Mourning & Joy (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 10, 2016)

On our drive down to California over the winter break (while two boys flew to Texas to visit family for a few days), one of the younger ones commented out of the blue, “Mom, I bet you feel normal right now.” Confused, I asked what he meant. He said, “Well, you only have three kids instead of five!”

 

I guess he was kinda right; I suppose we did look a little more “normal” to outsiders than usual. The thing is, though – this chaotic, smelly, loud blend of testosterone, unbridled energy, and a grocery bill that would blow your mind – this is our “normal.” After my world turned upside-down, inside-out, and sideways in January 2009, I struggled for a long while to figure out what “normal” was supposed to look like. Well, this is it.

 

Mourning & joy are odd bedfellows, but they are a recurring theme in the Bible (check out Psalm 30:11, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 31:13, John 16:20). God has a way of turning our darkest moments into opportunities for us to be a light of hope to others. Take this devotional, for example. Many of you have graciously commented to me over the years about different posts that have touched your heart in some way, and I cannot begin to tell you what that means to me. This devotional was born out of grief that was so painful, I had to write thoughts down to force myself to read my Bible consistently and to keep my sanity. My own healing process and spiritual growth have been poured out onto these pages, and you have walked alongside me through it. Thank you for that. To think that some of what I have experienced has also helped others with various trials in their lives is mind-blowing to me, and I’m grateful.

 

I’m not a fortune teller, and I don’t know what the new year holds for any of us. However, I can guarantee that there will be ups and downs along the way. Praise God; he is bigger than our problems! If you hold onto faith and trust in him, then he will light your way through the dark times. You’ll be able to look back days, months, or perhaps years later, and see that he never abandoned you. He even promised he wouldn’t (John 14:16, Hebrews 13:5)! He can help you find joy in the midst of mourning.

 

Our Year in Review (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 28, 2014)

Facebook has a slideshow feature where it takes your popular posts from the previous year and creates a highlight reel to share with your friends. It was interesting to walk down memory lane and revisit all the adventures that have taken place in 2014: graduation, a new job, a cross-country move, our first “real” winter … a lot of things have happened!

 

A year ago, I was up to my eyeballs with my dissertation, hoping the end was in sight. Ecclesiastes 12:12b (CEV) came to mind, as I thought about those months of research & writing: “There is no end to books, and too much study will wear you out.” Ha! That’s certainly how I felt, at that time. Now, that’s all behind me, and the tables are turned – I’m the one doling out assignments, not the one doing homework!

 

2014 was a roller coaster of emotions for me. It was nerve-wracking, at times, but also exciting. There have been other years – 2009 comes to mind right away – that were more dreadful than joyful, and I couldn’t wait for the calendar to turn. Maybe your 2014 wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Perhaps you are anxious for the year to be finished, so you can put it behind you. I can empathize, but take heart!

 

Maybe 2015 is your year for a Do Over. Perhaps you need a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate. We may not be able to have a Do Over in every area of our lives, but we can certainly get the New Year off to a great start, spiritually speaking. Lamentations 3:21-23 reminds us that God’s mercies are new every morning. We don’t need to jumpstart the year with fireworks and a midnight toast to take advantage of God’s Do Over offer. We can start anew TODAY.

 

While I got a good laugh out of Ecclesiastes 12:12 mentioned above, the rest of that chapter really hits home, as we think about the coming New Year. The author writes in verses 13-14 (CEV): “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.”

 

Instead of dwelling on what might have gone wrong in 2014, let’s focus on honoring God in 2015. Just imagine what He can do!!

I want to be a part of that! (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 2, 2014)

I try really hard not to single out one kid over another (for better or for worse), but sometimes one of them says or does something that brings me to my knees (usually in prayer for endurance & peace, but other times for gratitude that God is allowing me to witness his work in their lives). One such gratitude-moment happened the other day, when my eldest and I were in the car together.

