not at all.  God continues to show me things about me.  Like maybe I’m still enjoying keeping my guard up and maybe my walls have been weakened but are still there.  You know, those walls of protection that at one time were necessary just to keep my sanity.  I recently discovered that I painted them to look like a sunny meadow outside with blue sky and puffy clouds and sunshine, and after a while I forgot they were walls.

I realized not long ago, thanks to a dear friend, that  just because walls are painted so that they are camouflaged does not make them any less there, even when I had long forgotten about their existence.   And while keeping your guard up is recommended in certain situations, it was never meant to be a day in day out way of life forever.

I’ve learned that different alternatives can be, and should be, explored.  Alternatives that never entered my mind because the walls hid them from me.  This exploration of different alternatives can lead to more healing and more growth and more possibilities that I ever dreamed of.  I can actually really hope for some of my closely held dreams to not be dreams any more.  For the first time.  Ever.

I’ve learned that I was moving forward, but dragging my walls with me everywhere and keeping my guard up and very close to me for added protection almost continuously.  It is what it was.  I was moving forward, while missing so much.  My mindset was that everything was just like it used to be.  Everything at its worst, everything I had to question, everything I longed for but knew I would not have, everything that was.  Still there with no changes. Everything I feared was still right in my face, yet not really there.  I really believed all of this to be true even though I did not realize it.  I never entertained the idea that I had a choice.

It is what it was is now in the process of being updated to the present:  It is.  The past is breaking up and moving away to reveal a whole new present I did not know existed.  Letting my guard down and tearing down walls is a gradual process; everything with me is.  It’s scary.  And going away from what has been a part of my life for so long is strange and uncomfortable.  I feel like a prisoner who has been set free but has no clue what to do and longs for familiarity, not quality.

Yet, I know Jesus has promised me life, and life abundant.  (John 10:10).  And I know I can’t enjoy that abundant life dragging walls around and working so hard to keep my guard up. It’s exhausting and counterproductive and just plain unhealthy on so many levels.

I don’t need walls, and I don’t need my constant guard between me and everything.  I already have all I need.  I have Jesus.  He is urging me on and encouraging me.  And it all started with His love shown by one who cared enough to speak truth into my life.

I will learn to live more and more in the here and now as I continue the tedious process of dismantling and tearing down and letting go.  Tough work.  But finally, work that will allow me to move forward unencumbered.  Tough work that will lead to true freedom.  Thank God.

I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b, ESV)

…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32, ESV)

The beauty of ugly weeds

My flower bed has a story to tell.  Now I know what you’re thinking:  “Huh? You want me to read a story about plants telling a story?”  Wait, please don’t stop reading.  Work with me here as I share an analogy that God revealed to me.

I have a 25 year old flower bed in my front yard.  Mainly azaleas.  It doesn’t belong in a gardening magazine; it just hangs out in front of my average home.  I am definitely not a work-in-the-yard-dig-in-the-dirt kind of girl, so the flower bed fends for itself most of the time and still manages to look pretty when the azaleas bloom.  🙂

The azaleas had not been cut back in quite a while so last year I had someone work on them.  They did a great job.  The finished product was all trimmed and manicured so that the flower bed looked neat and tidy and better than it had looked in years.  But I began to notice something almost immediately:  The weeds!  The flower bed had been inhabited by various vines and such for a very long time.  When the azaleas were up and out and over and under and every which way, these weeds peeked out ever so often and I would cut them back just enough so that they were no longer visible.  This remedy was now useless because the wild things were prevalent and invading and on a mission to rule.  They didn’t fit in with the new nice shape of the azaleas at all.  I swear they were rebelling by growing back in time-lapse photography speed.

See, here’s the deal.  When the plants were all over the place, the ugly wild growth could hide. It was just as present, but not as “in your face”.  It could be pretty easily ignored much of the time.  And give it a slight trim every once in a while and all was well.  Or all looked well, which made everything alright.  Or so I thought.  The old out of sight, out of mind adage at it’s best.

Right after this nice trimming, what was there all along suddenly had a much smaller hiding place, and what was hidden before was now blatantly obvious just about every other day.  Wow.  And I figured out something that I already knew, but that knowledge was now greatly magnified.  This truth hit home:  The closer I get, the more I look, the more I see.

