JESUS WEPT…TOO

01abaa8689658eaf373af1ec9b42b72cI was listening to MercyMe’s “Even If”, which gives voice to those times when we suspect that God may not be especially interested in helping us out of whatever trial we’re going through. We know He can. We believe that He is able. He just doesn’t seem willing.

This has always been a challenge for me to process. My example of grace and a willingness to help was not especially positive. Here’s an example: Several years ago, my car caught fire around 2:00 am. First, my step-father woke me up to tell me my car was on fire. When I asked him if he’d called the fire department, he said, “I thought you’d want to do that.” (The man didn’t have enough ambition to even register on the passivity scale!)

Over the next week, my mother was quite emphatic that the car needed to get off the street because it was an eyesore and she was worried about what the neighbors would think – which was ironic because it was likely one of the neighbors who set it on fire in the first place, such was the neighborhood. One day, she told me that one of the men I’d contacted had called to say he was actually interested in taking the eyesore off my hands. My delight was short-lived, however, when she refused to give me his phone number so I could call him to make arrangements. (Don’t ask…my brain is still locked up over that one!)

So, you can imagine how I felt about God when I thought he wasn’t willing to put an end to a bad situation or to give me hope when I felt there was none. I knew He could and believed He was able. The only conclusion for me was, naturally, that God didn’t want to help me. And that put a wedge between us, which left me feeling unlovable, which wasn’t fair to God.

I know better now, as I’ve been a parent for 26 years. If I tell one of my daughters “no”, I have sound, loving reasons.

Still, I think there are plenty of times when we say, as in the song, “it is well” with my soul, but with a hint of disappointment and even resentment in our voice. A sort of “Gee, thanks for nothin’, God.” Because it’s not really as well with my soul as I let on!

A little over five years ago, I survived an emergency eight-hour open-heart surgery to save my life from an ascending aortic dissection. My mind and body haven’t been the same since, and no one really knows why, which means no one knows how to “fix” me. Of all the issues I’ve had, chronic pain has been the most life-changing for me. I hurt most of the time, and it’s completely altered the way I do anything outside the house. So for five years, I’ve been at a loss as to why God left me so very different than I was before the surgery. As grateful as I am that I survived, the condition I’m in frustrates me!

In Pain and Providence, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote: “God uses chronic pain and a146a1b41e18c40cad6493ade0abef21 (1)weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.” Don’t doubt for a moment that I’d prefer to come to the same end without the chronic pain! But she’s right.

Paul came to the same conclusion when he wrote: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the thorn in his side) away from 69628e65940954f9ad4d517b8ca2d026me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV)

Here’s the thing, though: I forget that at all times, God loves me and wants what’s best for me. I have to remember and be confident that I am the way I am – and not the way I want to be – because God wants me this way right now. I mistakenly assume that because I don’t like it, it’s “wrong” or “bad” or, worse, “punishment.”

The key, I’m learning, is to get on board with God’s new game plan for me. The best thing I can do is to trust that God loves me and will give me the grace and strength to get through whatever situation He chooses to leave me in. It would help if I could resist the temptation to label my situation as “good” or “bad”. And it would serve me well to to just roll with it and be open to God’s guidance. It’s that surrender, that acquiescence, that God wants.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus understands this anxiety and frustration f6769b615b03aefe414a06588ec985d5that we often have with a situation we’d like to change. He wept when he felt deep compassion for those who loved Lazarus and had buried him. It pained him to know that it had been necessary for Him to allow for that grief in order that He demonstrate His power by bringing him back to life. And certainly, he cried desperately for God to find another way to redeem humanity that would be so much less painful than crucifixion on the cross and bearing the weight of so many sins. But we know that God did not permit that cup to pass from Him.

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God knows and Jesus understands. It’s up to us to trust, accept and allow God to use us for His kingdom the way He chooses to.

“The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge.” 

― Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty

YOU ARE….

I’ve seen this before and it showed up in my Facebook news-feed again today. It was worth a second watch!

And men, this isn’t just for the women. The season is upon us to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the liberation from sin His death guaranteed and the reconciliation with our Father that He has always wanted.

And yet, this very season has the potential to wear us down. The demands on our time, money and energy can make us forget all about peace on Earth and goodwill to man. You may catch yourself whispering, “I can’t do it all.” You don’t have to. You are enough. What you do will be good enough.

Above all, remember who and Whose you are. You are loved!

“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:8)

LET’S BE HONEST

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I’m beginning to think that whoever came up with the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was never required to put that confidence to the test. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they knew the guy who first said, “Buck up, little camper!”

Don’t get me wrong. I know adversity can lead to great strength. The Bible is full of examples of that – Paul, Job, Joseph. Tough lives created tough guys. And historically, some of our greatest entrepreneurs, leaders and athletes have risen from the ashes of adversity. I’m confident that each of us have that same potential. I know we each have that opportunity.

