July 30, 2007

When you come to a fork in the road....Take it

My dear husband loves Yogi Bera and one of his favorite "Yogi-isms" is:

"When you come to a fork in the road....Take it"

This past month, God has placed a fork in my road and it was up to me to choose which path to follow. This is not the first time I have faced a fork in the road because there have been many, many decision-making opportunities during the past 23 years of my married life. Somehow, this fork was different because instead of simply being a choice between "A" and "B", this time the choice was whether or not I would follow the Lord or continue to walk on my own.

I have been walking on my own for a very long time and though my life has been modestly blessed, it is fair to say that my path has not been smooth nor has it been easy. No, my path has been full of rocks and steep inclines and plagued by many twists and turns. At the least it has been interesting; at the most it has been challenging. I am sure there are many people out there who love an interesting challenge and would heartily welcome a journey full of unknowns and unending decisions. For me, I have learned how to deal with a life full of "unknowns" and in truth, it would not be the "way" of my choosing, had I known what I know now (funny how hindsight is always 20/20). I would have chosen something completely different, something far more gentle and calm and peaceful. I would have chosen the easy way, the path of least resistance, the way that offered the best opportunity to experience the most life had to offer me. It has been the "way," of course, and whether I want to admit it or not, I did indeed choose it. I also accepted it as a "normal" part of life. It was just how life was supposed to be. It wasn't until recently that I began to wonder if this "way" of life was really normal, was really ideal. Was this the life of a true believer? Is this what the Lord promised, is this His ideal experience?

After careful consideration and plenty of time on my knees, I realized that there are two "normals" in life: there is the "normal" that comes along with the natural life and then there is the "normal" that comes along with the supernatural life. The natural life or the life before Christ is fraught with stress and frustration because it's dependency is placed squarely upon mortal man. The supernatural life or the life after Christ is a blessed journey rooted firmly and deeply upon dependence and faith in God. I know that many believers, myself included, spend a great deal of "life" living in the natural. Satan feeds our minds and suggests to us that this is the "normal" life of a Christian. Even though the believer is saved by grace, life after Christ is just as Thomas Hobbes suggested: it is nasty, brutish and short. There is no difference between the "before Christ" model and the "after Christ" model. This is not true, of course, but many believers seem to fall into this mindset. Life is meant to be hard. Life is meant to be a struggle. Life is meant to be difficult. Deal with it. Get over it. Just do it.

I honestly believed that this was the case with my life and that no matter how much I wished it were different, the sad truth was that it would never be any different. My life would be difficult and unpleasant and while I could experience "joy" for moment in time, it would be fleeting and not and every day, common experience. C.S. Lewis titled his biography "Surprised by Joy" and in it spoke of how he came to understand this precious and most blessed concept of "joy". Furthermore, he suggested that this "joy" was the "right" or privilege of every believer. He went on to say that this supernatural "joy" didn't happen overnight; no, it came upon him after several years of careful and attentive study in God's word. I read this biography last year, at a point in my life when the last thing I experienced daily was joy. I had absolutely no joy in my life. My life paralleled the sad and desperate sentiment in Wordworth's tender poem:

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Although Wordsworth wrote this poem in rememberance of his deceased daughter, Catherine, there is something hauntingly familiar to his words. How often we look to the long dead past for our remembrance of joy. Joy of happier days. Joy of family and friends. Joy of expectation. Joy of marriage and children. Yes, it often seems we recognize joy only in the past, in our memory, but not in the now and not in our every day existence. Joy is fleeting and is only available to us when we stop and remember the past.

In many ways, my concept of joy was also tied to past experiences and just as Wordsworth recalled that deep seated sense of loss that comes with the passing of a child, I, too looked at distant days and memories of bygone opportunities. Yes, moments of joy, fleeting and interspersed amongst long, dry and very difficult days. As I looked back I only saw missed opportunities. Missed blessings. Missed chances. Missed pathways. Missed choices. My life was spent in daily rehearsal of days gone by. Hurt feelings. Rejection and disappointment. Hopelessness. Failure. When I looked forward, there was no bright future, no shining moment yet to be born. No, my life was up to this point: nasty, brutish, and well on it's way to being very short. I was not "surprised by joy" and I didn't believe that joy, that kind of joy C.S. Lewis experienced would ever be a regular part of my life.

