When Only an Embrace Will Do

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

Have you seen the youtube videos of children greeting their camo-clad father or mother upon their return from oversees military service? I have watched several through tears. Watching little ones jittering as if they need to use the bathroom while waiting for Dad or Mom to come into view, then seeing them rush with outstretched arms to a parent who own arms have longed to hold their beloved child gets me every time.

I imagine that when Dad, for example, was gone for all that time Mom tried hard to offer their child a good explanation.

  • “Daddy is working hard far away to protect and serve our country.”
  • “I know you miss Daddy, sweetie.  He’s doing a really important job and he’ll be home as soon as he can.”
  • “What does Daddy do?  Well, he fixes big tanks and trucks so people can use them to help keep others safe.”
  • “You know Daddy is a pilot, right? Well, right now he’s flying things like food and medicine to people far away who wouldn’t have those things without Daddy.”

I don’t know a single child who would understand why their Daddy or Mommy needed to be the one to do these things. What child would say, “Oh, I get it. Now it makes perfect sense why I won’t see my Dad or Mom for a year.  Thanks!”

Explanations don’t satisfy kids who miss and want their parents when only an embrace will do. A child who misses Mommy or Daddy can’t fathom any reason good enough for not having them tuck them in bed at night month after month or missing their birthday party or not being there on Christmas morning. The only thing they want is to be with Dad or Mom…now.

And that’s what their parents want, too. Seeing the beaming faces of mothers and fathers on those videos clutching their kids, often with tears streaming, fills my own heart with joy.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to my relationship with God. You see, sometimes I think knowledge will help, especially during difficult seasons. There have been numerous times when trials or suffering left me craving an explanation.

  • “If I just knew why this was happening, I’d feel better.”
  • “God, just explain how all this is going to ‘work together for good’ (Romans 8:28) and then I’ll feel better.”
  • “So, Lord, what’s the purpose in this awfulness? Help me understand and it’ll be easier to endure.”

During challenging times it helps me to realize that knowledge isn’t what I need; I need God Himself. The answer to difficulties isn’t explanation but relationship. You see, even knowing the future good that will come “someday” isn’t all that comforting in the midst of sorrow, loneliness or disorienting circumstances. Knowing that “down the road” fruit will come from a dry and painful season doesn’t take today’s sadness and weariness away.

The only thing that makes today’s hardships lighten is the Father’s embrace.

Are you going through a tough time? Do you believe that having God sit down and explain why this is happening and the good things that will come from your pain will really help you? Consider Job. If he knew that his dead children would be “replaced” by future children, would he have said, “Oh, I get it. That makes me feel better.” No. Knowledge just begs new questions, not fresh peace.

When we Christians are hurting and craving explanations for tough times, what we need is to tangibly experience the nearness, comfort and warmth of God’s embrace. Hearts that crave knowledge bow to arms that feel welcomed and loved.

I pray you’ll find the strength to let go of the demand for explanation and knowledge and just run into your Father’s eager arms. You’ve missed Him, not answers.

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Papa’s Skipped Naps

It was the mid 80’s and we were spending another year vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our growing family. Benny decided to set aside his daily naps to spend time making memories with each of our children. One by one, he took them out for lunch and to get ice cream, buy a T shirt or ride go karts.

With each passing year they started anticipating their time out with Dad. But they were kids. Did they look forward to it just because being the only kid meant getting a bigger dessert or an extra go kart ride? Would they someday realize that memories really were being made or would their own fading memories result in forgetting Dad’s Day Out?

It was quite a project, but we got a family picture done last week!

Last week we were on our annual vacation at the beach. (My People, as I fondly call them, are pictured here.) Early in the week I was sitting under the beach canopy when I heard my two oldest grandsons, 7-year-olds JJ and Wyatt, interacting over their afternoon plans. JJ excitedly told Wyatt he was going out with Daddy on his motorcycle for lunch. “Really? I’m going out with my parents, too!” Wyatt responded.

Before I knew it my eyes were filling with tears. The kids did appreciate their times out with Dad! And now a new generation is benefitting from parents skipping their well-deserved beach naps to make memories with their kids.

Sometimes we parents wonder if our kids notice. Do they notice that we pray for them when we tuck them in each night? Stay up late to help them with a school assignment? Go without clothes or shoes so we can spend the money on them? Rave over their scribbled Sunday School pictures as if they’re works of art? Skip a nap to say “I love you?”

