Friday, March 28, 2014

O You Afflicted One...

***The past 3 weeks have been some of the most crucial weeks of my life.  The thing about a blog is that you kind of only get a small glimpse into a very large picture.  I do my best to paint as big a picture as I can, but it never compares to the life I actually live.  3 weeks ago I wrote one of the most excruciating posts of my life and the truth is, I almost decided to officially close my blog that week.  My writing till that point was still pure- everything I wrote I still meant, but it was becoming a smaller and smaller truth.  I was losing myself.  But instead of closing the blog, I poured out the depths of my heartache with all of you- and then I waited.  Waited to see if I was still there. Waited to see if I was starting to come back.  The next week came, and still I waited.  I didn't want to wait last week- I was compelled to.  Compelled not to pen because something was still in the balance- I could feel it in my soul that something was at war.  But I was losing.  I was too tired to fight…I know you pray for me.  I know each and every one of you who have been lifting me up in prayer.  I know because your prayers waged a heavenly war on my behalf and I am not sure I will ever be able to thank you for coming alongside me- for standing in front of me and my family and defending us against attacks that almost won.  

But they didn't win.

Your prayers.  My waiting.  The tension I felt building while I was losing myself all came to a head this week.  I am going to tell you what happened a few days ago and let you know that you're prayers were instrumental in this story.  No, it's not a dramatic story- in fact, it may seem so simple to you reading it.  But my mind was bound; and now it is free.  For the first time in a long time, it is free.  And I feel peace.  

I feel like me.  

I feel ready to write again.  I have never before been ready to move forward until now.  I never fully embraced the changes my household had to make until now.  I have not had peace in my heart until now.  

So...Let's Roll:

I had an incredible breakdown a few days ago.  For a long time now I was living in a prison…I was locked inside my own head only venturing out a rare few times to talk.  I was getting increasingly isolated from everyone around me.  Every time Jeff would ask me a simple question I would either erupt or just shut down.  Neither of these actions bear any resemblance to who I am as a person- but lately I became unrecognizable.  I simply chose to live in my head…wait, that's not right.  It's not that I chose it, it's more that I couldn't find my way out.  I could not get past my grief and my fear- fear of losing my kids and grief of knowing that it would be all my fault.  You see, it's not just about the homeschooling and the chores and the meals…there were reasons I did those things.  I believed in doing things to the best of my ability, and I believe that the decisions we make have an effect on our kids' futures.  When I send them to Christian school, I am terrified of what other influences they may encounter from the older kids at such young ages- things I wanted to protect their eyes and ears from while they are still so innocent.  But now I can't.  When I diligently ran a chore chart and had Bible time it was because I wanted them to learn the value of hard work and discipline, know the Word and its principles and I wanted them to become responsible people who know the Lord.  But now I can't.  When I cooked good, home-made meals I knew I was nourishing their bodies and showing them how to properly take care of themselves.  But now I can't.  I just was lost in a whirlwind of thinking that everything I was building a foundation for was all being torn down- that my kids were now being thrown to the world, their character and minds and spirits just haphazardly being shaped by whoever and whatever they encounter when all I ever wanted and all I ever worked toward was the very opposite.  

One night Jeff just got me to open up for a brief moment.  And when he did, I let it all of this out.  

And out it came.

It was not pretty.  It was a heart wrenching mess of a mother's heart bleeding on the floor over fear of losing her children to the world.  I screamed.  I cried fiercely.  I didn't let him even attempt to offer any answers because I knew there really weren't any.  Week after week I talk about being present wherever you are in whatever way you can be.  I just haven't been able to grasp how that was going to work for my kids.   How can I be anything to them when I cannot even enforce something as simple as making their beds?  How can I be present when I am not longer able to teach them?  

