Category Archives: Faith

Does that make any sense?

I’m a recovering control freak. The recovery began a few years ago when our daughter was critically ill, and I learned the hard way that the illusion I’d carried my whole life of having any control had always been a farce. I learned then that God had always been the only one in control, and that He was more than capable of handling things.

So when I made my last job change, I was determined to leave the decision to Him. As it came down to two great choices, I prayed a lot about which direction to go. Both options had significant pros and cons, and the two presented about as stark a choice as was possible. I had my favorite, but I was determined to remain completely open to where God wanted me to be. As both choices led me down a parallel path, a light kept shining on the one I favored less. Just as I resigned myself to it, signs suddenly pointed to the choice I’d really wanted all along. The whole process felt like one giant test of faith. I’d passed.

Early the Monday morning of the week I was going to turn in my resignation, a dear friend sent me a note that she needed to talk to me. As we ducked into an empty office, she told me about her own epiphany she’d been gifted that weekend. She’d been struggling with her own job choice, and I instantly recognized how closely the journey of faith I was hearing her describe parallelled my own. She then told me she’d felt compelled to share her story with me that morning and asked me, “Does that make any sense?”. I burst into tears, and told her, yes, it makes all the sense in the world. What was odd was that she didn’t know I’d made a decision to leave. She’d known I was looking, but I hadn’t widely shared where I was at in my process. Though she hadn’t known, she showed up just at the right time with just the right message.

Now I’m not the kind of person who has God speak to me on a regular basis. And I’ve never before been certain that He was having someone pass a message directly to me. Though I’d had peace about my decision before my friend felt compelled to share her very personal story with me, I was overwhelmed that God loved me enough to reassure me about my own decision to trust Him. And I learned…again…Who has always been in control.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

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Mystery


There’s a stretch of road on my commute where the trees are painted lilac. The whole tree isn’t painted, of course, just a two foot band all the way around the trunk. It’s not every tree, maybe ten or so of them on a one mile stretch of road. Even a light pole is marked. I can’t imagine why someone went out of their way to do that. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, not even a logical guess. It’s an amusing mystery.

There are a lot of mysteries in life. Some are small and random and inexplicable like the lilac-painted trees. Other mysteries are larger, like what drives people we care about to do inexplicable things that have predictably devastating consequences. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But sometimes karma happens in real time. Humans have always wrestled with the big mystery of whether everything that happens is random or is by design. Forrest Gump decided it was a little bit of both. That actually makes sense to me. For us to have true free will, bad things must be possible. And yet to believe in an all-powerful Creator of the universe means to believe in Someone in complete control. It’s a paradox. Just one of many mysteries we’re left to ponder. Along with the lilac-painted trees. 

“No object is mysterious. The only mystery is your eye.”  –Elizabeth Bowen


Tribute


It’s happened again. Though Megan’s been in remission for going on three years now, I’ve stayed connected to the HLH and histiocytosis Facebook communities. I do it to pay forward the life-saving support I received when I was suddenly thrust into the “most wonderful group nobody ever wants to be in” (as some have called it). The group saved my sanity at a time that was in great jeopardy, and so if I can help some of the terrified and bewildered newcomers with a two minute message, it’s the least I can do. But as has happened far too often over the last three years, tonight I opened Facebook and learned that another precious little soul had lost his battle against that vicious killer.

“Baby” Leo was no longer a baby. A 5-year-old who loved Spider Man and nacho cheese Doritos, Leo had two bone marrow transplants in his young life, and spent more of that life in hospitals than at home. No one except those who’ve faced a BMT knows what horrific stress the process is. In addition to the very serious medical risks, you’re basically told to pack for the hospital for 6-12 months. How in the h%## do you pack up your life for 6-12 months? But BMT’s are only done as a last resort. When that’s your family member’s last resort, you simply go home and pack. That’s been baby Leo’s and his mother’s life for most of at least the last three years.

If it sounds like I know Leo and his mother, in a way I do, and in a way I don’t. I’ve never met either of them; they live in California, and I live in Arkansas. But for the last three years, I’ve followed their journey with both fear and hope. I saw pictures of a little boy’s signature thumbs up. I regularly “liked” his mother’s updates and commented encouragement from time to time. I followed his ups and downs, noticing that if the news was good, the posts were more frequent. When there’d been no news for awhile, I learned to dread the next update. I prayed to God for Leo’s complete recovery many times. Today, at 5:06 a.m., little Leo’s journey ended, and I find myself again sobbing for an innocent child I never met.

As grossly inadequate as it is, this is my tribute to Leo and his brave mother. I need her to know that her son, in his too-brief life, made an impact on a stranger. As I hoped and prayed for Leo, little Leo gave me hope right back. His thumbs up, smiling pictures were the pictures of a fighter. He survived challenges that those of us who knew how bad the bad news was didn’t think possible. And his mother…she was my hero. Always finding the positive, even in the tough times. Always fighting for her child, always working to give him a good life, in spite of the monstrous crap histio puts your body through. You are both my heroes. I am so very sorry for the loss of your Leo. It’s the world’s loss. What’s left now are the memories of an unforgettable little boy, and a faith that God has healed him completely at last.

“And tonight I will fall asleep with you in my heart.”  –unknown


Hope


This Christmas was different. We did all the traditional family stuff:  put up our tree and the family momentos, made gingerbread houses and sugar cookies, and drove around to look at Christmas lights. It’s always been one of my favorite times of year, and it was again this year. But it was still different, with a whole new layer of meaning I hadn’t experienced before in my 50 years.

