Sunday, November 4, 2018

Open your eyes...and then thank Him!

        Good night!--its been almost a month (and quite the busy one), but I'm thankful to be back. The last time I was here, Halloween was still a few weeks away...now we're staring Thanksgiving in the face.  It sounds so terribly trite, but oh my how time flies! 
        And whew, thank goodness for Thanksgiving, surely the best time of the year, and how badly we need it right now.  There's our horribly polarized and divided culture, the relentless mud-slinging political ads (providing another good reason not to watch too much TV), and the general negativity and incivility in public discourse...I could go on, but why?  Do we really need reminding of mankind's all too evident sinful, selfish nature?  And that includes me...and you. I always think of G.K.Chesterton's famously response to a newspaper's request to write an answer to the question "What is wrong with the world."  He simply wrote back, "Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton."  Yep, that pretty much sums it up.   
        But all the more reason that we all need to hit the pause button, take a step back, look around with new eyes to see how much good God has showered upon us (in spite of ourselves), and then look up with gratitude. 
         It's all grace. All, all, all, God's amazing grace. 
         Just this morning--walking Bingley on the quiet greenway in the early morning stillness...the cold, bracing air...the sun beginning to filter through the changing, brightly colored leaves...the scattering of fallen leaves making a gentle carpet beneath our feet...the sweet face of our happy dog as we walked...the deer sauntering up ahead across our path. 
         What did I do to create any of that?  What did I do to earn it?  Nothing. Nada. All grace.  All by the gracious Creator.
        How about lunch the other day with two dear friends...or dinner last night with folks we love...or text messages from priceless buddies on a trip in Israel...or Bible study with amazing women...or planning Christmas with my wonderful sisters and family...or having any of our children home (JOY!)...all the wondrous gift of the people we love--all grace, grace, grace. 
         Watching our beloved Tar Heels lose again in football...but on a spectacular fall day...cheering our hearts out while those boys--bless them!--played just as hard as they could...seeing that lovely campus bathed in autumn colors...hugging our son who gets to go to school there...simply being alive and breathing and seeing and laughing and eating.  So many simple but oh so wonderful joys, gifts of grace and more grace.
           None of it earned or deserved, but all grace.  All gifts from our gracious, glorious God. 
           So a very simple message that I'll be coming back to again and again over the coming weeks: have we thanked Him?  Have we thanked the Author and Finisher--not just of our faith but also of all the stuff of our daily existence?   Surely fall is an a time when His handiwork explodes all around us in riotous color, smells, gifts and more gifts. 
          Today, take time to pause and open your eyes to see--really see all that's around you.  There's so much, but we allow the familiar to blind us to the extraordinary.  Look around at His extraordinary work, and then look up and thank Him for His gifts and for His amazing grace. 
         “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ps.107:1
         Aren't you thankful you have Someone to thank?!  Yes, He is the One! He is the Giver!  He is the God of all grace!  Open your eyes, look around, and then thank Him! 
         To God--the relentlessly good and gracious Giver--be all the glory.
         
         

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Pray Big!

