This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: trust (page 1 of 3)

Fear

 

I had walked underneath this tree countless times over the years. On every daily neighborhood walk with my trusted four-footed friend. Every Sunday afternoon walk with my husband. Every walk with my daughter, lacrosse stick in hand, ball bouncing.

 

Never was I even remotely suspicious of the potential danger looming overhead.

 

Every day last summer I walked beneath these limbs, never imagining that I should be walking in fear. Then the fall winds blew and carried away the nest’s protective camouflage. And on a crystal clear, blue-sky winter’s morning, my head tossed back, eyes heavenward, I caught sight, for the first time, of what had eluded my vision for all those months: the largest hornet nest I have ever seen.

 

It had been there all along, I just didn’t know it, so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When I held my second baby in my arms, I had no idea that there was a dangerous disease brewing within his tiny body. I knew nothing of autoimmune diseases and autoantibodies. I just knew that he was perfect, and so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When he was a toddler, I would hold his tiny hand in mine, unaware that soon I would be pricking each one of those precious chubby little fingers, eight times a day, to draw enough blood to check his blood glucose levels. I didn’t know any of that yet, so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age five, the leaves blew off the tree of my heart and Danger was no longer hidden; it made itself perfectly clear each and every day.

 

You’ll have to count the carbohydrates in all the food your son eats. You will calculate his insulin doses and inject him with the lifesaving liquid. Be sure to calculate carefully. Oh and make sure he doesn’t eat too much carbohydrate or fat.

 

Be aware if his blood sugar drops too low; he may become disoriented or feel shaky inside. If so, you’ll have to test his blood sugar and give him the right amount of juice to revive him.

 

Yes that’s right; it’s about 7-10 blood tests by finger prick per day and 5 or more shots of insulin per day.

 

The doctor sounded so confident.

 

I was terrified.

 

Did I mention that my son was only five years old? His body was so small, and he was so active, that the tiniest amount of insulin would send his blood sugar crashing down, low beyond low. His blood sugars seemed to have a will of their own, despite my best efforts at controlling them. I was his mother, his caregiver, and yet I was powerless against the force of this disease. Try as I might, I could not strong-arm this disease to yield to me and to my best intentions.

 

And that’s when the real fear set in.

 

Fear is an understandable response to that which we cannot control. We all have fears. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear for our child’s future. Fear for a successful career. Fear of being all alone. Fear of dying.

 

We all experience fear. The danger lies in allowing fear to control us.

 

The real question is, what do we do with those fears? Do we face them – by which I do not mean do we rise up against them, but rather, do we turn our face, our entire body toward them, transfixed by their seeming power over us, and refuse to acknowledge fear for what it is? Fear is quite simply our emotional response to that which we cannot control and which we imagine will be our ruin. Fear is an emotional response. Fear lives in our imaginations.

 

Fear is something we choose to give mental space to.

 

And the trouble with fear is that fear takes all the truth out of the world.

 

Fear speaks lies to us. Fear makes us small and powerless. Fear exhausts us, even while it holds us captive in inertia. Fear says, there is no hope. Fear guides us to dread. Fear warns, don’t take a risk; danger lies ahead. Fear causes our eyes to see nothing but dead ends ahead.

 

Fear robs us of our hopes and dreams.

 

It’s so easy to fear what we can’t control, especially when our fears involve someone we dearly love. But when we choose to agree with fear, we block ourselves from embracing hope.

 

Jesus of Nazareth said this about fear, “Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

 

Perhaps instead of staring fear full in the face, being frozen by it, locking eyes with it, and in so doing, entering into agreement with it, what if we would turn 180-degrees away from fear and turn our gaze toward hope instead? What if in our 180-degree turning we discovered not the evil face of fear but the loving face of a gentle God instead? The face of a God who beckons, Come, trust in me and I will give you restEmbrace me, not fear, and I will hold you in my arms of hope and love.

 

 

Keep Alert for Changing Conditions

 

I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.

 

The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.

 

And so, today was the day.

 

Regardless of the road conditions.

 

Or the condition of my heart.

 

I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.

 

Just as it should.

 

Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.

 

But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.

 

And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.

 

Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.

 

How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.

 

And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.

 

*

 

I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.

 

How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.

 

The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.

 

Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.

 

*

 

I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.

 

Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.

 

Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.

 

The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.

 

There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.

 

At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.

 

I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.

 

The wise King Solomon once said, 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 weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.

 

 

 

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

Advent Hope

 

I’m wrestling with Advent this year.

