Living in the “Before”

The other day it was a warm spring afternoon and I went out on our trampoline in the yard with my five year old. I was just laying there on the trampoline, eyes closed, absorbing the sunshine. My five year old was rolling around, stopping every couple minutes to come and cuddle up with me before he got restless again and rolled some more. And I had this thought, “Am I living in the Before?” “Before”, that time period that comes before the storm, before the flood, before the tragedy, before the war. That time that we look back on and say, everything was great, Before… 

I saw a meme yesterday that brought this all back to mind. A young girl saying, My life will begin when I grow up. A young woman saying, My life will begin once I get that promotion. An older woman saying, My life will begin after I retire. And then the final picture, the woman on her deathbed, wondering where her life went. 

All of these things point to the need to live in the present. Today. This is the day that the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Today. 

I am very guilty of getting caught up in the future. Just have to make it through this season then it will be better. Just get this last kid potty trained, then life will be easier. Just need to get through this school year with the kids. Just need to get through this summer break. Just need to get this kid graduated. And I totally lose track of the fact that today is what life is about. Not tomorrow. Today I am a wife and a mother. Today I am a friend. Today I am a child of God. Today is something to be celebrated. We’re alive! We’ve got opportunities all day long to show love to other people. Right now I can talk to God, worship him. Right now I can serve the people around me. Right now I can notice the earth around me and be thankful for it. 

I don’t know what the future holds. I just read a news article from a mainstream media site talking about the fact that nuclear war is becoming a real possibility again. And stuff like that can send you over the edge into despair and worry and fear. I think about the everyday people in Ukraine who perhaps are thinking about the Before times in their lives. Longing to go back. People in my own country that just survived mass shootings. People who just surived tornados. All thinking of that Before time. 

As a Christian I look forward to Jesus coming back. Come Lord Jesus, Come! Come bring an end to all this suffering and pain. But when he comes back, if I am still alive, I want to greet him with confidence. Yes, I took every day that you gave me and lived it fully. I delighted in you daily and sought to do the work you gave me, daily. I did not bury the talents you gave me because I was afraid, but I used them to the fullest. 

I think using our talents to the fullest is not this big complicated thing we make it out to be. It’s simply living, present, engaged, listening to the Holy Spirit moment by moment as we savor the day that is around us. 

Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

We serve Christ today. Not tomorrow. We serve by going through our ordinary day doing our ordinary things with joy and thankfulness. We reach out to the people that are around us. Share kindness and hope. Today. Not tomorrow. This is our Before. Before Jesus comes back. Let’s live this Before as fully and joyfully as possible. 

Trustworthy

To say that I’ve had a hard week would kind of be like saying the ocean has a lot of water. Perhaps just a little bit of an understatement. 

I was thinking about it last night, and I was thinking, none of these things stressing me out are actually my problems. This is just me, trying to help other people through their problems. Their junk. Not mine. But then I had this niggling thought of, is that really true? Because actually, when we help other people deal with their junk, it inevitably stirs up some of our own. 

I am realizing that this week, I’ve had some serious doubts and worries about the Goodness of God and being able to trust him. I think, when I say that I “trust” God, what I’m actually saying is, “I’m really confident that God is going to work out everything the way that I want it.” And this week I’ve had to face the stark fear that Maybe, God is not going to work things out the way I want in my loved ones’ lives. Maybe the happy ending that I’ve been praying for, isn’t going to actually happen. Maybe God isn’t going to answer my prayer and keep all harm far, far away. 

That has been hard for me to accept. Again, an understatement. 

I feel helpless. And the power of prayer doesn’t feel as strong when there are no guarantees that we will get the answer we want. 

Yesterday I had to walk away from someone I loved, leaving their problems in someone else’s hands. I started walking back to my car. Tears running down my cheeks. I sat in my car and sobbed for a minute. My brain numb. And I felt the Holy Spirit whisper into my soul the word, Trustworthy. 

And as I sit and think about that word, I realize that I have been guilty of creating God in my own image. I know how I want things to work out, I know how I want God to move in these situations, and so I create a God in my mind that does everything that I want him to do. And then, when crisis comes, it feels like God is not being God. Except that he is being God. Just not my little image of him that I’ve created. He is being God: Omnipotent, Sovereign. And, as he reminded me yesterday, Trustworthy. 

