The Profound Sound of Silence

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Our culture is so very noisy, isn’t it? When I was young, life seemed to be so much quieter. Television stations actually turned off by midnight and didn’t begin broadcasting again until 6 or 7 in the morning. We didn’t have the internet or cell phones or ipods to keep us constantly engaged. Within this age of information and digital connection, it’s so very easy to go days or even weeks without enjoying the gift of silence.

Several months ago, I felt impressed upon by the Lord to be quiet. I didn’t know why…I just felt he was telling me to be silent. Initially, I responded by withdrawing from Facebook, Twitter, and this very blog. This led to a precious time of beginning to hear his voice guiding me and preparing me for things I had no idea were about to happen. My life was about to change in a dramatic and wonderful way, but to get through those changes, I truly needed my heart to be fixed upon God and his faithfulness.

I won’t even pretend to understand everything that God is doing, but oh, the excitement of living in what I know to be his incredible, gracious plan! He has picked us up (rather suddenly!) from our home in Texas and transplanted us in Virginia, where we are getting precious time with all six of our children and our little honeybee. He has placed us with a sweet new church that just began in May. He has given me a new job, which I have to tell you, would never have entered my mind as worth considering had I not taken time to be quiet and listen. He has connected us with new friends in our neighborhood, who have brought us into their Bible study group. He has also joined us to the local Emmaus community in an exciting way. Through it all, he is teaching us to listen, trust, and follow.

During this same quiet period, though, some scary changes have taken place around us. ISIS now shares daily headlines with ebola. War is being waged in Ukraine (so very dear to our hearts) by Russia. Every day seems to bring troubles unimagined the day before. It would be so easy to tremble in the face of it all, had the Lord not drawn me into a time of quietness before him. This morning I was reading in Psalm 46…”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (v. 1-3) In my quietness before God, I have sensed that we are about to walk through difficult times. Many believers seem to have this impression. But I love how that same chapter ends: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts (armies!) is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (v. 10-11)

In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a true sense of utter dependence upon God. Oh, the hope that is found in total surrender! How grateful I am that he called me to be still and listen.

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Consequential Mercies

It was shortly after 7 a.m. this past Sunday when RJ’s phone woke us from sound sleep. On the line was a security guard from the local mall where we own several stores. “Mr. Dittmeier, we need you to come down here.” We’d been robbed, but luckily (this time), the perpetrator was caught in the act. San Antonio Police had been called in, and my husband needed to go in and press charges.

When RJ entered the room where the man was being held, he took photos to share with other mall merchants, causing the thief to become enraged. This young adult began shouting threats that as soon as he called his dad, my husband would be dealt with very harshly….maybe even sued.

I don’t doubt it.

We live in a culture that has decided that children and consequences do not belong together. Online groups praise parents who allow children to be defiant, self-willed beings, lacking respect for authority of any type, including their parents and, by logical extension, God himself. This is, as Dr. Phil says, child abuse.

A memory forever etched in my mind from my years working for MADD is a pitiful one. A local attorney of extreme wealth crumpled to the floor of the courthouse in a heap, bawling his eyes out. His money and legal resources had failed to keep his son from facing consequences. Having sent a teenage girl to a wheelchair for life, a young man with seemingly every advantage in life was sentenced to prison. Every time he had crashed a car, his dad had bought him a new one. Even after he’d paralyzed this girl, Dad bought him a new BMW. The world now came at this young man full force, bearing consequences which may have been avoided had he ever learned consequences earlier in life.

Another memory from MADD is when a father called to ask me to attend his son’s court hearing and implore them to not consider probation. “This is his third arrest, and I’m afraid he’s going to kill someone,” he pleaded with me.

“Who bails him out of jail when he’s arrested?” I asked.

“I do,” he sheepishly replied.

I admire that this dad wanted his son to finally face the consequences for his behavior (mainly to protect others, which is admirable), but where was the courage to say, “Son, I love you…and because I love you, I am not going to let you get out of jail and endanger others and yourself. You’re going to have to face the consequences of continuing this behavior.”

I get it. We want our kids to love us. We want them to like us. However, our higher goal has to be that our children will love, honor, and obey God. This starts in the home with the parents.

In Scripture we meet a priest named Eli who failed to use consequences to teach his sons. They filled their days with debauchery of every kind, blaspheming God himself. Eli pleaded with his sons to behave better and attempted to reason with them (1 Sam. 3:24-25), but they, having no respect for either God or their father, refused to listen. God eventually put them to death, “because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” (3:13)

Throughout Scripture, we see God use discipline repeatedly to bring his people to and back to repentance. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (ESV) At times, the punishments are very harsh, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, whom God struck dead in the book of Acts. We do not serve a God who winks at sin.

