Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Numbers Game

I have always been a horrible math student. Actually, I despise numbers of any kind. I made it through Algebra and Geometry just fine in high school, and even went on to Advanced Algebra, but I think my love affair with anything formulaic started subconsciously rearing it's ugly head right around that time, and eventually my Mom got a phone call from the principal telling her that I had missed 17 math classes, and was she aware of all the doctor's appointments she had been signing me out of class for?

Oops. Busted.

To this day I avoid any numbers like they're the plague. Balancing the checkbook? All thanks goes to my mathematically unchallenged husband, Jason. Sudoku puzzles? I would rather have my hair pulled out strand by highlighted strand. If it were not for my trusty calculator (circa 1985 with all of about twelve buttons on it), teaspoons would be tablespoons, pints would be quarts, and my children would be even more leery of my cooking then they already are.

Give me letters and words any day. Oh, how I love the written word! I have a special place in my heart for my dictionary. I get excited about books on grammar. I can totally lose myself in someone else's term paper on the molecular make-up of water if it means I get to play editor and come up with all sorts of ways to use better phrasing and punctuation.

(Now, to all you fellow English-nerds, please don't start perusing my entries for errors. I'm sure there are some in here, and if I start thinking that you're going to be looking for them the pressure may be enough for me to get out my fine-toothed comb and locate them first. And frankly, right now I'm just too lazy.)

But anyway, ever since my Dad died it seems as if numbers have been creeping into my days, and not in a good way. I find myself tabulating, figuring, and subtracting these normally uneventful, mundane areas of my life until I have them boiled down to a definitive number. Something concrete, something I can hold onto, or something I can discard.

For instance, here's a sample of some numbers that have been finding their way to me as of late.

65: The age my Dad will forever be to me. I become so envious of people with father's who are in their 70's, or 80's, or 90's, because I will never know my Dad in that stage of his life. I wanted to see him grow old, to see what he would have looked like, to have been able to care for him, to be given the chance to honor my elderly father as the Lord commands me to. Now, he is immortalized to me as a mid-sixties man for the rest of all time.

4: The number of dried roses in a vase in my bedroom from a floral arrangement my friends sent to his visitation. These flowers make me angry every time I look at them. I can't help but think that it is too soon for me to have my Dad's funeral flowers on display. But I cannot, will not, ever part with them.

3 (minus 2): The number of live plants that came home with me from my Dad's funeral. Two I have failed to keep alive (no surprise there), but the last one I have grown an unhealthy and abnormally protective relationship over. If that one dies, I have lost one more thing that ties me to my father.

10: The number of months I have lived on without him. You could easily tell me this number stands for ten days, or ten years. It's hard to think that there would be any difference. Pain is pain, no matter how much time has passed.

13( plus 2): The number of grandchildren he shared his life with while he was here, plus the two who have been born since he died. (Dearest Cora and Gage, my prayer for you is that we can relate to you all of who your Papa was, instill in you his heart for the Lord, and be a living example of the love of Christ that would have been his lifelong gift to each one of you.)

2 (minus one big, fat, giant 1): The number of fathers in my life. At our Alberda family Christmas party I took along some homemade soup. As I was in the kitchen helping myself to a bowl, my father-in-law spoke up from the next room and said, "Nice work, Susie-Q". To my recollection, my own father never once called me Susie-Q, but hearing this from my father-in-law completely leveled me. It was such an obviously fatherly thing to say, and it totally caught me off guard how much I missed having that fatherly pride and affection shown to me. I was left speechless, holding the ladle and holding back tears, longing to feel like a daughter all the time, and not just once in awhile. That big, fat, giant 1 is the one that immerses itself in my hours and my days, and casts an overwhelming shadow over my future.

72: The number of minutes my father will spend in heaven without me if I live another 50 years, if 2 Peter 3 is to be taken literally and one day in heaven really is the equivalent of 1,000 years here on earth. (See, Mr. VandenBerg? All your math teaching was not completely lost on me. Unless I figured this wrong, in which case I'm sorry. And then you would be right, I should have listened to you when you told me that there would come a time where my math skills would come in handy.)

10 x 4 : The approximate number of Sunday services I have sat through without my father by my side. This is the one hour a week where his absence remains as bitter and as real to me as if he had just passed away days before. Although enough time has gone by that I don't expect to see him rounding the corner at church anymore, when I take my seat I can still feel him next to me, I can still see his reverent face ready to receive teaching, I can still remember his humble heart lost in worship. Sunday's are so hard for me, and rarely do I make it through a service without the memory of him there next to me bringing tears to my eyes. This one hour a week remains very bittersweet for me, as the comfort I find there in Christ often goes head-to-head with my sorrow over death. It is a constant battle, on a very appropriate battlefield.

