Ball Juggling

Psalm 34:15 & 17
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.  The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.”

It was a Thursday, and TJ and I had had a busy day of therapy in the morning and school in the afternoon.  Because TJ started his senior year second semester, the school didn’t have a nurse employed for him, so they asked me to be his nurse.  I was thrilled TJ was going back to school to finish his senior year and would be around young people again, so I eagerly accepted. Even though it meant that I was extremely busy running him from one thing to the next, I didn’t mind.  It was better than him sitting alone in front of the TV all day.

After writing poems and learning about America’s government, we returned home from school, and I parked him in his favorite La-Z-Boy chair so he could play Xbox.  He loved his Xbox. He played it all the time, but with hands and arms that had a mind of their own, I don’t know that he ever really accomplished much. Most times when he was playing, I found him with his arms over his head, the controller upside down, and the character on the TV running around and around in circles.  Even so, it didn’t seem to bother him, and he still kept trying.

TJ & Aiden, 2011

After getting him settled in, it was late in the afternoon when I looked at the time.  3:30 pm. Aiden would be getting off the bus in a half an hour. Aiden is our grandson we adopted as a baby.  He calls us Nana and Papa. He was in kindergarten at the time, and it was West Des Moines’ policy that kindergartners had to be picked up at the bus stop by an adult.

After attempting to do a little housework before picking Aiden up, I heard TJ’s call button sound.  I strolled into his room to see what he needed and found that he had had an accident and was very upset.  I lifted him up, walked him to the bathroom, and began cleaning the mess and doing laundry. I was so focused on my chores that I lost track of time until I heard the sound of my phone ringing.  I halted what I was doing and looked at my phone. It was the West Des Moines School Bus. I quickly glanced at the clock and saw that it was 4:10 pm. I immediately knew why they were calling — I had forgotten to pick Aiden up from the bus.  Panic set in, and I felt my stomach getting sick.

“Hello?”  I answered.

“This is Lisa from the West Des Moines School Bus.  There was no one to pick Aiden up from the bus stop today so the driver kept him on the bus.  Are you home now?”

I could feel my stomach twisting and turning inside of me.  All I could think of was Aiden sitting on the bus, scared with tears running down his cheeks because his nana had forgotten him.

During TJ’s initial hospitalization, while TJ and I were in Rochester and Papa was working nights, Aiden was shuffled around from house to house for months.  He was too young to understand what was happening and sometimes begged his papa not to leave him.

TJ and Aiden
St. Mary’s Hospital, 2013

During that time, my hope was that after we came home, things would get better for Aiden and we would achieve some type of normalcy.  But things hadn’t gotten better. Caring for TJ still took up most of our time, and Aiden was left with the scraps.

We were failing.  We were juggling more balls than we could handle, and some balls were dropping.  I knew deep down that it wasn’t our fault, that it was out of our control and we were doing the best we could, but I still felt incredibly guilty and worried that Aiden was going to pay the price.

“Yes, I’m home.  I’m sorry. My other son is disabled, and I was in the bathroom with him and couldn’t get to the bus stop.  Is Aiden okay?”

“Yes, he’s fine.  It’s no problem. The driver will keep him until the end of the route and then will drop him back off at his stop.  I will let you know when he is on his way back.”

“Thank you so much.  I will be there,” I said and hung up the phone.

I quickly went back to cleaning TJ up and began a conversation with the Lord expressing my frustration with our current situation.

“I don’t understand, Lord.  Why would You give us this little boy when You knew TJ was going to get sick and we wouldn’t be able to handle all of this?  This isn’t fair to Aiden. Please do something.”

But nothing changed.  We were still juggling too many balls, and Aiden was still getting the scraps, but we kept pressing on, trusting in the Lord and His promises, and doing the best we could. 

One day several months later, I noticed that Aiden was watching something on YouTube.  Becoming concerned about what was entering his little mind, I asked him what he was watching.

“Bible stories,” he answered.

After studying what was on the screen, I noticed they weren’t just children’s Bible stories like Veggie Tales or cartoons.  They were adult Bible stories, like the Ten Commandments.

“Hmmmmmm…..that’s a bit unusual,” I thought.  “What kid wants to watch adult Bible stories?”

I was intrigued and somewhat skeptical, so I sat down with him to find out more.

During our conversation, I learned that he had been searching YouTube for Bible stories and had watched almost every one of them and was trying to find more.  He clearly was fascinated by them. I was astounded and could hardly believe it.  I thought back to when I was a kid and remembered how much I disliked those movies.  I thought those movies were boring and that the people on them were strange and dressed and talked funny.

After telling a friend a few months later about his incredible love of Bible stories, she commended me on our great parenting, and I burst out laughing.  I knew it had nothing to do with us. We had been so focused on taking care of TJ and searching for answers that would improve his life that we hadn’t been spending quality time with Aiden and teaching him God’s Word like we should have been.  The honest truth was we were failing him. But God wasn’t. God was instilling a love for His Word in Aiden’s little heart, and without us even knowing, He was picking up the balls we were dropping.

