Thursday, 30 May 2013

More Than Meets The Eye

The story of the prodigal or lost son is a story that has hugely impacted my understanding of God's love for us. Interestingly, this story was recorded only in the book of Luke (Luke 15:11-32) and nowhere else in the other gospels.

It never ceases to amaze me the unconditional love that the father in that story has for his wayward son: the younger son who demands his inheritance before it is time for it to be distributed, and then squanders it all away in reckless and sinful living. When the son is finally brought so low that he is even envious of the food that the pigs are eating, he realizes that his father's servants are better fed than him. In deep shame and humility, he goes back to his father, intending to ask for forgiveness and to be taken on as a hired hand.

This is where it gets me. The father apparently has been looking out for his son day after day, hoping that his son will come back to him. From afar, he sees his son coming. Filled with love and compassion, he literally runs to his son. I mean, there is no thought of  'Hmm....let's see why he's back and if he's sorry for leaving the way he did.' Instead, the father falls on his son's neck and kisses him before the son says anything. He then asks his servants to bring the best robe to put on him, a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.  And finally, the fatted calf is to be killed for a feast to celebrate the return of the son who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and is now found.

How many of us have done the same thing as the prodigal son in doing things our way rather than His? Or when things don't go the way we want them to, we struggle with frustration and disappointment. Finally, after we have tried everything in our own strength, we come crawling back to our Heavenly Father to humbly seek His forgiveness and to ask Him to help us.

And what does God do? He sees us approaching His throne from afar, runs to us, embraces us and kisses us. No questions asked. Only grace, total forgiveness, love and restoration. When we see how willingly and completely He accepts us back unto Himself, remorse and gratitude pours forth from our hearts all at the same time. Our confession of having done wrong gushes out of our mouths not because we fear He will not forgive us until we do so, but because we are so overwhelmed by His love and willingness to forgive whether we do so or not.

Our Heavenly Father wipes our slates clean and keeps no record of our wrong-doings. He is ever willing to give us a new start with fresh provisions and the assurance of His absolute love and acceptance.

As for the older brother, he is in a way as lost as his younger brother. Not in the  irresponsible and prodigal ways of his younger brother, but in his inability to welcome his brother back. When he discovers that his father is throwing a party to celebrate the return of his younger brother, he reacts in hurt and anger. Why? His younger brother had deserted them all earlier to pursue his own happiness while he, the older more responsible son, continued to serve their father at home. Now, his brother has returned and his father has killed the fatted calf for a feast to celebrate the brother's homecoming. For all that he's done for his father, he has never even been given a young goat to feast with his friends.

I can totally understand the jealousy and sense of injustice that the older brother feels. To me, his feelings are completely natural and I would also struggle if I were in his shoes. However, as justifiable as I think those feelings are, that does not make them right. The story goes on to say that the older brother tells his father how he feels (I'm so glad he did!) and this is how his father answers him. Notice that there is no hint of disapproval of his reaction in his father's reply.

"Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found." (Luke 15:31,32)

This is what I believe the father is saying in my own words: Son, your loyalty and devotion to me has not gone unnoticed. I so deeply value you that all I have is yours. Your brother's return is something that needs to be celebrated because he has recognised the error of his ways and has come home to make amends. Our rejoicing doesn't diminish your value and standing in my eyes. So, come and celebrate your brother's return with me and be secure in my love for you. I have more than enough for both of you!

God has certainly more than enough for each of us, His children. We never need to fear any lack or be jealous of those who seem to be more favoured than us. Or those who have done more things to grieve the Father but yet restored without a word when they come back to Him. For those who have been diligently serving the Lord all their lives and sometimes wonder if their faithfulness has even been noticed, this parable tells us that God does notice. He notices that the faithful ones are always with him, and he promises that all He has is theirs.

The younger brother needs God's forgiveness, love and restoration in the things that he has done wrong. Likewise, the older brother needs the same thing from God in his self-righteousness and the wrong attitude(s) of his heart. As much as the older brother is judging his younger brother for the wrong things he has done, he, too, needs the grace and forgiveness that his father wants him to show towards his brother.

