Roller Coaster Mama

 

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The Coaster Kid with California Screamin’ in the background

With chagrin I share this today. I had no idea 16 years ago when I wrote it that I was speaking prophetically to myself. Today I tell myself, “Teacher, teach thyself! Listen to and learn from the One who taught you this!”  Twice since then the floor has suddenly, catastrophically fallen out from under me on my life ride. Is what the LORD showed me decades ago still true? Yes! Is Jesus still my secure floor, my “ride buddy,” and is God’s Word the restraint I need? Yes, humbly, and yes, gratefully, God is STILL God, and I can buckle into Him alone to find security in the “Mad Mouse” ride we call life! And to myself: this ride ain’t over yet, so hang on to Jesus, Rose!

From time to time, people who have children in college or way too much time on their hands figure up the current cost of raising a child and broadcast it across the Internet.   Whatever the figure, it’s always enough to make young would-be parents scan their checking account and think twice. I’m glad I never thought to count the dollars-and-cents cost of having children, or I would have missed the bargain one e-mail pointed out: “For your investment, you get to finger-paint, play hide-and-seek, blow bubbles, catch lightning bugs, and never stop believing in Santa Claus. You have an excuse to keep reading your favorite bedtime stories without embarrassment, watch Saturday morning cartoons without shame, and wish on stars. You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever, and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost.”   The bottom line of all the tallies and figures is this: The best thing to spend on your children is time.

Mothers typically spend lots of time “doing” for their children: driving them to T-ball games and dance classes, decorating special cakes for birthdays and making costumes from boxes and Styrofoam for class plays, scoring for the soccer team and bringing ice and water for track season, sitting through so many piano recitals that you hear “Für Elise” in your sleep, surrendering your kitchen and your clean house to be a den mother for eight little Cub Scouts, and walking marathon distances door-to-door to help sell Girl Scout cookies. You do these things to enrich your children’s lives and give them opportunities that equip them for their future, and to let them know they matter to you. All these hours are time well invested.

From the time he was three, my older son wanted to be the first man on Mars, so we slept out in the backyard to be sure we didn’t miss meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We sent him twice and drove him once to Alabama for Space Camp. I gave up my freezer to science fair projects, saw “Star Wars” at the theater 23 times, and – before the days of one-hour developing – found a photo lab that would develop in an hour photos of the space ship model Eric had completed just three hours before the entry deadline for a “Destination: Mars” competition. Eric worked on NASA projects four summers during his undergraduate years. Then he met Emily and decided to become a linguist instead of an astronaut. His goals changed, but all the “Star Trek” sheets we bought and pizzas I made for sleep-over Science Olympiad study sessions were not in vain. Those times we invested in his life were time invested in love, and they’ve brought a great return on our investment.

So you get involved in the things that matter to your children. If you’re lucky, none of your children want to grow up to be crocodile handlers! What do you do, though, when your child wants to be a roller coaster designer? That’s right: you ride a lot of roller coasters.

Faster than a Ferris wheel, More powerful than a merry-go-round pony, Able to leap a spilled snow cone in a single bound –I am Roller Coaster Mama!

His father is at least partly to blame for this. He’s the one who cajoled me into riding “Montezuma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was three months pregnant with our second son, Ethan. It was either that loop-the-loop, or the vacation when Ethan was six months old, when we unknowingly set up our tent trailer by a lovely grove of trees that turned out to be within screaming distance of a roller coaster. It ran – click, click, click, aaahh! – till one in the morning, which was about the time Ethan finally went to sleep.

Since then, I have been on or listened to him recount the statistics of so many thrill rides that I can tell a corkscrew from a cobra roll and a boomerang from and out-and-back. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain don’t even faze me. I have spent five straight days in the “happiest kingdom on Earth”, and now I know it’s true that there is such a thing as too much happiness. I’ve plummeted 121 feet straight down on Superman. I rode in succession The Medusa – no floor – and The Viper – no more fillings in my teeth. I can say “linear synchronous induction motor” and sort of know what it means. I hardly flinch when Ethan exults, “It goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in four seconds!” I’ve pulled g’s, caught air, free fallen, been looped, banked, and double-helixed. I’ve hung suspended from tracks and haven’t even screamed on outside loops, with the only ill-effects – other than serious motion sickness – being a cracked rib from a wooden coaster on Mission Bay, and several urgent trips to the chiropractor.

