Roller Coaster Mama

 

IMG_5265

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!

Advertisements

The Original 1997 Lost and Found

 

Lost and Found

Rose. M. Jackson ©1997

 

When I was nine, one of my favorite books was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It’s about a family of tiny people who live under the kitchen floor in the house of an elderly lady. They’re called Borrowers because that’s their chief occupation: borrowing things from the larger folk in the house. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we must have Borrowers in our own house, because the oddest things keep getting lost, and no one has the slightest idea where they could have gone. I’m sure the fact that we are “savers” and have, admittedly, too much stuff under all the beds has nothing to do with our misplacing things.

Last year in early spring, though, I lost three things within three weeks. That’s a record even for me, and the unusual ways it happened lead me to believe those events carried a message for me. At least I’ve found a message in them – a message about losing things – that had a profound impact on my perception of loss.

The first incident occurred when I went to an allergist’s office for a scratch test on my back. Thinking I should take off my jewelry, I put in my shirt pocket the gold cross-within-a-fish necklace my mother-in-law had given me a few years earlier. I treasured it because of its unique design and because a jeweler friend of hers had made it specifically for me. After the test I put my shirt on, left the office, and ran an errand. When I returned home I realized I didn’t have my necklace. Horrified, I immediately called the doctor’s office and the store I’d stopped in on my way home. No one had turned in the necklace. My heart sank. How could I have been so careless?

In tears, I called my husband to admit my mistake. Instead of the anger I expected, he spoke with kindness, assuring me that he knew it was an accident. A week later he came home one evening carrying a red velvet box. Puzzled, I opened it and gasped. Inside was an exact replica of the necklace I’d lost! My husband had stopped at a jeweler’s on his way home from work the day I lost the cross. He’d drawn a picture of the necklace and had the jeweler recreate it for me. Tears streaming down my face, I wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck and sobbed for the beauty of his forgiving love. That necklace holds double meaning for me now, and I quickly tell the story any time someone asks where I got it.

The very next week I lost another item I treasured. I was feverishly working to finish a project by a rapidly-looming deadline, and as I shifted my gaze from the computer screen to the printer, I noticed a dark hole where the diamond should have been in my engagement ring. A hole. No diamond. Panic momentarily paralyzed me, and then my mind began to race. Where had I lost it? More to the point, when had I lost it? I had no clear idea of the last time I could say for certain that I knew the stone was in the ring.

That would mean the stone could be anywhere.

Just as quickly as the panic had come, though, a sense of certainty replaced it. Somehow I knew that this had happened for a purpose. I didn’t hear angelic voices, but I knew God had a reason behind this calamity, and I felt certain I would find the diamond.

I began to mentally check off all the things I’d done that morning which might have dislodged a loose stone. I’d put lotion on my hands, so I checked the bathroom sink, floor, and drawers: no stone. I reasoned that the stone might have come out when I changed my clothes, so I searched through the bed I’d just made and played bloodhound on the bedroom rug: lots of dust, but no diamond.

Now what? The immensity of the task of going through my actions of the previous day loomed on the edge of my consciousness, when I realized that I had re-potted a plant just an hour or so earlier. I had given up on an ailing ivy that I’d moved into the bathroom to recover, deciding to re-pot it in the large planter on the front porch to either pull through or die in the fresh air. Its root went much deeper in the pot than I suspected, and I’d had to dig at it a bit to loosen the ivy from its pot.

That was it. I was sure that’s what dislodged the diamond. But when exactly had it happened? I’d also moved a petunia to a different spot in the planter. Like Hercule Poirot, I set my little gray cells to computation. Did the stone fall out in (1) the pot from which I’d taken the ivy, (2) the hole in the planter where I placed the ivy, (3) the dirt I removed from that spot to make the hole, (4) the spot where I transplanted the petunia, or (5) the other planter where I’d tossed some of the extra potting soil from the original ivy pot?

Heartened by the confidence that I’d find the stone, I began what could possibly be a long search. Here is a good spot to interject that the stone I was looking for was not large. It was just 20 points, not even a quarter carat, but it had cost my husband just about every penny he had saved at the time he gave it to me. I could vividly remember choosing that stone from a tiny jumble of brilliance on a black velvet pouch nearly twenty-five years earlier. This was not going to be easy to find.

The truth of that came home to me as I scooped out the first cupful of potting soil left in the ivy’s pot and spilled it onto a sheet of newspaper. Have you ever really examined potting soil? I never realized that much of potting soil is actually tiny pebbles of quartz – most of which were bigger than my diamond! Finding my diamond was going to be literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. All I had going for me was the fact that my diamond wasn’t shaped like a lump of quartz.