I think what the word Trustworthy means is, God is who he says He is. He can do what he says He can do. (To quote an old Beth Moore Bible Study). My knowledge of who He is and what He can do comes from the Bible, not from my imagination. And when my ideas get shaken up, I’ve got to return to that firm foundation. 

And so I find myself on new ground. Perhaps it’s Holy ground. It feels really unstable, but I think that’s just because my legs are weak, not because the ground is shaky. It’s a place of saying, Your will be done, not mine. I’m sacrificing my preconceived ideas, and instead am going to walk into the unknown, clinging to the truth that you are good. Your love is wider and deeper than mine. You are Trustworthy. 

In Memory of Grandpa Picazo

This week I have found my mind wandering back to the day that my grandfather died. My grandfather Mardoqueo Picazo, known as Mardy, or Grandpa, was a great man.  He was a US Navy WWII veteran, broadcast engineer, minister, missionary, and radio personality among many other things… As I sit here, I don’t think I can properly write down all his accomplishments. Instead I’ll tell you about his role as Grandpa. 

I remember sitting on his lap when I was very young, listening to his deep rumbling voice as he read stories to me. I remember him sitting at the head of the table at meal times. He had a rule that when us grandchildren were done eating, we had to come over to his chair and ask permission to leave the table. Looking back, I can see it was an excuse to get an extra hug and kiss before we ran off to play our own games. 

I remember the sparkle in his eyes, the amused smile. His love of corny puns and jokes. His warm hugs. 

I remember when I was fourteen, I flew from Haiti to the States to visit my grandparents and other relatives. My grandfather drove to another city to come pick me up at the airport. We drove back towards the small country town where my grandparents lived. When we were close to my grandparents’ farm, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some fruit. My grandfather proudly announced to the lady at the cash register that his granddaughter had come from Haiti to visit him. The lady looked surprised then eyed me carefully. (Keep in mind, I was a very quiet, reserved kid.) Then she leaned towards my grandfather and whispered, “Does she speak English?” My grandfather nodded gravely and said, “She gets by.” We got in the car and he chuckled to himself. My grandfather is Mexican American and has a slight Spanish accent. I am very white and have spoken English my entire life. He thought this was hilarious. 

As I think about it, my lasting impression of my grandfather was a gentle, humble man who quietly went about his days doing God’s work. No fanfare. Just quietly going about his business with a lot of humor mixed in. 

At the end of my grandfather’s life, after the passing of my grandmother, he ended up spending his last weeks at my home in hospice care. We had a lot of family coming in and out during that time. I remember times of sitting with my grandfather, singing the old hymns. By that time he was not able to communicate. And so I sat and held his hand and we sang songs that we knew he would remember. 

At the very end, I had the privilege of being in the room when he passed away. He was surrounded by family. My father recited the Twenty-third Psalm as he breathed his last. And I remember walking over to the corner of the room by myself, tears streaming down my face, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was sobbing, hands lifted up in worship, my mouth speaking words I did not know, and I had the impression of light, even with my eyes closed. 

And that is my final impression of my grandfather, and the legacy I want to live out and pass to my children and my grandchildren. May we live our lives in such a way that our passing is a Holy moment covered in the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

I am Unsinkable

The other day someone asked me how I was doing and an image came into my mind. Me as a rubber ducky out on the big ocean in the middle of a storm. Waves crashed over me and I bobbed in and out of the water, raced up and down monstrous waves, tossed every which direction. But I was still floating. I couldn’t sink. I was made to float and while I got dunked a lot, I always came back to the surface.  We recently watched the movie EndGame again. Thanos, the villain, has a line where he says, “I’m Inevitable”. And I find myself saying, with the same confidence, “I’m Unsinkable”. 

I can also tell you with certainty, that my confidence does not come from myself. It comes from a lifetime of following Jesus, and seeing time and time again, that he never fails me. It is being faced with crisis after crisis, hardship after hardship, and having the Holy Spirit fill me with His power so that I can press through. Survive. Thrive. It is standing up at Testimony time and saying, my testimony is that I don’t have any dramatic stories of how I fell to the depths and then God lifted me up. My testimony is that he kept me. Kept me from looking for love in the wrong places. Kept me from dangerous addictions. Kept me from being on the wrong side of the law. My testimony is saying, Look what God can do when you give him your life from a very young age. 

