Sunday, January 29, 2012

Of Bees and Birds and the Pictures above Dylan’s Bed

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.  Psalm 31: 3 NIV

It had been a long and hard week, so I was glad it was Friday.  Grant, Dylan and I were in the car, and all of the sudden the conversation between them took a turn dangerously close to the road of the birds and the bees (or is it the bees and the birds?).  Don’t ask me how, perhaps it was because we were headed to a birthday party for twins, but suddenly, the conversation between my two sons turned to how babies come out of their Mommies’ stomach and how the doctor cuts their bellies open to pull the babies out…gosh…

I cringed.  I looked at my hands on the wheel and my knuckles where white and my palms were sweaty.  But I kept quiet, that is, until I heard Grant telling Dylan how he hadn’t come out of Mama’s stomach.  I knew then I was soon going to have to join the “conversation.”

“Lord…” I thought, “Here we go, hold my hand.”  Dylan has never really showed much interest in his background other than noticing his skin tone being darker than most people around.  During Homecoming Day, he carefully goes through his “treasure chest” and intently examines the items that recount his story as an adopted son.  But he quickly looses interest and makes no comments other than lamenting not being able to fit into his baby Superman Halloween costume anymore. 

Above his bed, I hung a multi-photo picture frame with about 8 or 9 pictures of that morning on September 11, 2006 when Dylan was placed on my lap for the very first time at a hotel meeting room in Guatemala City.  The picture frame is very special to me because I purchased it with a gift of money our dear friend Diana gave to us when Dylan first came home.  Back then, I decided I needed to invest that gift on something meaningful, and that picture frame has hung above Dylan’s bed ever since.  However, I always found it curious that Dylan had never made any mention of the photos in it.  I thought it was, maybe, because the item is so familiar to him that he doesn’t even know it is there…who knows, but he had never said anything about them, until now, that is.

Back in the car, when Dylan heard Grant saying that he had not come out of my belly, he began attempting to formulate a coherent thought to explain that fact.  I know he was confused because he struggled to find the words.  I can’t even tell you what he actually said, but I knew then I had to break my silence.  I said, “You know?  Some children in some families didn’t come out of their Mother’s belly.  They came out of another woman’s belly.”  Then, I searched in my brain database for other kids he knows who are adopted.  Praise the Lord there is a significant amount of adopted kids who attend his school.  So, I began to mention name after name of different children at NCCA whom he’d know and are, indeed adopted.  The Holy Spirit made my speech come out very natural.  He gave such calmness to my voice that I almost didn’t recognize it!  As I heard myself peak, my own nervousness subsided.  We talked about how families are different, and Grant even brought in facts about families with step-children and step-parents.  Then, Dylan surprised me when he commented, “I’ve seen it on the pictures above my bed.”  I turned my head and I saw him deep in thought.  He then continued, “I was sitting on your lap.  I came out of you lap.  And I was waving good bye to you because I wanted to stay with my other Mommy, but now I don’t.”

He had not only seen the pictures, but he had listened to Dan when he told him a long time ago how, on his first day with us, he had cried and cried for hours and waved good bye to us repeatedly all throughout that first night.  He had put it all together in his young mind, and I was astonished. 

Later that night I told Dan about it and he was just as perplexed as I was.  Dylan is processing the reality of how he became our son even without us realizing it.  The Lord is guiding him through the process of understanding, and He is lovingly leading him through the intricacies of adoption.  Surely Dylan can one day certainly proclaim, It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. (2 Samuel 22:33)

We finally arrived at the birthday party.  The parents of the twin birthday girls, who are in Dylan’s class, graciously allowed Grant to stay since it was at the Olympic Fun Center and Grant was dying to stay.  I welcomed the prospect of having the next 2 hours to myself, so I kissed them good bye and left them there.  I climbed back in my car and began digesting what had just happened.  Maneuvering through the adoption road is difficult, but since the Lord is our Rock and Fortress, He will guide us and lead us for the sake of His name.  My little boy is been guided by our Lord and I trust that’s the best alternative for Dylan to find his way.

September 11, 2006 - Guatemala City.  Dylan sitting on my lap for the very first time as I frantically took notes about his life up until then as presented to me by his Foster Mother.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Divinely Appointed...

