Sunset, Sunrise

1185570_10202069214277424_889783993_nRecently I had the opportunity to watch a beautiful Florida sunset. I was in Florida with two of my boys.  We’d travelled there from Iowa to be with my 96-year-old grandfather who had fallen and was in the ICU. We’d spent many hours with him in the hospital and then helped him transition into Hospice. We had taken a much needed break from a very difficult week and gone to a favorite pier on the Gulf of Mexico to get some fresh air and rest a little.

As I watched the spectacular sunset, I couldn’t help but see the parallel of my grandfather’s life. He is experiencing the sunset of a life well lived.  He has no regrets and has been heard to say quite often, “I’ve had a good life. No one has had a life like mine.” But now his life is coming to an end and the sun is setting.

As we watched together, my sons and I, the younger one said, “Mom, isn’t it neat that while we’re watching the sun setting, someone else is seeing it rise?” I thought about that and realized that God was trying to tell me something so simple but so profound.

The end of a life is not the end but the beginning of something new for a believer in Christ. It’s also not the end for those of us left behind, but is the beginning of a new chapter where we can continue the legacy of what we’ve learned from someone we love.   We can all choose to leave a legacy to the generations to follow.  Each one of us can impact someone else’s life and leave the world a better place because we tried to make a difference. That’s what my grandfather did.

My grandfather’s last words to my sons were, “Remember fellas, family is important. Make it good.” Perhaps they will be heard to say those same words to their great grandchildren sometime in the future. They can choose to follow Christ and impact future generations. Psalm 103:17 tells us  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children (NIV)

God has been showing me that this principle of sunset and sunrise applies to all aspects of life. Whenever there is an end to something, whether it be a relationship, a job, or just a season in one place, there is also a new beginning. Something new always follows.

It’s okay to grieve the end of something but allowing yourself to find hope in the promise of a new beginning is what will bring the healing. I will miss my grandfather so much  but I know I will see him again. In that I can rejoice while I begin the next chapter of the life God has given me.

The last part of Psalm 30:5 says Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. 

Indeed, joy comes in the morning, with the sunrise of a new day.

Life is a Maze

Have you ever been to a corn maze? In every direction, all you can see are walls. Walls of corn taller than you are. You move through the paths finding dead end after dead end. Each time you must retrace your steps you wonder if the next choice will be the right one. It’s easy to get turned around and find yourself in the same dead ends over and over again. In a complex maze, it could be possible to wander for so long that anxiety increases to the point of panic.

Our lives are like that maze. We can only see the path we are on. We can only make one decision at a time. We cannot always see whether we are making any progress at all. We just keep moving, hoping we will eventually come out at the right place.

What we don’t want to do is let anxiety or panic take over. What must we do to prevent this? We must make the decision to trust God no matter how tall the walls and how complicated the path. No matter how confused we feel as we wander from dead end to dead end.

You see, God is the designer of the maze. He knows exactly which path we must take to get to the exit. If we could rise above the walls and see it from His perspective we would not be concerned about making it out. We would be confident in each turn because we could look ahead and see the dead ends so that we could avoid them.

But we can’t see our lives from an external perspective. We can only rely on God for guidance.  We can also rest in the knowledge that even when we make a wrong turn, we don’t get lost forever. We can always turn around and try again. That’s God’s grace at work. He will patiently lead us along the path and will bring us out of this maze called life when we have completed all he has designed us to do. Each path teaches us something, even the dead ends.

Keep moving and trust God to guide you. Listen to the quiet voice of the Lord, leading you to Himself one step at a time. You really are getting closer every day even though you can’t always see it.

Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21

God’s Grace is Sufficient

God’s grace is a mystery. How can He continuously offer undeserved grace to us? How can He give us chance after chance to get it right and love us when we fail over and over?

God gives grace for the moment. One moment at a time. He doesn’t give us a stockpile of grace to use at our convenience or at our leisure. He gives it as we need it and only He knows when that is.

For that matter, He doesn’t give us a stock pile of anything. Everything He has for us; grace, peace, wisdom, knowledge…it’s all given exactly in the moment we need it and never before. We can’t save it up for future use. If we did that, we would find ourselves depending on our own ability to ration out the supply as we felt we needed it. We would stop being dependent on God.

Sometimes we think God has  left us or forgotten us but He cannot do that. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgets our sin but He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. He is always with us.

There’s an old song that says “Your Grace is sufficient for me. Your strength is made perfect, when I am weak. All that I cling to I lay at your feet. Your grace is sufficient for me.”

