My Papa is the great I AM

I always look forward to Summer.

Summer days are long and lazy and warm. Okay, oft times downright hot. But I don’t mind so much, because there’s always the promise of beach days and barbeques and road trips. And when the sun begins to set and dusk comes, the soothing pastel oranges and pinks paint the turquoise sky and the westward sea breeze cools the air and to me it’s the most magical time ever.

But as I look forward to Summer this year, I am facing radiation therapy.

Today they tattooed five freckles on me as reference points. Yes, much to the delight of my profusely painted son, Mom finally got inked! Then they did the first of twenty-five treatments I will have done every weekday over the next five weeks.

I was first diagnosed with and had surgery for endometrial cancer at the beginning of Lent and God never failed to tell me daily – sometimes several times a day – that He was with me every step of the way. The verses in my daily reading plan, scriptures that came up on social media, the worship songs we sang in church: all these were my heavenly Papa’s way of whispering to me that He had me in His very large and capable hands.

And as the time for these preventative treatments drew near – and I began to feel a bit anxious – I knew He would make His presence known to me once again.

And He does.

As I read the verse of the day, I am filled with thankfulness and joy that God sent His Son to die for not just my sins, but my burdens as well.

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 (NASB)

It’s a truth that has survived thousands of years, simply because it is THE Truth.

Today’s reading was in the book of Acts and in chapter 20, the mayor of Ephesus assures the rioting citizens that there was nothing anyone could do or say that would affect the prestige of their patron goddess, Artemis. In reality he was talking about a statue made with human hands, not a divine being. So how much more true are those words when applied to God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son!

Paul says in Acts 20:20-21, “I never shrank back from telling you what you wanted to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike – the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A few verses down he declares that his life matters little to him compared to the task the Lord has set before him. His eyes on his Savior, he plants the seeds. He knows the Word will win out against those who try to distort it or discredit it. Even persecution of the saints will not stop it.

Because God is in charge of the harvest.

And He is the great I AM.

As His beloved daughter, how can I do anything but rest assured that I am loved and cared for by Him no matter what I am facing.

Hebrews 7:25

See: Jesus is able

 

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Fear not – Christmas is coming!

Things are different this Christmas season. The world is not the same.

While our society’s moral compass has been spinning out of control for quite some time, recent events in San Bernardino brushed a little too close for comfort with me and my husband. Up until only a couple of months ago, our granddaughter had weekly appointments at the center that was attacked. Our daughter works at the medical center that received victims – and a bomb threat. The assailants’ munitions-filled residence was less than a mile away from my mom’s home.

September 11th was beyond horrendous. Paris was devastating. But this was a terrorist act carried out by a native-born citizen on U.S. soil.

And this was our home town.

Despite what some may claim, God can help and prayer does work. Cling to both.

Because in the days to come we are all going to need the Lord like we never have before. Being American will not save you. Neither will charitable acts or being morally or politically conservative. Even filling a pew every weekend doesn’t guarantee your salvation.

The One whose birth we celebrate this timeLuke 2:10-11 of year is the only One who can give you eternal life and true peace. Live for Jesus. Hold fast to Him. Talk to Him. Spend time each day in His Word, seeking His direction and guidance.

The sad news is it’s not going to get better. But the good news is: God is in control!

And so, just as we eagerly anticipated Santa’s visit when we were children, thinking he would never come, we can look forward to a day when our Lord will call us up to live in eternity with Him. A place that’s exciting, not boring. A place that’s filled with joy, not sadness and pain. A place that’s like our favorite Christmas memory – multiplied a million times over!

I pray I can enjoy that celebration with all of you someday.

 

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'”  Luke 2:10-11

See: Pray for San Bernardino

Running from Persephone* – part one

Sometimes I hardly noticed her. Usually when the days were warm and long like a sunbather stretched out on the beach. Those were the times my hours abounded with great plans and held endless possibilities of expectations fulfilled. Nary a cloud could be seen between me and my sunny disposition.

Then the rumors would begin, the hints at the demise of my contentment.

A careless word. An imagined barb. A painful memory whispered up from my childhood. My confidence was an ever fragile façade and once again its cracks began to show.

I’m created in my Father’s image, I’d remind myself. What I presume others think of me doesn’t matter. The past is in the past and doesn’t define me now.

Yet apprehension took hold as I caught glimpses of her hovering in the corners of my mind.

A fractional distortion in the mercury, a subtle shift of the planets, a page turned on the calendar. I struggled to keep the darkness at bay.

The change of seasons aren’t so bad after all, I reasoned. Cooler air would certainly be welcome and the holidays with all the festivities… who doesn’t love them?