Aiden & Mrs. Stuart, 2019

Aiden is now 9 years old and entering fourth grade, and he gets more individual attention from Nana and Papa now than he sometimes wants.  He still loves Bible stories, and one day after his amazing NBA career is over, he wants to be a pastor. This past year we enrolled him in a Christian school after TJ died, and at conferences this year, one of the first things out of Mrs. Stuart’s mouth was, “He is enamored with Bible stories!”  At the time she knew nothing about his past or how much sharing that tidbit of information would encourage me. What a blessing that was to me.

What about you?  Do you sometimes feel like you have too many balls in the air?  Do you feel that you just can’t keep it all together and do everything well?  During my time of ball juggling, I learned that God hears us and is always with us.  He strengthens us and upholds us (Isaiah 41:10). He sets our feet on solid ground and steadies us as we walk along (Psalm 40:2).  He makes a way when there seems to be no way. Although we may fail, He never does.

Whatever difficulty you are going through, you are never safer than when your trust is in the Lord.  He loves you. He will hear you and will deliver you from all your troubles.

The Woman with the Box

Philippians 4:19
“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

It was a hot summer morning in Rochester, Minnesota, and a wave of heat hit me as I exited the doors of the Ronald McDonald House.  Summers here were milder and shorter than in Iowa, but needless to say, we still got the taste of a good heat wave for a couple of weeks in July.  The hospital was always so cold, so I didn’t mind a little heat. After meandering through the parking lot to the sidewalk just beyond, with my head down, I started out on my morning walk to St. Mary’s Hospital.  I began thinking about the coffee I would soon be purchasing at the Caribou across the street. Pleasing thoughts of mochas and lattes danced in my head, and I quickened my pace in eager anticipation of drinking one of them.

While walking, I looked up to see how far away from the hospital I was when I noticed a rather peculiar sight.  There was a young woman a ways up ahead of me carrying a large box. Even though I was still quite a distance from her, I could see she was really struggling with it.  It held my attention for a while because I wondered why she would be taking such a large box to the hospital. Unable to come up with a reasonable explanation, I went back to walking with my head down.  The next time I looked up, I was surprised to see that she hadn’t arrived at the hospital doors yet. She apparently had given up on carrying the box and was now sitting on it beside the sidewalk.

“Hmmmmmmm,” I thought.  “That’s not something you see every day.”

As I approached her, I soon realized she had stopped and was sitting on it because she was bawling her eyes out.  Concerned, I stopped and asked, “Are you okay? Can I help you carry the box?”

She nodded.  Together we picked the box up and started out again for the hospital, and she began opening up about what was troubling her.  “I’m from North Dakota and my baby is having heart surgery. I have three other kids at home with my husband, and my husband is angry at me, so he only sent me half the money he was supposed to.  I need to ship this box, and I don’t have enough money to ship it.”

My heart sank.  This was such a hard place.  Everywhere I looked there were sick children and grief-stricken parents.  For most families financial difficulties loomed, and fear of the unknown outcome of their sick child hung over their heads like a black cloud.  It was no wonder she and her husband were arguing. One very sick child was a state away with one parent, and three other young children were at home with the other.  They had to be stressed to the max. As we walked, I listened and offered what encouragement I could.

After arriving at the hospital, we came to my elevators just inside the Francis Building.  “These are my elevators,” I told her. “How much farther do you still need to go?”

“Not much farther.  I can handle the rest by myself.  Thank you for helping me,” she said.

I then stopped, set the box down, pulled out my wallet, and handed her $60.

“Oh, I can’t accept this,”  she said.

“No, please take it,” I said.  “It’s not my money anyway. People gave it to me.”

While TJ and I were at Mayo, I was amazed at the amount of money I received in the mail.  I couldn’t believe how kind people were, and some of them were people I didn’t even know. A few weeks after TJ’s surgery, when we realized his medical problems were not going to be over any time soon, I quit my job to stay with him.  Since we lost an entire income, my goal was to use the money I received in the mail to live on so I would not have to dip into our already tight finances back home. Up to this point in our stay in Rochester, I always had everything I needed.

So after again encouraging the woman to take the money, she finally relented and accepted it, and we went our separate ways.  I pushed the up arrow for the elevator, and when the elevator doors opened, I was happy to see there was no one in there and I would be riding the elevator alone because I had some praying to do.  As I rode to TJ’s floor, I prayed, “Lord, I gave that woman almost everything I have, but I know it’s what You wanted me to do. I’m low on money now, Lord, so You are going to have to help me.”

I then walked off the elevator and pushed my concerns about money aside because I trusted that God would take care of me.  I really didn’t have time to worry about money anyway. I had to keep focused because there were more important things going on.  TJ was having trouble with excruciating headaches as they weaned him off powerful medications.

Over the next few days, I tightened the purse strings.  There were no more mochas or lattes from Caribou, and I ate simple meals that were prepared in the kitchenette in my room at the Ronald McDonald House.  About three days after the box incident, during a short lunch break, I walked to the Ronald McDonald House to check the mail. I was excited to see that in my mail cubby was a card from a good friend named Carole.  I always loved getting mail from home. After opening the envelope and reading the front of the card, I noticed there was a folded-up check inside. I unfolded the check, and to my surprise, saw that it was for $60, the exact same amount I gave the woman with the box.  God had met the needs of the woman carrying the box as well as my own needs.