           Another lesson for the storm, perhaps the simplest and yet by far the most powerful.  And I think this little sign says it all--
        Enough said...
        But let me at least elaborate a bit.  We have this sign prominently displayed in our kitchen.  And you can't tell from this photo, but in the background the rain is literally pouring down like a wall of water and the wind is blowing and gusting as tropical storm Michael blasts its way through our state. So this seems mighty appropriate to talk about another lesson in a storm.
        We got this sign when our daughter, Janie, was in a coma in the ICU, and desperation drove us to pray big, bold prayers as never before.  We knew we had nowhere else to turn and apart from God’s intervention, there was no hope.  But in the middle of all that, we learned that hard as it is, there’s no better place to be than having to completely surrender and totally depend upon the Lord, moment by moment. 
And funny thing. That sign’s been prominently displayed in our kitchen now for over 6 years…yet a few weeks back, our dear brother-in-law asked, “I’ve never noticed that sign before. Is that new?”  Frankly, I hadn’t paid any attention to the sign for a good long time either.  It sat there proclaiming the most important thing any of us can ever do...but we'd all pretty much grown immune to its presence.
         But all that changed, when we learned that my sweet sister-in-law, his wonderful wife, has cancer.  Isn't it something how it often takes a storm to wake us up out of our lethargy?  Shame on me for growing complacent and for often praying small, namby pamby prayers.  Not anymore.   
Needless to say, we’re all praying constantly, but being in this hard place has reminded us all anew that we need to be praying big, for we have a big God who can do big things.  While we may not know the outcome to our storms, we know our big God is able to heal completely.  We know He can do the miraculous and the impossible.  We know He can...but we also know that whatever the Lord ultimately does, we can trust Him completely.  Because He knows all things, He makes no mistakes, and all His plans and ways are for our ultimate good and His glory.
Our job isn’t to dictate or determine the outcome.  Nope, our job is simply to pray big, believe boldly, and then rest in our Heavenly Father, knowing we can leave all the results up to the One who loves us infinitely.  As R.A. Torrey once declared, “Pray for great things; expect great things; work for great things, but above all—pray!”
Let me ask a couple of questions that I’ve been asking myself recently: first, if you’re struggling with some kind of adversity right now, are you praising God…or is your praise dependent upon favorable circumstances?  Will you choose, this week, this day, by an act of the will, to spend time praising your Sovereign Lord, because He’s forever worthy of your praise.  And praising God unleashes incredible power. 
And secondly, are you praying big, bold prayers?  Our friend Tom, who now leads Young Life here in Raleigh, asks it this way: “If God answered all the prayers you prayed today, would you notice? Would the world notice?”  If the answer’s no, then that means you’re not praying big, audacious, this can-only-be-God prayers!  Why are earth not?
        Seriously, if you’re a believer, then you have the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwelling inside you. You have the Spirit’s dynamite power working in and through you.  You have the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe loving you, listening to you, and leading you.  So praise extravagantly!  And pray BIG and boldly!
       All I know is that in the storms of life, when there's so much we can't control and don't know, there's nothing more powerful, nothing more freeing, and nothing more comforting than Praying Big to a Big God!
        He's got this...He's got this storm...and He's got you in the palm of His nail-scarred, all powerful, all loving hands.  Let's pray big and trust Him to do big things!
        “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)
         To God be the glory.
           


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Another lesson for the storm...and start today

