Epiphany

epiphany – a divine manifestation; a moment of sudden understanding or revelation.

I had an epiphany the other day. I’m sure that many, many others have already experienced the revelation I had – but it gave me a perspective that I didn’t even realize I was missing.

In the story of the Prodigal son, the younger son is usually the one who gets all the attention. Whenever someone teaches about it, he’s the one who went astray and then came home. The older brother is known for his crummy attitude, and the father is known for his love. His Love. That is where my epiphany starts.

The father’s love is obvious throughout the story. He gives his son freedom, which helps him learn and grow up – however hard on everyone involved. And when he returns, the father runs to him with open arms, overjoyed that he is alive and back home. Most parents can relate to some of this kind of love – if not the letting go, at least the open arms. But as a parent of a child who has chosen badly and sought her freedom in dangerous places, the love I have for her is, in some ways, harder than the love I have for my children who have walked the straight and narrow.

Harder? What does that mean? Well, for one, it’s harder for me to feel love for her sometimes. I know, love isn’t a feeling. But it’s kind of scary when your feelings sometimes go the other way from where they’re supposed to go. I actually have to choose the loving actions, words, body language. The easy kids are easy to love. And I’m thankful for my “easy” ones; and for all the parents out there who have easy children, you are truly blessed.

But even greater than that committed-no-matter-what kind of love, is the privilege of understanding, even if only a fraction, the kind of Grace-love the Father has for His children. The kind of love that transcends any feeling, positive or negative, I could have at any given moment. The kind of prodigal-son love that, after all the emotions that go along with parenting a child who strays – the anger, sadness, fear, grief – keeps my arms open even after all the hurt and alienation and frustration. If I weren’t the parent of a child who chose her own way, I’d never know the kind of love that truly comes from Grace.

Thank you God, for showing me the kind of love you have for me. And thank you that it has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with a God of Grace, waiting with open arms.

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My House

So I’m trying to sell my house. I KNOW this is a bad time to sell anything, much less a house. But my house is special. I’ve raised 5 children here, entertained a zillion friends of all ages, taught and learned and read and played music here. I’ve gardened here and learned all about antique roses. We have a pet cemetery on a hill under a tree with numerous family friends who’ve come and gone. My children hosted neighborhood carnivals here, and the trail they forged from Grandma’s house next door is still there. We’ve played here, cried here, loved here. I home schooled my kids here (and I learned just as much as they did, if not more). My husband built our house from the ground up, along with help from friends, and together we’ve made it home.

Truth be told, I really don’t want to sell my house. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and since I was painfully shy, those moves weren’t easy, and I don’t have fond memories of them. Being in this house as long as we have has given me roots and a sense of contentment and stability. I’d just as soon grow old and die here as move anywhere. But I need to be where my husband is…and I believe that God is working to take us out of our comfort zone because He has other plans in another place – and maybe in another house.

When my brain cells are working in a semi normal state, I begin to understand that maybe not everyone wants a house 15 miles from the nearest WalMart; and maybe they don’t want to take care of a yard, and they don’t care about having a cottage garden. Not everyone likes having a country dog or an in-ground trampoline. So it seems, with the way things are right now, that my house won’t sell. But how are things, really? Only God knows that. So my house will sell, at the right time and to just the right person.

Who knows? Maybe it will go to someone with a green thumb who wants to learn about antique roses. I hope so.roses3

Saying goodbye…

I went to have a cup of coffee with my mom this morning; instead, I said goodbye—for the last time. I went to see her, knowing that she hadn’t been well, and when I arrived, she was unconscious and couldn’t be roused. I know she could hear me, because when I called her name, she tried to answer—and when I told her to “wake up” she groggily said “I’m awake.” But she couldn’t open her eyes or even move her head. I didn’t know at the time that she was saying goodbye to life as she’d known it for 90 years.

The other day, a friend asked me how I want to die. I hadn’t expected the question, so my answer was somewhat thoughtless; “Quickly” was my response. Not that I necessarily want to die soon—but when it’s time, I want to go quickly, not linger knowing what’s inevitable. He gave us (his class…I was visiting a favorite professor from college) a challenge by telling us the story of his dad—how when he found out that he had only a couple of months to live, he decided to spend the time “saying goodbye” to friends and loved ones, drinking coffee, catching up—maybe doing whatever was necessary for him and the others to feel as if they were finishing well with their relationships and enjoying what time was left.

I thought about that a lot, and I like it. I also thought about my response to his question, and I think I’ll stick with my answer. But I think I’ll amend it a bit and take up his challenge this way: I hope that before I die, whenever that is, I’ll feel as if my relationships are healthy and enjoyable and as caught up as possible in today’s fast-paced world. I hope I can be a blessing to those around me, and in turn be blessed because of others, whether I see them regularly or never again. I hope I’ll be able to live and finish well with each of them, whether they’re a mile away or a continent. And I hope I’ll feel “comfortable” with death knowing that I’ve lived as unto the Lord and that I’ll go to a better place.

I guess I just want to have the confidence of knowing that all is right with the world in my relationships. I want the people I love to know how grateful I am for each of them and that I cherished every minute with them—and that those cups of coffee we shared meant more than just having a hot drink.

So I said good-bye to my mom…not over coffee, as I would have liked—but I hope she was ready, with enough pots of coffee behind us to know that we were all caught up and finishing well.

