The Shadows Call

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There have been many different creative expressions in my life. From quilting to scrap-booking. Painting to pastels. From writing one poem (and only one) to a 400-page novel.

I think there are life lessons hidden in each one if I were to look hard enough. But the one that stands out to me the most comes from a very, very brief stint with watercolors. I hated them in high school and I still hated them when my mom (an amazing watercolorist) suggested we paint together. A bonding time. Mother-daughter. How could I refuse?

I worked on the painting for days … then weeks. I threw it away and drew it back out of the trash. Then, threw it away again. It was awful. But it was awful, not because it was truly bad, but because I couldn’t see the finished piece. And here’s why…

If you’ve ever painted at all, you know that with oils and acrylics, you can pick a spot on your canvas and paint exactly how you see something—with all its shadows and highlights, right from the start. All its depths and heights. But not in watercolors. With that medium, you start with your lightest wash and build up layer after layer after painstaking layer.

And the lesson … it’s impossible to see depth without shadow.

The painting was flat and lifeless until the very end. I couldn’t see it. Not at first. Not until the final brushes of the darkest layer. And then, and only then, did the painting reveal itself. When the brush strokes of shadow went deeper and brought out the contours of the image, the painting had life. Real, authentic life.

I didn’t realize it then, but I have determined it since. That watercolors are a lot like real life.

When my first child was born two months early at 2 ½ pounds and we fought for her life for six months in the NICU the Lord said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). All of His promises were right there. He was all I had to hold onto. And I clung with all my might.

The brush stroke of shadow contoured my life, and I went deeper.

When the Lord called us out on the mission field to the desert of Mexico, I left my home, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Everything that grounded me. The Lord said, “See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making rivers in the desert, streams in the wasteland to bring drink to my people … that they would praise my name” (Isaiah 43:18-21). He called. I followed in obedience because I knew there was no greater, no safer, no better calculated place to be, then in the center of His will.

And I went deeper.

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 42 years old, my doctor said if it had moved to my liver, I would have six weeks to live. Six weeks. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Ten years later, I remain cancer free. But in that trial, in that moment of staring death in the face, I knew where my hope came from.

The shadow deepened and the girl grew in faith.

You see, with every brush stroke of our lives, every high and every low, every highlight and every shadow, we have the opportunity to go deeper. To experience the grace of God more fully. More completely.

My friend, if you are in a shadow of life, know this for certain:

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And remember … remember this most of all … It’s not easy to see the Master’s work of art because it is not finished. There may still be shadows and contours to reveal in the greater masterpiece.

 

DON'T LET THEM IN!

Please, Stay on the Path!

Please, Stay on the Path!

We’ve been to many places. On many journeys. Our family enjoys hiking. And together, we’ve been on miles of trails. But two in particular stand out in my life.

We often visited Arizona while we lived in Mexico. We vacationed there. Regrouped there. And shopped at Target to remember what it was like to be American. We also hiked with our kids. Phoenix has a popular hill (which felt more like a mountain to me) that we always visited on our trips. Unlike the rough terrain of living in the Baja desert, the path up the mountain was manicured with precision. A perfect foot path with perfect boundaries. In fact, signs posted at exact intervals reminded the hikers to “stay on the path.” To keep everyone safe and the environment pristine for the next person. And when we strayed, when we let our kids taste for only a moment the freedom to hop up on one rock and return quickly, the signs would remind us. And the frowns would compel us to obey.

STAY ON THE PATH.

When we moved to Colorado, however, things changed. The paths were still pristine, much more fun to walk on than traipsing through the cactus underbrush of the desert. Groomed and manicured and free from garbage. But the terrain was wide open for exploration. No signs. No boundaries. Enjoy! Take a deep breath and explore everything!

My youngest was not sure what to do with this. He stepped off the path at my urging, saw a stranger, and returned to my side quickly. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s allowed. You can climb that rock. You can swing on that branch.” He tentatively tried it, but when he saw someone else, he shot back to me and glued himself to my side on the path. It took several nudges and assurances for him to find the freedom to explore without the guilt or shame of stepping over the line.

The distinction is poignant in my life. And with it, I come to the church. The way of the “straight” path. The signs. The markers. The defined boundary. The pressure to hold onto what we love. What we cherish. Because it needs to be here for the next guy. It needs to stay perfect and unmarred from all the footprints that can muddy it up.

So, staying on the path looks like this:

            Do not steal

            Do not covet

            Do not kill

            Do not lie

            Do not drink

            Do not curse

            Do not…

Rules are often good, right? They are meant to keep us on the path. To keep us from marring the way for others. But what did Jesus say?

He said two things were most important. Not ten. Not twenty. Just two:

            Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

            And love your neighbor as yourself.

See, Jesus knew it was not about the boundary. But about the heart. If our heart was bent on loving Him with everything we are and loving those around us with the same passion for which we love ourselves, the rest would fall in line. We would seek the abundance of being with Him, not because someone told us to, but because there was no greater joy. The heart came first.