However, I also believe that life can really kick you in the butt and wear you down to nothing first. But the nice thing about being that low is that there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Very few successful people are transparent about the times they were down for the count; the moments right before they started to get back up.

One of my favorite quotes about being knocked down is from J. K. Rowling:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

As I’ve mentioned before here and there, I belong to two wonderful Facebook groups. One is for survivors of C/PTSD and the other is for survivors of Aortic Dissections. More and more, the line between the two – one emotional and psychological, the other primarily physical – is beginning to blur for me.

I have one friend who survived necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating disease) and another who survived a staph infection that was so rare his doctor told the intern to not even bother taking notes on it because they’d probably never see it again. When I gave birth to my first daughter at 28 weeks gestation, weighing one-and-a-half pounds, measuring 13 inches, I stayed at a Ronald McDonald House, where families were staying to be close to their very sick children. Some knew their child was going to die. Others were hoping their child would live. Watch the news and you’ll witness people losing everything they have to natural disasters.

And…?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that there are whole lot of us out here who have been through “stuff”!

And I’m noticing some common denominators:

We’re dealing with something that happened to us. Most fiction is about man vs. man or man vs. nature. Sometimes, what happens is a result of our own sequence of choices, although for the sake of this post I’m not going to address that.

We didn’t ask for it to happen to us. So whether you’ve faced the possibility that you’ll lose your life to cancer or had a fender bender with a rotten driver; whether you’ve lost a child or lost your job; spent most of your life under the dehumanizing  abuse of a  parent or been treated as “less than” because of your size, your gender or the amount of pigmentation in your skin, no one asked if you’d be OK with it. And yet, like the family whose home and all their belongings have been destroyed by a tornado, it’s left to you to clear the debris.

We think we’re alone. Either shame or misinformation has isolated us into thinking no one would understand. And you’d be partially right. If you’ve been raped, not even another rape victim can understand how you translated and processed your own violation. If your spouse tells you they think you’re unlovable, no one else has the same life as you to enable them to truly empathize with your sense of unlovability. (It’s a word now.)

And, finally, we aren’t handed manuals or PowerPoint presentations to tell us what to do next. You, my friend, are on your own. Your friends, family and therapists can support you, but ultimately the true work is up to you.

Now there are plenty of scriptures to address everything I just said, and a few sermons that could be preached about challenges. And, yes, I will insist that God loves us and will never leave us or forsake us. I know that I can cast all my care on Him because He loves me. I believe He will make a way when there seems to be no way. And I am confident that he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) However, since this post is already around 1,000 words long, I’ll save these for other posts.

Today, the thing I want you to understand is this: None of us are the only ones and we are not c553a748a7656e370d73d8dab054b6f0alone! I may not have gone through what my friend Jeff endured, but I’ve had my own “stuff”. You may not have had a mother who punished you by not acknowledging your existence for 2-3 days like I did, but I know you’ve had your own “stuff”. Can we agree on that much? Can we be compassionate and patient with each other without judging who’s had the worst “stuff”?

So if someone tells you that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” don’t feel bad if you think it’s hot air. Don’t let those words shame you into thinking you should be doing better than you are doing. We may become strong from our trials, but I don’t believe that God is sitting on a heavenly throne passing out painful things and saying, “Yeah, give it to him. He can take it.” I think those statements, while being well meaning, actually invalidate your pain.

When I started this blog, I wanted to share things that would give others a sort of permission to embrace their own challenges and pain, as well as to provide some encouragement and validation. I’ve come to believe that one of the things people need to move on or move through their struggle is to have someone look at you and say, “I see you! What you went through was rough. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. But it can be better than this.”

It’s time we shared our stories.5734bd36c0aa8d7f59f5d6e7cc395e25

 

JANIS IAN, VEGGIETALES & EPHESIANS

I have a teenaged daughter who is becoming an amazing young woman. It seems like she’s constantly changing. She reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 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.” (Except she’s not becoming a man. Just so we’re clear on that! This isn’t “that blog.” 🙂 )

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AT SEVENTEEN – JANIS IAN

Some of the struggles Maggie has are so much like those I had at her age – you know, the Janis Ian kind; other struggles are unique to her generation. For example, I didn’t have to worry about how people from all over the world might judge my words or my looks or my choices on social media. I had enough trouble with the people in my school, in my neighborhood.  Then, again, I had to wait for America’s Top 40 so I could press Play and Record at just the right time in order to tape my favorite song. I had to buy an entire album to get my favorite song, and she has iTunes! (The struggle was real then, too.)

Growing up, Maggie’s favorite video was VeggieTales’ Jonah. She loved the idea that the God she was getting to know for herself was the God of second chances. And she understood that those second chances were not only for her, but for everyone else, too. This taught her mercy for others, as well as grace for herself.

