Because He Lives, Generational Blessings

In the late 1960s, Gloria and Bill Gaither wondered if it was irresponsible to bring new life into the world. Newspaper headlines dripped with despair. The Vietnam War raged and by the end of 1968, over 22,000 American soldiers had died. John F. Kennedy was assassinated that same year, the cost of living rose. Rock and roll music was gaining popularity, eclipsing the wholesome songs of their youth. “Love” and “peace” were being paraded through the streets on rainbow-colored banners and in hazy smoke circles, irrespective of their true source. Peace was expected to follow, “whatever makes you happy”.

A little over a decade later, my own mother fretted about the wisdom of starting a family as morality seemed to decline and the world seemed headed to hell in a hand basket. Did God really mean to bear with His creation much longer? It seemed as though the days of Noah, when “all the thoughts of mens’ hearts was always evil continually”, were replaying on an erie global screen.

In March 1980, the month of my birth year, stories of riots, murders and natural disasters landed in the driveway with every thump of the daily paper. American politics grew steadily more liberal beneath the Carter administration. God was systematically evicted from public education.

Fast forward a little more than 30 years…

On a sunny, delicious day in Dallas, TX, three generations of my family crowded around a circular table in my sister’s kitchen. Rays of warmth poured through open windows and drew geometric patterns across the crumbs of our bagel breakfast; a light breeze stirred the ribbons of steam rising from mix-matched coffee cups.

“Why do I deserve to be here?” the thought was half prayer and joined my heart’s whispers of thankfulness to heaven. Why, in the midst of a crumbling economy, school shootings, talk of death panels, government shut downs, broken homes, starving countries, racism and deception, am I allowed to bask here in the love of family, the promise of life, the comfort of fellowship and full bellies?

Across the table, I saw my dad’s eyes shimmer. They always do that when he’s thrilled to bursting with the blessings of our High King. Next to him, my mother cradled her newest grandchild, gulping air into tiny lungs less than a month exposed to oxygen outside his mother’s womb. Each of my three sisters pushed back from the table, one teetering on the back legs of her chair just as we were warned not to do as little girls. “Baby Hay”, so nicknamed by the squirming toddler in my lap rested quietly on the floor nearby. And I leaned forward to press my cheek to the soft pigtails of my niece. At her behest, I sang, Jesus Loves Me, to her, “again”, hushed so as not to interrupt the ebb and flow of conversation, like a peaceful tide unchecked by second thoughts.

Daddy pulled an envelope from his lap under the table and reached across, placing it in my hands. Mom produced a large shoebox at the same time.

“These are for you,” she said.

I must have looked surprised. None of their new or expected grandchildren were mine, so there was no occasion to shower me with gifts. Christmas was fast approaching, but none of us were ready to admit that, let alone begin shopping for gifts. My birthday had come and gone this year.

“You’ll understand when you open it,” Dad said.

I peeled the paper from the box and lifted the lid. Folded back and forth upon itself lay a blue and white, latch hook banner. Immediately, I remembered it. Now my own eyes shimmered, and I pulled it out, stretching it to the full length.

“Because He Lives”.

About a year ago, I began signing most of my letters and emails with that closing phrase. I did it mostly because “Sincerely”, “In Him”, “Love”, “Yours Truly” and “Blessings”, seemed over done. But I had no idea why this particular line came to me, or why it filled me with pure pleasure to place my name beneath the assurance. “Because He Lives”. It just seemed so…me.

As my parents’ first born, the latch hook banner once hung in my nursery. I claimed it as my own, even though it hung in each subsequent nursery as my sisters arrived. But as an adult, I accepted the fact that it would most likely hang in one of my sisters’ nurseries. Without children of my own, I hardly expected to be given the handmade treasure.

“Open the envelope.” My mom gestured.

Still wordless, I placed the banner in my lap and began to read.

“The lyrics to this song have held true, are true and will continue to hold true. As you have heard many times before, God placed this song on my heart when I was fearful of ever having a family. He showed himself faithful time and time again in raising our family. He took two broken people who love Him and brought four beautiful girls into the world. And now through His faithfulness He has started four more wonderful families. Families that He will continue to do His work in, “because He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…”.

Suddenly, I knew why God had given me this precious phrase, “Because He Lives”. Every generation has grown up in the darkness of their own age, in the particular ills that beset those years. Personally, I was accosted by the worldly demands to have a perfect body, be self-sufficient, brutally self-disciplined and in control. I fell beneath the blows of an eating disorder and many nights I wondered if God would simply relieve my pain through death. He refused.

After each wave of fierce battle, as I lay panting and still stubbornly broken by sin, Father God breathed hope into my spirit. My journal is replete with the question, “What makes life worth living for those who do not know Jesus?”

