October 29, 2009

There is a Season

Thank you for your compassion, sympathy, and caring comments and emails on my last two posts. I shared them with Kirsten’s husband John. You blessed him. And you blessed me.

Day and night.
Spring and fall.
Hello and goodbye.
Laughter and tears.
Love and loss.
Birth and death.

Life ebbs and flows. Bringing the good with the bad, the abundant with the lean. Giving and taking away. Again and again.

For better or worse, nothing remains the same.

Some moments/days/seasons shine in unending brilliance. Others bring storm after storm that drench/disorient/destroy. Some people get more of one than the other, without explanation or fairness. I don’t know why, I just know that it is.

This weekend I witnessed the highest highs and lowest lows. By Monday my insides felt buffeted and bruised, yet bolstered. My emotions stretched to their limits.

On Saturday we laid to rest our dear friend Kirsten. A blanket of grief covered the service and we all cried a river of tears. Our hearts breaking for her family, lost without their center. But the Spirit of God moved among us, bringing hope and peace despite the circumstances. I saw faith.

The next day Dan and I attended the wedding of friends—giddy in love with each other, but even more in love with Jesus. Their passion contagious to all who gathered. Family and friends sharing tears of joy. Parents saying goodbye. Young lovers starting anew. I saw hope.

On Monday, we welcomed a new little one into our family. The miracle of new life so perfect and pure. This sweet blessing from above bringing joy and hope and the promise of new beginnings. I saw love.

In three days, in the best and the worst, I saw our humanity intertwined with the divine. I felt the touch of the Almighty.

You and I are part of something much larger than ourselves. We journey together, connected by hearts and history and happenstance. Life ebbs and flows, sometimes seeming random, chaotic, unfair, lucky or fated. But as the Bible says,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9)
Even though we cannot fully understand God’s ways or timing, it doesn’t make His plans any less perfect. Or His presence any less real. In every time there is love—from our heavenly Father and from one another. One day the tides of life will end and El Roi, the God who sees, will wipe the tears from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Life ebbs and flows, and love holds it together.

October 21, 2009

Into the Arms of Jesus

Yesterday Jesus called home our dear friend Kirsten.

Surrounded by the love of her husband, daughters and our pastor, and covered in prayer, she passed from this life into the embrace of our heavenly Father. A moment filled with overwhelming sadness, but also incredible beauty.

During her lengthy, but dignified battle with cancer, her church family, neighbors, long-time friends and many others surrounded Kirsten and her family with an outpouring of love shown through home made meals, prayers, visits, child care, hand holding, hugs and tears. All these actions stand as vivid testimony to her joyful, generous and grace-filled spirit. She loved freely and laughed often (long before these phrases became cliché). Though her time with us was cut short, Kirsten leaves behind a legacy of a life well-lived and well-loved. She was a friend to all, best friend to many.

Kirsten battled this dreaded disease the same way she lived her life—with grace and dignity. And by her, and her husband John’s, courageous and faith-filled example, showed us how to do the same. A lesson we’d rather not have learned, but one that will likely serve us well in the future.

I feel so blessed to have known Kirsten and call her friend. I'm humbled to have been invited into the sacred spaces of her last days. And I am overwhelmed that God prepared my heart, bolstered my faith and allowed me the privilege to enter into this experience because several years I couldn’t have. It would have been too much.

Death is unfamiliar territory for me. As the reality of loss began to sink in this morning, I thought about her husband and young daughters. I wondered how the sun had the audacity to rise. How could birds and squirrels forage for food? People scurry about their business? Life continue on? Don't they know?

It is the beginning of a new normal. We will never know this side of heaven “Why?” But I have faith that even this God will redeem for His glory. I have seen glimpses of that already.

Kirsten’s passing leaves a hole that we will forever hold dear—a space of joy and laughter and love. I’m sure she entered the gates of heaven and found Jesus waiting to welcome her home, “Kirsten, my child. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

October 15, 2009

Yet, I Have Hope

She is in the last stages of life.

Despite our efforts to keep it away, death lingers outside her door.

I’ve never been so close to it before. Never watched someone I love travel this journey.

Even though I’m but a spectator, the sadness lays on me like a leaden blanket. My insides clenched. Battered.

How can this be? It’s so cruel and unfair.

I pray with her and read Psalms and try to find words that comfort.

But what words can I find for a husband losing his wife.

To children losing their mother.

To a father losing his daughter.

Crying out, “Why!”

To respond with phrases of God’s love or His plan sound hollow and Pollyanna.

Words fail.

We prayed for healing. We prayed for a miracle. Our prayers have not been answered.

Our human minds do not understand why.

Does this mean God failed?

Is He a fair-weather god? Powerless or unwilling?

It is a moment of faith. Of choice.

