Loved, Wrested, Lost…By the Giver

I’ve watched a lot of heartbreak in the last few weeks. It makes me feel almost guilty to say that, because it hasn’t been my loss. No, I’ve felt pain as a ricochet, a blow bounced back, only slightly less forceful. I have watched loss strike violently at the hearts of my friends and I wonder if my comfort is sufficient or cheap.

Two have lost babies before birth. One knows her husband likely won’t be there to kiss her on January 1, 2015. Another lost her best buddy, a pup she’d loved from before she found her own husband. One buried a treasured aunt.

What do you say to loss when you cannot literally sidle up alongside and bear the brunt of it with the loved one pained?

You pray.

Unfortunately, even in Christian society, maybe especially in Christian society, that assurance has lost its power. It comes across as weak, timid, cursory and half-hearted. It’s the same feeling of resignation that births the statement, “I’ve done all I can. All that’s left is to pray.”

But this post isn’t intended to resurrect your passion for prayer, your conviction that it is the single most important, effective thing you can do for loved ones in pain, in the throes or on the precipice of loss. (Though it is.) If a renewed respect for prayer is a side effect of my words, may God receive glory.

No, this post is my own reflection on loss. It’s what I hope I recall the next time a beloved is wrenched from my hands.

Job 1:21 says, “…“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I wonder about God taking away. In truth, there’s a vast difference between something being lost or stolen, and something being gently tugged from clutching fingers by a loving Father.

When I was little, I recall my sister getting into the medicine cabinet. After watching Mom dole out vitamin C tablets to her older siblings, she wondered about the orange-colored “candy”. Why couldn’t she have some?

So, this little one climbed up on the counter, popped the child-proof cap and downed the rest of the bottle. When Mom found her, she was mauling the final “candies”. Hastily, Mom snatched the poison from little fingers. My sister cried.

The pain a child feels when a parent takes something away (even a bottle of vitamins–innately good but harmful for a child at that age) is when tiny fists grip it tightly and sting when the object is finally wrested away.

Though my experience of these recent pains is only an echo, I marvel at the strength bearing up my friends. I pause and take notice of their valor and humble submission to the God of “every good and perfect gift”.

It is vastly different to lose something, have it stolen or to understand, even welcome, the loving hands of a Father who takes it away.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

Lord, Make Me Willing to Wonder

If I only wrote of what God is teaching me, how exciting it is, how I am growing, all of His goodness and the excitement of living Real Life in Jesus—the life I shadowed for so many years—you might get the image that all of my lessons come wrapped in exquisite silence. You might picture me sitting on the back porch with my Bible, journal and pen furiously writing down what I hear Father whispering to me through His Word. And all of that would be true.

I am blessed in this season to have unprecedented time to soak up God’s Word. And I’m so grateful for it. I do learn a lot in those quiet hours. But, some of the hardest hitting lessons are just that—hard hitting. They hit my ego, my sanity, my peace of mind, my confidence. Just such a lesson has been pummeling me against the stones of residual unbelief. In the wake of this storm, it feels like my mind has been thrashing with no upward or outward orientation.

Perhaps you can identify: It’s all in the numbers.

No, I haven’t been obsessing over the scale, calories in or calories out as you might suspect of a former anorexic. I haven’t been contemplating hours of exercise or the number of peanuts in a one ounce serving. It’s been another numerical conundrum—the fear of money. (I actually discovered a term for it: peniaphobia. Look it up!)

Here’s how it manifests in me: This week I have bought and returned and bought again an outfit (and almost returned it again). Another item I bought and returned and various others I have fretted over and worried through the halls of my mind like a stone between restless fingers. I have also panicked over credit card fraud, which resulted in closing two accounts and requesting new numbers. (One turned out to be real, the other I was in error.)

I have lost sleep over whether I should or should not buy something for the house. I have been consumed with whether my budget is correct or if I missed recording an expense. I have hounded my husband for not telling me he bought a Kindle book for $1.99.

Maybe you don’t have this problem. However, in the last week I have spoken to two other married women who alluded to wrestling with these unwanted fears too.

So, whether you fret about money or not, let me ask if this resonates with you: I live in a constant state of “what if”, living as if all the “what if’s” could happen and I must take preventative measures.