The truth is, though, I have a love-hater relationship with roller coasters. They ceased to be totally fun to me when motherhood gave me good sense, or keener awareness of my own mortality, or a combination of all the pains in the neck, literally, I now have. Oh, I can manage anything Disneyland  or the State Fair can throw at me, but Magic Mountain is another story. I prefer steel coasters to wooden ones, because the ride is smoother, they hold you in more securely, and I’m less likely to crack or dislocate something important. Still, I did not get a warm fuzzy when Ethan reassured me that the Viper was easy to ride because it’s heartline roll – a 360 degree spin something like tumbling in a clothes drier – would rotate my body but keep my heart in the same place. It did – it started out and stayed in my throat!

Why do I subject myself to this physical and mental abuse? Because I love my son, and experiencing thrill rides is important to him. I really do want to share a part of this part of his life, so I’ve had to learn some coping – or survival – skills for riding roller coasters.

FIRST – I SECURE MYSELF TIGHTLY IN THE RESTRAINTS

 Restraints are your friends, even if they are uncomfortable. On a thrill ride, G-forces and centripetal forces propel your body in ways and at speeds God never intended them to go. This is what coaster designers and enthusiasts call “fun”. Unrestrained fun can kill you, so I snug those belts tight and make sure my head isn’t going anywhere the rest of my body isn’t.

SECOND – I BRACE MY FEET, OR CROSS MY ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE

 Part of the fun of a roller coaster, so they tell me, comes from the sense of instability and insecurity that heightens your senses and sends those “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through your brain and body. When I crest the first hill on Superman and plunge down that more-than-vertical drop, I press my feet into the floor for all they’re worth. It doesn’t make the ride safer or shorter, but it helps me feel more stable and keeps my seat in the seat. If I’m riding a suspended coaster where there is no floor, or if the floor will at some point drop away, I always cross my ankles, so my legs don’t whip wildly around on the loops and snap turns. At least it gives me the feeling of support, and I know my feet won’t be thrashing around at the mercy of centripetal force.   I watch the riders while I’m waiting in line, and I’ve seen where their feet go. My mother always told me it was ladylike to cross your ankles – but I also know that feet don’t painlessly fit in your mouth after you’re four months old, and knees are really hard to repair.

 THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Riding with a buddy on a wooden coaster is a smart idea: another body helps to keep you from slipping and sliding. I generally ride with my husband or our son, but if they want to ride in the front seat of a roller coaster, I opt to ride alone behind them, and I opt to pray. I want the Lord beside me. The truth is, even if someone is riding beside me, I still pray!   Psalm 91: 9-12 is a standby when I go to amusement parks: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I love my husband and our son and would rather sit next to them than ride alone, but I also want as many angels as possible crammed in that car with us!

FOURTH – I CENTER MY FOCUS                                                                                                            

Here is where my approach differs radically from that of the rest of the family. The males ride coasters with analytical minds and cast-iron stomachs. They’re absolutely electrified, keeping their eye open and anticipating the snaps, loops and dives, so they can lean into the curves. They just don’t comprehend that in me, anticipation produces anxiety, and my eyes looping all over everywhere set my inner ear spinning and my stomach churning. I know that the odds are overwhelming that I will be alive at the end of the ride. Coaster designers do have to factor in maximum and minimum G’s, friction, velocity, centripetal forces, and human anatomy when they design rides. My brain knows that, but that knowledge never seems to reach my emotions and my stomach.

I have to attack my panic on two fronts. First, I’ve learned to WILL myself to think of positive truths when I ride. Yes, I am hurtling over a precipice which is, according to the park brochure, “the nearest sensation to throwing yourself off a cliff,” but I have timed this ride while standing in line, and I know the first drop takes just 3 seconds to the bottom; then it’s only a four minute ride from there to the end. That is also truth. I CAN be at peace for four minutes. I can put all those natural childbirth classes to use here and choose to relax and breathe calmly.