Each time when I come before God in repentance of something that I have done wrong, whether it is in word or action or a wrong attitude of the heart, I feel like the prodigal son being embraced by his father in complete forgiveness, love and restoration. I know that His forgiveness of me is not dependent on my confession, for He had already forgiven all of my sins when Jesus died on the cross more than two thousand years ago. I confess because doing so makes me feel restored to right standing with God. It's more for my sake than His. It opens the doorway for me to become intimate with my Father again. It also keeps me humble and makes me value my relationship with Him instead of taking Him for granted.

In addition, this story reminds me that like everyone else, I am a sinner saved by grace. If I have any wrong attitude in my heart, I am no better than someone who has committed a crime that is worthy of imprisonment or the death sentence. As much as I dislike being judged by others, I, too, have judged them. I am so in need of the Father's love and grace to help me overcome the sins I struggle with. My challenge is to show others the same love and grace that the Father showers me with, especially those who have wounded me. Without His help, this can be an impossible feat at times.

Yet, I believe this is the way God designed it. He knows the Christian walk is an impossible one. This is why He makes the provision of His help available to us. It is His intent to make us dependent on Him. To acknowledge that we cannot do things in our own strength, only in His (Phil 4:13). And that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

There is so much to this parable than meets the eye. It is not just about one lost son; the other one is equally lost but in a different way. As I reflect on this story, I find that there is so much to ponder over and so much to learn from.

There are truly many treasures to be discovered in God's Word!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

When I Think God Says Wait

I love Holley's blog posts. I really do. They're so insightful, affirming and encouraging. I've found them to speak lovingly and powerfully into my life many times.

This week, Holley has a few questions for us to answer: What part of your dream feels the riskiest? Have you ever had people misunderstand or disagree with your dream? What do you do when your dream is scary or when others don’t support you?

There are two parts to my dream, which is to write. One is to start a blog, which I have done and which I hope to continue. The other is to write and publish a book about my journey.

For me, the riskiest part about my dream so far is the fear of being judged when I tell my story. Not just for me, but also for my family because this is their story, too. I will need to make sure they are comfortable with the contents of the manuscript before it can be turned into a book. My present draft has failed to meet this main criterion, so I've got to do more work on it.

Letting my son go had been made doubly hard by the fact that the act of doing so had caused the resurfacing of previous trauma that I had experienced in my early childhood. I thought I had dealt sufficiently with the trauma in the past, but apparently there were deeper layers (like the proverbial onion) to be worked through and healed. Friends who didn't completely understand what I was going through tried to help me heal from my grief according to their time frame rather than mine. As a result, I've found it simpler to withdraw into my own little world where God is my confidant, counsellor, and comforter.

Deep within me, however, is the desire to tell my story. Not to blame the people who have wounded me, misjudged me, or rejected me, but as a monument of the steps I am taking towards owning all that had happened to me in my life, and choosing to see every adversity as an opportunity for God to bring good out of each situation. In the small, limited ways that I am able to, I want to contribute and to make a difference.

Like Paul, it is my goal to be able to say at the end of the day: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7). And to hear God say in return: "...Well done, good and faithful servant.... Enter into the joy of your Lord." (Matt 25:21)

Maybe my dream of producing such a book is meant to be tested by time. Maybe God intends for me to experience greater healing before it makes its way out there. This is what I tell myself to keep the dream alive.

For now, I am grateful just to be alive. To be able to keep house for my family, and to write a post on my blog every now and then. After all that I've been through, I am grateful I'm still able to stand. And smile.......and laugh.....

To take courage and draw strength from scriptures such as the following:

"We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
~ 2 Cor 4:8,9 ~

"...My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
~ 2 Cor 12:9 ~

Maybe one day the second part of my dream will come true. When that happens, I know it will truly be by God's grace, in His time, and for His glory.

Linking up with:

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Victims Of Circumstances

Yesterday, I read a powerful and encouraging blog written by one of the contributing bloggers on not-alone-parents. Greg Lucas wrote about the murder-suicide incident involving a mother and her adult autistic son that happened last year in San Jose, CA.

Overcome by the overwhelming challenge of caring for her 22 year-old son, Elizabeth Hodgins was finally driven to shoot George to death before turning the gun on herself.