You, she whispered and I knew she was right.

I attempted to stay busy, engage myself in projects, tell myself each night that there’s lots to look forward to tomorrow. But the next day the empty repetition of mundane tasks overwhelmed me until I was drowning in a sea of futility.

She already had my muse running scared. Too soon she’d have her locked away in some hidden closet of my brain, one that I couldn’t find, let alone had the key to. And when she was done intimidating her, she’d turn on me.

And so, as she moved closer I would begin to shrink. Not from fear, but in resignation.

Shadows elongated and colors dimmed. Apathy grew. Clear bright days were deceptive harbingers of the bone-chilling cold of cloudless nights. Sadness deepened. I cringed under the covers, not wanting to leave the balmy dream world they promised for the barren reality I must face.

In my darkest times all I could do was exist and question why I did. “What’s the use?” wasn’t just a cliché, it was a mantra. The grayness smothered me like an old wool blanket, itchy and smelling of dust. I was too weak to shirk it off, so I lugged it around.

Like a kidnap victim needing rescue I dropped hints. But few people realize there are shades of blue so dark they make black holes look like cool, clear lakes. I felt like the cursed pirate, tied to a cannon at the bottom of the ocean, unable to feel, unable to die. Unable to rescue myself. And so I used what little energy I had to shore up the image that I was well and fine.

In the meantime my tormentor thrived, fed and kept alive by the ultimate darkness, the Prince himself. He used her to scare me, to make me believe I was useless and unloved, a lump of flesh that would never make my mark on this world and never be missed if I were gone.

The battle raged on, the light at the end of the tunnel shrouded in fog.

Through it all, I clung to God, though I sometimes wondered why He even bothered with me when I barely had the emotional strength to keep up my side of the relationship.

Yet somehow I knew He’d bring me into the light again. Maybe the next day. Maybe the next season. Time would pass. Spring would bloom. My heart would warm and my limbs would thaw out just enough for me to claw and drag my way out of the dark and into a place of hope.

But she’d still be there. Hiding in the shadows. Waiting to drag me down again.

This was my struggle with depression.

It got even worse.

But then it got better.

“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You.           Show me where to walk, for I give myself to You.”            Psalm 143:7-8

*In Greek mythology, Persephone was the goddess of Spring and also ruled with Hades as queen of the underworld, where she was compelled to return to every winter.

By doing, I understood

Some might label it a campaign or a program, maybe even a gimmick. But what our pastor presented to us three years ago was oh, so much more than that!

It was a call to be a true disciple of Christ.asah shama

The precepts were simple:

  • Intentionally spending intimate time with God and His Word every day.
  • Totally surrendering our time, talent and treasure to Him.
  • Experiencing more through worship, community, fasting and service.
  • Loving like Jesus loves.

All of them familiar to someone like me who’d grown up in a Christian home. Yet how many times had I truly devoted myself to any of the above?

And if I considered myself a child of God why didn’t I feel close my Creator? Why did I walk out of church every Sunday feeling painfully alone despite the sea of worshipers around me? And where the heck was this spiritual joy I’d been promised!?

Knowing our walk with the Lord was more like a halfhearted meander, my husband and I knew things had to change.

The first thing we did was join the marriage fellowship on Wednesday nights, which eventually led to our serving as table leaders. It was there that we formed so many wonderful friendships that our mega-church began to feel infinitely smaller.

We also began tithing faithfully, something we knew we needed to make a priority, but had always put off, thinking we couldn’t afford it. But when we fully realized that everything we have belongs to God and is a gift from Him – especially the sacrifice of His Son – we knew the least we could do was give a tenth of it back to Him. And as we gave – and got excited about giving – we saw God provide for us in so many unexpected ways, even allowing us to sponsor not just one child through our church’s missions outreach, but three!

But the biggest area of growth for me has been my closeness to God.

I’ve written in a prayer journal off and on throughout my life, mostly when times got tough. I was like a drunk after a long binge. I’d go about my business, doing things my way, thinking the Lord owed me everything I asked for. Then it would all catch up with me and I would vomit my agony out on paper, railing at God because my life was so miserable and He hadn’t answered any of my prayers.

And did I bother to see what His Word had to say to me? Barely. Read the Bible from cover to cover in a year? Why should I when most of the Old Testament was boring and irrelevant? Or so I thought.

But as I spent time in the scriptures and talked to God in my journal He began to change me. Verses sprang out at me, touching me, convicting me, many times bringing me to tears. I began to lean on Him more, trust Him more, listen and obey His voice of guidance. The worship songs at church held more meaning and I anticipated Heaven as a place of wondrous glory instead of one of endless boredom.

