Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First World Problems

Matthew 6:25-27, 31-34
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Last week I was driving to work, sitting in traffic on US 29, when a lady going 50-60 mph slammed into the back of my car, effectively bending the steel frame and warping the entire body of my Expedition (which is basically a tank). Both vehicles were totaled at the scene of the crash. 

As I screamed and my body was jolted from the impact, this verse instantly flashed through my mind:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It didn’t make any sense. Here I sat, stunned from this collision, writhing in pain, and yet God was speaking to my heart: Don’t worry about tomorrow. I will take care of you.

No Lord… I'm not worried about tomorrow. I’m worried about RIGHT NOW! 

My car! My back! My budget! #ouch

I’m a planner. I like to have a plan laid out for things. Budgets, schedules, to-do lists – it’s all organized. And I wasn’t planning to buy a new car this month. 

First world problems.

I tend to get worked up and worried about unforeseen circumstances or expenses. God knows that. He knows my insecurities. And at EXACTLY the right moment – in the midst of a traumatic accident – He encouraged my heart with those words: Don’t worry about tomorrow. I will take care of you.

He is faithful. 

His words are true. Wherever you are today, whatever you're going through - God knows. And you can trust His word:

Philippians 4:19
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 37:25
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.


God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Every dollar in the world’s economy belongs to Him. And He will provide! 

Whatever giants you're facing  whether it's sickness, a financial need, uncertainty, or just first world problems  God is with you. Even when you can’t see the next step, you can see the hand that’s leading you there, and that’s enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ben Sauer


This story really messed me up. Rarely do I question God’s goodness.


Rarely am I moved to tears by the circumstances of a complete stranger.

But reading the story of Ben Sauer has me completely baffled and broken.

·         How could a loving, compassionate God allow a sweet 5-year-old boy to suffer and die from a cancerous brain tumor?

·         In light of the support from his New York community and media coverage around the world, wouldn’t it have been better for God to miraculously heal this little boy, and show Himself strong on the child’s behalf?

·         How do Ben’s parents find such strength? If my child was battling brain cancer, I’d be a complete basket case. But the Sauer family seems to be a pinnacle of grace.

In February 2014, Ben was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor. Its growth would eventually impair his ability to walk, talk, and function as it spread to the areas of his brain that controlled those capabilities. He and his twin brother turned 5 on May 5th, 2014. Ben took his last breath on May 13th, 2014.

I’m not sure why this story hits close to home.

·         Maybe it’s our mutual friends from New York who know the Sauer family.

·         Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter recently had a traumatic hospitalization, but she was healed and will celebrate her 4th birthday next week.

·         Maybe it’s just the familiar sting of pain when we experience loss while expecting a miracle.

Whatever the reason, my heart is heavy for the family of Ben Sauer.

I couldn’t imagine losing a child to cancer. My daughters are so bright and full of life, it just seems backwards to think of that. Why should an innocent child suffer? Isn’t that unfair? Doesn’t God want to bless His children with good things?

The truth is simple: God does bless us with good things. Ben Sauer’s life is a testament of that.

When Ben was born, God gave an undeserved miracle.

Every day that Ben lived, God gave an undeserved miracle.

In the news articles and prayers lifted by millions, God gave an undeserved miracle.

In the final hours of his life and his peaceful transition from this life to the next, God gave an undeserved miracle.

The problem with our human perspective is that we only see one piece of the puzzle. God sees the complete picture. He sees beyond the frailty of our limited understanding, and works all things together for good.

Imagine, for a moment, that you went to a restaurant for dinner. Sitting across the room, there was a white-haired gentleman dining alone. After you ordered and finished your meal, the waitress informed you that the white-haired gentleman paid for your dinner. You approached the man to thank him for his generosity.

“It is so kind of you to pay for my meal, but I really can’t accept it,” you said. However, he insisted, so you thanked him and left.

The next evening, you returned to the same restaurant for dinner. The white-haired gentleman was there again, dining alone. You ordered a meal and ate, and again, the man paid for your meal. Surprised, you expressed your gratitude and left.

You ate at that restaurant every night for 30 days, and every night, the man paid for your meal. After a while, it became routine. You just grew accustomed to the man’s kindness and generosity.

On the 31st day, you went to the restaurant for dinner and the gentleman was there. Only this time, he did not pay for your meal. He paid for another person’s meal.

How would you respond? Would you thank him for all the meals he supplied for you? Or would you hurl insults, blaming him for denying a blessing, questioning his goodness?

