Today is a hard day. If not for you, then likely for someone you know.
Did you know that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place? Should you visit there, you might leave thinking differently than the name (death) suggests.
My husband, Jason, my daughter, Hallie, and I recently visited the dark valley on a trip to Israel. It’s located between Jerusalem and Jericho.
It’s believed to have been the place where the Good Samaritan happened upon a man who’d been robbed and beaten. Robbers were known to have frequented the area.
The ground looks dry and unforgiving. It doesn't appear that much sunlight reaches it. But things grow as a testament to the presence and work of a higher power.
It’s not a place that many would consider putting on their top ten places to visit. Sometimes you just find yourself there.
After suffering a particularly difficult season this past year, my daughter stood at the cliff’s edge this past summer.
There was something beautiful about seeing her walk away.
There is strength to walk through the flood, fight the enemy, suffer the loss...
Remember that when you find yourself there, the valley isn’t a permanent lodging place. Instead, it’s a place we pass through. It’s a place where sufferers find themselves. As much so, it’s a place of rescue.
Don’t underestimate God’s ability or desire to create beauty in life’s dark places. We don’t walk in darkness alone.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
I woke up to my Facebook memories showing the post that got the most attention two years ago. It was a picture of a Dr. Pepper can.
I have to admit I was initially a little disgruntled that my most liked post was a stock photo of a soda; not a cute picture of one of the kids or else a blog post that I'd spent hours on trying to get just right.
I do remember though, why that post was so wildly shared and commented on. We were a week and a half on the other side of Hurricane Harvey. People were still displaced from their homes and reeling from all the devastating results of a thousand year flood.
So many of us felt so helpless those days. As mostly a lighthearted attempt at humor I posted a picture of a Dr Pepper can with a message I'd sent to the local Dr Pepper company in Beaumont, which had been flooded.
Shelves at local stores were void of the sweet nectar, so I was simply asking...for a friend...when we would be getting it back.
Fellow Dr Pepper addicts and mere sympathizers shared the post. Friends and acquaintances immediately began to post in comments where they'd seen a Dr Pepper or two in a cooler at the front of a convenience store. I had several friends drop by Dr Peppers they had at home. One friend brought me an ice cold Dr Pepper from Sonic. On a scheduled trip my mom would deliver two cases a family friend had sent from nearly four hundred miles away.
A representative from Dr Pepper somehow got wind of my post and sent me a fun message back, even though they made no promise to get Dr Peppers back in our stores. They didn't have to do that.
I didn't need a Dr Pepper.
I believe we were all thirsty for solidarity those days. I think it did us all good to give what we could give whether it was a sighting of a box of Dr Peppers or a small word of encouragement. We were givers and receivers of God's goodness in its many sizes and forms.
Those days we took time to acknowledge one another in sometimes small, but most meaningful ways.
That's one of the best things about difficult times. Difficulty and tragedy awaken the human spirit. So shaken sometimes by things we can't imagine our eyes are open to see the multitude of need around us.
There's no limit in opportunity to creatively be a blessing. This is never more true than when we're in dire need. Just ask the family who learned that someone prayed with their father while he died in a stairwell on September 11, eighteen years ago today. Ask the woman who had a friend hold her hand when she felt utterly alone.
It's no major trauma, but two of our three kids packed up to leave in July and August. The world isn't quaking but my hearts been a little disheveled.
The day we moved Hallie into the dorm I received texts where friends checked in to see how I was doing. One friend sent a huge basket of goodies!
Our oldest, Hayden gets married in three days. This past Sunday I got intentionally long hugs because God has graced me with a community of believers who pay attention to the fact that it wasn't just the hymn that made me misty eyed in the pew.
Paul gets it right in the fourth chapter of Philippians where he states that he has all he needs in Christ. But he also gets it right when he writes a lengthy thank you letter to the people of Philippi.
