Christmas Hope and New Year’s Reflections: My Feet Set on Earth, My Eyes, Mind, and Heart Set on Eternity with THE SON

2014-12-16 20.48.31With the second Christmas without Taylor, I’ve tried to adjust to the new normal of living without our son. Another season of peace, hope and joy…how do I keep the peace, hope and joy? What is the new Carla going to do with this joyful celebration without being a fake? As always, only by trusting The Reason for my hope do I find true joy and balance in this awkward thing called grief.

When Taylor first went to Heaven, people asked me how I was surviving with a smile. At the time I told them,

“It’s like I have one foot on Earth and one foot in Heaven. I try to stand more in Heaven and focus on the joy Taylor is experiencing with the hope of seeing him again. But then my earthly foot gets heavy and I need to grieve for the deep loss missing him so much. If I try to stay on one side too long, reality tugs to bring balance between both places.” Although this did help me get through the initial shock of my loss, it started to feel like an awkward visual to stay in balance, like doing the splits between Heaven and Earth.

I’ve further processed the truths God has given me to realize what is more accurate. I’m still a resident of Earth and that is His plan for me now at this time in eternity. He has now confirmed both my feet are on this planet, placed parallel without any ripping of my spiritual Psoas muscles, but my eyes, mind and heart are focused on Jesus in Heaven giving me a peaceful balanced stance. Each of us was created with a natural longing to see our Creator, whether that is in Heaven now or in the New Earth after He returns. However, despite the fact that we are planted here, we can and I have experienced peaceful rest in His arms and His hope.The Heaven's Declare The Glory of God

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV) explains it so well for a believer in Jesus, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Challenges to My New Balance

Keeping the proper balance has been extremely difficult at times for me for a few reasons. The continual longing for Taylor, an enormous stream of deaths in my life, and being over committed to too many things have given me too much to carry in my humanness.

First, the reality of how long it could be until I see Taylor and Jesus is so hard to bear some days. Training my mind to focus on Heaven and seeing the bigger picture is my prescription. I can imagine what Taylor is experiencing in Heaven is so much better than what he is missing down here. Then the realization of how much eternal time I will have with him and Jesus in Heaven with our whole family is unfathomably exciting. This brings balance to my life and the actuality that, yes, in this world, until Christ restores His kingdom here, I will have sorrow and troubles but there is hope as I fix my eyes and heart on eternity.

The second reason for increased struggles was from an overwhelming load of death in my life. Our school, church and family have experienced more death in the last three years, especially in the last three months, than I have experienced in one time period during my whole life. After Taylor’s death I experienced four suicides, children dying, parents dying, uncles, brothers, it’s been crushing.

I heard Beth Moore say recently, at a Louie Giglio Passion Conference, that our enemy, Satan, wants to discourage the Body of Christ in a great way right now, possibly because end times are nearer than we know. Whether that is because end times are coming or not, I have to agree with her. When Satan sees God doing great things, he gets jealous. I don’t know if you are like me, but when someone attacks my peeps, I get angry and that makes me rise up to do battle with a righteous indignation. I will not let Satan defeat me and my peeps! I’ve read the end of the Bible and we win!! Christ is our strength and through pain Christ can be glorified and others will see that hope!!! Can you hear me shout this to remind myself? Do I hear an “Amen”?

In John 15 and 16, Jesus prepared His disciples right before He died on the cross for the hard times to come. Although they didn’t get it at the time, He explained how he had to suffer and “go away” and how they too would suffer. He promised their grieving would turn to joy and the Holy Spirit would come. He ended chapter 16 in verse 33 with,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Take heart! Have hope! He has overcome the world and our focus on Heaven with our feet on earth is our opportunity to share this with others. We will overcome with Him! This doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve but we grieve with the assurance that this pain will last a short while.1308887019480

The third reason for my recent struggles, and probably the greatest cause of pain, was in not leaving enough margins in my life. The ability to confidently balance my earthly feet and heavenly focus is largely dependent on how I spend my time. This summer, I found that if there wasn’t purpose in my pain and I couldn’t use that pain to help others, I couldn’t deal with Taylor’s loss but God was calling me to spend more time with Him and Gary. Some people medicate pain with drugs, alcohol, or food. I medicated with doing busy good things. What actually happened was a busy over-committed schedule kept me from having space for my marriage, God and grieving, so without warning, suddenly, I completely shut down physically, mentally and spiritually. Although I didn’t need it, my bosses, family, and friends gave me “permission” to take care of myself which eased any guilt I might carry in dropping things. I quickly prioritized my life and weeded out some things that weren’t necessary.

My over commitments were good things that I could have done 20 years ago. A life-long focus for me has been Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” However, I had to finally admit that I’m a 53 year old human, carrying grief that needs a deep healing from God, and understand that just because there is a need in front of me, doesn’t mean I have to be the one to meet it. I’ve always thought, somewhat arrogantly, from that verse, that it’s up to me to take care of things needing care because I have a big God working through me. He has had to remind me to leave some of that for the others He has equipped and also assure me His arms are big enough to care for those around me who are hurting.

