Window Shopping

I love living on the Westside of Paso Robles. With the renovation of the downtown area, Paso has been able to keep the small town atmosphere alive and well on the Westside. This is a great time of the year to stroll along the streets of downtown. The shopkeepers are all busy decorating their store fronts for the holidays. I love window shopping at the furniture and decorator stores. The displays of their living areas are warm and inviting. The rooms are always accessorized perfectly. There is never anything out of place. As I gaze longing into the windows, I imagine myself sitting on one of the cozy sofas with a cup of coffee and having a long chat with a dear friend.

It is entertaining to imagine living in that perfect room in the window, but reality soon creeps in. I live on the other side of the window in a world where life is not perfect, where my living room is not accessorized perfectly. Dirty cups reside on the table and stray socks hide under the sofa.

So it is with our spiritual lives. My heart longs to live in a perfect world with a perfect family, perfect friends, and a perfect church. I desire to be a perfect wife, mother and friend. But I am a sinner living in a world marred by sin where perfection is an illusion. I am thankful that my family and friends love me enough to forgive me of my sin and imperfections. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father uses this imperfect world to refine me and smooth out my rough edges. I am thankful that Jesus challenges me to live out the Sermon on the Mount, causing me to struggle with the same questions; “who is my neighbor; how many times must I forgive; what does it mean to be light to the world?”

My heart also longs for God. David cried out in Psalm 63, “My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David could not quench his thirst for God. Often I try to fill my hunger for God with other things, other enticements, but they never satisfy. They are only temporary distractions. Perhaps our longing for God is not meant to be satisfied until we reach heaven. The prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 26:8, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.”

C.S. Lewis said in his book, The Weight of Glory

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
We are on the outside of the world, strangers in a strange land. But it will not also be so. Jesus promised the disciples and us in John 14 that someday we would dwell with Him in our Father’s house. I long for the day when I shall get IN, when I can mingle with the splendor. When that day arrives, I will no longer be on the outside of the window looking in. I will be sitting on a cozy sofa having a long chat with a Dear Friend.

Love And Marriage

I recently attended the wedding of my nephew to a wonderful Godly young woman. It was a grand, celebratory occasion. I gathered with two of my kids, and their spouses, my sisters and their husbands, and my brothers and their wives. We sat around our table laughing and remembering the crazy things that happened at our own weddings.  I reveled in the fact that all us are on our first and only marriages and all lasting many years (from my little brother at 18 to my oldest sister at 48 years). During a lull in the conversation I glanced over at the bride and groom and smiled at the look of promise, hope, and love in their eyes.

Thirty-seven years ago this July 1, I was one of those brides. Looking back I realize how little I knew about marriage. Not long after our wedding, I came to realize that marriage is not all romance and flowers, and my husband realized that I would not always be at the door when he came home with dinner on the table and slippers in hand.

Both my husband and I have had to adjust our expectations of marriage and our life together. I thought he would always pick up his own clothes, he thought I would always put the cap back on the toothpaste. We both thought our spouses would always put our needs above their own. Somewhere is the process of the “Will you marry me?” and the “I dos” we forgot we each were marrying sinners. Fortunately, we are sinners saved and sanctified by a longsuffering God who refines us continually.

I wince at the line in so many movies where two people are seeking their soul mates. I am not sure we marry our soul mates, but I know that we can become those soul mates for one another.

God’s plan for marriage is to use us and our spouses to sanctify each other. Like sandpaper on wood, we rub, scrub and scour one another within the most intimate of relationships this side of heaven.  We chafe, we irritate, we sin, we repent, we reconcile, we are changed. And it is all part of God’s plan.

I think we have bought into the false notion that marriage will be comfortable, easy and we will always get along and agree. I’ve heard friends say, “it shouldn’t be this hard!” In his book, What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp says “God has designed marriage to be one of his most effective tools toward personal holiness. Your differences and difficulties that they place you in are not a sign that God has forgotten you…they are not an interruption of his plan; they are part of his plan. “

Paul also says “when viewing our differences in marriage it is important to remember that these things are not to be viewed as the potholes to be avoided on the road to a good marriage but as effective instruments of change in the hands of a loving, wise and faithful Redeemer. “

When I came to see God’s true purpose for me in my marriage, it changed my point of view drastically. I stopped trying to be a better wife and mother and focused instead on becoming a woman of God pursuing holiness, which made me a better wife and mother. It became not about what I was trying to do, but what God was doing in me. Because God loves me, I then want to respect and love my husband and live out the gospel in my marriage on a daily basis.