It is in that place of surrender that God’s grace is enough. He can only fill an empty vessel. When you lay all the things you are depending on for your strength at his feet, he can fill you with his perfect strength. And there you will find peace as well.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Are You Willing to go Wherever?

Bird on Fence

At the end of the 9th chapter of Luke there is a short bit of dialog between Jesus and his followers.

“And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” 60 But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (NASB)

Continue reading “Are You Willing to go Wherever?”

The Third Watch

Courtesy Flickr - hosullivanIn the scriptures, there are references to the third watch. Most scholars believe this is the time between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. The time most of us are asleep. That is unless we happen to be wide awake. Sometimes sleep is evasive.

I used to have trouble sleeping. I’d wake in the night and the silence in my usually noisy household would be overwhelming. As I lay there trying to do all the things that are supposed to help sleep ( I never actually resorted to counting sheep) I would become more and more anxious and the quiet would become heavier and heavier. I’d think of all sorts of things that only increased the anxiety.

And if I had one long sleepless night, I would find myself dreading the next night. What if it’s the same? What if I am awake again for hours, all alone? The more I would dread it the more likely it was to happen again.

I tried reading, I tried watching a movie, I tried writing. Those things were all fine activities, that I should have been doing in the daytime, not when the rest of the household was in pleasant slumber while I counted the minutes until sunrise. And none of those things helped me sleep.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to God’s Word. I laid my anxiety before Him and asked him for wisdom and for peace.

Here is what he gave me.

Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Do I still have sleepless nights sometimes? Yes. But now I know that if I am awake, God knows it. He has promised me sweet sleep so eventually I will sleep. In the meantime, I read my Bible and thank the Lord for His promises. I also pray for others who might be awake and anxious as I used to be. Now I believe that if I am awake, I might as well put that time to good use. I use it to pray not only for those who might also have anxious nights but also for anyone God brings to mind. I am not distracted in those moments and I can pray with purpose.

If you are troubled by sleeplessness, spend some time meditating on the verses above. Maybe even commit them to memory. And join me in praying for others who sometimes struggle in the third watch.

What Does it Mean to Really Follow Christ?

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/Today I was thinking about this question. What does it mean to really  follow Christ? Of course it means that we have made that life-changing decision to ask Him to be Lord of our lives. But when we agree to that, we may not fully understand that it means Lord of everything. Every. Thing.

So really, following Christ isn’t just saying yes to Him. It’s saying no to the world over and over and over.  Every time we say no to something the world offers we are saying yes to Jesus again. We are reaffirming our commitment to follow Him.

It’s a daily, moment by moment, kind of thing.

The decision to follow Christ is really a collection of daily choices made one decision at a time. Forever.

Each One is Unique

The scriptures are full of examples showing us that God was intentional in making each of us a unique creation. Just look at the folks in the Bible stories. They are all very different. Each one was created for a specific purpose that God planned in advance.

Sometimes it’s easy to be caught up in the comparison game where we look at others and wonder why we weren’t made more like them. We are not just tempted to look at the outward appearance; we also compare talents and abilities. We might be tempted to ask God why he didn’t make us smarter, more outgoing, more organized, less sensitive, more confident, slimmer, taller… the list goes on and on.

We’ve heard the verses in Psalm 139 often. We may even have them committed to memory. Verse 16 says “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God had our future designed for us before we were fully formed. He knew exactly what he created us to do.

Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that God already knew what Jeremiah was going to do before he was even created. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah was designed for a special purpose and God was thinking about that purpose when he was creating Jeremiah. Much like a craftsman knows what his project will be used for even as he’s cutting the wood. He doesn’t just cut all the wood the same way. Each project has specific dimensions that are required depending on the final purpose of the finished project.

Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we too have a specific purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

I believe Dr. Seuss had an understanding of this truth and put it so simply when he said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”

When God was finished making you, He was pleased with what He had done. He sat back and smiled at his creation. He loves who you are!

Facing the Trials

You have probably heard yourself say at some time in your life, “that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Or “that was a very difficult season (experience, situation, conversation, etc.)”

We all have hard times in our lives. Sometimes after we get through a particularly trying time, we can get discouraged about the future. Or maybe we see the changes in our world and know that life is getting more difficult for us and many others. We can begin to dread the future, thinking that the hard times that are coming will be too much for us to handle. Whether it’s something tragic or a strong temptation, we know we will face more trials in the future. We know we aren’t done. We haven’t arrived. We are still on the journey that marks the life of a follower of Christ. Continue reading “Facing the Trials”

Striving for Perfection

When was the last time you felt like you were getting it right? When did you last feel like you were on track, accomplishing what you needed to, making the right decisions, making no mistakes?