So what’s the analogy here?  The nicely trimmed flower bed and my discovery of the over indulgent weeds mirror this time in my life.  God is showing me so much about me.  And He is working alongside me.  This is a time where God is very busy pruning me.  He is pulling and cutting and removing as I unearth all manner of ugly bad stuff I had buried or put away in the back of a high dusty shelf long forgotten, but still there and still wreaking havoc.  He is also trimming and shaping what remains to make it more healthy and happy.  I am pretty much a complete overhaul project.   This is a time of really, truly seeing for the first time, listening, waking up, recognizing, lamenting, and longing to change. And I realize through all of this that I am learning and growing.  To grow, I must allow God to stretch me.  So I find myself stretching.  And stretching.  And stretching.  Did I say stretching? 🙂

This time of self realization and evaluation has been, and continues to be, tough.  And it’s hard when I see up close what needs to be overhauled:  Pretty much everything!  God’s pruning is painful, but I know it is necessary.  Sometimes I get completely overwhelmed by all the overgrown ugliness that I have allowed to inhabit my life for so many years.  The whole mess is just huge!  But as I continue to lay myself open before Him and He continues to work away, (ouch) He will occasionally show me the stack of what has been removed.  He will point to it and say:  “See that stack?  You are making progress!”  Slow, gradual progress, evidenced by a growing stack of beauty.  Yes, that’s right, ugly weeds and just plain chaotic overgrown-ness are beautiful.  Because this is a part of my story and evidence of my progress.  It is a reminder of where I used to be, but no more.  It is a marker that says:  “You were here, but you’ve made the hard decision not to stay here.  Look at how far you have come!”

Coming face to face with what lives in the ugly bad dark and unhealthy hiding places of my life is difficult at best, and purposely digging into all these hiding places is painful and scary.  But with each step, I move toward freedom.  And with each step, more is found and more is brought to light and removed, and more ugliness is added to my stack of beauty.  Ugliness becomes beauty when it is defeated by His power.  God continues to lovingly touch up and gradually transform His work of art to look, and be, more like Him.  I am one of many pieces of supernatural art created by the Master artist in various phases of completion; works in progress.  Flashes of brilliant yet soft and beckoning light that can illuminate the whole world with His power and His love.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Phil 1:6 NLT

 

 

God allowed me to live a dream not dreamed of (7/17/13 Fulfilling the dream not dreamed of Part 2)

I went to Israel last summer.  Wow.

God allowed me to live a dream not dreamed of.  It was a God-sized dream, a dream that in my most improbable imaginings I had never thought of.  And because it was God’s dream for me, it was just perfect.  You know how sometimes you plan a dream vacation and get so excited and then the reality is such a letdown from what you had envisioned?  Well my experience was the extreme opposite.  Since I had no dream and no thought or imagining about this, the entire time was real, but surreal at the same time.  Beyond anything I could have come up with to dream about.  Everything was touched with God’s fingers for me to see.  Because this was His dream for me, His wonderful gift for me to enjoy and touch and see and be continually amazed and in awe of His marvelous love for me.  I imagine He enjoyed watching me experience this just as much as I enjoyed the gift.  When you give children a gift you know they will love, their joy just comes alongside yours as you watch their faces and their eyes and their smiles and hear their laughter.  I was that child who was given the very gift that I yearned for, but what is different here is that I did not even know I wanted it.

One year and 15 days ago, I returned home from this dream world, yet real world, with real people and real but different lives and culture, and indescribable beauty on so many levels.  I returned home to my daily life world.  I remember our last day there in that surreal real place.   I sat on a bench and I wrote about how I never want to forget.  I took a picture of that bench and I also occasionally refer to my words that day to help me remember the deep desire to keep the entire experience fresh, as a shiny, bright, new, and incredible treasure forever.  To never forget what I learned, and to never take for granted all that Jesus Christ was and is and will be.

When I returned home, I wanted to look outside to magically see the Garden of Gethsemane in my backyard.  I wanted the streets and the paths and the ancient ruins and the countryside and the desert and the Garden Tomb and everything to be at my fingertips, easily accessible, so I could change my backyard scene by pushing a button.  Star Trek virtual reality.  I resonate with Peter after he witnessed the Transfiguration with James and John.  He excitedly said something like this:

Hey!  Let’s just stay here!  Let’s memorialize this incredible event!  Jesus, you can have a tent over there, and Elijah, your tent is right over here, and Moses, yours is over that way.  And me and James and John…we will just hang out here like forever and attend to your needs and visit with all of you all the time!  (Luke 9:33, paraphrase mine)

Ummm…no.  That’s not reality, just as my Israel scenes in my backyard would not be real.

So.  I went back to work and I went back to my day in day out crazy busy life.  Gradually, the day in day out routine became the norm again.  Now a year later, I still treasure God’s dream for me and always will, but the incredible treasure has gradually lost its bright edges and has become less deeply etched in my mind.  The beautiful memory will never lose its powerful impact, but the impact has changed in its formation.  Now it’s a beautiful painting to be admired and remembered, a work of God’s artist’s hand in a breathtaking rendition of what was.