I don't know why it takes me so long to talk to my husband.  Because when I finally do, I remember all over again why I married him.  He is like a rock.  A rock I can stand on in the hardest times; a rock of wisdom that doesn't come from flattering words, but that comes from the heart of God, and from Scripture.  Jeff told me the problem was that I was still trying to find a way to be present THE WAY I USED TO BE.  I was trying to do what I could, where I could, in whatever manner I could the way I USED TO…and because that is simply impossible, it was driving me crazy.  Literally crazy.  

He reminded me that God's promises do not rest on the outward- they rest on the heart.

My charts, and my homeschooling, and my home cooked meals, and my diligence as a mother were all great things- but they were things.  The real importance, was the heart that it all flowed from.  And he reminded me that my heart has not changed.  God's promises never hinged on my actions.  They were never attached to my abilities.  It was not my foundation, my doing, or my hands that were going to keep my kids on the path God wanted for them.  You see, 8 years ago when I was six months pregnant with my firstborn son, God gave Jeff a promise for our family; for our kids.  It goes something like this:

"All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children." Isaiah 54:13

Oh God, I forgot.  

I forgot about the promise God made to two kids just starting out on their journey and about to have a family.  I forgot that GOD promised to put a hedge around my home with His hand and bring them up in His ways.  I forgot He promised a household of PEACE.  And most importantly I forgot that it was Him…I was never the one who was going to fulfill this promise- it was never by the strength of my own hands that my kids would be taught by the Lord and covered in peace.  It is the unshakable, unmovable, unchangeable right hand of God that established my children before they were even born. 

And it is God who is keeping them now.  

Then something amazing happened. I opened the Bible later that night to reread those verses for myself only I decided to go back a few verses- just to see what came before it.  When I did, I began to weep.  God knew.  God knew when he was giving that verse to a perfectly healthy 22-year old girl about to have her first baby that one day she would go back and read the verses that preceded it.  

Because He had more to say to that girl.  

“O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children." Isaiah 54:11-13

Oh God, I am the afflicted one.  I am tossed and not comforted…until GOD.  God says He will lay my stones and secure my foundation.  He will set my high places, sure up my gates, and steady my walls.  AND MY CHILDREN WILL BE TAUGHT OF THE LORD AND GREAT SHALL BE THEIR PEACE.  He gave us the promise before our children were born- and then 8 years later, in the darkest moment of my life when my health has taken away my very ability to raise my children and keep my household, He gave me the rest of that promise and reminded me that before we even had our kids, He was building up the foundations of our home.  That before the sickness came and before the rooms filled with the laughter of our six beautiful babies, God had already laid down gems and rubies and crystals and precious stones and laid them down in a way that no storm could EVER destroy it.  

This storm can not destroy it.

You see, when God makes a promise, He seals it with Himself.  One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in Genesis, when God appears to Abraham and promises to make Him the father of many nations.  He promises a man- an old man with no children whose wife is too old to have any- that he will be blessed and his descendants will be more numerous than the sands on the beach.  And to seal this covenant with Abraham, God has Abraham take a certain few animals, cut them in half, and make an aisle in which they would both walk down together- him and God-thus sealing the promise between them.  So Abraham does this- he cuts the animals, lays each piece on either side making the aisle…and then he waits for God.  Waits for God to meet him so they can seal the deal; finish the promise.  So he waits.  And he waits.  And he waits so long that vultures begin to come and try to eat at the animals…eat at his promise.  But Abraham fights!  He fights for his promise!  He fights for his children!  And their children!  No God…I will have a family!  They will be blessed by You!  YOU PROMISED!  Oh how I have fought.  

And while he is desperately fighting off the vultures, he collapses out of complete and utter weariness.  

And that is when God shows up.

In an act of stunning enormity, God- as a blazing fire- walks down the aisle ALONE thus sealing the covenant promise.  Only he did not seal the promise with Abraham.  

He sealed it with Himself.

Because Abraham would not have been able to uphold his end of the bargain.  Because somewhere along the line Abraham would have messed up and then the promise would be broken.  Maybe one day Abraham's faith would have wavered.  Maybe year after year Abraham would have forgotten all about the promise.  Maybe Abraham would have gotten so sick that he no longer would have been able to care for his family the same way he was able to when the promise was made.  