Consequences serve us. They interrupt our lives with the reality of the seriousness of our rebellion. They point us toward our need for our Savior, Jesus. They remind us that our sin is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God. They direct us toward repentance. Pity the man who faces no consequences for his actions. He will face them eventually. If he’s fortunate, he will face them in this world. If not, he will face them before our God in heaven.

The good news is this: Jesus died that we could be set free from the eternal consequences of our sin. While undoubtedly we may suffer consequences for our poor choices on this earth for the rest of our lives, we do not have to dread our appointment with our Heavenly Father. At the Cross, my sins were dealt with forever. Let this not lead me to a cheap view of my sin or my salvation, but to unspeakable gratitude. Let me direct my children toward a Holy God, an accurate attitude toward sin, and the risen Savior who alone can deliver them.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

Divinely Appointed Unpleasantries

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You know those times when you run into a person in life and you just know God brought you to the same place at the same time for a reason? Well….this was not one of those times, or at least not at first glimpse. Yesterday I had a run-in with a woman I’m going to call “Mary.” (I don’t know her real name, and I’m somewhat grateful for that. You’ll understand why shortly.)

Mary was in a hurry to get somewhere, it appeared, because she decided to head toward the exit of a parking lot by cutting across the incoming lane of traffic. I was in the process of entering, when suddenly she was in front of me. Colson saw her coming and warned me, but still I had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting her. Mary also stopped, facing the wrong way (albeit caddy corner) right in front of me. I seriously don’t know if her rage was triggered at that moment or whether it might have already been well in progress, but promptly she began mouthing things at me. She rolled down her window, and I reached to roll down my own before something I’ll call “divine instinct” told me not to do it. Mary began shouting, and the lip reading was unmistakable. Use your imagination. Mary is a very angry woman.

This is Texas, y’all. For the most part, we try to get along–but I seriously believe that had I engaged in dialogue with Mary, she may have jumped out of her car and physically attacked me (while parked in *my* lane)!

Sometimes I’m dense. It wasn’t until this morning that an important truth dawned on me: Divine appointments are not always pleasant. The woman in that car needs prayer. She could have driven into the path of anyone, but the same God who laid out the stars of the universe timed it so that the object of her rage would be me. It doesn’t take a mental health professional to realize this woman probably has trouble going on her life, but I am one. It doesn’t take a preacher to understand that she needs prayer, but I’m a Christ-follower. And while it might take me a while to hear the voice of God, I do try to obey him when he speaks. At approximately 6 o’clock this morning, God enlightened me to the fact that even bizarrely unpleasant encounters sometimes take place for a wonderful purpose, outside of the realm of human understanding. What an “Aha” moment! If I don’t pray for this woman, will anyone? (Perhaps you will…but more importantly, you may, like me, have a better perspective the next time you run into your own “Mary.”)

How do I really know that God directed me to pray for Mary? “But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44, ESV)

Because He said so!

Note: The above photo is not one of Mary. Taking a picture of her would have been crazy and dangerous. Do not attempt such a thing!

All Those Kids and Counting

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It’s been a rough few days for me.  For whatever reason, I’ve continued to become increasingly aware and focused upon the daily vulnerability we face as a large family.  There are just so many points of exposure, and I have no way of knowing what any day may bring.  While this has always been the case, it’s only been in recent months that I have allowed fear and worry to draw me so deeply into their snares.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched an episode of 19 Kids and Counting.  There on national television, the Duggar parents were told during an ultrasound that their unborn child was no longer living.  I know that mama’s heart broke at such news, but her immediate words were these…”The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I don’t know that I could say these words in the face of such tragedy.

Tonight, however, I opened my Bible reading app, and these words popped up on screen:  “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flowers of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”  And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25, ESV)

How the Gospel soothes the heart of an anxious mom.  Once again I am reminded that we are all here for a season–for a brief appointed moment in time.  Our hope doesn’t lie in hanging onto the condition of today, but rather in the assurance that Christ has died that we shall live eternally.  

And he will not abandon us.

There will be struggles.  There will be loss.  There will be amazing times and heart wrenching times and laughter and pain.  However, we have his promise that he will bring us through them all, ultimately escorting us into a glory beyond our wildest dreams.  

I Believe, BUT….

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I have to say it….there are some real downfalls to working as a bereavement counselor.  My work as such began in late 2009, when I accepted a position in victim services with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Besides conducting individual counseling, I ran a support group comprised of moms who’d lost their children to drunk drivers.  This was an incredibly difficult task as a mom of six children.  The cases I encountered were converted into fear.  Every time my cell phone rings, my mind goes straight to those scenarios.  This is true in spite of God’s incredible sustaining mercy which has been manifested over the past 25 years of motherhood.

