Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lord, Make it Enough

A sweet friend spent years living on the edge, caring night and day for a handicapped son.  There were multiple surgeries, many narrow squeaks, and the overwhelming demands of a growing family intensified by her lack of sleep.  She shared with me once that her cry out to God after many a sleepless night was, “Lord, make it enough.”  And God would provide.  She learned not to dwell on “I am running on empty,” but “Lord, make it enough.”

We have all been there in one fashion or another.  And the evil one seeks to pull each one of us down into the miry bog of seeing life without God’s intervention.  But He is still there.

The disciples cried out to Jesus, “All we have are five stale biscuits and a couple of cold fish nuggets.”

And God made it enough.  “All ate and were satisfied.  And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.” (Luke 9. 17)

The solution was not personal ingenuity or “thinking positive,” or even deliverance from the situation,  but God’s blessing on it.  Hold up your impossible situation to Him, look to heaven, and let Him bless it.  His blessing will sneak into your life today in unexpected ways, despite the storm around you…or the parched wilderness.   And in one way or another, you will see it before your very eyes.  He will redeem.

Your situation may not change, but God can change you.  That is even better.  Get ready to stand amazed.

“Lord, make it enough.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Often when I am out for a run, God will bring to mind people in my life, friends, family, loved ones, and, well, some not so loved.  At times it will be a person with whom I have just had a conversation or read an email.  Sometimes I am surprised – where did that come from?- someone I haven’t thought about in years.  Other times it may be a public figure like the President or person in the news. 

These are not aimless imaginings designed to fill up the vast recesses of my brain.  Over the space of time and by experience, I have LEARNED to recognize these contemplations as nudges from God.  God has placed a particular person front and center in my thoughts not just to think about them, but to pray.  And to pray NOW at that very minute.  We never ever know what that person is facing at that exact moment, an enormous decision, an overwhelming task, or perhaps, a temptation that seeks to bring them down.

I was reminded of these things last week.  The day after my dad died, I received two emails, one right after another, from two old friends who both independently said that God had placed me on their hearts that morning and over the weekend, and that they were praying for me.  They did not know what was happening or even where I was,  but they knew to pray.  And they had no idea how much I needed it.  I feasted in the month of March on the prayers of the saints.

So as you go about your day, grasp that opportunity to pray, no matter how random it may seem.  Because it isn’t.

The prayer of the righteous

         has great power in its effects.

                        James 5.16

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unfinished Business

A couple of nights ago, I slept for the first time since the end of January without the impending dread of a phone call in the middle of the night.  And for the past three weeks, I dozed lightly  like a firefighter – clothes, shoes, and keys set out—waiting for the alarm to sound.  I balanced on an emotional edge, waiting to hear “Come quick,” or “I am so sorry to inform you…”

Last Sunday, I knew even before I answered the phone at 4.55 a.m. in the early morning darkness.  “He’s gone,” my brother told me.  That day and the next, I went through the motions of the things that needed to be done, papers signed, keys turned in, and a final run-through his cluttered apartment.  Condolences arrived, but my heart and mind seemed in the final six miles of a marathon, just keep going, one step and then another, almost home, almost home, the rhythm set my pace.  Sympathies sounded so weak, drowned out by the assurance of a line in an old hymn in church later that morning, “Jesus has conquered the grave.” 

The plane landed late Monday night.  I am back in Chicago, feeling like I have completed a long race, spent and weary.  My dad went Home to be with the Lord on Sunday, finally crossing from one life into the next in a single breath, after lingering in hospice for three weeks, beyond even the belief of the doctors and nurses.  He defied the odds against him his whole life.  He wasn’t about to stop now.

One of the maintenance men who helped me carry some cartons out of his apartment said of Dad’s lingering, “Well, he must have some unfinished business to attend to.”  As I sat by his side for those three weeks, listening to his tales embellished by dementia, and making sure that he knew he was not alone, I realized that the unfinished business was, perhaps, not on his side, but mine.  I had a lot of forgiving to do.  Not condoning hurtful actions, but letting go of the bitterness.  And through the process, I began to see my Dad in a different light.  He could not hurt me anymore.  He was an old man now, dying in a hospice room, surrounded by strangers. 

