Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting Ready


On this one reeling planet, someone woke up this morning to realize, again, that their bad dream is still the reality they are living. 


I've been that person. 


You've been that person.


For a whole week now I've been walking around praying for people I don’t know, because their pain has seeped in and shattered my heart. It's hard to see the purpose of it all.


What I want to do is get ready for Easter. 






And I just want the easy and fun parts. Such as pulling open the windows to let warm air into the stale corners of my life, after the long winter. 

I want to take the cute baskets, and tuck bits of cellophane in-between pastel colored candies and maybe buy some new shoes.

I don’t want to work too hard at getting ready for the most important holiday. I honestly want things to be easy and uncomplicated – but that just isn't how life is.

So I've been asking God how to get ready. 

How can I be ready and live like light, when dark things are on all sides?

Last week I was writing for Team 365. I don’t say that so you’ll be impressed. I’m not at all good at this reading some words and writing a short devotional. It should not be as hard as I make it, but it is ridiculously hard. There is some value in the leaning in to do the things that don't come easy.


That is some truth right there.

I was signed up to write on Exodus 11 and 12. Chapter 11 deals with the 10th plague. So, in Exodus 11, the king of Egypt has hardened his heart. Nine times before, Moses has appealed to him. Nine times the king refused to listen. And now, nine plagues later, his heart is even harder and its, going to cost him deeply, as well as all those in his country.  By morning the firstborn of every man and animal would die. 

Sin is like that. It hardens our hearts and costs us more than we think it will.

In the very next chapter, Exodus 12, God, –the God who designed time, the one who can mess with the rotation of the sun, –well now He changes how His people will mark out time on their calendar.

"This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.”
Exodus 12:2

Amen for beginning again!

God would stop and restart time, indicating that from that point on, everything would be different, new, and fresh. Their suffering was no longer going to define who they were. God Himself would define who they were.

But for this epic scene to become a reality, they were to follow God’s specific instructions.

And one of those instructions was that they needed a lamb, to sacrifice. 

This was to be done at twilight and the blood of the lamb was to be put on their doorposts. In this way the angel of death would pass over anyone who had the blood of the lamb, 

They were living the Old Testament picture of a New Testament truth.


That day they had to respond to what they were told, and in doing that they lived out the gospel message of Easter. 

This year I’ve been reading through the book of John with a sweet group of women. And this week Jesus is walking His way to His crucifixion.

The people of that day who were religious... the very smartest men who had devoted their lives to memorizing scripture and taking care of the church building and following all the rules, –those are the ones who wanted to kill Jesus.

These men had devoted most of their lives and energy to reading about the Messiah who would come to save them, but now He was right there in the middle of their mess and they didn't recognize him.

Those who had religion, were indignant that this humble man could be their King. He didn’t look important and He hung out with the wrong people. He talked to the bent down. He touch those who were broken and bruised and passed by.

Perhaps most maddening of all, was how Jesus, did not follow their neatly categorized, man-designed definitions of what He, Jesus, God in the flesh, should act like.


Jesus boldly states that they have a problem. They are tied to the mundane.  

They were caught up in the every day, ordinary, and the things they thought to be true. 

And they were missing God.

So I'm reading this book of John. It is full of the Lamb of God and the Passover symbolism. Beginning in the first chapter there is this stunning statement:

And it is no accident that toward the end of this same book, in John 19:14,  I read how it was Preparation Day for the Passover. Which would mean that thousands of lambs were being slaughtered for the Jewish Passover meal, at the same time Jesus was handed over to be killed.

 That gives new meaning to that verse:

Only God could have orchestrated these weeks of study and how everything I had been digging in to read the week before Easter, it all tied together so beautifully.

It was hard and beautiful all at the same time to read of God's plan to send His son to die for my sins.

And as the clock ticks down to the celebration of Easter, I don’t want to miss Him

I don’t want to keep living the same old way, taking for granted all that it cost Jesus to hang on that cross.

Easter is more than it appears.

