Monday, July 15, 2013

Safe or Not?

Safe or Not?

Sometimes I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I LOVE being a Mom, and everything that goes along with it. I love going to volleyball games and choir concerts. I love being the one she wants to come to when she is giddy with excitement or devastated by a loss (I don't love the loss part, just the "being the one she wants to come to" part). I love taking her to school in the mornings. I’m pretty sure we have had our best conversations in the car. There have been times when we have come pretty close to solving many of the world’s problems while sitting at stoplights or in the parking lot that masquerades as a “freeway”.   At other times,  we’re both in pensive sort of moods and we just enjoy listening to music together.  I love being able to pray both with her and for her about what the day holds. I wouldn’t trade those times in the car for anything. 

When John’s schedule allowed him to start sharing the morning drive-to-school time with me, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to give that precious time up.  Allison is almost 15 and I am painfully aware of how short the time is until she will be asking for the car keys instead of getting in on the passenger side.  But, I am reluctantly learning to let her Dad share in that time with her.  And I have managed to find ways to use those few extra minutes in the morning after I send them off with a hug.

Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I actually go back to bed. I have even been known to get completely ready for work, including putting my shoes on,  and then I crawl back under the covers. Fully dressed and ready, I know I can sleep until two minutes before I have to walk out the door.  I usually jolt awake just at the right time, smooth out my clothes, brush my hair, and somehow feel like I have gotten away with something decadent. (I know, if that is what I consider decadent, I lead a very simple life.)

On other mornings, the ones following a better night’s sleep, I use this  time to check in on Facebook. This option has its own little routine attached to it. A can of Diet Coke moves from the fridge to the freezer. After about eight to ten minutes, it is at the perfect point of icy coldness. Some caffeine lovers look forward to the sound of their coffee percolating in the mornings. For me, it is the sound of that metal pop-top flipping open that says “today just might turn out okay after all.” I carry my slightly frozen treasure into the office and sit down at the computer.

There are several reasons why I enjoy checking in on Facebook first thing in the morning. Several special friends post Bible verses almost every morning and I can usually find words of encouragement and joy there. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the time of day when my favorite author/”friend-who-I’ve-never met”, John Lynch, usually posts.  His writings almost always make me cry because they speak of God’s grace in ways that I am just now, at the age of 51, learning to breathe in. Sometimes his whimsical descriptions of things make me laugh. You can read his musings for yourself at

So on a morning not too long ago, I was excited to see a post from him. And I was even more excited when, upon glancing at it, I noticed that he was quoting one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In this excerpt, the young girl Lucy is asking about Aslan the lion, who represents Christ.

 "Is he—quite safe?" she asks.

 "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver.  "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”

 (Chapter 8 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)


After quoting this passage, John Lynch goes on to say that he has always liked this quote, but now is finding it doesn’t feel right.  Because the Jesus He knows is always, ultimately safe.

At the risk of sounding a little bit dramatic, my world felt slightly shaken. I have loved that passage since the day I first read it and have even used it when telling “my story”.   But there was a part of me that also resonated with what John was saying.

So I began to wrestle with this.  Is God safe or not?  He must be one or the other, right?

I, like John, have found Jesus to be so very safe. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He is always protecting, always loving, always nurturing. Always.  When the Bible describes Him as a refuge, a strongtower, a shelter, a shield . . . those aren’t just words to me. I have experienced Him that way. That is who I know Him to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And there is never a time when He is not those things. Never a time when He is not safe.  So why do C.S. Lewis’s words, “Course He isn’t safe, but He’s good”, resonate so deeply with me?

I think it is because, I have to admit, there are times when Jesus doesn’t feel safe to me. And not just in the sense that we live in an unsafe, fallen world. Sometimes the very things He seems to be calling me toward feel unsafe. Sometimes I actually hear myself saying to Him:  “Are you kidding me with this?”  Jesus asked Peter to step out of a boat onto a raging sea. Yes, Jesus was ultimately safe, and it was the sea and the storm that were unsafe, but it was Jesus who was calling Him out into that, right? How safe is that?