I learned a powerful lesson that week when I was in Rochester.  I learned that if I hold on tight to everything I have because I’m afraid of where more will come from, then I really am not trusting that God will provide for my needs.  But if I take a step of faith and believe that God will meet all my needs like He says He will, I learned that I will hold on to what I have loosely and will allow myself to be used as a conduit so that God can use me to get money to others who are in need as well.  The Lord says in Matthew 6 that just as He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the field, He will also feed and clothe His children. All He requires of us is to trust Him and take Him at His Word. And if we do that, then we will be enormously blessed by watching how the great Hand of God moves into action and provides for His people.

He truly is a God who will meet all of our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Airplane Melinda

1 Samuel 18:1
“…..the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

My cousin Brandon

It was a warm, Florida afternoon in November of 2005 when I received a phone call from Iowa and learned that my cousin Brandon had been killed in a car accident at the age of 27.  Upon hearing the news, I crouched down on the floor of my Aunt Marcy’s living room and wept. He was the first one to die in our large family of cousins on my mother’s side, and he died way too young.  Fond memories of the ornery but loving young boy running around my grandparents’ farm shooting us with toy guns and the handsome young man he grew up to be singing karaoke to the song Love Shack at our summer picnics by the pond flooded my mind.  Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

At the time of Brandon’s death, we had been living in Florida for a few years, and I was terribly homesick.  I hadn’t been back home since we moved, and I missed everything about Iowa. I missed my family and friends. I missed spring and the excitement of watching the flowers push up through the ground while the robins hopped around the yard and gathered material to build their nests and lay their eggs.  I missed the Iowa State Fair in late summer with its farm animals, talent shows, and, of course, deep fat fried foods served on a stick. I missed watching the corn grow in the cornfields all summer long and then marveling at the beautiful colors when it turned bright gold in the fall. I missed walking through the woods without worrying about getting bit by a rattlesnake.  I missed breathing in the cold air during the winter nights and the smell of smoke coming from the chimneys. Even though it was a tragedy that initiated my return, I was thrilled to be going home. Living by the beach in beautiful Naples was lovely and was a time in my life I would always treasure, but what living there had taught me was that I was a northern girl and my heart belonged to the Midwest with its rolling hills and friendly people.

Upon learning of Brandon’s death, my husband quickly bought an airplane ticket for me, and I boarded a plane headed for Des Moines the very next day.  As I shimmied down the tight aisles with my carry-on suitcase in hand, I found my seat and realized that I was unfortunately in the middle. “Oh, well, you can’t have it all,” I thought.  “At least I am going home.” I quickly stowed my luggage away in the overhead bin and sat down.

I noticed in the window seat next to me, was an attractive woman about my age with dark hair and brown eyes.  I looked at her for a few seconds with the intention of saying hi, but she seemed to be engrossed in a book. Her eyes never left the page, so I decided to leave her alone.  I quickly pulled out my book God’s Story by Anne Graham Lotz and began reading as well.

Almost immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to strike up a conversation with her and tell her about Christ…….and I didn’t want to.  I wasn’t very good at witnessing to others. It was uncomfortable, and I felt like I never made any sense and stumbled over my words. I ignored the nudging and continued reading my book……….but the nudging persisted. Still trying to find excuses to ignore the Holy Spirit, I noticed the book she was reading was a Christian book, so again I talked myself out of it and told myself, “She’s probably already a Christian anyway, so there’s no need to talk to her.”  But the nudging continued on and on.

When we were getting close to Atlanta, tired of trying to fight off the Holy Spirit’s coaxing, I finally summed up the courage to say something. Upon hearing the captain’s voice that it was clear skies in Atlanta, I glanced out the window expecting to see beautiful blue skies but instead saw big puffy white clouds. I said to her, “Well, that’s sure a lot of clouds for clear skies.” She perked up right away and agreed, and we began visiting.

I learned her name was Melinda, and she lived not too far north of where I lived in Naples.  She was a teacher at a Christian school and was headed home to Iowa as well for a funeral. I learned that she had grown up in Iowa like me and moved to Florida later in life.  I was surprised to learn that we had attended the same church and knew some of the same people. She also shared that for a time she lived in Washington, Iowa while growing up. My husband had family there and she knew them as well.  I was astonished at all of our commonalities. I looked around the plane, and thought, “Out of all the people on this plane that I could have been sitting by, and I just happened to be sitting by her, someone I have so much in common with.”  There was an immediate bond between us. I then said to her, “God put us together.” And she agreed.