I couldn’t believe I was back on a bus headed to my hometown in Panama.  It had been about 5 months since the boys and I were on a similar bus when we came to visit in the summer.  Back then, being with my two sons made a world of difference.  They made the grueling 4 hour-long-trip rather enjoyable and interesting.  Now, I was by myself.  I found a seat on the back of the bus by the window and I opened my book, a novel called The Help, which my friend Judy had let me borrowed months ago.  “I just couldn’t put it down!”  She had said very excited when she lent it to me; but I had not had a chance to start reading it yet.  So when I was packing for the trip, I grabbed the bright yellow book and put it in my carry on.  It’s quite a sizeable book, so I figured it would keep me company for a long while.  As soon as I began to read it, however, I thought to myself that I better find me another book for the trip back, because I could tell I’d finish The Help sooner than I had expected.  I understood Judy’s words then, I just couldn’t put it down either!
At any rate, the bus wasn’t 100% full, so it kept stopping on the road, until it finally filled up. At one of such stops by the side of the road a mother and her son got on.  The only seats left where the one next to me and the one across the aisle from that one.  The Mom sat on the one across the aisle and the son sat next to me.  I saw him through the corner of my eye, since I just couldn’t put the book down.  The boy was about 9 years old and he seemed very curious. Once in a while I’d catch him staring at me.  It is a known fact that people from Panama do not read for pleasure.  So this poor boy was just puzzling over my intense attention to that rare instrument I was gripping tightly with both hands… “it’s called a book (es un libro)”  I wanted to tell him, but I just let him wonder.  If he was anything like Grant, he sure had fun making up funny stories in his young mind about the crazy lady who found reading so captivating.  In his stories, I bet he made me into some sort of alien or spy or most likely a snub who would rather bury her head in a book than talk to the people around her. 
The boy and his Mom lovingly interacted during the trip.  She would point out things out the window, which he’d look at with curiosity (while at the same time not wasting the chance to sneak another peek at the “character” sitting next to him).  He didn’t have any fancy electronic toys to keep him entertain.  All he had was a large stuffed animal that he used as a pillow when he was not pressing it tight in his arms (yes, I noticed all that while still reading The Help nonstop).  Once again I thought of Grant.  His love for stuffed-animals is legendary in our family.  Dylan also shares that love. 
I missed my sons terribly, but having that little boy sitting next to me for the remainder of the trip felt as delightful in my heart as eating hot fudge Sunday in a warm summer afternoon.  My biggest regret was, however, that I did not exchange one word with him.  I never talked to him the whole time we sat side by side on that bus.  I “watched” him closely and I know he watched me too, but we said nothing to each other.
I feel now as if I wasted a precious opportunity by not speaking to that little boy on the bus.  I feel as if God had given me a “gift” and I had rejected it.  The Lord gave me the company of that young child because He knew how lonely I felt without my own; and I didn’t accept the present.  I left it on the table.  Not only I did not open it, but I didn’t even take it.
How many times I do this as I walk through life.  I complain of my situation and circumstance, but I fail to see the Hand of God, the Great Provider, always there, “providing” what I need. 
As I write these lines, however, I am reminded that our God is Faithful.  Unlike us, He does not hold grudges.  Imagine if He’d react the way we do when we offer a gift only to have the receiver turn it down.  Our God is the God of second chances and Praise Him for that.  I sure need all the second chances I can get.  He is a generous giver and He is tireless.  He will give me another opportunity to gratefully accept His gift.  In the meantime, He has allowed me to see that perhaps, sitting side by side to that little boy on the bus was actually exactly what He had planned.  The silence we shared increased the sense of wonder we felt for each other and made the experience even more endearing.  Who knows?  I might be just trying to find a copout, but again, the Lord does work in mysterious ways.   
When the bus arrived at the station in my hometown, I finally closed the book and put it in my backpack.  I zipped it up and I turned my head to meet the little boy’s eyes.  We looked at each other for an instant and shared a big smile.  I might not know his name, but I’ll never forget him.  His bright eyes and sincere smile filled my heart with warmth.  Even if in silence, we did share a divinely appointed moment on that bus. 
The memories of that little boy would come back to me in the midst of the anguish of the days ahead, bringing with them the memory of my own sons like a soothing balm to my soul.  Perhaps I did waste a big opportunity, but that doesn’t keep our Lord from using even our wasted chances for our benefit and His glory.  After all, He does use all things for the good of those who love Him and seek His will.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Three Steps to the Truth

2012 is a year of decision. At all levels we seem to be facing important decision making. At the national level, at the church level, at the personal level, there will be days when we will have to take a step and state our stand. In a society of compromised truth and normative lying, decision making can be a daunting task. Confusion and doubt are paralyzing. Our limited perspectives seem insufficient for the significance of the choices we need to make. So, how do we approach these decisions? How do we ever find discernment? How do we walk by faith? In this decision making year, how do we recognize the right path? How do we know the truth?

