Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Beauty of Thorns

Ahhhh! Not again! I stop. My jaw tenses. My eyes scan the store. There, way on the other side of the store. Sweat drips on my fore head. Can I make it? Upper and lower cheeks clenched, I inch forward. Urgency stops me in my tracks. My foot taps as I wait hoping to hold back the inevitable. What if I don’t make it? Do I have a spare pair of undies? I hate it when this happens!

Any other bathroom mappers out there? This is a familiar scenario to those of us who suffer bowel disease. Lymphocytic colitis plagues me, my personal thorn in the flesh. It stinks- really it does! So let’s consider a more pleasant smelling related subject.

Would a rose without thorns still be a rose? Hmm, I don’t think so. The thorns, in contrast to flower, give the Rose protection and strength. Thorns resulted from sin. Adam fell and Eve got a bouquet with prickles.

“Cursed is the ground for your sake... Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you...” (Genesis 3:17, 18). Thorns serve as a constant reminder of sin and death. God did not say, “Because you’re so bad, I’m giving you thorns.” God warned Adam sin would bring death. Adam already faced the ultimate consequence. So what’s up with thorns and thistles?

Did you notice God’s words “for your sake,”? These words ring with grace – a warning that mankind did not deserve. It’s as if is God said, “For your sake, Adam, when thorns prick you, you’ll be reminded of the pain sin has brought. For your sake, you’ll be reminded that obedience blesses and sin hurts.” What a loving God we have! In His mercy God didn’t zap Adam and Eve out of existence. In His grace He provided thorns that point us to repentance. The power to remind us of grace gives beauty to thorns.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This was the father’s loving response to his child, Paul, when the apostle got stuck with a thorn in the flesh. What thorn in the flesh plagued Paul? Some say it was epilepsy, others say poor eyesight. Paul called it a messenger of Satan. It could have been a weakness in his flesh, a tendency toward a particular sin. I believe the spirit of God withheld the nature of the thorn for a couple of reasons. First, the thorn is not the point: only the pointer. It direct our attention to God’s all sufficient grace and unlimited strength. Second, just as plant thorns come in lots of different varieties so do thorns in the flesh.

When pregnant with my third child in 1990, my stools became loose, frequent and uncontrollable. I thought the pregnancy brought it on. However, the problem persisted long after my daughter’s birth, so I sought a diagnosis.

After the doctor examined me, she said, “It’s stress,” and left. This troubled me. She never suggested treatment or let me know if it would go away. I didn’t think I was stressed out. I looked for further help. I talked to my OB/GYN about my problem and the previous doctor’s diagnosis. He referred me to a specialist.

The gastroenterologist examined me and ran a number of tests. He diagnosed me with lymphocytic colitis. It had been a trying, humiliating four years but I finally had an answer. I didn’t have anything life threatening – or did I? The first doctor was not wrong in her diagnosis. Colitis can be a stress induced disease. As I thought about my life at the time I first developed colitis, I realized I had been under a lot of stress. Stress results from having more to do or more problems than we can handle. God calls it anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing,” He commands.(Philippians 4:6). When we worry, we sin. And guess what? Sin can kill you!

When I realized my problem was self inflicted, I repented. I also began to pray for God to remove the thorn, just as Paul had. God’s response to me echoes His answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Over the years God has kept his word. He gave me wisdom to treat my symptoms with fiber and plain yogurt. These provide a measure of control. He also helped me see that when I give into my anxiety, my colitis flares up. Just as literal thorns warned Adam to obey, so my thorn reminds me to pray and ask God to control what I cannot, namely my bowels. The thorn in my flesh keeps me in that place of grace, knowing I’m a needy creature and God is the Almighty Creator. It took me many years to appreciate my thorn in the flesh but today I praise God for allowing it.

How about you? Do you have a thorn flesh? Are you allowing it to fester or are you learning its painful yet precious lesson?

Father, Jesus bore a crown of thorns to remind us He paid the price for sin. We praise You for Your amazing grace. Help us embrace the beauty of thorns. Amen

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Que Sera Sera

Twilight approached as I drew near the I-5 Bridge across the Columbia River. My drive south from Seattle evolved into a sentimental journey. The day before, I moved my youngest daughter into her dorm at Seattle Pacific University. Now I was within an hour of home in Hillsboro, Oregon, the west Portland metro area. All of a sudden reality slammed me like a tsunami; my four children lived in four different states. My youngest had just begun his freshman year in high school. Four short years and he’d be leaving too.  

