Monday, December 22, 2014

The Beautiful and Suffering Life

“How could I have lost the green dishes?”

Last Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me her beautiful green and gold china plates—the very same china a special woman in her life handed down to her. We packaged and shipped several boxes of china from Indiana to Oregon that day; LeAnne gave her granddaughters many beautiful pieces.  But the green and gold dishes she gave to me.  Down on my knees in our garage, I rummaged through box after box only to come up empty.  Sadly, I wondered if the dishes were lost during shipment when the doorbell rang.  A sweet friend came over to help me decorate my house for Christmas but I didn’t have my “act” together and told her so apologetically.  “I feel like I’m wasting your time—I can’t find the dishes LeAnne gave me.” 

“It’s possible they are in this old Goodwill suitcase we used to ship them in but the lock is broken and I can’t open it.” Without blinking an eye, my friend rolled up her sleeves and with a screwdriver and a hammer, broke open the suitcase after several tries; the green and gold dishes were not there. 

By this time, the dual feelings of waste and loss were distracting me: I was wasting my friend’s precious time (she has three young children who were in school) and I potentially lost something beautiful given to me by a loved one.  As I poured my friend a cup of coffee, I heard her words, “Pam, stop worrying about wasting my time—this is an excuse for us to be together.”  That’s when I realized why it was so important I pour out everything in me to find the dishes.   I pushed aside the natural feelings of waste and loss as we maximized our final half hour together tearing apart two more boxes.  Suddenly, my friend pulled out a wrapped dish hidden underneath the crinkly paper and my eyes fell upon the beautiful gold and green dish. 

“That’s it!  You found LeAnne’s gift to me.”  The upheaval of tearing apart my garage and my house to find those dishes, the disorder I brought to my friend’s free time—made a mess of the natural things in life.  But I saw that the natural had to be torn apart in order to make it spiritual.  God’s goodness to me that day was how he supplied time even when we spent it in ways I hadn’t planned.  Right up to the last minute, we set my dining room table with beautiful things . . . beautiful things given to me by someone else.

But there’s something more . . .

Each beautiful piece on my dining room table, including the re-upholstered chairs, were gifts from different friends and family.


One week ago, LeAnne passed away after suffering from a year and a half with a life-destroying disease.  In my mother-in-law’s last week, a friend of hers travelled miles and miles to care for her as her hospice nurse.  She cleared her schedule and poured out her life like water to the last drop until LeAnne took her last breath.  This friend pushed aside the very human feelings of waste and loss—knowing death was inevitable and chose to maximize her love to LeAnne.  The upheaval not only of her own life but of LeAnne’s spirit as she connected powerfully with her dying friend was a beautiful, life-giving sacrifice. The natural course of death was sacrificed to be made spiritual.  

God’s goodness to LeAnne and her friend was that he maximized the suffering and made it beautiful-- right up to the last minute of her life . . . he made the end of her life beautiful.

As family and friends pour into your home these next few days, ask God to show you how he is using the natural, material, tangible aspects of our world, even our own messy humanity to bring you into closer life with him.  Could this world be the usher into relationship with each other and God?  Life with him is not just “out there” in a spiritual cosmos.  It’s here—the beautiful, intangible God-life is in our skin as we actively pursue one another in love.  Mysterious and beautiful, God maximizes everything to let us know he is near, with us, Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas. Lovingly, Pam

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Loneliness In the Good Life

 (sometimes I'm truly never alone)

“But how do I know he’s real?” I asked staring into the mirror while having my first philosophical conversation about Jesus. 
“You can’t see him,” said my Mother.  “You believe in him by faith.  Jesus lives inside you and you will never be alone.”

But that’s not how I felt.  I had a rich imagination as a child that lasted through my teen years, generously helping me see and believe Jesus was indeed with me.  But there’s all the difference in the world between someone continually reminding you that Jesus is in you and believing it yourself when you’re all alone, especially all alone and grown up.

The sadnesses of life have a way of opening the door to loneliness.  Loneliness is a very real experience even for those who intentionally choose to follow Jesus, seeing and believing that he is with them.  The striking thing about Jesus is that while he was on earth he never avoided just “being.”  

Yet we do. 

I know I’m running from loneliness (or the sadness of my mother-in-law's last stages of cancer) when I fanatically start looking for one hundred things to do.  Recently I found myself more eager to do God’s will than he was for me to do it.  It’s a striving, a sense that we need to try harder at everything we do. In reality I was avoiding just being.  The opposite happens, too, when we have a passive, paralyzing response to loneliness that manifests itself in doing nothing.

Here’s the problem: When we avoid facing sadness and loneliness while seeing and believing Christ is with us—we hurry up everything in our lives to fill the void.  We hurry up that forbidden relationship, that must-have job, that one more commitment, that drug addiction, that pornography site, that obsession with whatever—even being famous.