Cup by cup, on my hands and knees, I painstaking sifted through the soil. I was not willing to let even an ounce of that soil go unsearched. The irony of looking for one rock amid hundreds occurred to me after twenty minutes of unfruitful sifting. What was it, after all, that made this one rock so valuable to me? It wasn’t the DeBeers family controlling the world supply and setting the price of diamonds. It wasn’t money at all, for our homeowners’ insurance would cover this loss.

I didn’t want a diamond. I wanted that diamond, my diamond. What made it valuable to me was the love for me that bought it. As I realized that, I sat back on my heels. What had I really lost? I still had the love that bought that stone. In fact, I know my husband loves me more now than he did twenty-five years ago. All I’d lost was a rock. The love I still had was worth more than the most priceless diamond.

At the same instant I realized something else, too. What makes me valuable to God is not what the world thinks – or what I think – I’m worth; what makes me valuable to God is the love that bought me. That love bore the cost of degradation, anguish and agony of death by crucifixion to buy me. The price Jesus paid for me makes me priceless to God my Father.

I sifted through all the dirt left in the pot, but found nothing. I went out to the planter box where I’d sprinkled some potting soil, scooped up as much as I could recover, and went through that dirt – snail castings and decomposing leaves and all – cup by cup, but found nothing. I uprooted the ivy and searched the soil around the roots, but there was no diamond. That left just two more places to search. I’d been looking fruitlessly for over an hour, but somehow I still felt the assurance that I’d find the stone. I scooped some loose potting soil from around the hole left by the now uprooted ivy, spread it out on the newspaper, and there, amid the quartz and vermiculite, was my diamond. I felt ecstatic, of course, that I had found that tiny stone Chip gave me, but I also felt the warmth of knowing I’d found something more than the diamond.

If I was willing to look so hard and diligently for the sake of what love bought me, how much harder and more diligently, I thought, does God look for each one of us who is “lost?”   How relentless is his help in our searches when we’ve lost our hope or dreams? I knew beyond a doubt that God is good, and his goodness and love DO endure forever.

That knowledge was put to the test the next week in an equally remarkable incident. I frequently do my walking at a local mall early in the morning. Usually I remember to take my fanny pack instead of my purse, because it’s awkward to carry a purse and walk as fast as I like to. That day, though, I’d absent-mindedly taken my purse with me. Before I got out of my car, I put some tissues in my left pants pocket. I’d been carrying my watch in my purse, rather than wearing it, because of a rash on my left wrist. Now the thought came to me, quite distinctly and deliberately, “I’d better put my watch in my right-hand pocket so I don’t accidentally pull it out when I take out a tissue.” I put the watch in my right hand pocket, pocketed my car keys, did my usual two quick laps, returned to the car and went home to shower and write.

About two hours later I looked on the counter beside my purse for my watch, but it wasn’t there. I proceeded to scour the house for my watch, until it hit me: I had my keys in the same pocket as my watch, and I’d probably pulled the watch out of my pocket when I took the keys out on my way to the car. I sailed back to the same parking spot and re-traced my steps, but I couldn’t find my watch, nor had it been turned in to lost and found.

That watch had been a Christmas gift from my husband just a year earlier, and I felt sick when I realized I’d lost it. Then I felt angry. “What’s the deal here, God?” I cried. Why had that little voice told me to put the watch in the same pocket as my keys? At almost the same instant another question formed in my mind: “You can say God is good when you do find what you’d lost, but can you say God is good even when you don’t?”

God is still good, no matter what my circumstances are. I’d lost a watch, but the God who was with me and loved me when I found my diamond was the same God of love when I didn’t find my watch. In both losses it wasn’t what I’d lost, but what I had all along, that mattered. God’s character hadn’t changed; only my circumstances had.   I’m not saying that God engineered both situations, but I do believe that God brought me good through both situations.

And that lesson meant the world to me when I lost my Dad – something profoundly more precious than the watch or diamond or the necklace – just a few weeks later. My father was a good man who loved God dearly and lived it every day of his life. Even so, this man who prayed for healing for others had to endure five years of the slow death of Alzheimer’s.   We lost him little by little until he went home to be with his Savior. After his death, Dad’s attendants at the nursing home shared how much his kind and loving nature meant to them. How had they seen this in someone who hadn’t been able to speak for most of the two years he’d been there? It could only have been God’s Spirit in Dad, shining through in spite of his physical limitations. Though Dad’s strength faded and his brain cells diminished, his spirit stood strong and whole.

