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When God Throws the Happy Birthday Party

Women's lives. For 25 years I have been a speaker, traveling around this country, in and out of all sorts of settings, denominations and churches. Frequently, I am with women's groups. Besides speaking for them, I find myself in the role of a kind of sin-bearer for women's lives. Between sessions, during lunch, at my book table, driving to and from the airport, they confide in me the intimate details of their lives, details that could only comfortably be confided in another woman. I have seen their tears and prayed over them, but I've often been frustrated that I couldn't do more than love on them and entrust them to God's care. More often than not, they have blown me away with their strength and resilient trust in God.

Honestly, some of their stories are so horrific they will be with me for the rest of my life. The woman who was sexually abused throughout her childhood, starting before she could barely speak or walk. The beautiful Latino, raised in the migrant fields of our country, working in those fields as a child and then sold off to an older man as a 14-year-old. She was twenty-something when I met her. She was breaking free with the help of the hosting church for these meetings. I wanted to bring her home with me.

Abandonment. Abuse. Betrayal. Cast off. Death of children. Treated like something that was scraped off the bottom of some man's shoe. These are the ABCs of women's loss. I hope I've heard the worst stories I will ever hear, but every speaking engagement opens the door to more shared sadness.

This time I knew her. Steve and I were her youth pastors 30 some years ago. After the first session, she came down the aisle pushing a walker, her hips deteriorated by arthritis. After five children, her husband left her for another woman. Her disability makes it difficult to work. She sews and brings in some income, but its very tough. A side detail of her life that captures a lot--her Ex conveniently "misses" paying the electric bill (part of their divorce settlement) whenever its her birthday or Christmas just to heap more contempt on her. Awful!

We caught up on the decades that had passed. But she wanted to share more than her loss with me.

"God is so good! Like the time we only had two oranges and an onion to eat and four dollars between my daughter and me. What should we do? We could buy groceries, but $4.00 won't go far. Buy gas? Try to pay a bill? We decided to give it to God and so that Sunday we put our precious $4.00 in the offering plate. That night a car pulled up to our house. It was someone from church. Her car was loaded with groceries for us. God is amazing! Every day that week something incredible happened that met our needs."

She shared her $4.00 story with the women at the conference. I asked them to pray for her whenever they saw her during the weekend. Hip replacement surgery is early November.

Did these women ever deliver! All weekend she was the focus of love, prayers and stories of encouragement. She had 350 instant girlfriends. They knew her name, her story and reached out to love on her.

What they didn't know, and what I didn't know, was that it was her birthday. But God knew. He arranged to have love poured out on her like no other birthday she had never experienced--electricity or not!

On Facebook she said, I had an AMAZING birthday spent with INCREDIBLE women! Truly a gift straight from God."

"I hope I didn't weigh you down with my problems," she messaged me later.

"Nope. You didn't. I loved getting caught up with you. And I loved seeing how God has his eyes on you."

When our hearts are broken, our challenges beyond us, the mountains too steep and the valleys too dark, sometimes all it takes is a touch, a small light in our darkness, a smile that lightens our way, something with God in it, something only he could arrange, and then all is bearable because he is with us.

Such graces can even light up a birthday when someone has intentionally left you in the dark without electricity. Happy birthday! Light up the heavens, why don't you?

His grace is delightfully sufficient. I saw it again last weekend.

 

An Embarrasing Confession

I just came back from a great walk outside. Exhilarating! Refreshing! Productive! Yes! But something I really like? No! Confession: I always like walking afterward, but have a hard time committing to it beforehand. It's the "NO MATTER WHAT!" that's hard for me. So I'm setting some new goals this spring and summer: 30 minutes or three miles a day in hopes of losing weight. I hate to admit this, because I know there's some accountability that might follow, but I thought I would share something that has helped me like it more.

Twenty-five years ago, right after my doctor told me I had malignant melanoma . . . the most dangerous form of skin cancer, the next words from her mouth were, "Walk!” She even wrote it on her prescription pad, “five times a week for 30 to 40 minutes.”  In the following weeks I felt as though I had been given a life sentence.  “Why do I hate this so much?” The answer came back time and again,  “Because it’s so boring!  What can I do with my mind while I’m taking care of my body?” 

I thought I could use the time to pray, but I needed music that didn’t interfere with the direction and mood of my prayers.  That’s how PRAYERWALK came to be.  It was something I wanted for myself, but I soon realized that the beautiful music by gifted studio musician Dennis Clements, and the guided prayer time could be used by other people as well. 

It's not slick. Just a neat way to care for your soul as you care for your body. Currently there are three aerobic audio/music CDs available—and Paypal is up and running now on my website (Thanks to some gentle nagging from some of you) You can check out the description on my website. Go to store . . . resources . . . PrayerWalk.

See you on the trails! Happy summer everybody! God bless! Let's nail it this year!