As a mother, I sometimes feel unappreciated for the sacrifices motherhood continues to place on me even though my youngest is nearly 18. I still don’t buy myself things so I can bless them, pray for them most nights, skip sleep to babysit the little ones or help with homework, and rave over their accomplishments. The fact is, parenting is hard and often thankless work with delayed benefits.

But when we get a glimpse of those benefits, it can take our breath away.

On the beach that day I got to see the fruit of Benny’s sacrifices. I saw the same glimmer of excitement in the eyes of two little boys that I saw in their parents eyes decades ago. Each day little people talked about it being their day out, then came back to chatter about what they had for lunch or show off their new T shirt.

Are you a parent who wonders if the sacrifices you are making mean much to your kids? Do you find yourself longing for some indication that you’re efforts appreciated?

Sometimes thanks comes in ways we can’t anticipate. Last week Benny received a great big “Thanks, Dad” without anyone saying a word to him.

Delayed parental fruit can sometimes be more sweet than immediate gratitude. If you are struggling with wondering if your sacrifices are even noticed by your kids, be patient. Your willingness to go without sleep or clothes or gratitude is making you like the One who sacrificed His very life so you could have a relationship with Him. The daily choices you are making are noticed by Him…and will produce fruit that you can’t yet see.

Someday your kids will thank you. Just maybe without words.

And take it from a Granma of eleven…future generations will be blessed by your every sacrifice. So keep laying down your life. Someday the fruit will take your breath away.

The Little People who are benefitting from their Papa’s skipped vacation naps.

When Life Gets Boring

I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to find life to be boring.

My “boring” duties are this beautiful???

When there’s something “meaningful” or new or exciting to do, it’s so much easier to find purpose in my days. But what about those days when all that’s on my plate is to vacuum, exercise the dog, make a grocery run and do some laundry?

B.O.R.I.N.G.

Like yesterday. I knew when I went to bed the night before that I had a full day coming: taking a friend to a doctor’s appointment, a pastoral meeting with Benny, and dinner with a dear couple in our church. I woke up with a prayer on my heart: “Lord, help me today. I want to be a vessel of grace to those I come in contact with. Help me to communicate care and love for Liz. I need your wisdom in the meeting Benny and I have. And help us to be an encouragement to David and Julie over dinner. Thank you for this day and all that lies ahead. I want to honor You today, Lord.”

How different than the day before when my task list was normal every day stuff that moms and homemakers do.  I don’t remember if I even asked for God’s help. So I probably didn’t.  After all, I’ve been doing floors and laundry for decades!

Today I came across a quote in my journal that has spoken to me several times over the years:

“The colored sunsets and starry heavens, the beautiful mountains and the shining seas, the fragrant woods and painted flowers, are not half so beautiful as a soul that is serving Jesus out of love, in the wear and tear of common, unpoetic life” (Faber).

Yep, much of what I do is pretty unpoetic. The question is this: Is serving Jesus out of love the reason why I do unpoetic things?

Hmm….I need to think about that.

Unchecked Busyness

Have you realized that busyness typically results in crowding out the really important things in your life?

That’s what’s slowly started happening to me. As more and more was added to my plate — much of it completely beyond my control, including some things I would love to have avoided! — I found myself getting increasingly weary. Gratefully, there were times when the added responsibilities or heartaches drove me to my knees in desperation. I didn’t want the urgent to crowd out the important. But over time, and as  heart-consuming circumstances built up, I started pushing things that have been important to me aside.

