Saturday, December 20, 2014

There but for the grace of God, go I

My heart is breaking.  There seems to be wave upon wave of emotion crashing over me, weighing me down.

Even though it causes me anger and frustration, I cannot seem to stop watching the news.  I’m not sure what I am looking for.  It’s not like I am going to stumble across breaking news that humanity has suddenly turned a corner for the good.

I am only going to find more heartbreaking stories.

More stories of hatred and violence.

More stories of lives shattered.

More stories of husbands that will never come home.

And now there are reports of celebrations.  Two NYPD officers were sitting in their patrol car when they were gunned down execution style.  And there are people celebrating!

I watch the news and I am angry.  I see the media scrambling to place blame.  I see the story turning into a political grudge-match.  I see thousands of horrendous comments on social media praising the gunman’s actions.  It makes me sick with anger.

But more than that, I am filled with a soul-jarring sorrow.   

Because the part of the story that reaches down into the depths of my being is the part that cannot be found on the news.  It is the story of the families.  Those wives and children and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and all the others who love those men for who they were.  The tragic story may be in the headlines for now, but the families are the ones who have to live the rest of their lives with the empty space no one else can ever fill.  

Tonight, a wife will go to bed and hug the pillow next to her that still smells like her husband.  

Tonight, a son will cry himself to sleep as he tries to comprehend that his dad will never be around to teach him how to become a man.

Tonight--the first of many such nights--the families will weep and scream until there are no more tears and their voices are hoarse, then they will weep some more.

Most people who watched the news today will go back to their normal lives tomorrow.  Within a month, many will have forgotten.  Even if this event adds more fuel to the already blazing tensions in this country, this day merely signifies another event, another story for most.  But for those families, this day will forever be that tragic, defining moment of their lives.  Everything in their lives from now on will fall into one of two categories:  before 12-20-14, or after.

Tonight, I am asking that you remember these families not just tonight, but tomorrow night and the next and the next.  I am asking that you lift them up to our Father in Heaven who sees all and who comforts us in all our troubles.  I am asking that you pray for God’s transcending peace to fill them in the many difficult days to come.

And I have one more thing to ask of you.  

I know you have heard it before, but I cannot emphasize it enough:  please go out of your way to thank a police officer, to encourage them and their families.  With all the hatred and anger and violence directed towards the police right now, a word of thanks and encouragement goes a long way.

For all of us along the thin blue line know that tomorrow the news story could be about us.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On my heart...

I have been struggling lately.

Struggling with my anger and hurt and sorrow.
Struggling with the realities of life on this planet.


Sometimes, the ache in my heart is just too heavy.  Knowing that humanity is not likely to change any time soon is overwhelming.

Innocent people will be attacked.

Innocent people will be accused.

People will judge others based on their actions, while they judge themselves based on their intentions.

Many will choose darkness over light.

People will turn to other people for answers and advice, when all they are truly seeking is validation of their own opinions and choices.

Entire groups will be judged based on the actions of a few. 

People will react out of ignorance rather than knowledge.

It infuriates me to hear others speak so harshly about people or beliefs that are dear to me, that are a part of me.  I take it as a personal attack.  I fluctuate between anger and sorrow, knowing there is nothing I can say or do to change anyone's mind.

And so, I pray.

"Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."   ~ Philippians 4:5-7

I pray for those who are blindly raging against a system they don't fully understand or appreciate.
I pray for those who are clinging to their anger and rage.
I pray for those who are lost in their own choices.
I pray for those who are desperate for light, yet refuse to let go of the darkness in which they find comfort.
I pray for those whose lives are controlled by hate.
I pray for those who do not know true Love.
I pray for those who have placed their hope in deception rather than Truth.
I pray for those who are trying desperately to fill the emptiness inside them.
I pray for those who are hurting others because they have been hurt.

And I pray for their victims.

I pray for us all, knowing that we will all find ourselves at different points of this spectrum at various times in our lives. 

