Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Wings of a Dove

God, listen to my prayer. Pay attention to my cry for help.
Hear me and answer me.
My thoughts upset me. I’m very troubled.
I’m troubled by what my enemies say about me. I’m upset because sinful people stare at me. They cause me all kinds of suffering. When they’re angry, they attack me with their words.
I feel great pain deep down inside me. The terrors of death are crushing me.
Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me.
I said, “I wish I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest. I would escape to a place far away. I would stay out in the desert. I would hurry to my place of safety. It would be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing.”
Lord, destroy the plans of sinners. Keep them from understanding one another. I see people destroying things and fighting in the city.
Day and night they prowl around on top of its walls. The city is full of crime and trouble. Forces that destroy are at work inside it. Its streets are full of people who cheat others and take advantage of them.
If an enemy were making fun of me, I could stand it. If he were looking down on me, I could hide from him.
But it’s you, someone like myself. We used to enjoy good friendship as we walked with the crowds at the house of God.
Let death take my enemies by surprise. Let them be buried alive because their hearts and homes are full of evil.
But I call out to God. And the LORD saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Even though many enemies are fighting against me, he brings me safely back from the battle.
God sits on his throne FOREVER. He hears my prayers and makes my enemies suffer. They never change their ways. They don’t have any respect for God.
My companion attacks his friends. He breaks his promises. His talk is as smooth as butter. But he has war in his heart. His words flow like olive oil. But they are like swords ready for battle.
Turn your worries over to the Lord. He will keep you going. He will never let godly people fall.
God, you will bring sinners down to the grave. Murderers and liars won’t live out even half of their lives.



It’s amazing the way God speaks to me through kids’ devotional materials. Today I was looking through my Vacation Bible School Director’s Kit as I prepare for the summer of 2009. I came across a couple verses from Psalm 55 in one of the handouts for the kids. The handout was talking about how it is possible to be a “survivor” because we have the power of Christ. Psalm 55 verses 6-8 were included in this packet to show the kids that even some of the Bible's greatest heroes went through tough times and had to depend on God for survival. “I said, ‘I wish I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest. I would escape to a place far away. I would stay out in the desert. I would hurry to my place of safety. It would be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing’.” I read those verses and felt as if God was speaking DIRECTLY to me. Let me just tell you all, after my week at home for Christmas I was definitely wishing that I could fly on the wings of a dove and escape to a desert far away (to put it nicely).
You see, when I go home I am reminded of what my life used to be. I am reminded that things used to be “normal” and now they will never, ever be the same. Christmas is always a difficult holiday when you have lost a loved one. It’s so filled with memories, tradition and expectation that sometimes it’s like losing that person all over again when things turn out to be anything but "traditional".
I came home on Sunday the 21st to find my parents’ house without a single Christmas decoration. No stockings, no wreaths, no candles, no Christmas tree. Nothing. I tried really hard not to make a big deal out of it because I know that my dad is just as disappointed as I am. He tries so hard to be both the mom and the dad and I know it gets tiring for him. He doesn’t know how to decorate a house or make it feel “homey”. His domestic skills don’t go much further than his homemade cleaning solution (equal parts water, bleach and peroxide). Walking into a non-decorated house is just another HUGE reminder that my mama is gone. She was obsessed with Christmas and loved to decorate. She went a little overboard sometimes, ok MOST of the time, but I never had to worry about whether or not my home would feel like Christmas when I walked in.
On Monday morning I went up to our attic, pulled out the boxes of Christmas décor and hauled the artificial Christmas tree down the stairs. I started assembling it by myself and eventually my dad came in to lend a hand. He helped me string the lights and then I decorated the whole thing by myself while he sat in the other room, tears filling his eyes.
We both tried to swallow our sadness and act strong for each other. I try not to break down in front of him because I don’t really think it’s fair when he has so much pain inside too. I finished decorating my mom’s beautiful tree, covered with her ballerina ornaments and sparkly snowflakes and then I called my best friend. I called Jennie to see if she could come help me decorate the rest of my house. She immediately agreed and promised to come right over as soon as possible. Her sister Steph and their mom came too. When I saw the three of them, such dear and beautiful friends, I knew that it was going to be ok. They got right to work, hauling up wreaths, trees and candles from the basement and telling me how beautiful they thought everything was. Within an hour our house was transformed and I finally felt at home. I hardly had to do anything, it felt as if they carried me.
I know that Christmas is still Christmas even without the decorations and presents and everything else but there is something inside of me that aches for things to feel the same, even though I know that isn’t possible. I read the Psalm above and I can identify 100% with what the writer says. I wish so badly that I could escape these troubles. I wish that my little brother would surrender himself to God instead of running away, I wish my sister’s heart would be healed and that I could take her hurt from her and I wish my dad could feel whole again. I know that it is quite possible that I may never see some of these things restored in this lifetime. I also wish, more than anything, that broken relationships could be healed and that repentance would be made known. The author of this Psalm is right when he talks about how it's easy to shrug it off when an enemy is attacking us, but much more difficult when it is someone like us, someone we know and love.
I feel like I am constantly hanging between this stage of acceptance and denial. There are some days where I feel ok about everything, like I have just enough strength to face the world, and other days where I want to run away and pretend that the last three years have been nothing but a nightmare that I will wake up from tomorrow morning. You can only tell yourself that so many times before tomorrow becomes today and then you realize nothing has changed. (And everything has changed.) The comforting thing about this Psalm is that I see this same friction in the author’s writing. He goes back and forth between anger and pain to surrender and trust. But the beautiful thing is where he ends up. The Psalm ends with the phrase, “But I trust you.” I can look at my life, at everything that has happened and I can say that I trust Him. I trust God to love me and walk with me through it all and although it is painful, and messy and sickening at times I still KNOW that God is enough. He is enough for me. He’s all I need and He is going to bring me through. I have faith and know that this is not the end. Somehow, someday there will be justice. I may never, ever see it but I know that God is faithful and He will take care of me.
I also have faith that someday I will be able to “be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing.” Isn’t that what God promises us when He speaks of heaven? I believe that one day I will be able to see the beauty in all of this. Maybe my mom already can.

