Friday, December 14, 2012

The Organic Life: Family (aka, Everlasting Father)

Next Isaiah 9:6 question: How has God shown himself to be your Everlasting Father this year?

You've read about the Sisterhood... and you know about my kids... but guess what - the family is even bigger...

Family is a big deal to me. I have a pretty incredible family - a mom and dad who love God, love each other, and love me; two brothers who are insanely gifted, loving, godly, (and good-looking!); a sister-in-law who I am constantly challenged and blessed by; and three nephews who are being raised as mighty warriors for Jesus. I have a rich heritage from my grandparents and great-grandparents, incredible support and encouragement from my aunts and uncles, and my cousins are some of the coolest people I am privileged to know. But my family, though emotionally close, is geographically spread out all over - from South Florida to Vancouver Island; from Ontario to L.A.; from Vernon, British Columbia, to Buenas Aires, Argentina, to Australia. And then there's little ol' me, lost somewhere in the middle, in the flatlands of Indiana. I'm thankful for Skype, Facebook, and email, but there is nothing like being present with family.

So what does a lone Chandler do in the Midwest? She remembers that she is grafted in to a bigger family, adopted and promised an inheritance from her Everlasting Father, and she looks around to see who else has her Father's eyes, smile, and heart.

Once a week, Hannah and I get together with some friends to share good news and pray together. Among them are our Uncle Steve and Aunt Sheila, Uncle Eldon and Aunt Jan, and Auntie Cathy. We've christened them with these names when we talk about them and pray for them together, and it just seems natural and right, because they do "uncle and aunt" types of things - they give us hugs and snacks, they ask how things are going and really listen to us and remember what we've told them before, they offer counsel and assistence, and they pray for us. I trust them, learn from them, and want to be more like them. Other "aunts and uncles" in my Fort Wayne life right now include Brenda and Ron, Linda and Juan, Ciin Nuam and Pau Kai, Reyna and Pedro, Meng Pu, Lian, Margie, Becky, and Coleen.

Then there is my beautiful bunch of cousins from Gospel Community. We're just now really starting to get to know each other well, but I love the times we've had together lately - especially with Ben and Kayla, doing ministry, drinking coffee, and obsessing over fairytales together. It's fun to do life with people close to my age, who like doing the things I enjoy too. I think of them more as cousins, because we come from such diverse backgrounds and are all a bit weird in our own right; we don't look much alike or act very much the same or have the same gifts, but there is definitely a family resemblence that testifies to the Grace that binds us together.

Of course, the brothers are pretty exceptional, too. God has taught me so much through them this year, and their strength and wisdom has helped me through some difficult times. They have been so faithful to redirect my focus back to the Lord over and over again, whether I've needed prayer, loving affirmation, or a reality check that I was being too rediculous (which is more often than you might think!). They make us food, do repair jobs, and tend to our yard, among other things. They've taken care of me like my real brothers have, and I'm so thankful for their presence in my life.

So even though I'm the lone Chandler of Indiana, my Everlasting Father has surrounded me and blessed me with family in such rich community that I never feel lonely or unloved. It is so good to be a part of the family of God.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mighty God

Question for today: How has Christ shown himself to be a Mighty God in your life this year?
(Note: It took me a while to decide to post this. It's very personal stuff, and normally I hold it back for an online audience. But I believe God gave me this experience so I would faithfully share it with others, to his glory.)

Of all the names of God, I think this one has been most powerful and meaningful and life-giving to me this year. For me, the beauty of the gospel is in the seeming paradox of ... everything. When we were still sinners, Christ died for us. To be first, we must be last. To live, we must die to ourselves. God uses the foolish to shame the wise. When I am weak, He is strong. Having nothing, yet possessing everything. It is an upside-down and inside out reality - REALITY! - that is beyond understanding, and is rooted in grace. Grace, at its absolute purest core, is the power and love of God lavished on the weakest and least loveable thing; it is the gift of what is least deserved but most needed.

I don't have it all figured out yet... and doubtless I never will. But this year, I experienced God in his great might in some dark places. Last April I was laying in a hospital bed for two weeks, hooked up to IVs and monitors, with no strength to feed myself, sit up, or even talk very much. For one very crucial hour, my whole concentration was on breathing in and out on my own. In all this time of stillness and relative silence, I had a lot of time to pray. In my more lucid moments, I did pray for the people I love - my family, my friends, my sisters, my kids, my ministry partners, my pastors and mentors. But the vast majority of the time, the only thought I could muster up in my medicated fog was, "Why, God?" And it probably isn't the "why" most people would expect: "Why am I going through this?" Instead, my "why" was full of homesickness for heaven and heartache: "Why am I still here? Why can't I just be home with You?" I wanted to quit, but something sustained me in spite of myself - I kept breathing, kept coughing and fighting, kept taking medicine, out of obedience and submission, but with a lot of frustration and longing for God to speak. But he seemed to be silent for a while... very present with me, but silent.

The springtime was not as it usually is for me... I don't remember the color of the flowers in our yard, or how much it rained, or if there were bumble bees, or even how I spent my birthday. I do remember getting my hair cut because it was falling out, and the voracious appetite the steroids gave me, and the friends who sat at my bedside and read, sang, prayed, played games, and were just silent comfort. And I remember Easter morning, the sunrise service in my hospital room, when I absolutely know without a doubt that Mighty God was holding me in his powerful arms.

In the days and weeks that followed, I couldn't lift a fork, lift my phone, lift a book, or "lift my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121). I was bent low physically and spiritually, and asked God over and over why, if I was going to be this weak and pathetic and useless, was he keeping me in this life.

Then he reminded me that my life isn't about me; it isn't about my abilities, skills, or great contributions. My life isn't mine at all - it is hidden in Christ now. Weakness and dependency are some of God's favorite canvases, because they highlight his power the most. Whatever he allows - in his great mercy and love - to happen to me, he uses to his glory and for his kingdom. I don't understand it, and I can't imagine why he delights in it, but it is Truth. The value of my life is not in what I can do, but what He can do. And he is mighty.

This year, Mighty God sustained my life, healed my body, restored my soul, opened my eyes, and filled me with the power of his Spirit. I cannot imagine what He has possibly done through me this year, or how he will use me in the year to come. But I want to become less so he can become more. I want to be weak so that his power will be evident, and his might will be known. Because here comes that beautiful paradox: when I can do nothing, He can do everything.