Why did the woman caught in adultery want to turn from her sin? Why did she want her life to change? Because of her guilt at being caught? Her shame at being dragged out in public? Because the stones hurt?

No. She wanted to be free from sin because she met JESUS.

Church, I fear we have cast the safety net. We have believed in the boundaries that offer the human ideal to preserve, to protect what we have. To treasure what we need by keeping it safe from the muddy footprints. Safe from the ones who might abuse it. Who might not appreciate all the work we put in to make it perfect.

HEY YOU! How did YOU get in here? Can’t you read the sign? No sin allowed. No footprints on the King.

But how can we horde God’s love. How can we put Him, the greatest joy of all, behind the signs… and too often behind the frowns… and keep people out? When it's Him we need most of all. Each and every one of us.

Did we miss something? Something big? Something that is a matter of the heart? Did we jump to the list, the boundary, and forget the King’s declaration? The declaration that He so loved the world in all its twisted mess that He gave, gave freely without bounds or limits, His ONE AND ONLY SON. And that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but live with HIM forever.

Did we forget that? Do we forfeit the greatest wonder by hording the treasure for those who already have it? We can't lose it. It is bigger than any of us and not here by our own merit. Open the gates and let them in.

I thank God, every day, that when I danced on the rock of the King the signs did not keep me out!

A Mom's Journey in Letting Go

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To all those out there who have known the trial of parenting. Who have experienced the excitement and the pain, the hope and the sorrow, the sleepless nights, the burdens and the unfathomable joy of loving a child through brokenness. This is for you.

One of my best friends from childhood, who has walked this parenting journey with me, shares her heart and her battle to "let go" when everything within her, within us, wants to "hold on." May you find a piece of hope and encouragement as she allows me to reproduce part of her journey here:


It will be hard to understand my peace and my serenity unless I tell you of my nightmare.

Our eldest son was a senior in high school when he had a terrible accident that left him with a shattered ankle. A metal plate and nine screws later, he was on the road to healing. At least that is what we thought.

Coming from a family, and marrying into a family with a long line of the disease of addiction, I was well aware of the dangers of pain medication, and how quickly someone can become dependent. So, I became the pain killer police. Strictly following the doctors orders. Unfortunately, my son's disease was shaken awake.

For the next ten years, we lived in hell. Our son's addiction put a terrible strain on our marriage. It dissolved his relationships with his siblings and friends. It dismantled his self-confidence.

I would attend different meetings. I would speak with other parents in similar situations. One resounding commonality kept coming through to me... "LET GO-- AND LET GOD." Not an easy action for this mother. Because-- I got this. I can help him through this. After all... he's my flesh and blood.

I have always been a firm believer in Jesus Christ. But I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams that He would know what was best for my child. So... I held on tight. Really tight. Yes, I prayed. Yes, I begged for help and guidance. But I wouldn't release. All along, losing hope that someday my handsome son would return to us.

Everyday, God brought another chance to let go. Another crisis would arise. One needing immediate attention-- or so I thought. I would leap right in, and "come to the rescue"... again. Rescuing my son from his "pain"-- from himself. And again, prolonging the lesson God had in store for him. I felt I couldn't trust God with this one. Because... I just couldn't face what the Almighty may have planned.

He blessed me with this child. Could He possibly take him away from me?

No! I wouldn't allow that. I was fighting drug addiction... and Jesus! And THAT, my friends, is a very tiring thing. I guess I thought I was all that... and a bag of chips, too... didn't I?

After many sleepless nights... after I completely drained myself and exhausted every option... I finally heard God's words: GET OUT OF MY WAY. THIS IS MY CREATION. HE IS MINE. I LOVE HIM-- EVEN MORE THAN YOU DO.

Imagine that... God had this all along.

So... I did it. I let go. I fearfully pried my fingers off. I kissed and hugged him and told him I loved him dearly. But I would not watch him destroy himself. I asked him to leave our home.

This began the beginning of the end. With every day, I felt stronger in my decision to hand him over to God. Trusting and growing stronger in HIS master plan for our son. Praying, day into night. Night into day.

Then one day, it finally happened. Our son called and asked for help. He said he missed us. He said he was tired. Finally, our son was ready for recovery. He entered a very structured program, and is enjoying his life again. Learning to live without drugs. Learning to cope with life's ups and downs. He is celebrating ten months clean. Ten months out of the darkness.

We finally have our beloved son back, and God protected us from a tragic ending.

We live in a world filled with sin. We live in a world where I truly believe Satan is gathering souls. That is reality. I will continue to fight for the health and well-being of myself and all I love. But... I now know... I am not alone. I have the BEST FATHER standing next to me, giving me the strength to enjoy this beautiful life He's lovingly created for me. All I need to do, each day, is trust Him fully.