Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hope for the Weary

How do you have godly "hope" when you have seen or lived loss, unanswered prayers, abuse, or otherwise felt unprotected or unspoken to by God?

Am I the only one who thinks "When we get to heaven we will understand" feels like a pathetic answer?

I've been asking God about hope since last year (James 1:5).  I know He's not finished speaking.  I'm still waiting, still listening, but the truth he has put before me so far feels like it's worth writing down to keep track of.

We all have friends who have lost children, lost loved ones.  Friends who have walked through cancer, broken marriages, near bankruptcy.  I myself have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and I see it on their faces- my fellow pilgrims.  Some who have come out the other side, others who are still wandering, some who are in the muddy quicksand as I type.

"Hope" is a beautiful sentiment, but have you ever looked someone (or someone in the mirror) straight in the eye when they were hurting deeply and tried to say "everything will be okay" knowing it may not be?  How do you pray with conviction when you know from experience that sometimes God says "no".  I'm talking about when life gets HARD.

What is our hope in?  God, the anchor of our souls (Hebrews 6:18-20).  But what IS our hope, exactly?  It can't be that everything will work out alright...when you read the scriptures it actually promises trials and tribulations (John 16:33) as much as wisdom and peace.  We have a hope in Christ for salvation (John 3:16), for grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), for heaven (John 14:2-4), and that His ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  But what about here on earth?  What about before we die?  What can we count on?

Here is what God has whispered to me (so far) about hope.

Hope is tied at it's core to faith.  We always pray with hope.

James 1:6-8 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Luke 18:1-8 (abridged) Now [Jesus] was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart...There was a widow...and she kept coming to [an unfair judge], saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘...yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night...?”

My dad was only 49 when he flew back from a trip to visit his mother in January of 2007.  It is a miracle he was able to find his way home.  When my mom picked him up he seemed to have suffered a stroke.  He was confused, he couldn't form sentences, there had been no warning.  We found out soon after that he had stage 4 brain cancer.  It was inoperable.  They started chemo.  It didn't look good.  My nick-name growing up was Jeffalina (Jeff was my dad).  I loved my daddy.  I prayed faithfully, tearfully, flat on my face, that he would live.  That if not, he could at least live until my wedding day which was only a few months away in July.  That if not, he could have ONE, please God ONE lucid moment where he could understand, where he could speak, where we could say we loved each other and goodbye and he could whisper one last wise and profound thing to me.  God's answers all came when dad died in April, "No."

It took years for God to teach me again how to pray.  I became shy, doubtful, like the wave in James- tossing about.  I never doubted God's power, only His will. All of my prayers after losing dad were "God if it's your will...but if not, please give peace, comfort, clarity, etc."  I always prayed longest after the "if it's not your will" part because I knew the sting of prayers that felt powerless.

But that's not how God wants us to talk to him.  Imagine if your child came up to you and said "I know you have the money to send me to camp and I really want to go, but you know, you probably have better things to spend it on, and it's okay if you don't choose to spend it on me.  I'll still be happy and I'll still love you."  How sad!  I may not have been questioning God's power, but I was questioning his goodness in every prayer I prayed! (Matthew 7:11) I'm so sorry, Lord.

Now, I pray like the widow that Jesus talks about.  The annoying one!  If I know God has the power, why don't I beg him?  He CAN do it!  "Pleeeeeeease, can I go to summer camp?!  Pretty, pretty, pretty please?!?!  I know you can send me and I'm going to ask you 500 times a day until you say yes!"   If I don't get to "go to camp" or have to wait until next summer it's okay, I can recover from that.

I don't have to fear being let down by God so much that I don't ask anything of him.  I can pray my heart out every time and know that God is listening, and it may not be the right thing or the right time, but as long as he is listening and he is God, I will be praying...with faith in his goodness and HOPE!

Bad things will happen, but we have hope for a redeemed perspective.

Philippians 3:10-11 That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

James 1:2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

1 Peter 4:12,19, 5:10 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you...So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good...And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you STRONG, FIRM and STEADFAST. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Did you know that pain is a powerful tool God uses in our lives?  When we suffer, we are sharing a common experience with Christ that can increase our understanding of and intimacy with him.  It hammers out our character in unexpected ways and can shift our priorities and perspectives.  And you know the best part?!  "after you have suffered a little while, [Christ] will himself restore you and make you STRONG, FIRM and STEADFAST".  Amen.