For 15 years, God held my frail spirit in His hands; He must have exhaled the breath of life into my lungs over and over again. In time, I drank that breath deep. Because He lives, I saw purpose lingering in front of me like light filtering through a dust storm. Slowly, I regained my health. The only reason I have for finding life worth living is “Because He Lives”.

We live in a fallen world. Christians are full aware of the of spirit of anti-Christ in their own age. (1 John 4:3) Even the apostle John identified it in the fledgling years of the early church. But, we also live in a redeemed world. For those who believe in Christ’s substitutionary payment on the cross, there is reason to bring new life into the world. Indeed, it is God’s great glory to push new generations through human oneness into the world of His creation – The world, so loved by God that He sent His one and only Son that everyone who believes may have eternal life through Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)

I remember a small plaque that perched on the shelves of my parents’ headboard when I was young. It read:

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on. ~ Anonymous”

Bill and Gloria Gaither grasped that truth and memorialized it in song. The sweet melody etched itself into my mother’s heart one morning in church as she agonized fearfully about the future of her children. And then, that same truth preserved my life when I too wondered at the purpose for living in a hurtful, difficult world. The truth remains, “Because He Lives”.

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;

He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!

Chorus

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

Chorus

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No More Strip Search

At Remuda, weigh-in day involved a strip search. Every fold of clothing, baggy sweatshirt or rubber soled shoe held potential. Girls at The Ranch were receiving treatment for eating disorders. And a girl with an eating disorder is nothing if not sneaky. I learned the tricks of the trade from more experienced friends.

Wear a water bra.
Drink tons of water within an hour of weigh-in.
Some had managed to hide books in the pockets of their hoodies.
Stuff your pockets.
Put sand in your shoes.

But the staff caught on, and hence forth, weigh-in day began with a strip search. Susan, the kindest nurse I remember, always turned her back while I undressed. When I was ready, she stepped close and slid the indicator down the bar. Did I mentioned that everyone weighed backwards? Some of us tried to count the clicks as the indicator slid.

Susan was sharp. She noticed the clench of a thigh, and if I tried to sneak a toe off the front edge of the platform. “Stand still.” After the traumatic, twice-weekly event, a small clump of nervous girls trudged back to our rooms to get dressed and then head to breakfast.

Before I got sick, I only vaguely knew my weight. Who cared? Occasionally, after swim team practice, I stepped on the scale and just as quickly forget the number.

When I left Remuda and progressed through aftercare, I terminated my relationship with the scale. I don’t own one. I refuse to look at them, staring straight ahead when I pass one in the gym locker room. Until yesterday, I couldn’t tell you within five pounds what I weighed. I only knew that my clothes still fit (and I think I look sexy). I can honestly tell you that I like my thighs, my stomach, my arms. I am proud of my strength. I can even knockout more than the minimum number of pull-ups for a female marine!

So what’s the big deal?

Yesterday, the nurse at the doctor’s office weighed me. There was no fanfare, no strip search, no one aware of my discomfort with the scale. Quite casually, she pointed in the direction of that frightful piece of equipment and turned her back to make notes. Hesitantly, I lined my toes up on the outline of a foot. I tried to stare straight ahead, but my eyes fell on the digital number when it beeped. Oh.

I weigh as much as I did before the eating disorder.

The shadow of belief that I am still skinny disappeared in the light of the glowing scale display. Normal. Is that OK? Am I ready to be normal? The naked truth is that I hadn’t realized that a sliver of my identity was still lodged in a belief that it’s better to be too thin that too fat, and that I was on the ‘good’ side.

Truthfully, I think I am ready. I didn’t do a crazy, compensatory workout this morning. I still enjoyed a beer with my husband last night. I have to admit, the new knowledge has continued to linger in my consciousness.

But, yes, I can handle the truth. I personally know the Creator of this good body and I trust Him to direct me in how to care for it and to show me what size He wants it to be.

Stay in the Moment

Be present! Stay in the moment!

It might well be the mantra of the decade. It is hummed from the yoga mat, preached from the pulpit and scribbled in the margins of self-help books. I warrant, it’s true. There is little worth in worrying about tomorrow, as it will happen exactly as God intended it to happen without the assistance of human agony. And fretting about yesterday only gives me indigestion and entices me to break open old wounds in an effort to right past wrongs.

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.  ~Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

I can see the wisdom of his words. I have felt the lingering, nagging, splinter-like pain of regret. I have felt the heart-stopping, immobilizing fret of the future. The great lie is that by attending to either one, I do some good. Perhaps, guilt and regret are part of paying the penalty. Do I think I am earning God’s sympathy or forgiveness through my groveling? Do I think that by making all kinds of logical suggestions about the future I can change God’s course for eternity?

