The Seasons of Loss

God is teaching me a lot about loss right now. Right here at Christmas, when the focus is on getting — getting gifts, getting decorations up, getting together with loved ones — I am living through different kinds of loss. Charis losing her front tooth. Losing my time. Losing a dog. Tucked into each of these losses are good lessons, but they are bittersweet.

Charis is now officially without two front teeth. I must be getting sentimental in my old age, but it marked more than being able to sing the “All I want for Christmas” song. She is growing up. The baby of her is almost gone. I looked at her and thought, “Childhood is passing so quickly.” And there is a spiritual picture in losing teeth — moving away from baby things to maturity, from temporary to permanent, from milk to solid foods. I am forced to ask: Am I investing in the days I have with her? I found myself praying, “Lord, help me to relish the moments. Help me to savor her as she lets go of childlike things, and to not miss these vanishing days.”

Birthdays, though wonderful, are a kind of loss to me. They mark a passage of time. I always do an evaluation of where my life is to date. What am I doing with my time? Am I moving forward in my life goals and dreams? Have I allowed another year to be sucked away by distractions and excuses? Now more than ever, I am seeing that my time is a gift. My energy and health are gifts. But they are like seeds that can only be sown in certain seasons. I don’t want to lose the seeds to neglect.

We had to put Pearl, our Great Dane, down. She was nine years old, which is old age for these gentle giants. But age didn’t ease the how, why, and when questions, the second-guessing, the wishful thinking. When your dog weighs 150+ lbs, your options are very limited. But her frailty didn’t lessen the bitter decision.  Finally, one day when Salem and I were both trying to lift Pearl up to help her outside and failing miserably, Charis’ voice hit home. “Mom, it’s just time. It’s time to put her down,” she said quietly. Just like that, I realized that my avoiding the moment wouldn’t stop the moment. The loss was inescapable.

We all went together as a family, by choice. We cried and prayed before we took her to the vet. We thanked the Lord for the years, for the great dog that she was. And again Charis’ voice cut through the fog. “Lord, it is just time to let Pearl go. Help us let her go. We love her. And we let her go back to You. Amen.”

The peace that transcends understanding flooded into my weeping heart. After it was over — the vet, the tears, Pearl’s last breaths escaping her body — I asked the Lord to show me the sweet of this bitter moment. And the sweet was in the weeping. We all came home and lay on our bed together and wept. It was the realness of the loss, the realness of the emotion, the realness of death that we needed to experience and be comforted in.

What makes gain so real, so beautiful, is when it laid up against loss. My heart knows joy better when it has known grief. A hungry belly appreciates a meal more than a well fed one. A father letting his son go off to war knows better than anyone the joy of his son’s return. Let God soften and comfort your heart in losses. He is an ever-present help in time of need.

Let Earth Receive Her King – Part III

So through the surprise birthday bash, God has shown me that He can be trusted with the desires of my heart (Part 1), and that I have to learn to receive good from His hand through others (Part 2). And He is still revealing. So here is Part 3.

At the party, Chuck Spicka leaned over and whispered something in my ear and I looked at him wide-eyed and panicked.

It was the same reaction when Lyschel Burket made the announcement in the WGR class.

“We want to do Birthday Blessings for Jana.”

My body went into immediate shock: heart racing, pits sweating, hands clinching and feet positioned in the “Swim away, swim away” mode. To further the conflict, in my heart of hearts I did have honest desires, needs and wants. But I didn’t know how to approach our Giving God with hope and expectation for me personally and interact with the human race at the same time. I was in a pickle. Can’t run. Don’t want to miss it.

And then came the Birthday Blessings. If you are not familiar with it, it is a time each year to give words of thanks, blessing, and affirmation. We saw this sweet tradition acted out in the Michalik family and were so blown away by the beauty of loving words that we immediately began it our own family.

Here is how it works: family and friends each take a turn and tell the “Blessee” what they like, how they have been impacted, what they love about that person. One time a year to pour in grace and truth. It is so, so fun to do. I mean really, how often do you purposely take a few minutes and just tell someone that you are with on a daily or regular basis what you really love and appreciate? We are so impacted by others as we share life, but rarely tell them just how much their presence influences us.

