My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Weight of It All

     Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
     God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that HE LOVED US and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us." - 1 John 4:7-13

Seems that life has been pretty serious lately--not necessarily because of my own circumstances so much as the struggles of people I love. There's no pain or anguish deeper than knowing one of your own children are hurting or suffering somehow, especially when we can't be the heroic parents that make their hurts or fears go away. It was so much easier for Mom to "fix" their hurts and settle their fears when they were younger. Others whom I love greatly have experienced such deep deep sorrow and grief. Some are facing unbelievable struggles and mountains which seem insurmountable. Some have experienced horrible injustices and abuse, and there is no easy or quick remedy to fix all that has been shattered in their lives. Still others are lost, confused, overwhelmed, or just plain angry at what life has dealt them. This past week or so, it seems so many are crying out to God at once and my heart grieves for them. So often, their hurt touches mine, resonating with some of the cries of my own heart and opening old wounds. And sometimes their hurt touches my heart--not just because I've been where they are and I know what they suffer--but because I love them so deeply and I desperately want them to hang on to hope. So often, I take their burdens as my own. I won't apologize for that or be convinced to stop because we are instructed to carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6). But today is one of those days when I'm broken by the weight of it all--when my burdens and their burdens seem too heavy to bear.  My heart breaks when I feel their pain as if it were my own. There's so many hurts, so many fears, so many reasons to give up, but there's a greater reason to keep on-- to "continue to love." As we walk with each other through struggles and sorrows, we hold each other up so that none of us fall by the wayside. We cheer each other on so that no one is alone in their journey and each one knows that his or her life is precious. And as heavy as the burden seems sometimes, I know that I can't give up in what God has called me to simply because I love Him and I love these people with all of my heart. As hard as it is, I would never ask for a lesser task because I WANT to be with them through every circumstance so that they are not alone--I want them to know that their life matters. I am honored to share their burdens and humbled when they share mine.

As I fell on my face in my own weakness and poured out my heart to Him, I wondered how Jesus must have felt when He took our burdens on Himself so willingly that day on the cross. The weight of the world and its sin was on His shoulders. It must have seemed so unbearable as He cried, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:46) I thought about the many times that He has taken and carried my own burdens however cumbersome, when He held me through dark nights and He grieved at my shed tears and even more at my unshed tears. I wondered at His brokenness when He became such a beautiful sacrifice for ME simply because of LOVE. Yet I know that He would do it all again if He had to because He loves that much--that completely. He WANTS to be with us through our joys, our sins, and our sorrows. Somehow knowing that He loves so deeply--to know that His heart breaks when we fall down and rejoices when we rise up--knowing it makes my burdens seem a little lighter and even strengthens me for whatever this next week holds. Whatever burdens I carry--whether they be mine or those carried for others--I don't carry them alone because He carries them with me. And when I think about the weight of it all, it's nothing compared to what He has carried for me in days past. He encourages me and gives me His faithful promise, "Don't give up! CONTINUE TO LOVE for I will never leave you or forsake you..." 

I came across Daniel's vision unexpectedly. I don't think I've ever read it before. Though I'm not quite certain I understand the whole story or why God brought me to it, I found hope and strength as if I were in Daniel's place and I found personal understanding in the idea of the  "messenger" whether that be a real person, a supernatural vision, a dream, or a word silently and privately spoken to the heart. I know how often God sends messengers to me to encourage and offer hope, even today so unexpectedly in an amazing woman named Latimer. (Thank you, dear sister!) And I know that sometimes I am so honored and blessed to be His messenger. But today, I needed to hear the words of Daniel's messenger...

   So I was left there all alone to see this amazing vision. My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. T hen I heard the man speak, and when I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground.
    Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling.
     Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven...
   While he was speaking to me, I looked down at the ground, unable to say a word.  Then the one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing in front of me, “I am filled with anguish because of the vision I have seen, my lord, and I am very weak.  How can someone like me, your servant, talk to you, my lord? My strength is gone, and I can hardly breathe.”
    Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong! - Daniel 10:8-12, 15-19

As I read this and take His Word to heart today, my prayer becomes the same that Jesus cried when He bore the weight of the world, " My life is Yours, Father. Into Your hands I commit my spirit...' "

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Beautiful Chaos...

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. - Psalm 51:10-12

There's so much to process over the last few weeks and so much I'd like to write about so I remember but I have another important pressing project and knowing how "way leads on to way," I probably won't get back to it.  But tonight, tI need to put down what's on my heart to get through the sadness of goodbyes so I can hold on to the hope for hellos to come...

I saw Zachary off at the airport this evening--on his way back to his base in California. Elias left to go back to Hawaii the day after Christmas. Andy and Megan (his girlfriend) went home Monday. Brittany, Mikey, and Kaci have long since gone back to their work and normal lives, though not so far away... Zachary and I had dinner last night with some other friends but I just had to see him off today for some reason. I just needed to hug him once more I guess. He's my "baby"--my "almost 21 years old" baby. With three Marines, another son at Texas Tech, and a daughter whose heart pines for California, I've had to say goodbye to my kids far too often. It seems all so out of order that we raise our kids just so we can let them go...again and again and again. 

This Christmas season, Zachary was the last goodbye--the last one to "go home." So tonight, I'm so very blessed but I'm also sad that my own "Christmas miracle" is over. It's not like they've been at my house or with me 24/7 for the last few weeks. Our time together has been limited because of the demands on their time and so many people to see. But the time we have had has been so especially precious to me this year and tonight, it suddenly seems so serenely but sadly quiet knowing it will be quite a while before my home is that alive again. Even in the bittersweetness of the stillness, I am overwhelmed with love for each one of my kids and with the way that each one of them uniquely loves me.