The answers to these questions are not found in the conventional wisdom of man. The answers to those who seek the truth are only found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
First, we must know that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6 NIV). And we must know this truth so well that we can instantly recognize a counterfeit when we see one.
Second, we must believe Him when He says that He is faithful, for when He speaks, He acts, and when He promises, He fulfills (Numbers 23:19). He promises that if we stay in Him, we won’t lose our way. We will have life and we will know the truth. 
Finally, we must walk in the truth ourselves and obey His commands. He will guide our steps and He will set us free. “(T)o the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32 NIV)
Knowing, believing and walking in the truth are what will ultimately liberate us from our bondage to fear and to deceiving philosophies. Many voices call out to us claiming truth, security, peace, happiness, etc. The children of God need to focus and listen to the only voice of truth so we are not deceived. If we are watching TV to find that voice, we’re in danger of being deceived. If we listen to politicians making promises only to get our vote, we’re in danger of being deceived. If we listen to an inner voice that is not informed by the Gospel, we’re in danger of being deceived. 

To hear the voice of truth we must know His Word. The Word of God speaks, but if we don’t open it and read it, we won’t hear its message. The way to hear the truth is to pick up your Bible, read it, and let it be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105). The task is not an easy one, however, for there are those who’d say that Jesus belongs to Sunday morning only. As believers we can respond by saying that if we don’t let Jesus inform and guide every aspect of our lives, we are no more than lukewarm Christians. Jesus warned us against being lukewarm in Revelation 3:15-16 NIV “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” 
God is an all consuming fire that burns inside our soul. Once we open the door to Him, He comes in to stay.  He consumes all aspects of our lives. We seek to serve Him.  When given the choice between pleasing God or man, Christians inevitably chose to please God.  We can’t compartmentalize Him. He dwells in us and we are to surrender it all to Him. That includes every one of our decisions, regardless of the topic or situation. Sunday morning faith is not enough. (None of these is understood by non-believers.  They cannot comprehend any of it, hence the constant friction.)  

Therefore, for the Christian, faith without actions is dead, and this is our time to act. This is the day to accept our destiny. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). 
In this year of decision, let us decide to allow Christ, the Way, to lead us to the truth which brings life. As we strive to become the most informed citizens possible, let us decide to hear His voice first. He will help us test the deceiving philosophies that try to capture our allegiance. Let us decide to know Him, believe Him and walk by Him. Let us decide to follow Him who is the truth.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Do We Know...Part II

To speak up or to be quiet…that is the question.  I stick my foot (sometimes not just one : ) in my mouth so many times in a given day, that I’m convinced the best policy for me is to remain silent at all times.  If you ask my kids, and husband, they’ll agree!  They all think I talk way too much.  The worst part is that nobody listens!  One of my recurrent complaints is how little the boys in this house seem to hear me when I speak.  I am always amazed at say Grant, for example, and how he looks like he is listening.  Last night, just for a quick illustration, as I was giving him specific instructions on what he needed and not needed to do in order to complete his homework, he was standing a few inches from me, nodding in agreement and following with his eyes, indicating with his body language that he was intently paying attention to my words, only to have him turn around and do completely the opposite of what I’ve told him to do.  I just couldn’t believe it!  I asked him, “did you hear anything I said to you?”  Of course, he could do nothing else other than to shake his head in shame.  So I went and complained about it to Dan, and guess what?  He didn’t hear anything I said either! 

As you can see then, if left to my own devices, I am clueless as to when it is prudent to speak, when I am speaking too much, or when it is better to be quiet.  I’m back on that ledge, not knowing what to do next.

A clue to finding out how do we know when to speak may come up when we continue reading Psalm 39.  David says:  “But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.  My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue…”  We can sense that anguish David is talking about.  As we read these verses, we can almost see David standing on that ledge, torn.  Keeping silent was killing him. 

We’ve felt what the psalmist felt in this passage, haven’t we?  We recognize these moments when a fire is blazing inside of us and we’ve got to say something or we’ve regret it for the rest of our days.  But there is one very important detail tucked in between these lines, which we might miss if we are not reading carefully.  The shepherd-king says:  “and as I meditated…”  He did not keep quiet for long, only while it was prudent to do so.  The all consuming fire of God’s righteousness burned inside of him until he could not keep quiet anymore; but that didn’t mean David spoke carelessly, without thinking, saying the first thing that came out of his mouth, which he might’ve later regretted.  He meditated first.  He paused before he spoke.  He went to the Lord.  He reviewed in his mind and soul who God is and sought His guidance, and then he spoke.  And what he spoke was magnificently profound. 