We visited the rest of the plane ride to Iowa, and by the time we got off the plane in
Des Moines, it was like we were old friends.  As we rode the escalator down to baggage claim, Melinda’s sister was standing at the bottom waiting to greet her. As she watched Melinda and I make our way toward her, visiting and laughing all the way, a confused look spread across her face, a look that said, “Who is this woman, and how on earth could you have possibly known anyone on that plane?”  Melinda then introduced me and we exchanged hellos. Before going our separate ways, we compared plane trips home. We both were disappointed to learn we were returning to Florida on the same day but at different times and on different planes, so we exchanged phone numbers, hugged, said goodbye, and promised each other we would stay in touch. I then set out to find my mother who was picking me up.

Uncle Ed (Brandon’s father) riding the cow made by
Great Grandpa Dougherty

During my visit, I stayed in the country at my Aunt Frankie’s house.  She and her husband Barney live a very simple lifestyle, and nothing had changed much since I had been gone.  The hand-painted cows made from gas tanks and antique cream cans my Great Grandpa Dougherty fashioned together still stood in the front yard, the wall of mirrors that greeted you when you first walked through the door into the living room hadn’t changed, and the fish tank by the front door still remained.  It was comforting to be back in my old country environment.

The funeral was at a small country church on a gravel road and was officiated by a pastor who had been associated with our family for many years.  The church was so full that the sanctuary couldn’t hold everyone, and some people had to stay in the basement during the service. I watched in sadness as Brandon’s mom struggled to walk down the aisle and take her seat at the front of the church.  She understandably was unable to contain her grief and wept loudly. Burying a young person is not the natural order of life and leaves a person with many unanswered questions.

After the funeral service, we pulled into the country cemetery for the graveside service and parked right behind a big pickup truck.  It was snowing heavily, and the snowflakes were unusually big and beautiful. I hadn’t seen snow in a few years and was excited that during this return trip home, God blessed me with snow.  As we were undoing our seat belts, I watched as a cute, small-framed woman jumped down out of the truck in front of us bundled up in a Carhartt coat. A smile broke out across my face. Yes, I was definitely back in Iowa.  You would never see a wealthy Naples woman in a Carhartt coat.

The visit went too fast, and early the next day, my mom dropped me off at the airport for my return flight home.  As I was checking in, I learned that the plane I was booked on had mechanical difficulty and I was being moved to another plane which left later that morning.  I then had quite a bit of time to kill, so I purchased a coffee, yogurt, and magazine and proceeded to my gate to wait. As I was reading my magazine, I happened to look up and saw Melinda walking toward me with a big smile on her face.  I had been moved to her plane. We rode all the way back to Florida together. When we arrived at Ft Myers airport, both of our families were waiting for us, and everyone met each other. And we have been friends ever since.

Meeting for dinner in Ft Myers, FL spring break 2019
(left to right) Aiden, Travis, Kelly, Micah, Melinda, Mike

During that airplane flight to Iowa, I thought God was nudging me to share about Christ with the woman seated next to me.  Sometimes my simple mind thinks that God just wants me working, working, working for Him. But that wasn’t God’s intention at all.  God was nudging me because He just simply wanted me to have a friend, and if I hadn’t obeyed that day, I would have missed out on an incredible, lifelong friendship with a woman who has brought so much blessing, encouragement, and wisdom into my life. The nudge from God that day reaffirmed to me that it is always wisest to obey the Lord, especially when it is something you really don’t want to do because you never know what the Lord has planned.

Melinda and I have now been friends for 14 years. Our friendship has weathered moves that separated us by hundreds of miles, parenting challenges, chronically ill children, busy lives, and both of us losing our contacts in our phones at the same time which rendered us unable to contact each other for months. The friendship we share may seem kind of strange to people and some may wonder how two strangers who meet on a plane can have an immediate bond like this. But the answer is simple. It’s Jesus. Because of our common bond in Jesus and our mutual love for Him, He is the thread that knits our souls together. 

A Birthday Celebration Disaster

Deuteronomy 34:4
“Then the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’  I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.’”

As TJ’s second birthday without him is fast approaching, I’ve been reminiscing lately about how we spent his first birthday without him.  Last year in July, we went on our first ever family vacation which included nana and papa, daughters, sons-in-law, granddaughters, and grandsons.  When all of us are together, we number 21 in total.

We found  a very large house in Salt Lake City, Utah to accommodate us.  It was nestled into the side of a mountain and had five bedrooms, one of which was a bunk bed room for all of the little gremlins; a media room with a big screen for watching movies; and a giant game room which was any child’s–or husband’s–dream.

Salt Lake City, Utah

We chose the beautiful Salt Lake City for our vacation destination last year because it was a good halfway point with our daughter Whitney who lives in Washington state.  I had never been to Salt Lake City before and was taken aback by the beauty of it. The city is located at the base of the Wasatch Mountains on the east with the Great Salt Lake across the valley to the west.  I enjoyed my morning walks along the edge of the mountain looking out across the city below to the view of the Great Salt Lake in the distance. It was breathtaking.

Our fourth day there was TJ’s birthday.  After shedding a few tears in the morning and doing crafts and baking cookies with the grand kids all afternoon, the plan that evening was to release sky lanterns in memory of TJ.  I had been imagining this event in my mind for months. I pictured releasing them by a lake with beautiful mountain scenery surrounding it. All of us would be standing together with our smiling faces turned upward and maybe some tears streaming down our cheeks as the sky lanterns all floated away together.   The kids would be cheering with joy on their faces as they watched the lanterns light up the sky. Everybody would be happy and thinking about TJ, and I imagined TJ looking down from heaven with a big, peaceful smile on his face. 

