Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Chain of Peace

I don't know about you, but this season of Lent...this year...the rest of my life, really, I would like to spend it meditating on ways to peace.  My heart and my soul are places of constant commotion and unrest.  I have shared before, worry is my middle name.  Anxiety is my companion.  And, I'm ashamed to declare it, but fear is often my guide.  I know...it's awful...but if I'm honest, I have to admit that I allow fear to set the direction of my steps more than I realize.

And I am tired of it.

I want peace in my heart.  Not the peace that normal test results give me...I want the peace that stays with me forever, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of my condition, regardless of my surroundings.  I want the kind of peace that flows like a river. I want the peace that stays in spite of the tribulations, as Jesus promised (John 16: 33).

The thing I have to remember, though, is that the key to this peace lies entirely on Him... "for He Himself is our peace..."(Ephesians 2: 14). He is the One who has overcome the world.  He is the One who has fulfilled the law.  He is the One, the Only One who gives peace in an enduring manner, not like the world gives.  Without Him, there is no peace.  Peace is a Person!

Peace, therefore, doesn't happen in isolation.  It's part of a process designed by grace and strengthened by love.  And this process revolves around the Person of Jesus. The way I see it, the process begins with knowledge.  Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8: 29)  Do we have an answer to this question?  Do we know who He is?  Do we know who Jesus is in our heart?

To know Him is to Trust Him.  That seems like the next step.  If we don't trust Him, it might have something to do with the fact that we might not know Him well yet.  Faulty trust might signal a weak relationship with Christ.  I say this because this is where I am right now.  My trust shakes with every shift in the wind.  And I believe it is because I am still wrestling with the answer to the question above:  Who is This Man that the winds and the waves obey?  Is He truly my Lord?  Do I spend the necessary time getting to know Him in the Word?  Do I invest my thoughts in getting to know Him better?  Do I value my relationship with Jesus enough to devote my heart to Him?

I know I will never know all that there is to be known about My Lord...but I'm called to sit at His feet...do I do it?  Do I seek Him first? Am I in the habit of choosing Him above all else, or do I choose the world instead?

To know Christ is to Trust Him, for we trust whom we know.  If I truly knew Him, I would know that He who promised is Faithful and that His love for me is real, for His banner over me is Love. (Hebrews 10: 23; Song of Solomon 2: 4) Therefore, I would not have so much trouble surrendering to Him.  I struggle with surrender.  In marriage, I have a hard time adhering my will to the will of my husband.  But I know Dan, and I have no doubts about his good will and his love for me and our family.  I have invested more than half of my life getting to know that man.  Therefore, I trust him and I eventually do surrender to him for I trust his leadership.

But surrendering also implies letting go.  The burdens that we carry are too heavy.  We were not made to drag around such weight.  The tight grip we keep on our issues shows a tendency to desire control.  Letting go means relinquishing all control.  This is a rather scary proposition for those, like me, who crave the power of controlling our destinies. I don't want to let go because I don't know what will happen next if I do...and I don't like the unknown.  But I'm called to be still and know that He is God! (Psalm 46: 10)

That is why our capacity of letting go is fueled by our faith. Most of the times that Jesus rebuked someone, mainly His disciples, was because they were exhibiting little faith.  I believe, He was persistent on His "you of little faith, why are you so afraid?" stance particularly with his disciples precisely because they were His disciples!  They were the humans who knew Him best!  Why did they insist in doubting?  Why did they have such a hard time trusting and surrendering?  I think it is because, like me...or me like them...we still have more road to walk with Him...still have more polishing of our faith to be done...still have more fruits of the Spirit to grow and bloom in our souls...still have more sifting to go through.  Like Peter, I am so quick to talk, but so slow to comprehend.  It usually takes an extra measure of tribulation for me to get the lesson...sigh...

But, not unlike Peter, as I let go in faith I find a path to forgiveness.  Once again, if you are anything like me...I have some hurts in my heart that I have not yet allowed the soothing balm of forgiveness to healed 100%.  Sometimes I feel as if I'm almost there, but then, something happens, and the wound opens up again.  At that time, I see the reality of unforgiveness...I see also that one of those things I have the most trouble forgiving is myself.  I am my harshest judge.  There is nothing anyone could ever blame me for that I hadn't blamed myself for before.  I'm my worst critic and I'm my hardest accuser.  That is why peace seems so elusive...because forgiveness, of others and of ourselves, moves us closer to peace.

