What to Make of Unseasonable Events

What to Make of Unseasonable Events

There’s nothing like snowfall on the first day of spring to remind you that you are not in control.

Snow at this time is unseasonable.

Or so we think.

Every once in awhile our ideas of what is acceptable and what is not are turned upside down. We are forced to accept the unusual. The unpredictable. Even, the unthinkable.

For the last week and a half, that’s where I’ve been sitting with two friends.

A week ago Sunday, in a span of 12 hours, I got two texts from two different women I love, each of them asking me to pray for two women they love, who were suddenly facing their final days.

Even though I had never met them, I had known about Kat and Amy’s* battles with cancer. There were similarities: Both lived in mid-western cities. Both mothers – one of four, the other of two. Both fighting for a couple of years. Both cancers under control for a bit and then shifted dramatically. My friends were getting on planes to go be at bedsides and say goodbyes.

And along with my friends, I have prayed for each one of these ladies diligently.

Lord, please heal her from her infirmity. May she regain her strength, see her children grow up, and become a powerful testimony of your might.

But prayer has multiple purposes, and asking God to stem the tide of a ravaging illness is only one of them. Prayer is also about opening our hearts to God’s love in whatever form it arrives.

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything. That seems easy enough to accept when life flows through the expected and happy changes: births, graduations, weddings, milestone anniversaries, and deaths following long, full lives.

But when mothers face death in their forties and fifties, leaving behind kids who have not yet reached maturity, we say, “It’s too soon.”

And as much as I have faith that God has a plan for children left behind, and while I KNOW and believe with ALL MY SOUL that He can work good from ANY situation, I sit in the stillness of a snowfall and just wonder why.

This is normal.

Not understanding why is not a sin.

Kat passed on Friday. It seems that Amy has a little time still.

To console myself I keep coming back to this…

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

He was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and before he worked his miracle of raising his friend from the dead, Jesus wept.

If God knew that Lazarus would die, had a plan to raise him again, and still shed tears over the suffering that death causes in the world, he surely understands our sorrow now.

Our unknowing is the state of vulnerability in which God loves to work miracles.

He wants to show us He’s still here, and always will be.

Though we walk in the silence of an unseasonable snowfall we are not alone.

He sits with us as we cry. Soothes us with the prayers, words, and actions of others. Smiles on us in the beauty of the natural world. Woos us in dreams that gently coax us onward.

And snowy spring days like this one remind me that everything, absolutely everything, happens in His time.

 

*Names have been changed.

The Lift

The Lift

A Lift? Here?

You recognize this. A Starbucks. We’ve all been to one. Or 50.

And yet there’s more going on in this photo than you might think. In the far right corner of the coffeehouse is a young woman interviewing for a job, and I was there when she walked in.

I was at the counter going through my wallet to find the free drink card that I’d been working on over the holidays, when I realized I hadn’t even acknowledged the cashier. ‘Aw, man!’ I thought. ‘How often am I in such a rush that I fail to look people in the eye? He deserves at least that.’ 

I found the card, faced the young man straight on and made sure to finish the transaction – with eye contact – and a sincere, “Thank you. Have a good day!”

Then, I smiled at the barista and thanked her when my white chocolate mocha came up. She smiled back because I actually looked at her. Whoa. I was on a roll!

I was fishing for my car keys when I saw the woman in her late 20s come in. Gray and black wool skirt, black tights, sharp shoes, a moss green jacket, coordinating scarf, and her auburn hair trimmed neatly and tucked behind one ear. Fairly large portfolio under her left arm.

A man in his 60s sitting at the far table by the door looked up from the stack of papers he was reading.

“Hello!” She smiled. Made eye contact. “Are you Mr. Patterson?”

He smiled back.

To me, she seemed just the right combination of bubbly, warm, eager, and professional. I liked her immediately. I will probably never see her again, but in that moment, I could do one thing for her. I could lift her up.

“Lord,” I prayed silently, “I don’t know her story but You do. You know if this is the job she needs. Give her courage today. Give her confidence in her abilities. Please help her succeed with the gifts and talents You have given her. Give her wisdom to make good decisions. Please whisper to her that no matter what happens, You love her.”

That day, I heard a whisper just before I knew I was supposed to pray. And it was this: Who are you lifting up today? 

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about all week. I’ve heard it said, “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so this week I haven’t, and over the last 7 days, as the Lord has prompted me, it has been my privilege to encourage, and listen, and pray for, and be present to more people than I believe I usually am. It has undoubtedly been a great week.

Yes – there have been sacrifices made in terms of time. Today I have a mountain of laundry to do and the house is a bit of a wreck. But, as my mom once told me, “It’s not like someone’s going to knock on your door and give you the Good Housekeeping Award.” And what’s a house compared to the greater glory of a full life?