Can we see God’s goodness when the situation is anything but?

Can we accept His will when it’s not our own?

Through this God has challenged me, “Do you believe I am who I say I am?”

Do I?

Do the words I write, the faith I profess, the beliefs I hold ring true as I witness the suffering?

My faith's been shaken. I've teetered.

But, even now, I do believe.

Even in this God has to be merciful and loving. He has to be bigger than the ravages of cancer, the anguish of suffering, the agony of loss.

Because if He isn’t what are we left with?

What is the point faith in the first place?

Jeremiah knew affliction.

In Lamentations 3 He wailed about the darkness in which he walked.

Broken physically, weighed down with chains, shut out from God, mangled, pierced, mocked, trampled in the dust, filled with bitterness and gall, deprived from peace.

And yet after 20 verses of distress he utters,

"Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." (v.21-23)

These words have given hope to Christians through the ages and inspired one of our most beloved hymns: Great is Thy Faithfulness.

So each time I visit my friend I bring Jesus with me, as I know others do as well.

I stand firm in my faith.

It’s all I can do.

Even though she’s a strong believer, her mind is shutting down. She’s sometimes confused and agitated. It’s wrenching to see.

Yesterday, as she settled down from such an episode, I sat at her bedside. We were alone for a few minutes. I think she knew who I was, but I’m not sure.

I told her, “I’m your friend and I love you. And even though you might not think so, God loves you to.”

I told her about heaven and the life waiting for her. How she’d sing and dance and run. That she’d be with everyone she loves. And that it would be more wonderful than the best day at the beach or the funnest vacation or the happiest day with her family.”

She listened intently and visibly settled.

“Do you really believe that?” She asked.

“Yes, I do.” I replied.

Our friend is a remarkable woman who she spreads love wherever she goes. The outpouring that surrounds her and her family stands as testimony to a life lived for Jesus. In every act of compassion and caring we see that love coming back. And we see His hands and feet, loving as He commanded.

Because of His great love, we are not consumed.

October 13, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Jesus Style

Yes, the closet cleaning frenzy continued in these parts. After successfully installing new closet organizers in my own closet, I turned my efforts (and my cordless drill) to my husband’s closet. He was out of town for a week and at the suggestion of my friend Sue J., I thought I’d surprise him with a brand new “clothes management system.” Even though Dan said he was perfectly content with his closet as it was, I knew how much better it could be. *grin*

Some wives “manage” their husband’s clothes, washing, ironing, putting them away and even packing for trips. I, however, am not that kind of wife so it felt a little odd to sort through Dan's closet. (I hoped he wouldn't be mad at the "invasion.") I proceeded with love and for several days painted, installed shelves and racks, bagged discarded clothes and re-organized/re-hung the closet’s contents. With everything back in place, I admired a job well done. Thankfully when Dan returned home, he agreed. Whew!

My daughter felt inspired by all this and asked me to help her redo her closet. We stripped her closet bare, paired down its contents, re-purposed available storage bins and in a few hours finished her closet transformation!

I can’t tell you how liberating it is to have such neat, functional and orderly closets. Each of us can easily find what we’re looking for. We’re wearing clothes we’d thought we lost in the chaos. And just looking into my closet makes me feel ten pounds lighter!

All this emptying, purging and reorganizing got me thinking about Jesus.

Doesn’t He want us to do the same in our own lives? Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23)

I look at the “closets” in my life and see I’m hesitant to submit to such a massive undoing. Sure I might seek His help to:

  • Discard a bag of habits.
  • Organize a shelf of quiet time.
  • Purge a basket of brokenness.
  • Rearrange a nook of busyness.
  • Clear out a corner of bitterness.

But in the end, I let go and hold tightly as I choose. Offering some but not all. What holds me back? My need for control? Fear? Disbelief? Self-sufficiency?

And unlike my taking over Dan’s closet, Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn’t force His way in. He waits for the invitation.

In My Heart – Christ’s Home, Robert Boyd Munger writes an allegorical tale about a man who slowly invites Jesus into the respectable rooms of His home. But when Jesus shows up at the door one day and asks to see a locked upstairs closet because it reeks, the man feels Jesus has gone too far. He wants to keep those rotten remnants of his old life. He's angry and wonders why Jesus can't be satisfied with the access He already has. To confront the closet with Jesus is more than he can bear. But as Jesus turns to leave, the man reluctantly gives in.

“I'll give You the key,” I said sadly, “but You will have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven’t the strength to do it.”

“Just give me the key,” He said. “Authorize me to take care of that closet and I will.”

With trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it, walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it. It was done in a moment’s time. Oh, what victory and release!

“Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the management of the whole house and operate it for me as You did that closet?”