“Lost my Dad ” isn’t really the right phrase, for by the time Dad died I knew that it was what I still had – the love I’d known all those years, the godly heritage, example, and all the wonderful memories my father bequeathed to me – that mattered. If I filled my hands with anger over what had not been because of his illness, I couldn’t have held the precious treasure that was still mine. You can’t take hold of anything with a clenched fist. To hang on to our loss is to always feel lacking. To embrace what we have is to feel wealthy beyond words.

What I gained from watching Dad’s illness progress is the certainty that God’s Spirit never leaves our spirits. That certainty has given me freedom from fear. Even though my brother, sister, and I know that, thanks to heredity, we have a 50/50 chance of going the same route as Dad, in one wonderful way I’m not afraid of Alzheimer’s anymore. I know now that even if that’s what life has in store for me, even if my mind leaves me, my God won’t.

What I found and embraced that Easter season was the undying love of the living Jesus who paid the price for me and my Dad. His tireless love diligently searches for and finds us, even if we feel lost or valueless or no different from the dirt around us. He sees the jewel in us; this is the treasure that is securely ours. Jesus upholds us in his power and holds us safely to his heart when our strength fades and fails. He will not allow us to be lost. His unceasing, relentless love can transform even our deepest losses into immeasurable gain.

Revisiting Lost and Found

 

Lost – and Found

Rose Jackson ©7/24/2009

You may have noticed my posts are distinctly lacking in the “God is in the flowers and rainbows” flavor. In fact, more of my posts are about trials I face or disappointments in myself. This no doubt comes from the fact that, while I am every bit female, I‘ve never been a “frou-frou” girl. I look like death warmed over in pink, I simply look silly in ruffles, and though I love jewelry, the beautiful blingy cocktail rings my sweet friend Patty has given me look like a contradiction on my thin, veiny hands. An frankly, my life has been so challenge-filled since 1995 that I find little comfort in stress-busting articles that advise me to take a bubble bath or have my nails done. God IS in the flowers and rainbows, and probably in bubbles, too, but I need a God who is there to be found IN my pain, loss, anxiety, disappointments, grief, and frustrations. If He isn’t to be encountered and experienced there, then what hope do any of us have?

After I take the bubble bath and have my nails done, what has changed? Have those admittedly fun exercises changed my circumstances? If they haven’t changed my situation, have they changed me? No. And while I love bubble baths, I need something more substantial in my life. A stress-buster to me means seeing God’s hand moving to transform me in the middle of the messes my life seems to step into again and again like the ubiquitous gum in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

I long to dance in the rain – not because I’m a pessimist, but because I know rain will come. I need a God who isn’t afraid to get wet, who can transcend, transfigure, translate and transform, as the lyrics in John Mark McMillan’s moving, anointed song, “How He Loves” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chx6s3qXKt4&feature=related powerfully declare: “When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me.” I need a God of grit and guts and glory. That’s who I’m encountering in this deepest trial of my life – a God of incredible, deep compassion and love – and that’s who I pray you find within these thoughts and discoveries of mine.

This post is about my father, but Susan Miller and everyone who’s lost a loved one, this one is for you, too.

“Uuuuhhhh . . . uuuhh . . . .” Dad’s mouth opened as he tried to speak. His eyes still held that “deer in the headlights” look of incomprehension so typical of Alzheimer’s patients, but I caught a spark of – what – hope? Thanks? Love? Mom, Bonnie and I were gathered around him holding his hand, once so strong and steady as he guided wood through the saw blade, but now so forceless and weak, and touching his now thin shoulders. We’d come to say good-bye.

Two days earlier Dad had developed pneumonia. This Monday morning, the day before Dad’s 75th birthday, a nurse in the Alzheimer’s unit of the nursing home had called my Mom to tell her to come quickly, as this might be Dad’s last day. I’d thrown the car into gear and flown to Mom’s house to pick her up and quickly dash up to the home. “Oh, Rosie!” was all she could get out through her sobbing. The past five years of grieving as we watched Dad steadily decline still hadn’t prepared our hearts for this day.

Surprisingly, when Mom and I arrived, Dad actually looked pretty good. He was sitting up in a chair looking apparently healthy and pretty much like he usually did. Mom and I chatted to him while the nurses worked around us. “To him” was all we could do, because Dad hadn’t been able to speak for the past two years; in fact, he hadn’t even uttered so much as a syllable on the many Sundays when my husband, our ten-year-old son and I stopped in to see him after church. Ethan had never really known Grandpa when he was well, this man who made wagons and pedal fire trucks and doll houses and so many treasures for his grandchildren before dementia robbed him of his considerable talents.