Balancing family, an outside, job, and ministry life as a young woman was difficult for me for many years. I often felt cheated out of “me time”; resentment would grow, and I would neglect nurturing the one earthly relationship that God views as “holy.”  I am thankful for God and my husband helping me to root out my sin, thankful for confession, repentance and reconciliation. I am thankful that because of their patience and love I now see a bit more of Jesus in me.

I am very fortunate and blessed that I married a man who was also committed to allowing God to refine him. Confession, repentance, and reconciliation have become a part of our relationship. He is committed to loving me as Christ loved the church, and I am committed to respecting him, both out of obedience to God. We have learned to major on the majors and not on the minors. We have learned that our differences are often a matter of tastes and preferences.  If the clothes do not make it into the hamper it is ok. It is not a statement on our relationship.

I Corinthians has often been called the “love chapter” and is read at many weddings. I love the way it is worded in The Message Bible,

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

You can hear many statistics on the divorce rate in America both in and out of church. I don’t know why some marriages fail and others succeed. I only know why mine has and it is summed up in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13…

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly ( I Cor 13:13).  Now that’s great marriage advice.

Letting Go

It is almost September again, the time of year when mothers and fathers are sending their children off to pre-school, kindergarten or college for the first time. Some children will laugh and run right into their class. Some will hang on tightly to mother’s or father’s hand. Some parents will be celebrating their new freedom; some will be mourning the loss of a childhood. Whatever the scenario, I’ve come to realize that letting go of our children is a natural progression of life.

I remember several years ago when we dropped our son off at college for the first time. We packed all his worldly belongings into a 1995 Ford Taurus and headed for Biola University in La Mirada, California. He was almost 21 at the time and had worked and gone to junior college for several years before transferring to the university. He was ready to go and I felt confident that he would do well there. I was ready for him to go; ready for him to experience life outside of our small town; ready for him to know what it is like to live on his own; ready for him to meet new people and make friends whom he will hopefully have for a lifetime. And yes, ready for him to meet a “nice Christian girl” and settle down. I was ready to let go.

Letting go is a process. Their first step, their first sleep-over, the first day of school, to their first trip without you is a progression of trust for both parent and child. The child trusts that mom and dad will still be there when they return and will joyfully welcome them home. The parents trust that the child will remember what they’ve been taught and wear clean underwear.

Each new adventure our children have tests our parenting skills and our faith in God. It is through the raising of our children that we learn about God and about ourselves. Our children teach us how to live and love like Jesus. We learn what it means to love unconditionally. We learn how to care about someone other than ourselves. We know how it feels to love someone enough to give our life for that person. We learn how to trust God more completely as we must now trust him with our most precious possession. We learn how to pray. 

After my son Joel preached at our church for the first time, I received many compliments. “You have done a great job parenting”, people said. “You have raised him well.” The truth is he has raised me well. He has made me a better parent, a better person.

They say when you become a parent your heart is never again your own. I suppose this is true as it feels that a part of my heart is now at Biola. The humorist Erma Bombeck said children are like kites. “You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless … they crash … you add a longer tail … they hit the rooftop … you pluck them out of the spout. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly. Finally, they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant, and somehow you know that it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar — free and alone. Only then do you know that you did your job.”

I am ready to stand back and watch my son soar to new heights and a new direction knowing that his kite string is still fully in hands of his Heavenly Father.

A few weeks after I dropped my son off at college he called me.  He needed my help, he frantically said. “What is wrong!” I replied. I am already calculating how long it would take me to get to La Mirada. “I’ve gotten a piece of dental floss stuck in my tooth and I can’t get it out!” he exclaimed. As I try to contain my laughter he continued, “It is not funny, Mom! I have class in an hour and this piece of floss is so big you could hang something on it.”

Ever the loving supportive mother, I gave him some tips on removing the floss, but not before I ask him to send me a photo of his predicament with his camera phone. As my cell phones beeps again with the incoming photo, I sighed. “Ah, my son still needs me.”