No.  God sealed the covenant with Himself- the only One who can always walk in complete perfection.  The only One who will always keep His standards.  The only One that is pure.  God's promises are upheld because HE upholds them.   They do not rest on man.

For the first time in a very, very long time, I feel peace.  I fully see the scope in which my children are truly in the Lord's hands.  Homeschooling is not what would have protected them.  My vigilance in their chores is not what would have developed them.  My meals are not what would have made a home.  Because all of those things are movable.  But what is NOT movable is that which the Lord Jesus Christ establishes and when HE says something IS…then it IS.  

And He has said my children will be taught of the Lord.  And He has said great will be their peace.  I fought, and in my weariness I simply could not fight another second.  So God showed up to fulfill His promise.  The rest is up to HIM.

Later that night Jeff took my hand and walked me downstairs and I wept as I tore down the huge chore chart in my dining room.  Oh what freedom I felt.  I gave everything I had when I was healthy- and I will give everything I can being sick.  And I will finally be able to do it with peace in my heart.  I know I will still struggle occasionally with fear over my children- but now I know where to turn.  The fear has vanished because of the simple reminder of that day in the nursery when Jeff showed me the verse God promised us for our kids.  

And God keeps His promises.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

7 Days

I wrote an entire blog for today.  Then I took it down.  If you are a writer, than you will understand- I just can't write something that I don't feel.  There have been many times I have posted something I didn't feel, but I did it because this is a weekly post.  And not every single week is going to come straight from the heart- sometimes it's just going to be words on a page.  Good, but not great.  But I couldn't do that today.  Something about last week's post made me unable to write anything else.  If something else had come along, then I would have written it.  If something else had come into my heart or mind, then by all means I would have labored over it like I do most weeks, doing everything I can to perfect it until I have made sure to get my point across exactly how I want to.  But today I have nothing.

Today, I am stuck.

Stuck on last week maybe.  Stuck on the harsh reality that I revealed to you in all it's rawness.  A part of me felt like I was betraying last weeks post by writing a new one today.  I know that may seem silly, but it's the truth.  Every word I wrote came from the depths of a very hard reality that I live every single moment of- and sharing it in one emotion laced blog post didn't change on darn thing.  Even as I type now I am having a tremendously difficult time even getting my fingers to move.  I am counting down the very second until I can take my next dose of pain medication, the last one not even doing enough to get me to stop shaking.  So how, in my integrity as a writer, can I just go on writing about something else when this topic has not fully moved on from my heart?

The answer is, I can't.

I realize that I am tampering with my ratings here.  What none of you know (because I keep the ratings private) is that this blog is read by several thousand people every month.  Some weeks have been much higher, some much lower, but thats been the average.  I try not to look at numbers because that is not why I write. I write because I love the expression of my heart and soul by way of written words.   But I also know that for people to keep reading, they have to have something new to read every week.

This may blow that.

Maybe you will read this and realize you haven't really been reading anything.  And I am sorry.  I hope and pray that the Lord would move something on my heart for next week.  I tried desperately to "just write something" for this week like I am supposed to, but I have my limits.  Last week was one of them.  I showed all my cards last week.  And I am not ready to deal another hand just yet.

So I apologize.  There is a time to keep walking, I understand that.  But I have to listen to my heart as well on this one- because there are times to stand still and just respect what God is letting you feel.  I'm not ready to do anything just yet.  I went back and read my last post and the tears were just as fresh as the day I wrote it.  Gotta respect that.

I am not here to entertain you.  I am not here to tickle your eyes or your ears.  I am here to write and to write unapologetically.  I answer to Jesus for everything, including a little blog.  Maybe He doesn't care whether or not I write- but in my heart I know I am accountable for every word I type- because you are reading these words.  And they have to mean something.  And if I can't stand behind them, then I have lost all my integrity as a writer and why the heck are you bothering to read my blog anyway?