 

It also taught her that second chances were unlimited with God. All He asks is that we repent. Ideally, repentance would be a one-time thing. I say I’m sorry and promise to change my ways – forever. But it seldom works that way, does it? We ask forgiveness again because we originally didn’t do it with the right heart.

Or maybe we didn’t really understand what it was that we needed forgiveness for – for getting caught, for making someone mad, or because we have a deeper matter that keeps pushing the wrong behavior to the surface. Or maybe there are some deeply founded beliefs that keep us returning to the same behavior; thoughts that need to be addressed before change can occur. Or maybe we didn’t really fathom how important the matter was to God. In any event, it seems we could easily exhaust God’s grace. And yet we don’t.

I think that’s the nature of repentance – co9ec67cd3ebeb832c3e7dfdef617888ffnstantly starting over and moving forward but with a new mindset. Again. And again. And yet again.

Now, it would be nice to sit back and enjoy God’s grace for ourselves while we remembered – again and again and yet again – all the grievances we suffered at the hands of others, right? Not so fast!

As Paul wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

This is more than Rodney King’s plea that we “all just get along.” (Google it.) As Christians, we are a part of one body and one Spirit. It’s imperative that we get along, or nothing will get done! And because we’re a part of one body and one Spirit, this isn’t just about us and we’re not in this alone. Essentially, we’re children of God – princes and princesses. We need to straighten our crowns, adjust our attitudes and act like it. (Doesn’t leave a lot of room for being offended, does it?)

Will it be easy? Considering that the third word in the first verse is “prisoner”, I wouldn’t count on it – at  least not until we fully fathom that we are a prisoner to Him who loves and is love, again and again and again.

But wait! There’s more. Paul goes on to say that the ultimate goal of our life in Christ, as one body and one Spirit comes down to this: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (14-16)

We will not always be that awkward, insecure, shy 17-year-old. We will become wise and strong and loving! Can we be honest with others when they hurt us? Yes. But with love instead of bitterness. Because of Christ, we are better than we are without Him.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (29-32)

Now, there wasn’t an asterisk by this verse, so apparently social media wasn’t a concern then. All I can say is that whatever method they used for communication gave them much more opportunity to carefully consider their words than keyboarding does today. Even those stupid “footballs” that my classmates fashioned their notes into mandated more time for reconsideration than we have now. And we often wrote “Do not show to anyone” on the outside of it.

Paul later tells us that we will be armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17), allowing us to divide the righteous from the unrighteous. But a sword isn’t something you let a child play with. It’s a piece of the armor of God that should be wielded with training and responsibility. And I think there will be plenty of times that we’ll be called to put the sword at our side and extend an empty hand in greeting to show there is no threat to another. No threat, because we have forgiven as we’ve been forgiven and shown compassion as we’ve been shown compassion by our Father through the sacrificial death of His Son.

Things have changed a lot since I was Maggie’s age, but we can be assured that God never changes. His word is steadfast. His expectations of us are solid. His love for us is never-ending. We are part of the mighty body of Christ, designed to do amazing things for the kingdom of God. And I am excited to see what our children grow up to do for Him!

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IN CELEBRATION OF GOOD NOODLES

My 17-year-old daughter was home sick with a nasty stomach flu. She was having some chicken noodle soup she’d made the night before. She grew pensive for a moment, then suddenly giggled. Apparently, this thought lodged itself in her brain and found it’s way out of her mouth: “Hmmm…that was a good noodle!” Not a good bowl of noodles. Not a good spoonful of noodles. Just one single noodle. She felt silly, but I get how she felt.

26cf209bf41c0dc7d197a2762e960feeMost of us have had those tiny moments when something very small gave us tremendous joy – the smell of fresh-baked bread, the sound of a child’s giggle, the way the sun lights up the autumn leaves at that one particular hour of the day, the smell of rain, crawling into fresh sheets at the end of a long day, a quick whiff of a long-forgotten perfume in a crowd, a new word. It’s a fleeting moment that you manage to absolutely absorb. It makes you pause long enough to not just enjoy, but to appreciate.

It reminds me of Luke 2:19:

“But Mary kept all these things like a secret treasure in her heart. She thought about them over and over.”

For any young mother, this would have been a memorable moment – the time when what you had carried under your heart for nine months was now there for all the world to enjoy and coo over. But this young mother had just given birth to the Son of God.

As Mary looked around at the meager surroundings and the unusual visitors, she would remember that the One who had come to save the world was being adored by a handful of those for whom He had come. They loved Him. And He would love them. History was being made in the most significant way in all of eternity. And yet, here was a young mother simply taking in the beauty and perfection of her child and enjoying the opportunity to share this moment with others.

e3b2af24ddd85f671bcb1b929de7278d-e1542409805839.jpgIn spite of how small, how fleeting or how simple they are, some things can be purely and profoundly wonderful. And God has surrounded us with so, so many of these things. Take the time to recognize and enjoy them!