Christ is enough for me. He's enough for you. But, praise God, he puts people in our lives who share in our troubles and double our joys...Oh the riches of knowing Christ and those who follow Him.
So here's my thank you note to all the huggers, the pray-ers, the texters, the Facebook commenters, the card writers, the intense hand shakers and "just because" cake bakers. Here lies my gratitude to the ones who've shared a Dr Pepper, a life experience, or even a simple knowing smile.
And here's an invitation. Keep finding ways to lighten the heaviness, the loneliness, the busyness of life. All people need is Jesus, but what a privilege we have to allow people to see Jesus in us.
There’s a Polaroid camera and a scrunchie sitting on the stairs. They’ll collect dust if I don’t mention them to their owners even though they’re in plain sight. That's the way it is with items on the stairs. They stay. I can count on it.
Particular life events are trustworthy. My stomach growls loudest when I’m amongst strangers in a quiet room. The guy gets the girl in Hallmark stories. I ask for a menu at my favorite restaurant and then order the same thing I always order. I think I’m deathly ill when I get a new kind of headache. The scales have too much say.
Some things never change. Like junk that mysteriously collects under beds or the way dogs have a fit when the mailman walks down the sidewalk. Remote controls get lost in couch cushions.
Most days are the same. We hurry around seldom stopping while wishing life would slow down.
Our favorite song causes us to tap our foot if we don’t acquiesce and sing it out loud. Grass embraces diversity and grows up through sidewalk cracks. Babies make us smile.
Some things never change. We know, though, that other things do. Fads fade. Sayings get old. Tastes change.
Seasons have finales.
Dynamic and the dependable intermingle. New and the ever-the-same meet.
Boys with fresh haircuts and girls with their backpacks full of pointy pencils and boxes of fresh crayons walk into their classrooms...and then let go of our hand.
Babies who make us smile turn into girls who move into dorms ...and then we force ourselves to smile.
Steady and adventure dance.
He who causes the grass to wither is the same one who brings out the starry host one by one and (night after night) calls forth each one by name.
Our God masterfully reshapes and rearranges, and yet He’s the Ancient of Days. It ought to make us hang on to Him for dear life. It ought to make us twirl. It ought to cause us to marvel.
I glanced at it on the counter when filling my morning cup with ice. I got an invite yesterday and, per usual, I put it on the counter so that I could let the date roll around in my mind. Do I have anything going on then?
I’m not good with getting everything on the calendar. I just learned how to put an appointment in my phone last week. So when it comes to “being there”, I’ve had a tendency to be flaky. It’s not really so much because I’m disorganized. It's more that life is just so busy. I routinely talk about bulging calendar squares for good reason.
Flakiness drives me crazy, both my own and when someone tells me they’ll do something, or be somewhere and then they don’t show up. I suppose uncertainty causes anxiety. Being reliable is an expression that shows another they matter.
Not just for a special occasion, there are events we don't speak about for which we're in need of support. We need encouragement. We need defense.
That’s why I was thrilled with a verse in 1 Samuel this morning amidst reading over the hard to keep up with G’s: Gibeah, Gilead, Gad...
In chapter eleven, the people of Jabesh are in hot water with the Ammonites. (This is after the elders of Jabesh offered to be subject to them if they’d merely make a treaty.) The Ammonites respond with a promise that any treaty would include a community eye gouging, and thus public disgrace. That doesn't sound much like a treaty, does it?
Jabesh sends out messengers looking for rescue. The word that they’re in need of assistance hits Saul’s ears (who's about to be confirmed as king.) Subsequently the power of God hits Saul. The message Saul sends back provides a word we can all cling to.
"Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, 'by the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be rescued.'"
1 Samuel 11:9
We let people down. Sometimes our character flaws are at fault. Other times our behavior will be amiss or we'll be absent due to things outside our power. Likewise we'll be let down. Loneliness shows up to what was supposed to be a party.
We'll have times we feel defenseless, but God's showing up is certain.