More than spring cleaning, lovely dresses and bright colored eggs. More than going to church decorated with lilies and hearing about this Son of Man who was either crazy or really was, who He claimed to be.

Jesus Christ. 

He had an eternal perspective on suffering. 
He grasped that this world was not His home and that we were helpless to save ourselves. 
He recognized that His suffering, would impact all of time and eternity. 
He understood that dying here, would bring life for every single person who believes. 

His perspective really was in touch beyond the horizons of our world.

It's just hard to wrap my heart around all that he did for me.

May the message of Jesus, honestly penetrate our hearts this week.

Today we can come to Jesus. 

Just as we are.

For me? I’m coming weak. Without any great words. But with a heart that desires to relinquish more of my soul to His authority. I want repent of all my coddled sins. I want to embrace people exactly where they are.

I’m looking beyond this moment and into eternity and I’m believing that these days are fleeting and that my next choice matter. 

The reality of this life... is that there are hard things here that can affect eternity. Because Jesus did the hardest thing. He became that Lamb who is the sacrifice for all sin. 

And the most important part? His suffering, His death –wasn't the end of the story. It was the beginning of all things new in Christ.

Sunday is coming.

So, to get ready for Easter, mostly I don’t want to miss Jesus.

How about you? What are you doing to get ready for Easter?


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Thank you Jennifer Lee for gathering words and people at your blog home. Go check her out here?

And if you ever need a warm embrace for your heart, this woman is the place to find it.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Living In Response To Grace


They dance among the dry stubble of last year’s corn harvest.

All of them awkwardly beautiful, lifting their musical cries toward blue-grey skies that are dotted with wisps of velum-like clouds.
These feathered visitors make throaty purrs and trills all strung together not unlike a well-trained orchestra. As the hazy morning mist hangs in low lying countryside, their distinctive rolling cries, settle over the river valley.

Wearing crimson caps, these birds arrive in great multitudes, and their songs are a rising crescendo of noise. They are singing their own psalm to usher in the arrival of spring and their spirited moves are a promenade of gangly grace.

Sandhill cranes, along with thousands of other migratory birds are welcomed signs of spring and said to be one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent. And it happens right where I live.

The trees mostly hang bare from the long winter, but lifeless brown branches are beginning to show signs of green rising and fat pods look ready to break open and unfurl new leaflets.

Only a few shoots of green have pushed up on the south side of our home and every daffodil and tulip in the neighbors flowerbed is a testimony to longer hours of sunlight and temperatures that aren’t dropping as low at night.

This weekend, as we traveled miles and miles of road, open pastures on either side, there were hints of spring. Momma cows pressing their large noses to nudge newborn calves. Every now and then we would see a carpet of new grass growing on the sunny side of the ditch slope and some farmers were leaving a cloud of dust, as they began the process of preparing their fields for a new season of planting. 

The contrast between depleted dry soil that has laid dormant for months of winter, next to rows where the metal blades of cultivators had cut deep to tear open the earth, burying the old and unfolding rich soft soil. This process that makes the ground ready to receive seeds that will begin a new season of planting, tending and harvesting. 

This weekend too, we heard the sharp static crackle in the announcer’s speakers when he would come on to announce the names of baseball players. The light breeze flipped strands of hair while the afternoon sun warmed the skin, making it easy to close the eyes. With each sharp ringing sound that a bat makes when it collides with a fast pitch ball, the mind was jolted back to where the body was. 

Cheers of devoted baseball fans added to the sounds of my spring orchestra arrangement. It is all a symphony of sights and sound and smells, that remind me how one season has slipped away and another has arrived.

These days I feel as if I’m living in response to all this beautiful grace.

Full, often loud, crashing, rushing, rolling, chaotic days, softened by moments of appreciation for this season.

And Easter is coming.

The true celebration of new life.

 This is my favorite holiday of all.

The fact is, Easter is the foundation where I place all that I believe.

Because friends, Easter means resurrection.

That is a really big word that simply means, "to rise."

I've been reading about the final earth days of Jesus. All the events that led up to His death on that splintered rugged cross.

