crazy to hope?

It was one of those times when we felt too far away – agonizingly far.  We walked much of this journey along side of our nearest and dearest loved ones through text messages alone.  Through those updates, sometimes hourly over the last six weeks to share news and prayers and scriptures and songs, we “watched” disease and death claim “victory” over the body of our brother.  His strong frame became so fragile, his rosy cheeks grew pale, his hands and feet no longer warm to the touch, his eyes staring blank and lifeless.  So many of those days and nights stretched long.  And dark.  And oh, so weary.

It is sobering.  It is loss in the greatest sense.  We ache and we mourn.  We hold onto as much as we can of our loved one for as long as we can.  Our minds trace back over years of precious memories, moments shared and cherished.  Tears run freely.  Volumes are spoken in knowing glances and embraces with no words.

And yet.  A smile breaks through.  Through broken voices, we still sing hymns of praise to God!  Peace washes over in a knowing, a true moment of thrilling realization that this death gives way to eternal LIFE!  Our eyes widen as we imagine our loved one stepping from this dark, decaying world into the splendor of heaven!  Those blank eyes sparkling as they open to see the Savior welcoming them.  Those hands feeling His hand slip inside theirs to lead them home!  Heavenly healed, eternally secure, humbled and overjoyed in worship for the One who gave His life for us!  Christ’s death means LIFE, abundant, eternal life to us!  Our own death is now the passage to everlasting LIFE!

“What a day that will be when my JESUS I shall see

When I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace

When He takes me by the hand and leads me to the promised land

What a day, glorious day that will be”

[Heritage Singers]

Where does this come from – this bold, daring HOPE?

They are just words on a page.  But they are God’s Words!  The realities of creation reveal the power of God.  The life and testimony, death and resurrection of His Son all join in a chorus of confirmation of each and every word of prophesy.  God’s Spirit draws our hearts to see it all, trust it all, and KNOW, truly know we are not crazy to HOPE in our glorious eternity!

So in true, God-honoring upside-down fashion, we look at the lifeless form of an earthly body and we see glorious, eternal LIFE beginning!  That body was just a shell.  The soul of the one we love is safely home… forever.  We look beyond the grave – to the time when we will be reunited – when we will see JESUS.  In His perfect time, He will welcome the rest of us home!

Then when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory!”  THANKS be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!   ~             I Corinthians 15:54, 57

 And this HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  ~ Romans 5:5

Before His own death, JESUS tried to help His disciples understand this upside-down truth:

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.  But its death will produce many new kernels – an abundant harvest of new lives.”  John 12:24

In God’s economy death paves the way for LIFE – what is buried and split open, broken and dead produces a whole new level of living and abundant harvest.  Our earthly body is just a shell, an outer covering for the true soul within.  In physical death, that outer shell is laid aside to free the true soul – all that makes us who we truly are, that part that is named and redeemed and claimed by our Creator – to be forever with the Lord.  Beyond the grave, we are more ALIVE than we have ever been before!!  No longer burdened by sin in our own nature or the effects of sin in this world, we are made new!  Whole and holy, covered by Christ’s blood, welcomed into the very presence of Almighty God!  Eternally HOME.

It all has me wondering, though, even while I am still walking this earth… what outer shells of mine (maybe self-protection, fear, pride, or self-reliance?) hold me in a powerful grip, rendering me pale, weak, or lifeless?  Which of those outer layers need to be surrendered, to be buried and dead so I can step boldly forward into a whole new level of living and serving JESUS?  Not just into eternal life and the hope of my forever home, but into a more ABUNDANT, thriving life – right here and right now!?

No.  We are not crazy to hope – in our eternal, glorious future OR in the mind-blowing ways our Savior can redeem and transform the life we continue to live on this earth!  His plans for each day are eternally significant and exactly purposeful.  May He give me a confidence in the “eternal” that builds in me the courage to crack open any armor and allow Him to get to work on me from the inside out … in the “here and now.”  May His Word continue to strengthen my heart to hold tightly to the HOPE that is real and reliable because of Who He is!

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what I’ve learned from my Dad…

Today is my Dad’s 80th birthday!  Wow.  It is hard to believe.  He is as active and invested and diligent as I have always remembered him to be.  He might move at a slightly slower pace and enjoy an extra nap here and there, but he inspires me!

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Dad and I share a love for many things… a walk in Valley Green along the Wissahickon Creek, playing or watching good tennis, a fun math riddle, a good chat about our latest discovery as we study God’s Word, singing hymns around the piano… and not to be forgotten, some die-hard favorite foods like a medium-well grilled filet mignon, a nice ham & cheese sandwich on fresh bread with Lays potato chips, a tasty handful of nuts, fresh fruit or a homemade cookie!  As true Philadelphians, Tasty-cakes are always a welcome indulgence too!!!