I am not entitled to a thing. I didn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps. I am where I am today because of God’s blessing on my life. His unmerited, undeserved favor is the only thing that sustains me.

When the time comes to cross from this life to the next - even in death - God’s goodness is real. We cannot earn His blessing. He blesses because that’s who He is. Goodness and mercy are His unwavering attributes. And His nature is the only thing that we can rely on to faithfully carry us in life and in death.

And if death comes sooner than we might anticipate, rather than question God’s goodness, why not just offer a simple prayer of thanks?

For Ben Sauer’s life, thank you, God.

For Ben Sauer’s new life in heaven, thank you, God.

For working undeserved miracles every day, thank you, God.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Perspective from 40,000 Feet

Was that coffee and breakfast pastry really worth $16.42?

Yes. Yes it was.

With a 5:29 a.m. flight, I needed it. Nevermind the captive-audience airport prices. I’m caffeinated and my blood-sugar is normalized. It was worth every penny.

The roaring hum of the jet engine outside my window creates a soothing ambiance for reflection. The in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t seem to have enough bandwidth for the planeful of passengers using it, so I’m closing the reports and turning to my creative outlet – writing.

It’s funny how a little altitude can give you such perspective. It’s refreshing to get a birds-eye view of things as you fly over. Cities, rivers, mountains – even the Grand Canyon – seem so small from this height.

Isn’t that just like our lives? Our mountains can seem so big when we’re on the ground – in the midst of our troubles – looking up at the enormous tasks that lie ahead. But when we’re above the clouds, over the mist and the fog, a clear perspective can change everything.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all faced mountains that seem insurmountable. The invoice from the collections agency. The call from the principal’s office. The bad news from the doctor. Troubles that would almost crush us from the pressure.

I would submit that this concept of retreating to the skies should play a major role in our daily living. Our problems take on new meaning when we look at them from 40,000 feet.

Take yourself out of the situation for a moment. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about the big picture. What does it look like from a high level? Where are you really headed?

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the details – or even just the day-to-day monotony. Get up. Get the kids ready for school. Get to work. Perform. Excel. Achieve. Get the kids from school. Get the kids to soccer. Be everything. To everyone. Repeat.

What does it mean in the long run?

You must understand that the little choices you make in your relationships and your daily interactions make a huge impact in the grand scheme of things. You’re touching people’s lives. Every moment. And that’s of eternal significance. Don’t waste it.

Success is determined by your character and relationships. Be faithful in the little things.

Taking time to refocus on your priorities gives a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Step aside for a moment. Pray. Realize that the circumstances in which you find yourself today will not always be the same.

You’ll get through this. 

When all else fails, look up. Because it’s in those moments that you’ll find the strength you need to look forward.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Next Step

January 29, 2014

Dear Rachel,

Tonight you fell asleep on my shoulder. You're a strong, inquisitive, independent 2-year-old, and it's been too long since I felt the soft sighs of your restful breathing on my neck. I didn't want to disturb your slumber. I just wanted to treasure the moment and feel the warmth of my baby's trusting embrace.

We had a fun-filled day, celebrating Aunt Hope's birthday at Walt Disney World. We ate dinner together at the Liberty Tea Tavern in the Magic Kingdom. You asked to go to the bathroom about 5 times during dinner, maybe because the bathrooms in this particular restaurant were upstairs, and it was quite entertaining to go up and down the stairs.

As we descended the staircase after one such trip to the bathroom, you insisted on walking down the steps all by yourself. You said, "No, I'm big girl" as you pushed away my hand. I kept my hand close to yours so I could offer assistance if you needed it.

You beamed with pride as you grabbed the handrail (which was almost out of your reach) and slowly stretched your white Velcro-top sneaker down to the next step. Just before your toe touched the next step, you became uncertain and began to lose your balance so you quickly reached for my hand. The moment you touched my hand and realized I would catch you if you fell, you pushed me away and again said confidently, "I'm big girl. I do it by myself."

This process repeated itself about 12 times, on every step down the entire flight of stairs. It took us a while, but with patience and persistence, we made it downstairs safely.

As I observed our interactions on the staircase, I had a moment of clarity:

Isn't that just like our walk with God?

  • We want to do things our own way.
  • We want to rely on our own strength.
  • We want to do it by ourselves.


Then we lose our balance. We can't see the next step. We become afraid and reach out for a hand to hold.

That's when God reassures us with His presence and His guidance. He's always there for you, walking beside you, ready to catch you if you fall.

