December 15, 2010

The Grace Ticket

 Well hallelujah our kiddos have arrived from Missouri. We will have a house full for Christmas and it’s going to be fun. Its always sort of bittersweet to have them here because I know that it isn't going to last and they are going to leave soon, but I’m choosing to enjoy the now and to not think of tomorrow. And we are truly thankful for our 'now' because there just seems to be so much tragedy going on in the world right now. Not just in the news but with people we know. It always puts whatever I’m struggling with in perspective and makes me thankful for those precious ones in my life.

Have you ever looked at a tragic situation and thought, “I don’t know how they are dealing with this. I just couldn’t do it. I just could not handle this if it happened to me.”? A friend and I were having such a conversation recently and we were basically saying these very things. And I was reminded of a story I read years ago told in THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie ten Boom. One night when she was a little girl, as her sweet Daddy was tucking her into bed, she became overwhelmed with the fearful thought of what if he were to die.

(As told in THE HIDING PLACE). “I burst into tears, “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can't die! You can't!” “Corrie,” he began gently. “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”

Years later during World War II this came to Corrie's mind as her entire family was rounded up and sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. And even through their suffering and the death of her father and sister, God’s strength was there when she needed it and she was not overcome by her circumstances. She did ‘handle it’ when it needed to be handled, but only by the grace of God.

I read THE HIDING PLACE when I was a little girl and as a fear-prone child, this story particularly comforted and ministered to me. I have never, ever forgotten the lesson of this story and it has been proven true to me over and over again and I've seen it proven in the lives of others.

In December 1994, the Navy moved us to Hawaii. Christmas found us living in a hotel suite with two small children and me in the middle of a difficult pregnancy. I loved my own children with all of my heart but I’d never been one of those women whose heart melted at the sight of a baby or who as a girl had gladly volunteered my babysitting services nor as a mother had I ever been overly confident in my child rearing abilities. So every pregnancy, although greeted with great joy was also greeted with a fair amount of trepidation at the great responsibility entrusted to us. I never felt worthy or capable of such a sacred task. And I was especially anxious to have my third baby so far away from my support base of family, friends and church. I just didn’t have a whole lot of faith in myself to efficiently run a household while capably handling three small children and homeschooling my eldest all day long while Keith was at work. The very thought of it greatly overwhelmed me. Yet despite these worries, we had a wonderful Christmas together as a family of four in our hotel room.

Then sometime after Christmas, I went for my ultrasound.

I should have known something was up when the ultrasound tech took one look at my ultrasound and announced, “excuse me I have to get a second opinion” then promptly left the room. But I can honestly say, this didn’t alarm me at all. For once, my overactive, worse-case-scenario thought-process didn’t kick into high gear. I don’t remember thinking anything at all as a matter of fact. Keith wisely kept any concerns he may have had to himself because he knew better. So when Mr. Second Opinion casually commented, “Yep, there’s two babies in there. You’re having twins Mrs. Johnson.” I nearly fell off the examining table. This was impossible. This was inconceivable. Other women had twins- calm, capable, confident women. Not me. Definitely not me. However for a brief holy moment, a sense of awe came over me as if God had especially blessed us with this ‘double portion’. However just as quickly the awe left and panic set in.. "Twins God? Me God? Are You serious?" But the fact remained that for some odd reason God DID choose me to be the mother of twins and it has forever convinced me that He definitely has a sense of humor. :)

That night as I lay in bed, a thousand different scenarios of taking care of two babies at once were played out in my head.
What if they both were crying at the same time. What if they both needed their diaper changed at the same time. How would I choose? What if we were in public and they both needed me. How would I carry them both? Could I take care of two babies by myself while Keith was at work? And what about my other two children? Would they feel neglected? And when would I ever find the time to homeschool? Would I ever be able to go to the grocery store again?
These kind of thoughts made sleep impossible and worked me into a panic. But as I frantically questioned God about this, he reminded me of the train ticket story. And as sure as I’ve ever known, the Lord spoke to my heart at that moment and He said (basically),

“Kayla, my grace is sufficient for you. Right now you are picturing and worrying about things in the future that you aren’t facing now. You are pregnant now. You need my grace for that, not for handling two babies at once. When you have your two babies, that particular grace will be yours as well. But you won’t have it until the exact moment you need it. So quit worrying and looking ahead and deal with today. Relax and trust in me. My grace IS sufficient”.

