Wednesday, May 20, 2015

For the Firefly

This is a belated Mother's Day post, I suppose. Mother's Day came and went in the swirl of daily life and ministry and I hadn't thought to write a post. Our church men served barbacoa (bull's head tacos), salsas, tortillas, and ice cream bars for the ladies. We ladies had our own special table where we ate, laughed, talked about family, hormones, and raising children. While we were doing all this giggling, children and grandchildren were coming up to the table asking for help with their plates..or wanting to sit in laps..which we laughed some more about our 'day off'

Our Jonathan was born 6 1/2 weeks early. I guess he was in a hurry to get here. That was the last time he was in a hurry to do anything. This boy takes his time in-every-single-thing-he-does. I have to force myself to not rush him on some things. I have to bite back the words, "Hurry up!". He is one that 'takes joy in the journey'. He loves to 'stop and smell the roses'. He has taken his time in growing up. He is not one who rushes headlong into anything. He's patient. He's kind. He's slow to anger. He's a helper and an encourager. He is one who 'shines from within'. I read a blog post about this once about a little girl who felt different than anyone else. She felt that while everyone else wanted to pick the butterfly as their favorite, she wanted something else to be her favorite. She liked the firefly. Yet, she was almost afraid to like it because it made her feel different. It set her apart.  

Jonathan struggled for a little while in his early teen years with feeling different than others. He's not into sports and he's a bit shy around new company. He's into books. Old books. He likes to study Latin and Greek word roots and will be studying Biblical Greek in the coming year. Because he wants to.  He's not into military games, but he will read about war heroes. He's not into rock or country music, but he'll listen to Celtic, Classical, Christian, and Christmas music (old Christmas music), Western theme songs, Disney songs from movies. His reading level is deep and his comedy loves, however, range from Barney in The Andy Griffith Show, Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals and a host of others. His interests are a 'mixed bag' for certain. He's in the process of writing a book about a kid who finds out he comes from a very large family, is kidnapped, ends up on an island, and discovers he is the rightful royal heir to that island..and I don't know what all else. Bent over paper with pen in hand I find him many times scratching out words on a page, figuring out this main character's royal genealogy....One morning, I found him in his room with 2 science books open in his lap. He was looking to know who reigned after Queen Victoria and who in her family carried the  hemophilia gene like she did. Another morning, he was reading about an explosion that hit Siberia in 1908 that had flattened everything around the area. He has never met anyone that shares the same excitement over things like these.  At 18 years old, he's past much of the self-doubting now and realizes his differences are what makes him independent. And strong. And that he is, indeed, likeable! And that each trait he has is building on a foundation to what he will do and be in the future. He's working on learning to drive, finishing his senior year in high school (homeschool), and has plans to attend the local community college in town to study Electrical Engineering Technology. He hopes with his new found knowledge he will be able to repair old radios, old machines, old clocks, and be able to take these things apart and see how they work and restore them to their former glory. He's one to pick the firefly as his favorite. 

On Rachel's website, Hands Free Mama, she wrote a post entitled, "Children Who Shine From Within".  She compared her daughter to the firefly and writes, 

"The Butterflies will be noticed. So brilliant. So colorful. Their talents so obvious. But let us not forget the Fireflies. Their triumphs are quiet and unsuspecting.
Their gifts might even go completely unnoticed."

 This is my Jonathan and this I read aloud to him when I came across it.  It pin-pointed some traits to him and he was able to relate. I think it helped him reckon with his 'differences' and that his quiet ways of caring, his love of study, his love of all things old, antique, and ancient, are things that make him incredible. He's like his father, this one. This firefly trait comes naturally. The quiet leadership, the steady supporter, the thinker, the dreamer. And while Jonathan is by no means quiet, his inner strength quietly runs deep. 

An excerpt: (

"A firefly might be a seat saver on the bus so someone doesn't have to go to the intimidating back row.
A firefly might be a songwriter who pens music in his nightly dreams and hums away his days.
A firefly might be an artist that creates pictures you can feel with your soul.
A firefly might save his money for years just waiting for his heart to tell him, “That’s the one who needs your help.”
A firefly might stay up past bedtime calculating numbers beneath the covers because he was born a mathematician.
A firefly might be the I.T. kid of the school who jumps at the chance to help teachers with their computer woes.
A firefly might get lost in a cloud of flour, delighting in culinary arts.
A firefly might be a horseback rider finding peace in the company of animals and nature.
A firefly might devour a 357-page book in one sitting.
A firefly might have eyes for the lonely, looking for someone who wonders if she’s invisible.
A firefly might stick up for the lost, the rejected, the alone.
A firefly might be the lost, the rejected, the alone … just waiting for someone to notice his light among all the bright, fluttering wings of the Butterflies."
For the Firefly in my life, 
I see your care for Bro. Chavez -bent over with age and pain - when you gently help him out of his car, carry his Bible for him, and help him into the church building. 
I see your respect for your Grandpa when you listen to him - even though he's telling you the same story he told you yesterday, but he forgot.
I see you pour over the old, rejected box of books as if they were treasure from an abandoned building that friends brought for you. Our friends brought them to you because they knew you would see their value.
I see you laugh out loud in the same places of the book you've read three times already. 
I see you grieve for the wounded bird in the yard. For the lost dogs that we have no idea where they went. For my friend's sister who had been missing for 12 years and whose body was just found last week - presumably dead for 10 years now. I see your compassion for the wounded, broken, and hurting. 
I see you light up at buying a favorite candy of a friend who just had hip surgery and is recovering, painstakingly packing them and writing a nice note.  "I just want to be a blessing", you say.
I see your eyes close as you thoughtfully play your favorite hymn, "Nearer My God to Thee" and reflect on the author's life story that has resonated deep within you -when you think no one is looking.
I see you shine in million different ways every day.
"Keep making your magic", as Rachel says in her blog post. "And just you wait. Someday the world is going to see what I see. And your light will be so beautiful, so brilliant, so bright that the world is going to stop and wonder where such a light comes from. And you and I will both know that light, well, it’s been there all along. Because you are a Firefly.You shine from within." 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When We Lose Our Fear of Suffering