What I see, is that Jesus knew where He was heading and still He took one faith filled step after another.

He fed the hungry.

He healed the sick.

He gave sight to those who had never seen.

And in the final days before His death on the cross, He raised Lazarus from the dead.

He cleared the temple of those taking advantage of people for money. Again.

He washed the feet of His disciples.

He prayed.

He wept at the unbelief of the people He came to save.

He was betrayed by a close friend –with a kiss.

He was beaten to the point that no one could recognize Him and finally nailed to a cross.

But that is not where the story ends –in fact that is really where it all begins anew.

Christ isn't hanging on a cross. Jesus isn't sealed in a stone cold tomb.

The cross served as the way for the world to receive New Life.

Jesus blood spilled, so that there could be a new season.

The season of Grace.

Jesus is still inviting us to live in response to that gift.

He still calls us to join the symphony of all He created.

Right now. In this season.

Lift your voice along with the multitudes of all He created?

Yes, spring is here, but even better? Easter is here. 

New life isn't just for the spaces around us, it is available for the space within us.

Spring is a welcomed time after the harsh dark days of winter. I find it so appropriate that we celebrate the rising of Jesus as the world around me becomes new and alive again. 

Celebrating Easter, celebrating His resurrection, is how we can live in response to Grace.

Can you hear Him calling your name?

Jesus is only a breath prayer away.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What Breaks Your Heart?


I once read that you should pay attention to what makes you cry. How those things that reduce us to tears, are the places where pain, passion and God's heart often collide.

Many years ago, I took the words in James 1:27 to heart that say, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

So things concerning orphans, widows and people who are overlooked or taken advantage of in this world, break my heart, and most often, move me to tears. This year my desire is to open this blog space to people and their stories. Stories of doing hard things with great love.

And since adoption is very near to Gods heart it makes sense that today my guest would be someone who is living the journey of adoption.

Would you please make Sara Evans feel loved, as she tells a little about how her family has been weaved together through the trials and the journey to adopt.



Adoption journey.

That's what they call it and our experience has been just that –a journey.

I guess I’d always hoped that things would move quickly for us. That we’d end up with an amazing story about God opening an opportunity like he parted the Red Sea.

That it would be easy.

But it wasn't like that at all. In fact around this time last year I decided that I was done with wanting to adopt. I still loved adoption. I still believed in adoption. But I was tired of having this gut wrenching desire that remained unfulfilled.

I was tired of the waiting and tired of the trying.  My desire to adopt was strong. Sometimes bringing me to tears and sometimes to my knees. Every time I would hear about an abandoned child I wanted to rescue them.  All of them, not just one or two.

Even as a child I remember watching the movie “Annie” and wanting to bring all of those girls home with me.

We have tried to adopt. Several times.  After the birth of our first daughter in 1998 we decided to adopt through the state. We went through the whole process and were waiting to be matched when I found out I was pregnant with our son. (And before you ask, yes we know how that happens. And no, we weren't trying.) We would have continued but the state asked us to wait.  Fast forward six years, another child and another state later. Our youngest at that time was 3 and we thought we would try again, to adopt.

This state informed us that to be able to adopt any child under 10 we would need to be foster parents. It was a foster to adopt program intended to keep kids from moving in and out of too many homes.  I did not want to foster, but our agency assured us that so many of their families who wanted to adopt were able to and relatively quickly, so we agreed.

It was a very frustrating time for me as we watched child after child leave our home. Some were only with us for a few days, some a few months. None of our cases were normal. I can’t tell you how many times a case worker sat at our table and said, “We've never had a case like this before.” But we learned a lot about neglected kids.

Trial by fire.

The last case we had was a little girl with an attachment disorder and by the time she left I felt like a complete and utter failure. If adopting was anything like foster care then I was sure I would be no good at it. Around the same time our foster girl was leaving, we were surprised to learn that I was pregnant again.