Facing our loneliness and sadness frees us to receive more of Christ’s presence preparing us for what he will give us to fill the void and usually it’s not something we ever thought of or imagined. We have to have a different way to imagine the process of loneliness and turning to Him. Feeling what our hearts feel is what it means to be human before God.  He never wants us to push those feelings down, rather He wants them poured out before him so He can heal.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Sad Life Inside the Good Life

Like a river quietly snaking through the lower regions of a forest, my grief suddenly has no beginning and no end.  Wherever I set my foot along its bank, I am dangerously close to jumping in with both feet whether I want to or not.  The forest, the river, my grief is always there.  Sometimes it's just enough to reach down and drink from a one-cupped hand of icy water.  But most days I am so thirsty, so hot with grief, I let the water wash over me with all its billows and tiny waves.

One constant remains amidst the currents, the deep places and the rocks scraping my legs: relief is not found when I turn or walk away from the river. I must face it and when that's more than I can bear, I must walk alongside it.  But I cannot walk away.

The Sad Life and the Good Life

Our family is living the sad life inside the good life.  Maybe yours is, too. Or perhaps you're living the sad and the good life as a single person.  Either way, we know rain must fall into every life but how do we not only face sadness and all its realities but feel sadness without it destroying us?  What's a healthy, sad life look like?

I've known for more than a year that cancer was spreading in the body of someone I loved. Barring a miracle, Jesus will escort our beloved mother and grandmother into heaven years before her time.  (See picture above of LeAnne with our three daughters).  Knowledge alone does not help us face our sadness.  A healthy, sad life knows the facts digesting them enough to feel them, too.

An Invitation to Journey with Me

Today hospice was asked to come to her home; today hospice entered our lives.  As hard as I try to prepare myself and our daughters for the finality of death and the hope of heaven, the sadness of losing this woman is ever with me.  I want to open my heart and mind to readers while I walk through these next several weeks of loss.  You might wonder why I would expose such raw and honest feelings amidst personal sadness.  Wouldn't it make more sense for Brad, my husband, to write about his mother? Why even give sadness attention when as people of Hope we have confidence in Jesus' presence in Glory?

The most pressing reason I am compelled to write is this: every person's heart is beating to both the good and the sad; each life follows rivers of loss and abundance, gifts and regrets.  Could sadness take us down a road longer than Jesus wants it to?  Recently, I listened to another's journey as her heart spoke the question, "how much sadness is too much? When does grief turn to joy?"

I want to write and respond to those questions from a place that is fully human as I receive the good life from my Creator in the middle of facing and feeling the sad life, too.  As I lean into God differently in this season, I want to share how I'm trusting him when he tells me he can be found by me when I seek him with all my heart.  And right now, all my heart is filled not only with my experiences but with those I'm closest to. For that reason alone, I need the courage to face the grief and to feel the loss in a good, sad way so those nearest me can reach into the river without being swept away.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you."  Isaiah 43:2, NIV

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Calling to be More Human

"Don't pretend to care about something you don't care about."  These words came to me as I was pulling clothes from the washer to the dryer.  Me?  Pretend I care?  When do I do that?  With those thoughts, I headed back downstairs to my computer so I could respond to my emails and texts.  With each line I typed, I saw the person's face, their circumstances and even wondered how they were feeling in the deep of their heart.  But I ignored the promptings and kept my communication simple and direct.  After all, it was information we were giving one another.  One person wanted me to take a job while another emailer wondered if I'd heard anything back from a certain organization.  Prioritizing my responses, I focused on the slew of texts from other moms who needed help with rides, dates, and more information.  Finding a place to sit so I could stare at my phone, I was suddenly stopped mid text by a disturbing thought: "Was is it my job to spend the day responding to people?" And with that thought, my interactions with emails, phone calls and texts went from me trying to help to me resenting how communicating information was keeping me from my job, my vocation, what I was called to do on earth.

My heart hardened just a little bit.

My way became confused just a little bit.

The lines blurred as I prayed to God in decision making.

A few mornings later, I lingered a bit longer in my time with God and I heard this question whispered to my heart, "Pam, what gives you that deep sense of satisfaction?"  It didn't take me long to write in my journal:  teaching, studying, talking with people about Scripture and what God thinks.  And then I remembered how I pretended to care about something I didn't care about.  I pretended I cared more about the information than about the people I was sharing it with.

Isn't that what holds us back?  The truth is I care deeply about each person I'm in contact with and it's become almost impossible in our culture for the give and take of concern to actually happen.

Throughout my morning, I discovered how my newest calling is to be more human.  It looks and feels strange.  But Jesus is inviting me to this place where I don't have to pretend I care about something I don't.  This is now the blueprint for my life and however God leads me in my vocation I know I can't miss this.  Whether I'm prepping for a sermon or signing up as a chaperone for a field trip, I'm not supposed to behave a certain way.  I'm called to follow the pattern of Jesus who never pretended to care about something he didn't.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Devotionals for the Leadership in Women: Slow Down in the Little Things

Devotionals for the Leadership in Women: Slow Down in the Little Things: "Do you know how fast you were going?" asked the state trooper as she leaned down to face me through the passenger window of my c...

Slow Down in the Little Things

"Do you know how fast you were going?" asked the state trooper as she leaned down to face me through the passenger window of my car.  Swallowing hard before I answered, I made a split second decision to tell the truth.  "I was doing 45 in a 35, right?"  I could barely look at the clock as the gruff but direct woman waited for my driver's license and registration.  Watching her walk back to the SUV and its blaring blue and red lights, I started to panic and wondered if I would make it to my office in enough time to prepare for my communications class at the university.  But my personal anxiety attack was short lived when suddenly a voice much louder than the one in my head boomed through the window.

"I see you have a habit of driving fast in low speed zones.  You do this once or twice a year! Do you have children who drive with you?  You do realize they are paying attention to you?  Where are you going in such a rush this morning? Speeding on back roads is just as dangerous as on the highway--would you like the statistics?"

And with those questions, my panic melted into tears as I explained I really wasn't in a rush I just didn't think I was going that fast and my mind was on the lecture I was preparing for my upcoming class.  In between sobs I said I did have teenagers who are now driving and that more than anything I wanted to be a good example to them.  The state trooper was silent for a moment before she handed back my documents and then firmly said to me, "I don't think another ticket is going to make a difference for you.  You have a family, you have a job and you have a car--you have a big life but you need to slow down in the little things."

Several moments later, I pulled into a nearby parking lot to completely feel everything that just happened to me. Here's what I saw:  I often think that prioritizing my life means to get as much done as I can in a little amount of time so that I can be my best for God, for my family, my job, and ministry.  But the amount of stress and expectation I place upon myself causes me to take a blind eye to a little thing like driving 35 miles per hour, not 45, when the sign says 35 MPH.  I reviewed the big plans I had that day for my students--the kind of big things that get me excited to meet with them.  In my enthusiasm and excitement, the pace of my life picked up enough speed that I missed the sign to slow down.

On time and a bit subdued, I stood in front of 50 college students an hour later sketching out our time together.  God wasn't telling me I was doing too much or that I shouldn't think big; he was acting as my Father by giving me perspective on how and why I needed to slow down in the little things.  I have to really want this.  If I just rely on my gut instincts, I will convince myself I'm invincible and will rush through life, constantly being pulled over with warnings.  The pace of my life matters.  The choices I make to keep my pace matter.  Learning to follow Jesus in my calling and passions with an eternal perspective matters.  It's in the little things where the big things are at stake.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Caring For Your Health

I once heard a pastor say from the pulpit, "We carry a deeply ingrained urgency that everything depends on us."  Yesterday I spent the early part of my evening making my lists of things I wanted to accomplish for work and in my home.  After I finished making dinner and eating with my family, I squirreled myself away with my notes and computer so I could get a head start on the next day's assignments.  But I couldn't focus.  I was worried about many things.

"Did I talk long enough to my husband?"
"I should make soup for my neighbor who is struggling."
"Why haven't I heard back from so and so? I really need to finish that article!"
"Was I truly worshiping God in my prayer time today?"
"My daughter needs to join another sport. Hmm, which one should it be?"

As I continued to eat the anxious bread of toil with both my working life and my personal life, I started to notice that I was hurrying, calculating, and burdening my poor soul to the point of exhaustion.  I was under the delusion that everything I needed to accomplish depended on me. Remembering a pattern Jesus was teaching me in daily living, I stopped the madness and said out loud, "Give me today the bread I need now."  For a moment, I envisioned God giving me what I needed for my evening--I saw him choosing what he would generously give me from his hand.  And his intention was good.  I let my defenses down; I totally trusted what would come from him was what I needed.

I closed the lid to my computer, piled the books on top of one another, clicked the light off on my desk and climbed the stairs to bed.  God gave me sleep.  It was earlier than usual but sleep was God's daily bread to me last night.  When I turned my attention to what God wanted to give me I felt vulnerable for letting go of all I wanted to accomplish.  God wants us as his human creatures to trust him above all else to receive everything we need--and that includes our health, our energy and our motivation for getting things done.

Don't resist caring for your health.  Get some extra rest and your spiritual growth, along with your calling, will grow.

An excellent resource on rest is a book written by Mark Buchanan called The Rest of God.