Second, to keep my inner ear and stomach contents from sloshing around, I’ve learned to focus on one spot directly in front of me (even if that spot is my white knuckles on the safety bar or an imaginary spot on the tip of my nose if my eyes are closed). It’s like the way a dancer or skater spots when doing spins. Granted, these two procedures thwart the intention of the coaster designer, and the whole purpose of thrill rides, to drive me to the brink of terror and nausea. But MY purpose in riding is to contribute to quality family bonding AND get off the ride in one coherent piece, so I don’t really care that I miss half the fun.

This brings me to my last coping skill – KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I can’t bond with the family if I’m hugging the toilet in the ladies’ room. I won’t be pleasant to be around if my neck is frozen in some picturesque, but painful, pose. I ride what I think I can handle without unreasonably taxing my back, my capacity to use mind over instinct, or the angels who have to ride with me. I try to discern when to say “no,” and to say “no” without guilt. I try to recognize when I can say “yes,” take a deep breath, and trust that the amusement park is as interested in their insurance liability as I am in my safety.

Lately, I recognize this has broader practical application in my life. For mothers in particular and women in general, if you’re part of a family, or if you have relationships at all, life often resembles a roller coaster. Can anyone else identify?   Take a typical day. It’s 7:40 a.m., and I need to drive Ethan to school by 7:50, then get 45 miles across town to take my mother grocery shopping, run errands along the way to make it worth the time and gas involved, start home before 2:30 so I can use the carpool lane on the freeway, make dinner, and get to Bible study that evening with a dessert to share. But this is the day the garage door opener won’t open. No panic yet. Between the two of us, Ethan and I manage to shove it open. Mental note: drive back home to call garage door company before hitting the freeway. Pray with son and kiss him goodbye. Drive back home, make phone call, and leave a message for husband to let him know what’s going on. Remember to stop by store I don’t usually frequent to get almond butter and rice milk that Mom can’t get on the west side of town. Hit the freeway. Make it intact to Mom’s, to learn that her medical monitor just arrived and she can’t understand the directions. Help her put on the monitor, run test recording, call the monitoring company, re-write directions for Mom so she can do this on her own, take her to lunch, as it’s now noon, take her to store. Realize it’s next to impossible to start home by 2:30, so kiss carpool lane goodbye, gird my loins for battle, and kiss Mom goodbye. Drive to discount store for errand, find what I need, discover they only have two checkout lanes open and lines a mile long. Look at watch and remember that son did not take house key, so he can’t get into the house if he gets home before I do. Madly put everything back (what would Jesus do?) and dash out of store, into the freeway frenzy, to hopefully get home before son does. And so on . . . . Have you been on that ride lately?

Up, down, whip, drop, snap, loop, squashed by four g’s, panicked by those negative g’s when nothing’s supporting me, light speed through the curves– does this sound like your life, too? How are we supposed to cope positively, calmly, with roller coaster days and thrill ride weeks?   It seems to me the same survival skills I put into play when I’m riding a coaster apply emotionally, spiritually, and practically in my daily life. I’m sure none of these principles is new to you, but looking at spiritual truths through a different context helps me remember and apply them in my life. Lets’ re-examine those coaster survival skills again and see if they fit in life as well.

FIRST – SECURE YOURSELF IN THE RESTRAINTS

Most accidents on roller coasters happen when riders ignore safety mechanisms. When riders ignore the lap belt, they pay the consequences. Don’t do what the sign at the station says to do, and you will become a statistic. I am not above the law of gravity. Neither am I above the laws of God. If I live in a way that is foolish, selfish or reckless, I will certainly be thrown for a loop when life takes me for a ride. Just as there are safety systems on a thrill ride, God has given us safety mechanisms – guidelines and wisdom – that are meant to secure us and keep us from harm, especially through the ups and downs of life. Consider this advice, for example:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”      James 1:19

What protection for the emotional well being of our lives and our families following this simple instruction gives! My hands – what I do – and my tongue – what I say – would remain safely inside the vehicle of what’s helpful and good at all times

Thrill ride designers keep safety mechanisms simple to use. If you just do the dos – one click, one pull, hold tight – you’re good to go. God gives us similar simplicity in his safety mechanisms for our lives. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two steps:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31

Think for a minute about what your life would look like if you just “buckled up” with those two do’s. Love holds us securely through the dips and drops in life.