My throat tightened, I swallowed hard. Tears flowed down my cheeks. My emotions tumbled, a mix of foam, sand, water, and salt, a wave so furious my heart couldn’t distinguish a single sentiment. There were so many. My conversation with God, which had begun two hour before as I set off for home, hit pause. I listened. Then Mark Harris began singing on the radio. 

This song served as my parental anthem since I first heard it two years prior. The Holy Spirit whispered through Mark’s music, “This is what I filled your quiver for. You and Bill are My warriors and your arrows are well shot.” I wept with an odd joy over my emptying quiver. It was a good thing, not an easy thing but a good thing.

God met with me on the I-5 Bridge that day. He held my tumultuous heart. He caught my tears in His bottle. He sang to me with His Servant Mark Harris’ voice. Most of all I began to understand better the swirl of emotions God encountered as His own Son left to accomplish redemption; the pain, sorrow, grief all for a greater joy and fulfillment. That day as I launched my youngest daughter God gave me perspective. My sacrifice paled in comparison to His but it still helped me understand a little more of how much we matter to Him.

Six years later my four children still live in four different states and none of them live in Kansas, my current state of residence. Yes, I miss them but my husband reminds me, “What warrior shoots arrows at his feet?” I accomplished what God intended. I spread my influence from coast to coast, north to south. So joy over shadows any sadness concerning my now empty nest.

Gathering my little flock, that now includes grandchildren, rarely happens. The last time we were all together was two years ago.  Last year I enjoyed having all four of my kids together for my grandma’s 100th birthday but my husband, Bill, was deployed to Afghanistan. Working to mesh the lives of the now eight adults (this includes two son-in-laws) in our family so we can be in one place at one time is tough. When the blue moon occasion does occur, it swells and breaks like a tidal wave too. But this wave crests as one of joyful pandemonium.

I thought we would succeed in coming together the first week of August but my son won’t be able to join us. Seems three out of four happens more frequently. A year ago Christmas youngest daughter, Anna, couldn’t join us. Then this past May when we gathered in Texas for Jenni’s graduation from law school oldest daughter, Rachel, and her family were unable to come. This time Jon misses out. But I will chose to be thankful for any and each of my children God brings for a visit.

 I treasure these precious visits. Together we reminisce and look forward to the future. Our third grandchild arrives this fall Lord willing. Our middle daughter moves from Austin to Huston to begin her new career as a lawyer. Anna the Washington State trooper will have tales to share of her policing adventures. We will cook, eat and pray together. We will pray for Jon and together feel his absence and miss his jokes.

I thank God for filling my quiver and I praise Him for the arrows that He let me shoot. I praise Him for the tsunamis of launchings and gatherings.  I don’t know what will be but I do know Who holds it all in His hands. And I know He is good.
Thanks for joining me in my moment of nostalgia. This song seems an appropriate ending. ENJOY!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Best Promotion Ever: From Ma to Grandma!

Four years ago yesterday I reached a coveted milestone. I got promoted to GRAND! I think my longing for grandchildren came about the time my oldest fledgling flew the coop. It took her four years to marry but she finally found a red headed Irish man who'd have her. YES! I love red hair.

I fancied having a granddaughter first because the first born since my great great grandma had been a daughter to the first born daughter. S. J. O'Neill became the seventh generation in this family line. On July 13, 2011 I became S. J.'s grandma but the event was not so grand. In fact the two and a half weeks leading up to that day flung us all onto an emotional roller coaster. Not the fun kind of ride, more like the old, rickety, half broke down type that you pray with white knuckles will end well.

Saturday June 25, 2011 while wandering the farmer's market with out-of-town family (a providential gift of grace) I got a call from Rachel.

"Mom, Niall and I are on the way to the hospital. I lost my mucus plug. Please pray."

 She was only twenty four weeks along. the doctor at the ER admitted her into labor and delivery immediately. there Rachel would stay on bed rest for as long as they could hold off labor. My husband, his cousin and wife and I stopped and had a crisis prayer meeting on Main Street. We held each other and cried out to our God. God's provision of Jim and Renee's company at that time was a gift I treasure to this day. They love Rachel as their own. We were not alone in our concern and yes, even fear.

That night as we learned more about what was going on three thousand miles away (we lived in Oregon. Rachel lived in Pennsylvania) Bill and I decided some one should be with them if they lost this baby. My son-in-law's family were just as far away. The O'Neill clan lives in Galway, Ireland. The logical choice was for me to fly out. So two days later I hopped on a plane and headed for the hospital in Scranton.

There's a baby in there?!!