Followers of Christ and non-followers of Christ are all vulnerable to pain- infertility, sexual abuse, cancer, loss.  It is disheartening to see bad things happening to good people, or any people that we love, or experience it ourselves and feel like we have no more protection from pain than any one in the world who curses God in the face- shouldn't he love us enough to save us from this deep heartache?

Who needs protection when you have perspective (Psalm 73).  The difference between our suffering and the suffering of people who don't know God is that our pain has meaning and purpose.  The only thing that could make it worse is if it didn't. It draws us to Christ, it can change who we are for the better (if we let it), and God is always near.  When the world is spinning, the ground has disappeared beneath our feet, he will restore us.  He will make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

Good news, bad news- God is sovereign.

It was really unexpected, and unplanned.  You know when you are talking to a friend and you BURST into tears.  Maybe it's just me.  I tried to hide it, as my eyes pooled up and my lip trembled.  It didn't work.  We were enjoying a nearby jogging path on a beautiful day, walking briskly, pushing a single and double BOB stroller side by side (aka hogging the bike path).

I was just trying to say that I wanted to eat healthier because I want to live a long and active life alongside my husband and kids. I couldn't even get through that with a straight voice.  For a girl who suddenly lost her 49-year-old dad less than 3 months before her wedding day, it hits a raw spot.  Cancer is VERY prevalent in my dad's family.  What if I die at 49?  What if I don't live to see my daughter's wedding, meet the husband I am already praying for, or tickle Olivia's first little baby?

My friend reminded me- "God is sovereign".

So I repeated to her the lie that Satan likes to tell me, that God is sovereign but he is not good. He likes to use suffering in his plan and hurt people and kill people so that they and whatever spectators around them learn or grow or cry or something.  That he could VERY easily give me cancer/allow me to have cancer (however you want to say it I end up with cancer) and still call it his sovereign plan.  There is NO verse that says God will protect me, my husband, or my kids from getting cancer.  Lots of godly families face it.

There may be purpose to suffering in my life, but it is still going to suck- no matter how much growth, peace or comfort comes from it.

"No," she repeated again, "God is sovereign".

As we continued to walk and talk over the next stretch of trail I started to understand what she meant. What am I really afraid of?  I'm going to see Jesus one day and I'm not dreading it.  My greatest fear is abandoning my family, of them being broken, hurt, helpless, and lonely.  God is the God of the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).  He will take care of my husband, kids, future grand kids, sister- he will take care of them and he can do it even better than I can.  I can trust them to him. I'd love to live a full life and teach and love and pray for my kids and husband through all of their milestones, struggles, and victories- but I can trust God.

"God is Sovereign" means that he can keep this world running and love and bless me or the people I care about even without my help.  I can trust his goodness and I can trust his sovereign will.  (Thanks, Tasha).

The opposite of hope is despair or fear.  Neither of those mark a life that is walking in the Spirit.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Luke 12:25 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?

Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!...Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

When I live a life of fear, worry, and doubt God's goodness, I am not living a full life the way he made me to experience it.  If hope is important for no other reason, it is essential for living a life of joy, power, and freedom in Christ.  The alternative is unproductive and a waste of my heart.  

I can have hope even before heaven.  Against all odds.  Not because God has placed a hedge of guardian angels around me to shelter me from all harm (what good parent would?).  It's because he is powerful, sovereign, good, and he loves me.  I can trust that, which means I can face this life with hope.

Romans 8:28-29a And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He alsopredestined to become conformed to the image of His Son

Father, you are good.  You make all things, even horrible, sad, painful things work together for good.  The evil in this world, the pain in this world- you have already overcome them.  The pain in my life, you saw from the beginning of time and already had plans to heal.  Give me a glimpse of your perspective.  As I sit at your feet and listen eagerly.  I want to understand your hope and the power it can have in transforming my life when I give myself over to fully trusting you.  You are my hope.  Nothing else, no-one else is strong enough to hope in, not even myself.  Lord you are good, God you are good, Lord you are good to me.

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay."  -Edward Mote

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Myth of the godly Mother

Before I had my first child I took classes.  I read books.  I talked to friends.  The amount of information gathering was a bit ridiculous.  I felt ready.  "As ready as I'll ever be".

Then I found out I was getting induced 3 weeks early because I was on the verge of preeclampsia.  "I'm not ready!  I'm not going."  Then I cried.  I threw up on the dashboard of the car on the way to the hospital.  This is how I began my first day of motherhood.

It only took a few days after bringing Olivia home for the "prepared" feeling to fade completely.  Having read 3 books on baby sleep patterns was no help- Olivia sure didn't seem to have read any.  Nothing I had learned covered the projectile vomiting and screaming at every feeding.  On day 11, Olivia even started holding her breath and turning purple.   Fear, failure, inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety began to gang up on me.