After leaving MADD, I spent a year at the local Children’s Bereavement Center serving children who’d suffered sibling loss.  There I encountered cases where children had been lost due to illness or accident.  I also acquired an entirely new database of scenarios involving painful, traumatic loss.  It is in light of such knowledge that I feel utterly helpless as a mother and grandmother. ” I must prevent these things from happening, but how?”

I’ll be honest…these past three weeks I’ve spent helping with my granddaughter, I’ve been very busy childproofing.  Every piece of furniture over two feet tall is bolted to the walls (yes, in the studs).  The cupboards are locked with the latest, greatest equipment.  Chemicals are out of reach.  Outlets are properly covered.  These are the things I can do, and they are good things.  I must, however, come to terms with this difficult and profound truth:  I am not and can never be God.  My children and my grandchild are in better, more capable, even more loving hands than my own.  The tragedies with which I’ve worked should not compel me into fear, but rather a deeper trust in the One who loves them more than I. 

I’d love for this paragraph to be the one in which I share with you how I have overcome my fear of tragic loss.  To the contrary, this is where I shall convey my need.  In Mark 9, Jesus is approached by a man whose begs for his son’s deliverance from an evil spirit.  When Jesus responds to him that “all things are possible to him who believes,” the father desperately cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV).  When it comes to my trusting God with my offspring, I must confess that I have everything in common with this man.

How I love to end posts with insight–an example of victory or proclamation of faith.  But this very day I experienced panic when a child didn’t respond to a text for several hours and didn’t answer the phone.  (Sent another child to check on her!)   I have every reason to think that tomorrow will bring fear and anxiety of its own.  So consider this more of a prayer request, my way of crying out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”  May I not trust in myself, but in the One who has accompanied me through every dark time in my life and theirs. 

Jesus, surround my children and grandchild with your angels.  Guide them with your hand in the way that they should go.  And while you’re doing that, help me to trust in you.  Amen.

Forget? Impossible!

June 9, 2010.

Like many days, that day I dialed my mom’s number after I left work.  She answered the phone with a broken and desperate voice.

“Mom?  Is something wrong?”

“Yessss.”

“What is it?”

“Ben got killed in Afghanistan,” she sobbed.

“No, he didn’t.  NO, he didn’t.  He did NOT!”  I protested, as though if I shouted it enough times, it wouldn’t be true.

“Yes, he did…” she cried.

Blur.

I hung up to call RJ, but he couldn’t understand my screaming.  I finally took a deep breath, and screamed, “Ben’s dead!”  That he heard.

Blur.

RJ swung into the parking lot where I’d exited the road.  I fell into his arms screaming.  He wrapped himself around me and carried me to his truck.

Blur.

All our kids were packed up, and the dogs were boarded.  We began the journey to Tennessee to wait with our family for Ben.  Everyone was in shock.  This was not supposed to happen.  You don’t understand…THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.  Ben had spent YEARS training as an Elite Forces pararescueman (PJ) in the United States Air Force.  After all those years training for carrying out lifesaving rescue in the most extreme of combat situations, Ben had given his life saving others after only six weeks in Afghanistan.  Six weeks, 93 rescue missions.  How could this be?  We couldn’t wrap our heads around the fact that he was gone.  It seemed like he’d only just arrived there.

In Tennessee, we received few answers.  The helicopter had been shot down by the Taliban.  An RPG, known for it’s inaccuracy, had found its way to the tail rotor.  Four had died upon crash.  Three survived, but with severe burns and injuries.  Their fate remained unknown, though one would succumb weeks later.  We waited for word as to when Ben would be returned to us.

Then came the call.  Westboro Baptist Church notified our local radio station and newspaper that they intended to protest Ben’s funeral.  Shock, agony, anger, and several emotions I’ve never experienced and cannot name whirled around inside me.  I thought I was going to faint.  How could anyone assert such opportunistic hatred into the worst moments of our lives?  Unimaginable insult thrust itself upon uncontainable grief to produce incredulous agony.  I found myself wishing I could physically hurt these horrible people, but was left feeling helpless, as any action on my part would simply gratify them and detract from Ben.

We were notified that Ben’s body was being returned to us on Saturday morning, June 19, ten days after he had given his life.  The family made plans to meet at the airport for his first and final homecoming.

What happened next was the most awesome, miraculous, encouraging, incredible, and unimaginable outpouring of human love, respect, and support I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

Join me in experiencing it….

Life from the foxhole

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Being the wife of a bronze star recipient and the aunt of a purple heart recipient (who sacrificed his life for our freedom), I hesitate to even use the term “foxhole.”  I can’t, however, find any word to better express what we should expect when we become vocal in our faith and intentional in our Christian journey. 

