“Costly Grace”

 

Costly Grace pic 2

I had to speak clearly as she hung on every word.  Having someone read to her was the only choice since she could no longer see.  She had been diagnosed with a disease that ravaged her body and left her with only her mind and what she could hear.

Her days were spent lying in a hospital bed, it was rolled into the living room so she could be close to the window.  Although this window wasn’t for seeing, her sight being gone and all, it was to allow the sun to press in on her face on late summer afternoons.

A little bit of life shining down on her, warming her soul.

She’d been fighting this devil of an illness for two years and her body just wasn’t able to fight anymore.  So, she laid.  Nurses would come in and change her sheets and make her comfortable and her lifelong companion made sure she had the best of care.

He rarely left her side.

She knew in her heart she wasn’t long for this world, she knew heaven was near.

It was at this exact time she managed to communicate to me through lip reading, she wanted me to read to her.  I began to pick out books and call out their title.  She would respond by shaking her head slightly yes or no.

How about this one, momma, “Costly Grace?”

Her head moved slightly and I knew she approved.

And so I began.

I stretched out on the couch directly under the big living room window, the same one that allowed the sunlight to stream through, lighting her gray strands of hair.  She wouldn’t want anyone to see her with gray hair, she’d colored it red since the first strand showed up years earlier.  She didn’t feel like a gray haired woman, she’d told me.  She loved her red and wanted to keep it, even if it was from a box.

I cleared my throat and began to read, my mind not absorbing a single word.  My thoughts drifted back to an earlier time, back when life was simpler and momma was well; days of chatter and trips to Lowe’s, countless phone calls about everything and nothing, coffee dates and Sunday morning church.

I missed those days.

“Can you hear me okay, Momma?”  A slight movement of her head told me she could.  I continued to read.  Chapter after chapter of the cost of following Jesus.  I’ve heard it preached accepting Jesus is the easiest decision you’ll ever make.  I’d say I agree with that, but following Him as a true believer has got to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

There’s a cost.

Momma always believed in paying the price for something worthwhile.  Her faith in Jesus meant more to her than anything else.  She would argue you to the floor for something she believed in.  Momma knew God could part the seas and cause the sun to set, she never wavered, not once in my whole life do I ever remember her doubting.  It was a simple faith, but a powerful one.  Now, she lay on her death bed still believing in the One who could speak a word and change everything.  Oh, she’d asked him to, we all had.

We’d begged.

Healing, sweet healing was our deepest desire.  But, it wasn’t meant to be and now here we were, the pair of us, sitting under the window on a summer afternoon reading a book about the cost of following Christ.

Both of us knowing it was near the end, but neither of us willing to acknowledge it.

It’s interesting she would choose that book, the one hardest to digest.  The one that made you want to eat a bowl of ice cream just to make the words go down easier.  She knew all about “costly,” she was living it.

Sometimes I wonder if she picked it for me.

Maybe she understood how much I would need to understand the cost of following the Creator, how painful it could be.  Maybe she knew I would need to know that she understood the cost, and she was willing to pay it, and, as she told me countless times before she lost her ability to speak, “It was worth it all if she could be used by Jesus.”

She lay there listening, occasionally nodding her head silently in agreement now and then, meanwhile I was replaying every encounter we’d had over the last days before she’d been sentenced to this bed.  Oh, how I wanted to live those days again, I wanted another chance to drive the country roads and spend an afternoon sipping tea and swapping stories.

I read on.

“Chapter 4- Becoming Like Jesus in Suffering.”   I knew from the title this was not going to be my favorite chapter.

“Jesus said every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God.  Each one must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“This is what suffering looks like, isn’t it, Lord?”  I thought.   I know it can take on many forms, but I KNOW this fits into the category of “enduring a cross.”  I was angry and sad and overwhelmed all at once.

I read “Jesus’ objective—To teach us that suffering develops in us an obedient trust in God, where we understand God always has our best in mind even when we cannot see what he is doing.  Suffering forces us into other-centered thinking of the kingdom of heaven and pushes us into the very heart of God.”*

I love the sound of that last line.  “pushes us into the very heart of God.”  That’s where Momma was, being pushed into the heart of God.  This sentence is the ONLY thing that explains how she could live in such a state of suffering and still attempt to raise her hands to heaven when we talked about eternity.

This is the only theology I can accept for all she endured.

Day after day, chapter after chapter, she listened intently until I turned the final page.

It wasn’t too much longer until, early on a Monday morning, slipped into eternity.

She was finally in the heart of God.

If I could pour a glass of iced tea, walk out to the yard and sit next to her in the cool shade on the wooden swing one last time, I’m sure I’d say something like…

Thank you, Mom, for helping me to understand any relationship worth having involves give and take.  Thank you, that even in your last days, you wanted me to know that having a relationship with Jesus is worth whatever the cost, because what we receive in return is worth immeasurably more.  I get it.