I cannot tell you the peace and relief that flooded my soul at that moment. I breathed a prayer of gratitude and turned over and fell fast asleep. And from that moment forward a confidence and excitement stirred in my soul. I was even more overjoyed when I found out I was having a boy AND a girl. Although my pregnancy was difficult and I almost delivered early several times, I had an abiding peace because I KNEW no matter what we faced, that ticket would be there when needed. And after they were born, although yes it was often difficult having two babies at once, I think I was more relaxed with the twins as babies than I was with my older two. They truly were and continue to be a double blessing and have been a genuine delight to their dad and I.

God was true to His word and His grace was there when I needed it.

Since that time when God’s ‘grace ticket’ was there for me, I have observed it handed out countless times, at the moment of much more serious needs. I watched our friend George Waites, who while battling pancreatic cancer faced his mortality with God’s peace and a sense of humor. I watched his wife and children walk through that valley with strength and an eternal perspective while proclaiming the goodness of God in the midst of loss and grief. I’ve seen my sister and brother-in-law’s faith and perseverance as they’ve never stopped pursuing God in the midst of dealing with the difficulties and delights of raising their autistic son. And right now I’m watching my friends Jen and Sean face Sean’s terminal cancer and the heartbreaking prognosis that he may not be here by Christmas Day to spend it with their two young sons. And I’m seeing them face this trauma with a gratitude for each precious day together and with a strength that defies explanation.

God’s train ticket of grace is there when we need it to face something that we could never imagine facing before. And like the manna, it is for each day-one day at a time. It doesn’t make things easy and it doesn’t take away the pain, but somehow it is sufficient to bear what would otherwise crush those who have made the Lord their hope. But don’t expect to understand today what you may or may not face tomorrow.Each day has enough trouble of its own. If we’re ever called upon to face something unimaginable, rest assured that grace ticket will be handed to us by our loving Father at the very moment we get on the train, but not a moment before.

2 Cor 12: 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And please say an extra prayer for our friends Sean and Jen Coffey. Please pray for a miracle and that if it’s God’s will Sean will be here to spend Christmas Day with his beautiful wife and two little boys. But that whatever the Lord chooses, that His‘grace ticket’ would be there exactly when they need it for whatever they will be called upon to face, as promised.

I pray that you each have a very, very Merry Christmas.
God bless you all.

December 11, 2010

Pilgrimages & other stuff

Me and my eldest Haley

Me and my Max
Long time no blog. I’m not sure why October was my banner month for blogging but I seem to have hit a wall in November. Going to try to redeem myself in December I guess. :)
So here’s what's been happening while I’ve been blogless.

Well I celebrated (ha!) a birthday in November. Birthdays these days aren’t as much fun or as anticipated as they once were. This year, because of some circumstances in my life at the time, I admit I faced my birthday with a fair amount of dread. Silly, I realize. I even realized it at the time which made it that much worse. I knew that I should be very grateful for my blessed life and even for my age. But the melancholy persisted so I took it to the Lord and as promised, He heard my cry and answered me. I ended up having a very pleasant day, with a thankful heart for the life God has given me.

But afterwards as I contemplated the emotional contortions I'd just experienced I had to ask- what was that all about? And the answer I came up with was basically this: hope deferred. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” I think most of us have had our own personal ‘hope deferred” at one time or another. We’ve all had dreams not fulfilled, crushing disappointments, that particular something we’d hoped for that didn’t come to pass. I’ve definitely had my share throughout my life. But as I once again marked time with another birthday, it just seemed to hit me that my dreams were becoming more unlikely with each passing year. The cushion of time that kept me hopeful in youth, was now gone. No, I’m aware that I’m not ancient and those older than me will probably say, “Good grief, get a grip woman, you still have lots of time!” Okay, okay, I agree. But this dawning realization of my own mortality was not an overall negative thing in the end. It just birthed a curious determination in me to understand some things once and for all. And although I know that the enemy of my soul was right there in the midst of my birthday angst, whispering despair into my ear, I believe the Lord DOES sometime allow and lead us into seasons of contemplation and sober evaluation.

