Monday, May 15, 2017

You Haven't Lacked a Thing!

Over the past few months I've come to recognize more about the destructive powers of jealousy.  This is pertinent to those of us who are caregivers because we may feel that if others have avoided the heartbreaking ordeal of taking care of someone who has a terminal disease, then they are more blessed than we. When the disease is Alzheimer's, our caregiving journeys may have become expensive both in terms of our finances and our hearts.

My mom had been acting strangely for at least two years when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the spring of 2004.  It is with a sense of grief-tinged wonder that I realize our lives have been impacted by her Alzheimer's disease for 15 years.  It is too easy to begin to think in terms of what I've lost because of this enforced caregiving assignment when I ought to focus on the many ways our needs have been provided. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert, I'm in danger of taking manna for granted.

When God is with us we have no business envying other people.  To complain at length about what I have lost is to ignore a balance sheet upon which truly amazing blessings have far outweighed any losses I've sustained.

When we forget that the body of Christ has different members with varying gifts and assignments, we become vulnerable to a sense that it is unfair that others have been given what we would very much like to have had. It is the enemy who whispers "They are better than you..." or, more damning for the unfortunate victims of our jealousy:  "They think they are better than you."  A sense of having been downtrodden then blinds us to our own unique blessings and creates a fertile ground for jealousy to take root.  We feel justified in ignoring suffering when it happens to someone the enemy has convinced us "deserves it."

The destructive and hurtful results of covetousness are a hard heart toward the suffering of others coupled with a sense of entitlement.  In its extreme form,  jealousy of what others have is at the root of many crimes. Sinful logic says that if you have what I have always wanted then it's only right for you to take a hard knock so I can feel better; you didn't deserve what you have, and I have never gotten what I deserve.

I have been praying to be protected from the envy of others and that my own heart stays clean of jealousy toward other people.  Since I've been thinking in this way it's as though my eyes have been opened to how behaviors ranging from petty to cruel have their roots in one person's envy of another.  Let's pray in this way:

Lord protect us from the hard-heartedness and lack of compassion of jealousy in our own hearts, and keep us from being harmed by the covetousness of others toward us. Keep us from being blind to the suffering of another person simply because we see that person as having been blessed in ways we are not, and make us aware of the many ways You have provided for us all along our life journeys.  In Jesus' Name we pray, amen.  

 You are not to plunder this nation because the Eternal your God, has blessed you in every way. He’s watched over you as you’ve journeyed through this vast wilderness. Throughout these 40 years, the Eternal your God has been with you, and you haven’t lacked a thing.
--Deuteronomy 2:7  The Voice--

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just One...

I have been discouraged.  Christians aren't supposed to be discouraged, so I have added guilt to my discouragement load.  Thus I've found myself struggling against depression, because guilt makes me want to hide from the Lord.

Yes, I know, this is, in a word, dumb.

But here's the thing: I am not very successful as a wage earner, or a teacher, or an author in terms of numbers of people reached, and sometimes this is discouraging. My way of ministering to others has always been one lost sheep at a time.  When I was teaching school I nearly always adopted one special child into my heart, carrying that little one in prayer and spending an unusual amount of time creating activities and interventions that might help just that one.  I felt the Lord provided me these individual children who needed a special prayer and ministry intervention; sometimes it was almost like a spotlight illuminated one little guy or gal; this is your one!

And then I was provided Reading Recovery training; an amazing, life-changing, child-saving intervention for struggling readers.  Reading Recovery teachers meet with their students one-on-one, and I consider the eleven years during which I implemented this intervention to have been the most effective and satisfying of my career.

And then I started writing books.  Books reach a whole bunch of people, right?  Well, not in my case. Almost always the Lord provides me one reader who reaches out, and a spotlight shines around them, and the Lord says, "Here is your one."