Seems like a theme, we thought, "Perhaps God doesn't want us to adopt." So, we had our fourth child and moved again to another state. Our new town had a serious shortage of foster parents at that time. Paul and I knew we could and should help. And even though our goal wasn't to adopt this time I couldn't help but hope.  We have had a total of 15 foster children in our home over the years and didn't get to keep any of them. In most cases that was a good thing. It’s always good to reunite a family. But my heart had been broken too many times.

So, there I was. Done. God blessed me with four wonderful kids. I don’t need to adopt. I don’t want to adopt. And I want God to take the desire away. In the midst of a desperate plea, I felt God tell me… to sign up for the Bible study at church. Hmmm doesn't really seem like an answer to my prayer. But, I did it. The study was on the book of Nehemiah, which I've gone through before. And honestly, I didn't think I’d get too much out of it but I was wrong.

I describe the theme of the study as, "What breaks your heart?" What is the desire God has given you and what are you going to do about it? At that point I didn’t know what to do about it.

So, knowing that adoption was an area that breaks my heart, I surrendered. I surrendered to God’s plan and God’s timing. Instead of choosing a course that I think works, instead of telling God what to do, I surrender.

And then something strange happened, slowly at first, God begins to open doors for us, one after another, in ways that could only be God.  And on a beautiful Thursday in November we received the phone call I had waited for, hoped for, prayed for.

Our adoption agency had a match for us. A precious, little, Chinese boy who needs a family.

Prayerfully we said yes.

Prayerfully we move forward.

This is God’s path, His plan and we’re excited to see how He’s going to continue to work it out.

No, things have not moved quickly or been easy.

There has been plenty of drama, but nothing like the parting of a sea.

And even though our experience has stretched back over two decades we feel like this is just the beginning of our adoption journey.



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The Evans Family
Evans family photo (from left to right): 
Hannah, Alena, Daniel, Paul, Isabelle, & Sara



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Would you like to join in their adoption journey? Would you have a heart to help them bring Isaiah home? 

Here are a few ways you can do that. 

Their Facebook page for updates.

Donate here? Go Fund Me 

Pray?
     ~Protection of Isaiah, & all the changes that will be so hard for him.
     ~For the paperwork to go smoothly.
     ~For details and care of our children the two weeks we will be in China.
     ~Funds that still need to come in.
     ~Currently renting a small home. Praying for a home that meets our families
        needs.
     ~Praise God for all He has done!
     
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In closing friends, tell me, what breaks your heart?


Monday, March 9, 2015

Learning To Count My Days

I rummage through the junk drawer. That place in the kitchen island that is so full, it barely closes. The only thing I can find to jot down my thoughts, is this ridiculous pink fluffy heart pen. So I write down a few sentences, sip fresh coffee and watch morning break out with glowing rosy tints rising on the eastern horizon.

This morning, for the first time I see robins as they carry on their discussion about life just outside the window. They are welcome guests who bring a hopeful message that spring is on its way, after a deep season of winter.

So it’s been five years.

It’s amazing how fast these, one thousand eight hundred and twenty five days plus a few more, have disappeared, since I first heard the diagnoses of breast cancer. Those raw words that jolt you from the everyday kind of living and firmly set your feet on a path to an uninvited season of change.

In those first hours of shock and denial, when the radiologist looked away so I couldn't see her tears and the nurse tried to keep it together while she explained and the doctor hugged me as if it might be his last opportunity.

It made me choke back uncontrollable sobs to think my grandchildren would not know me and that JQ would move on to love someone else and I could soon only be a named etched in stone.  

The word –cancer– can cause to to think crazy thoughts.

In bleak days, there where muffled cries of my own soul as it wrestled with mortality and with God.

The early weeks of trying to be brave for everyone who was falling apart and positive in all of the unknown gloom. Sleepless nights negotiating with God and the dark hopeless reality that everyone is terminal.

The reminder of the cost of sin and how it brought death into the world and the reality that we only have so many days on this earth.

I've lived long enough to see close friends survive the first and second round of cancer and side effects, but ultimately lose the final battle.  That is the kind of stuff that weighs you down as you try to live.

