Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ashes, snowflakes and yellow

ash wednesday and white flakes fall in georgia.


ash wednesday and we leave the funeral of our friends' daughter with snowflakes swirling soft in gray southern skies.

it doesn't snow in the south.
that's not supposed to happen.

but, today is a day of not-supposed-to-happen --- this funeral day for a 12 year old girl.

not supposed to happen ---- at least from where we stand. swirl. fall.

this girl who was everything sunshine to anyone who knew her ... even anyone who knew of her.

this girl who was known for singing, "the sun will come out tomorrow."

and, today, her family and friends celebrated the shine of her. the glow of yellow everywhere. bunches of bright roses, bundles of smiley-faced balloons. a congregation of mourners dressed in pops of yellow.

it doesn't fit this day of death.
it doesn't fit this wednesday of ashes.
it doesn't even fit this day of gray skies and its hint of snow.

except that it does.

except it is exactly the perfect color for a golden girl like kylie myers.

i'm not sure any of us will ever see yellow again and not think of the impact this young lady had on all of us ... in her life ... and, yes, even in her death.

yellow. the color of victory. golden, even in grief.

heads bowed, tears falling, shoulders folded ... but bright, bold, vibrant celebrations of yellow everywhere across the room and all i could think from my balcony seat,
"o death, where is your victory? o death, where is your sting?"  ~ 1 corinthians 15:55

let me tell you where it wasn't.

it wasn't when her daddy in his bright yellow sport coat got up in front of the thousand plus people gathered and started his talk boldly declaring this:  "Jesus is on His throne!"

he told us kylie would want us to know that. and he said, because he has learned through our school the importance of repetition, he would say it again. he wanted to make sure every one of us clearly heard him, "JESUS. IS. ON. HIS. THRONE!"

what family wears yellow to their baby girl's funeral?
what daddy gets up and declares God on His throne when his daughter is in her grave?

i'll tell you ---
a family and a father who do not grieve as the world grieves. a family with great grief, yes, but a family with even greater hope. a family who knows with confidence that Jesus "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more." (revelation 21:4). a family who is certain their child is now dancing with Jesus on the golden streets of heaven under a banner announcing, "new!"

ash wednesday.
a day in the church where we remember our humanity. our frailty. our dust.
"we are dust ... and to dust we shall return."
ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
there's no mark of ash needed on the forehead of those in attendance at a young girl's funeral on this wednesday.
we know.

and the snow flakes fall gently from our southern sky.
white and clean and clear.

and though we know, there's not a one who pretends to understand.

but as kylie's dad, mark, said, "maybe we aren't supposed to."
"just because we can't understand it, doesn't make it not real."
and then he went on to further explain, "i don't understand quantum physics or gravity or the rules of the semi colon or women! but, that doesn't mean these things aren't real and true."

we can't understand the things of God.
and we aren't meant to.
that was never God's plan.
He made that perfectly clear in the garden -- at that unyielding tree of knowledge.
He made that even clearer on the hill golgotha -- at that yielded tree -- the cross.

we can't know.
we won't know.
we aren't supposed to know.

there will be places of great gray ... much mystery ... occasional confusion.
count on it.
because He is God and we are not.
He is creator and, we, only created.

and try as we might, there is no science nor system nor situation which can secure us anything more.

"for who has known the mind of the Lord?" romans 11:34
tell me who?  

recently, i heard one of my favorite writers say this, "what kind of God would He be if i could contain Him and all His ways within the limited boundaries of my brain?" (Jen Hatmaker).

no, be assured, we don't understand.

and it's not just kylie's 7th grade girlfriends or her sweet young sisters ... it's every one of us.
child and adult.
we don't understand.
we can't.

in closing, kylie's pastor offered this: "we trust the heart of God when we can't understand His ways."

and so that was what today was about ----
not understanding the hand of God, but getting a better glimpse into the heart of God.
a glimpse of a God who loves kylie more than the thousands gathered together today combined and multiplied.