I heard a message recently that is still resounding in my heart and mind. It was one of those messages that made me cry all the way through. It was one of those messages that has stayed with me weeks later. It was one of those messages I needed to hear. It was one of those messages that my husband and I talked about for hours later that night. It was one of those messages.... (('Ever hear one of those?)) It was preached by Dr. Jeff Amsbaugh who was a guest speaker at our Missionary Field Conference a few weeks back. He said this, "We lose our fear of suffering when we embrace it. Thus making it our identity, our independence, and our influence." None of us are exempt from suffering of some kind. It is a mark of being human and it is one of the marks of being a follower of Christ. He preached from the text, John 12:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." 

I had mentioned this on Facebook and a friend of mine questioned what this meant. This was my interpretation of the message and these are the thoughts that came to mind when I answered her.  

"Suffering is a part of life. Our bodies are not perfect and do not function perfectly. There are other types of suffering as well. Emotional..Spiritual..

The first point mentioned was that suffering becomes our identity. When I heard this, I immediately thought of losing my mother at 3 yrs old..and losing my second son who was still-born 12 years ago. No matter which way I think about it, it has become my 'identity'. It's who I am. I am 'Jean's daughter' and Jean died on the mission field. I am a mother who still does not know how to answer the question, "Is Jonathan your only child?" It's what I've gone through. It's what I've become through it all..either bitter or better. I can identify with loss...and yet identify with gaining grace from the Grace-Giver. Without the darkness of the cross, we have no life. Without the darkness of suffering, we know no grace.

The second point was that suffering becomes our independence. The preacher mentioned that it makes us independent in a way that while we suffer, we do not suffer as the world those who have no hope. We become independent of those who think they don't need God to help them. We become independent when we use our life for Christ in spite of or even because of our suffering. The world may use it as an excuse to hate God; we use it as a means to draw closer. Without Him, we are nothing.

The third point was that suffering becomes our influence. I cannot even tell you the number of times I have been able to identify with someone else's pain (and be an encouragement) simply because I've been there. I know what it's like to lose a parent, to bury a child and all the hopes and dreams that went in the grave as well. I understand...and I can say that and mean it sincerely. Do I wish for the pain? No way! I'm a wimp. But it has become a testimony of the Provider. Suffering makes grace REAL. It makes it PERSONAL. We have no joy if we cannot give thanks even in the hard things. If no shadows fell over our lives, how would we know what comfort is? And perseverance. Mercy. Forgiveness. Patience. Courage. Not an easy message to hear. I cried through the whole thing. And I'm still thinking about it and praying over it. How can we become an instrument of peace if we don't know struggle? How can we show grace when we don't know suffering? How can we lead others to Christ if we cannot identify with Him? Tough questions."
We suffer sometimes due to our own choices. We suffer sometimes due to the choices of others. Grace is still there. Sometimes, it's hard to let go. It's hard to let go of whatever twisted sense of control I think I have. Author Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts puts it, 'snapped shut to grace'..."Closed to any notion of grace. Really, when you bury a child - or when you just simply get up every day and live life raw - you murmur the question soundlessly. No one hears. Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through the long nights, and bugs burrow through coffins? Where is God, really? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die, break off without reason, erode away. Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out?...We live with our hands clenched tight." 
((Sigh)) Yes. She nailed it. Shut tight to grace. ((Ugh! That sounds so raw. So ugly. So ..painful.)) Suffering changes people.  I can choose to live in anxiety, worry, fear. Or I can choose to see the graces given this day.  When I identify with suffering, do I increase my faith? Or hold it close, making my life small? It takes effort to trust. Energy. Yet if I don't try, I will have no joy. I will know no grace. The ugly in me stays ugly and never births anything beautiful.  I become dependent on my own self, my own way...and in the process become empty.  Empty of joy. Empty of grace. Empty of hope. I will have nothing to give when others suffer. I will have no authentic influence on anyone when I choose disbelief, distrust. And...who do I think I am, anyway, to think I should be exempt from suffering? Excused from having some scar or other from life...from living? Untouched. Unscathed. Unchanged.
John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Yes. I must decrease.
Suffering will leave it's mark. If I let anxiety, distrust, and worry become my natural posture, it can cripple me, causing me to be emotionally and spiritually arthritic. Possibly physically as well. Stress has a way of doing that.  Is that how I want to live? When I choose to record the graces anyway, in spite of or because of life's trials, when I un-clench my hand to receive today's graces..I become grateful.  I am able to breathe in joy...and breath out thanks.  "I wonder, too", Voskamp shares, "...if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually be places to see. To see through to God. That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave. But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God-places? To more God-places? How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion." A journey in my life for sure. "We lose our fear of suffering when we embrace it"...when we use it for good, when we recognize that God is still with us, when we cling to life and the Life Giver. Every day I have a choice. To grieve or to give thanks. To clench tight my fists and close myself off to any blessings...or to open them in faith willing to receive His promises. He has given blessings today.
 Will He not bless tomorrow? 
"God reveals Himself in rearview mirrors," Voskamp notes. "And I've an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance, before we can look back and see God's back in the rearview mirror. Maybe sometimes about as far as heaven -
that kind of distance."