The peace I'm seeking involves accepting that Jesus died on the cross to cleanse me...to forgive me.  And if I confess my sins, He is Faithful and Just and Merciful to forgive me and purify me from my unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9)...even me...Therefore, who am I then to hang on to unforgiveness?

However, how do I ever accomplish all these steps???  I'm so flawed and my resolve is so fickle...how in the world could I do this process?  Before I become even more stressed out...I need to pause...and pray...Peace is a Person and His name is Jesus!

Prayer is the first step...coming to His Throne in humility and keeping the communication is how we could ever begin to attempt this quest...

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6-7)

These steps seem more like the links of a chain than a lineal process.  As ironic as it may sound, these links shape the chain that frees us!  Together, they form an unbreakable circle of mercy and grace that marks us and sets us apart as the beloved children of the Most High.  These are the links that connect us to Jesus:  prayer, knowledge, trust, surrender, forgiveness and peace... may we not break it, but live within it, meditate in it and dwell in His presence, the overpowering force that forges and sustains our connection...our relationship...our chain of peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Restless Soul

We happen to be studying the Patriarchs in Sunday School and of course we are starting with Abraham.  

I have to say that dear, old Abe is a very intriguing person to me.  I absolutely love the passage where God calls him out of Ur.  I love Abraham's resolve to obey God and leave the only place he has ever called home, even when the destination was completely unknown.

There is something terribly romantic about that, in my opinion.  

And the reason I find it romantic, I think, is because I can identify with the idea of leaving home...and everything one has ever known, to go to a place that you haven't even heard of before.

My journey certainly did not impact the history of the world or the salvation of the people of God...but it did involve a change in my personal history and the bursting of my own little bubble.  I didn't pack camels and take the whole family with me.  In two suitcases I carried what I could fit, completely ignorant of how ill-prepared I was for my future, most of all, for the insane Western PA winters.  

Sigh...

It's been almost 30 years, but I still don't know the full extent this experience will finally have in my life or the lives of those whom I have met along my journey.  But one thing I do know... the journey has left me with a restless soul.

This morning, as we talked about the difference of a life "settled" and a life as a nomad, dwelling in tents, I couldn't help but thinking how appealing the wandering life-style sounded to me.   I love the idea of camping.  I often say things like:  "let's sell everything, buy an RV and go travel everywhere!"  My family ignores me, and chalks it up to me being insane.  

Sigh...

The truth is...I am not joking!

I don't know what it is, but I get restless when I am in the same place too long.  I don't like the idea of "settling."  I'm afraid of settling because I'm afraid of losing...probably not so much of losing my freedom...but, of losing the place where I settle.  I'm afraid I will fall in love with the place so much, that one day I would not want to leave it, but someone of something will come in and take it away from me...like it already happened when I left my childhood home in Panama...and now is out of my reach forever.

I loved my parents' house.  I loved everything about it.  I loved my bed.  I loved the way the wind moved the curtains in my room on a breezy day.  I loved the cool, old-fashion tile on the floor.  I loved staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out shapes on the different shades of the wood.  I loved the little patio off the kitchen where I spent endless hours, days, weeks, months and years hanging out with Rosa while she sat at her sewing machine, cooked, washed clothes, or just spent time talking to me about nothing important in-between chores.  I loved the yard full of fruit trees.  I even loved the ugly pepto bismol shade of pink in my bathroom... it just added to the overall vintage-feel of the entire house... it added to the love I felt every day I was there.

I never imagined, in my wildest dreams...that one day, that would not be my home anymore.  I never expected that the grand gate that so many nights I shut and locked myself, would be shut and locked in front of my face, while standing on the other side of the fence...but that is the way things are today, and it is very hard to bear.

It's no wonder that a tent might sound suitable.  After all, you can pack it up and take it with you everywhere you go... I can drive my house around if I live in an RV.  I can go to the beach and to the mountains, and my house will follow me!  How convenient!

But that's not what I'm supposed to do.  Deep down, I know it, and I accept it...but it scares me.

God called me out of my Ur many years ago, and even though I didn't know where I was going, it ended up being my own personal land of milk and honey... so, if I am supposed to learn something out of this whole thing, I pray it may be that no matter what, God loves me, and regardless of where He calls me to, He will go before me, and He will take care of all my needs...here, there and everywhere.

