What's In Your Back Seat?

Last week I drove a successful professional colleague to lunch.  I grimaced as we approached my decade-old, disfigured, un-vacuumed minivan.

Opening the door, I stole a quick glance in the back seat.  My shoulders drooped further.  Yep, the muddy soccer ball from a week ago was still there, and it would soon be playing pinball throughout the car as we headed to the restaurant.  In addition, an end-of-year care package for my college son was spread out in the back seat ready for assembly.  A second box containing a late birthday gift for my son-in-law sat next to it -- also awaiting a long-overdue trip to the Post Offiice.  To top it off, sitting on the floor was this morning's cereal bowl holding crusty oatmeal remains from my son's hurried breakfast.

Before I could open my mouth to apologize, I heard my passenger exclaim, "Oh, I feel right at home!" Bless her.  A true kindred spirit.

Right then we both realized how our cars represent a microcosm of our entire lives as moms.  Think about it. What's in your car right now?  Groceries...a gym bag...crayons.  A left-over backpack...outgrown baby clothes ready to be dropped off at a crisis pregnancy center...maybe even parking receipts from an unplanned trip to the hospital.  Or perhaps the best of all:  your children's car seats.

When I look in my back seat I see only busyness. An unfinished to-do list.  Clutter. But God sees life; life brimming with the rich relationships with which He's surrounded me.  That stained soccer ball represents an impromptu trip to the park.  Those cardboard boxes carry messages of "Hurray, I believe in you!" across the miles to young men I love.  Even that stale oatmeal bowl reminds me that not only does God provide daily sustenance for the Crane family, He also gives me the privilege of a 20-minute conversation with my favorite teenager before he faces the hallways of school that day.

Once again I'm drawn to that Genesis 16 description of the Lord as "the God who sees me."  Yes, God sees me.  Not a messy package or a dirty dish...ME.   Oh, how I want to look past the clutter and debris and truly see the people around me.  In fact, right now I'm reminded of a favorite impromptu family photo snapped just as two of my kids were getting out of....you guessed it...my back seat.

What's in your back seat today?  Turn around, take a look, and enjoy.

"How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?"  I Thessalonians 3:9

The Boston Massacre

We gasped in horror as the news unfolded Monday afternoon.  The triumph and anticipation of 20,000 elite athletes crossing a finish line was shattered by the malevolent behavior of anonymous cowards.

I'm especially troubled that this has occurred while our nation is still crawling out from underneath the shadow of Sandy Hook. And I find myself saying, "Really?  Again?"   In the aftermath of that Connecticut tragedy, we so desperately wanted to believe that evil of this nature was rare on American soil, or that it could be prevented with new gun legislation or increased security. Apparently not, as more trauma and mind-numbing heartache was unleashed on an unsuspecting and innocent public; this time on a Bostonian stage, with a 1/2 million spectators.

I join those of you searching for answers, and find a degree of refuge in a Psalmist's prayer penned thousands of years ago.   We forget that our generation is not the first to wrestle with exhausting contradictions between righteousness and evil.  Read with me, and find solace.

Psalm 55 (select verses)  
"Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. 
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. 
I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. 
I would flee far away and stay in the desert; 
I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm" 

Apparently I'm not alone in my desire to run and hide while clamping my hands over my ears muttering, "not listening...not listening..."; it's an age-old characteristic of humanity.  But then I see how swiftly the author turns his focus at this point and becomes an active participant defending truth and abhorring evil; he is no longer a bystander, but has now entered the battle and pleads with the Lord for justice: 

"Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city.  Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it.  Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets. 

"But as for me, I trust in you."

This stark reality brings me crashing to my knees.  I am truly helpless apart from His overarching omnipotence.   And I can only utter, "God have mercy on our city streets.  Evil seems to abound for this brief season, but I trust in you."

Meet my friend, Stacey

Let me introduce you to a remarkable woman named Stacey.  I'm a regular subscriber to Stacey's blog, and her post just yesterday revealed a poignant and vulnerable account of her journey.  As a vibrant single woman, Stacey began by admitting that there was a particular phrase that she ached to hear.  But, I'll let her finish the story in her own words....

STACEY:  "You may have been thinking I was going to say, "I love you," as those words we long to hear.  But, those were not the three words I longed to hear.  No.

Back in 2004 following my breast cancer surgery, the best words I heard from the doctors and the oncologists were, "You're cancer free!" My family and I were so happy to hear this. You don't want to have cancer at any age, but 34 was not the time to get it either. I had just found my career, and then this happened.

I lived four years knowing I was cancer free, and being so happy how God had orchestrated my "healing." I knew that surgery had been His answer and I was content with that treatment. Paul writes in Philippians 4, "...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." And how true that was for me those four years. It was then in 2008 when I found out the cancer had returned, and returned with a vengeance. I spent time talking with people about my short journey and telling of the contentment I felt knowing that God was in control of the situation, even with the news that I was soon going to have surgery to remove part of my pelvis. Some found it hard to believe I was so content and thought I was hiding my true feelings. But I wasn't.