But that is totally not what happened.

Early in the day, my husband drove around the city scouting out the landscape looking for the perfect place to release the lanterns.  That evening as our caravan of cars arrived at the location he had chosen, I gave him a thumbs up and complimented his choice. It was a beautiful location.  It was a flat, park-like setting with a pond of water nearby with vegetation growing around it, and mountains were standing tall in the distance. It looked perfect…..but looks can be deceiving.

It wasn’t until we got out of our cars that we began to realize the water close by was stagnant and the mosquitoes were insane–like nothing we had ever experienced before.  Almost immediately we were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. As we were flailing our arms to defend ourselves, most of the younger kids began wailing at the top of their lungs and frantically scratching their arms and legs.  We hurriedly scattered and turned our attention toward the children. In the background, while we were running, I could hear our son-in-law Matt yelling, “Why was this place chosen?!”

After tending to the screaming children, still undeterred and doing our best to ignore the bites, we proceeded with TJ’s birthday celebration.  We started lighting the lanterns, but almost immediately we began experiencing more problems. The lanterns weren’t easy to light and were catching on fire. Pockets of fire were scattered around the park.  Our son-in-law Ben, concerned about the police being called, was running around like a mad man putting the fires out with small drinking bottles of water. The lanterns that didn’t catch on fire wouldn’t rise.  Our daughters were running after their lanterns that were hovering at eye level blowing and flapping their arms wildly in an attempt to get them to fly. After the last lantern was lit and burst into flames, we counted them up, and only 3 of the 26 lanterns actually flew.  The rest were burning in a heap on the ground. We then cleaned up the mess, put all the fires out, hurriedly escaped to our cars, comforted the bawling children, and drove away as fast as we could, scratching our bites all the way home.

My deceased son’s first birthday celebration without him was an utter disaster.

To onlookers, this couldn’t have looked like a family who was honoring their son who had recently passed away.  This looked like pandemonium and irresponsibility for lighting lanterns in the hot, dry climate of Salt Lake City.  Coming from the green, rolling hills of humid Iowa where releasing sky lanterns is legal, it never occurred to any of us until the fires began that lighting lanterns in a hot, dry climate wasn’t a real smart idea…..or even legal.

In my younger years, I would have been devastated that my son’s first birthday celebration after his death was a complete catastrophe, but now in my older years, I’ve learned a few things.  I’ve learned that sometimes when things don’t go as planned, it still can be beautiful. The morning after our disastrous evening, we sure enjoyed sitting around recounting the night and laughing hysterically at our foolishness.  In the wake of the devastating tragedy of losing TJ that cut each one of us to the core, it was a much needed family bonding moment. We came to the conclusion that if TJ could have seen it, he would be laughing as well at his crazy family.  In fact, he would have enjoyed seeing our mosquito-infested, tumultuous evening way more than the tear-filled, sappy celebration I had envisioned in my mind.

What about you?  Have you had times when things didn’t turn out as you had envisioned?  Have some of your dreams ended in disaster and you just weren’t sure how to pick up the broken pieces and carry on?

During my Bible study time the day prior to the birthday celebration, I read about Moses.  Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Numbers 20 says that in the first month after leaving Egypt, the community arrived at the Desert of Zin.  There was no water for the community, and the people began to quarrel with Moses. Moses and Aaron then went to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell face down, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.  The Lord told Moses to take the rod and speak to the rock and water would pour out. But Moses instead struck the rock twice with the rod and then spoke harshly to the community. Despite Moses’s disobedience and because the people needed water, the Lord still provided abundantly for the people and water gushed out of the rock, and the community and their livestock drank, but the Lord told Moses that because he didn’t trust Him enough, he would not bring the community into the land the Lord would give them.

Because of God’s Holiness, His correction of Moses was hard…and deserved.  Moses was a leader and leaders are judged by a higher standard. All of his life, even since he was an infant, Moses was being prepared to deliver God’s people from Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land.  I wonder as Moses grew, when he heard the miraculous story about how Pharaoh’s daughter plucked him out of the Nile River while the other Hebrew babies were murdered, if he knew his life had been saved for a special purpose?  I wonder as Moses played and ran through the palaces of Egypt as a child, if he could feel God’s calling on his life and knew that there was something God had planned for him to do? I wonder while Moses was in Midian, if he came to realize that he was there so God could continue to mature him before He sent him out before Pharaoh?  I wonder how many times while bringing the people out of Egypt Moses had dreamed of the day when he and the whole community would set foot on the soil of the Promised Land? But now because of his own disobedience, Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land and another person would finish the job. How unbelievably disappointed Moses must have felt.