Most recently, this “unsafeness” (not a real word, I know) has manifested itself in my life in my husband’s health issues . . . a diagnosis with an uncertain, possibly scary, future. This diagnosis doesn’t change my love for my husband, but, I must admit, it makes me want to put brick walls up around my heart. “Maybe it won’t hurt so badly if I just protect myself a little bit.” But Jesus, the safe yet unsafe One, is asking me to love like I never have before, recklessly. To open my heart up even more, knowing there is risk, knowing it will hurt, knowing the future is uncertain and may not be pretty.  I must admit, it’s not feeling very safe.

It’s kind of reminding me of a time a few years ago when Allison was twelve. She had signed up for a beginning guitar class and was doing quite well. Well enough, in fact, that the teacher asked her to come to a “gig” at a restaurant and play and sing a Taylor Swift song. (Hmm. . . a twelve year old girl in a guitar class so of course it was going to be Taylor Swift, right?)  Allison was very excited and agreed wholeheartedly. That was Wednesday. The gig was Saturday. Plenty of time to practice . . . or . . . plenty of time to get cold feet. Saturday arrived and Allison suddenly began begging, pleading, and cajoling me to allow her to back out of her commitment. She didn’t want to go. She was afraid. I told her she had to go because she had committed to it. Then the tears came. Real, heartfelt tears. The kind that break a Mom’s heart.  The begging continued. I probably would have been tempted to give in and let her stay home,  except for the fact that a few months earlier, she had signed up for a school talent show and ended up backing out of it at the last minute after some stupid kid told her she couldn’t sing. (Sorry, but when you’re a Mom, and someone hurts your kid, you’re allowed to refer to them as “stupid”.  Ask any Mom.)  I was really concerned that letting her back out again would become kind of a self-perpetuating cycle of letting her fears get the best of her. I knew this cycle too well from my own experience. So I stuck to my guns and told her she had to go to the performance and she had to sing and that I would be there and I was sure it would be fine.

It was a really quiet ride to the restaurant. I am sure Allison was not seeing me as a safe person at that point. And I really wasn’t safe. I was asking her to get out of the boat and into the storm. And neither of us could be sure what the outcome would be.

While she was waiting to perform, I did my own version of begging. I pleaded with God to let it go well. I could picture my daughter, if it didn’t go well, sitting on a therapist’s couch ten years from now saying, “My life was pretty good until my Mom made me perform when I didn’t want to. Then all hell broke loose.” But somewhere deep down I knew that no matter how the performance went, we would be okay. We would have a safe place to land. Is it possible I was experiencing Jesus as both safe and unsafe simultaneously?

Well, the performance went better than we could have imagined, and Allison has gone on to perform in many gigs at restaurants, fairs, and on a cable television show.  Recently,  she is focusing more on worship than on Taylor Swift, and she is helping to lead worship in several different areas.  To watch her is to witness someone who appears to have found her calling at a relatively young age. The girl worships with abandon. And she draws others into God’s presence along with her.

I do not want to take credit for this recent development in any way, shape or form, but I do wonder how differently the path might have looked  if I had allowed her to give in to that early case of “stagefright”.   If I had played the role of “safe parent”, she might never have gotten out of the boat.

We all face situations that feel unsafe. And often it is God Himself who is calling us out further into that unsafe place.  For my family right now it is medical uncertainties and all of the implications that go along with that. I used to, when faced with things that felt “unsafe”, spend a lot of time contemplating whether God caused the situation, or allowed the situation, or had nothing to do with the situation.I thought that understanding which of those was true might help me cope with things more effectively.  Honestly, I don’t have the mental or emotional energy for that kind of pondering anymore.  And far greater minds than mine have wrestled with these questions and come up lacking.

But this I do know:  the same God who called Peter out of the boat into the unsafe storm, also leads His children beside calm, still waters and quiet, green pastures. And He promises a peace beyond human understanding. So the storms can rage, and the mountains can crumble, but we will always be held safely in the palm of His hand. No matter what.

Perhaps He can be both unsafe and safe in the best possible ways. And perhaps that is enough.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Messy Midlife Crisis, Eternity in My heart, or a Little of Both?

