Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sacrifice of Praise

Psalm 116:17 reads “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord.” One of the hardest things to do when you’re hurting is to praise God. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes a determined act of the will. And when you’re really hurting, it’s hard to find the determination to do much of anything.
I wrestled with this over and over in the months following my son’s birth. I didn’t want to praise God; I was angry with God, and I would feel guilty for my anger one moment and justified in it the next. At the same time, though, I knew I couldn’t survive without Jesus, and the fear of my heart growing cold towards Him was greater than the anger in my heart. So, I would pour out my emotions to Him and ask Him to heal my heart. But to praise Him, to thank Him in the midst of so much heartbreak, was a constant struggle.
However, as time went on, and I chose to praise Him, even though my heart was torn and bleeding and even though I didn’t feel like praising Him, my heart began to come alive again bit by bit.  I discovered that there can truly be joy in the midst of sorrow. I also realized that it was and is a privilege to praise Jesus in the midst of my pain, for this is a gift I can bring to Him only during this short season of time. Life passes by like a mist and then eternity is upon us. For those who have been born again by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, He promises to “…wipe away every tear from their eyes,” in the age to come (see Revelation 7:17).  In this tiny window of opportunity, I can give Him the gift of my love and my worship in the middle of my pain. What a precious thing to bring to the One who endured so much pain and suffering for me because of love!
I play guitar and have been writing songs since 2005. Sitting with my guitar before the Lord and singing to Him in worship is such a big part of who I am. However, for months after Benjamin’s birth, my guitar sat untouched. For a season I stepped down from leading worship at my church and at our prayer group gatherings.  It just wasn’t in me. I knew healing was taking place inside me when I started to pick up my guitar again. Pre-written songs couldn’t express what was in my heart, though, so I sat down with pen and paper one day and wrote lyrics for a new song to the Lord, which is as much to say that I wrote out a prayer. In a short time, the Holy Spirit gave me music to go with the words, and I was again able to express my heart before Him in song. What a release and freedom came as a result! In the place of praise and worship, life’s cares take on their proper perspective, and I am reminded that I am created for Him and Him alone. My life is to be lived unto His glory, and He can do whatever He wants with me. He is perfect love and perfect peace, and He is orchestrating things for my best interest from an eternal perspective. One day in eternity, I will look back and see the wisdom and beauty of His leadership over my life, and oh how I will praise Him in that day!
“For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you. Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 Amplified Bible).
Why does my heart feel so numb? Where has the fire gone?
I slumber and I stumble in the dark of night. When will I see the dawn?
I remember the rainbows after the rain, Your promises spoken to me.
So I stir up my soul and I cry out to You, the One who holds the key
More than answers, I want Your face.
More than solutions, I need Your embrace,
So I lay down my heart, Lord, down at Your feet
To be broken, awakened, healed and set free.
I want what’s real, what’s fresh and alive. This is my heart’s only cry.
Weed out the doubt, lies and confusion. Cause this flesh to die.
Make my life a prelude to heaven, completely consumed by You.
Holy Spirit, come and fan the flame, You who make all things new.
More than answers, I want Your face.
More than solutions, I need Your embrace,
So I lay down my heart, Lord, down at Your feet
To be broken, awakened, healed and set free.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eyes of the Beholder

I wrote this in early January...
“Are you ok? I know they look kind of Mr. Magooish,”  said the lady at the eye glasses center after fitting Benjamin’s new glasses on for the first time. I winced at the association; with their thick, round, bright blue frames, her description was right on the mark. A few months prior, Benjamin had eye surgery to correct the muscles in both eyes that were causing them to cross. The surgery had been mostly successful but had not completely fixed the problem. His eye doctor recommended glasses to give him the added assistance needed to correctly focus, assuring me that Benjamin would probably outgrow the need for them by his 12th birthday. Even with this knowledge, I felt such a resistance rise up inside of me, not wanting to accept that this would be my son’s new “look.” How would people see his beautiful blue eyes or his sweeping, long eyelashes that were so often commented on? I began to assume the worst. Instead of the endearing stares of others, I pictured people looking on with disdain at the poor child who obviously has “problems.” Thirty minutes later at Panera Bread I was given the chance to test my theory. While standing in line I noticed a woman staring at us, and I immediately became protective on the inside. A few minutes later, however, she approached me to share that she had glasses from the time she was a small child and asked a few disarming questions about Benjamin. Later a staff member stopped to talk to Benjamin, ask some questions, and tell him how handsome he was with his new glasses. On the way out of the restaurant, two teenage girls giggled and smiled with adoration as we passed by. So much for my theory…
This was not the first (and probably won’t be the last) time insecurity has gripped me in regards to my son’s appearance. During those first shaky weeks in the NICU following his birth, I tried to comprehend what his diagnosis of Down syndrome would mean. It sounds shallow, I know, and I almost felt guilty for thinking it, but one of my concerns was what he would look like to other people. All through my pregnancy I daydreamed about the perfect calendar baby (what parent doesn’t), whose face could grace the front of any greeting card. The stark reality of having a child with a handicap caused me to question “Will anyone but our own family think he’s beautiful?” Time and again, though, I was proven wrong as complete strangers would stop me in stores, restaurants, doctor’s offices, etc, just to gawk at my “adorable” baby. In the first few months my thought was, “They must not realize that he has Down syndrome.” As my acceptance of his diagnosis has unfolded, though, I’ve thought that less and less. Benjamin is beautiful as Benjamin, 47 chromosomes and all!
