Red Lipstick

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Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

He gives me words. A word for the New Year. And what a gift the next one is. For it touches and fills and covers the deepest of wounds. It’s the old injury of feeling “less than.”

That’s been my hurt. The one I carried with me for years. The one that never healed…

I felt it as a youngster when I lived on the backside of a store, pavement and cow pasture as my playground. I felt it when I entered school. Always less than the ones who surrounded me (in my eyes). Materially, physically, mentally and any other way you can name. Me equaled less.

The feeling was compounded at seventeen. It was a double rejection and I came out on the other side feeling so inadequate. So unwanted and subpar. That’s when I experienced my first depression. It was deep. I stopped caring. Stopped taking care of myself. Hair unkempt and lips unstained. Till one day, I felt better. Time soothed the wound. And when I picked up my girlfriend for school, she exclaimed over me.

“Pam!” Surprised at my red lips and hair brushed back into a ponytail. And that’s what I thought of today as I looked into the mirror. Because my lips were rouged. And truth is, I’ve been feeling a whole lot better than I have been. Like the spiritual fog is lifting.

The word God granted me has a lot to do with that. For He tells me 2019 will be a year of abundance. But it has nothing to do with acquiring anything new or getting more than I have. Rather, it has everything to do with comprehending what I have already. And who I am already.

Yes, abundant is my word for the New Year.

And I find proper perspective is the key that will usher in this new season of my life…

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

I watched several Christmas movies this past week and two reduced me to tears. Well, it was more like bawling, actually. I even had to cover my face with a blanket to muffle my sobs. A Christmas Carol (1999 version) is the one that caused the most emotion.

It was the dinner scene at the Cratchit household. So unlike any dinners in my own home. First, the kids were helpful. Completely. And thankful. And there was much excitement awaiting their dad’s arrival. And when he finally came, the goose was exclaimed over. Yes, Bob thoroughly praised his wife for the meal. That’s when the tears began…

However, it was the dessert that got me. When I watched Bob’s wife bring out the Christmas pudding and witnessed her hand nearly shaking as she oh, so carefully cut the first piece for her husband, noise erupted from my constricted airway. I was moved in the deepest of ways and had to choke back sobs.

In musing over my reaction, I believe it’s because I’ve never served my family in this way. Ever. But also, I’ve never appreciated a meal like that, either. Ever. I ration it’s because of the abundance in my life. Abundance of food and drink. Abundance of clothing and luxury…

Yes, abundance.

At this point in my life, my true needs are limited. And I believe this has limited my heart’s ability to serve in the same capacity as Mrs. Cratchit. For her heart was full of servitude and gratitude. And more, her precious son was seriously ill and her husband worked for a tyrant of a man. Circumstances seemed bleak, indeed, and yet, she was contented with her lot in life.

And this one scene paints the picture for what I hope to attain in 2019. If I have any resolution at all, may it be this. A heart full of…

  1. Servitude
  2. Gratitude
  3. Contentment

In truth, though, I believe there’s only one way I can achieve this. Proper perspective. Like the one George Bailey gained in It’s a Wonderful Life.

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“Get me back… get me back to my wife and kids. I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again!”

George Bailey spoke the above words on a frigid night while atop a bridge. But hours earlier he seriously considered the unthinkable at that very spot. He wanted to end his life. The reason? He thought he was worth more dead than alive. At least dead, he’d bring in $15,000.00.

Living? He owed $8,000.00. It was a huge amount and money he didn’t have. A mistake. Funds misplaced. And this catastrophe drove him to the brink of destruction. But also, the crisis brought him to a place of new perspective. It’s what prompted his heartfelt prayer. Because he came to a place in which he no longer wanted to die.

No, George Bailey wanted to live.

And this brings me to my true New Year’s resolution. For I want to live life fully. Abundantly. It’s quality of life I seek. And just like George, I want to live.

Again…

Perhaps tears sprung forth during this movie because George uttered the inward cry of my heart. Weeping because he voiced an unspoken prayer.

“Please God, let me live again!”

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“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” Diane Ackerman

I can’t pinpoint when it happened… when life began to feel like drudgery. I can’t say when the days began to feel like nothing more than one big to-do list. All I know is one day, life stop being fun.

But where did the excitement go? When did serving those I love most begin to feel like a job and not a privilege? Just when did I enter the tomb? Because somewhere along the line, that’s exactly where I went.

A tomb.

For I became lifeless. And I think George Bailey did, too. See, he had big plans. He worked in the family business four years after he finished high school. He did his time and the time came for college. However, his father had a stroke and died. Circumstances called for him to stay home. Instead, his brother went to school. His brother made a name for himself.

And George. He just continued making his plans. He’d go away later…

But later never came. He ended up marrying and working. But deep down, I don’t think the want ever left him. The want of something more. The want of being more. This is what killed George Bailey long before he even contemplated suicide.

And experience teaches me this is my killer, too. Want is the fruit of feeling less than and the longing to be more. Want is the thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy. And this is what stifles the abundant life Jesus promises.

Because want, my enemy, causes me to strive by taking on extra. And all that extra? Well, it saps my strength. And all the extra ends up covering me. Obscuring my view and dimming my proper perspective. In the end, all the extra covers me up. Like a burial mound.

My eyes go dim and light is diminished under the crush of all my striving. All because of want.

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“The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”  Luke 19:10

God’s in the business of raising the dead. And often, a proper perspective can precede the resurrection. With George Bailey, it was a crisis. With me, it was a couple of hospital stays.

First, Annabelle had Kawasaki Disease. That was October and November. Then, Levi had appendicitis. That was December. These two instances served to thin out all the extra, though. Because all else came second to my babies when they were sick. And you can bet my perspective was properly adjusted.

But this all happened on the heels of an amazing time with God. See, something happened in early October that was life-changing. And life-giving. For God tended to that old wound of mine in a way I’d never experienced. He did so through revealing Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. In encountering the Lord in this way, that old wound of rejection was soothed. More, it was healed. I was assured of this…

“I am a keeper.” Worth keeping. Not a throw away or a reject as my early years seemed to imply for the Shepherd keeps the sheep. And goes after them.

I’ve been given such a gift, though, in receiving my word for 2019. For I realize the tending of that old wound goes even deeper than I realized. That’s because I’m told 2019 will be a year of abundance.

My word is abundant. 

And proper perspective allows me to see what an abundant life I already have. My family and friends. My possessions. My health…

However, my new word helps me to realize who I am. I comprehend what I am. And abundant tells me I am “more than.”

The thing I’ve always strived to be.

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It’s hard to explain this epiphany. See, back in October (before meeting the Good Shepherd), my revelation was I was lost. I’d really lost my way. This happened because I’d been so busy “saving” myself. I was the picture of Matthew 16:25 in that I was trying to save myself, but in the end, I lost my life.