As I ponder these ideas, I realized that David didn’t have the advantages that we have today as Christians.  He did not have the full Bible.  He did not know Jesus.  So for us, if we think about it, the choice should be less anguish-provoking.  The answer to the age-old question of how do we know when to speak up and when to keep our pretty little mouths nicely shut lays on how close of a relationship we have with our Holy Counselor who resides within us, for He is the Spirit of truth, and as such He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

Maybe, next time we are agonizing on whether it is the right time to say something or if it is better to be silent, we should ask ourselves:  “have I talked this over with the Holy Spirit?  Have I asked the Holy Spirit for guidance?  Have I asked the Holy Spirit to let me know whether it is the right time to say something or better not yet?”  If the answer to any of these questions is no, we must spend even if a fleeting moment in meditation, asking the Holy Spirit to guide our actions, words or lack of thereof.  If we can honestly answer yes to them; then it is time to listen to His whisperings and promptings and not second guess ourselves. 

Sometimes the promptings are subtle, like a nagging feeling or a lingering thought; but sometimes they are just like red hot lava running through our veins.  We must trust that, once we have placed the dilemma in the hands of the Holy One, He will guide us.  We must believe Him and believe that when we have said to Him:  “Lord, I am clueless, you know it well, but I trust You and I trust that You will guide my actions,”  He will let us know when the time is right.  Do not be anxious and trust.  Trust that He will give you the go so you can jump, or will grab you by the arms so you’d go back inside.  And do not feel guilty for prayerfully choosing to remain silent.  Remember that in the presence of evil, sometimes that is the best choice.  Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and He will let us know when to exercise it.  In the meantime, let us pray that we can, “be still and know…” 

This morning, after I gave my usual litany of recommendations to the boys as they walked out the door to go to school, Dan said, “with the boys, less is better.”  That’s all he said, but I knew what he meant.  That was Dan’s way of reminding me that, whereas it is important to speak up and proclaim truth so we don’t betray a righteous cause, be it raising godly children or electing the president of the nation; sometimes measuring and carefully choosing our words would have a bigger impact for the furthering of God’s plan. 

p.s.:  Hey, do you think Dan might’ve actually listened to me last night?!

How Do We Know? Part I

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself facing the age-old decision, dilemma rather, of whether to speak up or to remain silent.  I encounter such dilemma quite often and in many places.  At work, at church, at home, at social gatherings, among family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, I feel as if I’m standing out on a ledge somewhere, considering, trying to decide whether to jump or to climb back inside.  In this era of political correctness, however, I tend to go the way of silence more often than not.  I choose not to jump in order to avoid a messy situation.  That silence, however, comes at a cost.  The cost I pay is deep regret and a sense of frustration due to my lack of boldness, my timidity, my failure to speak up.  The thing is that I’m just not sure.  How am I supposed to know?

As I usually do when I have serious questions to ponder, I go to the source of all wisdom.  I go to the Bible.  Ecclesiastes 3:1,7 says, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…”  And yes, you guessed it, there is, indeed, also “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  As I read what others have said regarding this particular segment of Scripture, I found in the Gill’s Exposition to the Entire Bible online commentary, that there comes a time when it is our “duty to be silent, when it is an evil time.”  The Book of Amos also refers to silence where it says in chapter 5:13, “therefore, the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil.”  Considering all these, I find three key concepts that might unlock the dilemma:  silence, speaking and time.  Along with these concepts we also see “prudence” and “evil.” 

At the time Amos proclaimed these words which he received from the LORD of the covenant; God wanted Israel to hear of its faults, of its offenses and of its sins against Him.  The prophet was speaking the words of God to convict Israel on its many sins, one of which was their aversion for the truth.  The commentary says that “they were such inveterate enemies of honesty that they could not endure the sight of an honest man.”  That is why the prophet’s words spoke of the “prudent man” who knows when to keep quiet because they did not know how what they said might be misrepresented, so they were cautious and would say nothing in such evil times. 

I am reminded here of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ when, while at the Garden of Gethsemane, at the time of His arrest, He tells to his captors:  “But this is your hour-when darkness reigns.”(Luke 22:53)  This certainly is the hour, the time of the prince of darkness, who is loose in the world, plotting against God at every hour, at all times. 