We were talking at our housechurch this past Sunday about hindrances people have that keep them from wanting to follow Jesus. I personally know people who feel like becoming a Christian is too big a sacrifice. There are too many things to give up. I would say the problem with this mindset is that they aren’t seeing the big picture. The following is an often-quoted excerpt from C.S. Lewis.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

I think about the richness of my life. I am not wealthy in worldly riches, but my treasures are uncountable. Eleven beautiful, amazing children who add worth to our world. Extended family and friends who love me. A husband who is 100% committed to our marriage and our family. A warm, peaceful home. A meaningful life that is full of purpose. A job that is so varied and complex that I can never grow bored and only rarely feels like drudgery. A church family that comforts, encourages, and constantly pushes me to grow. I am blessed beyond measure. 

There is no sacrifice in following Jesus. I have given up nothing of worth to walk this path. I have in fact gained unimaginable riches. My prayer, my hope, my longing, is that those who don’t have this confidence would be able to take hold of this truth. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. 

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Ephesians1:18-19b

Come join me. You too can be Unsinkable. 

For more information, here is a great article you can click on. https://www.faithward.org/how-do-you-become-a-christian/

Conflict and Emmanuel

The upcoming Christmas season has me conflicted. I have decided to not host our annual Christmas Party. And a lot of that has to do with trying to be sensitive to others. But, when I made the decision to not host this year, I admit, I felt a big sigh of relief. Which is why I feel conflicted. I love our annual Christmas party. It is almost better than Christmas morning itself. A time when I get to see all my friends in one place, share our house and all the Christmas decorations. A time to bake a ton of treats and cook yummy savory things to munch on. A time to just celebrate. A normal year, I would be devastated to not have our party. But this year, I’m not. 

I’m tired. Stretched thin. 

Every year is challenging, but then throwing in covid, quarantines, school shutdowns, a horrific election year, riots, more covid, a giant host of conspiracy theories to sift through…yeah, that kind of tipped the scale to Insanely Hard Year. I know I’m not the only one tired. Everyone seems to be in a race to get to January 1st. Like somehow the turning of the calendar page will make all the troubles go away.

So, tough year, no party. No concerts. No big events. Despite all that, I am trying to make this Christmas as meaningful as possible for our family. We did our traditional Decorate-for-Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving. Got a nice tree. Put up our nutcrackers. I made myself a Christmas Stick. We’ve got music playing. We’ve started our nightly Advent Readings with the kids. I got everyone a new Christmas mug and we’ve been having lots of hot cocoa and hot tea and hot apple cider. We’re off to a good start. We watched a Christmas movie. 

The kids are sad about things being different this year. Why?? They want to know. Umm. Covid. That is the answer for everything nowadays. But I secretly feel a little guilty because I am relieved to have an excuse. Yeah. Covid. Or, Mom is too tired to interact socially with other people this year. 

Fortunately, all my inner conflict and guilt is solely centered around social stuff. The real meaning of Christmas has my heart singing. This year it is hitting me even harder, a rush of joy, relief, awe, that Jesus chose to come to earth to save me. Save us. 

If anything, this year has been a good reminder of just how fallen and messed up we are. Our division, our fighting, our selfishness, our violence, our constant leaning towards evil. We are desperately in need of a Savior. Someone who can wipe the slate clean. Someone who can actually get into our hearts and change them. Someone who can rescue us from our self-destruction. 

I sat down to my hymnbook yesterday and turned to the Christmas section. My hymnbook is arranged by theme, so it has an Advent section. I played through the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. My husband came and sat at the piano with me and we sang together…

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save,

And give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,

And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come

And open wide our heav’nly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,

Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,

In ancient times didst give the law

In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As we begin this Christmas Season, this is my prayer. Come Lord Jesus, Come. Make all things new again. It’s been a rough year, and we have no guarantees that next year will be magically better. But, it doesn’t matter. Jesus has come. We now have hope. We have a future with Jesus to look forward to. And no matter how our circumstances and traditions change, Jesus doesn’t. His promises hold true. He came, he died, he rose again, he has given us his Holy Spirit. And one day we will see him face-to-face. 

And so we rejoice. Christmas is here. We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. 

You Have Not Yet Resisted

This week and last, I have been reading a chapter a day in Hebrews. It has been more of an academic/discipline type of reading than reading to gain deep insights. I have been trying to be faithful to read every day, and think about what I have read, but it has been more a gathering of interesting information than anything spiritual. Until… Yesterday morning. I have been struggling with a feeling of unease and lack of peace for a couple weeks now and I have been skirting around the reason why. Not wanting to face it head on. But knowing that I needed to. And then I opened the Bible yesterday morning and I felt like I had opened a room and unexpectedly found Jesus sitting in a chair, waiting for me, and his face was a bit stern and he said, We need to talk. 