When the memory began becoming a memory, albeit one that will always stand out from others, I bemoaned the loss of the reach out and touch reality that it had been.  I felt sad, and guilty, that God’s great gift to me, truly the experience of a lifetime, did not bring about the immediate life change I longed for.  I went to Israel.  I walked where my Savior walked, and our guide brought to life the people, the landscape, the culture of that time.  I saw and experienced and understood His daily life and His miracle working and His suffering as never before, and never again.  Shouldn’t I be changed forever?

I have finally arrived at the conclusion (God is so patient!!) that the resounding answer is yes.  Of course I should be changed forever.  But I was missing some vital steps in my equation to achieve this answer.  And by the way I hate math as its logic is most always completely lost on me.  Maybe that’s part of the reason my equation was flawed.  🙂  My initial equation looked like this:   Trip to Israel = Life Changed Forever.  Period.  I would go on this trip and… Poof!!  I would return an entirely different person.  Actually, that would have been pretty scary.  Yes, I know that God radically changes people every single day.  But I also know that He works gradually as well.  Ah.  There is the missing piece of the equation.  My revised equation looks like this:  Trip to Israel + Numerous Other Ways God is Gradually Changing Me = Life Changed and Continually Changing Forever.

Gradual is the way God chooses to work in and through me.  God gave me a detail crazy, methodical, loves-routine-and-predictability-does-not-like-change personality.  So ever patient, He stretches me.  Gradually, in varying degrees, and always lovingly.  Here and there.  Slowly.  He knows me…after all, He created me.

When I look back over the past year, I see many changes.  I know that if God had orchestrated these changes all at once, I would have been completely overwhelmed and my old familiar enemy of the Enemy, fear, would have been lurking so close, just waiting for me to allow the smallest opening so it could come in and take over and wreak havoc and spew lies all over the beauty of the new me.  God knows me.

Looking back, I can see that God has grown me, used me, filled me, and yes, changed me.  I am not the same person I was a year ago.  But I am also not so different at the same time.  I am the same sinful messed up human being in continual need of God’s grace.  I’m selfish and superficial, where I long to be generous and digging deep.  I am a continual work in progress.

God has stretched me a number of times, and looking back I can see amazing results each time.  But still, when God stretches, I put up a pretty good fight at first.  Stretching is uncomfortable at best and incredibly painful at worst, and it is not without its failures along the learning curve when I redirect my focus to myself instead of God.  But if I just allow it to happen, God does God things.

God allowed me to live a dream not dreamed of.  A trip to Israel was in His plan for me.  The way it all came about can only be explained as God-orchestrated.  But what I finally understand now a year later is that Israel was not the goal.  Israel was not the top of the mountain, the end of the race, or the final words of the story.  Israel was significant, but only a part of all God is using to bring about His changes in my life.  Israel is forever beautifully woven by God’s hand, an added design of incredible colors and textures.  It is perfectly woven into His tapestry, the life I live and strive to give back to Him.

 

 

 

 

Wonder Woman…no, just me

Time stopped. It had to have stopped because suddenly I was in forever. And ever. Yet it wasn’t forever. It was only moments that I could not recognize. The battlefield was a mess. Littered with debris of what little remained of the thoughts that I could handle this. Joining the debris of my thoughts were tiny pieces that I finally realized were all that remained of my obliterated pretense of control. All my thoughts and plans and what I wanted to do spread out in broken pieces all over the place. Brutal battle, yet really no contest. I lost before I could even prepare to fight. My Wonder Woman cape was in shreds here and there, destroyed. My beloved ducks in a row were bleeding, scattered about nursing their many serious and not so serious wounds. And oh, they were very angry with me. “You want what?  Are you kidding?  You want us to line back up in a row? No way, no how, not happening!  We demand retribution for physical injury and mental anguish!!”

So. Here I am, lying on the bathroom floor at work. I’m lying down thinking maybe that will help the pain ease off. The pain must become at least tolerable.  I have to be able to get up, because I have to walk out and go to my office and get my stuff and tell one person quickly and quietly.  Then, I can finally literally disappear… out the door to go home.  Nope, pain is still incredibly intolerable.  Lying down is not working. Nothing is working. Pain is announcing its very real presence over loud speakers. Can’t believe this is happening.

I had actually prayed and asked God, “Please don’t let me get sick at work!” But the cold sweats and the escalating nausea told me that the answer was no. Then the pain intensifies, and here I am lying on the floor, trying yet another position to control the pain. Early on in this adventure I had a realization that I should have gone to the much less traveled bathroom upstairs, where I could hide and be miserable unnoticed. Thank God I did not do that. Pain finally gets to the point that I go from thinking “Please don’t let anyone come in and see me!” to “Please God bring someone in here!” And He did. She went and got the only person I wanted with me in this adventure.  And after her repeated pleas and more pain and sickness, I finally got to the point that I was scared enough to allow the call to 911.