Home for the Holidays

There is something about Christmas that always causes me to remember the Christmases of my childhood. It was a special time of year for my  family, especially us six kids. We did not have a lot of money growing up so we really only got presents at birthdays and at Christmastime. We did get new clothes when school started but the “newness” of those things was long gone by December.  When I was very young we did not get our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. We were told that it was a German tradition my dad brought from his family. When I became an adult I found out that dad went out Christmas Eve to get the tree because he could get a cheaper price that way. My mother finally convinced my dad to loosen up his wallet a bit and let us get our tree earlier in the season so we could enjoy it longer.

The anticipation of Christmas morning was almost more than we would handle as kids. The days leading up to Christmas were filled with excitement, wonder, and childhood joy. Christmas morning began at 6am but we were always awake well before then. We would try every year to get Mom and Dad to get up earlier, but they always banished us from their room until the appointed time.  Dad would gather us all around the tree and he would pass out the gifts one at a time to each child. We would excitedly watch one another open our gifts with as much glee as when we opened our own.  The gift exchange was followed by breakfast and then going outside to play with our new toys (it was California Christmas weather), while Mom began preparing our lavish Christmas dinner. Even after all of us “kids” were married with our own families, we continued to gather at Mom and Dad’s house to celebrate  Christmas and enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner with the family.

Our holidays are much different these days. Both Mom and Dad are gone now and our own families have spread across California making it difficult to spend the holiday together.  I look forward to the time when I will have married  children and grandchildren coming home for the holiday and reliving our family traditions.

As I reflect on the years I returned home for Christmas, I praise God that Jesus did just the opposite.  God the Father sent his son, Jesus, from the only home he had known in heaven to live on earth. He spent 9 months in the womb of a unwed teenage mother. He was not born in his parents’ hometown of Nazareth but Bethlehem to fulfill God’s promise.  And his actual birth occurred not in a home but in a stable. Not the place one would expect to find a king. Thus began a life of homelessness for the Promised One.

Jesus left his home in order to bring us back home to our Heavenly Father who awaits our arrival. Jesus is there now preparing our home for us and when it is ready, He is coming back for us to bring us home. (John 14)

The miracle of the incarnation made possible the miracle of salvation. We marvel at how God, the creator of the  universe, could become man. Yet we should also marvel at how God could love us so much that He would leave His heavenly throne to become like us. The miracle of Christmas is not just that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” but that God chose to love us at all. Because of Christmas and because of Easter, I now have a new home waiting for me in Heaven where much of my family now resides.  I’m sad that I won’t be able to be with my extended family this year. However, I have great joy and confidence knowing that one day I will be home for the holidays; home with my King whose birth we celebrate.

Dear Pat Robertson

This week the Evangelical World was abuzz over the comments of Pat Robertson on his show “The 700 Club”.  A viewer called in to ask a question about his friend whose wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”

“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone “

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her.”

Robertson’s comment has set the evangelical blogosphere afire with comments and criticisms. While I cannot do this topic justice as Russell Moore has on his blog,  or Joni Erickson Tada on her web site, I can add my own experience with this situation; or rather my mother’s.

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was in his early 60’s. He lived almost 20 years with the disease. His Alzheimer’s did not progress as rapidly as some. In fact when first diagnosed we wondered if Mom was not imagining his symptoms. But time proved her correct and her early detection allowed Dad to get on some medication that seemed to slow the effects of the disease. Still is was a difficult life for Mom, one she did not chose nor would she wish on anyone else.  She nursed her mentally handicapped younger sister until that sister’s death of cancer. Then she took care of Dad until a brain tumor took her from us suddenly in 2004. I think God decided to spare my mom more years of care-taking by taking her home. It would be my sister-law Kathy and my brother Bob who would take care of Dad the last few years of his life. (if I was Catholic I would recommend Kathy for sainthood)

I think what makes my mom’s situation all the more unique is that Mom chose to remarry Dad after being divorced for 15 years; a divorce that she did not want but he did due to his infidelity with another woman. She forgave him and choose to marry him again years later, for better or worse, till death do us part. 

So I have not only the example of Jesus Christ in the Bible of what love and commitment looks like; I had a real life example in Bettie Jane Reeves Hoke  as to what love and commitment looks like.

So Mr. Robertson though your choice may be easy more palatable  one, it is not the one I will make; it is not the one I wish my husband to make; it is not the one my mother made; and it is not the one my Lord made when He decided to give his life for me his bride and stick with me for better or for worse; till death unites us at His throne.