  • My devotional times were too often dutiful…and shorter.
  • Month by month, I started relying on eating out or throwing together thoughtless meals, delaying household chores or finding reasons why I just couldn’t “get to” things because of other duties I chose to take care of.
  • While I continued to enjoy planning, cleaning and cooking for family celebrations and holidays (with all 25 of us in the house…love it!), I began to lack motivation and planning for the normal stuff of being a wife, mom and homemaker.
  • New recipes and even weekly meal planning lessened to the point that I was winging it on a regular basis.
  • Little duties related to my “normal” life started piling up as the urgent things filled more of my thoughts and time.  Rather than taking care of things in a rhythmic and timely manner, I regularly felt I was playing catch up.
  • Computer use increased as I found “escape” in Facebook, Pinterest and internet research.
  • Time with Benny became focused on the growing list of pastoral firestorms, family issues, anxieties about the future or even the fun of planning our daughter’s wedding or a family vacation — rather than on our communication and friendship.  (His patience with me continues to amaze me!)
  • Prayer became a series of “Lord, help!” cries rather than tender and leisurely interactions with Him. While those S.O.S cries were a demonstration of my dependence on Him, the “rush” of my life encroached on the most prized relationship in my life.
You can see how I was drifting, can’t you? What was deceiving about it is that most everything I was doing was for others, and there were still moments of genuine joy through the process. Because my drifting was slow and “explainable” I didn’t notice it until I took the time to sit with Him with open ears.
Why is it that busyness tempts many of us to neglect the very things that energize and help us?  There are certainly times in our lives where normal responsibilities and needs legitimately must be set aside for urgent, unusual needs. But what made me think that continuing to drift wasn’t going to be something I would regret?
I hope my story encourages any of you who can identify with my season of drifting. You see, God is faithful. He never allows His children to drift too far. Even when we are blind, He sees. While we are wandering through our pressured and busy lives becoming weary and discouraged, He is focused and protective. The grace that drew us to salvation is the same grace that grows and changes us.
What kindness.

God Made me for a Purpose..and He Made Me Female

Webster defines drifting as “floating or being driven along by a current of water.” The “drift” in my heart didn’t happen quickly. There was no storm or high wind that came along and forced me into rapidly wrong thinking. It was slow. Subtle. “Explainable.”

As I’ve prayed and thought about it, there are two “explainable” factors that have contributed to the drift in my heart.

The first is stress from providential things that have been added to my plate. In recent years I have walked through some very weighty issues involving people I love that have yanked at my heart. Additionally, my husband experienced changes in his ministry responsibilities, resulting in him unexpectedly leading a team to plant a new church this past January.  (You can learn about Redeemer Church at http://www.lakenonachurch.com.)

Some of what I’ve walked through with people dear to me have been the most difficult and heart wrenching circumstances of my nearly 60 years. A few other situations have been wonderfully joyous. Stress can come from both positive and negative sources.

The pressures in my life have been good for me in many ways. I have learned things about myself and about God that have enriched my relationship with Him. I have had to cry out for His help, strength, wisdom, conviction, comfort and grace in new ways — and anything that leads me to do that is welcomed! I have watched Him do amazing things through the hard situations, including taking the saddest of circumstances and bringing redemptive good from them all.

The drift from prizing godly womanhood has happened because I’ve allowed the pressures of life to distract me. Rather than finding peace and joy in my womanly responsibilities, I have viewed them as just “more things” on my task list. I’ve allowed understandable times when I needed to give myself a break to turn into a growing attitude of entitlement that I deserved  break after break because of all I was going through. I’ve also become resentful when others didn’t seem to “get it” that I needed those breaks and expected me to keep serving them rather than them serving me! (How’s that for real honesty? Smile.)

Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame said,  “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” I, too, believe God made me for a purpose, and he also made me female. And when I’m fulfilling my created design I feel His pleasure.

Since I returned from my retreat I have found fresh joy in caring for my home and family. I don’t feel as much like I’m going through the motions and checking tasks off my list. I’m still working for my son and serving alongside my husband in our new church — things I never imagined doing in this season of my life. But I’m starting to experience the stirrings of new life, fun ideas and fresh motivation for serving my family. The changes in my heart are starting to affect my decisions and choices.

And I’m opening up my heart and struggles to others, which is a gracious means of accountability for change. The power to change comes only from God — but the simple truth is that when God changes the heart, visible differences happen. I’m seeing the first fruits but have quite a ways to go.

Thanks for listening!

P.S. Visit tomorrow for the second explanation for my season of drifting.

A Yellow Flower in the Sand

I spent part of last week on a personal retreat spending leisurely time with the Lord, something I haven’t done for several years. Unlike past retreats, I went into it without much of a plan. (Those of you who know me know that’s a little unusual…smile.) As I was making the two-hour drive to spend 3 full days alone, I asked the Lord to meet me. I was desperate to encounter Him.

If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been going through some rough times. This time away was something Benny really wanted me to do, so I trusted that God was speaking through him. My devotional life hasn’t been as consistent as normal, and my times with the Lord have been characterized more by duty than delight. I was crying out to Him for refreshment…and rest.

While taking a leisurely walk on the beach (with my new sidekick…a camera) I decided to investigate an area with lush green vegetation just a few yards up toward the condo. The mid-atlantic beaches we frequented before moving to Florida didn’t have such beauty growing in the sand, and it continues to surprise me.