The people of Jabesh sought help. Saul didn't put the invitation on the counter, only to respond later, or else answer in the affirmative, but then have something else come up later. He didn't forget.
There's not a day, an occasion, where the sun doesn't get hot. Neither clouds nor rain can cool it off. Even when we don't feel it on our skin, it doesn't cease to be hot. We have that assurance.
The fighting, 1 Sam 11:11 tells us, was complete in the heat of the day. The Ammonites were battled and slaughtered before the sun got its hottest.
We can rest assured, knowing that God has responded to our invitation to be attentive before we ever ask. When the sun is hot, be certain that God is already at work. He's better than on the way. He's there.
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Driving our youngest to a youth event this morning I started one of those quick unsolicited conversations. She'd texted everybody in her contacts inviting them to Messy Olympics at our church. For some of those friends, this was the third time she was inviting them. I encouraged her to leave well enough alone and not worry about whether or not her friends would be able to make it.
Try then chill, I told her, as I flippantly flipped on the blinker right before turning (It drives me bonkers when other drivers use their blinker at the last second.)
From my own experience, I knew that she'd likely get to the church parking lot counting who all was there and who didn't make it, one, because she likes to win and wanted to make sure she was part of an adequately sized team, and secondly because she'd invited them to go and really wanted them to respond in the affirmative to her invite.
I mentioned her being a control freak (like myself) before wishing her a fun time. I saw plenty of adult faces, but I hopped out anyway to check to see if my help was needed. Our always fun guy, Jim, suggested that I run through the bubbles before I left. After flagging my friend Rachel down to join me in the wild and crazy, we walked through the bubbles.
A youth sponsor took our picture and sent it to my phone. I suppressed giggles when I got back to my car and saw the picture of my buddy and I posing with bubbles up to our waist. I had my shades on more because I had no makeup on, than because of the sun, and I was holding my shoes out to the side like I'd imagine someone on a girls night out holding a margarita.
I drove a few blocks and picked up some dry cleaning, parking in a spot that would likely cause me to have to back onto a busier street rather than my usual spot around to the side. The wild ride was made complete with an illegal u-turn.
You have to know being rigid/frightened/intense is my default. The first chiropractor I saw couldn't crack my neck or pop my back.
"You're the most tightly wound person I've ever known." That's what one of my most adored high school teachers told me my senior year. It was probably after one of my proud arguments against abortion. The slight sting of those words have lingered for all these years. I wasn't called Grandma by the guys in my class for nothing.
I've lived life with conviction. I'm passionate, as is my youngest. She's gregarious like her daddy and looks just like him too. But she's a little too bent, like me, on getting things right and making sure she makes her mark in the world, a bold, straight-lined one, even when the journey is best served by unexpected twists and turns.
My mess-ups have grown me, (maybe) more than my effort.
God has allowed me failing upon failing...fall upon fall, despite my effort to be good and do good.
Falling and then finding yourself safe takes out an appropriate amount of fear of living imperfectly. Falling, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts, invites us into the grace of Jesus and makes us better able to be the grace of Jesus to fellow fallers.
That's why we can run through the bubbles (but maybe not make illegal u-turns.) It's why we can live with a little more risk, even knowing we're really not in control. God is in control, we can live a little. We can try and then chill.
Update: Messy Olympics picture. (They lost, but at least they tried. Haha)
Our kids are exposed to filth. We can attempt to safeguard their phones, but it doesn't stop them from seeing indecency on prime time TV or hearing vulgarity in the halls at school.
We can be diligent in sheltering them the best we know how. We can't guarantee their physical safety, much less their moral safety...unless we hold them captive. Most of us have considered the idea. But then again, they can be a danger to themselves, and are often corrupted by...us!
How do we not lose our minds while attempting to not lose our kids to the world?
