The Anchor Holds

I suppose I should have expected his arrival. But, distracted by other things, I didn’t notice his approach until it was too late to bolt the door and deny him entry. By the time I perceived his presence, he’d unpacked his bags and flung a cloak of melancholy over my heart.

And just who was this uninvited guest? Loneliness.

After spending a week at the beach with my family, my house, usually a welcome oasis of tranquility, felt silent and empty instead. Nonetheless, being home alone wasn’t the calling card I referred to above. I could have invited a grandchild over or texted one of my daughters. No, the profound loneliness sprang from knowing I couldn’t be with the one person I longed for most at that moment, my late husband Ray.

The Crucible of Life

As is often the case when I write or teach about scriptural principles and God’s promises, real life intervenes, compelling me to speak the truth I profess to myself, to apply the healing balm of assurance to my own woundedness.  Such was the case last Saturday morning as I sat at my kitchen table, with whispers of fall meandering through windows open to the breeze after summer finally loosened its stranglehold on metro Atlanta.

You see, a few days before I returned home, my podcast, “Loving Christ in the Midst of Loss”, aired on CDM’s enCourage[1] website and I posted a companion article, “Stewarding our Stories”, on my blog. I used both platforms to proclaim God’s faithfulness across the 22 years since Ray died suddenly at age 39 and accompanied my proclamation with the assurance we can trust God as He sovereignly writes even the most difficult chapters of our stories.

So the appearance of my uninvited guest should have come as no surprise. In addition, my defenses were down, weakened by responsibilities and issues set aside while I was on vacation, only to be prayerfully resumed and mulled over when I returned. Thus, I didn’t shoo my squatter away as quickly as I might have under different circumstances.

Rather, I embraced him. My mind wandered, taking my heart with it. I wished Ray was sitting at his place at the table, holding my hand, listening as I poured out my concerns, a scenario played out numerous times during our marriage. I thought about how pleasant it would be to work in the yard together on that first fall-like day. And I remembered a long-ago night when I crawled into bed tearful and exhausted, bemoaning how little time Ray and I had to do things together. Our daughters were tiny, one an infant, the other a toddler. The days were long and my to-dos unending. In his attempt to comfort me, Ray uttered words that have become increasingly poignant over the years, “They’ll grow up so fast and then we’ll have lots of time together.”

Oh, Ray. You were gone long before our nest emptied. The lots of time you promised didn’t come to be.

Grieving

Over two decades of widowhood have tempered the searing pain of loss. Body-racking sobs are rare, replaced by silent tears, the occasional overflow of a heart yearning for its missing piece. There’s a sigh deep in my soul, born of sorrow mingled with longing and acceptance.

Even though those who belong to God don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14), we still grieve, because death wasn’t part of God’s good plan. It’s part of the curse, a severe consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:19b). Losing loved ones is painful and mourning our separation is a process, one that will continue until we’re reunited, as grief ebbs and flows. May we remember as much and be compassionate toward ourselves and others when the thorns of grief prick anew.

Never Forsaken

'Tis so SweetBut there is hope, dear reader, now and eternally. Having found comfort in the promises of the One who’s vowed to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8), I dispatched my erstwhile visitor. Furthermore, I can reaffirm all I said in the podcast and wrote in my last post. The bottom is good.[2] The anchor holds (Hebrews 6:19). Victory is certain (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

Faith refined by trials is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). And life-tested truth allows me to say with hymn writer Louisa M. R. Stead,

“’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”[3]

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, emphasis added.)

 

[1] CDM – Christian Discipleship Ministries is a ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America. The enCourage website features blog posts and podcasts aimed at “connecting the hearts of women to the hope of the Gospel.”

[2] Hopeful’s comment to Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”, as they prepare to cross the river to get to their final destination, the Celestial City.

[3] ‘Tis So sweet to Trust in Jesus, text Louisa M.R. Stead, music, William J. Kirkpatrick.

Measuring up

img_0026Several weeks ago my daughter, Mary, found her not-quite-three-year-old daughter, Emma, peering intently into a mirror. Curious as to the cause of her staring, Mary asked what she was looking at. Stoically, Emma replied she had no eyebrows. It was one of those moments when Mary most likely had to fight to control any laughter that threatened to erupt. After all, Emma was quite serious. Her light-blond brows are barely discernible and that, she realized, set her apart from the rest of her darker-browed family members.

img_0478Little more than a week had passed since Mary’s recounting of the eyebrow incident, when Emma approached me, tape measure in hand, and asked if I would measure her. I obliged, measuring around her tummy, a place or two on her legs, and both little arms. I knew her request was inspired by wanting to be like Mommy, her very favorite person. You see, Mary uses that same pink tape measure to periodically assess her progress since starting a strengthening and conditioning program last fall.

The occurrence of these two incidents in such proximity to one another impressed upon me, yet again, that much of what our children (and grandchildren) learn from us is caught rather than taught. And, ever-observant, they easily detect discrepancies between what we say and what we do. Consistency between verbal and behavioral lessons is crucial. But, when such consistency is lacking, our deeds supersede our admonitions as the old adage, “actions speak louder than words”, attests.