May He give me rest and peace to trust in Him. 


That Could've Been Me

Dylan has always been very aware of the fact that he was born in Guatemala, but I think it is only very recently that he has began to realize that his life would have been very different, had he stayed in his country of birth.

Today, for example, was a day in which, even if for a fleeting moment, he became in touch with that reality.  At church, we had the privilege of listening to the testimony and stories of the mission team that just returned from a trip to Haiti last Sunday evening.  Eight members of our church, including our Pastor, spent a week in Haiti with Autumn, our beloved home-growon, full-time missionary who lives there, tending to the needs of the truly "least of these..." I cannot even begin to explain all the work that Autumn does in Haiti...that will be the topic of a book, as far as I'm concerned...maybe someday the Lord will open the door for that book to be written...but today, I just wanted to talk about the impact that her work has in us, here at home.

the thing is that the pictures and the stories of the mission team were so vivid and descriptive that Dylan could not ignore them. "Are the roads there worse than in Panama?"  He asked me when one of the team members was explaining the complete lack of infrastructure in the country.  "Panama is rich, compared to Haiti, Dylan," I replied.

Usually, my young son allows his mind to wander aimlessly while at church...but not today.  I know that there was lots that he couldn't understand...but he did grasp the core of the story:  people in Haiti are hurting.  The children's faces on the pictures were enough for Dylan to see the dire circumstances that surround those young faces, and the talk of insanitary towns, garbage, extreme poverty and neglect were all too real, and hard to ignore even for Dylan.

"That could have been me, if I had stayed in Guatemala..." He said to me quietly, turning his little face away from the pictures that had captured his total attention.  "Well, maybe not that bad, right mama?" 

At that moment, I realized the truth:  That could have been any of us, had the Lord not planned for us to be here in America.

I cannot describe the feelings I experienced listening to the mission team's stories.  It was a combination of anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, compassion, pain and love.  But one thing is for certain, I am very glad that they went and very thankful that they took their time to tell us about their trip and what they saw.  I'm glad for Dylan, but I'm also glad for me, because it opened my eyes to a world, not too far away from here, where human dignity is denied, where basic human needs are left unmet, where the dump is everywhere, where the only way to appreciate the beauty of nature is by looking up, but at the same time, a place where God is moving in mysterious and powerful ways.

"Yes, Dylan...there are few places where things are worse than Haiti in the entire world..." I managed to say to my boy...while I wrestled in my mind with the impotence and futility of my own life on the one side, and on the other side, with the sense of gratitude to God's plan for placing me here and not there...

That could have very easily been me as well...

Now, the fact that it is not my face on any of the pictures depicting residents of Haiti carries a mission in itself...but, what?  What is my role, now that I'm aware?

I don't know.  But I pray that the same way God decided not to place me in Haiti, He decides to use my life and my resources, and my blessings to bless the less fortunate wherever they may be.  I pray He takes me where my feet have never wandered and where my arms have never reached out to in order to do my part in helping bring His Light forth so that the current night may become like the noonday.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Of Kids, Dogs and Trust...

Having kids...and a dog...any dependents, really, have taught me A LOT about trust.  Think about feeding time.  You give them food, they eat it!  I mean, yeah, I know...some are pickier than others, so in my house, if I give Grant or Link green beans, they won't eat them...Dylan would eat it all by himself, but not the other two.  However, let's be honest here: generally, you give boys or a dog food, and they will eat it!  Am I right?  At least that's how it goes in my house...

The thing is that, putting the picky tastes aside, when I give my sons and my dog, and my husband too, actually, food they like, they eat it!  They don't question it.  They don't wonder if I had poisoned it.  They don't wonder if I put something weird in it that will make them pass out or lose their wits.  Even when the food I'm giving them might make their stomachs unsettled or give them a sugar rush...when they sit down to eat it, they don't question my motives.  We give Link a pill once a month, and we hide it in a piece of hot dog (BEST PILL POCKET EVAH!!!!) or in a piece of chicken...his personal favorite among all the meats...and he takes it... I mean, really, it could be a cyanide pill in there...he takes it!  He doesn't stop to ponder our intentions for giving him the darn thing...my dog takes the pill...my kids eat the food ...

I don't think it has ever occurred to my sons to have the slightest or most remote thought that I could possibly mean them any harm when feeding them...even if my food is not that great!  Link, our dog...even less...he doesn't have many thoughts, actually, and among the very few he might have, I am certain thinking I'm poisoning him is not one of them.  If I could just feed him all day long, he'd be the happiest dog alive!