It is human nature to think in terms of numbers.  "How many people did you have in your Sunday School class today?"  or "How many copies did your books sell last week?" seem viable measures of success as a teacher or an author.  How often I've had to answer such questions with this reply:  "Just one."

My mom's Alzheimer's disease has been the most challenging, grievous, heart-rending journey of my life.  I've worked to comfort others with the comfort God has given me.  Today my current "one," a precious, Godly young woman whose mom is undergoing the grueling screening process for Alzheimer's, sent me this message:
 "Thank you for allowing the crushing of your own heart and dreams yield a fragrance that draws others to Christ!  I know it does not make up for your pain but perhaps in some small way softens it to know God is truly active, alive and at work through your words and your story!  I know it comforts me that some day (very far from today) I may be able to do the same."
I'm humbled and blessed.  I've asked forgiveness for my discouragement.  How precious is it that our Good Shepherd loves us individually, each of us uniquely, each one of us precious in His sight!  The Shepherd who left the 99 to seek one that was lost does not devalue a ministry that reaches just one.

I am grateful and blessed.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Just a Little Off...

ARGH!  It is TILTING! 
After visiting my mom at the nursing home today, I decided to take a backroad home, past a wind farm.  I've shared here the sweet way the Lord linked my recovery from a childhood fear of large, manmade objects to new freedom from another lifelong fear: nursing homes. As I came to peace with my mother's new living situation, I also learned to appreciate the massive beauty of the gigantic wind turbines that stand like sentinels around the place Mom now resides.

But the past few weeks have been tough for me. Freed from the daily burden of the caregiving role that defined my life for twelve years, I've had time to process the sorrow of watching my mother fade from view over time.  Grief of this caliber is not unusual, and I ought not be surprised (see 1 Peter 4:12). What has puzzled me, though, is the intensity of sorrow I've been feeling over a number of other painful memories from the past, the distant past, when I was young.  Yes, a very long time ago.

This is a phenomenon I've seen happen in others who are going through a grief process. It's as though a new heartache opens a Pandora's box of grievous memories from the past that all come flowing out to surround us. Thus it seems life is sad now, has always been sad, and there is no hope of ever being free of sorrow again.  This morning I prayed the Psalms, and felt a terrible weight of former sorrows, present sorrow, and the inevitability of future sorrow. I asked the Lord to give me a word of hope, but left my prayer time still feeling puzzled and sad.

A few hours later, I was driving along down that familiar dirt road past the wind farm, when I looked up from the bottom of a hill and saw one of those gigantic wind generators looming over me, wings not turning.  It was perfectly still while all of its comrades were turning at normal speed, and this seemed weirdly ominous. The one wing that stretched toward the ground, looked, by a trick of perspective,  unnaturally large and as though it was nearly touching the treetops.  And...was the tower tilting? I had to drive past this thing, just a couple hundred feet away, and the tower portion alone stretches over 300 feet into the sky. If it tipped over, I could be squashed like a bug!  I actually felt physical symptoms of fear, something that has not happened to me for many years as a response to my phobia of great big manmade things.  But I ignored my pounding heart, refused to make a U-turn, and kept right on driving.

As I topped the hill it was as though the tower straightened, that drooping wing shrank to an appropriate distance from the ground, and although the watchful stillness of the massive machine still seemed unnerving, it no longer looked unnaturally tilted.

As I sped on down the road, I felt chagrined and said aloud, "Lord, what was that all about?"

The answer was immediate: "Your perspective is off."

And I understood that my perspective of past injuries is unnaturally exaggerated right now. It may seem odd that this is a vast relief. Not that I like being "a little off"--(although my children will tell you that I've had a lot of practice at it)--but if things aren't so bad as they seem, I can be released from hopelessness.  I don't have to take action to right past wrongs (that's in the Lord's hands anyway), and I don't have to give up the hope of feeling better at some point.

As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a young woman whose father had died:
 "Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once."
I tell you what though, tomorrow I'm taking the highway home.  😅