Sunday, February 28, 2016

Loving the Cockroach

Hanna, my four-year-old, attempts to turn any creature into a pet. Today, stooping down protectively over a glass jar containing a ladybug, Hanna taught her two-year-old sister, Mercy, how to take good care of her very own insect: "It needs to sleep now," she explained knowingly, covering the jar with a dish towel and cooing Brahms' lullaby.

The world abounds with pets in the eyes of my kids. Last Sunday my children decided that crawfish make perfect pets. Scooping them skillfully out of a local creek they gathered 23 of those wet, creeping, nipping crustaceans. Kate, our favorite neighbor girl, felt so lucky to get to take them all home. Unlike me, her amazing mom allows a multitude of pets.

Another fine pet is the cockroach, at least according to Hanna who cried bitterly when I squished her potential pet during our last summer vacation. "I just wanted to love it and take care of it," she mourned.

What is it that gives kids such a strong desire to have animals of their own? Genesis 1:26 clues us in to Hanna's desires and feelings: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion... over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"
Looking at Hanna helps me understand more of what God is like, because God created her in His image, after His likeness. One major way she reflects His image is by having dominion over every creeping thing. While I always associated dominion with domination, ruling over someone to the advantage of the ruler, Hanna's desire to make a cockroach feel loved and secure makes the true meaning of dominion come to life. This, in turn, reveals God's heart towards us.

In our sin we are as unappealing to God as a cockroach, yet he chooses to stoop down to provide for and protect us. Unlike Hanna and her ladybug He knows exactly what we need, namely to know Him, to walk with Him and to trust Him for our every need. This has only been made possible through His forgiveness of our sins by sacrificing His only son. His level of provision goes beyond my ability to comprehend.

This fresh understanding of dominion through the eyes of a little girl gives me such comfort as it shows that His rule is to our benefit and that His love is completely unconditional. Therefore we can rejoice that "his dominion is an everlasting dominion." (Dan. 4:34)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

God is Greater Than our Emotions

Have you ever heard a sermon on Job? If so, it was probably an exhortation to emulate Job's submissive and worshipful attitude in the midst of loss and suffering. While Job's initial response to his catastrophic experiences is honorable and praiseworthy, if this were all we could glean from this Old Testament book, reading chapter one would completely suffice, rendering the following 41 chapters superfluous. In doing so we would miss the raw emotions Job experiences throughout the rest of the book. He feels angry at God and he unashamedly approaches God with his accusations. Job feels like God has made him His mark (7:20), firing arrows through him (6:4) hitting him with a rod (9:34) and throwing him into the mud (Job 30:14). He accuses God of contending against him (10:2), oppressing and despising him (10:3) and destroying all hope (14:19). Job even has the gall to call God his accuser (9:15), a title usually reserved for Satan. Doesn't it then seem surprising that, in God's eyes, Job never sinned in what he said (42:7-9)?

After Ani's death I felt angry at God for taking my precious daughter. I thought I was wrong for feeling this way and my perceived guilt kept me from approaching God. When I could stand this tension no longer, I confided in a professional grief counselor. Dr. Robert Bell explained to me that only once in his entire career had he encountered a grieving parent who did not have feelings of anger towards God. While it was a comfort to me that I was not alone in this dilemma, I wondered what a spiritual saint this one parent must have been. Dr. Bell totally surprised me as he provided the eye-opening reason behind this exception: This parent was an atheist. She could impossibly accuse a God she did not believe in.

In understanding that anger toward God is a natural response, and in reading the book of Job, I learned once again that God is much bigger than I had thought. God is not weak. He is not fearful that his name would be marred by our negative thoughts or emotions towards Him. We are permitted to come to Him and bring our complaints. He allows us to beat against His chest and scream in rage. He can take it! Moreover He already knows how we feel and what we are thinking. He does not reject us but desires to gather us in His arms, showing us that He is for us and with us, even when we do not understand, even if we are angry at him.

This made me fall in love with the God of Job. If we skip over Job's painfully raw emotions towards God, we miss knowing that it is O.K to be absolutely real with Him. God is greater, even than our emotions.

"Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything." (1 John 3:30)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

O Death Where Is Your Victory?

In June 2006 our beloved firstborn daughter, Anita, suffocated on a baby blanket. She was exactly 100 days old when I found her lifeless form in the crib. Ani's short life had been so full of vibrant health and marked by her joyous curiosity, that her sudden death came as a complete shock. In spite of the indescribable pain of losing this precious girl, I am grateful for the privilege of sharing the brief time we had together.