Like many women I know, I did not have a close relationship with my Dad.  He was largely absent from my upbringing, working long hours, unencumbered by the norms of fatherhood, and dwelling mostly in his own little world.  He never played games with the family.  He never attended programs or meets or our school activities.  I don’t even remember him ever sitting down and watching television with us.  He provided, but even that was mostly on a shoestring.  He once made a skating rink in our back yard one bitter Chicago winter.  And then I found out he was only experimenting with a new kind of plastic.  When I graduated with my Master’s degree, he shook my hand.  I once asked him why he never told us he loved us.  “Because you know I do,” he replied, never a man to waste words.  The first time my husband Bill hugged him, his arms froze, straight out, not knowing what to think.  I had accumulated a lot of emotional baggage to dig through.

So four days before he passed away, his very last words on earth took me by surprise.  I had been with him all day, his eyes were closed, his fragile body rolled from side to side every two hours by the nurses without so much as a groan from him.  It was late.  I was weary, and I needed to leave.  I leaned over and kissed his forehead and said, “I love you, Dad.”

And with eyes closed, he mumbled, “I love you too, honey.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Never Forgotten

A few weeks ago, I attended a church service where the children were invited to sit on the steps at the front of the sanctuary for “a special time with Pastor Frank.”  The pastor started to share with the little ones about times of being afraid and being alone.  “I wonder sometimes if God remembers me,” the pastor said.  Quite suddenly a little boy spoke out in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear:  “He always does,” said the four-or-five year-old.  “He knows you by name.”

Out of the mouth of a mere babe comes the truth that should always be foremost in our thoughts and in the way by which we live.  It will transform how you see yourself, how you see the world, and how you see God.  Nothing will ever be the same. 

But now thus says the LORD,

He who created you, O Jacob,

He who formed you, O Israel,

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name,

         you are Mine.

When you pass through the waters I will be with you,

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you,

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

…Because you are precious in My eyes,

and honored, and I love you.”

                                 Isaiah 43. 1-4

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wearing of the Green

We celebrate today not green beer and leprechauns, but one man’s radical obedience to God, through whom God used to change the course of history.

Patrick was born in 387 in Britain, which was part of the then-crumbling Roman Empire.  He came from a legacy of faith; his father and his grandfather were spiritual leaders in the early church and served as deacons.  When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave.  What seemed as a tragedy in a young man’s life, God used for tremendous good.  In the long hours slaving as a shepherd in the wilderness taking care of his master’s sheep, Patrick spent long hours in prayer and meditation.  In his own words:   “But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time".

Also in this time of exile, he learned the Celtic language and became well-versed in the pagan culture of Ireland, as his master was a high Druid, an important leader in Irish religion and culture.  All these things God fashioned into tools in Patrick’s life which later would be used for His Kingdom.

After six years of enslavement, after being prompted in a dream that “Your ship is ready,” he escaped and fled on foot for 200 miles and found a ship, ready to sail.  He returned to Britain and studied to be a priest.  Nudged again by God in a vision, he returned to Ireland, the land of his captivity and a place of fierce opposition to the Gospel, to be a missionary to the Irish people.  After 30 years of evangelism, he died on March 17 in the year 461.  One of his tools of evangelism was the three-leafed shamrock, which he used to teach unbelievers about the Trinity.

But that is only the beginning of the story.  Patrick’s obedience to God then reverberated throughout the known world.  As chronicled in Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization, God used Patrick as a catalyst for literacy and learning in Ireland while Europe was being invaded and destroyed by barbarians in a period of time we know as the Dark Ages.

So wear the green proudly today in honor of what God can do through one man’s faithfulness to Him.  And as a challenge that we may live obediently for God.  Yes, it matters.  It matters a lot.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ

for all of you,

because your faith is proclaimed

in all the world.