Plus 1: The only number I have found to matter in my life. The number that all the other figures and formulas combined cannot touch, cannot hold a candle to, the number they all bow down before. The number of my God in my life. This number reminds me that I am always me, plus One. And this One can never change, will never leave me, and is perfect just the way it is. Without this One I am nothing, I am nil, I am zero. But with this One I am infinite.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day choosing to focus on my "plus 1", and to let all the other numbers fall by the wayside. None of them matter, Lord, in comparison with You.

You are my everything. You have carried me through the hours, the days, the months that keep adding up, keep growing greater and greater as my life with my father falls further and further behind.

And You have never once changed. You cannot be divided, You cannot be added to, You are not just one part of the equation. You are the equation. Everything begins and ends with You. You are sovereign, You are holy, You are powerful, You are in control, You are mighty, You are just, You are strong, You need no one or nothing.

And yet You still choose to be gracious, compassionate, merciful, and kind. You still come here to mourn with me, to comfort me, to offer Yourself to me, to love me, and invite me to love You.

All of these things add up to one amazing, unfathomable God. An indescribable God whose only desire is to be allowed into our lives as our "plus 1".

Lord, You are the one and only number that makes me whole.

Thank You for completing me.

In Your Name I pray,

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Heartache

I feel like the world's most heartless, selfish person. If there was a way to be lower than a smooshed-up slug hidden under a rock in the deepest, darkest part of a forest, that is where I feel you would find me.

Our brothers and sisters in Haiti are suffering through the most excruciating form of devastation and destruction imaginable, and I literally cannot bring myself to find out the details of what has happened, or watch the latest news, or look at the graphic photos of the condition this beloved country and it's people have been left in.

And to top it all off, I feel as I should be connected to this tragedy much more so than if it would have happened anywhere else in the world. Our church has had a close relationship with Haiti for the past three years. Members of my family and friends have traveled there, we've heard countless stories of the work that is being done to help this land, I've seen image upon image of these beautiful people. I should be out pounding the pavement, going door to door asking for donations.

But I am frozen. These people's pain is so much bigger than me. I feel helpless and overwhelmed. And therefore I have shut down whatever part of my heart it is that should be open to doing anything I can to help.

It's not that I haven't been in prayer for Haiti, because I have. A lot. Countless times throughout the day when the Holy Spirit puts this country on my heart I stop to lift them up to Him. But I never make it very far, because it just hurts so much to think of what's happening over there, and the tears start flowing. God literally could not have chosen a more desperate, a more poor, a more impoverished nation to have this happen to. These people had nothing to begin with, and now they have even less than nothing. How is that possible?

And even more than that, I am afraid of what this is going to do to their spirit. Everyone I have spoken with who has spent time with any of these people comes back humbled by their love for the Lord amidst their poverty and destitution. They attest to the dancing that goes on in the midst of despair. They talk of the "hallelujahs" that accompany the hunger. The Haitians are a picture of a people who's souls are satisfied by the Spirit even as their stomachs rumble in their emptiness.

I have been so inspired by their dedication to Jesus, their genuine love for the Lord, their willingness to look past their circumstances to see that this world is not their home.

And now whatever little they had to hold onto has been taken from them. Their hunger will be worse, their desperation will be taken to a whole new level, their mourning and weeping will become a constant refrain, their feet will stop dancing in order to dig graves.

And it's just too much. Why, Lord, why?????

Again, this is one of those questions that we will never know the answer to while we remain here on this earth. And so while I sit here, hurting, shedding tears for these fellow brothers and sisters of mine who are suffering so, I will continue to pray. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to willingly look at the pictures or hear the stories of these people, but I will do the best I can to see to it that they are continually placed at the feet of the King.

On a side note, I urge all of you, if the Lord so moves you, to find a way to make a monetary donation to this disaster relief effort. I know that Compassion International has set up a link on their site ( to directly help Haiti. (And then while you're there you will also be given the opportunity to sign up to sponsor a child if you so desire... I promise you will never regret welcoming one of these children into your lives).

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day for mercy. For healing. For strength. For eyes and hearts that still search for You. I pray this day for Haiti.

I know You must be there right now, Lord. You can always be found among "the least of these", and these people have been left with nothing. They have no homes, they have no food, many of them have no more family. Their physical world has been destroyed, Lord, but I ask today that You protect their mental, emotional, and spiritual one. Protect them from hopelessness, protect them from fear. Protect them from desperation, protect them from the suffocating sorrow that surely must follow a devastation of this size.