There was no quality of life…

To put it as plain as I can, saving myself looked like holding back pieces of me or my time in order to use it where I deemed most important. This is how I established my value. My significance. I’d save me in order to use me where I thought I’d make the most impact. Usually in visible ways to the outside world. This made me “more than.” And this constituted all the “extra” in my life…

And this is what snuffed out my life altogether. Abundant life nonexistent because I spent myself in all the wrong places.

But see, life is meant to be spent, not saved. Only, spend it where it counts. For me, it’s my family. I realize this now. Thus, I choose to spend “me” there. But for so long, I didn’t do this. Instead, I saved bits of me. I held back and withheld and in the end, lost myself…

But today brought a new thought. One I’d never had before. I realize He came to seek and save that which is lost. Jesus saved me already. And because He saved me, I don’t have to save myself. In this, I am free to lose myself. To give my life for my people.

It’s just like George Bailey said, “I’m worth more dead than alive.” Me, too. I’m worth more dead (as a living sacrifice) than I am alive (as one who holds/saves her life). Then I really am dead…

But in losing my life, I find the abundant life I so crave.

And so, I find I can spend myself. Expend myself. Pour myself out as an offering for my family. Just like Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. The woman who had a true servant’s heart. She was a picture of Matthew 20:26-28:

It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many

See that word great? That’s what I tried to do in being “more than.” The word means big, exceeding, high, large, loud. It’s a word referring to measurement, stature, number or quantity. It means abundant.

Yes, I spent most of my life trying to be abundant. Striving for abundance. But today God assured me I never, ever have to do that again. Because He’s already that for me…

He is my abundance.

He is your life (your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment)… and the length of your days… that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:20

Not long ago, my little girl made two piles – one big and one small – and asked me, “Which one is morer?” It was so cute. So in Annabelle’s terms, I see God is “morer.”

He is my abundance. He is my more than. For Romans 5 tells me God’s love has been abundantly poured out in my heart. There is abundance in His grace. His grace is more than my sin. And 1 John 4 tells me His Spirit lives in me and His spirit is greater than he who is in the world.

And Jesus is my abundance. He came that I may have life and have it more abundantly. That word means: superabundant (in quantity) or superior (in quality), excessive, exceedingly, beyond measure, superfluous, exceeding some number or measure or rank… over and above… more than is necessary… something further, much more than all.

This is the life Jesus offers me. This is the life I already have. I just need the proper perspective to see it.  And this proper perspective, comprehending what’s mine already, ushers in a sense of contentment. And contentment leads to gratitude, which leads to servitude…

All the things I hope to attain in 2019.

My resolutions, if I have any.

I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.] Philippians 4:13-14

In truth, I’ve never been a contented soul. I’ve always been ruled by want of more. But October happened. And then November and December. My perspective has been adjusted.

And if I ever feel myself slipping, I can read the 4th chapter of Philippians. Paul knew how to live in all circumstances. He new what it was like to live abased and to abound. He knew what it was to suffer need. But through it all, he was content. It was Christ who equipped Him with this contentment. 

And it’s Christ who equips me, too. Through Him, I find I am ready for anything and equal to anything.

Through Him.

I love the amplified version of these verses. It says equal to. Not less than. Never less than again. It’s the oldest wound I carried. But in October, that wound was tended to. And now, on the eve of January, God shows me just who I am.

In Christ.

More than enough for what He’s called me to do. Which is to take care of my family.

And [I pray] that the eyes of your heart [the very center and core of your being] may be enlightened [flooded with light by the Holy Spirit], so that you will know… the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (God’s people), and [so that you will begin to know] what the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His [active, spiritual] power is in us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of His mighty strength which He produced in Christ when He raised Him from the dead… Ephesians 1:18-20

It’s true… God gives me words. And my next is abundant. It’s not that I’ll get more, though. It’s that I’ll realize what I have already. And the above passage tells me I have riches. The word meaning abundance, wealth, fullness, plenitude.

Puts me in mind of George Bailey once more. His brother toasted him in the end. The richest man in Bedford Falls, he said. This is where I nearly lost it in the movie. Hidden tears and cries when George finally got perspective. For when he wanted to live again, he returned to his family and life, welcomed with hugs and kisses…

The best part? Friends and neighbors rallied. One after another came bringing him gifts. Money. In his deepest need, they rushed to his aid. It wasn’t the money that made him rich, though. It was what he gave. He gave his life. He sacrificed his greatness so that others could be great. He was a true servant.

This is what made George Bailey rich. And this is what will make me rich, too. Making others great. For generosity ushers in abundance (Proverbs 11:24).

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Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. Proverbs 31:25

Yes, He gives me words. And He answers prayers. And He resurrects the dead. I know because He’s brought me back to life.

But for so long, I felt death pangs. Never-ending drudgery. However, just as He bid Lazarus to exit the tomb, I heard Him call my name. It was in October. He said, “Come out!”

So I did…

And in telling me I’m already more than enough, He unbinds my hands and feet from the endless to-do’s and extra’s I’ve tied myself to. And as striving ceases, the burial cloth is removed from my face. I am free once more to color my lips, red being my choice. Just like I did at seventeen.

In doing so, I smile at my face. Because I see life there. And Jesus? He exclaims over me. He says…

“Pam!”

And He smiles back.

Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

IMG_7340“My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.'” Song of Solomon 2:10

Every now and then, my heart begins to beat in my chest. And there is certainty. I know I have to sit at this computer and unleash the thoughts pent up within. Thoughts that have been rolling around for well over three weeks now…

All centered on the bride.

Yes, this is where I’ve been sitting. Stewing and musing. Reflecting. And I thought it had everything to do with me and Jason. That’s because our 20th anniversary is right around the corner. And I wanted to write something in tribute to him. My beloved.

But today, I comprehend God’s been preparing me for something else altogether. He had another task in mind…

Seems all these bridal thoughts of the past month were simply paving the way to what just happened. But it wasn’t a celebration. Nor an anniversary. Instead, it was a tragic event.

Something so horrifying and sad. But also, and incomprehensibly, so beautiful. Because today I know there was in deed a wedding ceremony. Only, we couldn’t see it here on earth. Because it happened over yonder. In the Spirit realm.

And so now I know. The message that’s been playing in my heart for days and days has more to do with that bride. The one who is no longer here. The one who’s gone on before others, and paves the way. For it seems her time had come.

And surely an eternal rendition of “Here comes the bride” played while she went away from here. When He called. When her Beloved said to her, “Come away with me.”

And he will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

Here’s what I know about being a bride. There’s a lot of prep work. I don’t care if the wedding is simple or elaborate, there’s loads of preparing either way.