Then I was at a baby shower and the mom-to-be was given a book about praying for your children.  The mom giving the book was a wonderful woman with her heart in the right place as she explained their rituals of family devotion, scripture memory with her kids, and her faithful prayers for her girls.

Crap, crap, crap.  That fear, failure and anxiety FLARED inside me.  How did I have 5 books about parenting on my nightstand and not a single one of them about praying for my kids?!  I hadn't had my own devotion in weeks.  Clearly this was reason #437 that I was failing as a mother.

That night I was putting Olivia to sleep, she was still a little peanut, less than 8 pounds for sure.  I hadn't slept a straight night for months if you counted the 3rd trimester insomnia.

I prayed for her.  It felt really forced.

Only moments into my prayer it changed from Olivia becoming a woman of passion and purpose to "Oh God...I am so tired.  I'm sorry I'm not a godly mom.  I'm sorry I'm not a good mom.  I don't know why you wanted me to do this!" (Mike and I had prayed seriously about starting our family and really felt God not only say "Yes" but "You must".)

This is one of my favorite moments that God met me where I was, as a tired mom in the dark on a gliding chair.

He reminded me that He loved me, He honored me for trying so hard when I was so tired, He told me that I was a godly mom- because He asked me to have a child and I obeyed. He reminded me that following Him isn't about rituals, reading books, or forcing stories on my children.  It's not about looking like a "godly mom"'s just being godly.  It's following Him, loving Him with my whole heart, trying a day at a time to love more, obey more, understand more.  My spirituality didn't have to look different now that I was a mom- it was still me and Him.

There's nothing bad about books, devotionals, or scripture memory.  Spiritual disciplines are meaningful, and helping your kids learn them by modeling them is a beautiful thing- but at the end of the day, it's still you and God.  Having a scripture memory chart for your two year old doesn't mean a lot if you don't act it out in front of them- in the car, on your walks, with your husband.  If you love God, talk to Him, worship Him, obey Him and listen to Him the rest will follow.  No need to keep up appearances.

Luke 9:23-24 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

I Timothy 6:6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

Psalm 63:1-3
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.

God you don't want my nightstand, you want my heart.  It's yours.  I pray that my kids will some day have the joy and know the meaning of truly experiencing your presence, chasing after your heart and your plans.  Give me wisdom and grace as I walk my journey alongside them.  I can't control when or if they follow you...but I trust them to your Spirit.  I trust you to make yourself known to them.  I trust you to use me as I listen and wait.  I pray that you would hold me TIGHT in your hand and that I would be an example of faith to them that finishes my life strong before you.  I pray they would always feel loved.  That you and I can teach them how to love others in a world that can be unloving and that feels so unloved .  I don't care if anyone around us thinks that we are a spiritual family.  Make us a powerful family, a loving family.  Let us leave your mark on the world instead of being concerned about looking like we are.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forgiving Again...and again and again.

Forgiveness is something I asked God to teach me about this past year.  My real motivation was trying to settle a broken relationship that has been lingering and hurting for way too long.  I prayed and looked in scripture and read a great book.  I learned a lot.  Here's just a few highlights (that's another post!).

  • We are called to follow Christ, to love and forgive like he does. Living in community is a requirement for worshipping him.  gulp. (Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:24)
  • Christ's forgiveness is complete. (Psalm 103:12)
  • Christ's forgiveness is conditional. (I John 1:9)
  • Christ's forgiveness leads to a restored relationship. (John 3:16)
  • Christ's forgiveness is infinite. (I John 1:9) 

But after all my study there was still something I couldn't wrap my head around.  Why?  And How???  I was having a hard time having God's heart of forgiveness when I understood the concept on paper but not the attitude or character that was driving it.  

When Jesus taught His disciples, His favorite way to make big truths of the universe easy to understand was to tell stories of normal things from their everyday lives.

So, back to everyday life.

Olivia is my amazing daughter.  Really, I shouldn't expand here, but I absolutely LOVE her.  Olivia is  a year and a half. Being a toddler means Olivia loves to explore; including pushing boundaries, unrolling toilet paper, putting cheerios in her baby brother's mouth, screaming, biting, and hitting.

