I awoke on the morning of April 17, thinking about my mother. It was her birthday. Although we reside in the same town, I was traveling that week and had to settle for a brief text message: “Good morning! Happy Birthday! Love you!” Each sentiment was “enhanced” with the proper emoticons.
Throughout the day, I reflected on the unexpected circumstances my mother had experienced recently. In many ways, Mom had experienced “double trouble” in the past six weeks.
On March 8, Mom heard the news that her youngest daughter had crashed her snowmobile, sustained multiple rib fractures, and was hospitalized (ironically, in the same hospital where she had given birth to this daughter). On March 12, Mom’s prayers went with her daughter as she traveled to Europe for ten days, trusting God for His provision in her daughter’s fragile state. Yes, I am that daughter.
On March 27, Mom received a phone call summoning her to the emergency room of our local hospital. Dad has suffered stroke-like symptoms. Days later, Mom would see her husband airlifted to a stroke recovery unit, spend three days with him in the hospital, and bring him home with the responsibility of managing his “new normal.” Within days of returning home, Mom had to call an ambulance and once again found herself waiting for answers on what was now Dad’s third visit to the emergency room in ten days.
After my meetings that same day, I called my sister and asked if she had talked with Mom yet to wish her a happy birthday. Like me, she had only sent a text message and was planning to call mom that evening. I told her to wait. I had a rental car. I was only twenty minutes from her house. I was coming over.
We decided it would be fun to surprise Mom with a doubly-special phone call from both her daughters, including our well-intentioned, albeit slightly off-key, serenade of “Happy Birthday.” We were right. It was fun. As we were chatting together on the speakerphone, I expressed my desire for Mom to have a better year than what she had experienced recently.
Her response? “Today I am seventy-seven. Seven is the number of completeness and perfection, so I am proclaiming a double blessing for this next year!” Priceless.
As we look forward to all that the month of May brings, including Mother’s Day and the Alliance family gathering at General Council in Orlando, may we also anticipate the abundant blessing that comes only from God.
Peace In the Valley
My family lived on the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire where my parents worked with Trans World Radio.
When Dad accepted a senior pastorate position at a small Spanish-speaking church that had been without a pastor for some time, we moved to south Florida. Dad was determined to reach out to older members who hadn’t attended for some time, develop the church’s leadership, and make new contacts.
Within four months, the average Sunday attendance had nearly doubled. Everything seemed to be going well—until Dad stopped sleeping.
One day, mom was more than an hour late to pick us up from school; I was in eleventh grade and my sister in ninth. Eventually, one of our relatives picked us up and drove us to the hospital.
Dad’s lack of sleep had provoked a severe anxiety attack, causing his blood pressure to shoot through the roof, requiring immediate medical care. There we were in the hospital room of one of the strongest, most daring men I knew. Our sole family provider and the spiritual leader of our home lay trembling, panicked, tears in his eyes. He was being force-fed his medication like a child because he refused to take them.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I didn’t understand how deeply the situation was breaking my heart. It has been nearly 16 years since that day, and my father still struggles with depression and anxiety. We recently thought his condition was behind us, but dad was again hospitalized a few months ago, nearly 10 years since his last severe episode.
It has been a hard, long walk for my father, sometimes a crawl through the dark, life-sapping valley of anxiety and depression. It still is.
A couple of years into this season of my father’s health struggles, one of my college professors said, “When one member of the family is hurting, the whole family unit hurts.” It was then that I realized for the first time that my father was not the only one in the valley—we were (and are) all there with him, heartbroken and wrestling with our own fears and questions.
Yet, in this valley is where Christ has so tangibly manifested Himself as the faithful Shepherd who comforts and leads us beside restful waters. It is here that our family has come to know the good, good Father who fathers the orphan—who has been a loving Husband to the widow when dad has been unwell.
Here in this valley, the Lord has been teaching me how to pray—with thanksgiving rather than being swept up in my own anxieties. And I have experienced the transcending peace of God that “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Even in the most frightening and darkest moments of our lives, the Lord’s nearness is palpable (although at times it has taken me a while to realize it). I have no doubt that He is working all things together for our good and our sanctification. Here in this valley, He is with us, and He is our peace.
Soul Searching Adventure Found Here?
I recently saw an advertisement for a “women only soul-searching trip to the Himalayan mountains.” Yup, you read that right, a women-only soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. I was confused. Why would a woman sign up for this? It is very expensive. You travel with complete strangers. AND, apparently riding a bus through the mountains somehow qualifies as a spiritual experience.