Most of all, I’ve become so much more confident in my prayers… and infinitely more sure of my Father’s wondrous love for me.

Last fall, when Crossroads transitioned to LifeGroups, my husband and I stepped out in faith and opened our tiny apartment to anyone who needed a group in our area. I never believed eleven complete strangers could become such a tight knit, loving group in such a short period of time!

Despite our financial struggles, we’re still tithing. And God continues to provide for us as He teaches us trust and wisdom in this area of our lives. The truth is, we are rich in so many more blessings than monetary ones.

I still continue to do my quiet time with God, but there have been days I’ve missed and I don’t just mean I’ve skipped it. I can feel the difference in my attitude and in my connection with Him and I know it pains Him when I ignore Him. But I also know He understands and is helping me to be more intentional, just as I know, in His time, He will answer my prayers about using my talents for Him.

I am a work in progress – His work in progress! – and I continue to draw on His peace and strength as He refines me.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last three years, it’s that God created me just the way I am to be used by Him. I am His daughter and He is my Heavenly Papa and life is so much sweeter having a relationship with Him, instead of just a passing acquaintance.

        Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the              hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord                     has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”                                                            Exodus 24:7

© 2014 Susan M. Zanone

 

Daddy’s girl

It was the day of our granddaughter’s baptism and I lay stretched out next to her on her parents’ bed, watching her sleep, mesmerized by her perfect smallness and amused by her squeaky little snores. How strong her grip was on my finger, I marveled.

Much stronger than the day she was born.

Then came the call, pulling us from the celebration of new life to where its thread was beginning to unravel.

I stood by the hospital bed, gazing at the man who lay there, wondering how he could be so frail and still be my dad, concerned by the subtle wheeze in his breathing. How strong his grip was on my hand, I marveled.

Much stronger than I had expected.

Were these claw-like hands and thin arms really the same rugged ones that swung a hammer to build a playhouse? Were the lips obscured by the oxygen mask really the same that forever held a pipe in one corner and an easy grin in the other? How could the unsteady shuffling feet of recent years be the same as those whose purposeful stride had me shadowing his every step?

I’m standing in the garage as the summer breeze wafts between the two doors, large and small, the smell of mown grass tingeing the air a vibrant green and mixing with the pungent scents of fresh cut pine and cherry tobacco. The methodical play by play of a baseball game emanates from the radio on a shelf above my reach and sawdust carpets the concrete floor beneath my feet.

Near me stands my dad.

His soft faded work clothes hang comfortably on his slender frame and the brim of his fishing hat is turned up in the back – fedora style – adding a debonair touch to the stained canvas.

I watch as he tidies up his work area, sorting nails and screws into baby food jars and returning tools to their designated place on the pegboard that spans the wall. His work bench de-cluttered, he takes a foxtail brush off its hook and begins to sweep the surface, the thin trail of smoke from his pipe shifting and curling as it wafts skyward to settle in an ethereal cloud above his head.

I don’t remember doing much more than just being there. But just being there with him was always enough.

Enough to put summer and baseball at the top of my favorites list. Enough to cause the poignant scents from those times to trigger sweet memories on countless occasions over the next half-century.

He taught me the foxtrot by taking me in his arms and letting me place my feet on top of his. He passed on to me a love of cats and books and movies and history and a conviction that everyone has something interesting to say – all you have to do is strike up a conversation with them. He led more by example than by words, taking our family to church every Sunday and faithfully serving there as an usher.

Most importantly, he accepted me exactly as I was, never comparing me to anyone else or asking why I wasn’t different. If our concept of God is formed by our earthly father, my Heavenly One must love me very much.

“Are you going to hold my hand all night?” he asks, with a twinkle in his hazel eyes.

“If you want me to,” I reply with a ready smile.

He lets go of my fingers and I lean in to kiss his forehead.

“Love you, Daddy,” I say, wondering when and why I ever stopped calling him that. “We’re praying for you.”

I turn away with his thank you, cherishing his sweet smile.

And praising God for the assurance that we’ll meet again in Heaven someday.

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering,
and the time for my departure is near.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me
the crown of righteousness, which the Lord,
the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day –
and not only to me, but also to all who have longed
for his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8

See: Miss you, Daddy

© 2012 Susan M. Zanone

Of tidiness and godliness

My brain kicks in and my hands go on autopilot, even as my eyes scan the greeting cards before me.

This one is cute. Oops. Envelopes are sticking up. Hmmm, maybe this one. Uh-oh, those are facing the wrong way. Ah, I like this one. Wait. That doesn’t go there. I saw it somewhere else. Where does it belong?