After leaving Egypt, because of disobedience, the community wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then the time finally came to enter the Promised Land.  The baton had been passed from Moses to Joshua, and Joshua would lead the community into the Promised Land. In the 34th chapter of Deuteronomy, the Lord took Moses high up on a mountain and showed him the whole land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Then Moses died and the Lord buried him. A tender, loving, gracious Father allowed Moses to see the Promised Land with his own two eyes and then privately buried His faithful servant Himself in an unmarked grave.

Maybe God said no to your prayers and hopes and dreams, and life hasn’t turned out for you like you had planned.  Moses’s hopes and dreams didn’t turn out like he had planned either…..but here’s the beautiful part about Moses’s story.  A short time after Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land, God took him home to an eternal life with Him forever.  The loss of not being able to enter the Promised Land was only momentary, temporary, and for those of us who are in Christ, the same is true for us.  God will also take us home to an eternal life with Him forever as well, and these disappointments and losses that we experienced here on this earth will become a faded memory.

This year for TJ’s 23rd birthday celebration, we are headed out on our second annual family vacation, but this time to Breckenridge, Colorado.  We are minus two daughters and their families due to scheduling conflicts and distance. We are foregoing the sky lanterns this year–surprise, surprise–and are in the process of brainstorming a new way to memorialize TJ’s birthday.  You will hear all about it in an upcoming blog post in a few weeks.

The Drought of Illness

“And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”  1 Kings 17:4

After sustaining his brain injury, my son TJ was in and out of hospitals and rehab centers for 19 months before he finally came home.  Once I heard a doctor, in disbelief, remark about the great amount of time that TJ had spent in the hospital, which led me to believe that it was something they didn’t see very often.  The doctor then went on to state that they needed to get us home because we had spent way too much time there. But the truth was, even though it may sound strange to many people, the hospital really wasn’t all that bad.  In fact, when TJ’s discharge date at Mayo was approaching, I tried persuading the doctors with various reasons of why they needed to keep him longer. Of course, it didn’t work, but I thought it was worth a try.

The hospital provided for TJ medically of course, but the hospital also played another important role in our lives.  It was our social life. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point during our stay, the medical staff shifted from not only being his medical providers but to being our friends.  Even though we were cut off from the outside world, it didn’t matter because inside the hospital there were people everywhere at all hours of the day, and they understood better than anyone the journey we were on. And dare I say that during TJ’s healthier hospitalization times, he even had some fun. One of my fondest memories of him in the hospital was the way he broke in new nurses. Oftentimes they were young, and upon seeing their fresh, new face, a little smile would break out across his lips, and instantly I knew what was coming.  While the new nurse was being given his bedside report from the nurse whose shift was over, he would pretend he was going into respiratory failure and start thrashing around on his bed. Then when the new nurse became wide-eyed and nervous, he would finally stop his antics and begin laughing.

TJ hugging his physical therapist

In the hospital TJ was very well taken care of, and I was able to just be his mom.  We were surrounded by friendly, caring, supportive people, and help was just a call button push away. Why would we ever want to leave?  After being hospitalized for so long, the world beyond the hospital walls had become too scary to live in in our new-normal state.  I was content to just stay there.

But eventually TJ did come home…….and then we were isolated.  Gone were the days of the hustle and bustle of the hospital and the friendships we made there.  We sat at home by ourselves day after day because we learned after he came home that it was very difficult to go out into the community with a chronically ill person.  Packing everything beforehand was exhausting. Finding wide enough parking spaces for the wheelchair lift could be difficult. Equipment and wheelchairs sometimes malfunctioned and left us stranded.  Some stores were difficult to maneuver a wheelchair in like GameStop, my worst nightmare for many reasons. Friend’s and family’s homes were difficult or impossible to enter. Restroom use and the fear of accidents was always stressful.  Do we use the Men’s? Do we use the Women’s? And if I’m alone what do I do with him if I have to go? Suctioning the trach in the movie theater and annoying others during a movie caused anxiety. It was loud and sometimes needed to be done multiple times an hour. Yes, sometimes it was easier to just stay home where it was most comfortable. But staying home all the time also becomes depressing. We had little contact with other people. The darkness was growing in all around us, and we were feeling lonelier and lonelier.

We hadn’t been to church in months either.  He couldn’t sit through a service in his wheelchair without getting uncomfortable, and, of course, we were nervous about suctioning his trach.  Attending the youth group like he used to wasn’t an option anymore. We didn’t know where we fit in. We didn’t know where we belonged, so we just stayed home.  We were in a drought, and it seemed like it would never end.

But then one day I heard my doorbell ring.  I opened it to see a pretty, blonde-haired woman standing there with a bouquet of flowers in her hand.  She stated her name was Beth and she was from the Hand in Hand Ministry at Valley Church, so I invited her in. She said she had heard about us and wanted to share about Valley Church and the special needs ministry and invite us to attend.  She told me she would provide a buddy for TJ who would even suction his trach so we could attend church. I could feel the excitement welling up inside of me, and I was overjoyed.  I knew God had sent her. She was a raven sent by God to provide spiritual nourishment and a place to belong and be loved.

The prophet Elijah also knows what it’s like to live through a drought.  Let’s read in
1 Kings about his experience and how God provided for him.