It’s could be that it’s been a while. And when you aren’t getting it right the critics are unrelenting.  But I’ll bet your worst critic isn’t your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or even your mother. I suspect that the person who is hardest on you when you mess up….is you.

God isn’t critical of you. He knows you are going to make mistakes. He knows you are not perfect. So why do you expect it of yourself? He extends grace to us in all circumstances. He doesn’t expect us to earn it. He knows we can do nothing of ourselves to be worthy of His grace.

So why do we keep expecting ourselves to be perfect when there is only One who is perfect? We can strive to become more Christ-like but it’s the greatest of arrogance to imagine that we will ever arrive at perfection this side of Heaven.

So maybe the better goal is to give all we have and be content with the outcome. After all, Christ came to complete us and if we did it all by ourselves we wouldn’t need Him. I don’t know about you , but I need Him desperately. Every day. Every moment.

I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be willing to be changed. And to rest in His grace in the process.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

A Multigenerational Summer

I’ve had the pleasure of having five of my grandchildren visit for two weeks.  Since all of my grandchildren live eleven hours away, I rarely have little children in my house, so when they come  it’s an adventure. And when they go home, the instant void is almost overwhelming. Suddenly quiet, suddenly empty.

This year, our visit was a little unusual. Right in the middle of their time here, I had to travel to Florida to help my elderly grandfather adjust to the loss of his companion of twenty plus years. While I was gone my son took his family to Minnesota to visit his wife’s relatives. When we all returned about five days later, we picked up where we left off and continued our activities for a few more days. Now they have left for home and I am left to ponder what exactly happened to me in these two short weeks.

What I experienced was an incredible spectrum of events and emotions. I was at my home with my grandchildren, enjoying the  innocence of childhood. We played games, read stories, played at the park, visited the zoo and went for walks. Meals were chaotic but fun to share with so many at the table.

The next thing I knew, I was flying to meet up with my brother and his wife and then driving with them to Florida. We spent the night somewhere in Georgia. We talked for hours about our children and grandchildren, we laughed about the childhood memories we shared, stopped for quick, simple meals and were on the road again. I loved having this rare time with my brother when we could share our lives, both past and present.

After traveling the better part of two days, we arrived at the assisted living facility where our ninety-six year old grandfather lives. We spent the next few days listening to the same stories of his youth, eating rather bland institutional meals, and playing games of Triominoes where we sometimes had to wait for him to wake up after he dozed off in between turns. We visited the doctor’s office, the bank and took him to his favorite restaurants for meals a few times. I spent one entire afternoon with him by myself. The feeling of being his granddaughter and nothing else was such a special time. We talked of the days that only he and I remember and many days that are in his memories alone, since he has outlived nearly all of the people who shared those experiences.

In many ways, he is as childlike as my grandchildren and yet, there is a depth of wisdom that rises to the surface in his more lucid moments. He has seen so much in a life that nearly spans a century. It might be tempting to brush him aside, as it is challenging to listen to him ramble and hard to watch him struggle with everyday tasks. Let someone else care for him. I have more important things to do, caring for my own children and enjoying my own grandchildren. But I could never turn my back on him. He and I were about the same age when we became grandparents. When I think that he saw me the way I see my grandchildren now, it’s hard to imagine that so many years have passed. Wasn’t that just a little while ago, when I was sleeping over at his house on a Friday night?

When my grandchildren left this morning I felt such a sudden void. Did my grandfather feel the same when we left him a few days ago? Suddenly quiet, suddenly empty. And isn’t it strange that I can share this experience with him? To be both a grandmother and a granddaughter at the same time is something I never expected.

It’s all made me consider what lies ahead. One day, will my grandchildren be visiting me like I visit my grandfather? Will they struggle to be patient with my slowness and my confusion? I hope I can model for them what it means to love unconditionally. Not for my sake, but for theirs. To be able to give them the gift of loving family no matter what, is something that means so much to me. Family is worth the investment of time and  the sacrifice of personal agenda. I can see it from both sides of the spectrum and is a beautiful sight to behold.

Do you have a grandparent, parent, sibling or grandchild that you haven’t seen in a while? Spend time with them and love on them. You’ll be so glad you did.