And this is what he said:

Hebrews 12: 4-11

12  4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I have been struggling for a long time with my health. My body simply can’t handle sugar and lots of carbs. I am prediabetic. And whenever I hit periods of stress, I throw health out the window: 

I don’t care if this is bad for me. It’s going to help me unwind. It’s going to make me feel happy for a minute. Fighting my cravings is too much to handle right now. I deserve a treat. 

And this past week I have not been feeling well. My bad habits are quickly catching up with me. And I have been whining about it. It’s not fair. I can’t do everything. How am I supposed to homeschool and also go on a diet? It’s a psychological thing, I’ve got to figure out how to deal with that part first before I try to abstain. Etc etc. Lots of excuses. 

The verse that struck me the hardest from Hebrews 12 was verse four,  “ In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

For the record, I do not think that being overweight or having diabetes or any other sickness is a sin. But for myself, I know that refusing to take care of the body that God gave me is a sin. When I know the right thing to do and refuse to do it, that’s sin. And all of my excuses looked pretty pathetic when I read verse four. I have not tried to resist to the point of shedding blood. I have actually offered up very little resistance when it comes to temptation and my eating habits. 

After my morning devotions, I went and found a black sharpie pen. I wrote on my wrist, “You have not yet resisted” so that every time I went to reach for the cookie or popsicle or whatever temptation was waiting for me I would see it on my wrist. It’s been a good reminder. 

All that to say, reading a chapter of the Bible every day is always a good idea. My kids ask me often, How do you know what God wants you to do? How do you hear Jesus speaking to you? And I always tell them, the best way to hear God’s voice is to read his word. The Holy Spirit will lead you to the right places, he’ll open your eyes to see what you need to see and understand what you need to understand. 

And I’m thankful that he did that for me this week.

Seeking His Face

I’ve been having a rough day. A rough week. A rough month. After moping around this morning, I decided I might as well set my problems aside and get to work on something. I needed a notebook to make some lists. I dug around in my drawer and found a notebook that was half-filled with writing. Well, I could use the unwritten half. No problem. Curious, I looked to see what I had written in the other half. I found sermon notes. I glanced through it, trying to figure out when I had written this down. I came upon these notes that were talking about Matthew 5 verses 1-6 and how we need a desperate hunger for God. And there were the words,

 

Empty Yourself.

 

And so I decided to just stop and do that.

 

I, Esther Heneise, do not have the strength, power or wisdom to live my life in a Holy manner. I do not have what it takes to run a household for twelve people. I do not have the stamina, passion, endurance, desire, to give everything I have to these ten children under my roof. I do not have the self-discipline, self-love, logic and wisdom to take care of my body in the way that I should. I allow my cravings to rule me. I do not have the attractiveness, passion, self-sacrifice, that is required to be a good wife to my husband. I do not have the time nor the desire to reach out to others outside of my home. I do not have the power to overcome depression. I don’t have energy to pursue adventure, excitement, change. I do not have the wisdom to know how to prepare for the future. I do not have the organizational skills required to keep up with every single detail of my and my family’s lives. 

 

Plain and simple, I don’t have what it takes to do this life. 

 

Then the next words were,

 

Fill Yourself. 

 

So I did.

 

Jesus lived the perfect life for me, because I couldn’t. Jesus has already paid the price for my slothfulness, my gluttony, my selfishness, my pride, my wrath, my envy. That heavy debt has been paid. Jesus has given me the Holy Spirit.  The power that raised Jesus from the dead is now inside of me. 

 

Plain and simple, it’s not my power that gets me through this life, it’s God’s power. 

 

Then came this question,

 

Are we seeking God’s face or do we only want to see his hands? 

 

I had to think about this.

Is my desire to know God better? Worship him? Serve him? Spend time with him? Or do I just want him to swoop in and solve all my problems and then go away again? 

 

Honestly, I would say that lately my prayers have been more “Show me your hands God!” than “Show me your face.” 

 

All this introspection lead me to the conclusion,

 

I need to repent. 

 

I’m sorry Lord. I have not been seeking you first. I have been seeking solutions and answers. 

 

“But Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

 

I’ve got to run after you first. The answers and solutions flow from that seeking. We don’t seek answers and solutions. We seek you. 

 

And so that is what I will do. 

 

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

 

Psalm 51: 10-12