         I've been meaning to write this post for days and days...when I finally get all that other stuff done that needed doing...and when the mood/inspiration hits...and when I've dealt with all those little problems that have suddenly cropped up...and when a slot of time magically opens up and I'm not sleepy or hungry or grumpy or weepy or...Yeah, you get the idea. 
         Because here's the thing: that day never arrives.  Never.  We'll always have some reason, some excuse for not doing what we know we need to do, because God's called us to do it...but it's not urgent.  It's not easy.  And frankly, we simply don't feel like it. 
         And then suddenly it hit me--that's the very reason I need to sit down and write about this right now, whether I feel like it or not!  Because the choice, the action I want to write about is also one that cannot wait until you feel like it.  Or till your circumstances improve.  Or till that mythical day when life calms down a bit. 
          Nope, you've just got to start doing it, because despite your feelings or your challenges or your circumstances or your difficulties, nothing nothing, nothing is more important in the midst of a storm than this ridiculously simple but profoundly life-changing choice--
          Choosing to rejoice.
          Choosing to be thankful. 
          And specifically, literally, choosing to name those reasons.  Say them out loud. Write them down. Somehow, someway, make the choice--in the midst of the raging storm--to count your blessings. 
          "Yeah, yeah," you say.  "Trite," you yawn.  But let me tell you from the perspective of someone who has been there--it's utterly life-changing and perspective-restoring. 
           I've shared it a million times, but one day--maybe around day six or seven of Janie's stay in the ICU, a middle-aged man was admitted in the little room right next to hers.  The walls in the ICU are so thin you can't really call them walls, so we could hear everything that was going on.  And this man had been in some kind of accident.  Like Janie, he had suffered some kind of brain injury and was unconscious. 
          We heard them go through the same protocol we'd already heard every hour with Janie.  They'd yell, "Mr. So and so, Mr. So and so, wake up!  You are in the hospital.  Can you hear me?  If you can hear me, wiggle your toes..."  And so it would go, hour after hour.  Just as it had with our daughter.  For all those long days with Janie, nothing.  No response. Hour after hour, day after day, nothing. 
           But with this other fellow, the very next day he obviously woke up and began slowly responding in some way to their questions.  But (to my shame) instead of rejoicing for them, I felt sick with sorrow for us.  "Why couldn't that be us, Lord?   Why him and not Janie?  Why won't you wake up Janie? We've been here a week...he's been here a few hours...why Lord?" 
          My mind and heart headed down a dark, deadly path of ugliness, despair and envy, and let me tell you, that will never take you anywhere good. 
           But I can only describe it as the extraordinary grace and goodness of God, for just as my mind started down that hideous road, the Lord stopped me in my tracks.  And I seemed to hear "Start rejoicing.  Start naming all the reasons for thanksgiving.  Now!" 
           And this stubborn, slow-learning, often disobedient child, for once, listened and obeyed.  I started that moment to begin making a mental list of things for which we could be thankful.  Yes, it was a mighty weak and reluctant list at first, but praise God He takes us just as we are and blesses even our tiniest, most pathetic attempts. 
            "Umm, well, thank You for the Starbucks downstairs.  That's something anyway, to have hot tea."  I tried haltingly to continue: " Uh, thank You for these nurses and doctors.  They have been amazing....and while I'm at it, thank You for our friends who have done so much to help us and to keep things going at home...thank You for my wonderful brothers and sisters who have been here with us in the midst of this fight constantly...thank You that we could come to this hospital and receive such extraordinary medical care...thank You for the praise music playing in Janie's room...thank You for Your Word that has truly come alive as never before..." 
          By now, I was on a roll, and the innumerable reasons for thankfulness and praise began to pour out...while the ugly despair and envy began to diminish. 
         Now, that's not to say everything changed...because it did not. Janie remained unconscious for another week.  We fought fear and fevers and lung problems and discouragement and exhaustion.  But we knew we were not fighting alone.  We knew God was with us in the fight. We knew the Body of Christ was fighting alongside us.  And we knew there are always, always, always reasons for thanksgiving and praise. 
          So that's my ridiculously simple suggestion...but I'm telling you--you will pierce the darkness with words of thanksgiving and praise so that the light begins shining through and your heart will be lifted.  Lifted to look up...and see Him. And know that He is with you, beside you, before you, behind you, in you and for you. 
          It truly is a golden bridge of praise--a bridge that takes you from discouragement and despair and crosses over the darkness into the light of indefatigable joy and hope. 
          But you have to choose to cross over that bridge of praise.  And often it simply begins by taking the first tentative, reluctant step.  Don't wait to feel like it. Don't wait till circumstances improve. Don't wait till you think you really have a reason to praise.  No, simply start praising and thanking.  "Tune your heart to sing God's praise," as the old hymn puts it. 
           It's a choice, an act of the will that may or may not change your circumstances but that will profoundly, beautifully change you. 
           "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ for you." (I Thess.5:16-18) 
           It's a command...and you have to choose...and no matter the storm, there will always, always, always be plenty of reason to rejoice and to give thanks.  So just start.  Start small, but start today.  Start now. 
           To God be the glory. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Another lesson: A Soundtrack of Praise

        Another very simple but I believe profoundly powerful lesson for the storms: maintain a soundtrack of praise.
        I mean that quite literally.  Keep praise music, worship music, uplifting music that strengthens your soul...keep it playing in the background.  At the hospital, at home, in the car.  Music--especially great hymns or praise and worship songs--has a power all its own to remind your heart of the truth.  Because in the heat of the storm, our hearts forget.
        Pain or fear of discouragement almost always lead to spiritual amnesia.  Yes, we might know intellectually that God is in control, that Jesus is with us every moment, that the Lord is working all things out for our ultimate good and His glory.  Yeah, yeah, yeah....
        But as the wind and waves lash and disorient us, we can't feel it.   We can't feel Him...and so we forget.  We all forget.         
        We need to be reminded.  And music speaks to your heart.  Music brings to your conscious memory that which you already knew, but forgot or doubt.  Music somehow reaches past the pain, the fear, the sorrow and speaks strong, true Truth to your weary, burdened soul.
          It happened over and over again to us when Janie was in the ICU.  Amidst the continual beeps and alarms of the equipment and the constant visits from the nurses, we softly played worship music in the background.  We started playing it in the hope that in some mysterious way, Janie might be able to hear it deep in the recesses of her coma and thus be somehow strengthened in her battle.
           But what we learned was that we--her often frightened, fragile parents--were the ones who were powerfully and beautifully ministered to by that music.  Because we were reminded afresh of truths like--

Lost are saved, find their way, at the sound of Your great name
All condemned, feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name
Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name
The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name
Jesus, worthy is the lamb that was slain for us, son of God and man
You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise Your great name
All the weak, find their strength, at the sound of Your great name
Hungry souls, receive grace, at the sound of Your great name
The fatherless, they find their rest, at the sound of Your great name
Sick are healed, and the dead are raised, at the sound of Your great name
Jesus, worthy is the lamb that was slain for us, son of god and man
You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise Your great name
Oh, Your great name
Redeemer, my healer, almighty
My savior, defender, You are my king   ("Your Great Name")

Or--
Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to Him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely You've bled for us
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bowed to none but Heaven's will
No scheme of Hell, no scoffer's crown
No burden great can hold You down
In strength You reign
Forever let Your church proclaim
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night
Sing it, o death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead, He's alive, He's alive
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
("Christ is Risen")

        Oh and so many more!  Even today, when I hear one of those many glorious songs we played on that little boom box in the ICU, tears of joy and thanksgiving spring to my eyes.  I'm reminded afresh of my Great God.  Of who He is. Of all He has done for us in Christ.  Of all He can do.  And of all He has promised for us in the future.
         And it's all ultimately good...extraordinarily, supernaturally, eternally, good-as-it-gets good. 
         But in midst of the storm, your heart needs to be reminded.
         In the midst of the storm, your soul needs to be strengthened in Him...in His Word, in His character, in His faithfulness, in His everlasting love, in His omnipotent power.  Music preaches to your heart like almost nothing else, and despair flees in the face of praise.  So keep playing that soundtrack of praise.
         "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation!  Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!  For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods."  (Ps.95:1-3)
          It's okay if you forget...we all do.  Just put on those worship songs, those hymns, that praise music, and I promise, you'll start remembering.
          And in remembering, your heart will begin rejoicing.
          And in rejoicing, you will find yourself revived and restored...even in very teeth of the storm.
          Because Jesus will be right there with you in the storm...and He is always, always, always enough.
         To our Savior, our Redeemer, our King of Kings, and the One who has defeated sin and death, be all the glory.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Another lesson for the storm--your thoughts

         Another lesson for the storms--train your thoughts. 
         Okay, maybe that sounds strange, but I cannot tell you how critical it is in the midst of a frightening, seemingly out-of-control (or at least, out of your control) storm to not allow your mind and your thoughts to run wild.  And believe me, they will...if you don't manage or discipline or train  the thoughts that will flood your mind. 
           Yes, all those terrifying thoughts involving the worst case scenarios will pop into your mind.  That's inevitable.  But what's not inevitable is what you choose to do with those thoughts. 
           Each of us has the choice whether we'll chew upon destructive or despairing thoughts as a cow chews its cud...or whether we'll instead focus our mind's attention upon what God says is true and good and right. 
           Martin Luther expressed it this way: "You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” 
           "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil.4:8) 
           Don't allow your mind to be hijacked by the frightening, terrible, negative, ugly, destructive. No, instead, think, think, think about the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, commendable.  One way leads to discouragement, despair and terror while the other leads to encouragement, peace, and hope.  We cannot control the circumstances...but we can control our thoughts...and therefore our attitudes, our perspectives, our hearts.  Death or life.  Despair or hope.  Discontentment or joy.   
           Can I give just one example?  My husband shared that during one of those especially dark and frightening days with Janie, he found his thoughts became almost unbearable with all the terrible, worst case "What if's?"  His mind was racing (and so was mine). 
           Richard prayed and asked the Lord to help him, to please give him some thought he could cling to and could focus upon instead of all these deadly destructive thoughts. 
           Immediately the words to the great old hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" came to mind...and in particular this little phrase, "Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow."  
           Richard knew it was God's answer and provision for him--and for all of us--in that moment.  It was if the Lord gently whispered that He would give the strength for today that was needed.  All we all needed to do was to look to God, depend upon God, and trust God for today's strength.  And our faithful Heavenly Father would always provide it.  Today's strength for today's need.  Today's grace for today's challenges.  Today's peace for today's fears. 
           But in addition, God has the bright hope for tomorrow.  He won't give us tomorrow's strength today...no, we have to trust Him for that when tomorrow comes.  But He will be just as faithful and powerful and good and loving tomorrow as He is today, and He will give us just what we need tomorrow when tomorrow arrives.  That means we can dismiss those terrifying thoughts about the future...because He's got the future.  He's got us.  And He's got bright hope for tomorrow.  And His hope will never ever disappoint. 
            So today, go to Him for today's strength.  And fix your mind and your thoughts upon His goodness, His grace, His love, His provision for today.  Tomorrow He will be there as well--just as powerful, good, gracious, wise, loving--and that's what you can focus your thoughts upon when tomorrow arrives.  
            It all begins by choosing--in the midst of the storm--what we allow our minds to dwell upon--choose life, hope, peace, gratitude, truth, joy...choose Almighty God and His faithfulness! 
            To God be the glory.
         
         

Sunday, August 26, 2018

More Lessons for the storm...Hope


        Exactly six years ago today, also on a sunny Sunday morning like today, we got terrible news from one of the doctors in the ICU.  As he entered the room early that morning, I jumped up from dozing on the little cot beside our daughter's bed, anxious to hear from they had learned from her latest MRI.  It wasn't good. 
         I was basically told that if Janie survived, she would never be the same again.  She'd likely be in a wheelchair, with a feeding tube, unable to communicate, etc.  He acknowledged that they couldn't predict the extent of her disability unless and until she work up, but emphatically declared that "you will not ever have the daughter you have once known" or something to that effect.  Devastating--though he was clearly not trying to hurt us but to help us prepare.
        And yet, even in that hardest of times, God was there.  For a few hours, hope had fled, and I can honestly say it was one of the darkest times of our lives, yet the Lord provided dear friends and family at the very moment we needed them.  Almost immediately after the doctor left, Russ Andrews suddenly walked in with his well-worn Bible under his arm, and he quickly started praying.  Moments later, my dear sister, Jane, arrived.   There's nothing like the gift of loving presence in the midst of fear and sorrow.  Just having that person there infuses you with strength. 
         Back at home, Joe Knott suddenly showed up on our doorstep shortly after I had called my husband with the news.  Richard said they knelt down together on the floor in the den and prayed...and Joe's presence there was an unimaginably beautiful gift to an incredibly broken-hearted daddy.
         A little later that same morning, however, we had another doctor come in--the man I have often said I would name my child if we ever had another one!--Dr. Tucci.  As I described it at the time, it was as if hope blew into the room, for Dr. Tucci shared that although he had no evidence or reason to explain this, he believed, based simply upon his years and clinical experience as a neurologist, that Janie would eventually wake up and "would one day be able to walk into his office and thank me."
         Funny, nothing changed outwardly.  Janie was still unconscious and completely unresponsive.  She still had a fever, still was on a ventilator, still had one lung that was filling with fluid and on and on.  But yet, everything had changed for us--because we remembered that we had hope.
        And hope is a priceless gift.  But it is a gift, that no matter our circumstances, we have already been given in Christ.  He is the Hope that will never ever disappoint us.  As our daughter, Mary Norris, shared, "Doctors can only give you news; they cannot give you hope."  And Jesus Christ is our unfailing Hope.   
          That, dearest Katherine--and anyone else enduring a storm today--is another one of the lessons God taught us in the storm: your Heavenly Father always has hope for you, no matter the circumstances.  And His hope will never fail and never ultimately disappoint.  As Romans 5:3-5 explains it: "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
           As you look to the Savior, you will always find hope.
           In addition to finding unending hope in Christ, you will also discover His hope and love in the dear friends and family God  has put in your life and will send to you at just the right time.  They are hope incarnate!  Early that dark Sunday morning six years ago, it was Russ, Jane, and Joe...but throughout our storm it was our precious brothers and sisters (what a blessing family is!) and countless friends (who are too numerous to name for fear of leaving someone out!).  Our gracious God always seemed to send someone right at the moment we desperately needed a dose of hope and encouragement.  Phone calls, texts, and personal visits.  Carpooling, cleaning, feeding, encouraging, praying.
           Never take the gift of friendship and family for granted and know that they are part of God's provision of hope and help for you in midst of the storm.  Allow them to love and care for you.  Thank your Heavenly Father for their presence in your life.  And when all you see and feel is darkness around you, lean upon them.  Trust that they are praying for you when you have no words or even desire to pray.  They are praying, and God is listening.  And know that Christ is shining His light of love and hope through them.







 (Thank You, Lord, for the gift of friends and family!  These pictures were taken a few weeks later after Janie woke up and Tessa was recovering, but they still make my heart sing!  And in one of the pictures is our dear friend, JoAnna, who is now in heaven and is surely getting everything organized and making everyone feel loved and included!)
         As Paul prays in Rom.15;13,  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. He is Hope incarnate.  And He will also send His hope in the form of those who love you.  You are never alone in the storm.  Hope is always there.
         To God be the glory.