This is a big production with all the twists and turns of a hit movie. Ambulance is delayed, coworkers get angry at the delay when its me here dying…I get sick another time or two, pain keeps coming in waves, and finally, the ambulance arrives. And EMT’s bring in the stretcher.  I am wheeled out of the bathroom around the corner and out the door, so wanting to be invisible, but kind of hard to miss. 🙂 All part of the hit movie I did not sign up for.

Ambulance ride to the ER, where I hang out for 8 long hours.  Two coworkers join me on this outing and stay for the duration, refusing to leave.  After various tests and long periods of nothing but hanging out in the hospital bed in the hall with my two coworker friends, a doctor finally sees me and tells me that I have “Gastroenteritis” which basically means something upset my stomach. Nah, really? He orders a bag of fluids and a shot for the stomach cramps, which of course about the time I arrived at the ER had lessened to that tolerable level I so desperately wanted earlier. As soon as the fluids are all in, a nurse comes and gives me the shot and prescriptions I don’t need for symptoms I no longer have, and finally, yay! We can leave.

I called my dad About 4 hours into this ER marathon and told him I was having an “adventure.” I talked him out of coming by telling him the truth:  that I had these 2 stubborn sidekicks who would not leave.  Stubborn sidekicks are wonderful when you need them, and even when you think you don’t. 🙂

Around 1:00am, I am finally home. Is there a stronger word than exhausted? I’m beyond that. I call Dad to let him know I’m home.  Then I take a shower and eat some dry toast and go to bed.

With morning comes texts and emails and phone calls and “Mom” lectures from wonderful, trusted, loving girlfriends. I learn quickly that though my mom is in Heaven, I have several “Moms” here to step up into Mom mode and say exactly what she would say. I have this crazy idea that I need to go to work because it’s the day before the big monthly meeting and I’m the one.  That one.  You know, every corporate workplace has at least one of these people. I’m that one who does all the prep work and gets everything ready including the power point presentation slides and arranging everything in order for packets and printing multiple copies that go behind various tabs in binders. I’m that one. My substitute Moms aren’t happy about this at all and so I get lectures about this among other things. And of course they are right. As soon as I take a shower that morning, I realize just how weak I am, and I do what one of these wonderful moms told me to do:  listen to my body.  I stay home sick for the first time in my 17 year tenure at work.  (Exception:  car wreck in 2007.  Post dated 1/17/14).  I go visit with my dad so he can make me scrambled eggs and see for himself that I’m OK.  A grown woman, but still his little girl.  🙂  I rest up and reflect on my very long yesterday.  I remember that my Wonder Woman cape is destroyed.  I remember that my ducks in a row are on strike.  And yet, I know that what is important is still intact, and I thank God for how blessed I am.

And I am reminded, yet again, that I am not, nor will I ever be, Wonder Woman. I just like to wear the cape and pretend because then I can carry on with the lie that I am in control.  I realize that this was an extreme exercise in reminding me who really is in control, and who isn’t.  God is always in control.  I’m not.  Ever.   This was also an exercise in remembering God’s goodness for placing me in the job He chose for me, working with the people and enjoying the atmosphere that is so rare.  I am reminded of how special and wonderful it is to work where people really care and are concerned and compassionate,  and how the family identity is real.  We truly are like family to each other.  There is no pressure to take care of the important work that needs to be completed before the meeting.  In fact, I am encouraged to take care of me.  So thankful.  Grateful. Blessed.

All the preparation for the meeting got done, and done well.  Three people pitched in together and figured everything out and made it happen.  Wow.  So thankful for true teamwork on my behalf.

Thankful for my two stubborn sidekicks who joined me for what we like to call a special “girls night out” at the ER for eight long hours.  Only the most caring people would make that sacrifice.  You know who you are.  Thank you.

I’m also very thankful there was nothing seriously wrong with me.  Just a major virus, combined with low pain tolerance and added stress from getting so sick at work.  Thankful. Grateful. Blessed.

Hello wake up call.   And I want this to be more than just a few thoughts that are soon long forgotten.  What would it be like to live day in day out without the Wonder Woman cape?  It’s really like that security blanket Linus carries around everywhere in Peanuts.  I’m not Linus.  What about my angry ducks?  What would it be like to do life without them all lined up, perfectly positioned in a row?  I know my ducks are done, and I know I would be hard pressed to find replacements anyway… my horrible mistreatment of them is now well known by the entire Ducks in a Row organization. 🙂

I take so much for granted, like everything is just supposed to be the way it is.  Thank you, God, for the reminder that really brought home all that You have given me.  So thankful that my God supplies all my needs, whether I know I have them or not.  And not only that.  God goes far beyond what I need and chooses to give me wondrous treasures that I really don’t need.  He gives them to me anyway, simply to enjoy.  So much to appreciate, so much that I should continually be amazed at.  His gifts to me.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:19 ESV

 

 

 

 

Where Am I?