I love the concept of time outs.  I hope that someday they teach her how to relate to God and the truth- that the worst part of doing something wrong is having a broken relationship (even if it is for less than a minute).  We have a 5 step time out:
1. Separation (sitting in the corner for a set period of time)
2. Explanation (this is why you are on time out)
3. Apology (saying sorry for the specific reason)
4. Forgiveness
5. Kiss and a hug- then "Let's go play!"

She just couldn't get the hang of the "no hitting" rule last Friday.  We were on the 4th time out for "no hitting" in less than 7 minutes.  Sometimes we didn't even make it past the apology before she looked me in the eye and hit me in the face.  If you are a mom then you know how much that hurts in more than one way.

It can be EXHAUSTING being consistent with discipline and walking her to the corner over and over, not to mention it really put a cloud over a morning we could have been walking to the park.

It was that 4th time forgiving her that somehow stood out.  "Olivia, I forgive you for hitting me."

Finally.  It clicked.  There are not a lot of people in this world I could imagine actually forgiving 70x7 times (Matthew 18:22).  But Olivia is one of them.  Because she's a toddler and because she's my daughter.  I know she is going to hit again, bite again, but it's okay.  I love her so much even though I know she still has a lot to learn.  I know that every time we go through the apology and forgiveness cycle she IS learning, even if it isn't the last time.

God loves me unconditionally.  He knows that I'm human, but He has made me His daughter.  I'm imperfect and prone to act out in ways that hurt Him and others.  He forgives me because He loves me and He is willing to put in the hard work to teach me!  He's even patient enough to tell me when I've done something wrong, to listen to my weak but sincere apology, to forgive me, to give me a hug and not hold it against me.

Here's the hard part.  I need to love like that too.  To understand that even the people who hurt me are human too.  Humans are prone to selfishness, anger, jealousy.  Apart from the Holy Spirit humans we don't naturally exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Those amazing qualities are the fingerprints of God on our hearts and in our world.  We cannot be or do them consistently apart from Him, because we are human- and so are all of the other unkind, unloving, and impulsive humans. Still, if our fellow imperfect humans are sorry then they deserve to be loved and forgiven as much as I do.  The reason forgiveness is so hard is because it's loving someone who doesn't deserve it. 

Colossian 3:12-13 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Luke 6:37 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven

Lord God, my concept of justice is broken.  My apologies and my efforts are weak.  Forgiving can be so hard for me, so I know that part of my heart doesn't look like you yet.  Take it Lord.  Please.  Take that part of my heart, I don't want to hold on to it.  I don't want to withhold my love from others when you give yours so freely.  You can heal my wounds. I give those to you too.  I won't hold on to them or play the angry victim any more.  Please God, redeem them.  Make them part of the me that you are making in a way that only makes sense to you.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I have held on to this hurt for so long.  Give me the humility to forgive them.  Thank you for forgiving me.  I love you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My sweet baby boy is teething.

That sounds too natural.  I should say my sweet baby boy is whining, not sleeping, drooling constantly, and gnawing on his fist.  Poor guy.

I was making dinner the other night and Flint was watching from his swing.  Fist in mouth.  Drool everywhere.  It is probably good he doesn't have teeth because with the fervor he was attacking his own fist he could have easily taken off a couple fingers.

"It's okay, honey."  I tried to be kind and reassuring as I stuffed the enchiladas and he chewed the straps of his swing (to no comfort).  "I know it hurts!!!  But guess what?  It's worth it to be a big boy!"  

I stopped myself before explaining to him the wonders of pizza and apples and big boy food.  I heard the words as they came out of my mouth and they echoed in my mind.  "It's okay, sweetie.  I know it hurts, but guess what?! It's worth it to grow up!"  I'm pretty sure God has tried to whisper this to me before as I was gnawing off my own arm in the midst of spiritual growing pains.  It's not that He didn't want to help, he just knew it was part of growing up.  He saw all the opportunities that the growth I was experiencing (and AM experiencing!) would open.  

I don't want to be a toothless Christian.  Afraid of growth, afraid of change, afraid of anything hard.  I want to grow up, to follow Christ as His disciple, and be willing to learn the hard lessons now that will prepare me for even greater challenges and joys in the future.

Matthew 20:22
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

I Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Lord Jesus, thank you for watching me grow like a father. For rejoicing over every inch and anticipating every milestone. Thank you for preparing me. For knowing far in advance the ways I need to grow to reach my full potential. I want to remember you in the midst of my growing pains- that you are not unable to comfort me, that you are not distant, that you are not indifferent. You see far into my future and know what ugly and beautiful things await me...and you're giving me teeth!!! Thank you Lord for my growth...and thank you for not holding the drool or the whining against me :)