Me and Jason? We opted for the simple route. Small church wedding. Finger foods. I tied up the bird seed while Jason’s mom sewed my dress. And twenty years ago, all this consumed me.

All the wedding preparations.

I confess, I was a little worried about the dress, though. My mother-in-law, Susan, had me try it on multiple times for fittings. Cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. And at one point, I just couldn’t see how it was going to come together. I didn’t think it was going to come out looking the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I just kept my worry to myself.

In the end, though, the dress was beautiful. Creamy and satiny smooth, adorned by hundreds of teeny, tiny pearls. I loved it but more, I loved how I felt wearing it.

For I was a bride.

And when my time came, I walked down the aisle while the Wedding March filled my ears…

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If anyone therefore purges himself from these, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, and suitable for the master’s use, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

In my recent musings, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I’m not just a wife to Jason. The truth is I am still a bride. But this time, I am the bride of Christ, too. His betrothed. Because I am a Christian. And God refers to His church as the bride of Christ.

And just like with any approaching wedding, there are preparations. There’s one major difference though. While one ceremony calls for outward preparations, the other, well, it’s all inward.

All my focus twenty years ago was on the outward. Appearance only. Tanning and shaving and makeup and hair and shoes and flowers and on and on. I wanted everything on the outside to be perfect. As to my inside, not a thought was given.

And so I walked down that aisle and Jason took my hand and we both said, “I do.” And I thank God for that day. He is truly my soul mate. My other half. My looking glass. God’s choice for me. And I cannot imagine life here without him.

And so, for my husband’s sake, I’m so very grateful God calls me to be His Son’s bride. Because that requires some inward prep. Okay, lots of inward prep. And just like my wedding dress, there’s cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. But these cuts aren’t made to satin. No, these are the cuts made to my innermost being…

Oh God, how He’s been preparing me. And He has a sharp set of scissors. But His aren’t pinking shears. No, they’re of the pruning variety. And He’s been cutting away the excess material of my heart. A snip of a bad habit here… the removal of an old grudge there. Piece by piece He’s been altering me. Well over twenty years now. Such a lengthy process.

Funny thing, though, there are times I feel just as I did in 1998. I feel about me as I did about the dress. I just can’t see how I’m going to come together in time. Because there’s a wrinkle or a puckering in the fabric of my soul. I see it and worry. Will I ever change? When my time comes, will I be prepared to be His bride?

But I have hope. For every day, God snips away.  And with each clip, I become more and more useful to Him. Over time, I am made into a vessel for honor. I am prepared for every good work He sets before me…

Like the task He placed before me this morning. The task to tell of the bride who’s gone before me. The woman who walked an eternal aisle. Can you picture it? Perhaps the heavenly host were the onlookers while “Here Come the Bride” filled the skies…

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Revelation 19:7-8

Looking back on my wedding day, I have to chuckle. I was so naive and young. Oh so hopeful. I had no idea how much work marriage really is. And it is work. There’s blood, sweat and tears involved.

Being a Christian is the same way. It’s not a piece of wedding cake. The deeper you go with God, the harder the road becomes. Because Scripture is sharp. It cuts and divides. And this is what He uses to prune me. The blade of His word. It’s the tool that reveals my insides. It shows me how much dirt I store in the recesses of my heart. All the gunk I carried with me into my marriage.

And as I look at my choice of gown, I think how fitting it was that I chose off-white. Cream. Because in all my outward focus, I totally neglected my inside. I ignored the state of my heart. And truly, I just didn’t realize how dirty I was.

But over time, everything came out. The inner darkness eventually stained my countenance. I wore my bruised heart on my sleeve. And honestly, at times, I just couldn’t see how I would ever be clean. Not utterly. Not purely.

Like a bride should be.

But then I found something so wonderful tucked away in the 15th chapter of John. Such a familiar passage about Jesus being the vine and His followers the branches. And in the midst of Jesus’ words about pruning and cuts, He brings comfort through verse 3. He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you…”

We are already clean. I am already clean. Because of Him. Yes, I am washed because of my faith in Him. It’s been given to me to wear the finest of pure white linen.

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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Which brings me to that other bride. The woman who went away too soon. I went to school with her so long ago. I didn’t know her because we were in a different grade. We ran in different circles. But a very good friend of mine knew her so well. Most of her life, I’d say. And because my friend knew her, the tragedy was brought near to me. And when my friend cried, so did I.

What happened to this woman was tragic. It was untimely. So out of the blue. And it’s the kind of thing that may cause some to wonder why. Why her? Because the comments I see on Facebook exemplify the most beautiful of women. Oh, she was a beauty, no doubt. But what I read is a testament to her insides…

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

I’m told she had a heart and soul of gold. She was happy and sweet and a force to be reckoned with. She always had a smile to share. Kind and caring. She was lovely to look at, but that loveliness went to her core.

And so to the question, why? Why her? Why now? No one can say for certain. And God’s ways our higher than ours. Thus, I don’t dare presume to know why.

I can muse, though. I can ponder and reflect. And the best answer I come up with is that perhaps she was completed. She had come together the way He intended. All her pruning accomplished. All her tasks done.

Maybe she accomplished all that God had for her to do here…

She was a vessel for honor. Conformed to the image of His Son. Useful to the Master having spread kindness and cheer. And so, her time came. Her groom came calling. He called her away.

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

 

The Strongest Woman I’ve Known (a tribute to Cissy)

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This past week didn’t go as planned. We were supposed to visit Cissy today. Jason’s step-mom. We had Christmas presents for her. There was a fluffy robe, flannel pj’s, and a calendar chock full of our kids’ photos as well as a few of her…

At least that’s what we planned to do. Instead, we received a call Tuesday afternoon. Jason’s sister said Cissy was not expected to last the day. So we threw our things in a bag and left town as fast as we could.

We hoped we’d get there in time. We wanted to say good-bye. That didn’t happen, though, for she left this earth much too soon.

And so our week was not what we thought it would be. And instead of dropping off gifts, we ended up bringing home more than we took. Items tucked into a box…

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This is what we have left of her now. Memories of our time with Cissy. And it’s what I’ve pilfered through this evening. As the photos sifted through my finger tips, scene after scene played out in my mind…

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I thought about Cissy most of our drive home today, too. Between bathroom stops and calming my toddler, I did. And along with tears, there were smiles. When I thought of all those cozy things that brought her image to mind, the ends of my mouth curved upward…

Tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses. Smile. And pajamas and slippers and lotion. There’s warmth. This is how I remember her best. Cissy sitting in her comfy chair with a kitty nearby.