I’ve been called to other work this week. The quiet, often hidden, sometimes secret work – of lifting others up. The life in me has been bolstered and enlarged because of it and I am deeply satisfied. But then, why am I surprised? That’s what He promised all along. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

The life of the Lord, living in me, if only I believe in Him with my whole heart. What a promise. What a pool of hope. What a source of eternal joy!

When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ then he will save the downcast.

-Job 22:29 (NIV)

Holy Moments – Day 27 – Clementines

Clementines

There’s one fruit I love this time of year, and I only like them when they come from Spain or Morocco. Clementines. (My apologies to my Floridian friends.) The ones from Europe are sweeter, juicier, and smell more “clementine-ish.” Perhaps it’s just the memories that make me so particular….

I discovered these delicious little oranges in 1992 when studying in France. I don’t remember them in the United States back then, and on my student budget, they were a healthy novelty that paired nicely with the cheese and bread that made up most of my diet. Christmas Eve that year still rings as a fine example of one of those fantastic meals.

I had traveled with two girlfriends to Strasbourg for the holiday because we’d heard it was the “Christmas Capital” of Europe. Right across the border from Germany, this picturesque town boasts unique architecture and a Christmas market in its town centre. We spent Christmas Eve strolling by the open stalls and drinking mulled wine, and after the sun went down, eating a chocolate buche de Noel, cheese, bread, and yes – clementines – in our simple hotel room, which was just a stone’s throw away from the Strasbourg Cathedral. We talked for hours about the people we loved and Christmas back home in the states.

Strasbourg4Strasbourg2Strasbourg1Strasbourg3

By about 10 o’clock, we were very tired, since we had begun our day on the pre-dawn train out of Toulouse. So, we set an alarm to rouse us for the Midnight Mass. Little did we know the alarm would not be needed.

I have never been summoned to church like I was that night!strasbourg-1046384_1280

BELLS!! BELLS!! BELLS!!

They shook our tiny room with a fervor akin to an earthquake.

And we woke up laughing with surprise and glee. We threw on our coats and literally ran out the door and around the corner, into the cathedral.

The place was packed. European churches are often empty these days, but on that night, I stood with hundreds of other latecomers in the back, feeling privileged to have a square foot of ancient stone under my feet. And Mass – conducted in both French and German, with each part being said first in the former and repeated in the latter – felt magical.

At that point in my life, I was not a regular church-goer. I wasn’t even Catholic. But I was captivated by the beauty of the French language, and the art and majesty of cathedrals. The Lord was whispering to me, calling me in ways He knew I’d find appealing. And I was filled with joy standing there in the presence of God’s people, celebrating the birth of His son.

What is the pull of Christmas? The food, friendships, family, the gifts, the beauty of it all? It is an invitation to come and see…Come and see.

He said to them, ‘”Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw… (John 1:39)”

 

Holy Moments – Day 21 – Take Courage

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When I heard that there would (of course) be a special Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Sunday – to pray for the victims of Friday night’s terror attacks – I thought of the votive candles. Hundreds of votive candles, carrying prayerful smoky wisps heavenward.

When I was in France twenty years ago, I saw many cathedral ceilings covered in soot. For unless a church community can afford the time-consuming and careful process required for removing centuries’ worth of grime from stone, plaster, and paint, the residue of thousands upon thousands of soulful expressions must remain.

So in many sacred places, I gazed upward into a chalky blackness that obscured colorful, inspiring art, hidden just behind.

This weekend, it was hard to look at Paris and see its beautiful view. Candles on its sidewalks, near its restaurants, in its churches, gave the ‘City of Light’ a sadder connotation. ‘Not like this,’ I thought. ‘It shouldn’t be like this.’

But faith requires looking past the present, and holding fast to a beautiful hope that is hidden – for now. And faith is also standing steady on the promises of the past, which point to a secure eternal future.

In this world you will have trouble. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 

Holy Moments – Day 5 – Opportunity

Sometimes we are called to rise to the occasion. Globally, this is happening right now.

I know, I know…The people – the Syrian refugees – are far away. They are not walking our roads in search of food, shelter, and new lives. So it’s easy to ignore them. Or even to think one can justify contemptuous feelings when a tiny, tiny minority of them have refused help because it came in packages marked with red crosses.

But – when we choose not to turn the TV off. Or when we choose to take a good, long look at the videos. And at the heartbreaking photographs. And when we sit still long enough to listen to the whisper inside, we know that we are being called.

Jesus told us:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13: 34-35

Easy? Hardly. Notice that He didn’t give us a choice about who to love. We are told to love everyone.

And for many of us, loving like Christ goes something like this:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton 

What did Jesus say again? Put into simplest terms: They will know you are Christians when you love like I do.

Can I love like He does? Only with His help. And that’s a challenge – even on my ‘best’ days. But He didn’t say, “Here’s a suggestion.” He said, “I give you a new commandment.” So my question should only be – ‘How will I obey?’