It took me a long time, but I realize now, she didn’t want to read “Costly Grace” because she needed it, she wanted to read it because she knew I needed it.  Her faith meant everything to her and in the end…

It cost her something.

 

 

*Costly Grace, pg. 59

Advertisements

Stretched

pic for Stretched

It was while I was in puppy pose a thought hit me.

These last years of my life have been filled with days and months of stretching.

Stretching what, you wonder?

Well, unlike the puppy pose, which any yoga amateur (like me) would appreciate. The kind of stretching the Lord is doing in my life has nothing to do with getting on my knees with my arms stretched in front of me while the instructor reminds me how good it is for my shoulders.

This stretching involves coping and/or handling events, people, basically life that is completely out of my control.

I think as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, He begins to get a little pickier with us.  What I mean is, He expects more out of us just like we expect more out of our children as they grow older.

This year although full of wonderful things, has been a tough one.

This month, in just about two weeks, it will have been four years since my mom died.   October, although FULL of festivities and fun, is always a little hard on me.

As I’ve walked the long, painful road of grief, I’ve noticed a theme.  The lessons I’ve learned from my pain the Lord gently requires me to practice.   As he teaches me, he expects more from me.

Sometimes, I want to run from these expectations.

I don’t want to do the MATURE thing.

And, sometimes, I actually DO run from these expectations and I don’t choose maturity.  And every time I don’t choose maturity, I regret it.  You know, being an adult is not at all what I thought it would be back in my childhood years when the thought of making all of my own decisions sounded so romantic!

What I wouldn’t give to feel the freedom of childhood.

Stretching…right, I need to stay on topic!

At the first of the year my husband got a promotion.  It all sounded wonderful on paper, but the reality was more hours away from home and less time together.  Since my children are grown, I don’t have school and multiple schedules to juggle.  There’s nothing to distract me so I notice every lonely hour he’s away.

But, the right thing to do was to be thankful for the opportunity, but thankful was only part of what I felt.  I wrestled with happiness, expectation, fear and uncertainty.  I was a giant ball of mixed emotion.   Every time I started to complain, I could feel an impression in my heart to stop and be grateful.  So many nights when I sat on the couch by myself, the last thing I wanted was to thank the Lord.

Stretched.

Just a few weeks ago I watched dear friends bury their twenty four year old only son.

It felt like a punch in the gut.

That level of loss I can’t comprehend.

I watched an entire community come together and weep with the family, pray with them and wrap them in love.   I still can’t understand why it happened.  I try to wrap my mind around it, and I simply can’t.  I have no desire to hear the shallow answer that “God must’ve needed another angel.”  Are you kidding me?  This family wants their son, and heaven didn’t need another angel.  There is no easy answer and I want to rail out against the senselessness of it all.

Again, I am stretched.  Stretched so thin.

My daughter commutes two days a week to a school over eighty miles one way…rain, sleet, snow or shine.    So many days I stop and pray for her.  There is always a real possibility of the unthinkable happening.

I feel stretched.

My husband flies airplanes for a living.  Do I even need to tell you the stress that goes along with having someone you love with all of your heart hanging in the air by two engines, a wing and a prayer?!

My son has a girlfriend and suddenly I am no longer the only woman in his life.  I knew this day would come, I knew he would find someone he really cared about and I would have to step back and allow the budding relationship to grow.  But, I’ve never been in these waters before, and even though I am so happy for him, I find myself jealous and unsure of where I fit into his life.

This year I have faced some serious rejection.  I wrote about it a few months back and so many of you responded to my pain.  It’s amazing how many of us can relate to rejection, it’s a true test of character as I’m challenged to take the high road when I would rather defend my cause.

Rejection is the worst.

And, again, I am stretched.

I think that could be the resonating theme for me this year.

Being stretched thin.

Figuratively speaking, that is.  All this stretching certainly hasn’t made me “thin.” Ever heard of stress eating?!

I’ve learned by attending my yoga class that stretching is so important.  It keeps us strong and flexible and strengthens our muscles to hold us together.  This strength keeps us from injury, builds our immune system, helps with hormones (hallelujah!), helps with balance, sharpens our memory, improves sleep quality and gives you more energy.

You know, there are so many similarities in physical stretching and spiritual stretching.

When I follow the impression laid on my heart to do the right thing in spite of how I feel, it’s hard and it doesn’t feel good.  Just like yoga, when I’m in upward facing dog and want to cry (literally), I remind myself of the benefits and I congratulate myself when I’m done for holding the awkward pose and not giving up.

The benefits outweigh the difficulties.

Spiritually speaking, it’s the same.  If I’ll follow through and stay in that awkward pose of uncertainty or stay there and allow God to fight my battles, when it’s over I feel the Lord congratulate me for holding on and being obedient….upward facing dog, spiritually speaking.

I’ve learned we don’t get to pick our battles, sometimes they pick us.  BUT we do get to decide how we handle them.  Do we listen to the small impression the Lord puts on our heart or not?

Upward facing dog or not?