this same God who loves you just as passionately ... just as purposefully ... just as tenderly.

that's what kylie knew when she passed from this life. she told her parents and her pastor in her final few days that she had a "strange peace."

this strange peace? yes. the only real peace.
"the peace that passes all understanding..."  (philippians 4:7).

what 12 year old girl facing death has peace?

a girl, who stands in the golden light of her Father's grace.

a girl who was gifted to her family and to this world to lead others to the peace and presence of Jesus.

a girl with a smile and song and heart of gold.

a girl who sings center stage,
"just thinking' about tomorrow 
clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow 
'til there's none.
when i'm stuck with a day that's grey
and lonely
i just stick up my chin and grin and say 
oh ...
the sun will come out tomorrow..."

"for my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. 
"as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
as the rain and the snow come down from heaven ... 
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: 
it will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what i desire 
and achieve the purpose for which i sent it." ~ isaiah 55: 8-11

Friday, February 13, 2015

50 shades of g r a c e ...

it's about to be valentine's day. and everywhere we look there are all sorts of suggestions about how best to show love.

there's no doubt, i'm a sucker for this kind of stuff:  pink-heart-shaped-pancakes, lace-doily-love-notes, dark-chocolate-dipped-strawberries ... you get the idea.

last year, american express did a survey and predicted americans would spend over $37 billion dollars celebrating valentine's day. each household, would spend on their loved ones, an average of $213. i have no idea how they figure out that kind of stuff or how accurate it really is.
but even if they are off, say, a few billion dollars ... still .... kidding. me?

that's some expensive kind of love.

thankfully, in my house, we're more into the homemade version.

that was last year. i don't know what the predictions say about this year, but i do know that there's being a lot of money spent trying to lure people in to another costly{yes, costly} attempt to depict love.

this 50 shades thing.
it's everywhere, right?
this 50 shades of seduction.
this 50 shades  of strategy.
this 50 shades seductively and strategically opening it's doors of erotica on the weekend which epitomizes love.

and it breaks my heart to consider the numbers that this movie will pull in in the next 48 hours -- even in the name of love.

the trilogy book sales (over 100 million) have made the author, e.l. james, the highest paid writer ever. her net worth: over 60 million.

those numbers say a lot about what americans are willing to spend, valentine's day or not.

the synopsis: "this is the hotly anticipated film adaptation of the bestselling book that has become a global phenomenon."

"hot. anticipated.bestselling. has become. global. phenomenon." yikes -- how can any bouquet of roses or box of chocolates compete with those words?

it's not just deception in design, but corruption at its core.

and don't think for one moment that satan, the greatest seducer and strategist of all, isn't smiling wildly as the world does everything it can to point everyone it can in the direction of empty love.
no, not empty love. that's much too paradoxical, but emptiness.






death -- too strong a word?
i don't think so.

that's the devil's greatest desire for you ... an empty life without authentic love. and then an empty death.

we are talking about places of the heart, images in the mind and the longings of the spirit.

and it breaks my heart to imagine the faces of the young girls who will buy some of this kind of bleak love.

it breaks my heart to think of the lonely women and desperate daughters who will plunk down $11 dollars for two hours of deception.

what need pushes us to these places?
what desires drive us to this kind of darkness?
what apathy allows us to quietly accept?

i don't know if it's the lust of the flesh or if it's simply a lack of love.

both, probably.
we all know what it means to battle both: our flesh and our lack.

maybe i'm making too big a deal. maybe i'm just being incredibly prudish, closed-minded or even judgmental because this deals with a college girl and i happen to have one of those ... and i really don't want to imagine her trapped in a torrid, twisted, sexual relationship with a 27 year old billionaire who demands bondage.

yeah, maybe that.

by the way, wal-mart has a $69.99 gift basket that contains normal valentines things like — chocolate, cookies, bubble bath — plus "chrome-plated metal double lock handcuffs with key."
i know, classy, right?