Far better to rest in the finished, past and continuing work of Christ on my behalf. And far better to trust the Creator of the world to be sufficiently wise to sustain me.

-for the past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.

Memorial Day.

AMemorial DayPrayer
By Rev. Dick Kozelka (ret)
First Congregational Church of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN.

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you
in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your lovingkindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
[though we sometimes feel that low]
and without fear
[though we are often anxious].

We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things’ going meaninglessly well.
God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully [as it seems]
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion those who have died
serving their countries
in the futility of combat.
There is none of us but must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
We believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This poem was taken from U.S. Memorial Day.org, quite a valuable resource that I didn’t know existed. I confess, that even as an Army spouse, I can’t wrap my mind, let alone words, around the significance of Memorial Day. All my life it has simply signaled the beginning of summer, cookouts, water skiing – the good life.

I want to understand it with more clarity. I apologize for cavalier years and flippant “Happy Memorial Days.” Thanks be to God, that Memorial Days can be happy for those who know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, who call on the Lord with a sincere heart, who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord.

Please visit this blog again on Wednesday for a suggestion as to how you can personally help share the gospel with men and women in the military.

Granddad’s Room

The door was never shut.  Inside was a curio of Granddad things.  The room smelled Granddad, too – a clean yet musky, deep blue fragrance, like a mix of pipe tobacco, that he didn’t smoke, and aftershave.  All of Granddad’s solid t-shirts with the chest pocket and his traditional winter flannels clung to that same scent.

 

There wasn’t much walking space in Granddad’s room.  He commanded one cushy, swivel desk chair and there was usually an empty one next to him waiting to be warmed by a younger rear end, should we decide to join him.

 

It wasn’t that Granddad’s office work was all that interesting.  He had stock tickers scrolling across an 8 inch TV screen and his computer monitor refreshed the stock values with every frequent mouse click.  The appeal was simply being with Granddad.  And the entertainment was posted on the walls, slung over the chairs, or set precisely on his polished, dark wood desk.

 

“Well, hi there!” Granddad would swoop me up in a bear hug and then set me down in front of him.  “Just sit here with me a minute, I’ll finish this up.  After lunch do you want to play a game of washers?”  Doubtless washers was a wonderful idea but I would have sat next to Granddad all day.

 

While he was turned to me, after 60 seconds of silence, the computer screen began to swim with exotic fish.  The small speakers let me listen to their bubbles pop.  Granddad rarely changed his screen saver.  Sometimes it was multicolored pipes that grew constantly, connecting to make giant abstract art.

 

To start with I would clamber up beside him, balancing on my knees in the second swivel chair.  That way I could reach his gray, windup ducky.  Just a cheap trinket, but as much a part of Granddad’s room as the carpet.  As Ducky wound down, I slipped from my seat and practiced contorting myself to sit on the special “good posture” chair.  It was built of two cushions at odd angles.  You put your knees on the bottom support and leaned your tush back on to the second one.  There was no back rest and as far as I was concerned the chair looked rather uncomfortable and useless.

 

Next I turned to the white board hung on the wall behind the door, at eye level for a seven-year-old.  Red, green, blue, black and yellow dry erase makers perched nearby.  Grandma was pretty trusting and as far as I remember none of us every ended up coloring on her walls or carpet.

 

On the wall on the other side of the door were collages of my mom and uncles.  I was always impressed with how beautiful my mom was.  The pictures of her before she met Daddy hardly seemed the same person.

 

Memories for every age hung on the walls of that room: The bird clock, that chimed with a different bird song every quarter hour, the 3D picture that I “got” several times but don’t remember what I saw and the funny one that depicted a million one-liners like, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” “flat as a board,” “time flies,” and “rat race.”  I saw that picture 100s of times and I still find things I hadn’t seen before.

 

Granddad’s room had a private entrance since it was at the back of the house.  It led to the back porch where Granddad and Grandma had a hot tub.  Anticipation let me smell the chlorine water before I even opened the door.  My sisters and I would don our swimsuits and grab the animal shaped rafts that Grandma kept for us.  I loved the green and pink frog with buggy eyes and Jenny usually claimed the giraffe.  We were generally clean kids, but Granddad had to shock the hot tub with an extra dose of chlorine after every visit.  He also had to refill the tiny pool since we splashed most of the water out.

 

When our lips turned an iridescent blue, Mom always grabbed towels from the downstairs bath and came through Granddad’s door to find us.  Then she would shuffle our dripping bodies back through Granddad’s room to the nearest bathroom.

 

Dried and still chilly, often I would climb up into Granddad’s chair at his desk.  Mesmerized for the next short time, I would watch the tropical fish swim across his screen.