A Father’s Epitaph

It was 1:30am when the phone rang. “He’s gone. “ She said.
“Ok.” I replied. I did not know what else to say.
“At least he did not linger in pain for weeks.” She replied
“Praise God for that. I guess I will talk to you tomorrow about the arrangements.” I answered.
“Yes, “ she said. “Goodnight.”
I hung up the phone and went back to bed. Sleep evaded me as my mind traveled back over 50 years of memories with my dad.

Dad was born in upstate New York to a hard working German couple. The 5th of 15 children, family, fun and the farm were the most important things to him. He always considered himself a farm kid which in those days was not saying much. In 1947, he met and married a beautiful southern gal named Bettie Jane Reeves. Though military rules forbade them from fraternizing (she outranked him) that did not stop Dad. He wooed her with his charm and charisma and they married in June of 1947. A daughter was born in 1948, another daughter in 1950, and the first son in 1952. They moved around a lot then and Dad went from job to job. Mom said he always had a bit of wanderlust in him.

The promise of a better life and warm winters brought them to California in 1955. Dad took a good job for a chemical company in the San Fernando Valley and a set of twins were born, a boy and a girl, in 1956. Pneumonia took the life of their second son in 1959 which sent both Mom and Dad into a long period of mourning.

Dad continued to work at the chemical plant rising to a supervising position over a large crew of men. Mom stayed home to care for the kids which she loved. Joy crept back into their lives when a third son was born in 1961 and a fourth daughter in 1965. Their quiver was definitely full. It was a “Leave to Beaver” life for many years.

Dad’s job transferred him to a new city but rather than relocate the family he decided to commute. At first he came home every night, then every other night, then only on weekends, then finally not at all. The “Leave to Beaver” life was unraveling. Shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Mom announced that they were divorcing. Dad had begun a relationship with another woman.

Life changed dramatically for the three of us still at home. My youngest sister was only 7 at the time, my brother was 11. Mom went back to work and back to school and I became a surrogate mother to my younger siblings at the age of 16. Our childhood memories of dad were few and reduced to some weekend visits, or an occasional letter or phone call.

Meanwhile Dad decided to leave his suburban life for something different. He married his second wife and moved to Northern California to begin his own farming business. Perhaps he hoped to relive his carefree days as a farm kid. Unfortunately things did not go as planned. Soon he moved to Oregon to begin another business. When that did not succeed he gave up the dream of self-employment and got a job in the business world in Northern California. After ten years, the second marriage ended and he moved back to the San Fernando Valley and worked whatever jobs he could get. He was lost and un-tethered.

By this time all the “kids” were grown and married with kids of their own. Mom had gotten a college degree and was successful computer programmer for an engineering company. She attended a local Baptist church and had a great group of friends. She spent much of her free time enjoying the grandkids and traveling when she could.

Dad’s spiritual life was always a big question mark for us. At one time during his second marriage he told me he walked an aisle at a small church and prayed to receive Jesus. However his lifestyle never seemed to match that confession and he had no desire for church.

After 15 years of being apart my parents remarried in 1987. Mom had forgiven Dad years before and she said that Dad was the only man she had ever loved. She had high hopes that he would start attending church with her. He went a few times, but always got too antsy in church to stay committed to it for too long. However he saw Mom’s devotion to the Lord every day. She had a vibrant prayer life and kept her Bible next to her chair at all times. When they relocated to Lancaster, CA, she quickly found a new church and attended it regularly. She began a woman’s bible study in the mobile home park where she lived. They lived out their last years together pretty happily. Dad was a good grandfather and was proud of all his kids. He loved Mom immensely and preferred to not talk about the years they spent apart.

When Mom passed away suddenly in 2004, Dad was devastated. He talked about wanting to join her constantly. He said that he hoped that she would put in a good word for him. We reminded him that he had to turn to the Lord himself. It was only his own confession of sins and turning to Jesus for salvation that would get him to heaven. We were not sure how much he understood for at the point he was several years into Alzheimer’s disease. Dad health continued to decline and he eventually moved in with my brother and his wife. He talked often about reuniting with Mom and how wonderful that would be.

In early December Dad went into the hospital for what we thought was Alzheimer’s issues. A battery of tests discovered lung cancer which had spread throughout his body. Already frail and battling emphysema, we opted not to do any further treatment. He went into a nursing facility where Hospice treated him and kept him as pain free as possible. Doctors said he had a month or so left.

I went to visit Dad in mid-December for several days. Still uncertain as to his spiritual condition I was hoped to talk to him about Jesus. I had mixed emotions going into those visits. Knowing that he was in his last days, I had already begun to grieve for him. I grieved for the father I was about to lose but I also grieved for the father I never had.