I pray for Love and Truth to fill the hearts of each and every person.

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves....
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."   ~ Romans 12:9-21

I pray for Peace.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To Fear, or Not to Fear...

A few nights ago, I was awakened by my youngest son.  He had had a bad dream and was too scared to go back to sleep.  So he crawled into bed with me and snuggled up close.  Within minutes, he was sound asleep…

Every Friday night in our house is Family Movie Night.  With a house full of boys, more often than not, we choose an adventure movie.  When the action gets intense, my younger ones will jump up and run to my husband and me, curl up under our arms, hide their faces and peak out through their fingers.  Only then do they feel safe enough to watch and see what happens next…

I have always been terrified of heights.  As a child I could not go up stairs or cross wooden bridges that had gaps in them.  Even if the gaps were clearly too small for me to slip through (some were only an inch wide), fear would paralyze me.  I would cry out for my mother to pick me up and carry me across the fearsome obstacle.  As long as she had her arms around me, I felt safe…

As a small child, your fears feel so big…but the trust you have in your parents’ presence and protection is so much bigger.  More often than not, just being in their arms eases your anxieties.

Then you grow up.   

Gradually you become aware of more frightening things than bad dreams and “scary” movies.  The realities of life in this fallen world come crashing in.  When you are awakened to the fact that bad things happen to good people, it can become very difficult to keep your fears in check.

My first recollection of deep, crippling fear was in January of my senior year in high school.  I was 17.  I came home from a friend’s house to find my mom sitting in my room.  She proceeded to tell me that one of my close friends had died suddenly.  He was sick with cold symptoms one week and dead the next.  I was overwhelmed with emotions.  Denial.  Sorrow.  Anger.  The pain I felt from my loss paled in comparison to the pain I felt for his family.  They were like family to me and the thought of what they were going through pierced me to the core. The pain was so intense, my heart physically hurt.  And to top it all off, a nagging sense of fear began to pour over me.  All I could think about was calling my brother, hearing his voice, making sure he was ok.  I must have called his number at college fifty times trying to get through, trying desperately to find him.  I was so scared that something might have happened to him as well.  It was an irrational fear, but no less real to me at the time.

Years later, something did happen to my brother.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I can’t really explain what it is like to get news like that.  Unfortunately, many of you know what I am talking about.  The unwanted diagnosis.  The unknown future.  The grim possibilities.  How quickly life can change.  After surgery, chemo and radiation, he was declared tumor-free.  Less than a year later, another one appeared.  More chemo.  More radiation.  This time, he was living with me and I was his care-giver.  I learned nursing skills I never wanted to learn.  One corner of my apartment was converted into our medical supply area.  Despite all I did to try to keep him strong and help him fight, he had complications and had to be rushed to the hospital.  I cried and begged God to heal him and bring him home to us.  For days I was useless.  Fear of losing him overwhelmed me.  This time, my fear was rational.  We could have lost him.  Thankfully, my fear was not realized.

Fast forward a few years.  My boys and I were on our yearly summer visit to Texas, lounging by the pool, swimming with a friend and her girls, when she got the phone call no one ever wants to get.  Her husband, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty.  Her greatest fear was realized.  I was by her side 24/7 for the next week and a half.  I watched her go through every emotion imaginable.  I watched her as she tried to wrap her mind around this new, unwanted life as a widowed mother of two.  

When we got back home from our trip, a subtle undertone of fear began to invade my life.  Each day that my husband put on his uniform and walked out our front door, my fear grew.  I had always known the risks he faced each day, but it hadn’t been real to me before then.  It all came to a head one year later, when a major political event came to town.  The city was expecting massive protests.  Groups were threatening extreme violence against the police.  All officers were told to anticipate working long hours in riot gear for days on end.   