I guess I'm in good company because King David also pondered, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."Ps. 42:5.

I have had to ask myself- what is my hope? I mean really? I know the answer to that of course but I'm at the point of wanting to not just know the truth but to really experience it. I mean, I want to know Him in all of His glory and to walk in His fullness, experiencing His resurrection power. I want to be aware and in awe of the fact that the Uncreated lives inside of me. I want to take Him at His word, to really trust Him, to live out these promises here on this earth and not just in the sweet by and by. So that’s where my birthday blahs led me: to set my heart on a pilgrimage for TRUTH.

Ps. 84: 1 "How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.... 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka (weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[d] 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion."

Well, for my birthday I got a plane ticket to go see my kids in St Louis for Thanksgiving. That was really great. I was gone an entire week from my sweet husband and my two youngest, so that was hard, but I really had some time of sweet fellowship with my older two and with the presence of the Lord. The Lord is really visiting Faith Chapel (my kid's church). His presence is tangible. I know we throw that around a lot “wow the presence of God was really there Sunday, blah, blah, blah”, but I mean to tell you THE PRESENCE OF GOD WAS THERE! I mean… really! Okay I know God is omnipresent, but there’s a weightiness of His presence at times that cannot be denied. In His manifest presence, I find that faith arises in my heart. I find that anything seems possible and my worries seem insignificant. There’s just no place I’d rather be. And this is how I long to live.

Anyhow I had a great time celebrating Thanksgiving in St Louis. I am so excited to see what the Lord is doing in and through my children. Lest you feel sorry for Keith and the twins for being home alone while I was off gallivanting in Missouri, waste no pity on them. They were having the time of their lives at a hunting camp in Texas. They celebrated Thanksgiving in their element- outdoors, surrounded by wildlife, in camo and with firearms. Yea boy- hate I missed it. :) But needless to say everyone had a great Thanksgiving doing their own thing. But we will all be together, under one roof once again for Christmas. It should be interesting with seven people and three dogs. I can’t wait!

Speaking of Christmas- here it is again. Every year, despite my resolve to not get so caught up in the stress, I still somehow to end up there. I am not going to lie and tell you that I have succeeded this year in keeping Christmas simple and centered on Jesus. But I have at least longed to marvel at the miracle of Christmas. I guess that is an improvement. I mean we’ve heard the story our whole lives and for most of us it has lost its wonder. But oh that we would be awakened afresh to the miracle of the incarnation.

That we would marvel at the Uncreated One sending His only Son Jesus from His home in glory to become one of us. That we would celebrate Jesus, born of a virgin just as it was foretold by the prophets; born to die for our sins. That we would be filled with wonder that He shed His blood and died a painful death on the cross for us; reconciling us to the Father, who was fully satisfied with His sacrifice. Oh that we would be amazed at His resurrection and His triumph over sin and death and His ascension to the right hand of God. That we would get excited that He is coming back for us. That we would weep at such love and be confident in such authority. And that our reasonable response to all this would be to present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, recognizing that we are not our own. We’ve been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. We are His. And it all began for us with Christmas, when that sweet little baby, fully God and fully man, was born in that manger in Bethlehem. A tangible, personal revelation of this is my prayer for myself, my family and for all of you. Because there WILL come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.

"He's not a baby in a manger anymore. He's not a broken man on the cross. He didn't stay in the grave and He's not staying in heaven forever"~Misty Edwards

And for those of us who have chosen to believe Him and to give ourselves to Him, when our eyes finally look upon Him in that day, we’re going to realize that He's all that's ever mattered! May we set our heart on a pilgrimage to know that and live our lives in light of that TODAY. He truly is the reason for everything... including Christmas :). Anyhow, may ya'll have a blessed, safe and awe-struck celebration.

Merry Christmas friends!

How Keith and the twins celebrated Thanksgiving :D
Hannah's Thanksgiving buck

Josephs Thanksgiving buck

Keith's big buck