“Type-A, type-A,” my husband murmurs in my ear, a knowing smile on his face.

Yep, that’s me. Perfectionist, OCD, anal, type-A… No matter what you call it, it really only has one meaning.

Selfish.

Selfish, because things always have to be a certain way. My way.

But my ways are not God’s ways and so, in His absolute wisdom and infinite sense of humor, He blessed me with children.

Four rambunctious, imaginative, messy little traviesos* (with the emphasis on messy).

I’m sure you can guess this was not how I had envisioned my future. I wanted a well-ordered house not a home that looked like it’d been ransacked by raccoons. I wanted to be called a best-selling author not “Mommm!” I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids.

But God had other plans.

And so, over the years, He taught me a few things. Not every mess needs to be fixed. The self-confident glint in a child’s eyes trumps the non-matching colors in their outfit. And knowing Jesus is more important than knowing how to make a proper bed.

My kids are now all grown and my oldest daughter is just like me. Everything in her little abode is just so and she keeps a vigilant eye out to make sure it stays that way. She tweaks knick-knacks in quarter-inch increments and puts things away before her husband is finished with him.

She makes me so proud.

Yet just when she was prepared to embrace the traditional responsibilities of motherhood, she and her husband were blessed with a very special child. A little girl who has Down’s syndrome. And requires heart surgery. And whose unique future needs are known only to the One who created her.

God has other plans for my daughter’s life as well.

But unlike me, she can already see His hand at work and is fully prepared to let Him guide her along the way.

She makes me so proud.

Now you might think the lesson ends there. But like every plan plotted in heaven, it goes so much deeper than that.

You see, when I came into her life, my daughter already had a mother. A woman who was struggling to overcome the scars of a painful childhood and so couldn’t provide a normal one for her own offspring.

No, my daughter didn’t need a mother.

But she did need a mommy.

And the Lord used me, despite my selfish nature, to help her become the godly, loving woman her own daughter would need to nurture her.

That’s pretty humbling.

And so much more rewarding than a tidy house.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

*Travieso is a Spanish term of endearment meaning “mischievous or naughty”.

© 2012 Susan M. Zanone

The voice of reason

There are times in life when I feel like I’m living in a perpetually precarious mental state.

Anything is liable to set me off.

Lack of sleep. Lack of food.

Fluctuating weather. Fluctuating hormones.

Battling a virus in my body. Battling a virus in my computer (that one is guaranteed to make me want to hurl my laptop through the nearest window).

Part of it is just human nature. I mean, when you think of it (and look at the condition of our world today) we’re all living on the edge to one degree or another.

A good portion of it, however, is artistic temperament, which in my case is just a fancy way of saying it’s genetic.

Yes, in our clan we all have very vivid imaginations. Like Annie Banks in Father of the Bride, I come from a long line of major over reactors. We will pounce on the mere hint of a possible disaster like a storm chaser on a dark cloud and begin building elaborate morbid scenarios that have no foundation in reality whatsoever.

Or as O’Malley facetiously said in High Road to China: “Insanity runs rampant in your family!”

I have made efforts over the years to overcome this tendency. As a child I could usually use logic to explain away the strange noises and random shadows that inhabited the dark. Apparently I didn’t believe in monsters (though earthquakes scared the crap out of me, which is a sorry state to be in when you live in California).

Much later I learned to apply deductive reasoning to threatening circumstances by thinking of the worst possible scenario and asking myself, “Could I handle that?” Invariably the impending doom was not as drastic – or realistic – as I’d imagined.

Of course, life still happened.

Emotional abuse. An ugly divorce.

Crippling depression. Financial devastation.

The inevitable worries and stresses of being a wife and mother.

I often thought of Grandma Fontaine in Gone With the Wind who as a child had witnessed her entire family being massacred and told Scarlett, “…since that time I’ve never been afraid of anything or anybody because I’d known the worst that could happen to me.”

But the worst that could happen to me – to anyone – is being separated from God. And I’ve never known that.

Nor will I.

Because along with the crazy gene pool, my parents passed on to me a belief in and a love for that same divine Father.

The One who knew before I was ever conceived all that I would go through.

The One who sent His Son to die so that I could rely on Him to guide me through it.

While daily irritants can pile up and send me over the proverbial mental ledge (and doesn’t it always seem like the little things are harder to handle than the big ones?), God invariably pulls me back before I hit the pavement.

And as life leads me down paths that can change from familiar and smooth to treacherous and seemingly impassable in a heartbeat, God never fails to steady me and lead the way.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.
And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.
So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
John 14:27

© 2012 Susan M. Zanone

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