Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Feed My Sheep

And effortless way to bring a smile to nursing home residents' faces is to carry a baby down the hallway. This is my mom with her youngest grandson, Isaac.
I have been working hard to learn the names of the residents at my mother's nursing home without giving very much thought to why I feel inclined to do so. Spending time with these sweet souls isn't a natural tendency. There is an emotion akin to fear that would have me hurry straight to my mother's room, averting my eyes from the elderly patients who are seated in the half dozen overstuffed chairs and recliners that line the foyer. Left to my own, I would protect myself from their sad or hopeful gazes. Instead I've found myself grasping hands, asking names, and striking up little conversations.

And then, a few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night with the words, "Feed my sheep," in my heart. And the mind picture that accompanied those words was of those elderly faces at the nursing home.

We tend to think of mission work as something that happens far away from home. We also have the idea that God always wants us to spend our efforts where the highest number of people will benefit. It is true that the fields are white with harvest and that the workers are few (John 4:35). But it is also true that we serve a Good Shepherd who cares very much about the needs of even one lost lamb.

We have to be careful that we follow the Lord's call to the field of His choosing. This almost always entails giving up the desire to please our fellow human beings. It's the workers who  build houses for the homeless or dig wells for needy people far away that are invited to speak at church functions; no one presents a slideshow of how they sang hymns with one elderly woman in a rural nursing home on a Saturday afternoon. We need the homebuilders and well diggers, but we also need to be certain that we don't choose more alluring fields of mission than the ones the Lord has assigned us.

I have received more than I have given to these precious folks They are so willing not only to be blessed but also to give a blessing. Yesterday I grasped the hand of a lady who was sitting in the hallway.  She was beautiful with her white hair and bright eyes and I told her so. One of the workers passed by and told me that this lady was 104 years old. I was astounded and turned back to her and said, "My goodness I hope I can do as well as you as I grow older."

She patted my hand, looked into my eyes, and said comfortingly,  "You will, you will." It might be a little silly but my heart received this as a blessing, and I left feeling uplifted.

This isn't the field I would have chosen for myself. I would like to be one of those energetic people who fly across the ocean to meet needs I would have judged to be greater. But this is where God has placed me, and I am blessed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Earning Our Own Way Versus Receiving Acceptance by Grace

Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these (Luke 12:27). 
Our Kansas sunflowers have blossomed into September-lit, golden profusion this year. It seems amazing that these blooms spring up apart from the plan of a landscape artist or the maintenance of a squadron of gardeners. No human effort is involved in making these wildflowers grow.

I always think I have to put forth a lot of effort if I am to blossom in a way that is satisfactory to the Lord and to my fellow human beings. Trying to do things right in my own strength as opposed to basking in the acceptance that is mine through Christ is an ongoing struggle. Since placing Mom into nursing home care, I've been aware that I need to rest before the Lord, but instead I have plunged into a new round of activities (will I never learn)? I started physical therapy for my back yesterday (a good thing) and was intent upon making that therapist think I am a Really Good Patient (not a good thing). I was lying on the floor concentrating hard on exercises for my transverse abdominals when the  following thoughts came into my mind with the Lord's gentle remonstrance:

Sometimes, we enter into a new relationship thinking, "Here is a chance for me to start over and to do things right so that I will be accepted and not rejected." This can be an innocuous relationship with a new physician, a physical therapist or a health counselor,  a nutritionist, or a weight loss group. And we have to be careful, because during this time when we feel that pleasing this person/people might be possible, without realizing it we give up partaking of the unmerited favor that is ours through Christ because we are working to gain favor of our own.

We get the idea that it is impossible to please God, and so we stop trying, and we turn our faces away from Him. The beauty of His grace, offered to us through Christ, is that we don't have to try. Grace covers us so that we don't have to deserve God's love, we have only to receive it as an unmerited gift. 

Having received unmerited favor, we then have a template of how to love others who don't deserve it. We offer them the grace that we have enjoyed through Christ. But ahead of that, we must have given up the effort to be acceptable in our own strength; we must have partaken of God's grace in order to offer it to others. 

When we are exacting with ourselves in the attempt to earn our own favor, we become exacting with others. Falling back into the grace that is ours through Christ will indeed lead us to the effort of obedience, but we will be released from the sure-to-be frustrated labor of attaining perfection through our own efforts. 

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
Galatians 3:1-3

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lens Effects and Reminders of God's Provision

So, I know that this is a lens distortion due to shooting a photo into the sun...but the Lord used it to remind me of His  presence with my precious daughter and grandchildren.
Sometimes, when the Lord wants to remind us of His abiding presence with us, He provides us a physical symbol of a spiritual reality. During dark times of my life I have been encouraged, not by rainbows and eagle sightings themselves, but by the reminders they serve of God's faithfulness. The Bible tells us God placed His bow in the sky as a promise (Genesis 9:13), and that if we wait upon the Lord we'll mount up on wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31).

We get in trouble when we confuse a symbol with the reality itself. That's when we develop a hunger for stories about angelic presences and the afterlife. We risk an unwitting flirtation with the occult when we seek spiritual thrills rather than rest on the Bible's promises of truths yet unseen. If we are to mature in our Christian walk at all, we have to accept that God in His wisdom has chosen to be invisible, perhaps so that we are required as a result to walk by faith and not by sight. And yet He is so gracious. Sometimes He allows a tangible reassurance of His intimate involvement in every detail of our lives.

An ongoing grief in my life has been that I've not been able to be as supportive of my adult children as they need me to be. My daughter is a busy homeschooling Mom of three young boys, and her husband works long hours to support his family during these challenging, child-raising years. My son works long hours himself and is a housekeeping and child-rearing partner to my daughter-in-law, who is a compassionate, hard-working veterinarian. But for the past 12 years my responsibilities to my Alzheimer's mom, along with my own health glitches, have robbed me of the time and the physical strength that would have enabled me to be a more active and supportive presence in my children's lives. On good days I feel only a constant, guilt-tinged sorrow, and on bad days I have to struggle against a crushing sense of inadequacy that too easily flares to active, irrational, resentment toward God for making me the way I am and toward my kids for having needs I can't meet.

Yesterday we made a quick trip to visit our youngest granddaughter and her sweet mom (the vet). They live about an hour away, and on the way home we stopped to visit Mom at the nursing home. These activities, along with my rosacea--which keeps me from sitting in the sun watching kids' sports events as in days of yore--had kept me from riding along with my daughter to her oldest son's soccer practice as I'd like to have done. As we drove home from our visits, I had my husband stop the car along our country highway so I could take some photos.  I was standing in the middle of the road when a vehicle appeared at the crest of a hill about a mile away.  It was my daughter and her three boys, on the way to soccer practice!

They zoomed by, the boys shouting their greetings through windows hastily opened, "HI GRAMMY!"

My heart overbrimmed with love and regret that I wasn't able to be with them.

It wasn't until I got home and uploaded the days' photos that I saw those star-shaped bursts of light and received the reassurance that the Lord is present with my loved ones when I am not.  He is with my mother during long nights at the nursing home when I am no longer able to hear her if she calls my name. And He is with my precious children to preserve, protect and provide for their needs in ways I, not even on one of my best days, ever could.

We miss our loved ones when we are parted from them, but we don't need to add inadequacy-sparked feelings of guilt to the grief of separation. It is such a comfort to know that prayer is powerful, God's presence is abiding, and heart connections through the Holy Spirit can't be broken by time, distance, or even death.  God is so good.