i've heard people say, "what's the big deal?"  ... "don't judge!" ... "it won't hurt." 

i disagree.

i think it does hurt.
i think it does cost.
i think it does damage.

and i think because of that, it is a big deal.
i think it is big deal because i am raising three daughters.
it's a big deal what my girls hear and think and know and observe about this mysterious thing called love.

and it's a big deal because our world doesn't need any more gray-places, but more grace-places.

we don't need to walk on twisted paths or wallow in murky waters or wonder what lurks around the dark corners.
life will provide that without the willing swipe of our credit card.

we need light and life and truth and real love ... we need grace in the way we live ... and in the way we love others.

{grace}  webster defines:
1. simple elegance or refinement of movement.
2. the free and unmerited favor of God
3. do honor or credit to (someone or something)

i don't know a lot about this movie, but i'm pretty sure none of these definitions are going to fit.

love isn't about the color gray and the seduction of bondage, but about the color red which saves us from bondage. the red blood of Jesus which washes away the gray and gross and filthy places of our decaying flesh.

no matter what you're willing to spend on love this weekend -- and husbands, don't. you. be. stingy! -- i would hope that we all know that Jesus loves us so much He has already done what cost the most.

if you'd like to read or think more about His love for us, i'm including a link to a short series i did last february on {real love}.     {what real love is}

Thursday, February 12, 2015

yet and still: "though you slay me" (featuring John Piper)

yesterday i told you about kylie and her battle with bone cancer.
i asked you to pray for her and for her family.
i'll ask that again today.
please pray.
pray big.

and since yesterday's post, i've heard from some of you ... questioning ... demanding ... desiring to know what all this is and where it all comes from and what it all means.

and i'm right there with you ----
in those questions. and in those doubts. and, yes, even in the overwhelming sense of outrage.

how, in our fragile humanity, can we be anything but that ... anyplace but there?


God, the Father, Abba ... oh ... He is so present in all of it.
as our community cries out to Him ... He is so very present in the pain and so very good even in grief.
and that doesn't make one bit of sense in the limitations of my brain ...
only in the deep places of my needy, needy hurting heart.
only there.

and, yes, somehow, even when the world wrestles with the very hardest stuff of life ---
He is there. He is good.

there's absolutely no tidy packaging or processing for the grief so many feel for precious kylie and her family ... we join them flat on our faces ... begging for God's healing ... for mercy.

but running in the wild current of all that this is ...
we, as His children, can know-trust-believe ... 
He is here.
He is present.
He is good.

last month, the day my mother-in-law passed away, rick's dad shared this video with me. it ministered to the rawest places of my heart. of my hurt. i pulled it out again this morning and wanted to share with y'all.
shane and shane join with john piper to deliver a powerful message for those in deep places of hurt.
i encourage you to find a quiet moment in your day and watch.

"though you slay me
{yet} i will praise you.
though you take from me
i will bless your name.
though you ruin me
{still} i will worship ...
sing a song to the one who's all i need."  
~ though you slay me

friend, are you feeling slayed, ruined, emptied, taken, destroyed, despairing? 
hear piper's words, your pain, "it is not meaningless!"

"so we do not lose heart.
though our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
for this light momentary affliction is preparing 
for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen.
for the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal." 
~ 2 corinthians 4:16-18

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"what do i do with this God?"

since my last couple of posts have dealt with the passing of my mother-in-law and her battle with cancer, i was planning my next writing to be something lighter, brighter, uplifting. something, maybe, even sweet.

except this morning i woke up to news on our friend's caringbridge and all plans for light and bright and sweet have shot right out this february window.

i sit here in the wee hours of this winter(ish) morning and feel instead the weight of their words.
the news clear. the sadness deep. the ache sharp.

and i'm sorry i can't give you anything breezy and easy in this post.
and i'm sorry it's not going to feel very uplifting -- at first. but, make no mistake there's hope.