I’ll share some other specifics with you; try them on for size:
What if the government shuts down again and the military doesn’t get paid?
What if my husband is one of the hundreds forced out of the Army?
What if I need to work and can’t find a job?
What if we lose the renters in our house who are covering the mortgage?

These thoughts were very common when I dealt with anorexia:
What if I get fat?
What if I eat too much today and can’t workout tomorrow?
What if my family gives up on me?
What if there are more calories in that than what I counted?
What if they actually put dressing on my salad?

So, my self-protective, chicken-heart believes that it’s best to live as if these things might happen, live hyper-vigilant. More painfully true—it’s best to live as if God isn’t good just incase He withdraws His blessing that has been so generous to me for more than 34 years.

My eating disorder was one giant, frightened step back from a looming “What if?” It was my shattered response to a terrifying unknown. It manifested in rejecting love—What if they stop loving me? Extreme anxiety in school and other challenges—What if I fail? Fear of enjoying anything—What if I get used to this and it’s not here tomorrow?

Terror of the unknown cropped up in my marriage and almost short circuited forgiveness. After discovering my husband’s addiction to pornography, even after he addressed it, we worked on our marriage and I had no evidence that it remained, still I held him at arm’s distance, skeptical and suspicious—What if it comes back?

Paralyzing, invasive fear is the side effect of living in a perpetual, hypothetical state of “What if?”.

As I discovered this tendency to live in prevention mode against all possibilities, I realized that I rebel against wonder.

The same thing that I admire in carefree children and happy-go-lucky puppies, I fight against tooth and nail as an adult. I do not want to experience wonder. I do not want to embrace “maybe” or, “what if”, or “perhaps not”.

Then God got really personal. I heard Him whisper, “If you rebel against the unknown, you can never know me.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

To pursue the heart of God is to step willingly into wonder, amazement and, invariably, into the unknown. To trust Him is to acknowledge and embrace what I cannot fully know.

Oh My Father, I want to wonder. I want to know wonder and amazement and awe and true, Biblical fear—fear of you and you alone. Please, gently release these shackles of safety. Teach me to trust you and to walk in wonder. Teach me to ask “what if” with anticipation, joy and peace.

Sampling Gratitude

I just dug into the sample.

I’d first tasted it at my parents’ house. Early one morning, in the same fashion as her own mother, my mom cracked open a devotional and read out loud to my father and me.

I felt so treasured, so uniquely special there, curled in the corner of their couch, no rules, responsibilities or places to be. Just the three of us, parents and their oldest daughter. And for a few brief moments, that’s what I was again–merely daughter.

Age can sometimes be irrelevant. I would have sat with perked ears and my knees tucked just so whether I was four, fourteen or thirty-four as I am now. Listening to the warm, familiar voice of my mother, I was truly thankful.

So, per her suggestion, I downloaded the Kindle sample on my iPad of 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

But I didn’t read it.

1000 things piled high on my plate. Not the least of these was packing and moving. Mixed into my daily mess was finishing one Bible study, starting another, saying indefinite goodbyes, pet therapy, writing obligations, book marketing, cooking, cleaning, bills, wifely duties–you get the picture. My to-do list probably looks a lot like yours. And your to-read, bedside-stack probably looks a lot like mine.

I didn’t read it until…

One bedtime when I was between books and dreading the next one in line. I opened the sample and read the tantalizing first 10 pages, only to find myself salivating for more.

Strangely, I was starving for more conviction, more Holy Spirit shoulder squeezes and humbled squirming. All the same, I pined for more. I bought the book.

Who’da thought I was so ungrateful?

I wonder how long God has been trying to convince me of the utter redemption of gratitude? I wonder how long He’s been waiting for me to realize that my own joy, my own hope, my own happiness and self-awareness and all the jazz we pedal for in this world, was on the tip of my tongue? If I would only open my mouth and express thanks for all that God IS, for all that He HAS done and promises TO DO, I would realize how favored I am!

But even though my nightly reading has been refreshing thankfulness, I tend to forget my lessons by morning. Just a few days ago, I opened my journal and scribbled the words, “Father, there’s so much going on. My mind can’t be still and I don’t know what to say.”

His response?