In my life, I've made so many decisions relying on my own strength. And I've experienced moments of deep discouragement, when I've questioned everything. In those times, God has strengthened me with His presence, and restored my confidence as His child.

You know the funny thing? Even as independent as you are (typical for a 2-year-old little girl learning to do things for herself), you still fell asleep on my shoulder tonight. There couldn't be a more trusting, dependent posture than the one you assumed by sleeping on me. And in those times - those precious times - you admit that you still need me.

Throughout your life, you may find yourself feeling alone or struggling to find the next step. Always remember that God is with you, holding your hand, and even carrying you when you're too weak to walk.

Trust Him.

He will never leave you. And He will give you strength for the journey.

I love you so very much!!


Mommy

Saturday, January 25, 2014

No one cares about Justin Bieber's arrest

No one cares about Justin Bieber's arrest. Or Jennifer Lawrence's wardrobe. Or Miley Cyrus's hair.

At least, not in a deeply personal, life-altering way. 

Ok, maybe some people do care that much. 

But for most of us, while tabloids exploit the personal lives of these celebrities for sheer entertainment value, we move on with our lives as usual, because - quite frankly - the headlines just don't matter. 

Really

What difference does it make in my life? None. 

Will pop culture impact my life for the better? Not likely. 

Am I a better person for having kept up with celebrity gossip? Nope. 

Let's be honest.

The people who make the greatest impact on your life aren't famous. They're not drawing attention from the media. They're not delivering a political speech, playing in the Super Bowl, or posing for cameras on the red carpet.

The people who make the greatest impact on your life are those who are closest to you. 

The teacher who invests in you. 

The boss who welcomes your ideas.

The coach who believes in you. 

The friend who listens to you. 

The spouse who loves you. 

The children who make you laugh. 

It's the people we spend our everyday lives with who truly make a difference. They share their hearts. They encourage us. They lift us up when we fall down. And they commit themselves to deeply loving the people around them. 

My piano teacher was one such individual. I studied with him from middle school through college. He never gave up on me. He continuously encouraged me. He saw the best in me when I was ready to throw in the towel. And he pushed me to achieve more than I ever dreamed. 

With his persistence - and the loving support of my parents - I chose to major in music. I wrote and recorded 4 albums before graduating summa cum laude from a highly competitive music program. He believed in me. And he was the kind of guy that wouldn't let me falter - even if it meant he had to hold my hand every step of the way.

He passed away unexpectedly eight years ago, well before his time. The very last time we talked, he spoke with the usual direct enthusiasm that I had come to know and love. These were his last words to me: "Don't you EVER quit singing and playing. You're too talented! Use those gifts, girl!"

Yes, sir. 

THAT is the kind of power and impact we should all strive to have in the lives around us. 

Contagious joy.

Loving honesty.

Undiminished enthusiasm. 

Faithful commitment. 

Be the encourager. Be the believer. Be the best friend.

Because someday when your friends and family look back and recall the relationships that have meant the most to them throughout life, they probably won't think of Justin Bieber. They'll think of you. 


Dedicated to Scottt E. Sward
Aug. 24, 1962 - Jan. 25, 2006


Photo credit: MGOETZ/SPLASH NEWS

Friday, October 25, 2013

Letters to Julia: The Necessary Process of Transition

I write a lot of letters to my baby girls. If you're a parent and you haven't already adopted this practice, I highly recommend it.  Tell them stories. Tell them about their character.  Tell them what you've learned.  Tell them how much you love them.  Tell them.

Hand write it, type it and print it, or just write an email to yourself and save it in a special folder. Someday, when they're graduating high school, getting married, or applying to graduate school, you'll be glad you did. I hope to make a little book for each of my kids with the letters I wrote them. Here is one such letter, written for Julia on the day she lost her first tooth:


October 24, 2013

Dear Julia,

Today you lost your first tooth. You're only 3 and a half. It was a shock to me, and something I wasn't expecting, but you handled it like a champ.

You were climbing up the slide at the playground (in your usual ambitious spirit) and slipped over the side, landing face down, and effectively displacing your top right front tooth, root and all.

You cried for a minute from the surprise, then laughed it off, with your ever joyful attitude.

We rushed you off to the pediatric emergency dentist (with the tooth in a bottle of milk to preserve it). You played happily in the waiting room, not fully aware of the situation, but totally willing to go along with it. Your laid back, unassuming, relaxed demeanor was totally opposite of mine: frantic, worried, and scared.

I asked if the dentist could please put your tooth back. He explained that it couldn't be done and cited concerns that it could graft to the bone and cause complications for your permanent teeth later. After all, it was "just a baby tooth."

