Spiritual Growth

To Know Me is to Know My Struggle

Many years ago, I believed if I just had enough counseling I could overcome my dysfunction and be a normal person. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in therapy. And when you come from severe dysfunction, sometimes it’s your only hope. But it’s not like taking a pill when you have an infection. Therapy doesn’t just make it all go away.

And who wants to get counseling when it forces you to look at yourself. For in that looking, you see all the ways you self-destruct your own life and those around you.

For most of my adult life, I’ve fought against my own dysfunction. To know me, is to know my struggle. I’m outspoken, controlling, and driven to get my own way. And I don’t struggle in silence. I tend to openly reveal my battles, and I expect others to do the same. To me, intimacy involves a deep down sharing of the wars that rage inside us. I believe it’s where I begin to understand you and you begin to understand me.

And in that understanding, deep relationships bloom. For if I know the source of your struggle, and I see you fighting against it, I can respect you. I can join you in your fight. And cheer you on to victory.

It’s true, the closer someone is, the greater they can hurt you. That’s always the risk. Let someone in, and the pain door flings wide open. But when I know your challenges, it makes it easier for me to apply grace.

On the flip side, I don’t share my struggles so other’s can use them against me. I don’t reveal them as fuel for someone to build up their own distorted view of themselves.

Over the years, many well-meaning folks have tried to fix me. I guess it goes with the territory of having a soap opera caliber life. Perhaps it makes them feel better to help a sloppy soul like mine. But their pity makes me feel worthless. I wanted friendship, but it was clear that was never their goal.

It’s so cliché to say life is not fair. But there’s no phrase that says it better. I celebrate those who had great childhoods. It’s wonderful your dad invested in you or your mom was the model for June Cleaver. Maybe you’re not a self-saboteur like me. But I’d almost bet you struggle with pride.

That’s what’s so great about Christ. He never let anyone off the hook. We all have something to own in this great big battle against sin. And our only job is to turn around and take a look at ourselves. Examine our own hearts. It’s all there waiting for us to unravel.

But there’s nothing like great friends who are willing to chug alongside us as we face the worst parts of ourselves.

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My Chugging Friends, Ginni and Dian

 

 

 

I’m Selfish – How About You?

AJM & UE

For my entire adult life, she’s never been more than a phone call away. And call her I did. She was the first to learn Daniel was arrested. The first one told Tim had cancer. Over the phone we celebrated all my life’s accomplishments. And we cried over all my challenges.

For the past 50 some years, I’ve spent hours pouring my heart out to her, knowing she’d not only understand, but also give me a perspective to help me to grow.

So it’s hard to watch Aunt Jeanne Marie struggle with dementia. It’s hard to adjust when she forgets who she’s talking to. It’s painful when she knows it. And when she gets upset, my heart aches.

Aging is hard. And to think my whole life it’s gone on around me. But in the selfishness of my youth, I’ve looked the other way. I wasn’t around as my grandparent’s aged. And both my parent’s died relatively young. So much of this journey is new to me.

But I’ve been calloused toward the aging. I’ve not noticed their struggle, or been mindful that I could possibly help.

I guess it’s human nature, or maybe it’s our youth obsessed culture. We enter this world with guns a blazing. We wail like mad at the first hint of our need. We’re like the two-year-old on the toilet when an earthquake rumbles who asks his mother, “What did I do?” We would never say it out loud, but we do think the world revolves around us.

But God has a way of pulling us back in. Of reminding us there’s a reason the weak shall inherit the earth. That deep down satisfaction comes when we give ourselves away. That self-centeredness is the fastest route to self-destruction. Aging has a way of bringing it all back around. Of teaching us how helpless we really are.

AJM & Her Girls 2I cherish my Aunt Jeanne Marie. And to me, she will always be that 30 something beauty that stepped into my life after my father died. And I don’t care if today she thinks I’m her sister Josephine, or that Uncle Eugene is Uncle Lewis. I’ll just roll with it for as long as she’s willing to talk.

For my hope lies in the truth that God is in the business of making all things new. And for those of us who put our trust in Christ, we will all get new bodies. And one day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But in the mean time, God is preparing a place for my Aunt Jeanne Marie. A place with no more tears, no more death, and no more dying.

And to that I say, come Lord Jesus, come.

Pining for the Moon

As a kid, I had several albums of stories told by animated readers. My brothers and sisters and I would gather around our little blue record player, crank up the volume, and sit spellbound as we listened.

I vividly remember one called, The Boy in the Moon. A deep male voice told the story of a little boy who lived with his loving family in a land far away. The boy had everything and yet, nothing made him happy. Nightly his father asked him what was wrong. And mournfully the boy pointed up to the heavens and said,

“I want the moon papa, I want the moon.”

Ladder to the MoonThe story goes on to tell how after years of seeing his son unhappy, the father decides to grant the boys wish. So one night he puts the boy in a boat and rows and rows until they reach the place where the ocean meets the sky. There they find the ladder that leads to the moon.

The father kisses his son and sadly watches as he begins his climb. For the rest of the father’s life he misses him, but is comforted by waving at the moon, knowing his boy is happy.

Boy in the MoonEach time I listened to that story, I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard. All my life I wanted a loving father. And the thought of a child leaving a happy family to go live all alone on the moon seemed so stupid to me. I never could see what the moon had to offer over a father whose greatest desire was to see his son happy.