A true testimony

I love my teenagers…and their friends. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, and I hope that maybe I’ve taught them a thing or two. One thing I’ve heard more than once from some of them goes something like this – “I’ve just followed the rules all my life, and if I don’t experience things for myself, I’ll never learn, and I won’t be able to help others.” They equate “experiencing life” with having a dramatic testimony, the I-did-drugs-and-now-I-don’t or I-once-had-an-eating-disorder-and-I’ve-been-healed kind of testimony; and they seem to think they need that kind of testimony in order to be effective. And while it’s true that anything in life we experience can be used by God to help others in similar situations, I feel as if there’s an even more dramatic testimony, one that is harder than any other.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He didn’t fall to any of the temptations the enemy tried to hand Him. Nope, not one — He walked away, following the perfect will of the Father. He knew who He was and WHOSE He was, so His ability to walk away showed a depth of relationship and strength of character that anyone would envy. And He had the ammunition He needed for protection…God’s Word. He walked that line unwavering, the line that we as sinful humans just don’t want to follow. We’d rather tell people about how we drifted from it and then recovered our step, thanks to God’s work in our lives.

But how many of us would ooh and aah over someone who actually walked in obedience and didn’t waver? I would, for one. Not that anyone would always stay on track at all times – most of us have chosen badly, paid hard consequences (some harder than others), eventually recovered, and lived to tell about it. And all that is part of life. But the most “dramatic” of all – the one that demonstrates depth and strength and true overcoming – is the one that follows Jesus; the one that stays strong during temptations; the one that walks that straight line; the one who may not have any spectacular worldly events to tell. The one who knows who he is and WHOSE he is, and lives to tell about it…THAT is the true testimony.

Doing Church

I’ve been thinking about “doing church” lately, and what that really means. I think it means different things to different people at different times. I’m pretty sure that’s how it is for me. A friend of mine recently told me that, when one of his best friends and fellow elder died, he didn’t know how he would “do church” without him – he’d didn’t remember church without his friend.

So last night we went to a very expressive service, and the pastor, who was (and officially still is) Southern Baptist, taught about worship and how the institutional, traditional church needs to understand the need for more lively worship…how today’s generation of young Christians don’t do church in the traditional way and don’t care about the walls and boundaries denominations set up; and how all believers need to know the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words describing worship, and then go and worship accordingly.

The music was loud, although really very good – the band was musical, the voices pleasant and harmonies tight. But unfortunately the acoustics weren’t good and we couldn’t understand many of the words. And although I didn’t have a bit of a problem with what the pastor taught out of Scripture, I really wondered if he thought up the subject for the evening once he turned around and saw visitors, older faces that usually grace the walls of traditional churches. Possibly. But even if he was completely prepared for his teaching before the service began, it seemed to me that he didn’t give much allowance for individual personalities in worship. God made us unique, and some of us may worship deeply and fully in a loud, expressive service; some of us may worship deeply and fully in a quiet, more “reverent” environment. Either way, what matters most is the expression of the heart.

I don’t think everyone has to jump on board (or jump around the church building) with loud music and shouting in order to be spiritual. But we do need to be thankful for our differences as we give praise to the God who loves us with an everlasting love. And we need to love those who are different than we are in forms of worship. However we choose to “do church” may not make as much difference to Him as it does to us; what matters is that we choose worship. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Heb 12:28

It’s just not that simple…

I have a friend who is also a minister and founder of a ministry to war torn countries in Africa. I heard him speak last week with his very thick French accent, but perfect English, and his message was so powerful – full of grace, boldness, power, and gentleness. Yes, all those things together. He spoke of loss…of loved ones, of life, of freedom. He himself lost many family members to the genocide in Rwanda. He had to sweep his family away to safety. He’s been in prison, tortured, beaten, threatened. But his joy is so full and contagious. His life is one that I would not even begin to truly understand…going to a depth that I can only imagine. Nothing simple about his life, nothing simple about his journey. But if you asked him why he has so much joy and contentment in his life, he’d say it is very simple – that his life is full and complete, lacking in nothing, because God has directed him all the way, and he has laid everything at His feet.

My daughter is going through a pretty tough time, and she gets angry when anyone tries to “help” her work her way through it. No one understands, she says, everyone thinks it’s all so simple. No one is going through the same thing. It’s all too complicated, it’s not as simple as everyone says it is.

Well, she’s right. But she’s also only half right. Because there is another side to the coin. One side is very complicated and detailed, and unless you’ve walked in her shoes, don’t try to help her. But the other side is very simple and easy. There is a way out of all the complicated mess. And we all have the opportunity to walk in that direction. When my friend from Africa says he’s found the peace that passes all understanding, it’s because he has received it in the midst of all the complicated messes of life, through Jesus Christ. He in no way minimizes the struggles of others…his whole life is dedicated to helping them. But he has that simple peace of heart and mind that only God can give. He’s lived the hell of hardships, and he chooses to walk hand in hand with Jesus. He probably has to begin that simple walk daily, starting fresh every single day as he wakes up to the harsh reality of a complicated life. But somehow, he does it. Oh, that I can walk in the same direction…that my sweet daughter can do the same.

I heard someone say recently that obedience is God’s love language…”if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” No, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we may think we won’t survive. But God can truly give us a resting place in the midst of it. It’s just that simple.