Remind them, Lord, that they still belong to You. Be near to every single one of them and remind them that You alone are in control. You are bigger than collapsed buildings, and piles of rubble, and loss of life. You can renew this land, You can rebuild it, You can give hope to it's people and give them a vision for their future.

Let them feel You, Lord. I pray with all that is in me that You let them see You. Be real to them today. Take them out of the shadows and into Your light. They need You, Lord. We know they have spirits of steel, but even steel can be tested, and damaged, and destroyed.

Give them reason to believe, Lord, that You are still worth dancing for. And then give them the strength to do so.

Heal this land. Rebuild it better and brighter than ever. Use this tragedy to open our eyes to the least of these, Your sons and daughters, and give us the desire to come alongside them so that we can be a part of their healing too.

Use them also to teach us how to turn to You when we have lost everything. There is a part of me that wonders if You allowed this to happen to this country because of their great love for You, and You knew that taking away what little they had would only give them the opportunity to glorify and praise You more, and then give us the chance to become witness to it.

We love this land, Lord. This is a special, beautiful people. People who remain in Your care even when the world around them crumbles. I plead with You today to save them, to carry them, and to raise them up triumphant.

We are watching, Lord, and we pray in confidence and expectation.

In Your Holy Name,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clearing My Head

There have been so many times in the last days/weeks/months that I found myself thinking the same thoughts, praying the same prayers and asking the same questions over and over again. It's gotten to the point that whenever I find myself reliving these same ideas, I get so annoyed and tell myself to just move ON already!

So this post is an attempt to once and for all clear my head of certain questions and statements that need evacuating, but to also remind myself of other things which I should take to heart more often. Some of the questions I already have the answer to, some remain a work in progress, and some I will never find out this side of heaven. But, in my attempt to start fresh in 2010, here is the last year of my life in sentence form...

- Heal him, Lord, he's in so much pain.

- Thank You, God, for a clear PET scan!

- My God, a lump. The cancer is back.

- "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up". James 5:15a

- "I love you, Dad."

- You are mighty to save, God. I know You will save him.

- "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13

- "Dad, you have taught us how to make it back to you someday. Because of your faith we will be together again."

- My Dad is dead.

- Do I trust You, Lord?

- I do not trust You, Lord.

- I have to trust You, Lord, or I die too.

- We'll make it through this together, Mom.

- Will I ever get my Mom back?

- Boy? Or girl?

- Welcome, my sweet, sweet Cora Dean. "Can you see your namesake, Dad? It is killing me that she cannot know you..."

- How can I parent three children when I can barely make it through today?

- Why all the hope, Lord? Why didn't You just take him right away? Why did You give us such great hope?

- I am unequipped for this life You have chosen me for. I will fail them, Lord. All of them.

- "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me." Psalm 138:8

- I'm trying, Lord. I love You, and because of this I will continue to try.

- Where is he, Lord? Can he hear me? Can he see me?

- Where are You? Do You hear me?

- How could you take him away from my Mom, Lord? Do You not know her? We can't care for her the way he did... we're losing her, Lord.

- Guide me, Lord. Use me, mold me, take "me" out of me.

- Speak to these precious children when I cannot. They are Yours, Lord.

- Protect the rest of my family, Lord. They are mine, all mine. I could not go on without them. You know that, right?

- Mess with me, Lord... but not so much that it hurts.

- I need to see You, Lord, I'm losing faith that You see me.

- "Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

- "Dear Lord... Oh, never mind... You're going to do what You want anyway..."

- I miss him, I miss him, I just miss him so much. How did this ever, ever happen?

- Forgive me, Lord. I am so full of doubt, and anger, and bitterness.

- Thank You, for reminding me Who I serve, and that the things of this life are just preparing me for my life with You.

- Help me grow, help me be a better mother, a better wife, a better person.

- Will this pain ever go away?

- Sell the house? Or stay? Your will be done, Lord.

- I trust You, I trust You not... I trust You, I trust You not... I trust You, I trust You not...

- "Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You." Psalm 63:3

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day struggling to pray at all. It's not a good day down here. My head is full of negative thoughts about You. But I'm trying, Lord. Please honor the fact that I am trying, it is all I have to give to You today.

I'm having a hard time remembering all the good things You have done in my life, Lord. I'm like the men who helped You divide up five loaves of bread and two fishes among 5,000 people, and then soon afterwards found themselves doubting You. My problem is that I know You can do anything, my faith in Your power remains unshakable. I just don't have faith that You will do anything I ask You to. So many times, Lord, I come before You in absolute faith, asking with what I believe is an earnest, fervent, God-fearing heart, honestly seeking that Your will be done, and so often I feel as if You aren't even listening. Feel as if my prayers are falling on deaf ears. Even if the answer is not what I want it to be, Lord, would You please just let me know You are within hearing range?