Could this be the world’s holy moment? I think so. A moment we are being asked to rise to perform acts of sacred love. Acts set apart from the norm. Acts of real love – that is, selfless love. Defined by the fact that they demand no thanks. 

Watch this.

Voyage to a Second Life

Use What You Have

For many months, my oldest has been trekking off to Taekwondo in pants that are about 3 inches too short. They look very silly, but he didn’t need a new pair. This pair fits him well around the waist. But yours truly hemmed them up last year, and then my son grew. A bunch. As kids are wont to do. And I’ve been busy. As moms are prone to be.

Anyway, the thick of summer is finally here and I’m tackling miscellaneous projects, so I broke out the seam ripper and have been undoing two levels of hems in these pants. My gosh I was thorough. Did I really need to use the smallest stitches on the sewing machine for these hems? Ripping them out is taking forever!! Lesson learned.

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Nevertheless, I find a strange satisfaction in doing little bits of handiwork like this – picking up a piece of clothing that could be tossed aside or given away out of frustration and giving it a second life. I’m so grateful my mom taught me to use iron-on patches to reinforce the knees of jeans that are wearing thin, and how to fix a snagged sweater with a crochet hook. In learning little tricks like these, I also grew to understand that the usefulness of things can be extended, and that value is to be determined by what something means to us, not by what it means to others.

So, weird as this may seem, whenever I settle into the couch and start ripping out hems or mending holes, I feel rich. I’m not rich, mind you, but recognizing that I have what I need within the walls of my home makes my heart swell, and I remember again that my life is overflowing with blessings.

One day a few years back, I almost fell over in surprised joy at this feeling of abundance. I had been telling friends that I thought my husband and I needed a bookshelf. We just had so, so, so many books and no place to put them. We were busy with two kids at the time, and our basement was a wreck, with toys, extra furniture, and boxes of books shoved every which way and all over the place. No organization whatsoever. I couldn’t stand it, but of course, no one but us was going to fix it. No fairy godmother was showing up with a magic wand to whip everything into order.

My complaints had reached a climax and I was climbing over the stuff in our basement’s back room, where a door leads to a storage area. In a rant about buying more containers to clean up and compartmentalize the mess, I wasn’t thinking about what might be in that storage room.

Right behind that white door was a basic 6-foot bookcase my father-in-law built 40 years ago. It was exactly what we needed. It was right in our house all along. And I had completely forgotten about it.

So how often do I forget about what I actually have? Every day. It’s so easy to look around at what others have and think they have it better than me. Better hair. Cuter clothes. A prettier house. More worldly success. Some vague happiness that is greater than mine – as if that can be measured. As if what they are showing on the outside is in any way a true reflection of what’s really happening on the inside.

This is exactly what the evil one would like for me to think about, right? And these malicious whispers in my head that would divert me from the Life that Jesus came to bring to me are lies. Lies. Jesus tells us the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

So do I have what I need to fight these thoughts? If I have access to a Bible and a mind to pray, I do. But I’ve found that no matter how wonderful it feels to fill up on God’s Word, be it on Sunday at church, or during Bible study with my friends, I cannot walk through this life and expect the satisfaction of those times to last. Daily immersion is required. I cannot run on fumes.

And why is that? Because God is alive! And I have a relationship with Him. Every time I seek Him out the experience is new. He opens the doors to show me what I have forgotten or neglected to see – in myself, in the world, in all dimensions of my life. He plants His Word in my heart. The more I read it and pray on it, the more I recall it when I become challenged. Baffling situations are less intimidating, for I am confident the Lord is with me. I know the feeling of His presence.

Sitting with Him, studying what I have right here with Him, blesses me beyond words. And that’s why I come back, to use what I already have, and to more deeply appreciate the lasting, eternal value of His endless love. All glory is His forever.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

–  2 Timothy 3:16-17

What He Sees

 

The room was dark, and I snuck in as quietly as I could with a pile of warm, folded clothes. I avoided the squeaky floorboard in front of the dresser, carefully opened drawers, and put away little socks, t-shirts, and shorts. I was just about done when a sleepy young voice called out from under the bed covers.

“Thanks…cleanin’ my clothes, Mom.” 

He was three. My oldest son. I had tucked him in a half hour before, and thought he had fallen asleep. Guess not. 

That was nine years ago. But I will never forget how his simple ‘thank-you’ touched the very deepest part of my heart. 

On days like today, as the laundry piles up, I’m scrubbing bathrooms, and washing dishes, I am so thankful when I remember his words. When once again, I hear his little voice.  

We can be tempted to think that no one sees what we do. That our everyday ‘behind-the-scenes’ work doesn’t amount to much. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God sees us. He appreciates our efforts. 

And He knows our hearts. He’s talking to them….through other people, in quiet stillness. If we listen, we can hear Him. 

He can even encourage us through memories that He knows bear messages we need to hear again and again. And our hearts, tethered to God, recognize those messages as divine Truth.

As Jesus told us, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)