and though the words aren't easy, there's encouragement and even evidence of something, yes something, sweet. even in this devastating news shared -- there's that. somehow.

because in this news and in this knowledge and in this very painful knowing there is still and always the Good News of Jesus.

i've written before about the myers family.

last spring their youngest daughter, kylie, was diagnosed with ewing's sarcoma. and the cancer battle began. truly you've never seen anything like it. this family has been amazing as they've rallied around their 12 year old daughter and exhausted every imaginable resource in this hideous fight. they are that kind of family. they've allowed an entire community all over the world to share in their story and have always continued to point anyone watching back to Jesus.

kylie and her family at the
make-a-wish gala this past year.
we've known them for many years. our older kids all lined up together in school ... so we've shared lots of life with them at perimeter school. they have always been a family easy to love, respect and admire ... but, oh friends, even so much more in this year of childhood cancer.

sweet kylie has been through so much. but, i'm telling you, even in this horrible diagnosis the myers family has held hard to their faith. they've inspired and encouraged and uplifted many of us -- multitudes of people -- in their hope.

kylie's hallmark, her smile. from coast to coast people know her story ...  know her struggle ... know her smile. #smiley-for-kylie!

kylie's make-a-wish trip was scheduled for this week. after finishing recent treatment, that was the plan: they'd be on their way to new york city for a broadway tour! that was the wish. that was the destination. that was the desire.

but last night kylie's dad, mark, shared this instead ...

I've never been much of a poet or poetry reader, but I have always had a favorite poem. It has resonated with me even though I never fully understood its meaning.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold.
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
I understand it now. I understand it and wish I didn't.
I never thought I would be writing this entry. I never wavered in the belief that we would be rejoicing in Kylie's complete healing. That does not appear to be the case. After we left Charlotte, we knew that she had another tumor. We assumed that meant we had more radiation treatment ahead. Things descended rather quickly from there. She started to have pain in two other locations. Very specific, sharp pain that came on suddenly. Even though we tried to tell ourselves it could be something else - the flu or a virus, I think Robin and I knew. The pain was too symptomatic of everything we've experienced to date. We made the decision to go full bore to New York on her Make-A-Wish trip because anything else would devastate Kylie.
But on Sunday, she began to get sick and feel very bad. In the late afternoon, we made that familiar trip to Scottish Rite. Our every intention was to speed healing so that we could have a blast on the trip. We got admitted and spent the night. Kylie was put on oxygen because her breathing became unsteady. In the morning, the conversations I had with doctors ripped my soul to shreds. Terms such as disease burden and incurable by standard treatment were used. I had to make decisions that I am completely incapable of and sign forms no one should ever see. The last 48 hours have been torture. The doctors were all on board with getting her in travelling shape and sending her to New York. MAW arranged oxygen there and we were set to go. We decided to let her have this trip before we burdened her with what we were learning.
This morning as I lay on the stupid, red sofabed listening to her shallow breathing, I felt a sudden and clear shift. I decided that since we have never withheld information from her, we needed to tell her everything and let her decide. I told Robin and she agreed. And so we had an awful, terrible conversation with our little girl. I watched it sink in. I watched her process it. I cried with her and answered all of the questions that I could. There are so many that are unanswerable. She decided immediately that she wanted to be at home. Home is her balm. We are not going to New York.
So here we are. What do you do with a little girl who rubs her daddy's beard and tells him it will be alright? What do you do with a baby who reaches out to console her weeping mother? I watched in awe as she accepted each of her wailing sisters into her arms and one by one stroked their hair and told them everything would be okay. How can the patient be the comforter - especially when she is 12? It's because she is Gold. She is better than me.
On a personal note, what do I do with this God? He has provided abundantly for us during this crisis in every way. We have felt loved to an embarrassing proportion. He has bound our hearts together and actually strengthened our marriage. Somehow, we have been united on each and every terrible decision we have had to make. He has given us so many evidences of himself during this time, yet for some reason He has chosen to withhold His hand of healing. I don't understand. What do I do with Him? We have some talking to do, but I have decided that I will follow Kylie in the matter. Somehow, she still holds onto her faith and hasn't given up on Him, so I won't either.
We do not know what the next few days hold. She looks perfect, speaks to us clearly and we all laugh and cry together. But inside, there is an insatiable monster eating away at everything. Our options for further treatment are very limited. We can enter clinical trials, but she has to be 14 days purged of the radiation to even start. We are exploring any option, but her body is so weary it will be a hard call. So we don't know what to do except pull together as a family and love on Kylie.
We aren't ready for an influx of visitors. We will try to respond to texts and emails as we can and will read comments and try to share them with Kylie. Soaking up every minute with Kylie is our main focus. Thank you all for praying for us and encouraging her with your smileys. We aren't giving up and continue to pray for a miracle.