That was one of the longest weeks of my life.  I sat on my couch all day, every day, flipping from one news channel to the next, desperately trying to find news coverage of the event.  I only stepped away from the television long enough to see if the internet had any new information or pictures of the thousands of angry protestors.  I had no way to contact him.  I never knew what time he would be home.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t function.  I was paralyzed with fear…fear that I knew could so easily become a reality.  How incredibly grateful I was when that week came to an end!

Over the course of my adult life, especially since marrying a cop, I have thought a lot about fear.  I have spent hours pondering the “what if’s” of life.  What if my husband dies?  What if something happens to one of my children?  What if my health rapidly declines?  What if I lose someone I love dearly?  What if tragedy strikes?  We all like to live in our happy world of “that will never happen to me,” but the reality is it will at some point.  We are not promised an easy life.  Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

At first, in the face of seemingly insurmountable fears, this verse didn’t have a comforting effect on me.  I knew that Jesus had overcome the world.  I knew that my Father loved me more than I could fathom.  I knew that the Creator of the universe knew my future.  What scared me was the possibility that my future might not be the one I wanted.  My fears have always seemed to be centered on the fact that there are things in my future that will be heart-breaking.  There will be unbearably difficult times.  There will be sorrow and pain.  There will be unspeakable losses.  I know this because I have lived long enough to experience such things and see many others do so as well.  Bad things happen to good people.   That is a fact of life on this earth.

So how do we keep the fear from consuming us?  I found the answer in God’s truth.

The phrases “do not fear” and “fear not” are found frequently in the Bible.  But try as we might, we simply cannot will ourselves to not be afraid.  Trust me, I’ve tried.   As I studied the various verses trying to figure out how to rid my life of fear, I noticed something significant.  It is not just that He knows what the future holds.  It is not just that God can and has conquered evil, although that plays a very important part.  It is that He is here with us.  Time and again God tells us this.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  ~Isaiah 43:5

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  ~Deuteronomy 31:6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  ~ Isaiah 41:10

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”   ~ Isaiah 41:13

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”   ~ Psalm 23:4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you,
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   ~Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my personal favorites.  It doesn’t gloss over the difficulties we will face.  But it does give us the reason for hope: God will be with us.  

The fact is that we will have to face many heart-wrenching things in this life.  The TRUTH is that God will be with us every step of the way. 

Just like a child runs to his mother’s arms for safety and comfort, just as baby birds will seek shelter under their mother’s wing, so we should rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  ~1 Peter 5:7

Whatever it is that you are facing, He is with you.  He loves you and promises to never leave you.  I witnessed this firsthand when my friend was forced to live out her worst fear.  Looking back on those two weeks that summer, I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere…from the fact that I was with her when she found out, to the overwhelming generosity of hundreds of people, many of whom were strangers.  I got to see God’s Provision for her and her girls.  I got to see His love displayed through so many people.  Yes, it was a horrible tragedy for her family.  But in the midst of her darkest days, God was there. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 4:6-7
One year ago tonight I was trying desperately to get all my boys in bed.  During the "just one more drink of water" and the "I have a question" routines, my phone began ringing.  There was no hurrying the boys along, so I let the call go to voicemail.  Immediately, it began ringing again.  I figured it was my husband, as he usually called me on his way home from work.  When I finally got the kids settled, I went to answer the phone that was still ringing non-stop.  Indeed, it was my husband’s number on the caller id.  When I answered it, however, it was not my husband on the other end.  It was another police officer telling me that my husband had been badly injured at work and was in the ER.  What I had feared had come true.  They sent a car for me and I spent the night sitting next to my bruised and swollen husband in the ER, praying that he would be ok.  But despite all the time I had spent worrying about this day, I felt an overwhelming calm.  I could feel God there in that room with me.  I knew that no matter what the future held, God would not leave my side.  I knew in the depths of my soul that I would be ok.  I have never felt so peaceful in my life.  Peace that passes all understanding, indeed.

So when you find yourself overcome with fear and focusing on the “what ifs” of life, my advice to you is to sit in His presence. 

Snuggle up to your Father.   

Then you will have the strength--and peace--to face whatever may come your way.