Sometimes I write things because I post every Friday- so I think and I write something I believe to be worthwhile.  Other times God moves and speaks so powerfully that my writing is worth a good Sunday sermon.  I can take both of those.  But what I cannot take is writing anything today.  Just not today.  If you can glean a lesson from this, I commend you and even encourage you to look for one.  I just know I have to do what I have to do.  And I need more time.

Hopefully seven days from now there will have been something on my heart and we will meet again for a good read.  But one thing you can count on with me- I will stick to my guns on this blog.  I will be honest even to a fault.  I will hold to what I believe, and never settle for a ounce less.  There are pages and pages to go back and read if you are so inclined.  But as for today...well, seven days just wasn't enough for me to move on from last week.  So I'm not.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Brave Heart

Hello!!  For some reason it feels like a while since I have really talked to you.  I know I talk to you every week, but it's been a while since I have actually sat down and talked with you about personal things.  I think this would be a good week to just catch up and update you on some minor things I have going on in my life and some bigger changes that I have going on.  So let's chat.  :)

Last week was the one year anniversary of Jeff, me, and the kids moving into our new home.  This house we are living in is the first home we have ever owned.  I remember writing several blog posts as I documented the "buying your first home" journey and what that entails!  I absolutely love our home, and after living in it for a year it truly feels like "our home."  The location is very quiet, safe, and private, and yet it is only 5 minutes from the major road in our town that has every thing on it.  The space in this home is incredible and we have a large yard the kids can run around in.  I have spent my entire life moving around- even after getting married we moved countless times.  It feels nice to be home.  

The kids are all doing well, and getting bigger by the day it seems.  I do still grieve over not being able to have any more babies.  It will hit me at very random moments and when it hits, it is like being punched in the gut.  Time just stops and I have to take a moment and just let the tears fall.  There is no hiding from grief- no pretending it isn't there.  You simply must accept that you are feeling it…and so I do.  I cry, I grieve, and I remember those beautiful moments when I would have a contraction and I would just KNOW labor was beginning.  And then I would begin the most amazing process I have ever accomplished in my life- giving birth.  It was something nobody could do for me; I had to face it myself and bear it myself…and I did.  Those moments immediately after giving birth are ingrained in my head and no matter how bad my memory gets they never seem to dim- because second only to giving my life to Jesus, there is nothing greater on this earth that I have ever done.  And I am so, so sad that I will never get to do that again.  My kids are growing up and with each new phase David passes, I know it will be the last this house ever sees.  I also miss being able to homeschool.  They love their Christian school, but I miss homeschooling.  They take a small bus with other elementary kids from their Christian school, and I wrestle with having them face the world when all I really wanted was to have them in the home.  As a family.  Learning and growing together, with me as their teacher.  Their sisters and brothers as their classmates.  But I had to give that up too- and every day as I lay in bed "resting" I realize that it has to be this way.  But that doesn't make it any less sad for me.  I wanted nothing more than to have babies; to love those babies; to raise those babies; to teach those babies; to have those babies with me as long as I could.  But God had other plans…and because I serve the Lord with all of my heart I rest assured that even in my pain His plans are not only best, but they perfect and they are GOOD.  He loves my babies so much more than I do.  

Natalie, Anthony, Johnny, & Joey- Summer 2013
Me and Anthony
Anthony and Joey
Jeff and Me

The Tylers- Chrostmas 2013

Anthony, Joey, Natalie, Johnny, & Ryza lined up to brush their teeth!
Joey's kindergarten school picture
Me and Anthony

Me, Johnny,and Natalie playing hide and go seek lol


Me and Jeffy
Anthony's 3rd grade school picture 
Johnny, Anthony, Natalie, and Ryza- Natalie's 5th B-day