I knew it had been a long time since I blogged . . .but when I logged on and saw it had been over a year . . . really?? I had no idea it had been that long. It actually took me awhile to remember how to log in to post a new entry. The main reason I haven't posted for so long . . . truthfully . . . is I have felt a bit of a mess lately. You know, those periods of time when you can't make sense of your own thoughts or emotions, let alone share them with someone else? But the other day I was going back and reading old posts by one of my favorite authors/bloggers, Ann Voskamp ( and read this:  "This is what I blog. Because this is who I am. I am a mess – who often doesn’t want to get out of bed.  Who struggles and preaches ugly self-sermons to herself and some days just really doesn’t know how to go on. I don’t have it all together. I blog about not having it all together. And you know what? I’m almost willing to hazard a guess that there are a whole lot of others out there like me who are a bit of a mess and who don’t know how to get out of bed some mornings and who have to fight. Hard. For. Joy." (Oct. 23, 2012)
So I decided to just go ahead and write.
If you are still reading, would you make me a promise? Will you read this entry to the end? Because my biggest fear right now is that you will get halfway through and think "This girl is way too depressing. How quickly can I press that little "x" box that will get me out of here?" And if you do that, I will be really, really sad.  (okay, I won't even know that you did that, so it's not true that I will be really sad, but you will have missed my point if you stop halfway, and I really don't want that to happen). So if we have an agreement that you will read until the end, then you can continue reading . . . :-) . . . here it is . . . my own personal "mess" and the sense I have made of it so far . . .
I'm pretty sure I might be having a midlife crisis. I haven't gone out and bought a new sports car, or scheduled a facelift. My crisis is more internal . . . you see, I've been thinking a lot about death. There, I said it out loud. Well, actually, I wrote it, which is the same as saying it out loud. . . or maybe worse. . . anyway . . .
I envision some of you wanting to stop reading now. Perhaps even deciding, subconsciously, not to ever go to lunch with me again, at least until I'm over this little preoccupation.  And that's why I haven't written about it before now. But it has gotten to the point where I can't not write about it. (does that mean I'm actually becoming a real writer?)
As I reflected back on where this preoccupation began or was coming from, I thought back to one of the first psychology classes I ever took. The teacher had us take a bunch of personality tests and quizzes, and one of them was Hans Selye's stress scale.  You may be familiar with it -- you are given a long list of life events each assigned a point value based on how stressful they are perceived to be. You end up with a final total that gives you a numerical idea of how stressed you are.
I decided to evaluate the last 18 months or so of my life in light of specific events I have experienced. Here are some of the things I came up with -- some are wholly positive, some wholly negative, and some a mixture.  (This may seem slightly self-indulgent -- but bear with me, I do have a point. And remember, I'm having a midlife crisis, so if you stop reading now, I may cry, throw something, or go ahead and schedule that facelift.)
          1.  January 2012 -- I turn 50 years old.  Enough said.
(by the way, somewhere around my 50th birthday, I told my husband I thought I might be having a midlife crisis and his loving reply was "Well, technically, you're already past midlife." Gotta love a good reality check.)
          2.  May 2012 -- Our only daughter graduates from junior high. Not a big deal for some families.  For us it was big. She had attended the same small school from Kindergarten through 8th grade and literally grew up with the same group of kids, families, and teachers. Graduation meant many good-byes for her and for us, and the closing of a chapter of our lives.
               2a.  The decision of where she would attend high school was not clearcut.  There was some significant stress involved in thinking through and praying through where the best place for her would be. God has proven incredibly faithful in guiding us in this area.
           3.  June/July 2012 -- my husband underwent extensive testing for a rare muscular disorder and the diagnosis was confirmed. I camped out in denial for quite awhile . . . and I must admit I still visit my campsite there every once in awhile when things get a little too hard.   
          4.  Feb./March 2013 -- my Mom moved to a beautiful retirement community. We are in the process of going through belongings and memories in the house where we grew up and where she lived for over 40 years.
          5.  Feb./March 2013 -- my dear friend Wendie was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. She is one of those friends who you can go months without talking to, and then the second you hear her voice, it is like no time has passed at all. She called to tell me she had undergone a hysterectomy and was getting ready to schedule chemotherapy and radiation. She has three young children. I told her "If you need me to come and help you, there is no place I would rather be." I meant it.
                     5a.  On my way to the airport to spend a week with Wendie and her family, I realized that I have developed a pretty significant fear of flying. I started telling my husband that maybe I shouldn't get on the plane, maybe I am not supposed to go. He calmly tells me that I am supposed to go and that I need to get on the plane. While sitting waiting to board the plane, I came pretty close to having a complete panic attack. More about that a little later . . .
