Thursday, August 27, 2015

When You're Trying to Remember Who God Is


“Remind me who God is.”

These words keep ringing in my ears, a mandate from a grieving friend.

“Remind me who God is.”

She was desperate, hungry, despairing as we stood near the casket of her 26-year-old son. We hugged hard and she grabbed my shoulders, looking me square in the eyes and repeated her edict.

“Remind me who God is.”

That was two weeks ago, and her words keep ringing in my ears, my mind, my heart.

They say nobody should have to bury their child, but as I learned at a very young age the “shoulds” don’t mean much when reality is your only experience. Sure, nobody should have to bury their child, but they do. All the time. My friends just did, and my parents did too.

I’ve been short on words these past couple of weeks. My knees have felt weak. I haven’t slept well. I just keep thinking about the nightmare that our friends are living right now.

And I'm trying so hard to remember for myself who God really is.

Who is God when reality sets in? When real life comes knocking with a blow so forceful that you can’t stand against it? Who is God when everything you’ve planned for and dreamed of is altered, not just slightly but forever?

Death. Divorce. Illness.

Life has changed; it will never look, feel, taste the same as it did before.

And who is God through it all?

It’s OK to wonder—I know this. It’s OK to question and to doubt—examples abound throughout the Bible of people who really wondered about God. I mean, where would we be if we didn’t actually wonder about God? We’d be lemmings running for the edge of a cliff.

Wonder is OK. Wonder may even be good for us.

This morning I came as close as I could to feeling my way toward an answer. An answer that I can live with for now. And it may not even say as much about God as it does about me.

I read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. These were Daniel’s buddies who refused to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. The story in Daniel 3 tells us that the king gives them one more chance to “do the right thing” and bow before his shiny likeness, but still the three refuse.

Here’s their rationale: “The God whom we serve is able to save us.”

That’s it. They believe that their God can do anything, even rescue them from a blazing furnace. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s pure faith.

“The God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.”

But that’s not even the end of it. They go on: “But even if he doesn’t we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

“But even if he doesn’t . . .”

These words, strangely, give me so much hope. They have strengthened my faith in the past and they help today as I process the death of a too-young man.

You see, these words tell me that God can do anything—ANYTHING—but he also sometimes doesn’t intervene. This has to be OK because He is God. A powerful, mighty, all-knowing God who sometimes allows his children to suffer. 

What it also tells me is that we don’t always know why. Sometimes we can’t know, and sometimes we won’t know until a long way down the road, but God always knows His purposes. And while I don’t get it just now, I can trust that He’s got this.

The other good thing I know from this story in Daniel 3 is that God will never take us through that suffering alone. Remember the rest of the story? King N. throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace—he’s cruel that way—but he watches from a distance (also cruel if not creepy). What he sees when he looks into the fire is not three men walking around, but four.

He is certain he only threw three men into the fire, so why are there four men walking around unharmed? Because God had provided a rescuer. Some believe that Jesus himself walked through the fire with the three men; others believe it’s an angel. Whatever or Whoever it is, the point is that God did not leave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He provided a comforter, a rescuer, a way out.

Here’s the thing about grief: it sometimes feels like there will never be a way out of it. Sometimes it feels like a furnace, an actual blazing furnace, and that you will indeed die before you see the other side of it. It feels never-ending.

But here’s what I know about God: He has not left your side. He is there, walking right beside you, weeping with you, feeling the intensity of your pain, mourning your loss. He grieves with you. He does. Because He loves you.

“Remind me who God is.” Words I’ll be pondering for a long time.

Today I’m just beginning to remember.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Guest Posting at (in)Courage Today: Meeting God at the Post Office


The line in front of me was three deep, and only one man was working behind the counter.
Ugh. Why is it always like this at the post office? I glanced at my watch and wondered how long this would take.
It seems like I’m always in a hurry, and this day was no exception. My errand at the post office was an invitation to irritation because what I needed was so small — just a little additional postage for a square envelope that needed to be mailed that day. It should have taken only a few seconds, except for that line in front of me.
I heaved a sigh and took my place at the end of the line. Be patient, Shelly. Just slow down and be patient.
I glanced at the man behind the counter, chatting it up with his customer, a woman with a stroller. They seemed to be having a good time, laughing about this and that. Finally, she finished and the next woman stepped up to the counter. Same thing. Lively banter. Lots of smiles. Their cheerful conversation took maybe an extra minute or two.
Next up, the older gentleman in front of me. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. He probably won’t be much for small talk. . . .
****
Today I am honored to be guest posting at (in)Courage. Join me over there to read the rest of the story.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Giveaway: Rest and Repine

**Congratulations to Carolyn who won the beautiful French rolling pin from Rest and Repine! Thanks, everyone, for your interest!**

[Editor's note: Please take care to COME BACK HERE and leave a comment AFTER you have "Liked" Chad's FB or IG feeds in order to be signed up for the giveaway. Thanks!]