Not all of the joys in our lives need to be huge or “miraculous”. But it’s important to appreciate a good noodle, too.

GUESS WHO?

Have you ever played Guess Who? It’s a two-player game where players ask yes or no questions to isolate a hidden character. You might ask if your opponent’s character is male or female, blond or brunette, wears glasses or not. You get the idea. Essentially, the questions help you eliminate which of the characters your opponent’s person is not in order to determine who the person is. The first player to guess the other player’s hidden character wins.

This last year has simply been the most recent in my search for who I really am. I believe this is something most, if not all, of us do throughout our lives. As our roles, interests, and needs change, we evolve and our very identities change as we age. We become physically, mentally and emotionally more capable as we mature from baby to child to adolescent to teen to young adult to mature adult. We adopt and abandon roles as our lives change – friend, sibling, child, partner, parent, employee, coworker, Christian, voter, consumer, neighbor. And yet, all the while we maintain a core image of ourselves.

It’s that core image that I’ve struggled with the most. This year, I’ve been pre-occupied with who I am in Christ,  who I am as a child of God. It’s as a child of God that I want to grow and thrive. As a child of my mother, there are so many ways in which I simply didn’t grow or thrive; although, I had successes in spite of the way I was raised and sometimes because of how I was raised. There’s a lot to reconcile between the two lineages. One tolerated me, the other treasures me. One held me in disdain, the other holds me in the palm of His hand. One denied me affection, the other sacrificed His Son for me. Two very different caregivers; two very different identities for myself.

So I reviewed the lists of verses that declared who I was as a child of God and meditated on them, reminding myself of them when my heart needed reminding, when my mind suggested I was “less than.” But on the heels of each reminder was a quiet but pernicious doubt.3868d1bcf797b5ee2b985299be4794e9

‘Yeah, but….’

I realized that who my mother had told me I was had become a foundational certainty for me. And it wasn’t just what I’d accepted from her. I’d selectively held onto a lot from the kids who picked me last at play, the boys who showed no interest in dating me, the coworkers who didn’t invite me to join the group for lunch, the people on the street who seemed to look right through me. All of them verified my deepest belief about myself. I was unlovable. While there were those who thought I was smart, funny, sweet, dependable, or talented, I was more convinced that I wasn’t really worthy of attention or affection.  I was convinced of a reality that no amount of kindness could crack. And no amount of scriptural affirmation was going to completely convince me otherwise.

296D57B8-6681-406C-82DD-E8A9B00BD724Then I thought, what if I stopped trying to believe the truth of who I am and started disbelieving the lies of who I am not? What if I started with my conception – the point at which God knitted me in my mother’s womb and created a plan for me? I thought about the rows of babies that shared the nursery at the hospital where I was born and considered that each one had been born just the way God had designed them, which was good. Then we each went home to our respective families, where we were raised by ordinary men and women who were just doing the best they could with what they had. Some of us ended up nurtured and some of us ended up challenged. It’s just that simple.

It ultimately becomes our own responsibility to determine how we want to stand in the world, what we want to stand for, what we want to stand up for. And at some point, we become accountable for our own choices, our own identities. That’s when knowing who we are not becomes every bit as important as knowing who we are. Many of us are children of God, but we’re living without conviction of our heritage, without the fullness of our inheritance, falling short of our ordained potential.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tell us, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

We can’t don the new clothes God gives us over the old clothes that have worn thin and have developed a stench. The stench eventually leaks through the fabric. We need to strip ourselves of the old before we can put on the new. We need to be cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Christ in order to be wholly clean. Who are you not, and perhaps have never been, or haven’t been since you chose to change? Are you not selfish, alone, tongue-tied, absent-minded, usc04eb15ce15b1aeb817f35a814166545eless, stupid, unattractive, worthless, boring, clumsy, insensitive, broken, talentless? Are you no longer a liar, an adulterer, a thief, a gossip, a using addict or alcoholic?

Today is a new day. We are a new creations!

God has a good plan for us. Satan has a plan for us, too. The plan we bring to fruition depends upon who we believe, who we let define us, who we choose to follow. We can be victims or victors. We can stay bitter, or we can become better. We can hold onto the lies or move forward into a new life. We can choose to disbelieve the lies the enemy has told us and hold on for dear life to the promises of He who is the Author and Finisher of our story.

So never let someone judge you by the chapter they walked in on. You’ve turned the page and begun a new chapter. Your character is still in development and your story isn’t over yet. But I’ll give you one spoiler alert: As a child of God, you’re on the winning side!