 

I desperately wanted this Advent to be a season of peaceful reflection and soul gripping hope, but to be honest, hope feels especially far beyond my grasp this year. All the Advent talk of desire and anticipation, of waiting and watching, of hoping and dreaming has seemed to shine a spotlight on all that I am still waiting for.

 

On all that I have just about given up hope for.

 

I didn’t grow up in a tradition of marking time through a church calendar. For me the month of December meant one thing and one thing only – Christmas! Christmas and all that went with it – the lists, the gift buying and giving, the lights, the cooking and eating, the carols, the laughter, time spent with those we love, and most of all, the Nativity. The birth of Immanuel, God with us.

 

There’s nothing wrong with this approach to December and Christmas. But for me, it was almost as though December was about my getting ready for everything I had to do, and then on Christmas Eve I would prepare my heart for the coming of the King.

 

When your heart is as prone to wandering as mine is, perhaps 48 hours just isn’t enough time to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings.

 

For the past several years I have been worshiping at a church that celebrates the liturgical calendar, and with it, Advent. And because of that, I now have a slow four weeks to prepare my heart and mind for the coming of the King.

 

In the Advent scriptures and devotionals, I keep reading about hope. And that despite all the turmoil we see around us hope still wins because our hope is to be anchored in Christ’s having come and in his coming again. And while I believe all that to be true, this year my heart whispers, but what about all my hopes for today? For this one life you’ve given me to live today? Am I not to feel the least bit sad when the same hoped for, prayed for desires still go unfulfilled at the end of another year? Am I allowed to even voice that kind of disappointment in the presence of the King come as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes?

 

It’s not that everything in my life has gone wrong this year. I don’t want to give that impression. There have been plenty of joy spots this year. But the deepest desires remain unfulfilled.

 

Where in the Advent story of optimistic waiting and watching and hoping is there room for my still unfulfilled hopes for unanswered prayers? Does Jesus really say that because Advent contains the promise that he will return one day, that I have no business feeling sad about my unanswered prayers?

 

I don’t think so.

 

Jesus’ ancestor, the wise King Solomon, declares in Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

Can I just be brutally honest with where I am right now? Saying my hope is in Jesus’ return and therefore that should make everything else okay just won’t cut it for me this year. It’s another year of waiting for healing. Waiting for direction. Waiting for a doctor to have an idea. Waiting for release. Waiting for real hope. Waiting for human dignity to be restored. Waiting for some semblance of peace on earth. My hope has been deferred again and my heart is, well, frankly it’s sick. I love Jesus with everything within me, but waiting thru Advent with only the certain hope of his return just isn’t enough hope for me. Not this year.

 

Is there a remedy for this sick heart of mine? This sick heart that cries out for real answers to hard prayers. For fulfilled longings? This year all the talk of waiting and watching and hoping has fallen flat. I want to experience hope fulfilled.

 

Come desire of nations come.

 

 

I long to have the deepest desires of this earthbound journey met. I long to have my sharpest hungers satisfied. Could there be another hope for me this year? A different type of hope? A hope that comes not from the satisfaction of an earthly desire, or the knowledge that Jesus will return, but from the assurance that Jesus has never left me?

 

I stop dead in my tracks. Right there in those first six words from Proverbs, hope deferred makes the heart sick, the God of the universe, the God of Advent has given me permission to feel the full weight of all my deferred hopes.

 

Yes. They make me feel sick. Sick at heart.

 

And they make him sick at heart too.

 

But because he is the God of resurrection and redemption, and because he is in the business of bringing new life out of dead things, he doesn’t want me to remain stuck in the dead place of deferred hope. His promise is his name, Immanuel, the God who stays with me. And he draws me deeper into his name, deeper into his promise.

 

A new hope emerges – a hope that even in all the mess, God is still at work. Even in all the sorrow and pain, nothing is ever wasted. Not one tear. Not one more disappointing doctor visit. Not one more dead end. Nothing is ever wasted. It may not all work out good, but God is still working good thru my unanswered hopes.

 

The baby born in the manger, this Immanuel, God with us, is the very tangible reminder that I do not walk through the pain of deferred hope alone. This God with me sees the sick of my heart and promises that none of my pain is in vain, none of it is wasted when I offer it back to him, trusting that even these ashes he can transform into beauty.

 

This is not an easy offering to make. This is the hard work of offering a sacrifice of praise when I would rather utter a howl of complaint. Offering God my unanswered hopes can only be made from a posture of trust. Trust in the God whose name is Good. Trust in the God who promises to do all things well. Trust in the God who took on flesh so that he would know my pain, because his name is Love.