It is interesting how a life-changing episode can refine your perspective and often bring you right back to that "spiritual" fork in the road, the one where you must choose to follow God or to continue to follow your own desires. I think we are constantly facing that very same fork in the road. Daily we are asked to choose our path. Joshua put it this way as he addressed the children of Israel:

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. - Joshua 24:14

Joy is a choice. It is the right of every believer because it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Bible promises us that we can have joy and we can have it in abundance. Our life doesn't have to be mundane, routine, and depressing. Yes, there will be hardship at times and yes, there will be trial and temptation; but joy "inexpressible" can be within the reach of every believer, every day and in every moment of their life.

1 Peter 1:8 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy...."

The lack of joy in one's life is not "normal." The Bible is very clear on this point. The born-again, blood-bought, grace redeemed life is meant to experience joy on a daily, moment by moment basis. It is a bad case of the "normals" to be joyful, to be filled with joy. It is quite the opposite to spend one's day stressed out and out of sorts and depressed over the circumstances in life.

If you are longing for joy and would like to experience it daily as a fresh blessing, a well-spring of nourishing life, then know that you can only find it by taking that spiritual fork in the road, the one always confronting you, the one you see before you each and every day. Take the fork that leads upward, the path that leads you into the arms of the Almighty and into a relationship filled with "joy inexpressible".

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. -John 15:11

May the God of hope fill you with all
joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13

A New Dawn

It will be one month tomorrow since my dear husband suffered a potentially fatal heart attack. The Drs believe that he was on his way to having the infamous "widow maker" attack, the kind that presents no symptoms until the moment when the heart stops beating. My dear husband was given a God-breathed, God-blessed, and God-created deliverance and he is here today because the Lord God Almighty chose it to be so.

As I reflect on the past month, I plainly see the mighty hand of God upon my life. From His life-giving miracle to His providential care and provision, He has carried us through each day and met every need we have had. Our future is secure and our hope is firmly fixed. We are trusting the Lord to continue to lead us through the coming days and are relying upon His grace and mercy to sustain us. God is so very good and His mercy endureth forever!

Psalm 46:10 (New International Version)

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

July 11, 2007

Here I am Lord, Send Me!

I am not really sure when the Lord shared His plans with me. It may have been as early as Sunday afternoon or maybe it was Monday or Tuesday. I just remember telling my dear husband about them last Wednesday. I had been praying for David's recovery and during a brief down period, resting at home, I felt the Lord pressing upon me and calling me to come and sit with Him awhile. I cannot really explain what this feels like but if you have ever experienced it, then you know "exactly" what I mean. I often find the Lord asking me to come and sit with Him -- sometimes I feel that I am to read my Bible and other times it is to pray for a specific person or need. But sometimes it is just to come and sit and be still.

This was one of those times and as I dragged myself into my prayer closet I thought "Oh Lord, what now?" It wasn't that I was frustrated with Him, oh my no! It was more that I was so very tired and a bit "out of it." I had been at the hospital with David for several days and had lost an entire nights sleep. I am not one who can go without sleep, in fact, I get downright miserable to be around if I don't get a full 10 hours of sleep each night. I had been running back and forth from the hospital, chauffeuring my son to and from friend's homes, my parents home, church events (trying to keep things as "normal" as possible for him). I was beat and to add fuel to the fire, had to deal with a very young 7-week old kitten (adopted the previous week and still needing quite a bit of care). I had my plate full -- husband in ICU, family rallying around me, calls from worried friends, tiny kitten needing special feedings, and then a general sense of "overwhelm" added into the final mix. But He was calling me and despite my feelings of tiredness, I obeyed. Boy, am I glad I did.

I found myself sitting on the floor when He pressed into me and said "hello." He has done this before, and it is unexplainable, unless you have been there as well. In a moment I was in tears (again) and crying out to Him and sharing my fears, my frustration, my sorrow, and my loss of control. It is a wonderful thing to be wrapped up in the arms of the Almighty. I once heard a dear Godly woman say that she often fell into the arms of her Lord and how wonderful it felt (she had recently experienced divorce). This was nearly 25 years ago and I often thought about her words and wondered what that "felt" like. I have never needed to feel His arms around me. I have always been quite capable of handling most of life's little disruptions on my own. I might cry a bit, stomp my feet, or scream out loud, but I never really felt that sense of "dread" or total "overwhelm" sensation. Well, that is, not until this past week.

I began to pour out my heart to my Lord and ask Him for His help and guidance. I needed answers -- how would we make ends meet -- what if David could no longer work -- how would we handle the medical bills -- what would we do about home schooling (would we continue or would I put our son in public school again?)