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. “ Joshua 23:8

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

If I’d hold fast to God and do the loving thing in everyday circumstance, my heart would remain secure and stay where it belongs when life spin-dries me in a heart-line roll. One click –love God – one pull – love others – hold on to God, and we’re good to go.

SECOND – BRACE YOUR FEET, OR CROSS YOUR ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE.

In daily life, that “fight or flight” reflex is not a 50/50 toss-up. I know I lean heavily toward “fight.” Flailing feet aren’t safe on a roller coaster. Flailing attitudes and words aren’t safe in life.   When I’m stressed, my foot frequently ends up in my mouth, or I figuratively kick the person next to me with hurtful, thoughtless words.   That’s why it’s wise to press into the support around us, even when life’s running smoothly, to give us the stability that strengthens peace and self-control within us. Your family will appreciate it, since the riders sitting next to you are the ones who bear the brunt of your flailing.   My family has no clue how many crazed tirades they’ve been spared when I do think to press into the support around me.

A primary source of support is – or is intended to be – our family, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that you may not be able to look to them for support when they’re part of the corkscrew.   We all need people with whom we can be genuine and open, people who will love enough to push back with truth and encouragement when we need it. We need people we can count on for practical help, too. That’s why it’s wise to make a floor to brace yourself through a Bible study, small group, prayer partner, or support group. One of the first things we did when we moved was to search for a small home group through our church. The group we’re part of is consistently there for each other with very practical help through illnesses, house repairs, picking up kids at school when a car breaks down, shoulders to cry on, victories shared, and keeping each other accountable.

Even before you look to other people for support, plant your feet firmly on the faithfulness of God . . . for :

“. . . the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.                                                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:26

God designed us to need each other, to be needed, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ for each other. It’s our function as parts of the same body to support and encourage one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In thrill ride terms, be a supportive floor for each other.

THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Sometimes people fail you, and the floor you trusted in completely falls away without warning. Sometimes your floor of support can’t be there in the moment to brace you – like when you’re alone in the car with just that teenager and toddler, the alternator quits, and your day spins off in a double helix.   That’s when an unfailing buddy is vital to keep you from sliding. Invite God along for the ride to keep you from cracking a rib, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – perhaps even physically speaking. God does intervene in circumstances, but more importantly for me, he intervenes in my thoughts, giving me a healthy, proper perspective that keeps me from sliding when I’m ready to panic.   God never leaves us to ride alone.

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”    Psalm 139: 5-7

God’s presence in our lives is security, confidence, and power. Knowing God is on the “coaster” with me straightens the curves and lowers the drops – as well as my blood pressure. Psalm 16:8 is a promise to hang onto when I’m pulling G’s:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

FOURTH – CENTER YOUR FOCUS

 Choose to think on positive truths. There are generally several things true in any situation. Increasingly I see how important it is for me to choose to focus on the truth that leads to positives like compassion, peace, and faith. I may be powerless over my circumstances, but I have power over my attitude and thoughts. Many of the stressors in my life lose their power to produce stress if I choose to relax, be flexible, and shift my focus. Just saying, “Well, Jesus, what’s this about?” instead of spouting, “What in the world am I going to do now?” actually reduces my anxiety level, and I’m sure it protects my brain chemistry as well. That has a practical effect on my body and my day.

“. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                                                                Joshua 24:15

I can focus on the positive truth, and choose whom I will serve in my response: God, or my anxiety and agitation.

When the apostle Paul advised the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:1-2), he wasn’t urging them to deny reality and live in some fantasy land. Choosing positive truth and re-setting your focus changes, practically, how you respond in everyday situations. Recently I was on my way to our Tuesday morning women’s study. I teach, so I need to be at church early to set up my class. I had some time, but on this day I happened to leave just as a school bus stopped a block down from our house and put out its stop sign. It was a handicapped bus, so I waited, and waited, and waited as the mother and driver loaded a child on the bus. As I sat there – choosing not to fume – I decided to shift my focus. I didn’t know a handicapped child lived on our street. I prayed for her, for her mother, for their family, for the bus driver who so patiently helps this child every day, and for the teachers who invest their lives working with special needs children. It was true that I’d sat in the same spot for five minutes, but which truth was more profitable, both for others and for myself – not being five minutes further down the road, or spending five refocused minutes in prayer? Choose to focus on the positive truth.