Most of us truly want to be good examples, to live lives of integrity. Yet, in spite of our best intentions, we frequently struggle to do what we know is right, what we yearn to do. The Apostle Paul described this tension between giving into the flesh and obeying the Spirit in his letter to the Romans (Romans 7:15) and to the Galatians. (Galatians 5:17) In fact, he described himself as the chief of sinners not withstanding all he did and sacrificed for the early church. Instead, he focused on the great grace that had been shown him by the only perfect One. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Oh that we would do likewise. Instead we too often compare ourselves to our fellow sinners, thinking, “I’m not that bad.” (Luke 18:9-14) But the thoughts and behavior of our fellow sinners are not our standard. Jesus’ perfect righteousness and sinless life are. We are to be holy as He is Holy. (Leviticus 11:45; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:14-16) Furthermore, Jesus made it clear that keeping the Law begins in our hearts and encompasses more than our actions:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

The longer we walk with Jesus and the closer we get to Him, the more easily we recognize our flaws and failings. There are times when a thought pops into my mind, uncensored, appalling. I’m shocked and saddened at the darkness that still dwells in me. Yet I know my dismay is evidence my heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh that desires to obey God. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) It also reminds me that the One who began a good work in me is faithfully transforming me into the image of his Son and will finish what He started. (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

I long to be a good role model for my children and grandchildren, someone worthy of emulation. But, even more, I want to point them to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2); the Servant Leader who set us an example in all things (John 13:14-15); the One who died that we might be clothed in His perfect righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21) He alone is our flawless standard.

O Lord, please help us to remember that all we have and are is a gift from you, leaving no room for boasting or comparing. (Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:17-18; Ephesians 2:8-9) And may we grow to resemble our elder Brother more and more, by the power of your Spirit at work within us.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Retractable claws

img_2729I can still hear the pitiful meowing in the background when I answered a call from my daughter Mary on that fateful summer day. Mary’s first words were, “Please don’t say no, Mom!” Mary was a rising senior in high school at the time and was on the cross country team. After her initial plea, she went on to explain they’d found some kittens upon arriving at school for the morning run. The one I heard mewing had been extricated from a crack in the stairs by Justin, her then-boyfriend-now-husband, and Mary wanted to adopt her. I told her I’d consider it. She called back at the appointed time an hour later and, in a moment of weakness or perhaps temporary insanity, I said yes. What was I thinking???

Mind you we already had an 11 year old male cat, Willie, who considered our house to be his territory and his alone. We kept Millie, as Mary decided to call her, in a bathroom when she first joined our family. Even though he was unable to see her, Willie sensed her presence and hissed every time he passed the door that separated him from his future nemesis. Although they eventually reached some kind of feline truce, I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much hissing as in their first few weeks of cohabitation. At best, they learned to tolerate each other.

It soon became apparent Willie wouldn’t be the only one at odds with Millie. In spite of the fact Justin was the one to free her from the crevice at school, she was a one-person cat and that person was Mary. She would stare adoringly at her, purring all the while. Try as I might to make friends with her, my attempts rarely elicited anything remotely like a purr and there were certainly no adoring looks.

But Mary grew up and went to college, a place where kitties aren’t allowed in dorms so Millie was left at home with me. I suppose some interaction is better than none since Millie would occasionally condescend to rubbing my legs for attention. At first I thought, “Isn’t that nice? She’s finally warming up to me.” She even started to purr, albeit begrudgingly. Then, before I knew what was happening or had time to protect myself, she bit me. This scenario played out a few more times, with me giving her the benefit of the doubt, hoping we would eventually establish a friendly rapport. It didn’t happen and I finally gave up, as she wounded not only my hands and feet with her sharp teeth, but also my feelings with her insincere gestures of camaraderie.

I’ve known some people like Millie. They’ve feigned friendship for their own gain. Fortunately they’ve been few in number, but the pain caused by their disingenuous behavior lingers as does the grief over my inability to make things work.

A computer-aided search of Scripture yields over 120 references for the terms “forgive”, “forgiveness” or “forgiven”.[1] Multiple New Testament texts instruct us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.[2] Yet forgiveness doesn’t automatically lead to reconciliation, as Susan Hunt so aptly states in her book, “Spiritual Mothering”:

“Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation. Often women truly forgive, but because there is no reconciliation with the one who has hurt them they labor under false guilt that they have not done everything they should. Reconciliation requires both repentance and forgiveness. There is a duel responsibility on the part of the offender and the offended. We cannot control the repentance of the one who has hurt us. We can only forgive. Our forgiveness may or may not bring about reconciliation, but it will free us to have a right relationship with God and with others.” [3]

A passage in Romans 12 strikes a similar chord as the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “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.” [4]

As far as it depends on you. I can only give an account of myself, my thoughts, my actions. [5] And oftentimes, as hard as it is, the best thing we can do is forgive, let go and trust God for the outcome. We can be assured He will work all things together for good.[6]

I see Millie from time to time when I’m at Mary’s house. At age 12 you’d think she might have mellowed some, but she still has a slight scowl that reminds me of Lucy van Pelt of the Peanuts gang and she can make the family’s 75-pound dog back off with her menacing hisses. I acknowledge her presence when our paths cross, usually even say hello . . . but I stay out of striking distance and I certainly don’t seek her out.

[1] Search done of the NIV translation on Biblegateway.com

[2] See, for example, Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Luke 6:37

[3] Susan Hunt, Spiritual Mothering (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1992), 153.

[4] Romans 12:17-18

[5] Romans 14:12

[6] Romans 8:28