I always wanted to rewrite that story. I wanted it to end with the boy coming to his senses. I imagined him dangling from that ladder until a boat comes by to take him home. I imagined the look of joy on the father’s face knowing his son finally realized there is nothing greater than a family, not even the fulfillment of his wildest dream.

Prodigal SonI hate to think how much time I’ve wasted pining after dreams, that if fulfilled, would have been a disaster. How grateful I am for a loving Father who has many times, patiently waited for me to come home. And each time I do, He runs out to greet me.

How about you? What dreams are you chasing? Is it time for you to turn around and go home?

Passing the Baton

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Uncle Eugene and Aunt Jeanne Marie 1980’s

About thirty years ago, after spending a day touring the sights in San Francisco, I sat down at my Aunt Jeanne Marie’s dining room table while she busied herself in the kitchen.

The table was clear except for a small very thick photo album I’d never seen before. I slid it in front of me and opened it to the first page. There sitting neatly in its plastic sleeve was a picture of my mother. On the next page was a picture of my brother Jim, his wife, and their three kids. Page after page, a new family appeared, including mine. We were all there, including Uncle Eugene’s sister and her families.

Aunt Jeanne Marie came in from the kitchen and sat across from me.

“Oh you found my prayer book. I find it so much easier to pray for someone if I have a picture of them in front of me.

I smiled as I turned the last page to a formal picture of then President Ronald Reagan.

“Oh, you know the bible says we’re to pray for our leaders, so I pray for him too.”

Now I’d like to say I went straight home and made me a prayer book of my family’s photos. And that each day I took it out and prayed diligently over each member. But I didn’t. At that time, my prayer life consisted more of desperate pleas for God to remove me from my latest trial.

But lately, I can’t stop thinking about that little photo album. And the idea that for most of my life, well probably all of it, Aunt Jeanne Marie has prayed for me.

TPDFrank Peretti’s compelling novel, This Present Darkness, tells of a demon invasion of a small American town. And whom do those demons fear? The tiny “remnant” of saints whose greatest weapon is prayer. And the one they fear the most is an old lady named Edith. When she begins to pray for that town, the demons recoil in fear.

The bible says we struggle not with flesh and blood, but with powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces in heavenly realms. Perhaps Frank Peretti’s story is truer than we’d like to think. And if it is, we need more remnants in constant prayer for our families and our towns.

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My Granddaughter Jo with Aunt Jeanne Marie, 2010

Aunt Jeanne Marie is in her late 80’s. And I’m convinced when she begins her prayers, evil forces in heavenly realms have to withdraw. And the weakening of her physical body does not deter the strength of her spirit. And daily she goes to war for the souls of the ones she loves.

As I contemplate the future of my family, I realize my generation needs to pick up that baton. We need to prepare to do battle in spiritual places. To build remnants who understand the scope of the fight. To prepare to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. Are you in?

 

 

 

 

 

King David Did Not Deserve That Son

In 1972, when we were dating, Tim had a startling encounter with Jesus. It happened when he ran into a man he had wronged. Expecting a punch, the man instead reached for Tim’s hand and said, “I forgive you, I love you, and I want to tell you about something.”

Tim 1972

Tim 1972

For the next several months, Paul and his wife Ann shared with us their stories of faith. And Tim quickly accepted Christ, and then encouraged me to do the same.

Now I’d like to say, Tim changed and radically pursued God. That he led those around him in bible studies and church attendance. But he didn’t. For the next 35 or so years, save a big crisis, Tim’s faith stayed in the shadows.

On top of that, he famously bent the rules. All without a shred of shame.

Many times, as I struggled with my own faith, I questioned his. “Do you ever think faith is a big hoax?” I’d ask. “Do you ever doubt there is a God?”

His answer was always an emphatic, “No!” God was real, and that was all there was to it. But that faith didn’t motivate Tim to change the way he lived.

But when Tim got cancer, his faith kicked in. Although a drive across town, sent pain ripping through his body, he refused to miss a Sunday church service. Nausea that would keep the average person in bed, couldn’t keep him away from our small group meetings.

His greatest source of peace came from the bible. When the pain became unbearable, he’d beg me to read it to him. When I could no longer stay up, he’d put on earphones and listen to an audio version all night long.

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Tim 2008

A peace came over him in spite of his diagnosis. It drew people to him and it inspired everyone around him, including me.

So this past Sunday when our pastor preached on the life of Solomon, it reminded me of Tim.

Because, really, King David never deserved that son. After all, he’d turned His back on God. And in that turning, he committed adultery and murder. And I get it that the consequence was the loss of one son. But then God gave the adulterer and the adulteress another. And the bible says right there in 2 Samuel, that they named him Solomon, and the Lord loved him.

In Tim, I saw first hand that kind of grace. A grace that never keeps score. That never says, “Sorry, you haven’t given enough.” That gives the full portion for no reason other than we’ve acknowledged the giver.

I think all our life, God waits for us to acknowledge Him. And His patience is epic. And His love for us is beyond measure.

It was beautiful to see God pursue Tim. And it was beautiful to see Tim acknowledge God.

If you don’t know Him, will you turn around? I promise, if you seek Him, He will be found. And He will change your life for eternity. Don’t wait. Do it today.