So what are we to think of all this?  The times are evil, and we must exercise prudence and wisdom before we speak; and maybe even lean toward silence most often than not.  Like David says in Psalm 39:  “I said, I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”  The Word seems to be telling us that for as long as we are in the presence of evil, the best thing to do is to be silent.  Jesus himself did this.  On the night of his arrest, after they took him away from Gethsemane, He carefully chose to whom He would speak.  He spoke to Pilate, but he did not waste any words with the chief priests in the Sanhedrin or with King Herod.  On those instances, Jesus endured the offensive presence of His enemies quietly, for He sure was in the presence of evil, and He chose not to dignify it with His words. 
However, the fact that we live in an evil world, surrounded by darkness must not keep us muted forever, for there will be a time when we must speak.  Like when the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples and tell them to be quiet and Jesus replied:  “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40 NIV).  There comes a time, then, as my commentary says, when we must speak, “for the glory of God, when silence would be the betraying of a righteous cause.”   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Love My Jesus

As I am sure, parents all around the world know, there comes a moment in the life of a child when he/she steps beyond the boundaries of the permissible into the realm of what is commonly known as “smart-mouth” territory.  Dylan is getting dangerously close to that boundary.  Therefore, Dan and I have begun to express our discontent with his behavior and have started to offer words of advice to him.  Such words are nothing profound or transcendental.  They include the usual, “watch your mouth,” “be careful with your words,” “think before you speak,” and the iconic, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” 
I think our words of wisdom have had an impact on restraining Dylan from stepping out of line on the matter of speaking his mind too…freely.  For the last few days, I’ve been noticing that whenever faced with an uncertain situation that requires him to voice his input, Dylan is becoming increasingly hesitant and careful regarding what to say and how to say it.  More and more we are noticing that Dylan has found a phrase that is certain to provide him with a smooth sailing into a safe harbor.  No matter, really, what the situation is, my young son, when pressed for a comment on an uncertain topic, is becoming very fond of replying, “I love my Mama,” to then quickly maneuver out of the subject into safety.
Dylan’s little getaway utterance has made me think about how sometimes, while we are also maneuvering or attempting to, out of the storms of life, we find ourselves at a loss for words.  Often I have heard myself saying, “I don’t know what to or how to pray, Lord…”  Paul reminds me, however, how I am not alone in this predicament.  In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle tells us how, “in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
The Spirit comes to our aide always, particularly at those times, when our weakness of the mind, body and soul leave us wondering what to say.  At those times, the Spirit –inspired groans serve as our act of worship for He, the LORD, our King and Father understands the unintelligible and deciphers the utterances of our hurting hearts.  Dylan’s little safe phrase, however, also makes me think that we too have a similar phrase which will take us to the safety of our Savior’s arms all the time.  In those moments of total despair, confusion, fear, disillusion, sadness, trial, and worry, we can always steer clear into His safe harbor with a simple and heart-felt “I love you Jesus.”  There is power in His name.  There is power in our love for Him. Combine the two and we got victory over our circumstances and over the plotting of the enemy.
Just like hearing Dylan saying, “I love my Mama” puts a smile in my face and a song in my heart, I can only hope and dream that the sound of my voice speaking from the depth of my desolation may have a similar effect in my Savior’s heart.
I love my Jesus…I love my Lord.

 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father… (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Father's House