Anyway. To do this with family and close friends is one thing. But doing it with a broader circle of friends is quite another. And did I mention that to be the “Blesser” is radically being different that being the “Blessee”? We just aren’t conditioned to receive praise and love like that. Well most of us aren’t. My youngest daughter on her birthday said, “Hey are you all done eatin’? I am ready to have my birthday blessings! Bring on the blessin’s!” But she is an unusual case. Or is it that she is the normal one, and the rest of us have just had all of the desire and need for affirmation beaten out of us…?

When it was all done at both events, my heart was swelling. If you knew how many years I had spent alone, or crying, or rejected. If you knew how many birthdays had passed by, just begging the Lord to bless me in the middle of my isolation, then you would know just how rich was that drink of water. It was amazing to hear these beautiful words pouring over me, washing me and watering me, all the while having an internal conversation with God at the same time.

“Steady,” He would say. “Steady, just receive.”
“But Lord, this is crazy. I feel so awkward. This is about you, not me,” I would protest.
“It is still about Me. I put that love in them, for you. I am loving you through them.”
“But what if they reject me later?”
“Jana, today, receive the gift of today,” He said.
When someone would say something that seemed over the top, putting me in too high of a position, I would flinch and object.
But He would whisper, “Just be loved. I will correct the course.”

Just be loved.

Chuck asked me what was the most important thing I had learned in my 48 years. (YES, I am 48!) I told him I have learned that the God life was easier than I had ever been taught. To receive His love, to believe I am loved by Him is the bottom line that changes everything. Every relationship, goal and problem. Just be loved.

Who knew? He did! The great Giving God who restored the years the locusts had eaten; Who makes all things new; Who is the Giver of new life, hope and healing. Oh earth, receive your King!!

Let Earth Receive Her King – Part II

In Part I, I told you about how my crazy husband got me so, so good with a surprise birthday party. I began explaining all that the Lord had revealed through this one event in my life.   Here is Part II.

My first lesson was that I can trust God with the desires of my heart.  But the second and perhaps more important lesson is: Do I know how to accept gifts from Him when He sets out to fulfill my desires? Through my birthday extravaganza, the Lord showed me that I don’t really know how to receive from Him.  Let me explain.

I told you that my instinct was to run away from the gathering of loving friends.  In the middle of the night, I went back to the Lord to ask Him why.  He explained that as long as Jana was giving to someone else, Jana was fine. But when someone wanted to give TO ME, then my hard drive went haywire. Somewhere in my God belief system, my programming was distorted.  I believed to the extreme that “it is better to give than to receive.”  So much so that I felt guilty, selfish, even sinful if I was ever given something.  Not from God, you understand, but from other people. When other people tried to bless me, I felt vulnerable, undeserving, lacking.  Do you hear that worth bell tolling?

To clarify, this scripture about giving is specifically geared toward stewarding money. Yet this verse had been manipulated into a theological equation that totaled: giving, giving, giving.  Only it didn’t quite add up.

You see, Jesus has his own doctrine:
Love one another.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Love as I have loved you.

Somewhere in His doctrine there must be recipients.  Somewhere there is a giver AND receiver. Just look at Christmas.  Look at the gleeful children so ready, eager and waiting to Receive their Christmas gifts.  God Himself says: “Unto you a child is born, unto you a Son is given.” We have to Receive the Child that has been given to us. Receive the life He gives to us. How powerful now is the refrain, “Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”

At my surprise birthday party, I was going through card after home-made card.  Reading scriptures, pictures and stories of how God had connected my life to others and how we had all been changed.  We were gifts to each other.  Gifts to be received.  This wasn’t a one way street. This wasn’t a benevolent, unconnected exchange.  This was flesh and blood interactions.  It was God’s life poured out through our lives, into my life.  It was Emmanuel.  God with us.  In us, through us, for us….

So revelation number 2: To really experience the Christ life is to Receive Him, His love and gifts — especially as they come through the hands of others….

Let Earth Receive Her King – Part I

Joy to the World, the Lord is come.  Let earth receive her King.

I have had a phenomenal revelation this weekend in the unlikely form of a Surprise Birthday Party. My ever clever husband conspired with my children (what restraint!) to have me, completely clueless, walk in to a room full of loving friends saying, “Surprise!”  My first response was shock. I stood there open-mouthed, dumbfounded and speechless. Which is a RARE condition for me. But my next responses were of embarrassment and the desire to run away. So I just sat down at the table and cried.  Overwhelmed and undone.