Set your focus on one spot that will not change. That’s the way to keep your balance and settle your insides in a loopy world. Where is that unchanging spot?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3

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

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”     Hebrews 13:8

FIFTH – KNOW YOUR LIMITS

I don’t have to take every ride. I create many of the loops and drops in my life by taking on too much, or by assuming something is my responsibility when it isn’t, or by letting myself get sidetracked (and isn’t the Internet helpful in that department?). I can choose to say “no” to some thrill rides and still be a supportive, encouraging mother. Good judgment, not guilt or compulsion, should tell me when to say yes and when to say no in life, too. What can I wisely take on? What can I let go? What SHOULD I let go? Let me name a few of the rides I’ve created:

Mind-Bender: Trying to reason with a tired two-year-old

The Enforcer: Proving to my husband I’m right about wasting electricity when he always leaves the radio on in the garage while he works in the back yard

Temptation Station: When the budget is tight and I really shouldn’t buy anything but necessities, but I allow myself to walk into Dillard’s, lured by those clearance sale signs, just to look around.

Avalanche Alley: Trying to accomplish just one more thing in the five minutes I have before I need to leave for an appointment.

Ooooh – cobra roll! Here comes a stress headache! Do any of these sound familiar? On a regular basis, it seems, I have to remind myself, “Don‘t go there; don’t even get on this one if you don’t want an argument or problem that’s more stress than it’s worth. I’m not taking this ride today.”

Sometimes , though, you have no choice. Life just drops you onto a thrill ride you weren’t standing in line for. When that happens, I need to realize I have my limits, but at the same time I also need to recognize that, for a Christian, life isn’t about my limits. No matter how scary or negative the situation, Philippians 4:13 is always in operation:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Since the limitless Jesus gives me strength for the ride and the power to love, to pray, to choose, and to center my focus on him, I can handle the coasters that circumstances put in my life. Through Jesus, I can be at peace for the next five – okay, two – okay, for the next one minute – when an upset to my life takes me on a heartline roll.

Sometimes life goes along smoothly; some days bring a little “wild mouse” like an upset schedule. My usual rides lately are “Time Bandit” and “Mind Eraser”!   But life can seat you on more serious rides. You may suddenly careen down “The Financial Funnel” when a layoff comes along. Life-threatening illness can drop the floor out from under you faster than “The Bottomless Pit.”   Life does not give you a map of the park to help you prepare for the next coaster. You don’t know when life is going to twist you through a corkscrew roll. But you can have stability, confidence, and sound perspective that will help you handle the drops and loops with peace, and maybe even with joy.

So Lord, let me be a roller coaster mama! With your help, I won’t panic, hyperventilate, lose my lunch, or scream. I’ll buckle into love for you and others – even the ones who put me on the roller coaster. I’ll look for a supporting floor of friends and groups to push into, so I don’t kick anybody riding with me. I’ll ride with a buddy through prayer so I don’t slip and slide. I’ll center my thoughts on positive truth. When it’s within my power to choose what I get involved in, I’ll be wise about my choices. When it’s not within my power to choose, I’ll hold onto God’s strength and whooeee! l believe I’ll at least survive, if not enjoy,  the ride!

(Parenthetically – God has faithfully been beside me as He was with Daniel when he faced roaring lions, as he was with David when he stood before Goliath. People may not understand the stands  I’ve taken in the last nine years when, literally, the Devil has raged and roared against me, or why I’ve chosen to stand, but I  MUST stand for and with GOD and the sanctity and truth of God’s Word if  I’m going to stand before Him at the Judgment with any integrity at all, and even then, my only defense is JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS, the Savior and Lover of my soul!

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“I Know How Much It Costs”

There I was at six in the morning, our two dogs Jenga and Katie ahead of me tugging at their leashes, eager to blaze a trail down the neighborhood sidewalks. I used the otherwise mindless time for intercessory prayer for lots of people and nations on my heart list, but I wasn’t expecting God to speak over and into ME.