But he was still Grandpa, still my Dad, and I thought back to treasured evenings in our back yard sitting on his telescope mount as he twirled me around the stars, or standing beside him in the garage redolent with the fragrance of newly sawn pine as he showed me how to drive a nail and drill a hole in a scrap of lumber. He was still the man I loved and respected, somewhere inside there. I dared to believe that, fought to hope it was true. Mom and I stepped aside to let the nurse take Dad’s vitals. The door opened and my sister Bonnie walked into the room. The nurse gave a slight gasp as my Dad’s vital signs shot up. Bonnie hadn’t seen Dad in two years, not since he moved from his home into this skilled nursing facility. She did live quite a distance away, but it was just too painful for her to see Dad in his continually deteriorating condition. I understood completely. Bonnie had always been there for Dad and Mom over the years, and she still helped Mom every way she could.

Dad hadn’t seen her in two years, yet something in him rose up in recognition of a face he loved, and rose up so powerfully that his heart rate and respiration increased immediately!

“Should we pray with him? Should we tell him . . .?” I honestly don’t remember now which one of us voiced what we all were thinking: should we give Dad permission to go home to Jesus? Should we give him our blessing and love? Wordlessly we all agreed, gathered around Dad, and began to pray. “Thank you so much, Father, for our father, for his love, for the faith he shared so freely . . . . “

Then we said it, every eye awash in tears that flowed to the nurses in the room, too. “Dad, if you’re ready to go, we give you our blessing to go home to Heaven.” That’s when it happened: Dad tried to speak! He looked directly into our faces and said, “Uuuhhh . . . uuuhhhhhh.” Those might have been babbled syllables to anyone else, but to the tree of us, they were the voice of a beloved husband and father, struck dumb by a disease advancing brain cell by brain cell for five years, but the man still alive and vital inside, somewhere, somehow!

One by one we bent down and kissed him, hugged him, squeezed his feeble hand, and left, fairly confident that his healthy appearance meant this might be a false alarm. Two days later he died, sweetly and quietly and I believe liberated to leave the prison of his disease and go meet his fellow carpenter, his Savior Jesus.

Some people might understandable dismiss this as coincidence to which we attributed too much significance. I might, too, had it not been for a comment from one of the nurses after Dad died, and the same scene repeated exactly four weeks later over the bed of Dad’s sister, my Aunt Cine. Francine developed Alzheimer’s two years before Dad exhibited signs of the disease. She had been bedridden, fallen away to 80 pounds, unable to walk or speak, at death’s door for over a year. Mom and I went to see her on her birthday. We took her some balloons.

“Should we tell her?” Mom asked, and I agreed. “Should we tell her that her brother died?”

“Yes,” I concurred without hesitation.

Cine was in much worse shape than Dad had been, but the day Dad died, one of the nurses on Dad’s floor at his nursing home had said to me, ‘Your father was such a sweet, wonderful man. We enjoyed him so much.” How had she known that? How can you know that about someone who can’t communicate . . . unless Dad’s spirit had been able to break out of his silence and communicate somehow, quite apart from words?

So my mother and I bent down on either side of Dad’s sister, took her hands, and I softly said, “Aunt Cine, we want you to know your brother has gone on ahead of you. He’s waiting for you with Jesus. If you’re ready to go, we give you our permission and blessing to go home.”

“Uuuhhh . . . . uuuhhhh.” Her face turned up to mine, her wild yet shallow eyes looking directly into mine, and I knew she was there. She saw me. We kissed her and went home. So did Cine, the very next day.

I never gave much credence to the notion that sometimes people need permission from their loved ones to leave. I always thought your body had the deciding voice in when you die. Now I’m certain that is not always the case.

Two intelligent, resourceful, achieving, loving people, struck down by a disease so heinous and hideous that it strikes terror in the hearts of most people. Any way but that one! What could possible be the sliver lining in my father’s and my aunt’s deaths? Simply and profoundly this: no matter what disease does to our bodies or our brains, God’s Spirit never leaves our spirit. We remain, whole, intact, filled with all the life and love we’ve known and given away, whether the outside world can access it or not. And is that a meager comfort in the face of such deep loss and pain? No, even though my sister, brother and I know we live in the shadow of DNA that may spell the same end for us, especially now that our mother has vascular dementia from numerous small strokes. It is somehow a great comfort and source of hope.