Going back to my Father’s house in my hometown in Panama has always been kind of like time traveling.  As soon as I step inside the house where I grew up, the comfort of sameness sets in and the memories of years past come flashing back to my mind.
Ever since my parents built that house in 1960, very little has changed.  The kitchen has never been remodeled; the furniture in the master suite, living room and dining room is still the same my parents had made for them when they got married in the early 50s.  They’ve only had 2 refrigerators and 2 stoves in 50 years (WOW!).  They got their first microwave oven 3 years ago, because my sister and I forced it into the house against much resistance.  I got them their very first washing machine last summer, and my Dad’s old truck turned 29 this January – 29 years old, that is.  His “new” car is 12. 
My bedroom still has the same ugly shade of Pepto-Bismol pink on the walls that it’s had since as far as I can remember and our old beds are still covered with the same old bedspreads from our infancy.  Needless to say then, my Dad’s house is filled with “vintage” stuff that some collectors in the U.S. would be thrilled to pay a small fortune to acquire.
It has always been charming to come in the house and breathe in the same air of my youth.  It has always given me a sense of permanence and stability, until this last time, that is.  It wasn’t until my last visit a few days ago that a feeling of unease started to stir within me.  As the days went by, the unease became regret and then it turned into anger.  I finally discovered, or rather openly admitted that my Dad’s reluctance to change is not healthy.  Furiously hanging on to the past, resisting change and pretending that we are immutable is not what we are called to do as Christians.
My Dad’s desperate clinging to “things” and his unshakable determination to keep it all the same demonstrate his desire for absolute control.  More than a desire, rather, it shows his believe in an illusion which he has tried to turn into his reality.  The fragility of this fabricated reality, however, is evident as he struggles to keep a tight rein on the circumstances he faces now without realizing that resistance to change can result in his own demise.  He’s gone as far as forbidding anyone from building a ramp which he needs in order to be wheeled in and out of the house whenever he has to go somewhere.  He has also forbidden any remodeling of his bathroom to ease the process of personal hygiene which has become a nightmare since he is unable to climb into the shower as it stands right now.
Those are just two examples of his out of control need for control.  So as I sat around the seemingly immutable surroundings at my Father’s house, I remembered how we are called to be transformed.  As Christians, we cannot remain the same.  Once we are touched by the Holy Spirit and we become His dwelling, it is impossible to stay unchanged.  We are not to “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” says the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2.  It is through this transformation that we will be able to “test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  If we do not allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, change us, we will miss God’s will for our lives!
This does not mean, however, that all change is positive.  That’s where discernment comes into place.  Our prayer must be for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we walk so that we may recognize the truth, which never changes.  We must never compromise the truth.  We cannot just “go with the flow” for the sake of keeping up with the changing times and changing values of society.  We must stand firm on the solid rock that is our Savior and His teachings.  But that is not to be confused with the false believe that we are to remain immutable.  We are not!  Only God is unchanging.  “I the LORD do not change…” says the Most High in Malachi 3:6.  We, on the other hand, are to strive toward being renewed, taking off the old self and putting on the new, like Paul teaches in Colossians 3:5-11: 
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.     7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
As the car that took me to the bus station drove away on my last day in my Father’s house, I saw my dear childhood home disappear in the distance.  That house has always stood tall, at the top of the hill, seemingly unchanging, just like my Dad.  I catch a last glimpse and close my eyes.  In my memory, I can almost see my Father standing proud on his usual spot at the corner of the front porch, arms crossed, overlooking the great view of the distant town.  He loves that house and all it represents.  However, I believe time has come for him to realize that he cannot hang on to the past any longer.  He cannot continue believing that he can contain change and control everything.  Perhaps it is time for him to find rest in the loving arms of the Only One who is truly unchanging and immutable.  I think it is time for my Dad to enjoy the comfort and stability of Him who never changes and whose years never end.  I pray the Holy Spirit would whisper to him how He is the Only One that remains the same, but that comfort is at hand, for as His beloved child, he too will get to live in His presence forever. 

 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  John 14:2

My Dad's 29-year-old little truck. 

My Father's House From the End of the Driveway

The Front Porch where both my parents spent many hours sitting, contemplating, waiting and enjoying each other's company for many, many years.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Welcome Home