If you’ve been aware of my recent silence, rest assured…it isn’t because I have run out of things to say about God’s mercy in my life.  It is because the flaming arrows simply have not stopped coming at me since my Walk to Emmaus in March.  They warned us this would happen, but it appears that my professions of God’s tender mercies have earned some extra ammo aimed in my direction. 

Dang, how I hate the distraction of flaming arrows.  The Bible assures us we will face them as believers, but we can, should we choose, remain on the sidelines of battle.  The less public we are with our faith, the more likely we are to be largely left alone.  While everyone faces adversity in this life, the enemy of our souls delights in going after those who attempt to share the kindness and mercy of a loving God in a world desperate for hope. 

Faith.  That’s all we have.  Ephesians 6:16 instructs us, “In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all (!!!) the flaming darts of the evil one;” (ESV).  “ALL” is an amazing word.  What a relief it is to know that God has already provided assurance that we have ALL we need as we undergo attack.  Faith.  Because he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.  Because our battle is not against flesh and blood.  Because the battle for our souls was won on two wooden beams. 

In Romans we are promised this:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (16:20, ESV).  As surely as we recognize the evil and darkness rampant in this world, we can identify the one who hates us, whose goal is to immobilize us or defeat us, if it were possible.  Faith makes that impossible.

So while I’m here in this foxhole, let me tell you the wonderful mercies which God has bestowed.  Our daughter Kelsey was undiagnosed with lupus six days ago.  All traces of antinuclear antibodies and lupus-specific markers are GONE from her blood.  She has been released from her rheumatology clinic after sixteen months of being a patient.  This doesn’t happen.  Our son Colson walked away from an automobile crash that totaled his vehicle.  We have nearly lost count of how many times God has spared him from death, beginning at age three when he was miraculously saved from a near-drowning, a few years later being struck by lightning, and later taking a bus to school one day and one day only (the day I was t-boned by a Ford truck exactly where he should’ve been sitting), and numerous times fainting (the big one resulting in a severe concussion, the effects of which lasted nearly a year).  Colson’s accident graciously did not happen while RJ and I were on our cruise (a sweet friend pointed out to me), but mere days after our return.  I am posting from Virginia, where I’ve been given the incredible privilege of caring for our granddaughter while our oldest child, Kasey, works toward her bachelor’s degree–where Christian and Kelsey are also pursuing theirs and where Colson is attending in the fall. 

God is good all the time. 

Faith is easy with a God so incredibly good.  What arrows???

 

 

Vacay!

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Hitting the seas tomorrow by way of cruise ship.  Please pray that things will be peaceful and smooth on the home front with all our chickadees and our grand-chickadee.  Also, please pray that this will be a time of refreshing for my husband and me.  He very much needs a break from the stressors of life.  

 

And We Call It “Good”…

Joni Eareckson Tada articulated the events of “Good Friday” with incredible accuracy and insight:

The Savior was now thrown to men quite different from the eleven. The face that Moses had begged to see—was forbidden to see—was slapped bloody. The thorns that God had sent to curse the earth’s rebellion now twisted around his own brow. His back, buttocks, and the rear of his legs felt the whip—soon they looked like the plowed Judean fields outside the city. “On with the blindfold!” someone shouts. “That’s it—now spin him. Who hit you? Heh, heh.” By the time the spitting is through, more saliva is on him then in him. No longer can he be recognized. “Cut him down from the post! Send him toting his crossbar to the playground.” Up Skull Hill to the welcome of other poorly paid legionnaires enjoying themselves. “On you back with you!” One raises a mallet to sink the spike. But the soldier’s heart must continue pumping as he readies the prisoner’s wrist. Someone must sustain the soldier’s life minute by minute, for no man had this power on his own. Who supplies breath to his lungs? Who gives energy to his cells? Who holds his molecules together? Only by the Son do “all things hold together”. The victim wills that the soldier live on—he grants the warrior’s continued existence. The man swings. As the man swings, the Son recalls how he and the Father first designed the medial nerve of the human forearm—the sensations it would be capable of. The design proves flawless—the nerve performs exquisitely. “Up you go!” They lift the cross. God is on display in his underwear, and can scarcely breathe.

But these pains are a mere warm-up to his other and growing dread. He begins to feel a foreign sensation. Somewhere during this day an unearthly foul odor began to waft, not around his nose, but his heart. He feels dirty. Human wickedness starts to crawl upon his spotless being—the living excrement from our souls. The apple of his Father’s eye turns brown with rot.

His Father! He must face his Father like this!

From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.

“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk—you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock you parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp—buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded slaves—relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, I loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”

Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction.

“Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!”

But heaven stops its ears. The Son endures it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished.

Tada, Joni Eareckson & Estes, Steve.  When God Weeps.  Zondervan Publishing.