Identity in Christ

Along with this, I also realized, at a deeper level, my identity is not wrapped up in what I do, or my talents. My truest identity is that I’m a beloved daughter of the Most High. My first calling is to sit in his lap and just spend time with Him. Just like I love my precious granddaughter, not because of what she does, but because she is mine, so God doesn’t love me because I’m a dedicated teacher, friend or mom. He loves me, period! This has made me want to protect more time for Him, reading about Him, worshiping Him and then just listening while reflecting on His love to heal and help set new boundaries for this grandma. John 15 talks about abiding in Him so sitting on His lap has helped rebuild my heart from aches and soften my pain for others to trust Him to care for those hurting around me. The more I get to know Him, the more my hope and faith grow as I live an abundant life in the new normal.2014-12-06 10.17.25

So as we end this old year and celebrate the beautiful first coming of our Lord, I keep my heart on eternity and treasure the sacrifice God made in sending His Son as a little baby, so my son can be with Him and I will see Taylor again. During this season, I pray we can all find balance in our grief and live life to the fullest with our hearts fixed on our risen Savior in Heaven and still allow ourselves to be human with our feet planted on Earth as we ache with the deep love we have for our treasured deposits in Heaven.

John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

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The Upright Piano

Matthew 10:30-32 (NIV)

30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

A new Christmas song, Cradle in Bethlehem, sent to me and written by my friend Andrew Greer, started a rush of nostalgia today. Right from the beginning, the soft twangy notes on an upright piano sent a flood of memories of faith pouring over my heart. Reminisce of my little girl heart starting her melodic dreams.

I come from a very musical Seattle family. My dad’s biological mother was an excellent pianist with a Julliard background and Dad played in the Seventh Fleet Naval Band plus sang and led worship in our church with his trumpet. Mom also came from a strong musical background and was a singer. They both had a deep desire for my sister and I to play the piano, but there was no money to buy one in the challenging times of the early 1970’s.

At the end of my second grade, a church family asked us to rent their home while they moved to Texas on temporary assignment. I was thrilled because they left their piano in the house and our church pianist lived just a block away! I took lessons from her and became addicted to practicing, spending hours on that beautiful instrument. Unexpectedly, nine months later, my dad got transferred to the opposite end of Seattle.  No piano. No money either. My sister and I were devastated.

Shortly after our move, Mom sat us girls down and said,

“If God wants us to have a piano, we will get one! I don’t know how, but he can do anything. Let’s pray!” So we prayed for about a week, not much longer.

Mom then got a call from her old high school friend, whom she had not heard from in a while.

“Vivian, my brother owns a nursing home in Portland. They are getting rid of an upright piano and he wondered if I knew of anyone who might want it. For some reason, I thought of you.  All he is asking is $50 for gas money to move it.”

Stunned, Mom caught her breath and, of course, said yes. We all did a little happy dance and praised God! Our parents scraped $50 out of the budget along with the change my sister and I found in my dad’s recliner. To top it off, our pastor’s wife heard about the miracle and offered to give us piano lessons for free. God was so good to us.

My faith grew enormously and God taught me so much through that old piano.

Bach and Beethoven, In the Garden, The Entertainer sounded amazing on that tall black instrument, but my favorites were the Christmas carols. I heard Mary’s Boy-Child, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), and Carol of the Bells for the first time on those keys. So many special memories are attached to those twangy sounds.

We moved to another home and made more memories as it sat in our kitchen. With another impending move, my dad said it was too heavy to lug to another home. We sold it for $100 to apply on a new piano.

For Christmas, when I was in the seventh grade, they bought us a spinet. I loved the smaller piano but the sound of that old black upright couldn’t be replaced. The seeds planted from those early days provided a lifetime of a musical hobby for my sister and a teaching career for me that has been so fulfilling. Every time I hear an old upright sound, it reminds me of God’s concern over the smallest desires and the biggest dreams in our lives.

Incidentally, my sister’s and my faith grew so much in praying for the piano, we decided to pray for a baby brother. One year later, God gave us one of my greatest gifts in life, my brother Matthew, who is also a music teacher!

Learning to Listen

As an extroverted teacher, worship leader, and singer, the word quiet has not been in my vocabulary often over the years, unless it was to ask my students or children to lower their voices. I love to be with people, sharing all God is doing in my life. And no doubt He can definitely use “conversationalists” like me to share His message. Beth Moore says you know you’re a teacher if you can’t stop sharing what you’ve learned (A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place – video). And that is me 24-7.

Until now. Due to my recent neck surgery, my voice is – at best – just above a whisper. But the Lord, in His perfect mercy, has begun to teach me the value of quiet – the increased focus on listening. Listening to Him, listening to my family, and listening, especially, to my husband :). Silence has allowed me to pay attention without interrupting so I can hear the whole of my sweet man’s heart. My children and even my friends have opened up even more, knowing that I’m listening closely.

In listening to God, I’ve looked up scripture on quietness to see what else He has to teach me on this subject… and Psalm 131 spoke directly to my heart.