Yes, I pray researchers will home in quickly on what causes and what can cure and prevent Alzheimer’s, but while I wait, I rest in the knowledge that who I truly am, who we truly are, endures above and beyond all else. Count that as an incredible, joyful, overcoming blessing!

Note as of May 5, 2010: My brother, age 67, has just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Note January 27, 2018: Its wasn’t Alzheimer’s, but undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and  lung cancer took Dave in January 2013. Five years later, I’m remembering the amazing time I had with my brother just weeks before he went home to Jesus, and I thank God even more passionately for the certainty that this life isn’t all there is, and Heaven truly awaits all who know Jesus as Lord and Savior and the Lover of their soul.  Dave,  I can imagine the smiles on Mom’s and Dad’s faces as they ran to greet you!

GOD IS LOVE, and He still proves it to us.

 

Just a thankful amen!

It Will Never Be “Okay”

7701932_SMK5n

 

I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship  with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds  encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.

People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love  want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is  the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It  will NEVER be ‘okay’!”

Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved,  cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?

No, what we  want to say in that moment –  and now I know it’s much the same whether  the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending  your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life  cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like  the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their  “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for  themselves and for others,whose absence now means  tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES,  it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve,  to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love  and feel the loss of love.

Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run  the tapes of  what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or  told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in,  done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.

Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings  – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for  the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last  week we  all listened to each others’   unreported red flags  in  one horrible tragedy after another:  teachers who overlooked a student’s  sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior  but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other  way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.

I vividly remember sitting decades ago in  a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors  thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the  sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry?   Isn’t  that  like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops,  I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we  could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself  or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.

I  attempted the same intervention many years later  with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of  dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God  himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me,  hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or  three years from now if that’s how long my  grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE  with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but  don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me  to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset  anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others  when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of  genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to  still be alive.

Angry? In my own  situation, when two psychologists and a  psychiatrist didn’t  see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what  I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head?  You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors  feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice”  people who “suck it up” and act like  we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay  with the injustice we’ve suffered.

WHY MUST  WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?

We know we  have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind  free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think  it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness  costs me,  big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness.  For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example  Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.

“If your brother sins,  rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Luke 17:3-4

And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow,  to bring beauty from ashes and  meaning from senseless tragedy.  I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.

“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others  to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member,  square in the eye and  tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them  you’ll be there. Tell me/them  you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.

No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors  recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to  be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system”  to work quickly  and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.”  In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.

When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us  go forward into  the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV

I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.

“Lonesome Valley”

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t  walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.

 

Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me,  stand with me, carry me  when I can’t go another step, be my light on  the dark path  ahead of me, be  the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.

 

Fire burns in the ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Fire in the AshesSome journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. The idea was to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out.

Long ago I had sat beside a boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend Sharon described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart.

Crossing imagined polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. Sharon’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering through an empty mansion, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and as I pushed open a worn, green wooden screen door, I smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden swing hanging from the tree and felt someone pushing me. Oh, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor Sharon was seeing now. Simply so simple. So free. So familiar in family love.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged.

Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. Amy explained some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home: Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus, and seals it daily – if I let Him – with the oil of the Holy spirit. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love.

Your experience of the love of Jesus doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. He loves you too much to let you be less than the unique person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than a superhighway to ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of empty tradition on you when what God wants to do with all of the you that you are and in all the you He created you to be is conform YOU to a reflection of the likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I hadn’t worn in many years, hanging beside a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.”  Hanging on the chain, the opal pin looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________ and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway! Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!

Conformity? Really? Really!Sitting on the front steps of Grandma’s  house. My mother Helen, her sister Bonnie who died tragically in her early 20’s,  and my Grandma Ruth, whose garden was the place of this  wonderful encounter with Jesus

Fire in the Ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Some journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out. Long ago I had sat beside my then boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. So I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart. Crossing polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. The idea is to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. My friend’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and I pushed open a worn screen door and smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden tree swing and felt someone pushing me. Ah, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor my friend was seeing now. So simple. So free.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged. Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. Sharon wasn’t sure what opals looked like. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. She did go on to explain some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home:

Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love. No one els’ed experience of the love of Jesus needs to be yours. he loves you too much to let you be less than the person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to
eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of religious obligation on you when what God wants to do with all the you you are and in all the you He created is conform YOU to a reflection of the  likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I haven’t worn in over 30 years. The pendant on the chain is a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.” Surprisingly, when the opal pin hangs on the chain, it looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the  humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________  and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway!  Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!