The two and a half weeks that followed proved to be a precious time. I helped do the nesting for my daughter. They had moved to a new apartment just a week before she went into the hospital. There were boxes to unpack, pictures to hang, and a nursery that needed painting. This filled my evenings while Niall spent time after work with his wife at the hospital. I did the day shift with my daughter. Rachel and I had lots of mother-daughter bonding time. I also got to go with her for a few ultra sounds. What a joy to see my granddaughter wiggle in the womb. Rachel seemed to stabilize and we began to hope for the best case scenario; labor would hold off until 32 weeks then Rachel could go home until delivery.

With things looking good and my husband missing me, we decided I should head home. Three day later labor started again and the doctors couldn't stop it. S. J. came into the world via emergency C section, at only twenty seven weeks old, three months early. My granddaughter weighed one hound fifteen ounces. She fit into the palm of her daddy's hand. The medical team rushed her over to the NICU. My poor daughter did not get to meet her first born until three hours later.

Mama's first kiss. S.J. three days old.

I chose not to fly back to Pennsylvania when S.J. arrived. I felt my presence would be a source of greater stress rather than blessing. I needed to step back and let my children walk through this trial without imposing upon them. Rachel and Niall belong to a wonderful body of believers who walked and prayed them through this trial.

As for my wandering in this wilderness of being a grandma to a micro preemie, I kept glued to Facebook so I could pray when my son-in-law posted updates. I also took those Facebook statuses along with picture he posted and began scrap booking. I think I win the prize for worlds largest grandma brag book.

The nine weeks S.J. spent in the NICU grew my prayer life. God proved Himself faithful over and over again. Today, four years later, I have a healthy,active, granddaughter. I know this is not how every NICU story turns out. I had a good friend who was expecting her first grand child at about the same time S.J. came. Her grandson came a week late at over nine pounds. He died eight hours after his birth.Such pain we traversed. Mine ending in joy her's in sorrow . Yet, God is good and in both our circumstances we found His grace sufficient.

Today I thank God for filling my arms with grandchildren. My friend's grand arms are full now too. I think she now has three grandchildren. It is good to be grand! Thank You, Lord!

I enjoyed the blessing of being with S.J. for her first three birthdays. Those trips kept me busy and engaged. This is the first of her birthdays I've had to miss. I guess that's why I'm scrap booking again, reminiscing on her story. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

Omnipresent Father, Thank You for being with my children and grand children when I cannot. Thank You for the privilege of being a grand parent. Thank You for S.J. and W.S. I also praise You for the many lessons You taught me in that NICU wilderness and for always giving me grace. Amen

Friday, July 10, 2015

Show and Tell: God’s Non PC Communicators, Examples of Godly Tongues and Wise Listeners part 3

APauling? Putting the Rock in His Place
      The Rock, no not Dwayne Johnson, the original Rock, Peter, preached the Gospel in Jerusalem at Pentecost and three thousand souls were saved. The Rock walked on water. The Rock gazed at the transfigured Christ along with seeing Moses and Elijah. Not just one of the twelve, the Rock was one of the three closest to Christ. The Rock, the third person to see the risen Lord, ate breakfast with Jesus on the shore. The Rock who received a net breaking catch of fish, not once but twice. Peter, a leader of the apostles, was the first pastor of the first church of Jerusalem. So who did this Paul fella think he was confronting Peter of wrong doing publicly?! APPALLING!

            Paul himself relays the account to us in Galatians 1:18-2:1-21. Here’s the Reader Digest version: Paul had traveled to Jerusalem to get a final word from Peter and the other apostles on whether or not the gentile believers needed to keep the law. Their unanimous decision was “NO!” So, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to report the verdict. Sometime later Peter shows up with a delegation from Jerusalem to see how this fledgling church plant of gentiles fared. Then those conniving Judizers had their way with Peter. Seduced by peer pressure, Peter left the table where he was dining with gentiles and joined the Judizers. It was so junior high! Not surprising that the other Jewish believer began to follow Peter. Even Barnabas, son of encouragement, Paul’s fellow missionary to the Gentiles, picked up his plate and snubbed his gentile brothers.

            That was all the hypocrisy Paul could stomach in one meal. He stood up walked over to Peter and let loose the sword. As Paul filleted the Rock like a fish, the Rock found himself between God and grace, a far worse place than between a rock and a hard place. Peter, who first brought the gospel to the Gentiles, sank like a rock in Antioch. Like an anchor drags chain links behind it, Peter was dragging others down too. James along with the writer of Hebrews warn teacher of their accountability for this very reason. People follow those who teach, YIKES! This is why we need each other. Peter possessed enough wisdom to stay in community. Being a team player saved him from error and kept the church from splitting down ethnic lines. Peter’s pride tripped him up but humility set him upright.