And I grin when I think of our first meeting. See, she wasn’t home when Jason introduced me to his dad and I was downright terrified. That’s because Dwight wasn’t a man of many words. At least not at first, he wasn’t. And at our introduction, I didn’t have any of my own.

No, flanked by two non-speaking men, I sat trembling in my brown corduroy jumper staring blankly at the TV screen. I searched the far recesses of my brain for something interesting to say but found nothing to offer. I don’t think I could have been more uncomfortable.

But then, Cissy.

Thank the Lord she came home. Totally outgoing and filled to the brim with questions, she had an abundance of words. A friend to everyone, I don’t think she knew a stranger. And God bless her, she even sat sideways on our way to dinner so there wouldn’t be a pause in the conversation.

Yep, Cissy kept the banter going and she made everything alright from that moment on. And in light of Cissy, Dwight wasn’t so scary to me anymore. And over time, my love for him pushed that unfounded fear right out the door anyway.

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Yeah, those are all good memories. So much to smile about. But there are other things, too. Sadness and tragedy. Utter heartbreak. For Cissy had it rough. Unbearable, really.

And when I found the following note the day after Cissy’s passing, written in her own hand, I decided I’d print and frame her words to keep as a reminder.

For if any woman would know about difficulty, she would.

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Cissy said we’re to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult. And one would assume she was referring to her battle with cancer. A three year grueling ordeal.

But in truth, I believe her battle began long before that. Because I think life’s hardest blow hit when her beloved died suddenly. Without warning. A massive heart attack claimed the man she’d never get over. My husband’s father, Dwight, passed quickly in 2008.

One week beyond Jason’s birthday…

And none of us got the chance to say good-bye.

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The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

I have to tell the truth. On Tuesday, I had plans. I was in the middle of a project and there was one delay after another. Namely, my daughter wouldn’t take her morning nap which pushed everything back.

I just wanted to do the thing I’d been trying to do all morning. And when I encountered resistance, I felt anger. My attitude went south way too easily.

And therein lies the lesson of Cissy. And tackling difficulty. It has to do with attitude. Her attitude. Which was a good one.

Staying positive. And hopeful.

That’s the example she left us.

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Cissy was a strong woman. Independent and driven and full of purpose. She was that way long before she met Dwight. But alas, her Prince Charming swept her off her feet and love came knocking.

And I just love the story she told. About how Dwight had a business trip that took him away for a few days. But while they were apart, she sensed a change in him. She just knew he was going to end their relationship. A good-bye before she was ready…

And so upon his return when he asked her to sit with him on the porch so they could talk, she resisted.

No, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.

She just didn’t want to hear him say it was over. But Dwight was persistent so they sat, Cissy thinking the end had come. That’s when a song started playing…

“Sha la la la la la, live for today.”

That was Dwight’s queue. “Hear that song, Cissy? Will you marry me?” And what she thought was going to be an ending turned out to be a beginning.

And along with Dwight, she gained two step-children and eventually four grandchildren.

However, happily ever after didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t stay that way.

DSCN4132This picture was taken a month before Dwight died. And this was a month before Cissy’s heart broke right in two. And I swear, she had every reason to be bitter.

Because her husband was gone.

But see, Cissy was a strong woman before she met Dwight. Independent and driven and full of purpose. And though life knocked her down and she never got over him, she did get back up.

Cissy found the strength to stand on her feet again. And it was this strength that carried her through her three year battle with cancer. The disease kicked her down more than once, but she stood again and again and again.

She battled unlike any woman I’d ever seen. She fought harder than anyone could have. I swear, Cissy was the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

When I told her so several months back, she said that’s what Dwight used to say, too.

The strongest woman I know.

That’s what Dwight would say…

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You know, God has a way of tying things up. Of drawing loose ends together. He did so for me this past week when I found this card on Cissy’s desk. It’s what I sent for her birthday earlier this year.

And I read the words I wrote to Cissy. I told her how I’d been focusing on the struggles of life. I said, “And what I realize is if anybody knows what it’s like to struggle, you do. You have to do battle every day.” 

Funny thing is, that’s where I found myself on Tuesday. Just before I heard the news about Cissy, I was thinking about struggle and battle. Even writing about it. Because I felt some resistance in what I was trying to accomplish.

But you know what? My attitude got really bad. I felt angry and bitter over something so teeny-tiny. If there was a skirmish, I lost for sure and my mood was the source of my downfall.

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And then, there’s Cissy. A woman who lost her husband before he was 57 years old. A woman who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2012 at Thanksgiving when she was only 56. She went through one hardship after another with her illness.

And yet, her attitude remained positive.

Always.

She did not complain.

Never.

She hid her pain.

So well.

And she remained hopeful.

Always.

Her faith never, ever faltered. Ever. And though cancer eventually took her life, it never got the best of her. And though cancer claimed her body, Cissy never lost the battle. She fought the good fight…

She fought and fought till the very end.

The bitter end.

The strongest woman I’ve ever known never once gave up.

She never did.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

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I wish I could be more like Cissy.

Unfortunately, I all too easily become bitter when I let myself. Over small things. Like not saying good-bye. I just felt so mad that we didn’t get that chance.

But you know, Cissy didn’t either. She didn’t get the opportunity to tell her beloved Dwight good-bye. Some time after his passing, though, the oddest thing began to happen. There were feathers.

Cissy would find feathers in the most obscure places. All over her home. And there was no reason on earth they should have been where they were. No where they could have come from.

Cissy believed they were from Dwight.

And that’s one of the things that makes me smile today. Because on Wednesday, I chose a globe with a bird in it for myself. I’d made it for Cissy’s mother a few years back and didn’t think anybody else would want it. I dusted the edges and sat it on Cissy’s counter but left it behind.

And the oddest thing happened.

When Jason’s sister brought it to me two days later, she asked if a feather had always been in it. But there hadn’t been. I would have seen it when I cleaned it up. And yet, on Friday, a feather was inside.

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Know what I think?

It’s from Cissy.

I think this woman who was tough as steel left an imprint as soft as a feather upon this earth. Thus, I’ll think of Cissy whenever I see it. And I’ll smile. Just like I do with tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses and pajamas and slippers and lotion.

And I’ll become resolute as I recall Cissy’s words. That we are meant to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult.

And this coming year, I’ll try to follow her footsteps.

Striving to be strong just like her,

battling courageously,

fighting the good fight.

That’s what I’ll do.

If I make a New Year’s Resolution at all, it’ll be to be like her.

The strongest woman I’ve known.

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Me and Cissy, October 2012

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

lap of luxury

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When I was really little, I didn’t want much. And because I was somewhat sheltered, I retained my innocence. I was satisfied with my lot in life. At least for a while.