He who has promised is faithful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Back to the Homeland

A few weeks ago I got to go home to Iowa for the first time in almost six months. I spent four days at home with my friends and family and got some much needed rest! Here are some pictures of that trip. Sorry I am just now getting around to posting them!

This is our official 2008 Christmas card. Merry Christmas from the Stephens Family!
Me and the Ol' Man waiting for Crissa after church...
I got to see my very best friend for the first time since July.
It snowed while we were home and our backyard looked beautiful! It was just too pretty not to take a picture. (Editor's Note: My dad is NOT the greatest photographer that ever lived.)
Jennie, Dave, Crissa, my dad and I hung out one night. We watched Grizzly Man and laughed until we cried. I'm not really sure if that movie is supposed to be funny but for "some odd" reason it is hilarious.
So, as you can see. It wasn't too exciting. Nothing overly-thrilling happened but I had a great time! Sometimes the quiet, uneventful trips are the best ones. Now it's about time to head back for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chestnuts Roasting...

Have you ever noticed how Christmas songs always sound so lovely, peaceful and soothing? Ha. I don't know about you but so far my Christmas season has seemed anything BUT restful, peaceful and quiet.
Working at a church is always busy but it's especially chaotic this time of year. I have Christmas parties every weekend, I had three Christmas programs for the daycare last week and have one program for my church kids next week. I attended the women's ministry Christmas dessert night, my staff Christmas party, I have a Christmas party with friends this Friday as well as one next Friday at my house. Our church Christmas dinner is Saturday night and then on top of all of that I have to drive (8 hours) home for the holidays with my family. Someone pinch me please. I feel like I am living in a neverending dream, some sort of alternate universe. I wander through the days hoping that I remember to do my hair and feeling really proud of myself if I actually get makeup on. My newest and greatest acccomplishment is this: I learned how to do all of my makeup while driving my new car, which happens to be a stick shift, in city traffic from Carmel to Fishers. Crazy, you say? Nope. Just doing what I have to do to make it from one day to the next. All the while I'm trying to balance a personal life, get things done at work, handle family stuff and take care of my own body. I am getting dizzy just thinking about all of it!
But the crazy thing is, I wouldn't have it any other way! Yes, of course, there are times when I wish I could sleep in or spend more time just hanging out with my friends. But I have been so blessed with a job that allows me to spend my days interacting and building relationships with other people. I don't want to say no to babysitting jobs, party invitations, lunches with friends or Christmas programs because I love all of the people that I am surrounded with at these events. I go and I do what I need to do and somehow God has allowed me to be mentally present at each and every thing. He has taught me how to live in the moment and enjoy things as they happen. What a gift! I am learning not to stress about the small things. (They always get done.) But rather, I am soaking in every minute of this crazy time. Sure, I haven't bought a single Christmas gift yet but I'm sure I will find the time I need.
I encourage you to stop, relax and enjoy your holiday season. Soak in every minute and enjoy the days as they fly by. 2008 is almost over!
I wonder what's coming in the year that lies ahead...