GPS is a wonderful thing. Like a truly, incredibly wonderful thing. It has real potential to get me to anywhere unfamiliar without unplanned side trips to who knows where. I am what I like to call “Directionally Challenged”. But really, the more accurate description would be “Directionally Completely, Totally Lacking”. I have no sense of direction at all. None. When I tell people that, they think I mean I have less than most people. No, I really mean it. None. -0-. Nada. Zip. So GPS is like a gift from God. And I don’t say that flippantly. I mean it. Thank You Jesus for GPS! It brings security and opens up possibilities I thought would never exist.

Recently, a friend told me about his young adult daughter and her adventures driving around in the Houston area. She calls him periodically completely panic-stricken when she gets lost driving to some destination.

The conversation begins like this: Dad, where am I? with complete desperation in her voice. He responds with investigative, practical, calmly spoken questions  designed to get her to focus and respond and guide him to where she is.
Tell me what you are near. / I’m on 45!! / Tell me what exit you see. / I see…ABC Street!! / OK, tell me another exit. / But I don’t see another exit!! / You will see another exit – just wait.
There is another exit of course, and she tells him what it is.  Now he has enough information to determine where she is and tell her what to do to get to where she wants to go. Obviously, in her most stressful moments of frustration and panic, she assumes her dad just automatically knows where she is. She completely trusts him and looks to him for guidance out of the scary unrecognizable to the right path to her destination.

This true story opened up my heart to some truths about my Heavenly Father.

He always knows where I am, even when I don’t.  He knows exactly where I am when I sometimes find myself in a dark scary place in the deep and intensely private corners of my heart and mind.  He just waits patiently for me to cry out to Him for help. He brings to mind and heart the fact that He is with me even though I feel alone. He will guide me when its time for me to see the way.  Unfortunately, I tend to wait until I have tried just about everything else to figure out the answers on my own.  Not to be simplistic, but work with me on this.  He is my GPS.  Not relying on Him is like me, totally directionally lacking, driving around in downtown Houston, at night, with no GPS.  Gulp!!  Beyond scary.

He also knows why I am where I am.  He knows the reason for the dark and rough rocky places with sharp edges that are sometimes part of the path of life He has for me.  These are the times when I feel like I’m doing everything right and I don’t understand why I’m here.  Why is this crisis happening to me?  Why the steep climb over jagged rocks to nowhere? What do I do now?  Why the pain? Why the hurt? Why can’t I understand? What am I missing?  I struggle and plead for light to shine in the darkness so that I can see the way out. Doing life in the dark places and waiting for His timing is tough, but it also brings about growth and more dependence upon Him and appreciation for His light and His calming presence. 
Sometimes the why of where I am is when I allow myself to be mesmerized by the pretty colors of one of the many bright and beautifully painted signs that point in the wrong direction and promise all manner of things I think I want.  With my focus in the wrong place, my feet follow the wrong path.  Again, He simply waits.  Always with me, no matter where I am, even when I am not focused on Him at all.  Patiently and calmly waiting for me to stop, turn, and redirect my focus to Him and ask for help getting to where I need to go… His way.

God is so good.  For someone as directionally challenged, or lacking, as I am, He created great minds to invent GPS.  And I know that I am spiritually directionally challenged too.  I allow myself to be distracted far too often and not even realize I have veered away from His path and onto the well traveled road of my choice.  When I open my spiritual eyes and see my dilemma and long to turn back, He is my spiritual GPS.  He shines His light of guidance in the darkness of my wandering and worrying.  In His light, I see that He was there with me all along.
Sometimes, as part of His plan, His path for me takes sharp turns to parts unknown and I am caught off guard and afraid and longing to get back to the lighted area where I can see.  He waits patiently for me to finally realize that my hand is in His.  He walks with me through the struggle that will strengthen my character and my commitment to rely on Him.

Along this same line of thinking, one more truth about God is shown from one of my own experiences:

He never leaves me. Last year I went on a wonderful trip out of the country with a group.  The group was from Dallas.  I was from Houston.  The flight back landed at the DFW Airport, and to get home I had to leave the group and get to the right part of the airport to fly back to Houston alone.  This trip was truly a gift from God and I enjoyed it on so many levels, but there was this small speck of dread that grew in exact correlation to the nearing of the end of the trip because that is when I knew I would have to find my own way in a strange, unfamiliar, and crowded place.  Up until this point I had flown 3 times in my life – short flights.  I was not familiar with airports at all. And remember, I am “Directionally Completely, Totally Lacking.”