               Romans 1.8

Monday, March 14, 2011

Old and Full of Days

I am sitting here this afternoon next to the bedside of my almost-90 year old father who is deeply asleep, coming to the surface every few minutes to mumble something unintelligible, whispered almost as a prayer, but not to me.  For the past two weeks, I have expected his next breath to be his last.  And in classic form, it appears the last to go will be his famous German stubbornness.

To some, he was a man of character, to others just a character.  He is stubborn and ornery and imperfect and, as he lays here, a picture of redemption.  Because in him and his roughness around the edges, I see my own need for grace.  When it all comes down to it, we all show up at heaven’s gate with nothing to show for ourselves.  Nothing matters but our relationship with Christ, not even what we “did for God.”  We are empty handed, undeserving, and stand in awe and shame for how much God loves us.  We will all stand here one day and face eternity.

And what is this journey, my Dad’s slow creeping towards the other side of life, but to be released from the groaning of a prison cell, a fallen world, and emerge into a world where everything is what it ought to be.  What is broken is restored without seams, all things new.  From solid concrete block walls, grey and cold, to a vista beyond our imagination, so bold that the trees and mountains burst into song and laughter.  Former things now dissolve and can no longer be remembered, except for what is eternal like a baby’s chuckle and truth not surrendered.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,

then we shall see face to face.

Now I know in part;

then I shall know fully,

even as I am fully known.

                 1 Corinthians 13.12

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Letting Go, Part 2

Almost two weeks ago, my daughter and her family moved to Cleveland amidst tearful goodbyes.  They left behind reminders of themselves scattered like toys in a playroom.

That same week brought about a letting go of a different sort.   That Friday afternoon my cell phone rang and I saw a doctor’s name.  My Dad had been in the hospital for over a month.  Before I even answered, I knew it couldn’t be good.  “There is nothing more that I can do for him,” the doctor said.  Dad was transported back to his nursing home.  Doctors there observed him for a few days.  He continued to decline.  And the signs of his body shutting down were becoming more evident.

A few days ago, I signed the papers for Dad to be admitted to hospice.  I had been hesitant to travel that route.  I had viewed the decision as giving up on Dad.  But as the days progressed, I realized that it was not giving up on his getting better;  it was realizing that he was not.  And it was not a matter of giving up, but letting go.  My Dad has mild dementia, so he has no idea that he is so close to the end of this life and the beginning of the new.  But although his body is weak, his dry humor is still strong as ever.  I was reminding him about a restaurant that we had gone to a couple of years ago.  “Do you remember Jason’s?” I asked him.  “No,” he said.  “I can’t remember if it was last year or the year before,” I said.  “Welcome to the club,” he replied.

In the South, people don’t die.  They “pass,” followed by a parade of pound cakes to the home of the deceased.  “Passing” is a very appropriate expression – as an actual passing from one reality to the next.   And in the immortal words of C. S. Lewis, “Christians don’t say goodbye, they just say see you later.” 

That is not an expression of wishful thinking.  God has not left this process a mystery.  You can know without a shadow of a doubt what is on the other side.  We can let my father leave with the assurance in our hearts of KNOWING that we will see him again.  Several weeks ago, when I came down to Florida for the second time in two months, I talked to him about his faith.  Now, please understand that my father was never very verbal about his faith.  Actually when we were growing up, he was not very verbal about anything.  He was a research scientist whose delight was spending long amounts of time alone in a laboratory.  But last month, I asked him pointblank, “Dad, have you ever asked Jesus to be your personal Savior?” He responded immediately. “Of course.  A long time ago.”  He made a choice that grounded him in life and in the hereafter.

Mom and Dad always enjoyed traveling, many times leaving us with no clues to their whereabouts.  But Dad is leaving us now with a destination in mind.  That makes the letting go a lot easier.  We will all miss him, but he will just be waiting on the other side.