You see, I’ve never really understood Christmas. I can recite the familiar story about as well as anyone can. I understand its theological meaning:  that God Himself chose to walk among us, suffer for us, and in so doing, save us from ourselves. I understand all of that, but I still feel like I don’t really understand. It’s always been just a story to me, no different than other stories unrelatable by the great distance of time and an element of the miraculous. I’ve long understood the story only with my head, but never my heart.

But this year was different. For a lot of reasons, this year I came into Christmas needing hope. I needed to believe, that in spite of all of the dark and pain and ugliness, there will be a happy ending. I desperately needed hope…I was looking for it. But the funny thing is that the Bible says that that’s all we really have to do:  to look for it. There’s no magic key to life or to peace, only to have the desire to seek God. This year, simply by seeking Hope, I actually found it, and in so doing, I also began to understand the true meaning of Christmas.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh shall receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  –Matthew 7:7-8


Inclusion


One of the faith questions I’ve struggled with the most is the belief of so many that there is only one true religion. I was born into a Christian family in a Christian country, and so that is my faith. I believe in it strongly, particularly in its messages of love, inclusion, and redemption which resonate with me. But in spite of my own deep belief, I struggle with the notion of Christianity as the only path to God. I have friends of many faiths from all over the world and have adopted two girls from Buddhist China. When Megan was critically ill, prayers for her were sent up to heaven by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. I simply cannot accept that the God of Love that I believe in so strongly would doom my friends and billions more to separation from Him, simply because they were born in a non-Christian country…a choice that was His, and not theirs.

However, John 14:6 seems to definitively state that Jesus is the only path to God, that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That seems pretty clear. Yet I recently read a perspective pointing out that this passage says only that Jesus is the gatekeeper to God. What the passage does not say is what filter Jesus will use to decide who will pass through to God. It’s a critical point. Neither that passage, nor the rest of the chapter, says that Jesus will only pass Christians through. Jesus as gatekeeper to God is probably a strange notion to non-Christians, but to me it reassuringly aligns to a possibility that we’re all worshipping one God after all.

I’ll never understand why human nature inherently creates ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Why must we be right and everyone else wrong? Science has proven that there are no genetic differences between races. I also see no evidence that a different God created my Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist friends…it seems to me that we all come from the same place. The Bible consistently depicts a God of Love; I believe simply that He loves all of His wonderful people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds. Including me, a Christian from America.

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”  –Khalil Gibran


Questions

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I’ve always had lots of questions. How do things work the way they do? Why did you just act that way? What’s over that next hill? Why are we here? I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid:  books, magazines, at age 12 my mother’s set of childhood encyclopedias. I loved the magazine Science that we subscribed to when I was a teenager; it made me want to be a theoretical physicist. After all, what better job could there be than answering the really big question of how the universe works?

While I’m grateful to now having a world of Google answers at my fingertips, I’ve resigned myself that many of my questions won’t be answered in this life. Some of them are random:  what is the purpose of dreams, and why will we die if we’re prevented from having them? Is there life on other planets, and what is it like? Does God love dogs as much as we do, enough to have them in heaven (I’m thinking yes)? But some of my unanswerable questions are more profound:  why is there suffering? What should I be doing with my life? Why must innocent children die? It’s part of the human condition to find ourselves in circumstances which force us to wrestle with questions like these.

My deep belief is that heaven will be a place where I will get all of the answers to my questions, plus many more I didn’t think of. I don’t believe in the vision of a harp-playing heaven in the clouds. In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn lays out a biblical case that heaven will be our own renewed Earth. While I find some of his points a bit of a stretch, the overall idea feels right. Why wouldn’t God–who made us in His image to live in this Earth home–give us a glimpse of our future home to prepare us for when we share it with Him? I believe we will work and play, and enjoy art and music and each other for all eternity. And there will be plenty of time…and patience…for me to finally get answers to all of my questions.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  –Voltaire


Scars

injury

Everyone in my immediate family has surgical scars. It’s one of the things I’ve always pointed to when highlighting ways we’re alike, even though we don’t all share DNA. When the girls were little, our new puppy “played with” a beloved stuffed Tigger, requiring surgery to repair; even Tigger was proud of the scar which made him one of us. While I’ve pointed to our scars to help us focus on what makes us family, I also wanted the girls to be proud of the scars from the heart surgeries which saved their lives. Little did I realize this lesson would come back to teach me one day.

Megan and I were passing time recently on one of the long drives to Little Rock, retelling family folklore. It comforts us both, somehow, to process our past as we face a somewhat scary future. I was sharing the story of adopting her kid sister when I realized, for the first time and with the full clarity of hindsight, how much fate intervened so that our youngest would end up a McCleary.

We were a few months into the adoption process when we discovered that I had a stomach tumor. We spent the next six weeks on a cancer roller coaster, which included a major and unpleasant surgery. By the time we got the all clear, we needed time to recover from some pretty deep scars, both physical and emotional. When we eventually restarted the adoption process a year later, our little peanut with the million dollar smile joined our family.

I now realize that without that unwelcome interruption, we would have ended up with the wrong daughter. While I’ve long been grateful for the gifts of perspective that specific trauma gave me, it hadn’t dawned on me that I owe the very makeup of my family to those scars. But I suppose that’s often the case, isn’t it? Our scars make us who we are, not just shaping us inside and out, but acting as serendipitous detours which help get us where we end up. Thank heavens I was never really in charge of shaping my life after all…if so, I’d have gotten it very wrong.

“Scars show toughness:  that you’ve been through it, and you’re still standing.”  –Theo Rossi