So they say five years is something to celebrate and kind of a significant milestone for those who have had cancer.

How, at some point a person moves from being a cancer patient to a cancer survivor. And honestly, neither of those terms are ones that warm any soul. Perhaps the number is just so doctors can measure the effectiveness of treatment, but the Bible says that numbers are important.

What I know about cancer is that the hard parts were numbed by the bigger parts that have changed me.

Suffering and brokenness always bring change.

My experience in this life is how deep wounds and affliction have given opportunity for my soul to be re-stitched and remade.

In suffering there is a greater work.

This dreaded diagnoses has ushered me into waiting rooms, which I would never have sat in. It has pulled me up beside people with paper thin, ash colored skin which revealed every joint and bone. And we have sat side by side with magazines in our hands that told us how to live with cancer. And then I would slip my hand over theirs, in silence, moving past reading about how to live with cancer to actually just really living.

It has brought me into the company of surgeons and oncologists and a host of others professionals as well as everyday kind of amazing people. Some of them have openly prayed with me and others I’m still praying for. Shared suffering, produces a tangible thread between hearts.

Cancer has knit JQ and me together. Our souls are so interlaced in this living commitment and it brings an intimacy that comes from pain shared, and the deep knowing and the profound becoming more, one. And this is not just with each other, but with the Lord, who has shown Himself real and tangible in the days we have walked though together.

I don’t want to wear scars like trophies or talk about the pain as if I know how anyone else feels as they walk through the lowlands of any deep hard place, but I also don’t want to miss how it has made a difference in my life.

Cancer cured me of some of my soul-clutter.

It arrived as an unwelcome guest whose message was to remind me of what is the true Gift. 

How the 20,000 plus days before its arrival and the nearly 2000 days that have now passed since, have each been a treasure.

Cancer has given me an unsolicited platform to speak about my faith, to those who call and ask questions about my journey. 

And it has flung open the door to join others as they live out their story.

The Bible says that when we learn to count our days and embrace that fact   –of how life is short-lived, –well that is where wisdom is.

I must have needed a lot more wisdom. It’s true, five years ago, my life lacked focus on what was most important. I was just going through the motions from dawn-to-dusk. 

Being undone and embracing the unknown has brought me into a season of being more fully alive.

It has been a time of becoming more of who God made me to be. It has been days of clearing the things that entangled my minutes, hours and days and were keeping me from the moments that matter in eternity. Now I want to live a life that has eternal significance for Christ.

It has made me more sensitive to others and given me soul-eyes to feel needs and perhaps a bit of their pain. And it has given me a passion to pray, because I know that it really matters to talk to God about all these things going on around me.

Cancer altered me. Yes, on the outside, but more –on the inside. 

When cancer is pronounced over your life, it brings things into sharp focus that matter. 

My message to people who are open to hear, will always be Jesus. It isn't positive thoughts or a good life that will carry you past the fleeting days that we are given on earth. The message that people need to hear, is how the world has a problem that causes death. That problem is sin. And Christ loves us so much that He left heaven, became the Son of Man –so that He could die on the cross for us. The gift is free for the receiving.  I'd love to talk to you more about that love.

The fact is friends, God will use whatever it takes for us to move past our here-and-now of living for things that don’t last, to really living for His glory and not our own.

So if I only have this day or if I'm given 10,000 more, my desire is to live them well.

What has God used in your life that makes you count the days you have been given?

What season do you find yourself currently in?

How can I be a blessing to you today?

Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well! 
Psalm 90:12 MSG

Monday, March 2, 2015

Living With Abandon, Whimsy and Love


It was supposed to be kind of an ordinary day. One where the cold has set in thick with dark shadows and temperatures can be counted by toddlers. 1-2-3. The kind where you warm up some hot chocolate and settle in with that book you've been wanting to run away in.

But somehow that all changed and the house was invaded and actually taken over completely and may have even involved pulling a fairly sleepless all-nighter.