“Welcome Home,” that’s what the Airport Security Agent told me after he checked my documents and motioned me to approach an available Custom’s Window upon my arrival at the New Jersey International Airport.
The last seven days in Panama were filled with such high degree of emotional intensity that I was not looking forward to having to deal with rude and difficult government officials whom, though not intentionally, make air travel so much more irritating that it should ever be. The casually spoken words uttered by the NSA Agent (who probably routinely says them a bazillion times a day without even thinking about it, let alone caring how the words may impact those who hear them) pulled me out of the semi-comatose state in which I was submerged. 
Up until that moment, I had just been going through the motions, feeling rather numb in my mind, body and soul.  I had been wondering about how hard life could be, especially when you are pulled in opposite directions at the same time.  I had been lost in my thoughts about the challenges I’ve been facing, unsure of the future and consumed by the futility of my efforts to understand many of the situations at hand.  The sound of the impersonally spoken words, “welcome home” pronounced out of obligation and routine rather than kindness and care, snapped me out of my wandering thoughts, and placed me right in front of the truth of the reality I am experiencing. 
I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  The thought came to me as I sat down in the waiting area to wait for my delayed flight to Pittsburgh.  I’ve heard it many times, but I tend to quickly forget it or doubt its validity when things don’t go according to my desires.  It’s funny, however, how the Lord provides us with exactly what we need at exactly the perfect time, for later, on the plane, I pulled out the book The Resolution for Women and the thought was confirmed in a stunning way. 
In the chapter I read on the plane, Priscilla Shirer meditated on two key verses from Scripture.  First it was:  Jeremiah 1:5 “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.  I appointed you a prophet to the nations,” and then, John 15:16 “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.  I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit.”  She said how we can “trust that He has planted us right now in the place where we will be the most personally productive.  Even if we may not be inherently pleased with the person He’s made us to be, even if we may not be abundantly happy with the circumstances we are currently living, we can be sure that God has planted us here with design and intention.  He has selected the soil where we’re presently growing…It’s all ben divinely designed to surround us with the conditions that allow our unique gifts and abilities to reach maximum potential.  To grow.  To yield.  To produce.”
Regardless of whether we like it or even understand His plan for our lives; we have to believe that He does have one.  We play a part in the furthering of His Kingdom.  He designed a specific role for us to play; one that we are uniquely qualified to fulfill.  Even our weaknesses are part of His design.  Our flaws all have a reason to be.  We were meant to have to deal with our “issues” in order for us to be ready to do whatever it is that He put us on this earth to do.  I struggle with anger, lack of patience, short temper, lack of self-control and lack of compassion, among many other things.  As I surrender such struggles to Him; His glory is revealed in me for I am able to deal with them and do what He has appointed me to do in spite of them, by His power, and His power alone.   
His plan for our lives, however, often includes situations and circumstances that we do not find particularly enjoyable.  It is easy to be content with our lot when our lot is a nice, leveled, and rich field.  Contentment becomes elusive when our lot is plagued with the weeds of diseases of the body and mind, poverty, loneliness and loss.  How do we reconcile the goodness of a supposedly loving God when we are facing tragic loss of loved ones?  How are we to see and perceive the love of our Heavenly Father, when our earthly fathers have abandoned us or rejected us or simply forgotten about us?  How are we to enjoy that peace that surpasses all understanding when the whole world seems to be crumbling down around us?  How are we to complete the task that He has divinely appointed us to complete when we are so weak and wounded that it hurts to even draw our next breath?
I don’t know.  The only thing I do know is that as children of the Most High God, we are His handiwork.  He created us, and in Jesus the Christ, He redeems us and saves us to do His good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)  I have no clue how He does it.  All I know is that He knows, and He is the One who does it.  He chose me to play my very own part in His divine plan, and for that I humbly rejoice.  I rejoice in humility for I know that I am not competent in myself to claim anything for myself; but my competence comes from God, and from Him alone (2 Corinthians 3:5 NIV).  I didn’t choose Him.  He chose me since before He formed me in my mother’s womb.  He carefully designed me with all my “issues” and weaknesses; because He knows, in His infinite wisdom, that such was the best way for me to be able to meet His goal for my life.
The same way He does it for me, He does it for all of His children.  There is a reason for our life to be the way it is.  I know, many of the situations we might find ourselves involved with may be the product of our own wrong choices; but the Lord can use all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Therefore, even our mistakes and wrong turns, even our loss and loneliness, even our shame enable us to play our part in His plan, if we surrender them all to Him, if we lay them at the foot of the cross and carry on with our own crucified life. 
He planted us wherever we are because this is the perfect soil for us at this time.  When it’s time for us to be transplanted, He will take care of that too.  It is because of His perfect purpose and will that He has given us the set of circumstances we face now.  We were called to have the children that we have, or to be childless; to have the spouse that we have, or to be single; to have the job that we have or to be jobless; to have the parents that we have or to be orphans or abandoned; to deal with the issues that we deal with; to minister in the way that we minister; to live the life that we live.  It is all for the fulfillment of His grand plan, if we are willing participants. 
If we decide to embrace His plan for us and believe He can use us as His vessels of grace, the possibilities would be endless.  We couldn’t even imagine the things that He could do through us, as we believe we are His chosen ones, set apart and appointed for His glory.
As I got off the plane in Pittsburgh, I hurried to the baggage claim area, where I knew Dan and the boys were waiting for me.  I saw them at the bottom of the escalators and waved.  Dan was the first one to see me.  He told the boys and they all waved as they moved closer.  I stepped off the escalator and we finally reunited in a big family embrace.  As I stood there held in the arms of my family, I heard the words, “welcome home,” and rejoiced.    

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

He Is the Breath of All Mankind

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
(Job 12:10 NIV)

The book of Job is certainly not one of those books of the Bible that I think about when I’m feeling all cheerful, happy and fuzzy inside…though, now that I think about it, feeling “fuzzy” inside might not fit in the same category as cheerful and happy – not sure what that’d feel like – asthma attack comes to mind, so “fuzzy” may actually be a poor choice of word any rate, I digress. 

Even though, Job is a book that I associate more with words like resignation, obedience, hardship, suffering, loss, acceptance and sadness; if I pay attention, all of these words imply a state in which the soil of our soul becomes prepped and ready to receive the Good News of His Word.  So Job could be a book where I can actually find hope, true hope.  Hardship, loss, suffering, sadness, and all those states of being that don’t sound or feel so pleasant; God can use to do the work of a plow in the field,- to break it-.  Like the blades on this divine plow, difficult, and often almost unbearable circumstances break us and turn us like the harden earth on the field that is our soul.  They prepare us to receive the seed that is His Word so the Holy Spirit can create a fertile garden in our hearts where His fruits can grow.