I love this quote because it reminds me that even what I do as a writer is not simply telling about things as they appear, but it's about digging beneath the surface to reveal an inner beauty, a deeper meaning, that "inward significance" that Aristotle called it.

Dinner becomes more than just four or five people sitting around a table consuming food. It is a celebration among family and friends; it is a sharing of experiences; it is giving thanks. The stories we share are not merely journalism--a reporting of facts--but rather an exploration into lives well lived or sorrows endured or laughter shared.

True art does not merely represent, it tells a story.

Today I want to tell you a story about a friend I met several years ago. I think he was among the first group of college kids that Kate brought home her freshman year, and over their four years at Wheaton College, Chad remained part of that large group who attended countless meals, parties, and gatherings at our house.

What always impressed me about Chad was his joyful smile and his curiosity about others. I noticed that he often would take time to talk to a friend one-on-one as others were loudly joking in a group. I appreciated the way he took time to talk to B and me, asking questions and looking us in the eye, something unique among most college-aged kids. Chad is a kind, thoughtful people-person who has never met a stranger.

What Chad didn't know as he studied at Wheaton was that he was also an artist. Not until he graduated and a friend's uncle offered to teach him woodworking did Chad realize that he had a gift for taking a piece of wood and making it into something useful and special.

1

Chad learned the craft of woodworking quickly and began taking orders for small pieces of furniture, even outfitting the patio of one of my favorite local restaurants with tables. Local designers began to take notice of his work and started asking him to create pieces for their clients.

2

And Chad's business, Rest and Repine, was born.

3

Now Chad is launching his business as a full-time venture, hoping to create art that will last for decades. He envisions his furniture as pieces that will tell stories, hand-crafted works of art that can be passed down for generations.

For the past year as things have taken off, Chad has been borrowing his friend's equipment, but now he would like to purchase his own. In order to do that, Chad has launched a kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $15,000. When you contribute, you will receive a piece of Chad's art as a thank you.

4

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Looking for something a little bigger or more custom? Chad can do that! Just give him a call and he will work with you to design just the right piece for your family.

6

Good news! This week I am hosting a special giveaway of one of Chad's French rolling pins. This is a beautifully finished hardwood rolling pin that will last forever. I love it so much, but it will be yours if you win because you are my special readers.

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Here's all you have to do to be entered: "Like" Rest and Repine on Facebook or Instagram, then come back and leave a comment here telling me you've done that. If you visit Chad's website or his Indigogo campaign page, you can tell me that in another comment as well.

I will leave the giveaway open through Sunday night and announce the winner on Monday.

Will you help spread the word? It only takes a second to share this on your own Facebook or Instagram page. I know a recent college grad would really appreciate the support.

(And if you'd like to follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or if you'd sign up for email updates, I'd appreciate it too.)

Thanks, friends!

Photo credits: 1|2|3|6 - Rest and Repine; 4|5|7 - mine

Friday, August 7, 2015

Trip Report: A Celebration of 30

A very good year!

Good morning, friends! 

I've been struggling all week trying to decide whether I should write about our most recent trip or not. With the events of this summer swirling around in my brain (racial tensions, elections, and abortion videos), it seems rather inconsequential to share happy pictures of far-away places with you. 

And, to be honest, there's always the "oh, you got to go to ______" comment that makes me more than uncomfortable. (To think that anyone would harbor one ounce of jealousy for my life makes me both uncomfortable and sad. Each of our lives are amazing--we must know that.)

But in the end, here I am. I've decided to post a few pictures for you in hopes that you will celebrate with me, because that's what this trip was about. 

In June, B and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. As we drove to dinner that night (June 1, just in case you're interested), B looked at me and simply said, "Thirty years!" We laughed heartily and agreed that thirty years felt like an accomplishment--that it WAS an accomplishment--and that the years of hard work and commitment deserved to be celebrated. 

We've celebrated big anniversaries before, but this was the biggest (and longest) celebration so far. It wasn't a trip we took lightly; we planned and planned for HOURS before we left. We incorporated meaningful events into the trip. And we traveled with people we love. 