Dear Ani,
My sweet daughter. I miss you! My arms ached with emptiness when you left. Your short life seemed over all too soon. Gladly would I have taken your place. I grieved what was and is no longer. Your contagious smile would brighten up the day for everyone around. Each time you awoke, you would start grinning from ear to ear, causing your pacifier to plop out of your mouth. On our last day together you even learned to laugh out loud. What a beautiful sound that was! I also loved to hear your happy babbling voice as you watched your brothers play. I savored the calm feeling of holding you close and smelling your sweet baby skin when you fell asleep in my arms after nursing.

All that, has left such a void in my life; but I also grieved what should have been. I wondered about the things you would have learned over the years. I pictured you excitedly bursting into the house to explain a new discovery to me, hoping that I would share your enthusiasm. I envisioned the adventures you would have had with your best friend. I was sure there would be a lot of giggles in our home as you played dress ups or hide-and-seek together. I dreamed about Daddy proudly leading you down the aisle to meet the man who was to become your husband. Even thinking of my own death, I wanted you to be there to hold my hand as I drew my last breath. These things were not to be. It seems unfair, as if you and I were robbed of all this.

And yet, as you behold the face of Jesus right now, you are learning things that are light-years beyond what you could have discovered or comprehended on earth. I can't wait to hear the excitement in your voice as you share what God has made known to you. Rather than missing out, it seems like you got to graduate early. You definitely have the best friend there ever was. Jesus will never disappoint you, He is always there for you, and He is completely trustworthy. It is true that Daddy won't get to walk you down the aisle on your wedding day; you are with Christ, the groom, already. But you will get to take our hands and guide us to Him one day, instead. You will be there as I take my last breath, after all, ready to greet me and show me our forever home. Home! It makes the thought of heaven all the sweeter, knowing that one day we will be reunited in a place where there will be no more tears, death, or mourning.

I will never stop loving you!


"When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory,' 'O death where is your victory?' 'O death where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:54+55) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do not be anxious!

Last week my oldest son, Daniel, had an allergic reaction to a prescribed medication. His symptoms worried me and his theatrical tendencies only added fuel to the fire. While he dragged himself to bed, he gave me his most pitiful look and said, "See you in the morning, if I am still alive... ." After that, I let my thoughts run out of control and my anxiety skyrocketed. This came as a complete surprise to me because, even though I have been closely acquainted with fear, it has been a while since I have gone there.

I had my first panic attack at age nine. I was so fearful of death, and my unbelieving friends and family could not provide me with answers. This fear became increasingly crippling. Even when I became a believer at age 14, things did not change. Later on, during my pregnancies, my level of panic became almost unbearable. Ironically, I would wish for death, the thing I feared so greatly. I would plead with God to remove this fear, plaster my wall with Bible verses, and ask others for prayer. Still, nothing changed. When I went into labor with my sixth child, Hanna, I feared for her life and mine so strongly that I needed sedatives in order to endure the delivery. I felt completely defeated.

Three months later, Hanna contracted a respiratory virus. Her breathing suddenly became so labored, I was not sure we would make it to the E.R. in time. At her release from the hospital, four days later, I was admonished by the nurses to keep Hanna close to me and listen to her breathing at all times. Here I was, exhausted but unable to sleep as I was remembering the death of my first daughter, Anita. Ani had been exactly the same age as Hanna when she was not able to breathe at night. I had felt responsible for Ani's death, guilty for having slept when she needed me. Now panic crowded in again because keeping watchful every minute was beyond my ability.

Then and there I decided to put Philippians 4:6 into practice: "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
I thanked God for planning Hanna's life and for loving her more than I ever could. I confessed that I could not do anything to prolong her life beyond his plans. I thanked God for his goodness and entrusted Hanna into his hands. After that prayer, I slept.

There was a noticeable change after I had learned to thank God for his promises, rather than being guided by my emotions. During my next pregnancy I was free from anxiety and able to enjoy every moment. (As soon as the morning sickness subsided.) My fear of death was so completely gone that even 18 months ago, when my doctor suspected I might have a cancer with a 95% fatality rate, all I could feel was the joy of getting to see my Savior's face sooner than expected. I thought anxiety was something of the past.

Last week when anxiety reared its ugly head again, I realized that faith needs to be exercised anew each time a difficult situation arises. It is not something we overcome and then possess for the rest of our lives. Each day provides new opportunities to trust God. Speaking out truth and thanking God for it, is a very practical way of taking our thoughts captive, replacing them with God's thoughts, and placing our lives in God's hands, irrespective of our emotions

Last week I chose not to feel defeated because of my anxiety, but to run to Jesus instead. As I thanked him for his compassion, for sharing my humanity, for his complete control, for loving Daniel more than I do, and for holding the future in his hands, I experienced what is promised in Philippians 4:7:

"And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."