Johnny and Natalie
Jeff and Natalie- Natalie's 5th B-day
Jeff and ALL the kiddos!!
Natalie and Johnny (they are best friends!)
Baby David
Me and David
David (1 1/2) and Ryza (2 1/2)
Joey sporting his glasses (which he wears on certain occasions, lol)

Kid pit
Me and Jeffy Poo

Perhaps the biggest change that has happened in the past few weeks is Jeff's ministry position has changed.  In 2005 Jeff and I graduated from Zion Bible College (now called Northpoint Bible College) and moved to Albany, NY where we began an internship with Pastor Keith Davey, founder of New Hope Ministries.  That internship turned into a relationship- Pastor Keith and his wife poured their heart and their soul into us.  They showed us how to run a church, teaching us the practical aspects of finances, running a building, keeping up maintenance, and doing the taxes.  But then they took us alongside them and showed us what it means to be a pastor.  What it means to do ministry.  To feed the poor, shelter the homeless, heal the hurting, father the orphan, fill the gap, light the dark, rescue the lost, give hope to the hopeless, and preach the gospel.  He looked at my husband and didn't see a former-crack-head-turned-newly-graduated-bible-school-student…he saw a man with the call of God on his life.  And he gave him a chance.  He gave him more than a chance- he pulled him in and took him under and make Jeff a Pastor of one of his churches.  We served under Pastor Keith and Susan Davey for 5 years before the Lord called us to leave.  And now I am extremely excited to say, that the Lord has opened the door for us to minister under Pastor Keith again!  As of a week ago, Jeff has been made the Associate Pastor at New Hope Ministries. ( Check out the ministry's website here!! ) I am so humbled and yet so incredibly excited for this chance to work with Pastor Keith and Susie again, and I know that God must have big plans.  We are still going to live in our house in Amsterdam- the Lord has not lead us to move, we feel we are to stay right where we are.  We are just going to do what we have always done- serve Jesus with all of our hearts.  If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is this: when you serve Jesus with all your heart, and you walk uprightly before Him, then you NEVER have to fear the path He leads you on.  EVERY step is directed and ordered by Him for those who have wholly surrendered their lives in His hands, and live that trust out in full integrity.

I am so happy for Jeff.  This is the kind of ministry he was born to do.  And even more so, I am grateful not only for this ministry opportunity but for the way they have accommodated for my illness.  They have arranged Jeff's schedule in such a way that he is able to be home as much as I need him to be.  Albany is almost an hour away from our house and I am very sick…which is my next update for you all.  I hate these updates- I feel like I should have more to say, or at least better things to say.  Last week I had a biopsy done to test for small fiber neuropathy.  If you remember the blog post I did when I posted pictures of the zapping test I had done, that was a test for large fiber neuropathy.  That was when they stuck needless in my legs and then tased me lol.  It was very painful and only was able to test the large fibers, as the small fibers are too small to test that way.  So they did a punch biopsy in two places on my leg- one on my upper thigh, one on the front of my foot.  This test had been talked about for the past 4 months, but had been put off.  As of a month ago I started exhibiting some symptoms on my legs and feet that warranted this test to now be done.  I was terrified!!  I felt so silly because it's not really a big deal, and after everything I have had done this really shouldn't have had me so worried!!  I had all natural, drug-free child birth for cryin' out loud and I am afraid of a 20 minute out-patient procedure- done WITH anesthetic??  But it turned my fears were somewhat founded lol.  I had a few shots of local anesthetic and then in each spot he basically dug out a hole and had the skin and tissue and nerves sent to be biopsied- it was a very small hole, but something about having a hole in your foot and your leg just really freaked me out.  And after the anesthetic wore off it hurt like crazy!!  It's been a week and it still hurts.  He poured something inside the hole to cauterize it and stop the bleeding.  I didn't get any stitches so it's healing naturally and I was told there will be a scar- but not getting any stitches made it so much worse because I kept taking off the bandage and looking at it even though it was gross and it really freaked me out to look at!  
Other than that I started yet another medication a few weeks ago.  It was one they tried to put me on last year but I couldn't take it because Jeff was working nights and this medication really knocked me out at night.  But now that Jeff is home every night, I asked to give it another try- and it certainly does knock me out at night!  Oh man, sometimes it's like I've been knocked upside the head with a barstool!  (Because of course I know exactly what that feels like.)  But I think that's one of the reasons I am having some success with it- because I get a full night's sleep most nights, which is something I was never getting before.  So between all the medications, I am holding it together…but just barely.  I don't know what to say folks.  My medication is keeping me breathing and eating and talking, but not much else.  This pain is just out of this world- it slowly conquers everything they give me.  My body is a shell of exhaustion and fatigue, always hurting and weak.  And the medication that just keeps me going has taken away so much of my memory and my basic ability to think and reason- such a terrible trade off.  
So what next?  Well, either the biopsy will confirm small fiber polyneuropathy or it won't.  If it doesn't, my neurologist wants to send me to the Mayo Clinic or to a specialist hospital in Boston.  Either I agree to that or I simply stop the process and accept the unknown downward spiral of my health.  Accept that the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome I got 5 years ago most likely destroyed my central nervous system and it is progressively getting worse over time.  