No, I wasn’t embarrassed that my backyard was asphalt or my playground a cow pasture. Or that our apartment on the backside of a store consisted of only a small kitchen and living room, one door-less bedroom and a teeny-tiny bathroom sans bathtub.

I simply hated it, though, when Mama (that’s what I called her back then) wanted to wash my hair. Sometimes I’d hide under the bed as long as possible, the coolness of concrete against my cheek. If I wasn’t jerked out, I’d eventually succumb to my fate and army crawl out so I could step up onto a pile of books in front of the miniscule sink. But I’d struggle a little with Mama as she washed away the dirt and grime.

None of this bothered me. And the only reason I objected to my brother’s bed being at the foot of Mama’s and Daddy’s was because I had to sleep on the couch. All by myself. I’d lay there overcome by terror awaiting an attack from the boogie man.

So I’d say, at four or so, I was happy. Contented. Back then the most luxurious thing I craved was attention. And I got that from Grandma. All of us grandkids did. It seemed as if we were her sole purpose in life for she loved us so.

Indeed, Grandma’s lap was a place of luxury when I was small. A coveted spot where you could be special. If only for a moment. And the center of someone else’s world as you were lavished by love.

It’s Grandma’s lap I fondly remember this day. How for a sweet moment in time, that’s all it took to make me happy. And I wonder when things changed. When was the day I exchanged her lap of luxury in search for another one… the kind the world could afford me.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

My roots are blue-collar all the way. Working class to the core. One grandfather was a farmer and the other a housepainter. My Mammie was a housewife and mother to a huge brood of youngins. And Grandma? Before she was widowed, her husband was a farmer. And much too soon, Grandma was left with four kids to raise all by herself.

I can’t imagine the strain. And I don’t know when she began working for the hospital but that was her means of income for the longest time. Because that blue polyester uniform is attached to so many memories I have of her…

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Here’s the thing, though. I don’t remember Grandma complaining about her lot. Or pining away for a better life. She was always sensible and when one of us got upset, she’d soothe and comfort and settle things down. She had no need of silver spoons and golden coins for it didn’t take much to make her happy…

Bingo once a week and a basket full of yarn for crocheting. The Young and the Restless on the tube and a shopping trip to the thrift stores. Grandma was content.

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And I was, too. Till one day, I decided I wanted more out of life.

The leech has two suckers
    that cry out, “More, more!”

There are three things that are never satisfied—
    no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
the grave,
    the barren womb,
    the thirsty desert,
    the blazing fire. Proverbs 30:15-16

I believe most folks want more for their kids. That’s the dream, right? Making things better for our offspring. But I question that today. Because if each generation handles life in that manner… when is better enough?

See, my Grandma had a hard life and yet, she was happy. Content. And though my mom faced great trials, she too found contentment. In the end, she ended up with more than Grandma had. My dad, too. And in looking back, I see my parents gave me and my brother more than they ever dreamed of having.

It’s Christmas that stands out. Daddy would bring home a cedar tree and place it in a 5 gallon bucket. Oh, the scent would fill our nostrils as it filled every nook and cranny of our small abode. Sonny and I’d eagerly watch as Mama covered the bucket with wrapping paper and string the tree with lights. Then our turn came to decorate.

Later, when gifts were piled underneath, I’d count them. And Mom knew to have the same number for each of us. Value meant little in the face of quantity. It could have been a pack of gum, but there darn well better have been an equal amount of presents. I’d shake them and press them and wonder…

One Christmas, though, as I was covered up to my neck in paper, I dared ask… “Is this is?” That was the year of the Golden Dream Barbie. And what an affront this must have been to my mom. But she didn’t yell. Instead, she was gentle as she called me to her and sat me in her lap. She shared with me about her own Christmases, and how very little she received.

And though I felt sad for her, I don’t think the lesson really took. Not till now. In the face of my own children. Because I’ve been trying to give Levi more than I had. And let me tell you, he has a lot. Spoiled, even? And I’m noticing a problem. The more I give, the more he wants.

Moreover, my son seems to think everything is replaceable… that there’ll always be another one coming his way.

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It was a gun that opened my eyes. Levi just bought it a couple of weeks ago and I found it covered in mud. And though I applaud his creativity in making a fort and using his imagination, it pains me I didn’t think to tell him… “Bring your toys inside!” Because without my instruction, he wouldn’t think to on his own.

Now, the gun doesn’t work. The firing noises silenced by the downpour of rain. When I mentioned it, he said it was only four dollars and he can always get another.

And so today I see there’s a problem. We’ve wronged him. In our attempt to give Levi a better life, we’ve inadvertently given him the idea that items have little or no value. Easily replaced. No need to take care and appreciate what we do have because there’ll always be another.

And I’d have to say, this mentality is the epitome of living in the lap of luxury. Because luxury always affords you another…

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Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. Numbers 11:31

I love to read about the Israelites in the Old Testament. Particularly the 15th and 16th chapter of Exodus. Because on the heels of receiving freedom at the hand of God, we find the people grumbling and complaining early on in their journey. I can relate.

Oh, they were thirsty and hungry. All too quickly, they forgot the miracles. They chose to focus on the one thing they wanted. Discontentment set in.

God provided manna, bread from heaven, but it wasn’t enough. Eventually, the people remembered all the good foods they partook of in Egypt. Before God. Leeks, melons, cucumbers. And meat. Oh, they wanted meat. So they voiced it. Basically, they were sick of their lot in life and what God provided. They wanted more. Something different. Something better.

God gave them their desire. He told them He’d send meat so much so it would come out of their nostrils. And it did. Quail making them sick. Some even died there in the midst of their journey. In their graves of craving.

And that term strikes a chord with me. For I know I spent most of my life right there… mourning my lot in life and grumbling and complaining. Always wanting more and more and never getting enough. Refusing to accept what God lay before me. Resisting to rest in the gift of the day.

Grieving instead, alongside my tomb. Wasting my life as I pined away for what was out of reach…

I died in my grave of craving.

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I tell you the truth, I journeyed for years seeking the lap of luxury. I lived life just like my son. I guess he learned it from me.  Because my parents gave me more than they had. And Grandma gave me more than she had. And God gave to me. Everything. He gave me everything He had…

So I lived carelessly. Recklessly. I always thought there’d be another coming my way. I discarded things way too easily. I didn’t place enough value on what life, and God, handed me.

And because I walked it, I can say this. Not always, but sometimes the lap of luxury makes no room for babies. At least for me, it didn’t. Or I didn’t. Because in seeking more out of life, I thoughtlessly gave up what I had been given. I threw away the gift of motherhood, making no room in my womb. For sure, at twenty-two, I made no room on my lap. Placing no value on the life inside me, I threw it all away.

Because one day, there’d be another.

Right?