 

He was telling me something the youth minister had taught about the apostle Paul. He explained how whenever Paul went to a new city, he made a big impact, and the place was changed for the gospel. The youth minister then told the teens that THEY could be like Paul in our community, to make an everlasting imprint here for Christ. My son finished the story and then said, “Man, I want to be a part of that!”

 

There are a bazillion reasons that I could brag about why this kid makes me proud. He’s bright, funny, has more musical talent in his pinky finger than I have in my whole body, makes good grades, is a huge help around the house and with his little brothers … the list could go on and on. Yet, none of those accolades compares to the joy I felt as a parent when my son said that he wants to be a part of what God is doing in this place.

 

That same missions-minded Paul also served as a mentor for a young man named Timothy. I don’t know exactly how old Timothy was, at the time, but Paul once told him: “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4: 11-12, NIV).

 

Ministry isn’t just for the pastors, elders, Life group hosts, and other lay leaders. What are you and I doing to encourage each other – and even our youth – to become ministers in their own circles? We hear a lot about how our youth are the leaders of tomorrow, and while that is true, it’s not the whole story. They are leaders NOW. Let us encourage them in word and example.

5 years

Ang and Nathan on benchFive years seems like it should sweep in with some sort of fanfare, but it feels like just another day. I mentioned before that I’m on a journey to reclaim January by making a concerted effort not to let this month defeat me. For the past four Januaries, I’ve slumped into a pity party, and I’m trying hard not to do that again this year.Ang and Nathan by Christmas tree

Still, I do feel reminiscent during this month, especially leading up to today. I miss my brother like crazy, each and every day.

There are plenty of things that make me feel sad, but if I concentrate, there are even more things that make me feel happy … and better than happy, but also joyful and certainly grateful:

  • I got to know him for 30 years plus a few months, and we became good friends.
  • We were baptized on the same day, and I remember it fondly.
  • I will get to see him again some day and never ever have to say goodbye. Hallelujah!
  • Nathan selfieI get to see his smirk,
    • his demeanor,
    • his mannerisms,
    • his smart*ss attitude (LOL), and
    • his facial expressions in his sons every day.
  • I had my personal IT support hotline for years! 🙂
  • I got to meet the love of his life, and I’m doubly blessed that we remain “sisters-in-love” all these years later.
  • I got to receive more bear hugs than I can count.
  • I always knew that he had my back, even when we disagreed.

Miracle Mercy (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 1, 2013)

It’s no wonder why the holiday season is such a difficult time for those who grieve. Part of it probably relates to the weather: it’s often dreary, cold and dark, and seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Perhaps a bigger issue, though, is that we’re “supposed” to spend time with loved ones around the holidays, so when they aren’t there, the loss is palpable.

I don’t need a TARDIS or DeLorean to transport me back to that night of racing down the highway nearly five years ago, trying to get to the hospital. The too-familiar fear and restlessness are just under the surface, and when the memories hit me unexpectedly, I catch myself at times staring at nothing, while scenes from that night flash through my mind’s eye like a horror movie that won’t end. He’s supposed to be here, sneaking bites of cornbread dressing before our big family dinner and then arm-wrestling me for the last slice of coconut meringue pie.

But he isn’t. And life goes on. It’s times like this when giving thanks is a deliberate choice, because wallowing in self-pity is a pointless endeavor. When you don’t particularly feel grateful for your lot in life, you have to take initiative to find things for which to be thankful. It’s easy to get bogged down in how we feel and forget that God is still on his throne; he’s still the Lord of the universe. And he still cares for you and me more than we can ever comprehend.

In Psalm 107:2a, the author says to “let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (NIV). The poem goes on to describe many of the ways that God intervened in the lives of his people, rescuing and providing for them, even when they rebelled against him. Four different times, the poem says, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (NIV). In another translation, that same passage reads: “So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves” (MSG).

Miracle mercy, indeed! Friends, I don’t know what you are going through this holiday season. I hope that you are bubbling over with joy, but in case you are struggling (like I sometimes do), I urge you to make a purposeful effort to thank God for his miracle mercy in your life. Don’t focus only on the hard times; turn your attention to God’s goodness and let his peace soothe your heart.