Psalm 131
New International Version (NIV)


A song of ascents. Of David.

 1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

 3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

This passage spoke to me in many ways. “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” Silence has taken me away from lofty dreams and brought me to foundational truths and simple acts of worship in my walk with Jesus. I have spent a lot of time planning great chapels and big musical programs for my students, and these things have all been good. But I see how Jesus wants to bring my focus back to seeing Him and His love for me purely and personally. Big plans can sometimes become a distraction to personal adoration of my King.

Singing is integral to worship for me, but now I can barely warble one note. In the past, it was difficult to listen to music without singing. When directing my students, it took a great deal of self-control not to join in during their performances. And I have caused real embarrassment to my husband when I’m in an audience singing in a situation where we have not been invited to participate.

Learning to listen to others worship in song is redirecting my focus to Jesus, and what the words really say to Him or about Him. I have been freed to just lift my arms to Him, opening up a tunnel directly to His Presence. My voice is not distracting my heart, and this has allowed me to be filled in a way I’ve never experienced before.

Psalm 131 also illustrates David’s deliberate choice to rest in the Lord – “I have calmed and quieted myself.” This involved David’s will. In my case, God has forced me into silence, but I still need to trust and make the choice to rest in my spirit, allowing Him to calm my heart.

“Like a weaned child I am content.” We are to be content in all circumstances. Even when I can’t use my talents, Lord? Yes, even then. I know His purpose is to use me. If that is in silence, so be it. But if this stillness is a time to teach me new truths without my voice distracting my spirit, then praise Him for this “silent learning” opportunity!

“Put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” Trust always leads to hope. My hope for the “now” is to absorb from Him truths never learned with my voice. Hope is also in the “forevermore.” Should He restore my voice tomorrow to continue my ministry, then Hallelujah! This is what I believe He is doing. However, even if no clear word should ever again go forth from my mortal mouth, I will continue to worship my King in spirit and through other believers singing praises to His Name.

Worshiping in silence has brought my heart to a place of deep focus on Jesus. Learning to do this with a quiet spirit and a calm heart, I am content to learn and meditate as I wait for Him to heal me now or later, with the full hope I will rejoice with all the saints, with shouts of joyful singing in Heaven, forever.

Rainbow Promises

Hebrews 2:8-9a

In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him.  Yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him.  But we do see Jesus…

 

This verse was sent to me, yesterday, by a dear friend’s son who was praying for me. He didn’t realize the complete set of reasons Jesus wanted him to send me these words of promise. Like most people, there are always a plethora (I love that word) of reasons for me to trust that everything is under God’s control – reasons to keep me on my knees placing my children, our marriage, our jobs, our health, etc. on the altar of His grace and mercy, trusting in His promises.

It reminded me of a time, about four years ago, when the Lord kept putting rainbows in my life.

About six years ago, my 12 year old daughter and I flew to Seattle. We were praying extra time for the Lord to put his arms around our plane as we were descending through a storm in a double cloud cover, with the Space Needle just waiting to jump out in my imagination.

I closed my eyes to pray, opened them and found myself adjusting my glasses to make sure I wasn’t seeing something weird through my lenses. My daughter, with her glasses, was doing the same thing. She said, “Do you see that?!” “Yes, do you?”

What we saw was a “Glory” – a perfect rainbow in circle with the shadow of our plane in the center of the perfect promise. This wasn’t just one of those summer moon-dog marvels, but a real perfect rainbow in full color. Our Creator allowed it to remain there about 5 minutes for us to marvel.

I looked up this phenomenon and found that it is called a “Glory”. Different sites explained that when the first people found a perfect circle rainbow in higher elevations, they called it a glory because no one had seen it before and no one had seen “God’s Glory”.

As I meditated on this precious vision from my Creator, I realized the rainbows we see in the lowlands, are only half the promise that is revealed in the heights. We don’t realize what He is doing behind the scenes in our lives or lives of our children in the heights and where our eyes cannot see, but we can watch Jesus in His Truth and the Spirit working around us preparing us for His glory of the full promise in Heaven one day.

Other Rainbow Moments

Shortly after our Seattle trip, I had a bad morning before arriving to lead chapel for our school. The front door of the church would not accept my key, so running late and frustrated, I stomped all the way around the building to the back door. When I turned the corner, there was a rainbow over the school; God humbling and calming my spirit J.

The next week, as I arrived at school, I felt prompted to call a dear friend going through marriage problems. We prayed asking God to give her a sign that He cared. After our goodbye, opening the car door, a rainbow graced our sky over our school, in exactly the same place as the week before, except that it was a double rainbow. I called my friend back and sent a phone picture, telling her the Lord had given us a double promise in answer to our prayers to show His Faithfulness and love.

With tears of joy, we wondered why we were fretting.

No matter what we are going through, He has put everything subject to Him and given us His Spirit and Jesus, The Truth to guide us as we trust Him.

We can’t see all the great things He has planned for us, but we can watch with anticipation for His Glory at every turn and that final Glory when we are all with Him forever in the heights.