The questions seemed unending, but instead of feeling sad and depressed, I began to feel quite liberated. I heard my Lord say to me, "Carol, do you trust me?" He has said this to me before, several times over the past year. I thought for a moment and said "yes, Lord, I do." Frankly, there wasn't anything else I could say because our situation, at this very moment in time, was so BIG that there was no way I could see a way out of it. Our medical bills would more than likely be in the 50-60K range. David is self-employed and we live meagerly, pay check to pay check. There just isn't going to be money left over to pay doctors and hospitals. Medication per month will be nearly $500 and without a prescription plan, we will need to find a way to purchase these life-saving pills each month.

As I sat there sobbing and groaning before the Lord (literally groaning -- just like what the Bible says -- that the Holy Spirit groans in ways deeper than words), His will became clear to me. I saw a vision of our future. I am a visual person and often say that "I need to see" something before I can truly understand it. I think the Lord gave me a "glimpse" of what could be, just to help me "see" His plan and know that it was good. I immediately sensed confidence and a "knowing" feeling inside. I cannot really describe it, but it was just as if I "knew" that what the Lord was telling me and showing me was true and that I could trust Him to provide and meet our needs.

At first, I was relieved, overjoyed, and filled with praise. After awhile the thoughts began to crash in -- but how? How would this new plan work out? What about...? As the weeks have progressed the feeling of "knowing" has not diminished at all. In fact, I am more confident today that the Lord will do as He has promised to me. He has answered some of my questions but many of them are not known at this time. There is work for me to do -- I must "trust" Him and wait for Him. I have to be patient and let Him work out the details in my life.

I can only say that it is an exciting thing to be caught within the mighty hands of God. It is liberating, it is exhilarating, it is wondrous. There is no better place to me than to be in His midst and to know that He is working out His will in your life (to will and to work for His good pleasure!) Praise God for He is so good!

July 6, 2007

When Life Intervenes...What Do You Do?

As I write this blog entry, my dear husband, David, has been in the Intensive Care Unit of Paradise Valley Hospital for nearly a week. We headed over to the E.R. in the middle of the night after David complained of intense stomach pain and difficulty breathing (later added vomiting to that mix). After a series of scans and blood tests to look for gallbladder disease, the Dr.'s surprised us with the diagnosis of heart attack. They admitted him overnight for observation only. The follow day we met with the cardiologist and decided to have angioplasty done (to rule out heart blockage). It was a good thing we chose this route because David's heart was 85% blocked. The Dr.'s cleared the blockage and put in a stent and the hope was that he would be discharged the following day. No such luck! David's hypertension skyrocketed and he ended up being in ICU for 4 days while the staff did everything to bring it under control. It was a close call for us as his pressure remained in the "massive stroke" range for several days.

During this time, it became clear to me that there was a very good chance my dear husband of 22 years would not make it home. Only 49 and in fairly good health, neither of us believed that this could be happening. My prayers for his recovery were answered and the Lord faithfully provided excellent hospital care for him. He came home on Thursday and is under strict orders to rest and remain "stress-free."

It is an interesting feeling to be in this position. I have often visited friends, older relatives, and church family who had a loved one in a life or death position. I just never expected this to happen to me, not now, not yet. So many thoughts ran through my head: how will I make it? How will I take care of my almost 14 year old son? What will we do for income? What about the medical bills? I was confident of the Lord's provision and care but I couldn't fathom how I would be able to handle this "life interruption." I am a competent person, capable and able; yet, I have relied on my dear husband for the past 22 years and have been trusting of his abilities to guide and care for our family.

As I sat on my bathroom floor (Sunday) and cried out to the Lord, the most amazing thing happened. The Lord touched my heart and mind and settled my fears. In an instant, all my worries and doubts, my questions, and my anxieties passed away. His peace and mercy fell upon me and I knew, I just knew, that everything would be OK. I spent the rest of the week rejoicing at every new hope while I continued to lay my burden at His feet. Each time I crawled into my "quiet place," the Lord met me and refreshed me. He gave me quiet strength and the ability to let go and trust Him.

I am so grateful for the Lord's guidance and His never ending mercy and compassion. He has given me direction and a new hope -- a new vision for our future -- one bright with expectation and with dependence upon Him for our every need. My dear husband is recovering and is tolerating the medication well. He is still drained of energy but has started to feel more like his "old self" with each passing new day.

God is so good and His mercy endureth forever. I am praising Him today and thanking Him for His hand of blessing and cup of kindness.