They don't think about the possibilities of any hidden motives in my scary head because of one thing:  they trust me.

They don't question my intentions, because they trust me.

They are not afraid to take the food, except when it just looks or smells scary... just kidding... because they trust me.

They even take the pill, or the cough syrup, or the losegen that they don't particularly want to take, because I'm the one giving it to them and THEY. TRUST. ME.

And the reason they trust me is because they trust I love them...and because I love them, I would never do anything to harm them! And they know that!  Of course, I'm not perfect, but I will do anything within my power and mind to never do anything to intentionally cause them pain or hurt...I know my actions often do end up harming them, but it is not intentionally done...it is the result of me being a sinner.  All I want for my sons, my loved ones, my dog is good and beautiful things! And I will do whatever I can to give them those as much as possible! And they know that.  They know my love, although imperfect, is extravagant!!!

Then...why do I have such trouble trusting God?

"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7: 9-12

Why can't I learn from the trust my sons and my dog exhibit for me?  How come, if I am such a horrible sinner and even worst mother, my kids and my pet are able to still trust me, but I can't bring myself to fully and completely surrender my all to God once and for all...and just trust!?

Sigh...

Perhaps, it is because I trust myself too much.  I have an inflated image of me and my abilities.  I have a distorted vision of my powers.  My eyesight has been blurred by my pride.

Holy Spirit, this Lent, please teach me to see...to truly see how You love me and how I am nothing without You.  Please, teach me to abandon myself in You as I know You and trust You even in my darkest and scariest hour.  Even as I become cold with the chill of anxiety, allow me to remember that You are my Good, Good, Father and that no matter what...You are with me, taking care of me each step of the way.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Prov. 3:5&6

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Song for Ash Wednesday

Well, it is not often that we have two holidays falling on the same day.  But today is one of those occasions.  We have the sacred holiday of Ash Wednesday alongside the secular holiday of Valentine's day.

Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance...a day to remember that dust we are and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3: 19).

Valentine's day: a day to celebrate...love?

I'm not really sure what we celebrate on Valentine's day.  We do nothing here at home.  I like the Panamanian version, where we celebrate love and friendship, emphasis on friendship.  It takes the sting ... the pressure off the day.  I'm not in love with this holiday.  It just seems fake and forced to me.  It feels more like an obligation than a celebration...

I don't know...but today, when both of them fell on the same day... there was something different... something actually special about it.  It felt as if Valentine's Day finally made sense!

I feel like celebrating love today!  The kind of love that is worth having its own holiday.  The kind of love that brings salvation.  The kind of love that brings forgiveness.  The kind of love that makes beauty out of ashes.  The kind of love that Jesus expressed when He stretched His arms on the cross for us.

It is because of His perfect love that we can repent and be forgiven.  It is because of His unique kind of love that we can be the bride awaiting for her Bridegroom.  It is because of His amazing love that we are:  a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys, a lily among thorns... (Songs of Songs 2: 1-2).  It is because of His faithful love that we are His masterpiece...His poem...His song.

I'm glad we had these two holidays in one this year.  I can finally say: Happy Valentine's Day without being sarcastic...for the kind of love we celebrate today paid it all, cancelling our debt, so we can have life, and have it in abundance!

May the ashes remind us of the humility we need to receive the Love that brings us out of the dark and into His Light!




Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lint in my Pockets

A couple of days ago, I was ready to yell at Dylan for something...I can't remember what...when he said to me: "Remember the lint!  Lint is coming!"

Right away, I heard Dan and Grant laughing in the background.  I still didn't get it.  Then, Dan said to Dylan:  "LENT!"

That's when I lost it, and bursted out laughing as well...totally forgetting what I was mad about.  Dylan certainly has a way with words.

The thing is that the Lint/Lent incident completely accomplished its purpose.  Up until that moment I had not thought about Lent at all.  That moment, however, certainly convicted me and helped me refocus.  It helped me remember not only that Lent is coming, but that there is much lint I need to take care of around here, especially in my pockets. 

