Trading Self For Help

Philippians 2:1-4
 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
These words are potent, powerful and relevant to all of us who live in this world. This hustle and bustle world we live in is constantly spewing the message of self; self ambition, self discovery, and self help. ‘You’ve got to make it happen!’ ‘You need to find yourself.’ ‘You can’t help others unless you first help yourself!’ The problem with all of those statements is that they ignore the need we have for a God who is bigger than self. The above statements all ‘sound’ so right. They make sense to our natural mind, and that’s why they’re such great catch phrases. But, lets look at each one individually.
1. ‘You’ve got to make it happen.’
This makes me the person responsible for my own great destiny. This takes my eyes off of God and others and places them on self. Self interest, self ambition, self gain. There’s so much that God wants to make happen in us, but we have our eyes on us instead of Him. If we put our eyes on Him, and we are obedient to His Word and leading, then will we be successful. Proverbs 3:5-6
2. ‘You need to find yourself.’
Sounds okay, right? Except who we really need to find is God, and He will show us who we are. The desire to find ourselves comes from the feeling of emptiness or feeling unfulfilled. Without God, that’s what we will always feel. But, in Him we find true peace, true joy, and true power to overcome our insecurities. Jeremiah 29:13-14
3. ‘You can’t help others until you first help yourself.’
This is probably the one that drives me the most crazy. First off, we all have something to offer others. The Bible made it very clear in the new command that we are to love one another. Jesus didn’t say, ‘You worry about you, first. Then once you have it all figured out – love on others.’ We are to do the exact opposite and lay ourselves down for our friends and family. Believe it or not, as we give love to others, we receive it back even more. 
As we read in the beginning verse, it takes humility to regard others higher than ourselves. We tend to want to fuss about our own battles, problems, fears and insecurities and, sometimes, we stay in our own place of despair. But, there is no healing in that place. I know this to be true. We cannot wait for all the injustices of the world to leave before we give of ourselves. We might get hurt loving others; actually, we will definitely get hurt loving others. But, it will be worth it. Because as we give all we have, God is pouring in all the more; more of His grace, more of His love, and more of His mercy. And, we will do more than just survive off of it. We will thrive. Matthew 6:33
Today, let us take our eyes off of us and put them on others. Let’s be attentive, loving, and interested in something other than self. If this seems hard, I understand. But, more so God understands. Just ask Him for help. Trade yourSELF for His HELP. Ask Him who He wants you to love on today and how. He’s a creative God, so be open to all He has for you today. 

It Happens In A Blink

Life happens. And, it happens fast. Below are some lyrics to one of my favorite songs:

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash

It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

I’ve come face to face with these truths and asked myself this very question. What is it I’ve done with my life? And how many more tomorrows will I wait for? 

In just these last few weeks, we have gone to the beach more times than the entire summer of last year. We have had more ice cream and more bonfires; stayed up later and slept in many mornings. We have somehow become dream chasers instead of running from the dreams that chase us. We have hugged more and fought less and cried together instead of alone. Really, what we’re doing is really living.Life is short. Of course, we can agree that Christiano’s life was short – because it ended abruptly and much too soon. But, truly it is ALL life that is short; even the hundred year life. The Bible compares our life to a hands breath or a vapor.

‘Look, you make my days short-lived, and my life span is nothing from your perspective. Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.’ Psalm 39:5

Eight months ago, Christiano left us all behind. Eight months has felt like an eternity, and it has also felt a blink. Time has been both frozen and melting before us. It holds, yet somehow it slips away. We are so still at times; immovable, shattered, broken, all over the place in our stillness. Unable to go anywhere, but right where we are. Like the soles of our feet have been superglued to this place of grief. But, sometimes we are able to move and we are free. Free to feel and to run. Free to love and to live. Able to breathe in and breath out. Free to chase God and the dreams He has given us. I guess being stuck and being free at the same time is similar to that joy and suffering that are coexisting inside of us, as well. 