It was a great, great night, with home-made cards and words of love and blessing. As I looked around the table, I kept shaking my head thinking, “I can’t believe all this is for me.”  My cup was indeed running over with thankfulness.

But at 3:30 in the morning, I had to get back up and process with the Lord. Why did I want to run away? Why was I so embarrassed? Why did I feel so guilty over being the recipient of such love and affection?

His answers were astounding.  As usual.  Over the next 24 hours, He began whispering truths into my heart.  Truths about desires, design and receiving His goodness.

So in this first of several blogs, let me give you some background. During the day on Saturday, I had been whining. I was really in a wad about my birthday plans or lack thereof (so I thought). Not one to be overly sentimental about my own birthday, I surprised myself and Chuck with shooting down his plans for our night out:

“No I don’t want to drive the kids out to my mom’s, then drive back west for dinner.”
“No, I don’t want to dress up.”
“We’re only going to Macaroni Grill because you like it.”
“This is stupid, it doesn’t matter, let’s just stay home with the kids and I’ll make dinner.”

Fortunately, Chuck had enough self control to NOT blurt out, “You need to get dressed because I am going to have a surprise party for you, and the kids have to go to your mom’s because all the other people to babysit will  be at YOUR party at Macaroni Grill!”  So glad he resisted that temptation.

But I was still whining. I went outside and told the Lord, “I am just really under attack. I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. Help me to just calm down and be thankful for whatever comes.” But the Lord very quietly asked me, “What do you want?” I said, “Nothing.”

And as soon as I said “nothing,” I wanted to laugh out loud. Because if I wanted “nothing” then what was the whining about? So I ‘fessed up that I wanted to have a heartfelt card from Chuck; that I wanted to feel special but didn’t want to have to ask for it.  That I just wanted to be loved on…. But instead of softening my heart, those thoughts hardened my  heart. I recalled past times of dashed hopes and disappointments. There was no cheese down that hole.

So I concluded my time with the Lord with a grown-up white knuckling version of “that stuff doesn’t matter, and I need to be thankful and not complain.”

How funny that the Lord already knew the desires of my heart, even the unspoken ones, and already had a plan that I knew Nothing about. And how funny that I was tormenting Chuck and all the while he was trying to bless me… How crazy that just hours later, I had the first surprise party of my life and handmade cards telling me how well loved I was. How funny, how crazy, how God….

So for today, I want to end with revelation number one: I can trust God with the desires of my heart. He has plans for me that I know Nothing about.  And, He loves surprises as much as I do….

God Story: The Power of Prayer

I have so many God stories of His supernatural provision that I could write 10 books. But Tuesday night I was basking in the beauty of one of my favorite answers to prayer.

My daughter, Salem.

We were in her room, full from birthday cake, waiting for the clock to display 8:38 pm — the time she had been born 12 years earlier. And like all kids, she was asking about who was at the hospital, what was the scoop, what was her story.

“What did Dad do when I was born?”
“He cried.”
“What were you doing?”
“And Grandmaw and Grandpaw, what were they doing?”
“Waiting anxiously, then crying.”

“Salem, I don’t think you realize how many prayers were sent up for us to have a baby. There was much rejoicing when you were born,” I said.

And with that last comment came a flood of memories. Of churches, of youth groups, and women’s groups. Places where I had shared my story of abortion, heartache and healing. The outcry of these listeners had been to pray for God to bless Chuck and me with a baby.  After Salem was born, I found out that people in my church had quietly prayed that God would heal our hearts and bodies so that we would be able to have children.

Here Chuck and I were walking through the silent and grieving hell of infertility, but God was stirring His saints to pray nonetheless.

Pray they did. And He was pleased to answer.

Looking at this feisty, strong willed, solemn warrior-child before me, I was really amazed again at the mercy of God.

My thoughts turned toward heaven when I will see all those people who prayed for us, who never saw us again and never heard the rest of the story. When I see them in heaven, I can’t wait to introduce them to Salem, the answer to their prayers.

Oh pray without ceasing, believing that He hears our cries and intercessions.

“The prayers of the saints are like sweet smelling incense.”