I feel like I have lost everything.  I wake up in pain.  I go about my day weak and in pain, barely able to just do the minimum and needing Jeff every day.  A trip to the grocery store once a week is something I wait to do for the day I most feel up to it.  By the end of every day Jeff usually is carrying me up and down the stairs.  On Sunday I get dressed, do my hair and make-up, and go to church- sometimes falling asleep right in the middle of service.  Sunday is an exhausting day.  I realize I am sharing a lot with you right now…I am sharing everything with you.  I dunno, maybe someone out there reads this and feels these same gritty emotions that I feel.  And for that one person I feel that every bit of honesty is worth it.  When Jeff started his new position in Albany last week I felt like everything came crashing down on top of me.  I felt like he was happy- like he got this position doing everything he is called to do and I am just being left behind.  He has a routine with the kids now and can get by fine without me.  The kids have their new school and they have their dad, Jeff has his life's calling and is doing his passion…and I have nothing.  Because they were my everything.  And now I cannot do that anymore.  And their lives are moving on and they have adjusted and accommodated for my absence and inability and are now able to do life without me.  Completely without me.  It is almost too much to bare…it is like the ocean has just swallowed me up…one minute I had it all- I was staring into the eyes of Jesus walking on water, and the next…

I am under water.  Hopelessly sinking and drowning under the very water I was standing on only moments ago.  Now it is drowning me.

I have nothing- except something.  I see one thing in the midst of all of this.  When I cry, and when I think of how much I have lost, and when I am laying in bed and I can't stop the pain, or when I can't even make my own body move- I see one thing.  I see eyes.  I see a hand.  I see Someone whose face is so close to mine I don't even have to move to touch Him.  Jesus takes my hand every time.  Every time.  

Every. Single. Time.

He does not stop my tears.  He does not make me happy.  He does not take my pain, give me movement, put me back in my life, or make everything better.  But he does lift my mouth above the ocean that threatens to drown me.  And in that moment, I breathe.  I stay nose to nose with my Savior and I make it another moment.  Another hour.  Another evening.  

Another day.

I don't know how to be anything but real with you.  This is the hardest thing I have ever walked through.  Life is hard right now.  I am grieving.  The physical pain I am in every waking moment is trumped only by my emotional pain at not being able to live the life I once had with my family.  But I am NEVER, EVER alone.  Jesus is not some nice feeling, some "glad it works for you", some religion, or some among many.  He is Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Rapha, Jehovah Shammah, Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Nissi, Jehovah Raah….He is God my Provider, God my Healer, God the Present One, God my Peace, God my Banner, and God my Shepherd.  HE IS.  Whatever I need, whenever I need it, however I need it, in whatever way I need it HE IS.  My soul longs for nothing because HE satisfies it all.  I may grieve at present and I may grieve in this body and I may grieve in this life but there is not a single part of my soul that grieves…because one day I will shed this grief and pain wracked body and every single longing will be met and satisfied in HIM. 