I prayed that the Lord would allow me to know exactly where he was spiritually. I was surprised to find him relatively coherent even though he kept forgetting that he was in the hospital. We were able to have some good conversations during the two days I visited with him, although his attention wandered a lot. On my last visit with him I opened my Bible and read Psalm 23 to him, it was as if a light came on inside him. He began to talk about the Bible and how wonderful it was. He spoke about how much he loved Mom and how much they both love the Lord. He expressed regret over their divorce. This was the first time I had ever heard him talk about the divorce in over 20 years. I read John 14:1-4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” We talked about how
Jesus had a home for him in heaven. He made the comment, “Most people don’t understand how powerful that scripture is.” Then as suddenly as the light came on, if went off and the moment of clarity was gone.

Days later, my son told me that he had been praying that the double-edge Sword of God’s Word would penetrate the cloudiness of Dad’s Alzheimer’s. God gave me the answer to my son’s prayer.

When I said goodbye to Dad that day I knew it would be the last time I would see him this side of heaven. I got into my car and wept over my loss: the loss of my “Leave to Beaver” life those many years ago; the loss of my mom and the rapidly approaching loss of my dad. I was confident that Dad loved the Lord and trusted him as Savior but it bothered me that I did not know when that was.

“Lord, I prayed, I just wish I knew when Dad’s life with You began.” “It matters not when or how it began”, the Lord answered, “but how he finishes.” The apostle Paul said, “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy”, Acts 20:24.

Those brief hours with my dad were a gift to me from God. The Lord knew that I needed the opportunity to completely forgive my dad for past hurts and assurance of his salvation. He gave all that to me in what ended up being Dad’s last coherent hours on earth. He slipped into semi-consciousness the next day and then slipped away to heaven.

My sister called a few days later. “What should we put on Dad’s headstone?” She asked. The Lord gave me the right words. “He finished well.”

Tell Me A Story

story15When my mother passed away five years ago, I had the task of going through her photos and mementos. As I delicately and lovingly looked at all her things, I discovered a woman I did not know. This young woman was adventurous, a risk taker, and loved to have fun. Her best friend, Lottie Mae said, “Bettie Jane and I made our own fun wherever we went.” Bettie loved to travel and saved many of the mementos from those travels. She saved a paper placement from a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, which was a long way from Lawrence, Mississippi. She saved her citations and her letter of commendations from her commanding officer when she was discharged from the Army at Fort Lawson, Washington, 1947. I read a love letter addressed “My Dearest Darling” and signed “all my love to the sweetest girl in the world” from my father. I never heard my father call my mother “darling.”

When my mother died, the untold stories of her life also died. My father, now in his eighties and in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease remembers them no more. I am sad for myself and for my children that I did not take the time to ask my mother or my father to tell me their stories, especially their stories of faith. I hope to not repeat this mistake with my story.

Stories are the fabric of our lives. It is through story that we learn about good and evil, love and hate, gains and losses. Stories feed our soul. We learn about life through story. We learn from William Wallace in Braveheart that freedom is costly but worth fighting for. We learn from Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings Triology that true friendship is a treasure, and everyone has a journey to complete.

The Bible also teaches us through story. Seventy percent of the Bible is written as a narrative; as a story. We learn about forgiveness through Joseph’s story. We learn about waiting through Abraham and Sarah’s story. Through the story of the woman at the well, we learn that everyone has a past.

God is telling the world a story through you. We are invited to be a part of the story. If you want to get to know someone you need to know their story. If you want to know yourself and your place in this world you need to examine your own story.

Proverbs 16:19 says “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” How has God directed your steps along your journey? Who has he used to draw you to himself? What other characters are instrumental in shaping your story?

In the Lord of the Ring series one of the main characters, Sam, talks about the power of story. He then turns to the hero of the tale, Frodo and asks “I wonder what sort of tale we have fallen into?” Sometimes our lives feel like something we have just “fallen into”. But the Master Storyteller is weaving his tale of grace, love, redemption, and rescue throughout our lives. We need to take the time to look for that golden thread weaved into our story.

Your story has the power to glorify God, and heal others and yourself. Tell it, share it, write it, examine it, and look for the amazing fingerprints of God on your life, for God is telling His Story through you, and it is the Greatest Story Ever Told