I've written about travel quite a bit in this space, probably, first, because I inherited the "wanderlust" gene from my grandfather. But second, and more importantly, I write about travel because every time I travel I learn something about God. He opens my eyes in new ways that I wouldn't see if I didn't experience it for myself.

And this trip was no exception.

So, for the celebration element and the what-I-learned-about-God element, I've decided to share our trip. Please don't think I take any of this for granted or that I feel somehow entitled to trips like this. It's simply in my DNA to want to wander around this great big globe and see how other people live.

*****
Our trip took almost 2 1/2 weeks and consisted of several parts.

Part 1: St. Andrews, Scotland

Our family is a golfing family, not so much in that we play it much (I haven't picked up a club in YEARS) but in that we love to watch it. And we have a couple of pretty good players in our family as well (shout out to my dad who plays his age and to my niece who is playing in an LPGA qualifying event this weekend). So, because we love golf and because we love St. Andrews and because we've done this a couple of times before, we simply had to start at the British Open.

B and me at the birthplace of golf.

My sister, Jenn, and her husband, Tom, got married the same year we did. We always travel with them for anniversaries.

Sorry about the fuzzy picture, but this helps explain what happened: 
For only the 2nd time in 144 years, the British Open did not end on Sunday. 
We missed the final round. :(

Part 2: Lucca, Italy

We wanted to spend some time in Tuscany, so we made our home base an apartment in Lucca. From there we took day trips to Cinque Terre, Florence, and the Chianti region. 

Lucca. We could not get enough of the quaintness and beauty of this town.

Corniglia, one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre.

Lovely Florence.


One of our best days was when we hired a driver to take us to three wineries in the Chianti region. This was the third and final stop of our day and, believe it or not, the most special. 
Yes, this is a winery. It is small. It is humble. But it produces some of the best Chianti wines around. 

This is Fernando who runs the Montefiorelli winery with his son. After our wonderful tasting in his vineyard, he grabbed two bottles of wine to give to each of us, then signed them in remembrance and celebration of our anniversaries. I'll never forget that day.

Part 3: Rome

We had to spend a few days in Rome, right? Let me just say that the history of the Romans is fascinating. And to walk in the same places that Peter or Paul may have walked was just mind-blowing to me. 

The Pantheon

The Coliseum. I was blown away by its grandeur.

Inside the Coliseum

Kate at the Roman Forum

This is Leonardo who is a church planter in Rome as well as a theologian, a seminary professor, and the head of the evangelical church in Italy. This sweet man took a day (his birthday, no less!) to show us some sights and to explain a bit about the Christian church in Rome. 

Kate flew in to meet us in Rome and to spend the second week with us. After a couple of days of overlap, Jenn and Tom flew home. Sad to say goodbye to them.

Part 4: Positano

First stop, Pompeii (with Mt. Vesuvio in the background). Such an interesting place!

This was the part of the trip when we rested up from the earlier part of the trip. We had been going non-stop for ten days and we were tired. The Amalfi Coast was the perfect place to rest. So beautiful.

Positano

Capri

*****
So you might be wondering what I learned about God on this trip, since I said every trip teaches me something. 

This time I was so struck by the history of Rome and Pompeii, and I was reminded over and over again that even 2,000 years ago at the very start of the Christian church, there were people alive who lived in these places and who met together to discuss their faith. I could just picture the small house churches where the early Christians met together. I could almost taste their fear of persecution. And, despite all of the difficulties, I could sense their joy.

And it made me so grateful that these people did not give up believing, because here I am today, 2,000 years later, a beneficiary of their faith.

It struck me so much that God is in all of it. He was there in early Rome, in Pompeii, giving people His Holy Spirit so that they would believe in what had happened just across the sea a few years earlier. It struck me that God was there in ancient times, leading people to believe in Jesus, just as He is today.

We in America don't have the corner on Christianity--this is what I see whenever I travel. God has His people scattered all over the globe, and we will ultimately celebrate with every believer one day. This makes me excited for Heaven, for the day when all will be well--poverty will be eliminated, babies kept safe, and all of us looking to Jesus as our ultimate reward.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What to Do When Nothing’s As It Should Be



Summer hasn’t really been summer around here.

I mean, here we are in July—July!—and it’s only been in the 90s once and in the 80s a handful of times. Nearly every morning I awaken to clouds outside my window instead of crisp, blue summer skies. I find myself longing for those cloudless summer days, the ones that take your breath away and steal your heart forever.

This just isn’t one of those summers.