His face lit up as He replied, “That is what I want to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. Let me do it through you and for you. But,” He added slowly, “I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine.”

Dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master.”

Lord, I'm tired of trying to organize my life on my own. I give you the key. I want an extreme makeover: Jesus style. Empty me. Fill me. With You. Amen.

Empty Me by Jeremy Camp

October 6, 2009

A Breath of Life from a Dead Prophet

The Old Testament is a tough read. Some of you avoid it at all costs. Others have read it in full— more than once. For years I stuck to the New Testament and avoided the Old altogether because it seemed so irrelevant and well, old. Besides, what could I learn from fantastical stories about arks and giants and big fish?

Turns out a lot.

My fourth grade knowledge of the Bible's most ancient text did a grave disservice to its complexity and depth of insight. I've found the more I venture into the Old Testament, the more I learn about God. The more I learn, the more awestruck I am of His Word—all of it.

Last week when I wrote about Jeremiah 29:11, I did some research on Jeremiah. In doing so I became intrigued and figured it was about time I tackled this book, the longest in the Bible.

However, since I recently struggled through reading Isaiah, I wasn't real anxious to read another prophet (there’s only so much wrath and destruction one can take.) But where Isaiah starts right off with divine anger, Jeremiah begins with tenderness.

I was unprepared to encounter God so gentle. So intimate. So patient. So loving.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:5-10)

I’m tangled in those words. Lost in His tender affirmation. Conscious of the still small voice that whispers to my soul:

“Kelli, long before you came to be, I knew you. I formed you and set you apart. You may not understand it, but I have a plan for your life. But, I need you to follow me.”

“But Lord, I don’t have what it takes. I’m too inexperienced. I’m filled with such doubt. Don’t you see all those more qualified?”

God replied, “Hush child, don’t forget that I see you not as you are, but as you will become. I didn’t create you to live in fear; I created you to fulfill my plans for your life. You must do as I say and go where I lead you. But remember you won’t be alone, I’m with you every step of the way. I made you, how can you doubt me?”

“Lord, I want to believe. Help my unbelief.”

God gently touched my lips, “Shh. I am giving you the words to say, the thoughts to write, the heart to love. As you follow my lead, you’ll go to many places and meet many people. Sometimes the message you carry will be easy, other times it will be difficult. Through it all, take heart because I’m with you and I’ll take care of you. Now let's get started.”

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You're in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak
Lyrics by Mercy Me

October 5, 2009

A Look at "A Slow Burn"

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of A Slow Burn, Mary DeMuth's sequel to Daisy Chain and the second installment of her Defiance Texas Trilogy. Here's a sneak peek:

"She touched Daisy’s shoulder. So cold. So hard. So unlike Daisy.

Yet so much like herself it made Emory shudder.

Burying her grief, Emory Chance is determined to find her daughter Daisy’s murderer-a man she saw in a flicker of a vision. But when the investigation hits every dead end, her despair escalates. As questions surrounding Daisy’s death continue to mount, Emory’s safety is shattered by the pursuit of a stranger, and she can’t shake the sickening fear that her own choices contributed to Daisy’s disappearance. Will she ever experience the peace her heart longs for?

This suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the power of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive."


Mary, how do you find time to write?
I make time to write. I give myself word count goals every day. While my children are at school, I work full time. Lately I’ve been writing and promoting like a crazy woman, pulling 10-12 hour shifts. Even so, it’s a priority for me to have a sit-down dinner with my family every night. It helps that I love to cook.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
I love the initial flurry of words on the page where I’m uninhibited. I love fleshing out a story as it comes to me. I see my novels on the movie screen of my mind, which may account for the visual nature of my narratives.

Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wrote the series of stories based on hearing friends of mine talk about their Christian homes that appeared great on the outside, only to hide abuse on the inside. This really bothered me. Daisy became the inciting incident to explore three people’s stories relating to authenticity and hiding. In book one, Daisy Chain, I explore a teenage boy’s perspective to a family in crisis. In book two, A Slow Burn, I examine what would it be like to have deep, deep mommy regrets enough to want to be free from them. In book three, Life in Defiance, I tell the conclusion of the story through a battered wife’s perspective.

I am not a teenage boy. Nor am I a neglectful mother. And I’m not a battered wife. But I’ve interacted with folks who are. It’s for them that I wrote these stories.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I had to figure out how a drug addict acted and thought. I had to research what drugs do to a person, particularly the lure and the trips they take folks on. I had to get into the mind of a drug addict, which wasn’t easy for me, someone who is terrified of drugs. I created Defiance from my head and my two-year stint in East Texas.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That God is bigger than our sin, our regret, our hopelessness. He takes delight in intersecting the darkest of circumstances. He is there, available.

To learn more about Mary DeMuth, you can visit her website at www.marydemuth.com.