I always dread digging in the boys' pockets...yuk...nobody knows what's in there...but inevitably, there is always a mass of stringy, creepy lint.  I dread that moment when I know that what I'm looking for is in either Grant's or Dylan's coat pockets...and they are not around to get it themselves...so it's my hand the one that has to venture inside the jacket that was left behind on a chair or the floor by a boy whose concerns do not include taking care of emptying their coat pockets.  I have nightmares about my fingers touching some fuzz-covered-half-eaten-long-forgotten lollipop stock to the piece of paper I need...

Anyway...but, what about my own pockets!?  They are full of junk too!  And so is my purse, and my kitchen, and my desk, and my office, and my closet!  I carry around so much unnecessary stuff I don't even know how I can move!?  It's no wonder I have constant back ache!

It is time to quit complaining about how the boys don't take care of their mess and start taking care of my own first.  Like the plank, Jesus talks about, remember?

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? you hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  
Matthew 7: 3-5

I am so given to be the one noticing the specks on my brother's eye...literally...that I forget I'm carrying a whole plank in mine that doesn't even let me see clearly.  I don't really know how in the world I can see anything beyond my nose, to tell you the truth...that's why Jesus has such convicting words for those whom like me...are just plain hypocrites...

Praise the Lord for His Word and for Lent, a period of time that could be used for reflection and removal.  Reflection on the way we live our lives so we can perform the effective removal of what needs to go.

I want to start by getting rid of the lint and the junk in my pockets...my own pockets.  Perhaps my actions could be a good example for my boys so they can finally begin to clear out their mess as well so there will be no more "lint coming," only Lent.

Monday, February 12, 2018

CALM

As far as Mondays go...today has been deeply melancholic one.  Back in Panama, people are in a 4-day party frenzi called "Carnavales," which ends tomorrow on what we call around here "Fat Tuesday."  My hometown happens to be one of those places in Panama where "Carnaval" is really big and crazy.  It didn't use to be like that when I was a child, though...it wasn't as wild and licentious as it is today.  Children used to be able to be part of it without much concern of them being exposed to inappropriate experiences.

So, my sister posted a picture of how things used to be when we were kids and that picture, inevitably, took us back to reminiscing about our dear Father.  And, to tell you the truth, I don't know if there will ever be a day when I don't get sad thinking about him.  The pain of not having him still stings deeply.  We were remembering how he used to have an old truck with blue, wood bed rails on the back.  So, for carnavales, he would get an old 55-gallon steel drum/barrel, fill it up with water and ice, pack all the cousins and go around town so the cousins could throw water at people (that used to be the main attraction of carnavales in Panama, which was delightful since this time of the year is really hot and dry down there.)

My Dad was never a party-guy, but he did enjoy doing this for the kids.  The memories are priceless... but they are also bittersweet...for they are only memories anymore.

Our parents are now long gone.  My sister and I are middle-age women, and we are miles apart...hence, the melancholic feeling of today.  To top this up, she just told me that our dear Aunt, one of my Mother's last remaining siblings is terribly ill and will need surgery soon.  The thought of losing her terrifies me because she represents the last tie to my Mother on this earth...once my aunt is gone...it will be as if my Mom is forever gone too...

All these also brings up to the front of my mind the fact that my thyroid check-ups are coming up in a few weeks...man...I just can't keep it together today...

Sigh...

So I dug out my church bulletin from yesterday, where I had taken some notes, and there it was:  "Jesus, please, calm the lingering effects of the storm."  I wrote down this prayer as I listened to the inspired words of our speaker, Lee Harris who once again offered his words to the congregation as our Pastor was still on a mission trip to Haiti. 

Lee talked to us about storms...and that was truly providencial.  His words come back to me, as today I feel, if not right in the middle of one, for sure, in its aftermath.  And the lingering effects are causing me to lose my balance.  My sea-legs are faltering.  But as I navigate the choppy waters, I remember to lift up my head...and what I see is the word CALM on the big screen of our Sanctuary.  Lee wrapped up his sermon that way...and I have it in my brain today as a clear reminder that there is no need to give in to fear and sadness.  The Holy Spirit of the One Whom the winds and the waves obey is in me.  The One Who is Lord over the storm lives in me... whom, then, shall I fear?

The direct and piercing questions of Jesus, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (Mark 4: 40) echoe in my mind...

Please, Lord Jesus, increase my faith so the storm may not destroy me... drive the fear away and help me to trust You and be calmed.

As far as Mondays go...today is a melancholic one...but Praise the Lord for yesterday was Sunday and I have something to remind me I am not alone in the storm...