I don't know about you but I pay attention to titles. I was paying particular attention to two side by side section titles in the book of 1 Samuel in my last reading. Hannah's Prayer comes right before Eli's Wicked Sons (Of course a whole lot happens in the half page between.)
We find that Hannah's prayer was offered at a place called Shilo. She was there with her husband Elkanah and his other wife and children to offer a sacrifice at the LORD's house.
Hannah was childless. She was tormented by this fact. Add in the fact that Elkanah's other wife, Peninniah, had children and would provoke Hannah because of it. We read that Hannah was at point of being in tears. I'm sure it wasn't the first time she'd cried over a child she'd yet to hold.
During the time of sacrifice this particular year, Hannah went to the house of the LORD to pray for a child. Being distraught, she prayed an unintelligible prayer that caused the priest to believe she was drunk. After being told to put away her wine, she explained that she'd been praying. What she didn't mention was that she'd asked the LORD for a son. Neither did she speak of how she'd vowed to give such a son to the priest for the LORD's work.
Of course she became pregnant...with a son whom she named Samuel (Because I asked the LORD for him.)
She kept her promise and, after weaning him, took him to the priest. It's worth mentioning that her husband Elkanah told her to do what seemed best. (No pressure to follow through on his part.) Did she have second thoughts while packing Samuel for Shiloh, a six hour trip from Ramah, where she lived?
"I made that promise in desperation when I was the same as drunk. The priest thought I was out of my mind. Surely God knows too. How could I have known that Samuel would become my whole world. I CAN'T give him up. Not yet, anyway."
Whatever thoughts she had, she kept to her promise. Did she mail him cookies for his birthday? Or give him a phone for his twelfth birthday, just in case a problem came up where he might need to text her?
She must have lie awake some nights wondering if he was safe, if he missed her or if he would later understand the promise she'd made to hand him over. I can guess that if she's anything like me she poured out sorrow that the child she'd begged for was out of arms' reach.
Moving on to the next section, are Eli's Wicked Sons. Wait. What? Eli? Wicked Sons? The same Eli that Hannah just handed over guardianship to? We find in 1 Samuel that "Eli's sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord." They slept with women who served at the temples entrance. You can debate whether or not Eli was a good father. It's not up for debate, however, whether or not her son Samuel was exposed to unsavory behavior. Wouldn't Samuel have been much better off sheltered by his mother who could monitor what he watched on YouTube and who he hung out with.
Instead, I've always thought, she gave her only child up to live with an almost blind man who kept sending her son back to bed that night when he rightly insisted there was a voice calling him in his room (a voice that turned out to be God.)
It occurred to me just this morning that she didn't give him up. She gave him over and then kept giving him over. We know that she visited Shiloh annually to bring him a robe she'd make for him. But she kept to her promise and trusted God with her most beloved possession. Each year she made the annual sacrifice and made the journey back home without him.
So now I give him to the LORD, for his whole life he will be given over..."
1 Samuel 1:28
In following section titles we read that her little Samuel grows up and subdues, and anoints and rebukes in service to the one he was truly given over to. Samuel said it best when he set up an Ebenezer stone after a victory proclaiming, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."
I think about Hannah often. The heart of a mom often results in (drunk-like) babbling. If we're not pleading to be given a child, we're pleading on behalf of our child; that God would reveal what ails their body in an illness and that He would heal them. We cry out when they've been the subject of cruelty; hoping that God might protect their hearts, andmaybe mildly smite the person who hurt them.
What's important is who we babble to. Is there any trust beyond our pleading? As we give God our complaints, will we also give over our son, our daughter, our spouse?
I find it worth celebrating that Samuel's life began and ended in Ramah, the home of Hannah.
"But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was."
1 Samuel 7:17
We're called to trust Him no matter the cost, but in His nature God gives so much more than is ever taken away.
The hubby and I sat in the living room this morning before things got busy. Like usual, I'd think of something I needed to tell him the second he was immersed in watching a YouTube video. My interruption timing is impeccable.