This morning, while doing an errand at a local store, I ran into an elderly woman from church. She’s a quiet woman, the epitome of what I’d imagine godliness to look like, yet even she acknowledged quietly, “It’s hard to not complain about the weather this year.”

Nothing’s as it should be.

Normally in the summer I read essays and plan for the coming school year. I think hard about my classes and try to come up with new ways to teach old lessons.

But this year is different. I’m not going back to work in the fall, and this, like the weather, has me disoriented. Many days I have wandered around my house, creating a made-up frenzy, only because I feel like I “should” be busy.

I’m a productivity person, I confessed to a friend the other day. I don’t feel like I’m contributing unless I’m producing, even if it’s just a bed I’ve made or a load of laundry I’ve folded. I keep moving throughout my day simply because I feel like I “should” be doing something. Anything.

So most of my summer has been spent keeping my hands busy and my heart distracted from the reality that has barely begun to set in—I’m not going back to work and my life, as I knew it, looks very, very different these days.

*****

Twenty-one years ago at this time of year I had a newborn. With colic. From the day she turned two weeks old until the day she turned twelve weeks old, this dear girl cried and cried and cried. O.K., it wasn’t just crying (I’m trying to be nice about it here), that kid screamed her lungs out.

For ten weeks.

This was the day of the hand-crank swing—no fancy battery-operated baby swing for us—and it seems the only thing that would pacify this child was the swing, with a swing-limit of about ten minutes before someone would have to get up and crank her up again.

Even (and especially) in the middle of the night. I’d lay on the couch next to her swing, dozing for ten minutes until the swing slowed and she started screaming again, crank her up so she’d quiet herself, and sleep for another nine minutes until it would start all over again.

In the morning, I’d be so disoriented that I felt like I was walking through my day in a fog. I had very little energy for her sister, who was two, and I found I was dreading most of my days and nights. Life was a barely-hanging-on existence.

Until the exact day of her twelfth week when all of a sudden, just like that, she stopped crying. Maybe her insides caught up with her outsides. Maybe she was just sensitive to her new surroundings. I don’t know what happened, but just as many moms told me would happen, she suddenly stopped crying.

And what a blessed relief that was. A blessed, surprising relief.

If I had only known then that all I needed to do was to hang on, the waiting would have seemed so much easier. If I had only known that there was an end in sight and that the end would occur on the exact day of her twelve-week birthday, I might have been able to tell myself it would all be O.K.

But we don’t always know, do we?

If the weatherman could only give me a date when it would stop raining and start giving me blue skies, maybe I wouldn’t wake up in such a funk.

If I only knew when this “new” life without work would start feeling “normal,” maybe I could just stop tromping aimlessly around my house.

But maybe this not knowing is good for us, though, because it is in the not knowing when God teaches us all kinds of things. Like how to love our screaming babies or how to push through when our child is sick or we’re anxious and hurting or our faith is strained. Maybe this not knowing pushes us to lean into a God who does know, everything, and to trust Him more with the outcome.

*****

Earlier this week I was struggling again with this needing-to-be-busy-but-feeling-disoriented attitude. I went into an exercise class feeling a little anxious about the week ahead, so before the class started I prayed, “God, I want to hear from you today. Please, Holy Spirit, speak to me before the end of class.”

I know. Weird. While I do usually pray in the quiet before class, I don’t usually pray that specifically for God to speak to me, but I felt like I needed to hear something from Him.

So class went on. I stretched. I sweated. I kept prayer at the forefront of my mind, but didn’t feel like I was hearing anything.

Finally, the cool down at the end of class came, and I prayed again, “Lord, I want to hear from you.”

And in just that moment the instructor turned on some quiet music. The song was one I had never heard before, although the singer’s voice was familiar. But the words!

Suddenly I was overcome and tears started to flow, because I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this song was for me. It’s what God has wanted me to know in the midst all of this uncertainty.

Maybe it’s what He wants you to know, too.

*****

“Be Still” by The Fray

Be still and know that I’m with you
Be still and know that I am here
Be still and know that I’m with you
Be still, be still, and know

When darkness comes upon you
And covers you with fear and shame
Be still and know that I’m with you
And I will say your name

If terror falls upon your bed
And sleep no longer comes
Remember all the words I said
Be still, be still, and know

And when you to through the valley
And the shadow comes down from the hill
If morning never comes to be
Be still, be still, be still

If you forget the way to go
And lose where you came from
If no one is standing beside you
Be still and know I am

Be still and know that I’m with you
Be still and know I am