And after all, tomorrow is another day.

Right?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Funny thing about my name. Pamela means as sweet as honey. But for so long, I was anything but. Sweet turned to bitter as I grumbled and complained. Luxury complaints as my husband termed them. Things like, “this mattress has plastic on it,” as I grumbled about my sleeping arrangements at our high-dollar lake house.

And then there’s my son. Lukewarm water easily spewed from his mouth as he said, “My water is warm.” And the ultimate? We rented a jet ski for four hours. We didn’t think two would be enough. Turns out three was plenty as Levi became bored with the activity.

Oh, my son… definitely following my lead. Always wanting something different. God help him to not follow my path. Or God help me to help him not to. From this moment on.

For I always sought that lap of luxury. I didn’t realize there was already one in reach. Like hers. Grandma’s lap. What a treasure. And how I missed it. I completely overlooked what I had looking for something more. But one day, God said enough.

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God called to me…

“Pam!” And because I was listening, I heard Him at the open door of my tomb. For I am His daughter and I know His voice. He told me everything I ever did and what was to come. And indeed, I am blessed for I chose to believe what He foretold.

It’s true, I saw the risen Lord. He rose alongside the hope that rose in my chest. And I rose, too, from my grave of craving. He filled me with His wind and His Spirit caused me to move on from there. That’s when He commanded me.

Go! Tell others the story. And so I do.

Jesus answered, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. John 14:23

God called my name long ago just before returning me to my home. But in coming home, He calls me to really return. All the way… to Him and also to my roots. To my heritage. To a time of simplicity in which things matter more. A time in which value is placed on each day. And the small things. And everything. Because this may be the last day we have.

God calls me to not take things for granted. Like my grandma’s lap. Because it may not be here tomorrow.

God calls me to appreciate what He gave me. And He calls me to make room for more. In my heart and in my lap. Because that’s what mothers do. They make room in their hearts and on their laps for children. And pining away for all the other stuff takes up that space.

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Today the miracle is like Grandma’s, mine becomes a lap of luxury, too. A place sought after by my own children. A place where they can be the center of my world as I lavish them with love. Extravagant love. And so, I don’t have to look to tomorrow anymore. Not as I hold my little ones tight.

In truth, I find I’m content with what I already have. And like Grandma, I am satisfied with my lot in life. Simplicity. Thankful God brought be back home. And back to reality. To my reality. Amazed to find I’ve lived a lavish life after all.

But only in coming home to my roots could I discover it. And as my eyes were opened, I asked God for His forgiveness. Please forgive me, my God, for I never realized how extravagant you really were with me.

Yes, right here in the heart of my small home, and in the midst of my small town, I find I’m living in the lap of luxury…

And it’s the place I always wanted to be.

What choosing life looks like…

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The above is similar to something I saw on Facebook recently. And there was a challenge… repost if you’re against abortion. And I thought about it. But I hesitated. And then I just scrolled on. Because honestly, I wasn’t up for it. See, I’ve been in a funk. My new baby is here and I’ve been pretty busy. Sleep has been interrupted and my hormones are all over the place. ALL OVER THE PLACE. I have crying and laughing episodes within minutes of each other. In fact, this  past weekend I just sat on the couch and cried and cried. Tears streamed as my husband and son sat near me. But they weren’t alarmed. No, there was no cause for real concern because this is just the norm for me. At least for now it is. My son even says, “Mom, you’re so sensitive.” And so, I am. Sensitive. Ultra-sensitive.

You know, there’s no real reason for my funk. On Saturday, after a very trying car ride into town, I tried to use hormones as an excuse. But my husband called me on it. And rightfully so because what in the world do I have to complain about? I have been blessed. Incredibly so.

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See what I mean. Look at who rests in my arms. And gaze upon the boy who sits by my side. They’re my children and the joy they bring is evident upon my face. At least it was that day. Truth is, I’ve strapped on those inward goggles. I’ve been a bit homebound lately, and so, me and my little corner of the world is all I’ve seen. And despite blessings beyond compare, I’ve felt some sadness. Perhaps a bit of post-partum depression. But this morning, I seemed to have woken up. And it seems I am to revisit a subject I prefer to remain closed. But every now and then, He prompts me. And so, here I go again…

Choose life.

Choose life. I’m sure you’ve seen this phrase displayed upon yellow license plates along with children’s cartoon faces. Here, I’ll show you…

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It’s the Pro-Life movement’s cry. Choose life! And though on this plate, the faces are cartoons… in real life, they’re flesh and blood. Real live children. But I won’t enter the debate of when life begins. That’s for another rainy day because in truth, we believe what we believe. Some say life begins at conception while others say a specific number of weeks. Me? I dare say life begins before time began. Life began the moment God thought you into existence. But that’s not the issue I want to probe today. It’s this catchy phrase – choose life – that captures my attention. See, it comes from Deuteronomy 30:19 and the rest of that phrase says, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” And you know, because of my past I can testify to that statement. Because I chose not to. Choose life, that is. Rather, I chose what the world says is okay. And the end result was death. In more ways than one.

Nineteen years ago, I made a choice. I was in another country and felt pretty much alone. And because I decided to do what’s deemed legal, I made another choice. The choice not to research what was going on inside my body. I had no clue what was taking place inside my womb. And so, I chose to remain ignorant. Because ignorance is bliss, right? I’m not sure if I was offered a sonogram or not. If I was, oh, that I had chosen to see. Oh, that I had taken a closer look. But instead, I made an appointment that forever changed my life. The doctor placed his hand on my belly and said, “Go to sleep, Pam…” And so I did. And it seems as if for the past nineteen years, I’ve been dozing on and off. Hitting the snooze button more times than I ought to have. But this morning, God woke me up. He said, “Get up!”

And so, here I am. Getting out of bed. And using what He gave me… my voice. Because it’s my right. Freedom of speech. And because I’ve lived through my choices, I feel I should say what needs to be said about abortion. In a non-condemning and non-self-righteous kind of way. Because I’ve heard it from others folks… those who perhaps haven’t walked through it. Well, sometimes they come across in a way I hope not to. But I walked that way. I know firsthand what it does to a woman. That it brings death and curses with it. And though I’ve come very far with it, rising above the ashes of my past, there’s a bit more to process. A nugget remains buried deep. But for today, I’ll do what I can. I’ll encourage others to go another route. The route that brings blessing. The path of life. May they choose it. For this is what choosing life looks like…

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I was brought to tears this morning. Of course, that’s not surprising. As I said, my hormones are ALL OVER THE PLACE. However, these were tears of joy for a dear friend of mine. Today is a big day as she’s adopting a baby. And while praying for her, and the mother who decided to give her child away to another, I remembered. That poster I chose not to display on my Facebook wall came to mind. And I remembered something else… that November is adoption awareness month. And I saw something beautiful. For there is a selfless woman who’s making the right choice. She decided not to abort her baby, but placed her little girl up for adoption instead. And today, I celebrate the life she chose. And not just a newborn baby’s life, but also my friend’s. For new life has been breathed into her longing heart. It’s what she wanted most… a baby of her own. A little one to call her “Mama.” And so, her dream comes true today. All because a woman made a choice. She chose life. And because she did, both she and her descendants shall live.