I'd thought to tell him about the twenty minutes I'd spent with our oldest, Hayden, several nights ago in the garage. Before making my fourth interruption of the morning I was struck again by the thought Hayden no longer lives under our roof. As I thought to share about the short visit Hayden and I had, my throat protested and my nose started stinging, something that happens often since the kids have started growing up and away. So instead, I'm typing it out. Somehow it's easier. And maybe readers won't taunt me in my mildly emotional state like the person I'm so fond of interrupting.
Our oldest, Hayden, closed on his first house a little over a week ago while Jason and I were out of the country. How did he possibly manage without us? -The same way he got a truck on his own and became employed, with us on the sidelines.
Not only is our son moving out and getting a place of his own. We're getting closer to a wedding. He's starting a family of his own.
Helping take his things over to his new house last Sunday was a reminder. The apartment that sat dark behind our house last night is evidence. So was the short, but absolutely sweet conversation I had with my firstborn in the garage earlier this week.
Hayden is our conversationalist kid. Taking after me in this one area, he can talk for hours about anything, or nothing at all. Night owls when it comes to conversation, I can't count the times we stayed up late just to talk. Those times serve as some of my favorite memories, even the times when he vehemently disagreed with me just for the sake of having a spirited debate.
When Hayden stopped by the other night to grab his weights from the garage, I jumped at the chance to open the garage door and say hi. We had another one of our treasured conversations while I sat on top of a dusty storage container and he gathered lifting equipment. I asked about his day at work and watched how his new puppy followed his every step. It's ironic, someone's following him now.
Our talk reminded me of the scene in Father of the Bride where Steve Martin and his daughter play basketball in the driveway one last time. Perhaps we had our last long conversation before he says I will, to his sweet bride.
Don't get me wrong. I'm lucky. He found a house only a few minutes away. He found a girl who thinks he's as good as I think his dad is. She's like my third daughter who gets an equal amount of unsolicited advice as the other two girls. And she's just as good as Hayden at providing good company. We can talk for hours!
There was just a difference in this conversation. In nights passed he and I talked until I began to doze. We'd say goodnight knowing that I'd see him the next day. This time the rattle of the closing garage door seemed to hum that change is coming.
Naturally I'm feeling a little sentimental about it. Strangely, I'm a little excited. Much of the work I've done, those carefully laid out instructions, all the moral prompting, frequent reminders, the telling looks...they'll be quite limited if existent at all. That's the plan anyway.
I've been a devoted (even if not perfect) agent of God's instructions and His grace; careful to best show my son the way to go. I've loved him even when, especially when, he's gone a way contrary to the way I pointed.
There's still instruction and grace to be had. But not so much from me, as if any of the good was ever from me. He'll learn more in depth, and I'll be reminded, who we all really depend on. I'm thinking of it as a promotion for us both. He's become an adult. He's adding a beautiful girl to our family. And I'm a grateful spectator.
Most likely you've heard the story of the prodigal son. You have a guy who asks his dad for his share of the estate. He takes it and goes off and spends it all, as Luke 15 tells us, on "wild living". His older brother, who bitterly speaks up later in the story, divulges that part of his younger brother's partying involved prostitutes.
We get a good look at the foolish younger son, a responsible (and farther on in the story,) angry older brother, and a loving father. Who's not mentioned in this tale is the mother. Was there a mother? Because if so, I can't imagine that she'd not receive any commentary; especially if she's anything like me.
If the prodigal son's mom was like this chick, I can imagine there would be more to this story, or else it would be altogether different.
Here's how I see it would have went down. We'll call the dad "J". (That's what I call Jason. Let's just imagine that this dad's name was Jacob or Joseph or something or other with a J.)
One night after going to bed I 'd whisper,
"J, your boy is worrying me. He got four boxes from Amazon Prime yesterday. I think he's already spent all his birthday money, but he won't do anything around here to earn money. He stayed out past curfew last night and was talking a bunch yesterday about taking a long road trip. I don't like it." He doesn't have the funds or the sense for it.