Friends, HE IS.  There are no trials or troubles in this life that can overtake you, because if you've placed your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ then your soul has been redeemed.  I write and speak and live and move with unapologetic conviction because you weren't there when I needed a savior.  You weren't there when my ten-year-old spirit cried out to be united with it's Maker.  You weren't there in my prayer closet as my life was guided and directed in it's every step.  You weren't there when I was given a choice and I chose the darker path- yet the one I knew I was called to.  You weren't there when I was told I wouldn't be having any more children.  You weren't there when I woke up every hour shaking and crying and unable to take any more medication.  You weren't there when all we had was God.  You weren't there when I had to put my kids in school, you weren't there when my body started shutting down, you weren't there when I told the kids mommy was sick….you weren't there when I lost everything.  

But HE was.  

HE still IS.  

I set out to update you on my life.  To tell you what the Tyler's are doing.   The Tyler kids are doing amazing- they are growing and thriving and are more beautiful than ever and growing in the Lord daily.  Jeff is the new Associate Pastor at New Hope Ministries and is doing incredible, amazing inner city ministry and absolutely loving it.  Ashley Tyler is very sick, but she is so in love with Jesus.  And they are madly in love- so much more now even than the day they got married.

I would have to say that the Tyler's are doing wonderfully. I truly would.    

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Other Son

The story of the Prodigal Son always used to bother me.  In case you don't know this Bible story, here is the recap:  There are two sons, the oldest one is a hard working son who loves his father and the youngest one is a lazy thankless son who wants to leave his fathers house.  Upon leaving his fathers house he is given his entire inheritance in monetary form.  He then goes out and blows this inheritance on gambling, women, drinking and you get the point, all the while the other brother is at home dutifully working with his father.  After a time goes by, the wayward son blows through all of his inheritance money and realizes that he has nothing left with which to live on.  He then goes and gets work- but it is pitiful work and he is reduced to eating slops with pigs.  He decides it would be better to go back to his fathers house and beg for work because even his father's servants have it better than he does.  While he is walking on the path back to his father's house, he is preparing to humble himself and beg for work from his father- but he never gets the chance.  Because when his father sees him in the distance he runs out to meet him and begins hugging him and adorning him in the best clothes and jewelry that they had.

The son never even gets a chance to beg for work- the father is so happy that his son has returned, he has an animal killed for meat because they are going to have a big old party that night to celebrate!  So then the other son basically says what I used to be thinking; he says are we really going to have a party?  For my loser brother who has been living a party since he left?  What about me?  I have been serving faithfully with you this whole time and he goes and spends all of your money and just because he comes back you're throwing him a party?  

So really, this story used to always seem so unfair to the first son.  This first son was the model of faithfulness his whole life- he worked hard, did what his father asked of him, remained steady and spent his prime "partying years" being a good man.  He didn't go and get drunk on his 21st birthday, he didn't sleep around with all the beautiful girls in town, and he didn't sleep late every day doing whatever he felt like it.  Then he watches while his little brother does just that- not only does he do all that but he has the nerve to do all that with his father's money.

That would have been tolerable I suppose because the lazy little brother finally left home to run wild.  I would imagine at that point the older brother was relived- he could finally have some peace in the house with just him and his father working steadily; working hard.  Week after week they worked side-by-side, man to man.  It was good and rewarding and I imagine the older brother felt somewhat proud of the man he was becoming- especially proud that he could make his father so proud...what after the devastation of having his youngest son take his inheritance and go off like that.  So now we have a son who has not only been working hard to please himself, but also working hard to please his father and take the place of the son who so callously abandoned him.

But then one day, the party boy comes home.

And dad throws him a party.