       

Friday, August 24, 2018

August 24th...Lessons for storms

        As I shared recently, my dear sister-in-law is fighting a fierce battle today.  She's battling a difficult form of cancer...but she does not battle alone.  Never alone.  Not only does she now have countless folks all over the country praying for her, as well as family and friends beside her loving and helping her, but most importantly, she has an Almighty Lord who is with her and for her every moment of every day and every night.  The cancer may be aggressive, but her faith is in her all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, all-gracious God.
        How I wish I could take away the pain, take away the fear, take away the cancer.  But while I can't do that, I can battle with her and for her with my prayers.  And with my words...and that's what I've decided to try to do over the coming weeks and months, beginning today. 
        For you see today, August 24th, marks a special day for our family.  So it seems appropriate to think back over that time and share some of the lessons God taught us in the midst of one of the most challenging storms our family has faced.  Lessons that stay with us to this very day, and lessons that I pray God will use to encourage my precious sister-in-law and any others who might be enduring or entering a difficult storm in their lives. 
        Exactly six years ago today, on a Friday just like today, on a bright and sunny day just like today, our world was rocked and changed forever when our daughter and three of her friends were in a serious car wreck.  I won't go into the details, but two of the girls were seriously hurt.  Tessa was flown to Chapel Hill with multiple broken bones in her back, wrist, hip, and shoulder.  Janie was flown to Greenville with a traumatic brain injury.  Janie was in a coma, and though the doctors and nurses tried repeatedly, they could not wake her up.  For two weeks, we prayed and waited, not knowing first if she'd survive, then if she would ever wake up, and finally if she did wake up, how extensive her brain damage would be.
         Again, I won't go into details because that's not the point of this post. Rather, I'd love to share some simple lessons we learned through this time.  (I'll try to stick to just one or two lessons each post so this may take a while!) 
         I have to add, as hard, terrifying, and painful as that time was, my husband and I both said we felt God's presence, His love, His grace, His strength for one moment at a time, as never before during those long, dark weeks.  There were days and nights where the Lord's presence was so palpable in that little ICU room that the air seemed thick with Him--we knew He was there.  It was as if I could feel His gentle but powerful breath on my face and His loving but strong arms around my shaking shoulders.  I will never forget that nearness.
         That's one lesson--in the darkest, hardest moments of life, God is there.  He will be there.  He is always there.  You are never ever alone, and you will never be alone.  He's promised in His Word, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb.13:5)  That's not to say you won't feel fear or pain or despair--but He will be there.  He will walk with you in the darkness, and weep with you in the sorrow.  And that should give us such peace--the Almighty One will be with me, no matter what.  And if He's with me, He'll enable me to walk this broken road and to face anything. 
        Stop worrying about whether or if He'll be there--He will.  No matter what. 
         Secondly, instead of asking and fixating on why, start asking what.  I'm not saying this because God can't take your doubts and  your raw why Lord? questions.  No, you can be completely honest with your Heavenly Father.  He can take it, and He will love you just as much after you shake your fist at Him in anger and confusion as He does when you trust and thank Him profusely. 
         But the problem with why questions is that they take you nowhere.  We may never know the answers to our why questions until we get to heaven.  Instead, it's more helpful to ask God what--                What do you want me to learn through this?  What are You doing in the midst of this?  What promise in Your Word can strengthen me in the midst of this?  What other person can I encourage even in this hard place? 
         In response to those questions, I can tell you from personal experience, God will teach you and grow you through whatever it is you're enduring. 
         He will be working and moving in innumerable redemptive ways you likely cannot see and do not know, but He is.  He always is. 
         His Word contains countless promises you can cling to that will refocus your confused gaze, revive your weary heart, and renew your depleted strength.  Go to Him in His Word and be filled
         And there will always, always, always be someone else you can help, love, and encourage, even in the midst of your pain and difficulty.  Go love that person by God's grace and for His glory.  Mr. Rogers would always tell children that in the midst of crisis and calamity, "Look for the helpers."  You can be that helper for someone else.  You can be "Jesus with skin on" for someone else...and the person who will ultimately be most blessed, will be you.
          Thank You, Lord, for this day.  Thank You for Your extravagant grace and mercy in saving those four precious girls and in using all the pain, fear and difficulty for far greater good and for Your greater glory.  Please help my sweet sister-in-law, and all who are in the midst of fierce, frightening storms today, to cry out to You, to feel Your presence and love as never before, to cling to Your Word, and to trust in You, Your goodness, Your power, and Your plans. 
          Jesus, You are the Light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, and will never ever, overcome it. (John 1:5)  Shine, Jesus, shine, and help us to see Your irrepressible Light.
          To God be the glory.