I could not stand it anymore, and when we were all waiting at the hotel to leave, I approached one of the leaders of the group and asked him to give me some instruction and point me in the right direction when we arrived in Dallas at the airport and they watched me walk away, a lone figure against the world and all that. 🙂  It turned out that he had been planning to take me where I needed to go before he left the airport to go home.  The relief that flooded my soul was indescribable.  The entire 2 weeks of this trip I thought I would have to do this alone.  My mindset was: I’m a grown woman. I should be able to handle this. Obviously that line of thought was not working too well. Thank God that there was already a plan in place designed to ensure my safety and get me where I needed to be without any effort on my part.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have an ever present Someone who is constantly with me.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  Always.  He will never leave me alone, and He does so much more than simply give me instructions about where to go.  He doesn’t just point the way.  He doesn’t even speak directions like a disembodied voice with a little map screen.  He is personal, close by, caring. He walks with me.  He is constant and unchanging in a world of constant change.  He simply is.  I am called to recognize, acknowledge, and glorify Him.  Even in those times when I can’t see where I am whether by my bad choice or as part of His perfect plan, I know I can trust Him.  He will guide me and I will see what and when I need to see. If I do not feel His presence or know His compassionate voice in the stillness, that does not mean He is not with me. That means I wait, knowing He has not left me.  He has never failed me. And He never will.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly, He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.  Ps 37:23-24 NLT

Best Laid Plans vs. Reality

  • Goal Setter.
  • Preparer.
  • Planner.

Just a few of my strongest inborn character traits.  These traits themselves do have good qualities that can bring about good results.  But I have a tendency to move them up to the top of the list in importance, especially when I sense that my day in day out routine life is being threatened.  Threatened so that it does not fit in my nice cozy box of secure feelings.  I go from feeling secure to feeling desperate in situations that don’t involve major crisis or survival.  In these times, I yearn to cling to my goal setting, planning, and preparation as if they are lifelines. But they are really hindrances to acceptance of new situations.  While new situations can be unwelcome, they can be managed with some flexibility and improvisation and a different perspective.  Sadly when I react like this, I leave God out at least initially, and then usually run to Him when my useless efforts are exhausted.

I have to admit that I am at my best when my ducks are perfectly aligned in a row, spaced equally apart, standing at attention. Okay, I have this perfectionist tendency too in case you did not notice.  🙂

And yes, I am a bit (Okay, more than a bit) of a control freak, even though I know that control is only an illusion and only God truly masters control over anything. I know logically that change is inevitable and change can sometimes be drastic and life altering with no warning. But yet my tendency when confronted with such drastic circumstances is to make every effort to change my plans to neatly correspond with the new situation and scramble to get my scattered and disheveled ducks back in a row, spaced evenly, standing at attention again.

Like the subtitle of this blog says, I am a work in progress. I move forward a bit, then back, kind of like a dance of sorts. I’m so glad that Jesus is patient and He loves me.  He picks me up every time I stumble, which is often. I’m a horrible dancer.

Sometimes my tendency to try to be in control is so blatantly desperate and obvious that when I look back on it I literally cringe.

Following is a true story that is one such time that I went way too far trying to force normalcy when God wanted me to trust His plan and accept unfamiliar and unusual circumstances and rely on Him.

There was this nice, normal day almost seven years ago.  Or at least it was that way for most of the day.  Then I was blasted with a completely out of  control and unprecedented event, and my reactions to the changing phases of the situation are a good example of me at my worst.  Like my very worst.  It’s times like this when I am so grateful for God’s unconditional love.  And it is times like this that I want to remember purposely to help me recognize when I’m moving in that direction and seek God’s help to stop.

March 5, 2007 – Funny that I remember little details as I am driving home from work on this day.  Listening to a new Norah Jones CD and deciding that I don’t like this new one as well as the others I have.  Thinking about what I would like to eat for dinner, and choosing an exciting tuna sandwich.  My simple, routine, rather dull life was about to change drastically and painfully.

On this day I take my usual route home and stop at a 4 way stop and proceed through the intersection after looking both ways as I always do.  I know this route well and have traveled it for many years as a back way home.  But on this particular day at this specific time, a 16 year old newly licensed driver is rushing back to school to get her cell phone before the school locks its doors. She is in such a hurry that she runs the stop sign and hits my driver’s side door.  I find out later that this scenario is commonly known as being “t-boned”.

I end up in a ditch on the other side of the intersection. My first thought when I see the cracked windshield is that I have been in a wreck. My second realization is that the car is still running. I remember thinking that this might not be safe, so I turn the key and shut it off.  Next, I realize that my glasses are gone. This is a big deal, like Linus without his security blanket. My hand right in front of my face is blurry without them. Not being able to see and know what I am seeing is a scary experience.  And interestingly enough, it parallels the way I feel and how I react when my usual structured life loses structure.