Yes, as I tap this out, I am currently experiencing what could be referred to as the lingering effect of a Grandma hangover. Withdrawals which were induced by concentrated time alone with six grandchildren. (And I only wish the 7th one could have been here too.)

I often kind of really joke that my goal is to keep the children alive until their parents return. Their parents should not trust me, honestly.

Because when the kids are here we just live with a certain degree of abandon.

Oh I try to be that grandma who feeds healthy snacks, real food and adheres to a good routine. It may begin all innocent, but as the hours click by, there have been times, like right now, when the rules are forgotten.

So, my natural tendency is to be spontaneous, which gives way to plain old improvising and to some degree ends up too often being pure survival.

I'll even imagine that I'm nearing some level of the most-awesome-Grandma-ever award and then the next moment I hope I don't damage them for life.

It was like that when the baby started crying real tears, with mouth wide open, and the big boys are saying they need some help right now, (which usually means that they really do) and then I hear the swooshing sound of water hitting linoleum. At that moment it’s hard to decide which emergency is the most pressing, but I opted for the water, since there may be a precedent of water damage set by certain grand-girls. 

All-in-all I think it was a good call, since there were sixteen ounce cups and one tug boat full of water being dumped over the edge. –Repeatedly– It was slightly concerning that I found the two year old unharmed, but dangling from the highest ledge in the basement, but he apparently has great upper-body strength. Baby girl would beg to differ on how I set my priorities, since when she is hungry she is really starving.

Perhaps we missed the window of time when children slip into quiet slumber. No kidding, one at a time every child was tucked into their little beds and a good night prayer was prayed. They each then, wanted to be the ones to pray. The one four year old prayed for everything from roads and cars and skies and dolls. Twice.

And then the excuses began. These kids have earned their masters in deferring the inevitable. Forget the standard, "I'm thirsty." The one boy took my hand and asked me to sit with him. When I acted like I may be ready to leave he leaned in and told me how much he loved me and then he said, "Nana, you are beautiful."

Bad or good, that boy had me. 

I think the little redhead may have won the prize for excuses, however. The hands on the clock were getting close to midnight and I was still convincing her that she must stay in bed and close her little blue eyes. She stated most matter-of-factually, "But Grandma, I need to trim my fingernails."

As I crawled into the spare bedroom where the baby was sleeping, she began cooing the most adorable sounds, ever. This continued, off and on until about three in the morning. She ate and had conversation and a complete change of clothes and an hour later finally drifted off to sleep. Three of the kids woke up around four thinking that it was morning and I assured them it wasn't, and then crawled into my own bed where the two year old was. Moments of sleep were punctuated with kicks to the head and I remembered many such nights with his own mother doing the same.  Somehow it was sweet.

Light streamed in as the bedroom door opened and the hall light revealed four little silhouettes who rushed in, all chattering,  "What are you still doing in bed, grandma?"

We all huddled under the canopy of covers and shrieked at cold feet, tickling and some whining may have gone on before we settled into the morning with teddy-bear shaped graham crackers and milk for breakfast. 

This, my friends is what I think it looks like to live in the moment, with abandon and great love.

I'm typing in the aftermath of that mostly sleepless all-night adventure. The dogs are making a nuisance of themselves snagging random snacks left behind. Poor Ken and Barbie are wearing each other's clothes and flashlights still glow dimly with drained batteries, under beds and wedged in couch cushions.

Involuntarily I have to chuckle at their antics and the big words that flow out from their young lips. There is such a happy-messy-whirl in the time these cousins spend together.

Someday when they look back, I pray that they remember how we sang silly songs, made up new rules to classic games, and that we went to bed too late, got up too early and played hide-and-go-seek in every niche in this home.

I hope they recall how we laughed and cried and fussed together. And that we sat around on the floor to listen to the important profound conversations that only young children can have and that we adults need to listen closer to, with our hearts.

I hope they remember kissing babies and that as they grow up they won't stop dreaming and creating and imagining. And most of all, that they will love each other always, with deep abandon.  

So friends, what do you think it looks like to live a life full of abandon, whimsy and love?



 
© Rhonda Quaney