Reading about this story reminded me of a similar incident that happened more than a decade ago here in NZ. In 1997, Janine Albury-Thomson strangled her 17-year old autistic daughter to death after she tried unsuccessfully to get Casey to jump off a bridge.

There were other killings of children with disabilities all around the world, including 6 year-old Charles Blais in Canada, 4 year-old Daniel Corby in San Diego, and 12 year-old Ajit Singh in the UK.

Such stories of devastation and horror bring on a myriad of emotions among people worldwide. There are those that sympathize with the mothers who were driven to such a state of desperation as to commit the unthinkable; those that totally oppose mercy killing; and those in between.

Being mum to an autistic teenager, I'm one of those who have had the opportunity to experience first-hand the bittersweet challenges of parenting a child with special needs. There is joy in caring for a child whose childish innocence remains untainted throughout his growing up years. Joseph's delightful smiles and contagious laughter were what kept me going when I didn't think I could make it through yet another day. However, words cannot accurately describe the exhaustion, fear, desperation, hopelessness, and despair that we parents of special needs children can experience.

As I read the stories of these horrific killings, my heart goes out to the families involved. These are tragedies of circumstances; senseless to some, yet completely understandable to others. Having experienced terrible guilt, heart-wrenching pain, and deep darkness after my son left home, I cannot imagine what these mothers who have killed their children went through or who may still be going through. To me, the people involved are all victims of circumstances.

It is so easy to judge others by what they do based on our own knowledge and experience. The question is whether our knowledge and experience are sufficient for us to cast the first stone (John 8:7).

Until we have worn the shoes and walked the path of the one whom we're about to cast the stone at, we'll do well to put that stone down at the feet of Jesus.

I may have walked the path of parenting a child with autism. But I have not walked the exact same path that Elizabeth Hodgins had. Or that Janine Albury-Thomson had.

A couple of years ago, a member of a life group from our church committed suicide. The incident brought on a rather heated discussion among the life group members about how this might have been prevented if they had known how depressed or desperate this person must have been feeling. There was also a comment about how this person could do such a thing.

We all need God to help us love one another as He loves us, and to extend to others the same grace that we need others to extend to us.

We need Him to give us the compassion and wisdom to encourage someone who is hurting badly.  Or to gather others to come alongside someone who is going through a horrendous time to offer support, prayer, hope, and encouragement. Or to point them to people or professionals who can help if we're unable to do anything.

Because you never know if you could be the one whom God uses to prevent the tragic loss of yet another life, be it a murder or a suicide.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Pay It Forward

A few years ago when unrelenting stress finally got the upper hand and rendered me unable to function, a lovely lady from church came alongside to walk me over the hump.

I had no idea what was happening to me, except that everything seemed insurmountable and I felt completely overwhelmed. Crying was the only thing that I seemed to be able to do with ease.

My newly-found friend explained to me that I was suffering from burnout and that I needed to go and see the doctor who would most likely prescribe some medication. She arranged for another friend to take me and recommended that I took some time away from my family so that I could rest. She understood the extra demands that having a special needs child had on me. The following week, she checked to see how I was doing and continued to do so in the ensuing weeks.

Each time we met or spoke over the phone, Chris would remind me of how much God loved me and taught me how to rest in the knowledge of that love. She patiently listened as I poured out the deep pain that was piercing my heart. There was no judgment; no condemnation. Before long, I was telling her all that my heart contained which I needed to release. Along with a listening ear, there was complete acceptance, grace, affirmation and love, with lots of prayer and encouragement. It was like encountering God in human form!

When I later told Chris how much I owed her for all that she was investing in me, all she said was: Someday you'll do the same for someone who needs it.

At the end of last year, a friend who has an autistic son rang me up late one night in a panic and asked me for help with something. Early the next morning, she rang me again in tears. Her husband was overseas and she didn't know what to do.

Having been down the road of stress and burnout, I recognized that my friend was going through the same experience. I was able to advise her what to do in the same way that Chris had done for me. I also took her to see the service provider for our sons to ask for more support during this time. Every week until her husband returned, I rang my friend to see how she was doing, encouraged her and prayed for her. Even now, as she and her husband are exploring options for full-time care for their son, my husband and I are the ones they turn to for advice and support.