I am sorry, Lord. I know You are near. If I did not know it, I would not be wasting my time talking to You at all. You just make it really hard sometimes to continue on this difficult path of constantly seeking You out and trying to figure out what You want from me when it seems I'm not getting any direction one way or the other.

I've had a lot of stuff filling up my head over this past year, Lord. Some good, a lot of it not-as-good, but there is one thing that hasn't changed. You've heard all of it. You've heard my questions about You, my angry accusations towards You, my loving thoughts about You, my constant refrain of, "why? Why? WHY???". You may not have answered me outright, but I do believe, from the bottom of my heart, that You have heard everything.

And so I will continue to wait. And pray. And persevere. And love You. Because that's all I know how to do, and desire to do, even when I get in my own way sometimes.

Hear my prayer today, Lord. In all of it's confusing, wandering, meandering mess, hear my prayer, and know that it's just all about me trying to find You.

In Your Name I pray,

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Resolve

Today I find myself enjoying one of my favorite weekends of the year. My husband is attending his annual Shepherd's Convention (yes, you read that right. All sheep, all day long), and I am currently sitting in a hotel room, all by my lonesome, with five hours of pure, uninterrupted bliss waiting for me to relish and and fill up with all sorts of "me-time" pasttimes. Do I want to lose myself in some TV that has nothing to do with Dora or an Imagination Mover? Sure, why not? No one will object! Or, perhaps I want to take a nap! What a concept, falling asleep without one ear and one eye half open just waiting for a determined child to rouse me from my semi-slumber. Or maybe I'll read the book I brought along! You know, the one about absolutely nothing that I've had in the bookcase for months now but have always been guilted into replacing with the latest "parenting self-help" guide, or the well-meaning literary classic which is sure to stimulate the few brain cells my children have not destroyed. Or! Maybe I'll hit the local mall! This option really scares me, as it's been eons since I've been unleashed sans kids in any form of a retail establishment. I may just lose all concept of time and eventually wander out, eyes blinking against the natural sunlight, three or four days from now.

But before I do any of that, I want to ask you a favor. As I sit here, pondering the person I have become as a result of 2009 and thinking ahead to what this next year may have in store for me, I face an incredible desire to just do everything different. To erase my slate and start fresh. To banish my old ways of doing things and charge ahead with new resolve to be a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter, and a better Christian. I feel as if 2009 was a year spent almost entirely within myself, and I want out. I'm sick of focusing on me, and want instead to love those around me intentionally, love them well, and love them without feeling as if I am entitled to something in return.

I'm planning on taking this total makeover slow, as a complete turn-around is bound to take me awhile, and the first goal I have made for myself is time-management. I want to learn how to schedule the time I have been allotted with purpose. Our God is a God who loves order, and I want to best seek out what that means in my day-to-day life.

So, I'm wondering... do any of you out there have any secrets you'd be willing to spill on how you structure your days? How you balance time with the Lord, time with family, time with friends, and time for yourself? Any juicy tidbits that make your daily planner look more like an actual day-job and less like a Jackson Pollock painting? Please share, inquiring minds want to know. :)

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day seeking out the best way to devote the day-to-day of my life to you. So many nights I go to bed feeling as if the hours you have given me with my children, my husband, and with You have been completely wasted. The hours turn into days, the days turn into weeks, and more often than not I feel as if I have not contributed anything worthwhile to my family or to Your kingdom. I am selfishly hoarding my life, and no one is benefitting, least of all me. I want to make my time here count, Lord. I want to be the wife who supports and encourages her husband to be a godly man, the mother who daily instills in her children the passion for knowing and serving You, the friend and neighbor who cannot help but point to You in all I do and say because I am so full of You that nothing else is capable of coming out of me. But I need to start small, Lord. I've tried to skip the baby steps before and understand now that a relationship with You takes work. Alot of work.

I ask You to help me organize my days so that they have meaning. Help me recognize the importance and practice of beginning and ending my waking hours with You. Guide my seconds, my minutes, and my hours so they flow smoothly, and so that I may be a good steward of this season You have given me. I'm only here for such a short while, help me use this small interval of time to make a lasting impact on Your world. Let me make a mark which will reverberate eternally in the lives of those around me.

Get me off this hamster wheel, Lord, and open my eyes to clearly see the path you have set out before me. Lead me as I put one foot in front of the other, and as I relearn how to every moment watch and wait for You to guide me into the next one.

I am Yours, Lord. Change me, mold me, use me.

In Your Name I pray,