Two years earlier I’d said a hug-filled, tearful goodbye to my older son, daughter-in-love, and their two-year-old son, my only grandchild, as they left to follow their calling, at the end of eleven years of higher education, literally on the other side of the world. I was proud of them both,  but that didn’t make it any easier in knowing that it would be years before I’d see them again. Would my grandson even know me?

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we were  able to video call them, but that wasn’tanywhere nearly the  same as holding my grandson in my arms or giving his mom and dad big hugs and sharing time with them in parks, at  the zoo, camping  together, or  baking  them cakes for their  birthdays. I had so many questions for God over those two years, but still  that morning I stopped in my tracks when in my spirit I heard the Holy Spirit quietly, simply say, “I know how much it costs you.”

The rush of love I felt lifted me and lifted at least a big part of the burden of loss I’d carried. After hearing those seven simple words, it was so much easier for me to live with the ongoing separation. God DID know and God DID care about how much it cost me, cost them,and cost my daughter-in-law’s family,too. Just knowing God valued our community sacrifice placed a  fresh peace in my heart.

Little did I know  that would be the easiest loss I’d have to bear in the next eleven years. Two even more painful,  permanent losses were ahead of me. NOTE:  I’m not writing today to gain anyone’s “sympathy,”  but to consider a question we don’t  generally hear God asking us: “Do you know how much it cost me to send my Son Jesus to die in your place on the cross?”

I think we skillfully skirt the question by thinking, “Well, God is God, after  all, and he doesn’t feel the  things I feel. Besides, he knew Jesus would be back in Heaven with him when it  was all over. And Jesus was God as  well as man, so it  didn’t hurt him like it  would have hurt a real human being ….”

Don’t kid yourself! Where do you think we get our capacity to love, to care, and  to feel emotional pain and loss, if not from the very core and nature and essence of God, placed  by God within us? I suspect our tendency when  life pierces us with grief, pain, disappointments and loss is to put the blame on God. Really? Does God make you choose your choices? If you freely make your  choices, then so does  every other  human being on the planet, including those people who through loss or wounding in their  own lives or, yes, through the influence of evil – which DOES  exist  and has a mindful, intentional source hell-bent on perverting God’s creation.

The two painful losses  I’ve  felt since then came through wounded people who sought some kind of balm for their pain apart from the  healing and deliverance and love God himself wanted and still wants to give them. Their projected pain  destroyed two marriages, one by divorce, and one by death. Neither loss was “easy”  to bear.so the  question to me became where I would  “lay blame” and what I would do with my grief  and pain. I’ve decided, and frankly, this has been an ongoing act of my will (okay, stubbornness, because I WILL choose love) and my hope in God’s transforming goodness, that  I WILL NOT swallow Satan’s baited hook of offense and let bitterness poison my heart toward those who made destructive  choices OR toward God.

Oh yes,  I’ve asked God WHY countless times, and he’s heard my cries of anguish. I go back again to those seven words I heard twelve years  ago, “I know how much it costs you.”I know this, too:  part of my pain from the first loss comes from my own human weakness in not being able to totally surrender the process and outcome to God much,much earlier in the journey.  And on God’s behalf, he has continually  told me what he told me on December 6, 2012,”You’re worth fighting for,” three months later”You are my chosen child,” and after that, “Do not fear what man tries to do to you,” and “I’m trying to bless you. You have to LET me,”  and God showed me through the many  “coincidences” I’ve written about on this blog, that he is  still with me, he still  loves me, and he has, somehow, redemptive transforming plans and redemptive purposes for goodness greater than I can see now. Satan does plan to kill,steal anddestroy, but Jesus more powerfully cameandcomes with abundant life. I remind myself that Satan has absolutely no reason to harrass and hassle people who already belong to/got hooked and deceived by him. He has plenty of reason to try to dislodge God’s  people who live out their God-given purposes  from believing that God truly  does love them and has plans to turn what Satan ploanned for evil for their good. (Romans 8:28) I personalize that – in all things God IS WORKING for my good as his child who loves him, is deeply loved by him and is  called by his purposes.