The concept of paying it forward is a powerful one. I've had the privilege being a part of such an experience in two other instances. 

One was the gift of an old piano when we first set up our home in the city we now live in. When we were able to buy a newer one, we passed that piano on to another family, whom we requested to pass on to the next family if and when they bought their own. That old piano has recently been gifted to another family in our life group. It may be old but it can still make music. The gift goes on!

The second pay-it-forward gift that we received was a two-night getaway for my husband and myself. The couple who gifted that to us were themselves the recipients of a similar gift and wanted to pass it on. We had likewise paid that forward to another couple who in turn had passed it on.

Whenever we do something for others, the concept of paying it forward will help us do so without expecting anything in return from the people whom we are blessing. Somehow, the blessings will come back through other sources, and sometimes in the ways we least expect.

Most importantly, we know we are honouring the One who gave us the greatest gift in the first place - the gift of His Son who in turn gives us life and everything we need through His death and resurrection.

And when I do something that reminds me of what others have done for me, I thank God for them and say a prayer of blessing over them.

May the gift of God's love get transferred from our hearts through our words and actions to the hearts of others!

"And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'"
~ Matthew 25:40 ~

Linking up with:

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Power of Encouragement

I can so relate to Holley's post entitled "Why you need to be recharged more than you realize".

In her post, Holley writes: "When Jesus in you touches someone else in a meaningful way power goes out from you too. And that is why you need rest and to be recharged more than you realize. You might have a heartfelt conversation that encourages a friend. Or you could show tenderness with one of your children that requires an extra measure of grace. Perhaps you navigate through a difficult ethical situation at work and manage to make a difference. In all of those, God’s power has gone out from you. Yet instead of realizing that we berate ourselves for feeling tired. We believe we should be able to do it all, all the time.  That’s not the way we’re created. And when we live without recognizing that power is going out from us we wind up exhausted and burned out."

Just last week, my family and I were having a discussion about the differences between extroverts and introverts. Extroverts are outgoing and bubbly as they get energized through meeting and talking to all kinds of people. They attract people everywhere they go and appear to be the more favoured personality type in Western cultures. Introverts, on the other hand, find it a challenge to be comfortable in a crowd and prefer to be with just one or two others. It can be draining for them to spend lengthy time talking to people, so having sufficient alone time to get recharged is crucial for an introvert.

Being an introvert myself, I realize there are many things that I used to do which depleted energy that didn't get sufficiently replaced. Now, I am learning to pace myself by interlacing draining activities with ones that I find pleasurable and energizing.

It is so important to develop self-awareness, to discover what makes us tick and how we function best under different circumstances, and to learn to capitalize on our strengths while drawing on God's. We can learn to accept our limitations and weaknesses without being ashamed of them by turning them into opportunities for God to work and shine through them.

God has a wonderful plan and purpose for each and everyone of us that He wants to help us fulfil. Yes, even for some of us who have become so weary that we doubt there's anything we can achieve. Or some of us who have a burning passion or have started working towards a dream and get discouraged when obstacles get in the way or when God says wait.

For those of us who struggle with insecurities, we need to look to Him for our value and worth because ours may have somehow gotten warped by past unpleasant experiences or hurtful words that have left wounds and scars.

Because no matter what you may think about yourself, God sees you as His beautiful creation with a wealth of giftings, talents, and resources that your sphere of influence needs. There is no one like you or who can do what you alone can do. You reflect an aspect of God that no one else does. You have the power to show love, bring hope and touch lives. We need your uniqueness, your gifts, your input. We are not complete without you.

As you keep your eyes on God, He will help you see the beauty that He sees in you and why He believes in you.

He celebrates you for the way that He made you and longs to help make those wealth of treasures that He has laid within you shine so others can share in their beauty and glory.

You are beautiful.

You are amazing.

You are loved!

So, let's keep on keeping on, trample on our fears, and reach for the stars.

Together, we can do it!

"Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward."
~ Hebrews 10:35 ~

Linking up with: