Monday, November 21, 2011

Birthday Blessings

I took the day off. A good start!
Then I decided to commemorate my 47 years with 47 minutes in the elliptical machine.

All I can say is, I hope Jesus comes back before I turn 48 because I barely survived that. (I admit, I'm a wimp.)
My husband was supposed to pick me up so we can have lunch but that changed when I received a call from our son, P, "Uhm, Mom? The awards thing is today at 11:40." So, change of plans to meet at school and have lunch there somewhere instead.
After lunch, I went to Abercrombie (and held my breath the entire time I was there) to exchange the 2 things my husband bought for me the night before. They were size extra small. Bless his clueless heart. Got a nice, sensible gray sweater instead.

I picked up P two hours later (did I really spend two hours walking around? Why, yes, yes I did.) We went to Costco to buy flowers because they are $5 cheaper than the florist down the street. Of course $111 later....
The bagger at Costco commented on the beautiful bouquet. I told him it was for my Mom. He asked if it was her birthday and I replied, no it's mine. Oh, he was so tickled that I'm buying flowers for her on my birthday. He said that was the sweetest thing. He had the biggest smile that I didn't have the heart to tell him I was taking it to the cemetery.

(Thank you, Mom.)

Leaving the cemetery, we saw this: waterfall in the sky!

Blessings are pouring forth! And indeed they have:
  • Calls and text messages from my family, near and far.
  • Birthday greetings and prayers from friends, near and far.
  • A special blog post from a dear friend from college whom I have reconnected recently. It's a bonus that we are both Jesus girls now.
  • A poem from another college friend. She is embarking on writing a thousand verses to glorify God. She is also a Jesus girl.
  • Dinner with my extended family including my sister, who shares the same birthday though 8 years apart. (My mom is known for her timing.)
  • Seeing our boys play together.
On the way home, P took a picture of the sunset. When I looked at it later in the evening, it reminded me a lot of the Calvary Chapel dove! Compare:
Yes, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
As I wrote my blessings on my notebook, my mind drifted back to what the first graders (dressed as little pilgrims!) sang during the awards program: "Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks because HE has given Jesus Christ, His Son."
That is the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Counting God's Gifts

"Ingratitude is a sin." - Chuck Missler, Koinonia Institute, Haggai/Malachi class

I did a double take when I heard it, not because it was foreign to me, but because I have heard it before.
From all of our beginnings we keep reliving the Garden story.
Satan, he wanted more. More power, more glory. Ultimately in his essence, Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom in the heart of Eden. Satan's sin becomes the first sin of humanity: the sin of ingratitude. Adam and Eve are simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave.
Isn't that the catalyst of all my sins?
Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren't satisfied in God, in what He gives. We hunger for something more. Something other."
- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 9.

After reading this book. I started keeping my own list of One Thousand Gifts. That was February 13, 2011. I started with 7 or 8 per day. There was always something, even something small. Little did I know God was using this practice of looking daily for His blessings, to help me focus on Him six weeks later. It was then I realized not all gifts are good and easy. In fact, some blessings are downright hard.
My then 10-year old son, "Phineas," came down with a headache that Thursday morning. It did not go away even after the Tylenol I gave him before going to school. He stayed home the next day and the fever still didn't go away. On top of it he was acting really strange and I could not understand what he was saying. I told him, "Son, if this is an April Fool's joke, it's not very funny." When we went to Urgent Care, the doctor took one look at him and sent us to Children's Hospital for a possible brain inflammation. He was admitted to Children's Hospital with a meningitis diagnosis- viral, the good kind, they said. Then he was discharged - prematurely, I thought - two days later.

I was right.

By Wednesday night I found myself calling 911. We found ourselves back to Children's ER in the early hours of Thursday, April 7th. It was to the longest day of our lives but the practice of listing my gifts continued:

558. A son being carried by his Dad
559. No waiting in the ER! (This was a first)
560. Prayer requests sent at 3:16 a.m. to my sisters-in-Christ across the country
561. Response at 3:18 a.m. from Tennesee
562. Phone call from North Carolina
563. Real men do cry (my husband).

P's condition continued to deteriorate. By 11:00 a.m., he was non-responsive and it was the most frightening thing I have ever seen. My normally vibrant, intelligent, talkative son has been reduced to someone catatonic with a vacant stare. I had just downloaded YouVersion on my phone and decided to play the Psalms in audio. I held it over him and prayed that God's word can penetrate the recesses of his brain. When they were ready to take him to the CT scan I leaned over and whispered, "Son, I don't know if you can hear me but all those bible verses you've memorized for the Awana Bible Quiz and the Bible Bee? I need you to think about those right now, okay?"

The CT scan came back normal and they scheduled an MRI and his 3rd spinal tap at 3:00 p.m. After the MRI:

572. Nurse was paying attention when P had the seizure and aspirated
573. Running, running to his room - it felt like forever
574. Code Blue and all medical personnel descending to his room

I don't think I will ever forget turning around and seeing my husband, the one who has been indifferent to God, huddled under a desk, tears and terror in his eyes. This particular son - this is his "Isaac." The hospital personnel took us to a different room where we prayed. My husband was on his knees the whole time. They eventually stabilized P, moved him to the ICU and hooked him to a ventilator. They sent my husband and I (and by this time, our older son who insisted on flying back from college when he learned P was sick) home. I wrote down every blessing that day. I ended up with 55. It was the most I have ever written.

P spent a week in ICU and 4 more weeks in recovery. Some days were good (646. He opened his eyes) and some were difficult like finding out that it wasn't just meningitis but something else that affected not only his brain but also his spinal cord. The neurologist was not sure if he will be the same again. But every night without fail, as soon as I finish making my makeshift bed and he is asleep, I take my red notebook out and write my blessings. And I found this to be true:

"It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace…emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy…" Ann Voskamp, OneThousand Gifts

Looking back, I am amazed at what God has done. I belong to a group of sister believers who pray for our unsaved/not walking with the Lord spouses - their husbands started praying when they heard about what happened to my son. God kept me healthy even with minimal sleep. I did not get sick at all and I was not even crabby. The peace that passes understanding in Philippians 4:7? I experienced that. The prayers of faithful (Awana family, church, online friends) sustained us. God introduced me to other families in the ICU and I was able to minister to them. And the most amazing thing of all? After my son was discharged on May 6, my husband came to church with us that following Sunday. I have been praying for that for 7 years and tried everything in my arsenal from manipulation to guilt. Nothing worked. Until God stepped in. And His timing was perfect. It was the best Mother's Day ever.

This is the first time I am putting this experience in writing. I wish I could tell you everything that happened during and after those weeks. I just wanted to share my testimony for whomever may need it today. Let this be my offering of gratitude to God for what He has given us.
Psalm 136:1-3
1O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
2O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.
3O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

God still works miracles, in ways we never expect. He restored my son. He is restoring my husband and our marriage. I don't want to forget -- and waste His gift, ever.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hello, again!

It has been a while!

God and I have been on a ride these past few months. But that is another post. For today, let's start with something light.

My husband just came back from a business trip in Japan. Usually when he comes back from a trip, he brings some sort of cold virus with him. But not this time! There's nothing like experiencing two 6.0 magnitude aftershocks to make one's immune system go on high alert and behave.

Anyway he brought some goodies with him.

Pretty, right? I don't know what's in them but I love the colors.

For the boys, he bought this for our older son:

You use the hammer on top of his head to knock off the colored cylinders so his head connects to his base. Loud!

And then this mysterious box for our young one. We can't figure out how to open it. It's a 12-piece puzzle. Both of them tried it and they have only gone as far as to move two slots:

Finally, for me. He said he chose this dessert that is very special because it is only good for two days! We must consume it! Immediately! So, while he headed for the Baggage Claim section, I carefully unwrapped the package and saw these:

Uh-oh, I think we're too late.

He laughed. No, that's how it looks! Go ahead and try it. Since I love him, I ate one. But only after he did.

And we are still alive. (But in case it is a slow acting mutant virus, go ahead and change the caption to the picture as "Exhibit A")

It's good to be back.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A New Heart?

I'm taking The Way of Agape class by Nancy Missler. On our lesson this week Nancy said once we accepted Jesus as our Savior, God gave us a new heart. This surprised me the most when I heard it for the first time. I have been thinking about it for a over a week and I'm still not sure I can wrap my head around this! She said that our new hearts "are totally pure, totally incorruptible, and completely holy because it is now God's life and not our own." Christ in us the hope of glory.

A new heart? Really? How come I can't tell the difference?

And how do we explain these scriptures?
Eccl 9:3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. How it says in Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (NIV)
And in Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Nancy said that the evil heart pertains to unbelievers. Looking at the context in the above verses seem to confirm that. Especially this one: Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees when He said this.

Unbelievers cannot do anything with the conditions of their hearts. No matter how hard they try. Before my husband became a believer, I remember him swearing to me that "I'm going to be a changed man!" But that would only last a day or so. After that, it would revert to the old ways or -- even get worse! (Lord, I assumed that when he said "changed man" that he meant for the better!) To be fair, I have a string of broken New Year's resolutions myself.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." David asked God in Psalm 51:10. I looked up the word "create" in Hebrew:
Strong's H1254 - bara'
1) to create, shape, form
a) (Qal) to shape, fashion, create (always with God as subject)
1) of heaven and earth
2) of individual man
3) of new conditions and circumstances
4) of transformations
Did you see that? Always with God as a subject. That means only God can do this.

This would then explain the verses found in:
Proverbs 27:19
As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man. (I know people who have that "glow" in their faces. They are Spirit-filled believers. I also know plenty of people whose face show the ravages not only of age but of the hardness of their spirits.)
Luke 6:45
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks
I learned another lesson today. It just dawned on me that those scriptures I read about the evilness of our hearts became a convenient excuse. If my heart is beyond cure and no one can understand it, then when the things spoken of in Matthew 15:19 come out (aka the "uglies"), I can't do anything about them, right? The message I was sending was, Hey, I know I'm a professing Christian but I really can't help the way I act at all. It's my heart! See, it's evil. Why bother trying if my heart is going to revert to its original evil nature. It absolves me of responsibility of exercising the new willpower that God gave me. How misguided I have been...

I started to feel condemned, but I realize where that condemnation is coming from. It's not from God, it's from same source of the lie about the condition of my heart. Now I come before our Lord with repentance and hope.

Ephesians 1:18
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. The phrase "flooded with light" reminds me the picture of a submitted life from whence God's love can flow. I pray that from this day on, I will remember that I carry a brand new, clean heart created just for me by God. Yet another gift from my Savior.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lost and Found

Luke 15 is about recovering what is lost and in varying degrees.

In the parable of the lost sheep, 1 out of 100 was lost (Luke 15:4)
In the parable of the coins, 1 our of 10. (Luke 15:8)
Then in the prodigal son, 1 out of 2.

What does this tell me? Well, it shows me that God wants to recover the lost whether he is part of a group of 2 or 100. No one is too small or insignificant in our Father's eyes. And when He finds the lost, He rejoices. He is neither angry nor bitter. No accusations, no "how could yous." Just unconditional love and restoration be it for the foolish sheep who wanders off, or a rebellious son.

When I read the story of the Prodigal Son, I always picture myself as the older son. In fact my own son told me this the other day. When his Dad comes home and he hears the garage, my son always jumps out of his chair and runs to meet him at the door with a very enthusiastic "HI, DAD!!!" I asked why he never does it with me. He said, "Mom, because you're always with me! Why are you being like the older brother in the Prodigal Son." Touché.
I now find myself switching places with my own father. I am now the parent, my Dad is the prodigal son who took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. (Luke 15:13b). I am praying that when my Dad finally comes to his senses home, that I would remember how the Father treated his son - with love and compassion. I imagine that father praying all the time during his son's absence that he would come to realize the error of his ways and return home. I imagine him looking over the horizon day after day awaiting his son's return - for how else could he have seen him from a distance if he was not looking for him? Luke 15:20 But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. I like that image of anticipation on the part of the father. I imagine God doing the same thing to those people who are lost or are not walking with Him, He looks out for a hint of repentance, a turning around. And when it happens, He doesn't even have to run.

He's already there.