Thus, I do find hope in the book of Job.  I find the hope of the realization that it is by Him, through Him and because of Him that I have the breath of life.  Job reminds me that The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4) Nothing can change that truth.  No difficulty or hardship can change the fact that He sustains me as He lives in me.  And as long as I remain in Him, I will have true hope, for He is the only source of it.  Only those who break away from His vine are hopeless, “For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life.”  (Job 27:8)

As I prepare to travel to Panama to visit my ailing and very frail Father once again; my heart aches for I fear it might be for the last time.  However, I find hope this morning in the words of Job because he reminds me that the hand of the Almighty is the life of every creature, including my Dad’s, and that His Divine Breath is the breath of all mankind.  Our Lord has His hand on my Father and He is the only one who knows the day and the hour of his last breath.  Until then, I praise God for the life He has given him, for who he was and for who he still is.  I have hope that whatever the year might bring regarding the fate of my Dad’s condition, there is always hope as long as we remain in Him who is The Breath of Life.  He, who is hope Himself, will lead us to hope, even if in the most unlikely places.  For as long as we have life, His breath will remain in our nostrils. (Job 27:3)  - and He’ll keep us from feeling “fuzzy” inside as if with an asthma attack : )

Monday, January 2, 2012

Our Helper

I have to say that taking down Christmas decorations this year went smoother than ever.  Perhaps it was because most of it got magically done while I was taking a long afternoon nap : ).  Maybe it really was because this year Grant was a huge helper.  Whatever it might’ve been, we finished the task in a few hours as supposed to a couple of days.  We took down, wrapped and boxed every ornament and every figurine.  We filled up many containers and carried them (well, Dan and Grant did : ) to the outside storage where they’ll live for the next 11 months.  We vacuumed the carpet (well, Dan did : ) and moved the furniture back to its place (well, almost all of it).  It’s all done now, and the only remaining “Christmas” is the lovely poinsettia on our kitchen table and the myriad of toys still scattered on the floor.
Now, we sit and try to come up with ways to return to some sense of normalcy as we see the Christmas season come to a close.  The boys are really NOT looking forward to going back to school tomorrow and I am really not looking forward to the trip I have to take to Panama later this week.  I am struggling to get back to my routine and I still haven’t found time to start exercising again.  In other words, the Post-Christmas Blues is all set to begin.
This year, however, I am experiencing a glimmer of hope that hasn’t been there before during these traditionally tough, after-Christmas days.  I think it all began with the realization that Grant is becoming a huge helper around the house.  He is even taking up laundry duties!  And Dan can rely on his help, even if often reluctantly, every time he asks Grant to lend him a hand.   Seeing my son becoming a “big boy” on whom I can count on to do what is necessary sparks hope in my soul and reminds me of the blessing of having a helper around.
Thinking about that reminds me of another “Helper” I have.  Today, as I pray for the Lord to lavishly surround me and my loved ones with His presence, I feel inspired and ready to take on the challenges that He might have reserved for me in 2012 because I know I will not face them alone.  I will have Him with me in the form of the Holy Spirit, my Divine Helper.   He has given me an increased awareness of the fulfilled promise of Emmanuel, God with Us as I accept and understand in my heart that the greatest blessing is the Holy Spirit living inside every believer. 
When Jesus was trying to explain to His disciples that He’ll be leaving soon, He comforted them by announcing the fact that once He’d be gone from the material world, He’d send the “Helper,” “The Comforter,” “The Holy Spirit,” to reside permanently in their hearts so the promise of Emmanuel, God with Us, would continue to be true. 
It is thanks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in us that we can confidently maneuver through the jammed and complex ways of the world without getting lost.  As well as we remain tuned-into His guidance, we will know that we are stepping on solid ground, not on sinking sand.  Jesus Himself reassured us of the navigating value of the Holy Spirit when He told His disciples that, “…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:26 NIV) 
Therefore, His Word would become alive as we read it once we allow the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and guide.  And He is indeed teaching me personally to trust in Him as my counselor.  Before every decision I make, before every turn I take, before every trip I begin, I am learning to let myself be ushered by His loving hands to where He needs me to go. 
That’s why today, as I begin a new year, I am not as concerned, worried or afraid as I used to always be.  I know I not only have a maturing family who together forms a winning team, but that I also have a Helper who loves me and who leads me “beside quiet waters, restores my soul and guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  A guide who holds my hand even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and guards my heart so I would fear no evil, for He is with me always. (Psalm 23)

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  (Psalm 121: 1-2 NIV)