1 Kings 17:1-7
“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’ Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.  And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’

“So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.”

So let’s unpack this a little. Ahab was an evil king, and he did more to provoke the Lord than all the kings of Israel who were before him.  His government formally promoted and worshiped the false god Baal. It seemed as though the worship of the one true God would be eradicated throughout the land of the northern kingdom Israel.  But then Elijah came on the scene. Elijah was a man of God and told Ahab that there would be a drought in the land……And then it happened. Baal was thought to be the sky god, the god of the weather, and Elijah’s dramatic prediction flew in the face of Baal and proved that his God Yahweh was more powerful than Baal.  Elijah’s life was now in danger, so God told him to get away and hide by the Brook Cherith. And while he was staying by the Brook Cherith, the Lord sent the ravens to provide for him, until the time came when the drought dried up the brook and the Lord moved him on.

Sometimes in our life, there are times when we too are in a drought and are sent by God to hide by the brook and be alone with Him.  Droughts can come in various forms. The drought of illness. The drought of divorce. The drought of the death of a loved one. The drought of the child who is never born.  During the droughts of life, it can feel very lonely and few may understand what you are going through.  Oftentimes the Lord sends us to a place where we can escape the drought and where He can show His loving kindness to us by providing for us and hiding us from the bustling activity of society that constantly attempts to drown out His voice.  Although it may not feel like it, the lonely brook He sends us to is a place of safety. It is by the peaceful brook where we quiet our hearts and focus on the Lord and where He becomes our only friend.

During the quiet times when we are hiding by the brook, our focus should be on looking for the ways in which God is providing for us.  Just as He sent ravens to Elijah in a miraculous way to feed him with meat and bread, we can be sure that He is providing for us in miraculous ways as well.

The word “Cherith” in the ancient Hebrew root means to “cut away, to cut up or off.” God could have sent Elijah anywhere He chose, but He chose the Brook Cherith for a reason. During our time when the Lord sends us to reside by the brook, not only is He showing His tender loving mercy toward us and providing for us, but He is also cutting away the sin in our life so He can use us in even greater ways.  He loves us too much to leave us in our current state. Maybe He’s cutting away a dependence on people instead of Him. Or maybe He’s cutting away a stronghold in your life that you just can’t get free from. Maybe He’s cutting away laziness that is causing a staleness in your spiritual life. Whatever it is that He is at work doing, we can rest assured that one day when His cutting away time is accomplished, He will move us on.

Just as the Lord provided manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness, meat and bread from the ravens for Elijah, and multiplied loaves of bread and fish for the hungry, He will provide for you while you are in your drought.  God cares about His people and will provide for them. You need only to be still and obey and rest in His presence.

All Things New

Revelation 21:5 “Behold I am making all things new.”

I stood at the rear sliding glass door of my house and gazed longingly at my rain-soaked backyard garden.  It had been raining cats and dogs for days, and it was looking like this day would be no different. Annuals were desperate for planting, weeds demanded pulling, and tall perennials were crying out for staking, but it was too wet to do any of that today.  A frustrated sigh escaped my lips, and I quietly murmured, “I guess it will just have to wait.”

I then turned my attention to the cherub wrapped in his wings and perched on a bench at the end of my garden.  He sat alone and looked like a child praying with head bowed. He was surrounded by an array of flowers that complimented his light gray cement color.  My husband bought him for my birthday a couple of summers ago to replace the garden angel TJ destroyed with his paintballs. I enjoyed gazing at this new cherub amidst all of the colorful garden splendor.  He was way better made and much better quality than the angel he replaced.

Broken garden angel

Several years ago, my then 15-year-old son TJ decided it would be funny to shoot up my backyard with paintballs.  I arrived home from work one day and was surprised to find my tree trunks pink, my shed orange, and my garden angel yellow with a hole in her right shoulder and feathers from her delicate wings broken or missing.  I didn’t find his shenanigans to be as funny as he thought they were, but I have to admit that underneath my outward irritation was a smile I was trying to disguise. Even though he accidentally broke my garden angel I was quite fond of, I did secretly enjoy the delight in his eyes and the way his shoulders bounced up and down in rhythm with the chuckle he couldn’t hold in from being able to pull off a mischievousness that irritated his mother.

The broken, pockmarked angel sat in my garden for a couple of years.  Despite my affection for her, I planned on replacing her but had never gotten around to it because in my fondness for her, I had almost convinced myself that from a distance you could hardly tell she was broken.

And then TJ suffered his brain injury.

“How could I replace her now?” I thought.  Her presence in the garden was tied to a memory of TJ in his healthy days.  Throwing away her broken figure would somehow feel the same as throwing away good memories of when he was young and full of life.  It would feel as if he was being erased. She then sat broken in my backyard for several more years.

But after time I began to realize that the good memories she conjured up also brought along painful memories and reminded me of how things once had been and that they would never be that way again.  For many years these two polar opposite feelings twisted and turned inside of me like oil and water. They occupied the same space but were distinctly separate and never became one. Until one day when I came to the firm decision that it was time to throw her away.  Her brokenness was too painful for me to endure anymore, and it was time to replace her with something new. I then asked my husband for a new garden statue.