I spent my waking hours proclaiming the glory of the Lord to those who inquired about my surgery. It was God using surgery to heal me back then, and I knew it was true again this time. Many told me they never would have known I was sick in the first place. Others couldn't believe how "matter-of-fact" I was about having come through surgery for breast cancer with no other treatments at the time, and was now facing yet another scarier surgery. I took no credit for being "calm, cool and collected" about it, as people sometimes noted. I shouted from the mountain top that "My God Reigns."

In the Spring of 2011, our lives intersected when Stacey joined our Family Talk team to serve as our incredibly competent and brilliant Web Designer - a position she still holds.  I'll never forget the day a modified recliner chair was assembled in her empty cubicle in anticipation of her first day of work the following Monday.  "Curious," I thought, "I wonder why that's needed?"  I was soon to find out.

You see, today Stacey lives with constant pain. The breast cancer victory above was short-lived.  The cancer returned, but this time in her hip.  Thus, more exhausting medical visits.  Recurring trips to the oncologist.  Pain management.  More medical terms.   Alternative treatments.  And all of this culminating with the removal of her pelvic bone on the right side (where the hip joins) in August 2008.  The chair and it's accompanying logistics are a constant reminder of a complete lack of bone structure on that side, and her subsequent inability to sit upright at a desk for more than 2 minutes at a time.   In fact, when our Family Talk staff assembles for daily devotions upstairs in Dr. Dobson's library, precious Stacey dials in and joins us via speaker phone from the first floor, because she can neither make the trip upstairs, nor last the 20 minutes necessary in a straightback chair.  Truly, this dear co-worker cannot even walk to the kitchen to reheat her lunch without grimacing.  It's an incredible glimpse of a life filled with struggle and physical pain.

This is precisely why her glorious conclusion yesterday hit me right between the eyes:

"Today after yet several more surgeries (3 in 2010 and 1 in 2012), I still shout, but only from the rooftops. It's harder these days. Not harder to give God the glory, because I still do that daily, but it's harder to find the strength to shout it. I am still content—on most days. I do have my moments where not being able to do a particular task overwhelms my emotions and I have a short breakdown—sometimes with tears (also referred to in our house as a meltdown). I never stay in that moment, though. Why?

Isaiah 53:1-4 tells us how Jesus was going to be treated by human kind here on earth. And in verse 5 it says, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." As found in 1 Peter 2:24, “'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'” (Emphasis added.) Jesus was treated much worse than anything you or I will ever experience. Yet, He took all my sins and sicknesses on Himself that day on the cross so that I (and you) may live in righteousness and be healed of all sicknesses and diseases. Now, I know it may or may not be here on this side of eternity, yet I can (and will) shout, "I AM HEALED!"

Where I used to desire to hear the words, "You're cancer free," I now long for the day when I hear my Lord say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Original text is found in Matthew 25:23).

I pray I live up to serving the Lord well."

You do, my friend.  You do indeed.

Join me on following Stacey's journey at Step of Faith.

I Need a Mouth Guard

I'm a talker.  I love words.  Working around Dr. Dobson for three decades has only increased my passion to carefully and intentionally communicate the power of the Gospel verbally to hurting families.  Ahhhh, families:  my other great passion.   Three years ago when I first approached my husband and kids about the possibility of me joining the Family Talk team, my oldest son piped up, "Well Mom, this is a 'no-brainer'; you've got to take the job.  It's all about "family" and "talk" -- two of your favorite things!"  True. The boy knows me well.

But I'm keenly aware that every strength pushed to its limit becomes a weakness.  Given my propensity to talk, chat, converse, and occasionally ramble, I'm burdened by the realization that my words also have the ability to do enormous harm.  The Word of God confirms this by the exorbitant amount of time devoted to discussions on the mouth, the tongue, and our speech.

Humorist Mark Twain quipped, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."  This is undoubtedly a variation of David's admonition in Proverbs 17:28 that "even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues."  By far, the third chapter of James paints the bleakest picture culminating with a harsh warning in verse 8:  "No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."   Gulp.

But look again at how James 3:8 begins:  "No human being can tame the tongue..."  The Lord Himself acknowledges that I am powerless to combat this fatal flaw on my own.  I need Him.  The compassionate Father reminds me that the only way I can conquer restless evil is to submit myself to His oversight.  That's why one of my most oft-repeated prayers is: "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  (Psalm 141:3)   I claimed this again just the other night in anticipation of an emotional conversation awaiting me the next day: "Lord, you take the sentry position.  I give you full authority to clamp a muzzle on me, reinforce the guard gate and set watchman on the walls.  I am fully incapable of doing this on my own."    Amen.  And I'm pleased to report that together we won that particular battle.  Now onto today.....