 

Why Mothers Day Wrecked Me

 

I’ve decided Mothers Day is the most mixed-bag holiday of them all. My Facebook feed confirms this. On social media this year, Mothers Day was the happiest, tear jerking-est, most sentimental celebration and day of mourning all wrapped up together in one holiday I ever experienced. The happy pictures of mothers and children hugging and smiling together, the posted cell phone pictures of springy bouquets and shiny gifts of jewelry spelling MOM or displaying kids’ birthstones, ran right alongside entries of grave markers, messages to mothers in heaven and sad announcements of this being someone’s first Mothers Day without their mom. I’m convinced and nothing will persuade me otherwise: no other holiday yanks us around with the emotional power of Mothers Day.

Mothers Day on Facebook wrecked me!

So yesterday, after our own family time ended, when the brunch plates were loaded in the dishwasher and everyone went back to their own homes leaving a warm glow of family lingering with me, I put some “Mom Thoughts” together that reflect what I believe about mothers and their children.

First, I promise you that you gave your mother more joy than you will ever know. You are/were precious to her and whatever else she had to deal with in life, you made it all worth it. Trust me on this. I’m a mom. I know. Your smile is the best, your jokes the funniest, your triumphs the most important. To a mother, a child is nearly everything in life. And by the way, I would still throw my body in front of a train to protect both of my grown sons—and their children—if needed because nothing, including my own life, means more to me. And, more amazingly, I don’t know another mother who doesn’t feel the same.

Second, you gave your mother more pain than you will ever know.  When you have a mom, you never suffer alone. Your struggles are her struggles. She is linked to you for better or worse. The consequences of poor choices, the agony of defeats, the suffering of trials, the heart-wrenching problems you experience all flow from your life to hers. On some level, we all broke our mom’s heart. When she could no longer shelter us, when we had to grow up, when the downside of life slammed into us, she felt it. Big time. We bled and she cried. One of the best gifts some mothers could receive in the honoring category is a simple recognition of how we have impacted her emotionally along with a simple “I’m sorry, Mom.” In some cases, this needs to be said in capital letters, “I’M SORRY MOM!” If you and I feel the slightest tinge of guilt about good-old-mom, it is probably for good reason.

Third, death can’t break the mother/child attachment. Yesterday, an extended family group at brunch shared their memories of their moms. Strange thing, even though my mother has been gone for more than 30 years, I am understanding her better now than when I was young and she was living. I appreciate more. I recognize her role in my formation more. I remember her with gratitude and joy and less mourning every year. We couldn’t stop talking about our moms . . . and the more separated we were through death and years, the more we trilled on. Our mothers have a hold on us that lasts for our lifetime.

What I see so clearly is, even if we view our mothers through longing and an aching heart, it gets better. The pain lessens and the celebration of who she was increases.  And most definitely, our mothers desire the happiness they built into our childhoods to continue after they're gone. Be happy.

And finally, to my own sons, Brendan and Justin, you have been and continue to be my greatest life joys. Thanks for loving me, a mixed-bag mother, if there ever was one. Much, much, much, much love for now and for forever on this day after Mothers Day.

God bless our moms forever!

Honestly: Aren't You Just a Little Tired of In-Your-Face Book?

She has everything. And posts it all. "Oh, gee . . . I'm a best-selling author. What a surprise! How did that happen?" Or "Junior is straight A's again for the fourth year at school. Please pray for him as they want to advance him a year and we're just not sure if that is fair to the other kids. Such a dilemma!"

Be honest: Wouldn't you be just a little bit happy if her fortunes reversed? We don't wish anything awful on her you know, I mean we're not E-V-I-L,  but just something little say. Something that would level out her life advantages. Something in the public and embarrassing camp. For instance . . . imagine how sad it would be if she lost all her hair suddenly, or on one of her many luxury travels lost her passport so she would have to live out her life in a place where the mosquitos are as big as bananas. Admit it. You're smiling and thinking of someone particularly.

Yes, envy! And we don't have a problem with it in this day of social media, or what my husband calls In-Your-Face-Book, do we?  Noooo . . . especially we Christian types.

I love this story. It's from my book A Well-Tended Soul.

"An old man showed up at the back door or a young couple. His eyes were glassy and his face glistened with silvery stubble. He clutched a basket of wilted vegetables he was selling. The young couple bought some out of pity. 

On subsequent visits he learned his name was Mr. Roth and he lived in the shack down the street. He would shuffle in, wearing mismatched shoes, and pull out his vegetables and his harmonica. With glazed eyes he would puff out old gospel tunes and talk of heaven.

On one visit he exclaimed, "The Lord is so good! Today when I opened my front door there was a bag full of shoes and clothing on my front porch." 

 "Oh, Mr. Roth," the young couple said, "we're so happy for you."

 "Yes, and something even better. Just this morning I met someone who could really use them."

A thankful heart has transforming power. Even if we are reduced to selling wilted vegetables and have lost everything, we can still feel rich.

Someone has said, "God has been so lavish in his gifts that you can lose some priceless ones, the equivalent of whole kingdoms, and still be indecently rich."

Even if we lose all our hair and our passports are stolen for life we are still rich. "And now let the poor say I am rich. let the weak say I am strong, because of what the Lord has done for us. Give Thanks!"

 (Now through September I am making "A Well-Tended Soul" available for groups of five or more at a discount and giving away the FREE downloadable accompanying study guide. You can contact me through my website or message me on In-Your-Face-Book.)