New garden cherub

Looking at my new cherub that rainy morning reminded me of the painful fact that everything in this world, even things we take great care of, break and need replaced. Everything eventually loses its shiny newness, wears out, and gets old. Buildings become old and get restored; bosses want fresh ideas and substitute workers; teams want winning seasons and exchange athletes; and garden angels get shot up by paintballs and need replaced.  We long for a place where things will always remain new, life won’t get boring, bodies won’t grow weak and old, and favorite statues remain in our gardens.

In Revelation 21:5 God announced directly from his throne, “Behold I am making all things new.”  God is in the act right now of making all things new, and He promises His people when He finishes His work, not only will all things have been made new, but they will STAY new.  They will never break, wear out, or need replaced. We will have new, strong bodies that will never grow old, new discoveries everyday to interest ourselves, and an eternity to spend with our loved ones.

So that begs me to ask the question, dear one…..will YOU be made new?  Will you experience the newness that heaven offers? Only those who choose to put their faith in Christ will encounter the newness that is reserved only for heaven.

Answer His call and accept Christ as your Savior today and look forward to an eternity of all things made new.

Morning Cup of Sunshine

I awoke this morning while it was still dark outside and the house was quiet.  I have always been an early riser. The old, well-known proverb “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” my son-in-law Ben quoted to me while we were on family vacation in Utah last summer floated through my mind as I sauntered down the stairs.  Ben had noticed my sleeping habits while we were on vacation and was thrilled to see that they resulted in a big, beautiful breakfast buffet which awaited him each morning.

Morning is the time when my thinking is the clearest and I can accomplish the most.  I look forward to the quiet moments in the morning that I get to spend with God praying and studying.  It’s the time of day when I feel closest to Him.

This morning, as per my usual routine, I headed straight for the kitchen to make the coffee.  I pulled the Folgers Breakfast Blend out of the coffee cabinet, grabbed my latest creamer of choice from the refrigerator which right now is Coffee Mate Snickers flavor, and began filling the coffee pot with water.  I don’t know about you but I love my morning coffee. It is oftentimes the first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning and sometimes the last thing on my mind when I fall asleep at night.

As I sat at my kitchen table and drank my morning cup of sunshine, I began googling “Bible studies for special needs parents” in an attempt to find material we could study for Moms’ Group.  I stopped on one Bible study in particular titled “Held: Learning to Live in God’s Grip,” and as I was reading about it, an unexpected wave of sadness swept over me and the tears started to fall that even my morning cup of sunshine couldn’t chase away.  I had been slapped in the face with the reminder that I was no longer the mom of a child with special needs.

In the midst of my sorrow, I remembered the words spoken from one of the moms at a previous meeting.  “This is temporary! This is temporary!” she exclaimed. A sentence with just three words, but for those of us who are suffering, what a profound sentence it is.  I then embarked on a quest that morning to find Bible verses to comfort me and remind me about the short-term nature of life’s pain and suffering. This is what I found:

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 Peter 5:10
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Psalm 71:20
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

Joel 2:25
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.

Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

After being encouraged by God’s promises, with my materials spread out across the table and my coffee cup in hand, I pondered life for awhile and thought about how every single one of us on this earth suffers in this life.  Of course we hate it, and we try our best to avoid it, but no one escapes it. People we love get sick, marriages fall apart, kids rebel and make bad choices, spouses lose their job or get hurt and become disabled. And the list goes on and on.

“For the Christian living in this fallen world, what exactly is the purpose of suffering?” I asked myself.  “There has to be a reason God allows us to suffer.” After researching a little more, I came up with two purposes for suffering:  To bring glory to God and for our good.

We have a choice of how we respond to suffering.  If we choose to suffer well, we display to an unbelieving world that Christ is more valuable and magnificent than any sorrow or pain we might be experiencing.  Suffering well creates opportunities to point others to Christ.

Suffering also loosens our tight grip on this world that always falls short of meeting our expectations, and it turns our gaze toward heaven with the hope of all things made new. It motivates us to work for a cause greater than ourselves and increases our capacity of compassion for others. Suffering causes us to put our hope in Christ rather than in the temporal things of this life for which God then receives the glory.

We don’t have to suffer alone though.  God comforts us during times of suffering.  His presence alone gives us strength and rest to endure our trials.  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 23:4, “Even 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.” Exodus 33:14, “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” God’s Word is true and infallible, and if the Lord says He will be close to us during our times of suffering, then He will.  If the Almighty says He is with us while we walk through the valley, then He is, and if the Great I Am says His presence will go with us, then it will.

As we go about our days, may we always remember the wise words from the mom in Moms’ Group and remind ourselves often that this suffering is temporary.  We have been given hope from God’s Word that one day we will be restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more.

We have an eternity of joy and contentment to look forward to, so go now, dear one, and suffer well.

Lord, we love you.  Give us the strength to suffer well for Your glory.  Help us to remember that what we experience on this earth is temporary, and that something far more glorious than we could ever imagine awaits us in heaven.