Abby, you will never be wordless while thanks remains.

And so I started:

Thank you for colors and limits to perfection even in the most exquisite prism. The scope finite here on earth, such that discovery remains. While nothing under the sun is new, so much remains new to me.

As we move Lord, give me fresh, childlike eyes in our new home–an innocence and willingness to bend to different, to embrace it. Fill me with no disdain for the past, but open hands to release it and grasp for an unforeseen, fresh, cusp of waking tomorrow.

I need you to do this within me. For this not me–a creature of variety of change. To forsake routine and safety is no relief to my carnal self.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Sampling Gratitude

I just dug into the sample.

I’d first tasted it at my parents’ house. Early one morning, in the same fashion as her own mother, my mom cracked open a devotional and read out loud to my father and me.

I felt so treasured, so uniquely special there, curled in the corner of their couch, no rules, responsibilities or places to be. Just the three of us, parents and their oldest daughter. And for a few brief moments, that’s what I was again–merely daughter.

Age can sometimes be irrelevant. I would have sat with perked ears and my knees tucked just so whether I was four, fourteen or thirty-four as I am now. Listening to the warm, familiar voice of my mother, I was truly thankful.

So, per her suggestion, I downloaded the Kindle sample on my iPad of 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

But I didn’t read it.

1000 things piled high on my plate. Not the least of these was packing and moving. Mixed into my daily mess was finishing one Bible study, starting another, saying indefinite goodbyes, pet therapy, writing obligations, book marketing, cooking, cleaning, bills, wifely duties–you get the picture. My to-do list probably looks a lot like yours. And your to-read, bedside-stack probably looks a lot like mine.

I didn’t read it until…

One bedtime when I was between books and dreading the next one in line. I opened the sample and read the tantalizing first 10 pages, only to find myself salivating for more.

Strangely, I was starving for more conviction, more Holy Spirit shoulder squeezes and humbled squirming. All the same, I pined for more. I bought the book.

Who’da thought I was so ungrateful?

I wonder how long God has been trying to convince me of the utter redemption of gratitude? I wonder how long He’s been waiting for me to realize that my own joy, my own hope, my own happiness and self-awareness and all the jazz we pedal for in this world, was on the tip of my tongue? If I would only open my mouth and express thanks for all that God IS, for all that He HAS done and promises TO DO, I would realize how favored I am!

But even though my nightly reading has been refreshing thankfulness, I tend to forget my lessons by morning. Just a few days ago, I opened my journal and scribbled the words, “Father, there’s so much going on. My mind can’t be still and I don’t know what to say.”

His response?

Abby, you will never be wordless while thanks remains. 

And so I started:

Thank you for colors and limits to perfection even in the most exquisite prism. The scope finite here on earth, such that discovery remains. While nothing under the sun is new, so much remains new to me.

As we move Lord, give me fresh, childlike eyes in our new home–an innocence and willingness to bend to different, to embrace it. Fill me with no disdain for the past, but open hands to release it and grasp for an unforeseen, fresh, cusp of waking tomorrow.

I need you to do this within me. For this not me–a creature of variety of change. To forsake routine and safety is no relief to my carnal self.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This Day

sunrise“Where does the time go?” 
What if we quit saying that? It doesn’t make a difference anyway, and perhaps only serves to dull the brilliant uniqueness of this moment. Is it even possible to “live in the moment” while we are bemoaning the lost ones and plotting the next?
I wrote this article about two months ago for http://www.swagga4christ.com. It was also published on FaithWriters as one of the daily devotionals. But when I skimmed over it again today, I felt chided. How quickly I forget God’s lessons…
Every January, the world seems to lose track of time. For a few days, all we can think about is how we are going to do things differently next year, in the future. Or, we look back at the last year and feel guilty about things that happened in days gone by.
The Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about the past or the future. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “The old is gone and the new has come.” So, the past is gone and the new is now!
The phrase, “This day”, is used frequently in the Bible. God tells us that He made this day, we can rejoice and be glad! (Ps. 118:24) In Matt. 6:11, Jesus reminds us to pray and thank God for His provision this day. 
So, when others talk about New Year’s resolutions, or moan about the past, remember that your choices, actions, attitudes and words matter this minute, right now, this day.
“Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15