          6.  March 2013 -- my brother-in-law undergoes surgery. A call on a Monday night informed us the surgery went well.  On Wednesday morning of that week, there is a message on our machine from his daughter that says "It doesn't look good." My husband leaves work to go to the hospital . . . Tim is unconscious before John gets there and he passed away a few hours later. Tim suffered from the same genetic disease that John has been diagnosed with. He had several other significant health issues that John does not have, so at this point, it seems that those difficulties played more of a role than the disease itself. This may be the complete truth, or it may be complete denial on my part, or it may be a mixture of both. In any event, it is my way of surviving and I think I may be entitled to a little denial if it helps me keep going. (Sorry if that sounds dramatic . . . )
          I went to my writers' group the night Tim died. I knew things did not look good at that point but had not yet learned of his passing. Every week, we are asked to journal about the topic of the sermon from the previous Sunday.  This week's topic was about dreaming. When I had listened to the sermon the Sunday before, I had been inspired . . . dreaming big dreams for God . . .it all sounded good and hopeful and happy.
          But that had been before this last blow. Now things felt hard. And I found myself dwelling on things like disease, death, pain, goodbyes. And, honestly, I kind of wanted to shake my fist at God and ask Him "How dare You ask me to dream when there is all this mess going on?"  I wrote in my journal:  "My heart doesn't feel much like dreaming tonight. Too much heaviness around me, too much sadness, too much pain . . . Dream, you say? Sorry but I am finding that difficult."
          Then I turned my thoughts to My Father. He is always as close as the air I breathe, even when I am shaking my fist at Him. I wrote: "God, You became a man and walked this earth. You know what it is like to feel Your heart breaking, to watch loved ones suffer. To see pain almost everywhere You turn. But I believe You are a dreamer. So show me how to continue to dream. How did You do it?"
           I heard Him nudge me. "Start writing down reasons why you can still continue to dream.  Just start writing. You can find reasons if you look for them."
(One of my current favorite worship songs is Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons. One of the lines says "For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing . . . 10,000 reasons for my heart to find."  I have been intrigued by the idea that reasons to be grateful and dream do not always just jump out at us . . . . sometimes we have to search for them.)
         So I began to search my heart and mind for reasons to continue to dream. Here is what I came up with . . .
      --  I can dream because I know my Father's heart is always good and always loving.  He holds my future in His hands.
     --  I can dream because I have a beautiful 14 year old daughter who is a dreamer herself. She has a gleam in her eye and a brightness in her voice whenever she talks about her future. She needs me to keep dreaming too.
     --  I can dream because I know ultimately, there is a Home we are headed toward where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more disease, no more sucky phone calls, and no more sorrow.      no. more.
     --  I can dream because I know the Author of this story.  And I know He wins. And I know He brings good out of everything.
         You see, if I choose to focus on what is wrong and difficult and painful in this world, I can easily, very easily, get stuck there. When I was trembling with fear that my plane was going to crash, I was thinking about all the things that could go wrong:  the engines could fail, there might be a terrorist on board (because L.A. to Denver IS one of those frequently traveled terrorist routes), there could be a blinding snowstorm, etc. etc. etc.  At some point in the midst of my panicking, I realized this one thing:  God has already determined the exact number of my days. If I had chosen, out of fear, not to get on that plane, but it had been my time to go, I would have gotten hit by a car or dropped dead of a heart attack. And if it wasn't my time to go, there was no way there was going to be engine failure, or a terrorist on board, or any of the other crazy scenarios that my mind was rehearsing at the time. He is in complete control over how long each of us is going to live here on this earth. And it is the EXACT right number of years or days, no matter how it might appear from our perspective. How comforting is that?
          So maybe this preoccupation with death isn't such a bad thing. Because in addition to giving me a new glimpse of His sovereignty, it is also teaching me how precious each day is. What a gift this life is. I don't want to miss anything . . .
          And don't get me wrong, I intend to live at least another 30 or 40 years. But whether I die tomorrow, or end up holding a world record for longevity, I want to be ready . . . ready to live and to grasp each wonderful moment . . . and when He does call my name, I want to run to His arms, and sit at His feet and gaze forever into the face of the One who has captured my heart, redeemed my life, and made every moment worthwhile.

Trusting Him with every tomorrow,


"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  Ecclesiastes 3:11

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:12