We are both a little (lot?) type A, punctual, exact, orderly, predictable, often too serious, sometimes quiet and contemplative… but we both love and care about people deeply, and thrive on reaching out to others with whatever help we can offer.  We are a very loyal bunch – reliable and steadfast.  Because of that strong, serious side, we both enjoy others who can lighten us up a little and bring out a good old-fashioned belly laugh!

As we honor him today, it is a joy to share a few things I’ve learned from my Dad…

Be a student of God’s Word.  Be faithful.  Stand firm in truth.  Be actively invested in the local church.  Love God’s people.  Give your very best to whatever the Lord calls you to do.  Teach by example (humbling though that may be!).

Get a good education.  Work hard.  Be resourceful.  Finish what you start.  Be known as a problem-solver, a peace-maker.  Care about others; take notice of their needs and do whatever you can to help them succeed.  Share what you’ve learned.  Be humble, but always reaching to meet a new goal.

Be frugal with yourself, but generous with others.  Be disciplined in healthy habits so that indulging every once in a while is really OK.  A little sweet something, any time past noon, is never a bad thing, especially if it is a cinnamon heart spritz cookie!

Stay active.  When it comes to tennis, the body may slow down over time, but make sure your serve still packs a punch… and a well-placed shot has a much greater impact than a lot of running!!!  (as Max Lucado might say:  “true in tennis, true in life??”)

As the years pass, one huge lesson we are learning from my Dad is how to faithfully love and care for a spouse.  Mom and Dad are honestly a bit lost without each other.  After 55 years of marriage, it is sweet to see how their worlds are really not complete if they are not together.  Mom has bravely soldiered through recent mishaps and health struggles and Dad has worked tirelessly to care for her needs.  He takes great pride and joy in maintaining their own little sanctuary in their home and gardens, their many bird feeders and deer deterrents!  He quietly goes about his business of growing and maintaining the things that delight Mom’s heart.  That is what love looks like!

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Even at 80, my Dad is still learning, and we’re still looking to him for lessons:  take time to sit (neither of us are known for sitting still for long!), start the day with Bible reading and prayer, trust the Lord for He is always faithful, spend time with the kids, keep them active with walks, bike rides, stories, games, playing at the park.  Stay teachable.  Still study hard, work hard, give your very best energy for the good of others, but an afternoon nap in the breeze on the back patio is always a great choice too!!!

These few thoughts only scrape the surface… we are blessed to have such a living legacy, a Godly heritage!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!!!  With love and thanks for all you do to make me proud to say, “that’s MY Dad!”  I love you!

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Proverbs 13:22 ~ A good man leaves an inheritance of moral stability and goodness to his children’s children.

I Corinthians 16:13 ~ Stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

Proverbs 14:26 ~ Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 10:9 ~ He who walks in integrity walks securely.

Titus 2:7 ~ In everything, showing a pattern of good works, with integrity and dignity in your teaching.

2 Timothy 2:21 ~ He will be a vessel of honorable use… useful to the Master, ready for every good work.

Deuteronomy 10:12 ~ What does the Lord require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

a path long forgotten

On the last day of another great week visiting my parents last summer, I decided to go for a run.  I started up the hill that led from their house to the local park, to jog a few laps around the baseball fields.  But when I reached the park, I wimped out!  The walking trail has a pretty steep incline across the back side of the park, and my body, spoiled to usually run in south Florida where all is flat and smooth just said, “nope!”  I knew that my old high school was about a mile further down that nice flat road, so I decided that it would be fun to wander down memory lane instead!

As I neared the high school, a flood gate seemed to burst open… of faces and places and happenings that I hadn’t thought about in 30 years!  From marching band practice to lunchtime Frisbee on the front lawn to the cafeteria’s awesome peanut butter bon-bons… to trig and calculus and Spanish essays and trying to make sense of Beowulf and existentialism in English class… to our fantastic high school musicals and track & swim meets and M&M fundraisers… to learning how to type on a good old-fashioned machine with a carriage return… to dear friends with whom I am still in contact today!

I circled around to the back of the school and smiled when I saw the football field again… where we marched half-time for every game, struggled to run even one lap of the track during gym class, but ultimately walked across the grass in Colonial red and blue to receive our diplomas at graduation.  It was surreal to be standing there again.  Had it really been 30 years??

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Lost in my thoughts, I found myself heading up the hill behind the school to where the old junior high building still stands.  That hill had been the brutal first half of our biathlon challenge for swim class.  I was not a runner back then and barely made it through without losing my lunch!  It felt a bit victorious to jog that same path quite comfortably all these years later!  Circling the old junior high brought back its own memories – from first crushes to favorite teachers to frog dissection to home ec & woodworking to trying desperately not to embarrass myself while attempting to play volleyball or field hockey in gym class!

As I started back down the hill toward the main road, I came upon a small bike path emerging from a housing development.  I stopped, tilted my head and squinted at it.  Scratching the cobwebs away from my brain, I felt sure that path led to the small local library across from my old elementary school.  On a whim, I decided to continue my tour down memory lane and said a little prayer that this path would lead me to familiar territory!!!

Sure enough, the path followed the fence line of back yards and eventually brought me up another small hill – right beside the library!  I almost laughed out loud.  How in the world did I remember that?  It had been 30 years since I had even given it a thought!  And there I stood, beside that beloved little building where I loved to page through picture books and where I did my first “research” for an assignment about the Stewart tartan in 6th grade.  I remember feeling “all grown up” to be able to walk there by myself from the elementary school!  And there in the front lawn, stood the same amazing rock structure that always looked like a bear reading a book.  How sweet that it had been preserved all these years!

Of course, I could not end this little tour without a stop at the elementary school across the street.  The sign at the entrance still proudly displayed a lion mascot with the slogan “hear us ROAR!” that had been selected when I was still a student there… a LONG time ago!  A few more memories of favorite teachers and friends and foursquare floated through my mind as I turned back toward my parents’ home.

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In the homestretch of my run down “memory lane” that day, I couldn’t help but think of the little prayer I offered up as I turned onto that path to the library… that the Lord would lead me back to familiar territory!  How faithful He is!

He can (and will) show me exactly where to go.  When I am not sure, even when I have absolutely NO clue where I am going or what I should be doing, He will show me.

He can lead me back… back to familiar territory, sometimes all the way back to simpler days, early steps of innocent faith.  It was as a teenager that I first began to follow Christ.  Not just because that was the way I was raised.  Not just because my parents taught me to do so (although I am eternally grateful for their love for the Lord and their desire to lead me to the Savior).  It was as a teenager, in junior high and high school, that I began to wrestle out my own questions and seek the Lord, through His Word, for answers.  I knew my eternity was secure when I trusted JESUS as my Savior at age 12.  But it was during those teenage years that I began to discover how near and dear He was – to me! – in every day life situations – when I began to find Him faithful, always.  The foundation for a lifelong journey began.

I thought of Jacob finding his way back to Bethel, the first place that he encountered the Lord in a personal way.  Thirty years after his night vision of the ladder to heaven in that solitary place, thirty years after the Lord had spoken His promises to him, not just to his father or grandfather, Jacob made his way back.  In the process, he led his family to establish their trust and focus in a covenant with the one true God.

“let us arise and go up to Bethel and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and has been with me wherever I have gone”  Genesis 35:3

Circling the past, retracing the steps, I can say the same: “the Lord has answered me in any days of distress and has been with me wherever I have gone!”  Looking back helps me to see His hand moving and working in amazing ways!  Those ways may have been mysterious at many points along the way, but no less powerful or wondrous!

I can trust His light and truth to lead me, His grace to hold me, His faithfulness to refresh my soul and renew my confidence in whatever path lies ahead.

He can, and will, show me exactly where to go!

When necessary, He can, and will, lead me back to the right path.

Show me the right path, O LORD, point out the road for me to follow; lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me.  All day long I put my hope in You.  Psalm 25:4-5

 This is what the LORD says: “stop at the crossroads and look around.  Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it.  Travel its path and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

Praise God for His tender mercies and enduring faithfulness – always!

Read more here! – Genesis 28:10-22 – Genesis 35:1-8 – Psalm 23:3 – Psalm 43:3 – Hosea 2:14

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“there are many paths in life,

some narrow, some wide,

I will choose the path of CHRIST

where He walks by my side.”

~ Cathleen Zeller

 

 

space for Grace

We scrambled to pack up the condo and load the car for the 16-hour trip home.  Snow arriving later in the day (and causing unsafe driving for our rear-wheel drive vehicle) was chasing us from our winter getaway in the Virginia mountains a full day ahead of schedule.  In about an hour, we had gathered our belongings… as well as the fragments of hopes we had carried into that week.  Weather had detoured many of them.  After a final sweep to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind in our hurried packing, I stood in the doorway of the now dark and empty condo that had been our warm and cozy home for a few days.  Those few days had gone by too quickly.  I fought a lump in my throat.

We were leaving one of my favorite places on earth – and I wasn’t ready.

Disappointments aside, we were thankful for the warning of snowy weather and for the chance to make our way home safely ahead of the storm.  After a two-day trek south, we pulled in the driveway of the only house on our street still decorated for Christmas.  It seemed the rest of the world had already tucked their festive touches away and taken a fresh bold step into a new year.

One of my favorite times of the year was over – and I wasn’t ready.

A fresh new year was starting and I was still scrambling to make sense of the one that was past – I just wasn’t ready.

The truth is, most of this school year has caught me off guard.  Event dates and due dates and lunch dates that were “weeks away” have suddenly been “tomorrow!!?!”  I have spent months feeling unprepared, disconnected… and as they say, “a day late and a dollar short.”  Life is whizzing right on by me and most days I feel like I’m just not ready.

My whole being aches for some sort of pause button.  To be able to just breathe.  Long and slow.

Thankfully, our first day at home was a Saturday.  Thank the Lord there was no where I needed to be, nothing immediately pressing.  The lump in my throat was still there and I fought tears brimming for no apparent reason.  This is what overwhelmed can look like in my world.  My sweet daughter is usually the one to take one look at me in that state and tell me, “Mom, go take a nap!”

The house was still quiet and everyone else was still sleeping off our two days of travel.  Not me.  I was staring at the ceiling, still trying to make sense of swirling thoughts and emotions.  So I tip-toed my way to the kitchen to pour a bowl of cereal.  Right then it hit me.  More than food for my stomach, I needed food for my soul.  The craziness of this year had slowly tugged me away from my favorite time of the day… quiet early mornings at the table by the window, watching the sun come up with an open Bible and a notebook.  Yes, that was exactly where I needed to start!

How sweet it is – always – to linger in God’s Word, to be reminded of Who He is and the precious, precious truths and promises He holds out to me!

These few passages touched my heart:

Jeremiah 29:10-11 ~ “I will visit you and perform My good word toward you.  For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of PEACE and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Joshua 1:5 ~ “I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Psalm 4:4-8 ~ “Stand in awe, sin not, ponder in your own heart upon your bed and be still.  Selah.  Offer the sacrifice of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord… Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.  You have put gladness in my heart.  I will lie down and sleep in PEACE for You alone cause me to dwell in safety.”

Proverbs 2:3-5 ~ “if you cry after knowledge and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hid treasure, then will you understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

John 1:16 ~ “for from HIS fullness we receive GRACE that replaces grace already given”

Oh, yes, His GRACE… always grace.  That word captured my attention and seemed to offer the pause button I longed for.  My Savior was coming to my rescue, offering me His grace to extend, even to myself.  Grace that never expires, never runs out, is always replaced again and again with more of His pure, perfect grace.

Grace releases the hold on all the things that didn’t happen, would’ve, could’ve, even should’ve… but didn’t.  Grace also releases the paralyzing hold of what’s still coming and the urge to figure it all out and fit it all in.  There is no need.  His grace is sufficient and His plans for each day are flawless.

And so, I took a deep breath of fresh realization that in and of myself I will never be “ready” for any given day, month or year.  But when it all presses in, I am warmly welcomed to collapse into the arms of Grace and let the Lord show me which step to take next!  Even in my world of never having enough time, the one investment worth making is open-ended time to get lost in the wonder of HIM.

What I don’t understand, He will show me.  What I need, He will supply.  What I mourn the loss of, He will redeem.  When I am sad, His very Presence will offer me gladness.  Wrestling with my own plans (or those that didn’t unfold) will only lead to stress.  Embracing His plans, even when I can’t see them, will always lead to rest!

It is now February.  Evergreens, berries, red bows & lights have been replaced by delicate doily hearts on petal pink strings that now dance above our doorways and soften the hard edges of our cabinets and stainless refrigerator doors.  Being an all-time lover of hearts and flowers and all things purple, this is one of my favorite months of the year.  And I’m still not really ready for it to be 2017!  But one thing I will always be ready for more of – hungry for – like a tall glass of water to my weary, thirsty soul – is more Grace!

Lord Jesus, Savior, always tender and all sufficient Rescuer of my soul, show me how to make more space for GRACE … time in my day to linger in Your Word, let Your truth wash over me in refreshing streams, and fill me with grace to extend to myself and everyone around me – an overflow that brings PEACE.  Amen.

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