It often boils down to “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That and the knowledge that yes, it  cost God more than any of us can begin  to fathom or grasp to send Jesus  here, God in the flesh, to live out the healing, deliverance,  and life-infusing purpose and love  ABBA God wants to give to each person on Earth.

That, and the knowledge that it grieves God, wounds God, pains God when we  reject  his gift of transforming love and eternal life  and  forever  relationship with him through accepting Jesus’ sacrifice  in our place. Grace is free, but don’t ever think that it came cheap. It cost Almighty God more  than we can begin to fathom. And don’t think that you can  receive that gift  without a cost to you: recognizing, through genuine fact-facing surrender of your self-righteousness that yes, you are  sinful by nature,  then through repentance, that you could never be pure or righteous enough or do enough “good deeds” to EARN  relationship with an unimaginably holy, pure, righteous, powerful, just God,andthen receivingthe  gift of  salvation Jesus paid for FOR you. Oh,how that grates on  our American  “I can pull myself up by my bootstraps” self-sufficiency and self-determination. God is love, but/and/while he is all of that, he is likewise perfect, fiery holiness, purity, righteousness, authority, and justice as well. He satisfied all of his nature without compromise when Jesus  took the punishment andpaid the penalty  for our sins, and that means MINE as well as YOURS.

The justice I seek is against my real enemy, Satan, the abuser and wounder and liar of  all liars and  perverter of all that is  good and holy and kind and loving and true. For  that reason I have given up “seeking justice”  on my own. If you’ve seen the recent movie”The Shack,” you  heard this, and I echo the truth that I DON’T WANT TO BE ANYBODY’S JUDGE! I save that for God alone, and I pray for  the true revelation of the price of God’s love and for true repentance that will lead the people who’ve  hurt  me straight into the Cross and arms and transforming love of Jesus.

Yes, it cost me. It  costs the price of living  with injustice even as I try to live out of and live out the love that God has lavishly given me. Expanded hearts  can feel more pain, but they can also receive,contain, and pour out more love.  Jesus did it first,  for YOU and me!

I heard Jason Gray sing this song live seven years ago just two miles from my house, in, yes, FREE concert tickets God gave me. Do you think HE knew I’d need to remember and cling onto this truth? I know I need to fearlessly run into the loving arms of the ONE who knows how much it costs me, and run to him fearlessly because I know how much it costs HIM to love me.

And yeah, absolutely, if you’d like to pray for me today, go for it! I admittedly,honestly need to be able to hear the Holy Spirit more clearly and trust God more fervently than I  do, and joyfully love while I’m waiting on HIS outcomes, knowing his desire for me is  to live in joy and hope in him! He paid for this, and I want to receive it fully!

Trophy Bride

(Please do read this, even if you are male, and substitute friend for bride if you can’t get past the feminine nature of the word bride.)

Rose Jackson © 9/22/09

How ironic that the answer to the cry of my heart came out of utter destruction. Over a year ago I prayed to really experience God’s love for me, to move knowledge from my head to reality in my gut. So many of my friends seemed to slip so easily into his heart for them, like stepping into a beautiful ball gown (the sanguine friends) or sliding into a soft, slouchy cashmere sweater (my fellow melancholies).

Maybe I’m so analytical that it took this much agony for God’s Spirit to override my analysis. Whatever the reason, unless you have found yourself as a crumpled shell in the desolate, burned-out crater of the loss of all you once loved or of all you hoped for, you probably can’t comprehend an utter emptiness that is deeper than death – and the resulting desperate longing that compels you directly into the flame of the blazing, ardent, passionate, jealous love God has for you. It takes courage to admit your emptiness and offer it up to God, perhaps the most courageous act any heart can summon the strength to do, because to human understanding, it feels like death.

I found my answer, and how poetic that it came during the Fourth of July weekend – a celebration of freedom.

Again and again in my daily reading in June I came upon verses containing the word “shield.” “Blessed are you, O Israel, a people saved by the LORD. He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.” (Deuteronomy 33:29) “Okay, nice metaphor,” I asked God, “but painful things are hitting me like flaming arrows. What does it really mean that you are my shield?”