Four days later after having come into the estate, the boy would announce his leaving. After quickly floundering between a lecture and bribery I'd attempt to encourage him to stay. I'd warn him of the dangers, suggest that such a trip was selfish, and remind him of all the opportunity on the home front. Maybe out of guilt or obligation he would stay, at least for a little while.
Home is best. At his own house, he would never have to eat the pods intended for those pigs he eventually got a job feeding. He'd have better job and friend prospects and would never have met those prostitutes. Maybe with my constant interference, he'd have learned to save his money, start to take to heart all the godly wisdom I had to offer, and eventually he would have found a good girl to settle down with.
If he'd decided to leave anyway, I'd probably remind "J" of all the signs that I'd collected suggesting our boy was drifting wayward and then I'd beat myself up over all the other signs I'd missed. I'd be angry that I hadn't been able to convince him to stay home. I'd dream up all kinds of troubled scenarios about what he was doing wherever he was. I wouldn't sleep well at night. I'd pray giving God an idea on how the scenario could best be played out.
It's an honest and probable part of a prodigal son's story, had a prodigal son had a mama like me. To be fair, maybe this dad suffered nightmares,concocted rescue plans and felt miserable over all the should haves too.
Thankfully, the story we read in Luke 15 isn't centered on coercion. It isn't about how the father (or parents) might have avoided their son making poor choices which resulted in suffering, also making for the juiciest gossip back home had anyone gotten ahold of the information.
The story is about a child who was allowed room to hunger, to really hunger, as painful as the process was. It's about someone who came to his senses, only after he had spent everything and he began to be in need; something he might never have truly understood had mama anything to say about it. He went home, only he went home different, repentant...knowing his need.
We're a prodigal people. We know God as Father and yet choose to go our own way, believing we know best, or else not caring because pleasure calls. We squander His riches. He waits for our return, faithfully loving us from the distance we chose to put between.
Waiting fathers, fix-it mamas and all us wayward children...we seldom choose an empty stomach or a broken heart. Still...
We never know the value of our filling like we do when we've been allowed to hunger.
Thank you God for pig pods and and poverty that lead us back home.
I've been a woman on a mission today. Family starts showing up for graduation tomorrow and, amongst a hundred other things that need to be done, the bathrooms need to be cleaned.
Currently I'm somewhere between finishing the bathroom floors and mopping the kitchen. I've scrubbed the base of the floor by the kitchen cabinets with Bounce fabric sheets. Those things smell good and have just the right amount of grit to clean stubborn parts of the tile.
I tell you about that shadowed place I tended to under the cabinets because otherwise you probably wouldn't know the work they required. And just maybe you too find yourself, every once in a while, catching a glimpse of your own messy, hard-to-reach places, surprised.
Our oldest daughter graduates on Thursday (but you probably already know that, given my picture posting and other ways of chronic announcement.) What you may not know are details of some tough chapters through her school years and difficult life tests, pre-diploma. Our letter board on the hutch in my living room boasts:
"Yay Hallie. You did it!"
There's a depth to those words that stretches past grades or cap and gown. She'll walk across that stage after having walked through a fire or two without the world having smelled smoke. Her transcript won't show that.
I suspect that most students (and their parents) celebrate not only a graduation, but the fact that tigers have been fought while battling long division in elementary or Anatomy and Physiology in high school.
There's a story underneath each cap and gown. All we know is that each story is at a page turn. Oh, but what's on the pages. That's what we parents are shedding a hot mess of tears over.
"We're making it," I started to tell a fellow mom today. The truth is we're more than making it. With God's help, our children have overcome a passel of private struggles. And thus they're stronger and outfitted with the proof that God goes with them and before them.
It's bittersweet, but we'll call this a victory.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.