Just after my son’s first birthday, he was fitted with hearing aids in both ears. Since you can’t hide a hearing aid, we decided to have fun with the ear mold color and chose a soft blue. “Maybe it will bring out his eyes,” I reasoned with myself. Once again, though, insecurity took hold, and my emotions resisted this new “look” for my son. I grieved inside, thinking the days of people commenting on my beautiful baby were over. “He’ll get stares, but it will be for a different reason now.” I was sure of it. Once again I was proven wrong, though, as Benjamin continued to have a magnetic pull that drew people to him. In time I grew accustomed to the hearing aids, and they have just become a normal part of life. We even decorate the hearing aids themselves with specialty stickers. Our sticker of choice is a pair of lions, continuing his nursery theme.
Benjamin has had the glasses for a few weeks now, and I can’t say that I’m fully adjusted to them yet, but the sting is dissolving. Some of my concerns have been proven true as far as the difficulty of keeping glasses on a baby and keeping them clean, but other concerns have been blown out of the water. We recently attended the 2010 One Thing Conference at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, and Shawn and I were overwhelmed by the response Benjamin received from others. We could barely go 10 minutes without someone walking by and smiling or stopping to talk to Benjamin. I can’t remember how many times someone would come up just to say “Excuse me, but your son is so adorable!” One young lady stopped in the middle of a crowd just to stare and had others run into her! People were simply drawn to Benjamin left and right.
Now, I’m tempted to say it’s because my son really is that exceptionally cute (which in my mind he absolutely is!), but I think it goes deeper than that. The world is full of cute babies, but Benjamin seems to carry something unique. There is a peace and a joy that rests on him, and I know it is by the Holy Spirit. People who see him seem to have an automatic love and affection for him, and he imparts joy to so many. We have heard time and time again since his birth, “Benjamin is such a blessing!” His presence in a room seems to affect the atmosphere around him, and everyone who comes in contact with him leaves with a smile on their face. That is not something Shawn or I can take credit for; I know that it is the Lord in him. God’s beauty rests upon Benjamin, and it is contagious!
They say that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” and I’ve also heard it said that “you become what you behold.” As much as it warms my heart to see Benjamin fawned over by others, I realize how much needless energy I’ve wasted on worrying about what other people think. Even if my fears had materialized and people looked on my son with disdain, it would not change Benjamin’s beauty. His Heavenly Father and Creator crafted Benjamin in His image, and He only creates masterpieces. The only gaze that truly matters is the fiery gaze of my loving King, and I know that as I behold Him, I will be transformed more and more into His beautiful likeness. I want to teach my son to live before an “audience of One,” finding his confidence and identity in the reality of how God sees him. I want him to live as one who continues to impart joy and hope to others because of Who’s Presence he abides in. I want him to be one who can see the beauty in all people, viewing them through heaven’s perspective. The things I want for my son, I must model. I know that as I set my heart to gaze on Jesus and His beauty, He will empower me to do so.
On a side note, in His goodness, God let me experience having a calendar baby! In the 2011 Down Syndrome Association of Tulsa calendar, Benjamin and his daddy proudly share the spotlight with two other father/child duos for the month of June. The theme for the month is “Dads as heroes.” I’m so thankful Benjamin has a Daddy whose hero is his Heavenly Father, whose eyes behold the beauty of his God and who will teach our son to do the same!