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.