            How different the story could have turned out if Peter took a self defensive tone, “How dare you, you Christian Killing latecomer! Who do you think you are talking to me like that?! I heard Jesus in person! I know the scripture as well as you, maybe even better!”  God be praised that is not how it went down. Peter repented. The Judizers got the paddling they deserved and I can eat bacon! Hallelujah! Can I get an “AMEN”?

            We are all prone to stumble especially over our tongues. I need people to correct me when I’m wrong. I don’t want to mess up the Gospel and find myself between God and grace leading other back into bondage. So please correct me when I misspeak. Trust me, I will correct you, not because I’m better and know more, but because I love you, the church, and the Word of Truth. Public sin screams for public rebuke to protect the flock from sheep rustlers. So let’s love truth more than our reputations. Let’s be appalling, non respecters of persons, who fear God and are fearless in the face of error.

            Paul, Abigail, and Elihu shared a common trait. They all qualified as people-lovers not people-pleasers. In Edward T. Welch's book When People are Big and God is Small he describes people-lovers, "Only people-lovers are able to confront. Only people-lovers are not controlled by other people." People-lovers love people because they rest securely in both the love of fear of their Heavenly Father. People-lovers follow Gods directions for listening and speaking. Who do we love; God and people, or our own popularity? Godly communicators will never be popular. They will always be considered audacious but one day they will hear, "Well done!" from their Abba Father. 

Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher miss speak or teach something contrary to scripture?

What did you do about it?

Father, silence is not always golden but the Golden rule is. We need to correct others just as we need to be corrected. Please give us wisdom and discernment to do just that. Protect your flock from error and protect those of us who teach from propagating it. Help us love people and please You! Amen

Next week a glimpse at grace. Hope you join me.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Show and Tell! God’s Non PC Communicators; Examples of Godly Tongues and Wise Listeners part 2

    Have you ever been to the ocean during a storm? A gale at sea shivers the timbers of seasoned sailors. They understand the driving force of those winds can tear a sailboat apart. David’s Abigail was a different wind; she blew him to the harbor of humility. For those unfamiliar with her story you’ll find it in 1 Samuel 25: 2-42.

                The debate I’ve heard through the years concerning Abigail’s character outrages me. Some Bible scholars (I use the term loosely) defame her as an unsubmissive wife.  She did, after all, violate her husband’s will and called him a fool publicly in the presence of a known dignitary. So I see how those teachers come to that position but I can’t get past the fact that God, in 1 Samuel 25: 3, declares her to be “a woman of good understanding.” Debate closed!

                When the servant made her husband’s blunder known, she did not have to intervene. There was another option that would have freed her from her abusive husband. She could have told the servant to pack their bags and high tailed in out of Carmel before David and his army came. Voila! No more Nabal. Abigail’s beautiful appearance could snag her a better husband in no time and as a widow she’d be free to remarry. Wise people know the easy way out is seldom the right way out and Abigail was wise. She set her own interests aside and considered the lives of her servants and even her foolish husband’s as better than her own. She also considered how this action could tarnish David’s future position as King.

                When Abigail’s servant told her what Nabal had done to offend David and that David would certainly retaliate, the servant feared for his life. This shows us a few things about her character;
1.       Abigail was approachable.
2.       She was reasonable.
3.       She could be trusted to do the right thing.
4.       She got things done.

                That’s exactly what she did. She humbly approached David on behalf of her household and paid him for the protection he had provided to her and Nabal’s shearers. She confessed and took responsibility for her husband’s foolishness. Plus, she encouraged David not to let his righteous temper to get the best of him. Yes, going against her husband’s sinful will and telling her future king to hold his anger were the right things to do. She didn't care if it made waves. Sometimes it is right for women to admonish their leaders and defy their husbands.

                Her bold choices don’t end there. She could have sneaked back in the house and never said a word but that would not have provided necessary edification to Nable. When she saw he was drunk she knew he couldn’t receive or even remember her counsel. So she waited until he sobered up and rebuked him. He literally had a heart attack. About ten days later the Lord gave Abigail her freedom from the fool. When David heard Nabal died he swooped in to harness the gale that had blown him to safety. He wanted that excellent wife as his own. He knew as king he’d need a counselor wise enough and bold enough to watch his back and keep him in his place. He saw Abigail as God described her, “a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance.”

                So Sisters, are we women of good understanding? Are we brave enough to speak the truth in tough love? Sometimes leaders need leading. Sometimes God uses a wise woman to do just that.

Next Friday is the last Show & Tell installment. Hope you'll be back to see just how appalling good communication can be.

Father, how desperately we covet your wisdom and discernment to know what is right. Even more desperately we need boldness do to the right thing. May Your Spirit be the gale that drives us to be audacious and speak your truth in love.