As I thought about it though, I realized this advertisement highlights what many women are looking for.
There is safety in familiar relationships. Women understand the things that all women experience – biological things, relational things, even sin things. We want to feel secure in our relationships, so we often seek people similar to us because similar is familiar and familiar is safe.
Women want a deeper meaning. Everyone wants to matter. Women especially. Women want to know why they are here, what their purpose is, and how to make sense of this world. So, we look for meaning in our family roles, our workplaces, and our volunteering. We find identity in what we do because it is easier than knowing who we are.
“Trip to the Himalayan Mountains”
Women want something more. Let’s face it, for many women life can be mundane. We go through the same motions of the same routine day after day after day. We yearn for excitement and beautiful places that will inspire us and motivate us to do more.
Not many of us will sign up for a women’s only soul-searching trip to the Himalayan mountains, but I think many of us search for these same things: relationships, purpose, and something more. And in Jesus, these are truly found.
True Safety in Relationship
The best, most life-giving, never-let-you-down relationship you’ll ever have is with Jesus. As Tozer said, “Jesus Christ knows the worst about you, nonetheless, He is the One who loves you the most.” Nothing will ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:39).
And the love of God also gives us the Church – not to give us perfect friends, but to give us people who love each other, practice grace, carry burdens, and listen to each other. When our first relationship is Jesus, we’re free to give love and grace to others – even when they let us down. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
The only thing that brings meaning to this broken world is God. By knowing the good news of the gospel we see a patient Holy God, a rebellious people, a rescue mission to redeem people, and a grand battle ending with God being worshipped by all nations. (2 Peter 3:9) Knowing this gives us the ultimate purpose: to love the world and preach the gospel. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We long for the day there will be no more tears, when all the injustice and hurt is gone. This day is coming, and in it, we will be worshiping at the feet of our King Jesus. The beautiful thing is, in the meantime, we get glimpses of what is yet to come here on this earth. The beauty of a new life. The glories of nature. The joy of seeing lives redeemed. The satisfaction of love.
A life with Jesus may not take you on a soul-searching trip in the Himalayas, but He will bring so much more.
Looking for God’s New Thing
It’s a new year. If God wanted to do a new thing in you or around you this year, would you see it or would you miss it? Isaiah 43:19 teaches us how to spot one of God’s new things. “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
God’s new thing springs forth. “Spring forth” reminds me of a seed in a garden. The seed has been there for some time, embedded in the earth, hidden from sight. Its growth has already begun, slowly and silently upward as the ground around it warms. But suddenly it’s time – the tiny leaves burst into the sunlight as something fresh and new that can finally be seen.
Has God been germinating any new things deep inside your heart and mind? Is it time for them to spring forth?
God’s new thing can happen anywhere, even in the most unlikely places. Notice where Isaiah says God’s new thing is springing forth. Not in a sunny, warm, well-watered garden somewhere, but in the wilderness.
Take a moment, close your eyes, and picture yourself in a wilderness – not just any wilderness, but the driest kind of wilderness – a desert. See the many shades of tan and brown, the windswept ripples of sand that turn into dune mountains stretching to the horizon. Occasionally, the visual monotony is broken by a tough little shrub or cactus. Feel the weight of the unobstructed sun pressing down on you like a huge, hot hand. Almost immediately, realize your growing need for the thing that is most obviously missing here – water.
God’s new thing is exactly what you need. It’s like water. Not only a pool of water, but a lot of water, rivers in the desert – just what you need most, and more than enough. A river is a running supply of water that creates green places wherever it goes. Isaiah also compares it to a roadway – a path to follow to a place where God will provide things that are in short supply or missing entirely where you are now. A roadway provides a way out of or a way through a hostile environment where you sense you were not designed to live for very long.
God is asking each of us an important question: Will you look for My new thing?
I can think of two ways to miss it. First, we may allow our attention to be completely distracted by the desert. We look at the desert, and we feel sure that there will never be any water there. But our God can and will make it! Second, we may find ourselves with our eyes fixed on the well-watered places of the past. We let the past limit our expectations for the future. Certainly, we should reflect on the past with gratitude and thank him for what He’s already done. We know that He never changes. But let’s not miss the new thing He is doing just because He hasn’t done it before.
Take a few moments right now in this first month of a new year, and ask God to make you aware of what new thing He is doing, both in you and around you. It may be happening slowly. Like a seed germinating, the working of God is often silent & gradual, but it is also certain. Be ready to spot a new thing springing forth, like a seed in the sun. And when you see it – don’t miss your opportunity!