 

 

 

 

In Search of Perfect

 

It’s quite possible that fall is everyone’s favorite season. Not too hot, not to cool – in the immortal words of Goldilocks, it’s just right. Never mind that the calendar year begins in January, instinctively we all consider fall to mark the real beginning of the year. Inscribed in our minds from our deepest childhood memories of new teachers, new classmates, and the latest back to school fashions, fall will forever mark the beginning of the new year. Following the rest and renewal of summer, fall is a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.

 

Fall is a time of harvest when we celebrate the work that our hands have accomplished in prior seasons. Winter may have its blanket of soft white, spring its explosion of every pastel hue available to the finest impressionist painter, and summer every shade of green and the brilliance of a hot ball of fire to light our days. But fall…oh fall. In you we savor the final explosion of the Creator’s paintbrush before the whole earth goes silent and hibernates in its covering of grey and white.

 

My soul longs to imagine that this is the perfect season. My critical eye scans the landscape as I walk, when I drive, seeking out a flawless grove of trees where no barren limbs can be seen and all of summer’s green has turned into a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I hunt for it as though, once found, I could gulp it down and hold it locked within me to warm me forever.

 

This is the season I feel I must protect. I fret that the color show hasn’t begun on time. I fret that the trees won’t turn brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion. I fret that an untimely storm may come and wash it all away before I’ve had my fill of its splendor. And I fret about the new season that will replace this one when all this beauty is but a distant memory.

 

I imagine perfection is to be found tangled in the beauty before me. And so, my mind’s eye erases what it does not want to see. If I squint just a little bit, the reds and oranges come into relief and the bare branches recede into obscurity. But the camera tells a different story.

 

This has been an unusual fall for us in the Northeast. With temperatures still in the 60s most days, fall emerges for a day or two and then retreats again under the cover of lush greenery. Impatient, many trees have dropped their leaves before others have even begun their annual autumnal show. Our locust trees have long ago shed their lacey golden crown. Most of the sycamore and English plane trees have suffered blight this year that has singed their leaves brown, causing them to curl inward, dry and decaying before their inevitable descent to the ground. Their grand trunks, clothed in mottled white and army fatigue gray bark, stand sentry, bare, with no blanket of golden yellow to shelter them. And all the while, the proud maples stand tall and green refusing to let a few cooler nights coax them into revealing their majestic hues of crimson, burgundy and pure fire.

 

The trees have not turned brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion this year.

 

 

My search for perfection is not limited to my visual appreciation for autumnal splendor. If truth be told, I seek perfection in the seasons of my own life. My heart longs to discover perfect moments, perfect days, perfect seasons and settle right in, imagining that all will go according to my tidy organized plan, and that no storms will come to wash away the splendor of that perfect season of my life.

 

I seek out moments when all of my children are healthy and content, where marriage is sweet and friendships are honest and life-giving. Where work is fulfilling and we can taste the financial security that comes from a job well rewarded. Where academic pursuits are enriching and doctor visits are few. Where our cars run smoothly, the hot water heater hasn’t exploded, and there are no sudden trips to the ER.

 

I seek out these moments as if by capturing them I could hold onto them like so many lightening bugs captured in a glass jar. But perfect moments can’t be frozen in time any more than lightening bugs can light up the night forever. Their glow only lasts so long before it flickers out and all we’re left with is a bug in a jar.

 

Is there a lesson for me in the perfectly imperfect autumn display of 2017?

 

The natural world tells us that nothing is perfect, that beauty and decay co-exist side by side in every landscape, in every season. I would do well to learn from nature’s example and not to keep seeking out that one perfect season. Every season of our lives is filled with joy and pain, light and dark, growth and decay, ascent and descent.[1]

 

It is in accepting the decay that I am better able to see the beauty.

 

Fall may be my favorite season, but it is not a perfect one. How could it be? No one season, no one event, no one person is capable of containing all the fullness of perfection. Only God can do that, for God alone is pure and lovely, perfect and filled with light.

 

And so I open wide my half-slit eyes and gaze in wonder that any of this beauty is mine to behold at all. And I see it all for perhaps the first time. The mops of green remind me of the sweetness of what was, while the bare branches prepare me to accept what will be. And in the reds and oranges and yellows I am thankful for the joy that comes in appreciating what is.

 

[1] With special thanks to my friend, William Butler, whose painting series Ascension has helped me better grasp that all of life involves simultaneous ascent and descent.

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