friends, i'm sharing this, first and foremost, asking you to pray big for kylie and her family this week. mark's last sentence: "we aren't giving up and continue to pray for a miracle," spurs us all on.  please pray!

but i'm also sharing this knowing that some of you have asked and are asking and will ask the same question kylie's dad asks:  "on a personal note, what do i do with this God?" 

what do i do with this update on kylie?
what do i do with this issue in my own life?
what do i do with this disappointment or discouragement?
what do i do with this this struggle, this sadness, this need, this news, this no?
what do i do with this, God?

go back and re-read the paragraph with mark's answer.
read it.
read it again.
that final sentence: "somehow, she still holds onto her faith and hasn't given up on Him, so i won't either."

this week i wanted to write something of hope and beauty and life. and instead i woke up and i read this update from the myers family. and i am feeling crushed for these friends. crushed and crying out, "Lord, why? why? why?" 
how can this young girl's make-a-wish week turn into this kind of news? 
"why Lord? why?"

"what do i do with this God?"

and many times already this morning i have had to re-read that paragraph written by kylie's daddy. "somehow, she still holds onto her faith and hasn't given up on Him, so i won't either."

on this same morning, after reading mark's post and writing all that above, i had to rush out the door and attend the chapel program for our lower elementary students. bella's 1st grade class was singing "o worship the King."
i sat in our beautiful chapel waiting for the program's start and mark's words continued to play through my head. "on a personal note, what do i do with this God?"

and in the peace of that chapel, listening to these precious kids worshipping their King, i was overwhelmed with the scope of this life. this time. these years. this gift we hold sometimes too tightly ... sometimes too loosely.

we met the myers family back when our oldest girls, meredith and emily, began 1st grade together. these girls who are now in college, they were these same 1st graders once singing in a chapel program. girls in navy sweaters and khaki skirts. and we were those young parents sitting and watching and listening and loving our six year olds. our very youngest children not yet even born. our dreams all still intact and our hearts beating only to the rhythm and wonder of our oldest girls starting out. beginnings. bright futures. so many blessings.

and that seems just yesterday.

but, just like all of us, we've added some years and babies and joy and laughter and ... pain and suffering.

and today i sit listening to my youngest -- another 1st grade girl.
and today all these 1st grade children stand in chapel singing "o worship the King" ... 
worship Him in the beautiful sweetness of life ...
worship Him in the heartbreaking sadness of life ...
but, worship Him.
worship Him.
w o r s h i p.

and that's what the myers family continues to do. even in the overwhelming sadness of this week. they wrestle and they weep and they cry out wild in their grief, but, they worship the King.

and that's the hope i want to point y'all to today. i can't give you easy and breezy, but i can give you real and raw ... and i can show you a tiny glimpse of a family who couldn't be dealing with deeper grief, and yet who continues to worship their King.

kylie. this girl with a beautiful smile ... this girl who placed her arms around her hurting sisters ... this brave and joyful child of God ... this girl, who her dad calls "gold," she worships her King.

last year, a "smiley-for-kylie" picture perimeter school did to show kylie their support and love!