Carefully watching my steps to avoid another fall (you can read about that at my last post below) I came upon this pretty yellow flower. My immediate thought was, “How in the world can something so fragile and cheery be growing here in the hot sun and dry sand?” I wondered how it could be possible that the ocean winds — and even storms that certainly must bring water up to this point on the beach — wouldn’t kill it.

Then I glanced over and noticed several other similar flowers scattered nearby. And all of them looked perfectly healthy.

That’s when the Lord started speaking….

You see, I am that little flower. The dryness of recent months, along with winds of change that have blown through my life, have left me feeling in some ways like it must “feel.” Dry. Hot. Kinda lonely. Some physical challenges have taken their fatiguing toll as well.

I wasn’t looking for this little flower.  I was drawn toward the vibrant green vegetation  ahead. But I noticed it — just like God notices me. To Him, I’m not withered, languishing and left unnoticed as He tends to those who are thriving. Just like that little flower, with His help I’ve survived the wind and rain. And like it, too, I’ve actually been growing in a dry place.

These thoughts rushed through my brain and heart with a combination of gentleness and clarity I can’t explain. The Lord was saying: “I have been with you. I have been tenderly caring for you. You thought the dryness was starving you and you wanted out. But it was just what you needed in this season. Some flowers only grow in this environment and that’s what I’ve been doing. Growing something beautiful.”

Ugh. Tears are coming even as I type.

Have you, too, been in a spiritually dry season? Maybe you’re one of those flowers that has been growing nearby me. If so, I hope the things I’ll be sharing over the coming weeks will remind you that God sees you, too. And He is doing something really beautiful in your life because He never wastes anything.

I pray that you, too, will “happen” upon beauty on display in your hot, dry life. The wonderful thing is, you don’t even have to be looking for it. Sometimes God just surprises you along the way.

Every Assignment Requires Grace

I’m spending a few days all by myself at the lovely condo of some friends. No dog to feed and walk. No timely work emails to answer. No people to feed but myself. No need for clocks or wake-up alarms or deadlines. And the only noises are the sound of the ocean and the gentle rustling of the blinds as the breeze wafts through open doors and windows.

Worshiping. Reading. Sitting on the porch overlooking the ocean. Snacking. Praying. Resting.

This morning it took me awhile to work through feeling guilty for being here. We ladies are doers…nurturers…fixers…servants. Thoughts of my daughters and daughters-in-law at home doing all the things I’m not flooded my thoughts. “They need this far more than I do,” I chided myself.

But this time is a gift. To me. The Lord gently spoke to me this morning that I need to embrace it.

He reminded me of the day I took my granddaughter, Danae, out to lunch and shopping. We enjoyed Chick Fila together, then went to the nearby K Mart for her to pick out a toy. Later, her sister, Annie, asked if I got a toy for her.

“No, sweetie. It was Granma’s turn to be with your sister and to buy a toy for her. Maybe next time it will be your turn.”

It’s my turn. My Benny really wanted me to have this time alone to rest and spend time with the Lord before he joins me (yay!) on Wednesday. There is grace for me to be here, just as there is grace for you to be doing what God has called you to do this week.

Last week God’s gift to me was to help my daughter pack and move; do work for my son’s business; help my daughter with a writing assignment; sort through pictures for her graduation slideshow; clean up after having my people over for Easter; grocery shop; and continue plans for a Mother’s Day event our church is doing. There was grace for those tasks and God helped me to get them done.

This week my tasks are different, but they also require grace. Whatever is on your plate this week, know that God is there to give you the strength to get it all done.

Blessings to you this week!

Sunsets and Clean Bathrooms

You’ll notice that I’m blogging over at Redeemer Church sometimes. The reasons for this are several, but mostly, smart tech people tell me it’s a way for our church website to get more traffic. This ends up making it easier for people to find us on the web. In fact, we’ve already had several guests who have visited because of our website.

So THANK YOU for not only visiting my little blog, but also for helping our new church get onto the cyber map!

I’m starting a series today about what God thinks about normal everyday life stuff. It’s helping me think better about things like clean bathrooms. You can read today’s post here.

Thanks again!

Sheree

P.S.  On Wednesday, I’m going to ask my readers for suggestions of things you would like to read about here.  Since there aren’t a lot of you 🙂 your feedback will be helpful! I wanted to give you a heads up so you could give this some thought.