Then over the July 4th weekend I house-sat for some friends for four days, partly to help their home look “lived in” while they were away, and partly to get away from the relentless stress I was under at home. Sitting on their front porch that Sunday morning, listening to birds chirp in the mulberry trees and delighting in the crisp white picket fence bordering their lawn, I opened my Bible for my devotional reading and it fell open to Song of Songs – a place I never go for inspiration. There it was, nonetheless, Song of Songs 3:1: “Come out you daughters of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced.”

Hmmmm . . . okay. And then my eye crossed the page to 4:7

“All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”

Tears streamed from my eyes. In my spirit I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me (and you, too!) that the Father put a crown on Jesus the day I (and you) came to salvation and became his own, our “wedding” day with him. On that day Jesus’ heart rejoiced! He sees me as absolutely ravishing, with no flaw at all, thanks to his righteousness which robes me.

Caveat here – I don’t get visions or dreams from God. How I wish I did, but the way he sometimes speaks to me is by pouring sudden understanding like a heap of treasure into my mind and heart. I dig into the pile, pulling up sparkling strands of thoughts and images that come together in beautiful clarity. Frequently the thoughts take the shape of analogies from unusual places. That morning the first strand I pulled up was a scene from the movie “Cleopatra” (not at all a spiritual motion picture!), specifically to a scene of a triumphal procession into Rome. Almost instantly 2 Corinthians 2: 14 came up in my other “hand”: “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ,” entangled with Ephesians 4:8 “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” I could hear trumpets and drums, but it wasn’t Cleopatra and her retinue marching in; the captives Jesus led into the throne room of Heaven, including me, including you, are not the conquered, but the rescued and ransomed! Aha! I saw myself standing on the steps of the throne of God, alongside the victor, Jesus, who holds his sword and shield . . . .

Two days later at our weekly Bible study, our church outreach director spoke on Ephesians 6 and the armor of God. Trumpets up again in my memory, God poured another armful on the pile of my understanding. Ephesians 6:12-13 reads: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then . . . . ” In quick succession, two friends in the study who didn’t know what I am going through shared these verses:
Genesis 15:1 “Do not be afraid, I am your shield, your very great reward.” NIV

Exodus 14:14 “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV

Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. NIV

Wait a minute! Christ holds his sword in his left hand, so if he is my shield and glorious sword . . . that means I am on Jesus’ left side, sheltered behind HIS shield! If I am on his left, and he is at the right hand of God, then the Father is on my left side, and I stand sheltered between them both.

Aha! I sensed that my warfare now is simply standing, and where I stand in this battle is on the steps of the throne of God at Jesus’ left side, his shield (that’s his faithfulness) in his left hand covering and shielding my heart, mind and spirit, and his right hand (his promises and his sovereign power) fighting the battle for me. My job is to stay out of the way of his sword-swinging right hand and simply cheer him on with my shout, “Yes, Jesus, do all you plan and purpose and desire!”

The chains of my captivity to the effects of betrayal, fear, and anger lie thrown down on the steps of the throne of God as a trophy of Jesus’ victory in my life on the day I took him as my savior and he took me as his own beloved. I am a trophy of Jesus’ triumph. I am a TROPHY BRIDE! I am FREE (no matter what is going on in my life), and I am ecstatic to be in Christ’s embrace as he lifts me upon his shoulder and shows the hosts of heaven, “This is one I have set my love upon!”

I know Song of Songs can be seen as a metaphor for the love God has for us, the Bride of Christ, the Church – not the institution, but the individuals who comprise the Church – so I believe the “extrapolation” (there goes my analytical mathematical side again) God gave me to us as individuals is not heresy. I sensed the Holy Spirit affirming (to you, too, even if you are a man!) that the Father put a crown on Jesus the day I (and you) came to salvation and became his.

He rejoices in you, his trophy and prize, the one he fought for, the beloved one whose salvation is a crown upon his head! In the middle of whatever battle you are facing, even if you feel you are chained to your past or sitting in the smoking ashes of your hopes, dreams, health, relationships, security, and future, REJOICE in the truth that Jesus ended all of your captivity and fights now for you! Stand and rejoice in whose you are and where you stand!

“You Raise Me Up”
Brendon Joseph Graham, Rolf U. Lovland

When I am down, and oh, my soul so weary,
When troubles come and my heart burdened be,
Then I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit a while with me.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.