Over the past several weeks, I've met the boys at the airport, went to the Christmas Philharmonic concert with Mikey, enjoyed dinners and Hastings with Elias, Mikey, and entourage, went Christmas shopping with Brittany, random calls and conversations with all of them, literally drove through a blizzard with Elias, Zachary, and Brittany (an adventure in itself) on Christmas Eve to my brother's house in snowless Veribest, silently prayed that Andy would make it home from Lubbock safely that night after the snowstorm for Christmas, and got several chances to get to know girlfriends and boyfriends...Megan, Daniel, Tawny... (I like them all!) ...Oh, so much in so little time. 

But on Christmas Day ALL my kids and their dad were together in one place at home with me along with some friends (honorary Christmas Bennetts--complete with filled stockings under the tree.) We were a family--the way a family should be.  Just having them all together in one place is an amazing feat and a rare occasion since they've grown up. My house is so small so with all my kids, their dad, the "Honorary Bennetts," and me...It was loud..It was crowded, and with that many boys, it was definitely chaotic. They were cooking and eating, teasing and wrestling and punching, showing off new tattoos, watching movies, making weird noises and laughing--SO much laughing. There's always several conversations going on and it's almost impossible to keep up. Usually I'm so busy trying to get everything done and make everything perfect or getting ready for the next thing, I don't take the time to listen----to REALLY listen to the beauty of it all.  But this year was different... 

I didn't even try to do everything I always tried to do in the past--I haven't been feeling well for several weeks so there was no way I could even come close. And you know what? Once I accepted that, I found out that the sky didn't fall in and Christmas didn't explode just because I didn't get a bow on the package or all the garland up. It wasn't about my idea of Christmas perfection. It was a day just to be together--no running around to several houses trying to meet a hundred other family demands. Our special day started late because of the ice--they couldn't get out of Cross Plains. But when they finally arrived, we fixed a very late Christmas breakfast together...or rather the kids and their dad did while I wrapped presents. We opened stockings--one of our favorite family traditions--and later presents. Then we just hung out while they ate, shared stories, and talked about music, movies, old memories and a thousand other things.  Lots of noise, teasing, harrassing, and a big mess of wrapping paper and empty plates and dirty dishes..and absolutely no room to walk. And you know what, I loved every minute. 

We later went to see a movie--there were 10 of us by this time. As we waited for the movie to start, they all laughed as they watched their mom somehow manage to dump Kaci's whole BIG bucket of popcorn on the person in front of me! And I was concerned how all of them were going to embarrass me!!! I still don't know how I did it and a little shocked thinking back about how up close and personal I got while picking popcorn off a stranger and apologizing profusely. All the while, my kids and all their friends laughed and laughed! (Their dad was thankfully out getting a coke at the time.) We watched a great movie (have to admit I dozed just a little cuz I was SO exhausted) and then we all went out for Chinese for "Christmas dinner" about 8:30-9:00 that night.  

As we sat around the table in the restaurant at the end of the day, I just listened to all of them talking at once as I had so many times throughout the day and I was so overwhelmed with the joy and the miracle of it. I couldn't help but think about that Christmas carol "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus". Oh it wasn't the "traditional" way that most would expect Him to show up but no doubt, my Jesus had come and made His presence so sweetly known to me in that moment. I suddenly realized how long it's been since I truly loved Christmas...How long it's been since I sought the true meaning of Christmas...How long since I felt like I belonged. I don't think I ever knew how very much I needed to belong and to be accepted just as I am--a broken and flawed human being... I needed to know that He still has a place for me--not just with my family but in my everyday...and with Him.  I needed to know that He has a purpose for me. And I needed to know that it's ok just to sit back and enjoy the moment and the miracle of it--the most truly beautiful Christmas I can remember. 

Christmas this yar wasn't at all about gifts or "stuff", nor the impossible feat of making everyone happy at the same time, or working till everything appears so perfect. It was much less about stress and money and enduring events or occasions where somehow I always get hurt or angry and defensive. This Christmas was about recognizing the many different little ways that each of my kids uniquely make their love for me known...I've never seen it before quite so clearly. This Christmas was about how Christ Himself made His love for me known. This Christmas was so very different. This year, I was  determined to be a part of the season, I was willing to fight for it. This year I focused on inviting Jesus into my every moment and seeing what He could make of those moments. And He did so much better than I ever did on my own! This past year has been a journey of seeing dreams come true, in facing hurts and fears and letting them go one by one--a journey that made me stronger with each step instead of growing weary. It's been a journey of restoration and self-acceptance in so many ways. As I sat around that rowdy dinner table listening and learning and loving, I realized how very far He has brought me. I silently thanked God for all that He has done.  I knew what He had given me for Christmas this year--the joy of my salvation...Oh, how He loves us...

Jesus, I am so overwhelmed with the way that You love and still so amazed that You never give up on me. I am so thankful for all that You are and for all that You've done. You have returned to me the joy of my salvation--the simple joy of being in Your presence...of being Yours.  You have returned to me the joy of knowing that I have a place to belong--not just as a mom but in Your house with You and among those You have brought into my life to show me the truth and lead me through some of my darkest days. And even now in the stillness of this quiet, there is no reason or room for despair.  Even now, though my kids have gone their separate ways to seek what You have in store for them, help me to remember that our love for each other remains...Remind me Lord that no matter what lies ahead of me, Your love remains.  YOU remain. You have kept me safe and I am NOT alone.

"One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,  to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple...I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27: 4, 13-14