Can you imagine how heart wrenching that must have felt?  To have worked so hard- not just the weeks the brother was gone, but really your whole life.  To always be the responsible one.  The moral one.  The one to do what is right.  The hard working one.  The one to stick close to your father.  And then you watch your reckless little brother trample on all you hold dear- and when his money and fun runs out, he comes back to a reward.  To a celebration.

The father's response to the oldest son's complaint has taken me years to comprehend.  In fact, I am not sure I fully understood it until this past year of my life.  When the oldest son complained to his father about the warm reception the youngest son was getting, the father says something that has taken me most of my life to truly understand: He says 'Son, you were always with me and all I have has always been yours.'


If you really see what is happening here- if you really understand what this story is saying, then those words hit like a ton of bricks.  You see, this story is a parable, meant to be an illustration of life with Jesus.  There are those of us who have served Him our whole lives, and some who live wild lives and then come to know Him.  And when those people come to know Jesus, He greets them with open arms and a celebration- just like the father in this story did when his son returned home to him.  There is grace upon grace for all who ever come to Jesus regardless of ANY life you ever lived- Jesus just wants His sons and daughters to come home to Him and when they do, it's worth celebrating to Him.

But to those who have been with him, working year after year, there is no party.  In fact, we take part in those celebrations for those who return home.  But God forbid that we should ever be like that oldest son and begrudge those returning to the Father their rightful celebration...because here's the thing:
Being with Jesus IS the reward.

Every second I have spent serving Him has been a blessed reward.  I have known peace beyond measure, joy unspeakable, and a love so secure I didn't have to go looking anywhere else for it.  I have tasted life, seen His miracles, known His goodness, drank His mercies, rested in His grace, and moved in His Spirit.  He has guided me, tested me, grown me, proved me, forgiven me, placed me, held me, and blessed me.  I was kept in His hand, brought to His promises, walked through His faithfulness, and protected under His goodness.  I was led, taught, and allowed to grow into a person who knew God and His ways.  I know His Word and it has spoken to me daily for many, many years.  I have had the privilege of praying prayers and then seeing those prayers answered...or not seeing them answered and then seeing my God come to my recuse and comfort in an entirely different manner.

The point is, all the years that the prodigal was running...running to pain, running to loneliness, running to himself- I was living with the Father.  Living in safety.  And that is a gift.

He is the gift.

It IS it's own reward.  The daily life of following Jesus truly is a reward.  It is a gift- a precious gift that I was blessed to live day in and day out.  And to envy life on the other side- to think that the prodigal got to "have it all" and then come home to a grand welcome is missing the crux of the story...for you see, the prodigal came to the end of himself and realized that he gave up the best of the best and came crawling home on hands and knees, wishing only to BEG and become but a SERVANT in his Father's home because that would have been far better than any life away from it.

No life away from God is pleasing.  Because once the beauty wears off you are left with scars.  And you spend your time wishing you had never left, devising a plan to crawl back and beg for a place among the lowest in the household.  Or sadly, some never find it in themselves to come back.

But those who stay- the oldest brothers- are in possession of this gift every moment of every day they wake.  They eat, sleep, breathe, and live in the very presence of the Father...without realizing what a gift it is.  This year I relied on Jesus for my very breath.  He was my compass, my truth, my family's security and everything I rested on and leaned on while walking through the darkest of nights.  I have never had to spend one night away from my God.  That is a gift.

That is THE gift.

I will never begrudge a child returning home the celebration- because I can only imagine the joy that must be felt between Savior and the one being saved.  And all the while I will bow my head in sheer gratitude knowing that every single gift being bestowed upon that child is a gift that I have had in possession my entire life.  I have tried to write a blog describing my gratitude as to what it has been like living my whole life with Jesus, and I have not been able to do it justice.  The oldest son in this parable did not know of what he was in possession of...that daily he was in the presence of the very Father.

And I can assure you- there just is no place on earth worth being than daily in the presence of Jesus.

" your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  Psalm 16:11