In eight months so much has happened. A new school, a new business location, a new nephew. Three major holidays, five of our birthdays – one of which was Christiano’s, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Made some new friends, missing some old ones and learning which ones are true. We have established a Memorial Foundation in Christiano’s memory, and I have learned some new things about life and about myself; been supported by many and shot down by a few. I am still learning to live without you, while loving harder than I ever have and holding fast to my faith in a time that I have more questions than answers. Daily, I am choosing to  draw closer to God, even when I want to run – especially when I want to run. And, I’m living out this life when quitting seems easier. 

Christiano, you’ve taught me so much; both in death and in life. Because of you, I’m choosing to live each day fully. I’m saying yes to beach days and no to waiting. I’m listening more and speaking less. You were so good at listening. I’m trading offense for love and impatience for peace. I’m living life on purpose and I’m more aware that tomorrow isn’t promised. Sometimes, I resent learning through your death, and I’m mad at myself that I didn’t always see these things clearly when you were here with me. But, then I think of what you would want for me. You wouldn’t want me to stop living or give up on love. You’d want me in the Word and drawing closer to the One Who is holding you because He is holding me, too. I can only imagine all the life lessons you’ve learned already. But, it’s so painful not to see you learn and grow. It crushes my very heart. And, it is in these moments I have to decide once again to make another trade. This morning, I’m trading a crushed spirit for a teachable spirit. Lord, teach me today. Teach me all the things that You’re teaching my boy, and make us both more like You. 

‘LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.’ Psalm 39:4-5

The Beautiful Struggle

The other day my husband shared something from his heart, and it’s been heavy on mine ever since. He told me that, although he cannot wait to see Christiano in heaven, he is saddened that there will be some things that he will never get to experience with him again. For instance, their doubts, their struggles, their shortcomings, their fears, or their failures. That grieves the heart of my husband, and the more I think about it – it grieves mine, too. Let me explain. 

Heaven is a perfect place with perfect wholeness; a place where we will be in constant rest. No skinned knees to bandage up, no broken hearts to mend, and no fears to calm. Financial troubles will vanish, sickness and death will be no longer, and there will be no more orphans, widows or grieving mothers and fathers. It will be perfectly whole, having all we need. God will be there, and we get to be in His magnificent presence with our Jesus seated right next to Him. We will have 24/7 access to the God of wonders, the One who made everything, including us; and to Jesus – the One who took our death upon Himself so that we could experience this full and everlasting life. What a day it will be when we meet them both, face to face. Nothing else will matter. Pain will fall off of us and fullness of joy will be all we know. 
And, as much as we all yearn and long for a day with no more tears and no more pain, it’s all we’ve ever really known. We live in a fallen world, surrounded by pain. Pain caused by others’ free will choices, pain caused by accidents, and pain caused by other forms of darkness. We’ve learned to live this way by praising God through the pain, inviting joy even in sorrow, pushing through our own fear and doubt, and worshiping while we wait for things to change. We’ve learned to cry it out, talk it out, and walk it out – before The Lord and before men. We’ve adapted to this life because it is all we’ve lived. And, although we look forward to a better life, we choose to embrace this one by giving it all we’ve got. 
We run hard, with perseverance, towards heaven, and we don’t quit. We rejoice when we see the hand of God and we get so excited when a fellow running mate triumphs in victory! We run hard, but we lag just enough to make sure our brother doesn’t quit, and we are there to pick him up when he does. But, sometimes we struggle. We struggle with the path sometimes because it gets hard and we want to quit. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path because it gets dark and uncertain. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path because it’s painful. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path when our loved ones finish before us. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path because our best friend quits. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path because we don’t understand it. But, we keep going. We struggle with the path most of the time. But, sometimes the path is beautiful. It’s clear and precise. It’s smooth and perfectly laid out. And, in the end – it’s worth it. The path is a struggle, but it’s a struggle that’s worth it. And, there’s beauty in that. There is beauty in the struggle of life.
Any honest married couple will share that their relationship has endured some hard things; that there hasn’t always been certainty or clarity. That they’ve had to press in hard to fight the good fight. And sometimes, the really good fights are the ones that shift us to a higher level. Any mother or father can relate to not wanting to hand their child everything, but making them work towards some things. Because making them work produces character, integrity, and perseverance. 
Struggle is not only inevitable; it’s necessary. So struggle with the ones you love today. Struggle hard, and love hard. Because one day the struggle will be no longer, and we will be made perfect. But, until that day, I urge you to embrace this beautiful struggle called life. Life is beautiful, and it’s a gift from God. Receive it, open it, participate in it, play with it, wrestle with it, and embrace it. 
Instead of wishing our struggles away, or rushing through the seasons of this life, we can ask God to lead and guide us through them. He will never leave us or forsake us as we journey through this beautiful struggle called life. 
‘My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!’ Hebrews 11b-13