I’m checked on by a few caring people who saw the wreck, and then the ambulance arrives. The EMT can see immediately that my collar bone is broken.  And when I get out of the car on the passenger side and stand, it hurts terribly to put weight on my left leg. I assume I have pulled a muscle or something (Sure, that’s it).  The EMT picks me up and puts me in the ambulance, and then gets a wheelchair for me when we arrive at the hospital.  He wheels me into the ER and lets staff know that I am there and then leaves.

Since I have no glasses, everything is blurry in the ER waiting room.  But I can tell very quickly that it is literally wall to wall people and spilling out into the hallway. There are people of all ages from infant to elderly and a variety of nationalities.  A diverse group in every way imaginable all talking at once.

Now that I am situated and have time to think, the planner in me comes out fighting.   A plan helps keep me focused and working toward a goal. I’m doing something that helps me feel safe and in control even though it’s not real. So with this unexpected interruption, I simply alter my usual evening routine plan with a revised plan. My new plan is really nothing more than a scenario that I create to help me feel secure in a situation where security is as lost as my glasses are.  This wishful thinking scenario goes like this:  I will eventually be seen by someone who will do whatever it is you do for a broken collarbone and get some pain medication or something for the pulled muscle in my leg. Then I’ll call someone to come and take me home. I don’t want to call my dad because I know he is gone for the evening, and he will worry, and I’m fine, and I’ll be home before too long. My revised plan complete with future scenario is in place. Now I take steps to set it in motion.

Step 1: I call a coworker and describe what I call an “adventure” on the way home, and inform her that I may be a little late to work in the morning.

Step 2: I call a dear friend who is also my small group leader and a true prayer warrior and ask her to pray that I will be seen quickly. As crowded as it is, this could easily take hours. I need to get home and get a good night’s sleep for work tomorrow.

Fortunately this dear friend always knows what is really needed, and over my protests insists on coming there to stay with me, and her husband comes too. They are extremely helpful in so many ways and on so many levels. Thank God for friends who know what I need when I don’t even know.

Finally, I am taken back for an x-ray of my collar bone so that it can officially be labeled as broken.  Then later I go back again and this time I am x-rayed from my hip down on my left side.  This second x-ray is when it gets interesting and I begin to realize that maybe I won’t be at work tomorrow. What’s happening to my revised plan and carefully created future scenario? It is being slowly but surely obliterated.  But I’m still clinging to it, not realizing that it is not even there.

To take this second x-ray, I must maneuver from the wheelchair up onto the metal table and lie down. I am in so much pain. Now I realize that it not only hurts to put weight on my leg, it hurts to move it too. The x-ray technician is very compassionate and tells me that he can’t help me since he does not yet know what is wrong and he does not want to injure me further.  He encourages me to take as long as I need to get positioned up on the table. Seems like forever. As soon as the x-ray is over, the technician leaves, and then I see him and someone else over in a corner having this little serious chat…not a good sign.  Then they both come over and tell me that instead of returning me to the wheelchair they are going to put me on a stretcher. I protest that I feel fine in the wheelchair.  I don’t realize what should be obvious. They know something I don’t yet know.

Some time after this second x-ray, a doctor comes by and asks me if anyone has told me what is going on. Ummm…no. So he proceeds to tell me in medical language and the only word I understand is fractures. I ask for the English version and learn that I have fractured my pelvis in 2 places and the next step is a CT scan to make sure there is no internal bleeding.

Finally, now I fully understand that I will not be at work tomorrow, and I may not be home tonight. (Really?). I’m so slow to catch on to what should be an easy concept to grasp now that I have some facts. Especially when I have to accept that now there is no plan at all, and the future scenario I came up with was just a dream to make me feel better. I have no idea how to prepare for this completely uncharted territory.

I finally call my dad and he comes quickly and is understandably concerned. And on top of loving fatherly concern is the fact that Mom went into the arms of Jesus just four months ago. I hate to do this to him.  But there is nothing I can do to help that. This is out of my control, and it was never within my control in the first place.  But I still don’t see it that way.  I truly have no plan.  I have no control.  And I have no idea.

What was supposed to be a slight interruption to my routine turns into a journey very far away from my normal and comfortable life. No routine. No ducks in a row. No ducks at all. No way to prepare.  I have no clue what to prepare for.

I stay in the hospital for one week. The morning after the wreck the doctor comes by and tells me that I will have to be in a wheelchair for six weeks. I am on heavy pain medication and sleep most of the time, so in my waking moments I initially think seeing the doctor was a dream. But he tells me again a day or two later when I am more alert. I actually ask him if I can go to work in a wheelchair and he says yes…probably laughing on the inside.