But it wasn't just a baby tooth. That little tooth was one of the first you ever teethed on. One of the first you ever brushed. And it was a perfect little piece of my firstborn baby girl. I wasn't ready to let go of it. It would be 2-3 years before your permanent tooth would replace it, and I guess I just didn't want you to have a gap in your smile for that long.

You sat in the dentist's chair so patiently as they examined your teeth and took some x-rays, obliging them of every little request with polite obedience. You asked me to hold your hand. I think it was more for my comfort than yours.

They told you that you could pick 2 prizes for being so good. You chose a bouncy ball for your first prize. When I asked you what you'd like for your second prize, you looked at all the stickers, balloons, cars, rings, and said, "I want to bring home a bouncy ball for Rachel, too." What a kind, selfless act! You had just experienced one of the most traumatic experiences of your life, and you were still thinking about others. You wanted to surprise your sister.

When we left the dentist's office, we got you a strawberry smoothie. You sat in your Graco car seat (at 27 lbs.) and drank the whole thing.

As we drove home, you began sensing the emptiness in your mouth, feeling the void in your top gum line with your tongue. You said, "Mommy, I want my tooth back now."

Later, you asked again, "Can I please have a new tooth?"

My eyes welled up with tears as I tried to explain the process: "Well, you'll get a new tooth there, but it has to grow first. You need to wait for it."

Oh, if only I could ease your pain! I'd do anything to go through this instead of you. But, my sweet Julia, there's a reason.

With every phase of life, we have to go through transition. We have to let go of the old to welcome the new. We have to experience loss to appreciate gain. And we have to endure pain for growth.

It's easy to want to go back. You're used to that old tooth. It felt normal to have it. And now in the early stages of life without it, you're unsure and you might feel apprehensive.

Know this, Julia: better things are coming. Pain doesn't last forever. Although change is inevitable, God's guidance and loving presence are always with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.

Life will be full of moments like today. You may lose things. You may be taken off guard by an unexpected turn of events. You may be left in a holding pattern, wondering when the next thing will show up.

But be sure of this - God loves you. I love you. Daddy loves you. Your whole family loves you. And there's a reason for everything you experience, even if it's just to prepare you for what's next.

You are a beautiful girl, Julia. Inside and out.

Love,

Mommy

Monday, September 30, 2013

Make your words sweet – someday you’ll be eating them

We’ve all been there. That awkward moment when you find yourself doing exactly the thing you said you’d never do. Maybe it involved:
  •  Eating something you said you’d never eat
  • Visiting a place you said you’d never go
  • Trying something you said you’d never do

And you actually enjoyed it.

Or maybe it was sad realizing that you broke your promise to yourself – or that you’d promised something so odd in the first place.

Whether it’s big or small, we all make claims about our lives before we understand the long-term repercussions:
  • “I’ll never go there again.”
  • “I promise I’ll never do that.”
  • “When I have kids, I’ll never let them behave like that. 

We make pseudo-commitments to ourselves that preclude us from experiencing real life. What we don’t realize is that the way we live now is not the way we will always live. Life changes day to day, and the circumstances we find ourselves in will not always be exactly the same.

I’ve eaten many of my own words. Some were good, some were bad, and some were downright bitter. The worst ones were those I said when I had no insight into a particular way of life. For example, before I had kids, I told myself I wouldn’t allow my children to watch TV.

Gulp.

That was a tough one to swallow.

Although optimistic, it was completely unrealistic for me to make that promise in a world where society is so infiltrated with media and technology. I don’t know why I thought it was possible!

Now, I’m not saying you should compromise your convictions. If you believe in something very strongly, please stand your ground. But before you exclude other options, think about the basis for your claim. What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks?

Some of the most damaging claims we can make are those regarding our relationships:
  • “She’s not trustworthy. I can’t trust her with anything.”
  • “I refuse to talk to him. He’s so selfish.”
  • “I never want to see her again.”
  • “I can’t forgive him.”

When you think or say things like that, it becomes solidified in your mind and you behave differently around those people. It will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you said it, you’ll believe it. Even though you’ve been hurt, you’ll back yourself into a corner and you might not be able to escape.  And you’ll also limit the offending party from being able to repair a right relationship with you.

Life is too short to ever burn a bridge. The lives you touch are the most important thing you will ever know. Handle with care.

So make your words sweet. Sprinkle them with grace and truth. That way, when you end up eating them someday, you won’t mind the taste.  

Photo credit: www.jeremiah-2911.com