A Greater Plan

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares The Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.’

This is the scripture I have written in almost every single one of my children’s cards for as long as I can remember, knowing it to be true and believing every word of it with all of my heart. But, I haven’t been able to write those words for any of the occasions since the awful day that our son left this earth. Not only can’t I write them, but at times, even hearing them can be a struggle. I saw so much for Christiano, and I told him often. Often I would say things like ‘ you are going to do great things,’ or ‘you are a world changer.’ And, I fully believed it. It wasn’t just lip service, but vivid pictures in my mind of my boy changing the world.

Tomorrow will be one year since my son walked across Pierce Memorial Field to receive his High School Diploma. We were so proud of him. Chris and I both dropped out of high school, and so did all four of our parents. Christiano had beaten odds, broken cycles and annihilated statistics. We always knew that he would go far in life; that he was special and way above average. His eyes bluer than blue, his height taller than tall, his intelligence higher than high, his sense of humor funnier than funny, and his heart bigger than big. He truly was larger than life, and not just because he was 6′ 9″. 

One of the last phone calls that we shared lasted about an hour and a half. It was an emotional conversation that touched on so many different subjects. Christiano was struggling with the meaning of life. We talked about suffering and why there was so much pain in this world. Christiano didn’t understand why people had to suffer and wondered why God wouldn’t just intervene and cause everyone to do good to one another. This led to talk about our free will and evil in the world. He didn’t like for bad things to happen to anyone, but especially ‘good’ people. I wish I had more answers for him that day. All I’ve ever done is point my children to God, and this time wasn’t any different. I encouraged him to ask God to show himself to him and to give him understanding. He wanted so badly to understand the things of God. I told him that day on the phone that God was going to reveal Himself and it was going to be soon; that his intellectual mind was a gift and he would do great things with it; that I saw him helping many people and leading other to the knowledge of God. And, I believed all of it with all of my heart. 

And, I still do. 

Later that night, after thinking about our conversation all day long, I sent him a text with these verses in it. 

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

He responded, ‘Wow. This applies to me so much.’ 

I do believe that Christiano has found the answers he had been in search of, and, although I struggle with the outcome, God’s promise of his future and hope have been fulfilled.But, boy did I see it differently. I saw him living a long life here on this earth and sharing all of his findings with me. I guess I saw what every mother sees for her child, and it is so hard for me to give that up. But, as I type this, and I am reminded by the words written in my heart, I know that I don’t have to. God has faithfully brought back to my remembrance these words out of His Holy Book…

‘That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.’ 
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

And, I am renewed once again by the God who understands what it is like to lose a son. Even Jesus wished for another plan, but thankfully God didn’t change His mind. Because, He knew that his plan was far greater. And, as much as I liked the look of my plan for Christiano better, God knew of a plan that would last forever; a plan bigger than us and larger than this life; a plan far beyond anything we can see; a plan that has a hope and a future far greater than any plan man can see.