So here I go again. Looking back on this I can’t believe I still don’t get it.  I have at least average intelligence, but it’s gone, along with the realization that I am utilizing completely useless and unhealthy coping skills to handle this. I’m thinking  (I promise I’m not making this up) that now that I know what is going on, I can take care of this. No problem, I’ll just revise my plan to accept these new circumstances. I know I will be in a wheelchair. Fine. I’ll go to work in a wheelchair. Sure, I can do that. I can set a goal to get better, to do whatever I need to do and work hard to learn how to do life at work in a wheelchair.  Yeah, right. I’m so desperate for a plan that I really think I can be the Superwoman-at-work-in-the-wheelchair-healing-from-injuries. I have no idea how much this would entail. I just feel certain that I can do whatever it is. Uh…Nope.  No way.  And now that I am more alert and as my dad would say “at myself”, do I consider praying about this?  Do I seek God’s guidance?  Do I pour out my heart to Him and tell him I’m scared and I don’t like this and I don’t know what to do?  Nope.  I just keep clinging to this completely ludicrous plan that only lives in my imagination.

My first clue comes in the form of a very nice physical therapist who comes to help me transfer from the bed to the wheelchair. She is very sweet and gracious. But she is about to give me a very loud wake up call. I should have had some idea.  But no, not me.  I’m too busy hanging onto nothing.  My hands are holding nothing.  But I still think I have a plan.  I’m hanging on to lies I believe are true.

That first transition from bed to wheelchair is…torturous pain. Like “You have got to be kidding me!” pain. And my Superwoman plan does not seem quite so super.  But I’m still clinging to it, because I have convinced myself it is what I must do.  I still think I can do it. I’m going to grit my teeth and suffer through the pain and do this. Talk about no sense of reality.  None.  And no realization that I have just shown God again that I’m still not ready to run to Him.  So He continues to patiently wait…with compassion and a knowing smile, but also with sadness in His eyes.  I’m here.  Right here.  Come to me. You are not alone.  I’m here with you.   But I’m not listening.

Because it is obvious I have chosen to hide from reality, I am bombarded with it from all sides.  Reality hits hard.  I learn that reality is I can’t put any weight on my left side at all for six weeks.  That limits me in many ways that I never thought of until presented with this situation.  Reality is that after the one week stay in the hospital I spend two weeks in rehab which includes intense physical and occupational therapy. Reality is that I need help taking a shower, help getting dressed, and have to buzz for a nurse and wait to get help to go to the bathroom.  Reality is that I have to take pain medication regularly. If I miss a dose before a physical therapy session, the therapist can tell immediately and a nurse will suddenly appear with it.  Reality is that physical therapy is grueling, painful, and exhausting, and occupational therapy is necessary to help me be as independent as I can once I get home, but I am still limited and still need some help.  Reality is that after being released from rehab I would spend the next three weeks at home in a wheelchair with my wonderful dad taking care of me due to a long delay in the approval process for home health care.  Reality is that I have no energy reserve and get tired out easily, which further limits my struggle for independence.

Reality is that my plans and my creative scenarios and all my efforts are seriously flawed and worthless. Because God has a completely different plan for me during this time.  And sad to say, I don’t seek Him until I’m at the end of my rope hanging by my fingernails.

Why did I wait so long to do what I should have done immediately?  Because I put me first…actually, I put me only.  I tried to handle it myself.  How did that work for me?  It didn’t.  Instead, it worked against me.  It made a painful time full of hassles and discomfort that much worse.

The hardest part of remembering all of this is that there are so many people out there who deal with situations that are critical, life threatening, truly desperate.  Situations where survival is not a given.  When feeling pain is a good sign because feeling pain means being alive.  I struggled so much with a little rough spot and temporary pain.  It was really nothing at all.

I wanted to keep going with my routine.  God wanted me to have a new routine, orchestrated by Him, for a while.  Time to rest  Time for my bones to mend and my body to rejuvenate.  Time to reflect.  Time to evaluate.  Time to allow my dad to shift into his very familiar caregiver position that he missed so much after Mom died.  Time to spend with God, time to grow in His grace and love.

This is an example of how NOT to handle an unanticipated interruption.  I once read somewhere about how Jesus handled interruptions.  He did not see them as unwelcome or negative.  He saw them as ministry opportunities.

What if I had reacted to my wreck as a ministry opportunity instead of going way out of control trying so hard to gain control when there was no control?  I could have touched lives.  I could have planted seeds of hope.  I could have ministered to others who need to see what it looks like when God is allowed to be in control of everything, including difficulties. I could have shared His light and His love, along with my faith that all will work out for His glory.

Matt 5:14-15  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”