For me, I’m heading to yoga.

 

Romans 12:1-2 MSG  “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Living Life One Hundred Percent

Living Life One Hundred Percent pic

Last time I wrote, I wrote to those who know someone who’s suffered deep, personal loss. I asked you to be patient with us and allow us plenty of time to recover. Coming back from deep grief is a LONG, painful road.   Recovery takes lots of time, but we eventually find healing and learn to walk in our new normal.

In this writing I would like to talk to those of us who have personally suffered loss.

It’s a club we never wanted to join, yet, here we are.  

Many of us have travelled down this grief road for a while and have learned to cope.  We have a few years of “loss experience” under our belt and we don’t cry every single day like we did at first. 

We walk with an emotional “limp,” but WE ARE WALKING.

It’s taken me a while to come to this place in my healing; how about you?  I’ve worked hard to be exactly where I am, as a matter of fact I am about to start a class on coping with grief.  I look forward to finding out if I’ve processed my pain in a healthy way.  Sounds strange to use the word healthy in the same sentence with pain, but I believe it is possible.

I believe it’s possible to walk through soul-searing pain and learn more than you ever thought you could.  

But, that’s the catch.

Who wants to wish pain into their lives to learn?  I don’t see any raised hands.  Me either.

Since we are inevitably going to suffer on some level or another throughout life, I want to find some silver lining to what I’ve been through.  What can I glean from my personal tragedy, what have I learned?

Well…

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.

A friend told me recently, she’s averages 100% in living through hard days.  She’s made it through every one and is still here to talk about it.  If you’d told me I was going to live the rest of my days without my mom, I would’ve told you I might die without her.  But, you know what?   I didn’t die.  I’m 100% on living hard days without her so far.  I get up, face each day as it comes, it’s not always pretty, but when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I remind myself I’m still here and still LIVING. 

 

Since death wreaked havoc in my life,

I’ve found I can handle hard times with more courage.

What does that mean?  Well, when a day goes awry I remind myself “I’ve been through MUCH HARDER TIMES than this.”  When I feel left out, or overwhelmed or frustrated, I remember I’ve LIVED THROUGH WORSE. 

And I’m still here.

I don’t want the strength the good Lord has grown within me to be wasted.  Even if the only meaning I can find in my loss is to use it for coping with the days ahead, I’ll take it.  There has to be more to what I’ve been through than to get past it, more than just getting over it.  I want it to count for something.  And when times do get really hard, I remind myself…

A bad day can’t come close to where I’ve been. 

I’m going to make it.   

 

I have a better perspective on life.

When you’ve looked death in the face, it changes how you view everything around you.  Not right away, but eventually, you begin to be THANKFUL for any and everything in your life.  Even the most average of days can be a festival of thanksgiving when you realize all you have.   A simple walk around the park can feel freeing and beautiful.  Sitting in Sunday morning church feels sacred. It’s like my senses are heightened and I’m keenly aware of the good things around me. 

Even though I have to leave my youngest child in a different town so he can get an education, I am thankful to be here to cry about it.  Yes, I am thankful through tears.  That’s a bonus I’ve discovered since mom’s death, tears come easily and I don’t take them for granted.

Be patient with yourself, it takes a while to start feeling thankful, but if you do the work it takes to find healing, thankfulness will come.

 

I LOVE to make memories!

I’ve learned any event can be made into a memory and that is so important.  Lately I’ve been remembering a lot about my mom.  I can even remember events without crying.  I thank the Lord often for the gift of remembering, it has been a life saver.  So, I try to have as many “outings” as I can with my college age kids.  Even if it’s just a simple trip to meet at Cracker Barrel.   I plan and save for vacations where I know we’ll laugh and play together.  Anything we do, I try to keep in mind our lives are flying by and I want to have lots of events to look back on and smile. 

 

I am a picture fanatic!

Don’t get too close to me or I’m liable to snap your picture.  I don’t believe you can have enough pics of the ones you love.  Mom hated being photographed so I don’t have nearly as many pictures of her as I would like. I am so sad about that.  My poor kids have been photographed half to death.  But, they know not to give me a hard time, so they stand for the thousandth time and smile for the camera.  You know what?  I’ve created a chronicling of their lives and I hope one day they’ll thank me for it.  I try my best to be willing to have my picture taken on my best and worst days because, one day, I know they’ll be able to look back and smile as one memory after another is laid before them in digital color. 

 

Grief has been a defining point in my life, but I do not want to be defined by my grief.  I don’t want to park there and never become the person God intended.  I want my grief to mean something, to be worth something, and to be used to wield good all around me.  I want to offer hope and compassion to those who don’t think they’ll live through another day because of the pain.

All of this hurt can’t be for nothing. 

If I could choose, I would take my mom back in a Mississippi minute and trade all of these lessons without thinking twice.  But, since that option is not on the table, I like to think she’d be proud of me for taking something REALLY hard and finding the good in it.

I think she’d give me a 100%.