One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.” “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your bedroll and walk!” Instantly the man got well, picked up his bedroll, and started to walk. John 5:8-9

This morning, it was as if I awoke from a deep slumber. See, I’ve been in a funk. Tears and hormones and darkness. I’ve been sleeping. But today I hear God anew. He asked me if I want to be well. And I do. Oh, I’m sick alright, but mostly… I’m sick of me. Because I am blessed. Despite terrible choices I made long ago, God has blessed my path. And now, He expects me to get up, pick up my bedroll and walk. Because what’s past is past. And just because I made bad choices a long time ago doesn’t mean I have to dwell there. In the dark. Sleeping. Oh, that doctor may have said go to sleep, but God says wake up. He shows me I can celebrate the other choices I made. The right ones. Their names are Levi and Annabelle. And they make my life beautiful everyday. I just have to be awake to see that.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61:1-3

 

My Son, A Burnt Offering

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“There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in life… we are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety.” A.W. Tozer

I often write about the journey. Because that’s just what I’m on. And not just me, but each one of us is on a pilgrimage of sorts… a spiritual trek through a temporary land. But personally, my journey doesn’t always feel so spiritual. For the temporal is what lies before me, swallowing me whole as the eternal dims in my view. It’s the tangible that I touch, and smell, and hear and taste. And so, what’s right before my eyes feels the most real to me. This is what I cling to. The things I can hold.

This week, I found myself facing something yet one more time. Something I don’t like to think about at all. But sometimes, it consumes me. Every fiber of my being is filled with terror. It’s the thought of losing my child. My son. My one and only son, whom I love. The fear began the day he was born.

I’m sure most moms face this fear, but with me, I think mine’s a bit irrational. Some may even say I’m high-strung. See, after my child was born, I didn’t know what to do with myself and couldn’t relax. I found myself creeping to his crib more than once a night to hear the sound of his breathing and to feel the rise and fall of his chest. And the poor guy couldn’t sleep. Probably because I used a sleep positioner so he couldn’t budge an inch. No, I didn’t want him to move at all.

Not only that, no blankets were allowed for some time. The thought of SIDS overwhelmed me, so I used a zip on blanket. Finally, when I relented and allowed a real blanket to share his crib, it had to be wrapped around him super snug, to the armpits only, and inside the positioner. I didn’t want it to come loose. See, I tried to bind my son and keep him from movement in hopes of warding off harm.

And then there was the video monitor. That was a necessity for I wanted to lay eyes on him anywhere, anytime. It comforted me to see him. All of this reassured me. The tangible. I’d touch him and hear him and hold him. Attached is the word I’d use. I was so attached to my son. And over time, he became attached to me.

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This week, it was an article on dry-drowning that tripped me up. And my goodness, I’ve traveled so far with this issue. I thought I was over and done with it. And yet, I read about a little one dying hours after being at a water hole. This horrified me. Immediately, my thoughts jumped to this coming summer… a future lake vacation and later, summer camp. My son will visit a lake two times. And water happens to be one of my greatest fears. I swim minimally so this is something I project onto my son. I fear for him when it comes to water play. And two days ago, the reality of dry-drowning (I won’t go into details) had me in a sheer panic. So, worry utterly consumed me. The article was before my eyes and tangible. It was real. And so, as I read the words, I became filled with fear and dread. Fear of losing what’s so important to me. My son. My one and only boy child, whom I love.

Amazing how God works. See, I read that scary article about dry-drowning but it was later that morning when I read something else. The second chapter A.W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God, is called The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing. And within those pages, Tozer visited the story of Abraham and Isaac. So, just hours after reading about a child dying, God led me to this very issue through the words of Tozer. And through His very own words located in Genesis 22. Which happens to be a chapter in the Bible I try to avoid. Because it scares me.

One day, God called out to Abraham with instructions. I wonder if he would have replied so readily if he knew what God was going to say. For on the heels of answering God, “Here I am,” Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. And this puts chills down my spine. For God called out, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” And although it’s not mentioned in Genesis, Tozer brings to mind the struggle Abraham must have gone through. He remarked on what a wrestling match it must have been between Abraham and God. And this is what brings tears to my eyes.

Do you think Abraham argued with God? Do you think he pleaded as Jesus did in the garden before He Himself was sacrificed? Did Abraham utter, “If possible, take this cup from me. But nevertheless, Your will be done and not my own?” How he must have writhed in agony and dreaded the following morning when he was to set off on a journey. Three days it took to reach the designated spot. Did each footstep fall heavier and heavier? Finally, the time arrived. And Abraham’s words to his fellow journeyers? “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Worship. That’s what Abraham said.

Two days ago, I contemplated Abraham’s words. He was leading his child to an altar. His child was to be the sacrifice. And this is what he called worship. Abraham worshiped God in taking wood and laying it on the very back of the boy who was to be slain. The very picture of Jesus who, on His own journey to sacrifice, had to carry His own wood. Abraham carried the fire and the knife and walked on with his son to do the unthinkable. How Abraham must have inwardly wept when Isaac looked up at his daddy with trusting eyes… “My father.” In reply, “Here I am, my son.” The boy made inquiry… “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Where is the lamb? Oh, Abraham’s heartbreak for he was staring right at the little lamb. How trusting Abraham must have been as he uttered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And that He did years and years later in offering up His own Son. His one and only in whom He loved.

The two walked on to the place God told of, and there, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Do you think Abraham looked into his son’s eyes as he did so? Were they filled with tears? Were Isaacs? How could Abraham have had the strength to reach for that knife? I don’t know that I could have. I just don’t. But Abraham did. He reached out for it in order to slay his son. And this act… this offering of his son, His one and only son Isaac, whom he loved, is what he meant when he said they were going to worship.

No, it’s no accident I read about dry-drowning and the story of Abraham and Isaac in one day. Because through two separate sources, something was brought to the forefront of my heart and mind. See, I thought I already dealt with the irrational fear. Over and done with. Finished. But Tuesday morning, I knew a remnant remained within. So, on the floor of my bathroom I cried out and prayed to the God who hears. For I saw what God wanted me to… the blessedness of possessing nothing.

Abraham’s act highlighted this lack of possession. For in offering his son, he was releasing the hold he had on Isaac. Or rather, the hold Isaac had on him. See, Isaac had become too much of his reality. Abraham saw him daily. He touched and smelled and heard and held his son. And because he had been holding to him for so long, this is what Abraham held the tightest. Isaac replaced God. And so, God said stop. Give what you hold dearest to me. And this is what God says to me.

It’s true, I cling to my child. Always have. I’m over-protective. Because I think my overbearing manner will protect him. I think that if I’m with him, I can keep him safe. My eyes and hands on him. Touching him. Directing him. But what I know to be true is that the more I try to possess my son – to own him and keep him – the more I am possessed by him. My little one owns me in that he fills my thoughts. My heart. And I cannot bear the thought of losing him. Thus, fear. Thoughts of keeping this little boy of mine safe consume me. Replacing God. For my son is who I see daily. Before my eyes. He is my one and only, whom I love.

And so Tuesday morning, God got my attention. Again. He called out to me and said, “Pam! Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and offer him to me as a burnt offering.” And so, once more I tried to. On the floor of my bathroom. I wrestled. I cried out, “Take this cup from me. But nonetheless, not my will but Yours be done.” And so afterward, I offered my son. My only son. To God. On the altar of my bathroom floor. And in releasing him to God, my son’s hold on me is loosened. My grip is not as tight. For I realize he was never truly mine to begin with. For He’s God’s possession. So, in releasing what’s tangible, what I can see and smell and hear and hold, I am freed to grab hold of something else. The intangible. The unseen. By offering my son, a burnt offering, I find I am free to take hold of God once more. Once again, there’s room in my heart for Him. This is how I worship God.

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Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

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What the cave looks like.

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My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Philippians 3:10-11

The heart of my journey really began four years ago. That’s when I purposed to know God.  For my determined purpose at that time was that I would know Him, that I would become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, and that I would perceive and recognize and understand the wonders of His person (Philippians 3:10, AMP). Beautiful and inspiring words. However, I conveniently overlooked the last portion of that verse. The part about being conformed to His death. So basically, when Philippians 3:10 became my heart prayer, I didn’t fully comprehend what it was I was asking for. I didn’t realize that in order to know Him the way I wanted to, I’d first have to know His Son. Essentially, I’d have to first taste death. While in this body. The hope being that I would be resurrected here and now. And so, to know Him as I so purposed, I would have to rise from the dead just as He did. But that would have to take place here on earth.

I didn’t know this four years ago. And because God sent me to my land of promise after the above became my prayer, I thought I had already attained a resurrected life. For I was lifted up and on top of the world as I made my triumphant entry. But, in contemplating another triumphant entry, the triumphant entry, I can easily spot the differences. For He rode into town on a donkey. Me? I straddled a high horse as I made my entrance. He came to die. Me? I came home to live. Funny that He died and rose to eternal life, whereas I held tight to my life, resulting in a slow death.

At some point in the past couple of years, I realized I had to die to self. But you know, I really died long before then for I had succumbed to death in another manner. It’s the book of James that describes such a death with the rich man withering away in pursuit of his activities. And although my activities were not necessarily bad things, I just allowed them to consume me. Like being a workaholic. Or how about begin a perfectionist? Or trying to fit too many things into a schedule? Or one of my greatest loves is sleep. I could easily sleep my life away. But the thing I have felt the guiltiest about is how I handled the first few months after settling into our home here. My son was always up before me. My little four year old had to get me out of bed. And so, guilt assailed me. And yet, I could not seem to get my priorities straight. That’s when depression set in. And as we’ve all heard, sleep is a sign of depression. So more sleep ensued.

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This is what happened in my home. I slept. And felt guilt. And sank into such a rut. And the more I walked in my rut, the deeper the grooves became. Before I knew it, walls of dirt surrounded me growing higher and higher as I dug out my pit. And before I knew it, the last pile of dirt was thrown on top. And there I was… lying in a heap of guilt. In my own home, my sanctuary, my cave, my hide-out. It was here that I died a spiritual death for my bedroom became my tomb. But this wasn’t the end of my story. In fact, it was just the beginning of new life. For God didn’t let me stay where I was.

My life began to turn around in my bedroom. Because when I couldn’t stand myself one minute more, I relented. I began to set my alarm clock so that I would wake before my son. And before he stirred, I sought comfort from Scripture. In this room, my heart began to beat again as I sought to be near God. And within these four walls I finally came to terms with God and His ways. Here I came to know Him as I so purposed four years earlier. Yes, it may be true that I died here. But more importantly, it’s here that He brought me back to life. And it’s here that He bids me to rise today.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:32-44

A miracle occurred in Bethany when Lazarus, who had been dead for days, emerged from his tomb. No different than the miracle that took place in my bedroom. For though I entered it one way, over time, I came out differently. Transformed. And in looking back I can honestly say I am not who I once was. I may have fallen asleep and into a tomb of guilt, but I rise up a new creature. But, oh, I still slip up as evidenced by Mother’s Day. As a lover of sleep, the one thing I wanted as a gift from my family was a nap. A glorious lie-down. And so, I told my son… 99 minutes! Afterward, I’d play badminton. But first, my nap. So we set the timer on the microwave (thus the 99 minutes – if I could have made it longer, I would have). And I lay there. I drifted off easily, but awoke too soon. I heard little fingers on that timer. Beep. Beep. Beep. But not the normal timer. I heard a little sing-song voice say, “The timer’s off.” But I knew it was too early. No way had 99 minutes passed. So I told him, “It’s not time!” He decided to play I-pad on the bed while I dozed. Once, twice, twenty times more, I was jostled awake by his body as it jerked along with the characters of the game.  My own body shuddered with inward sighs. Then, the roar of a lawn-mower followed by a drone of a weed eater, both outdone by the blower. Loudness. My little one checked the clock. I heard a whisper, “Five more minutes.” Then his footsteps on the basement steps rivaled by the clacking of badminton rackets. “Three more minutes…”

No, I wasn’t a happy creature Mother’s Day afternoon. It must have been apparent as my little one looked down at me, “Oh, you don’t want to get up because you’re so comfortable?” My response was to flop over onto my back with my arm outstretched. “Oh no, she’s dead,” he said in a playful voice. But in hearing this, I arose. Because I am not dead. And I couldn’t deny it any longer… for when I heard the clack of the rackets, I knew my time had come. It made no difference that I really had five more minutes. Because when you’re called forth, you’re called forth. Kind of like with the tomb. It may feel like we need a few more minutes. But when it’s time, He calls.

As sure as I heard the rattling of the rackets on Mother’s Day, I hear Him now. He calls to me, “Pam, come out!” And so, it’s time. I remove my grave clothes and walk forward.

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