Friday, October 25, 2013

Just like John

This...this spoke to me. This is what I have struggled with...being offended with God, just like John; wondering, wrestling, doubting.

Blessed are the unoffended (When God hurts our feelings).

He was His cousin.
He had taught about Jesus. Prepared the way for Him.
He had even baptized Him.
And yet, there John sat. Rotting in a prison.
Wrestling with doubt and questions, he sent word to Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) Certainly, he knew Jesus was the Coming One. But surrounded by the dank walls of a prison cell, his heart began to doubt. And can you blame him for doubting? For questioning why he was sitting in there while Jesus and all of the other disciples were out and about doing God’s work?
Jesus’ response - “Go tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
I feel sure that answer brought John great peace. Jesus knew what John’s heart needed to hear. But can I be honest with you? If I had heard a whole list of things that were being done, miraculous things happening outside of my cell walls while I sat and waited for certain death? I probably would have been more offended.
Miracles are happening? Amazing. You really are the Messiah? My heart rejoices! So…why am I still here? Why no miracle for me? You are able to save me, and I am willing to serve You. So why aren’t You moving for me?
But that last sentence of Jesus’ reply remains.
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
The Word says that with God all things are possible. All things. There is no limit to His ability or His power. And yet…sometimes He doesn’t move. We know that He can, but sometimes He doesn’t. And we? We get hurt. We get offended.
God, I know You have the power. I know You could do this one thing in my life. I see You moving in this person’s life and that person’s life. Why won’t You move in those ways for me? 
And I wonder if He would gently whisper to us -
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
Blessed. Happy. Fortunate. To be envied.
Unoffended. Not tripping. Not stumbling – on who He is and how He works and what He does and does not do. Not piling up those tripping places until there is an insurmountable wall between us and Him. 
Being unoffended? Being able to be at rest when He is not moving the way we want Him to, the way we expected Him to? It. Is. Not. Easy. Because, quite honestly, it hurts. We feel rejected. Forgotten. Unnoticed. Unloved. Uncared for. Why, God? Why won’t You move? I just don’t understand. 
I want there to be some feel-good ending to John’s story. A miraculous intervention. Something to make us feel better, to make us think that God will always eventually do exactly what we want Him to. But the truth is, John died. He was beheaded.
Why didn’t God move on his behalf? And why doesn’t He move every time we desperately want Him to? I don’t know those answers. None of us can really know.
So what do we do in the face of all that we don’t know? We stand on what we do know.
We cling to the truths we find in His Word – that He is for us, that He loves us, that His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours, that He has a plan for each of us – to give us a hope and a future, that when we get to eternity with Him all that we have been through on this earth will seem like nothing compared to the glory of being with Him. We trust He sees what we cannot see, knows what we cannot know, and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
We believe that when we meet John in heaven, he is going to tell us what we will see for ourselves. That it was all worth it. Every. Single. Second.
Why is the person who is unoffended by Him blessed? Because they have a heart that, even though it may hurt, can grab a hold of true peace. A heart that knows how pure and steady and unfailing His love is. A heart that knows He is worthy of our trust. A heart that does not pull away from the Lord when He says “wait” or “not now” or an all-out “no.” A heart that stays fully His.
Offense causes separation.
Offense says, “I know better than you.”
Offense says, “I am right and you are wrong.”
The unoffended heart says, “I am going to let You be God.” 
Do we continue to ask for Him to move? Do we continue to ask for those things we desire? Absolutely. He tells us to ask, to seek, to knock. But the unoffended heart does not pull back saying, “I am going to wait and see if You do what I want You to.”
The unoffended heart tucks in closer than ever before. 
Lord, You made us. You know that we are dust. You know that our hearts are weak. You know that we can be so easily offended. Forgive us for doubting You. For doubting Your love, for doubting that You care for us, for doubting that You always have our best in mind. Lord, strengthen us by Your Word, especially in those places where our hearts are failing us. Remind us of the truth of who You are and who we are to You. Tear down the walls that we have built up. Heal and restore our places of broken intimacy with You. Help us to be secure in Your love, having the blessing of an unoffended heart. You are worthy of our trust, worthy of our praise, worthy of our hope. Always. Amen. 
Praying He loves on you in extra tender ways today, friend.

***You can find a running list of this series at the end of THIS post. And don’t forget you can check out LOTS of 31 Days posts at the Nesting Place.***

It was no accident that I came across Kimberly's blog. I am thanking God for His truth and the reminder of His love!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hope and encouragement...and even a little fun

I have desperately needed some encouragement and hope lately. Living with grief feels a bit like being a participant in an episode of "Hoarders." To find joy is to sift through the rubbish, piece by piece. It's an overwhelming task, and progress doesn't come without concentrated effort.

What sustains me, however, is the awesome and intensely personal presence of God and His word. Eyesight will tell you that He is nowhere to be found, but faith will usher you grandly into His presence.

This week, faith sparkled in every devotion that came to my inbox. The current Max Lucado devotional series is from his book You'll Get Through This. Monday's devotion was appropriately titled "Getting through when life shuts down." This line really struck me: "He not only survived; he thrived." It resonated with me because I realized that I wanted to be like Joseph, too. I don't want to just survive the loss of my child. I want to thrive, but I am still figuring out what that's supposed to look like. Further down in the devotion, this line also stood out: "What did he know? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy and difficulty? Joseph knew that in God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good. He worked a plan and he trusted God. He knew that, with God’s help, he would get through." I needed this reminder that God will bring good from this. Whether that means something tangible or whether it just means that I become more like Christ, I have to trust that God will do what He says He will do.

Just a day or so after the devotion, I came across an interview (from August) featuring Max Lucado in which he was asked the question, "So what do you tell people when they don't get through it—when your wife dies, you lose your home, or an addiction hangs on? What do you say then?" Max replied, "I say don't give up. From a Christian perspective, we do get through it, even if the "getting through" is not until heaven." (Christianity "Even if the 'getting through' is not until heaven" is the part that got me. This is what I appreciate about Max Lucado. He is honest about the struggle. He is upfront with the facts. But that's not all. It's not all because there is hope. And that hope is in the Helper. The One who comes and cleans up the mess with me. The God who sees the things that I hoard; things like sorrow, despair, and doubt, and He promises me that, with His help, I will get through this.

The Max Lucado "You'll Get Through This" mantra:
You will get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or na├»ve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

PS - The fun part was last night when my Dh and I were treated to a special event featuring 
a private concert with Train. It was good to have some fun. It's been a long time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

In the silence

Monday was a good day as far as grief goes. I'm still chewing on the whole trusting God thing, and He's still reassuring me that He's here. This past week, I've come across the story of Lazarus no less than four times. I joined a Precepts Bible study on the book of John at our church last week, and the story of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus was the first reference. A day or so later, I downloaded, and started reading, a free Kindle book (through David C. Cook ebooks) titled When God Breaks Your Heart. Go figure...The author's premise happens to be from the story of Lazarus, also.

By the time I got to the third "coincidence," I knew the LORD was trying to tell me something. Or, as is usually the case, teach me something. The prayer I've prayed ever since becoming a Christian is that I would have a teachable spirit. *I* know how stubborn determined I can be, and I also know that without a teachable spirit there isn't going to be a lot of growth. I know when I'm not willing, so I've also prayed, "Lord, make me willing to be made willing." And one thing is for sure: There are lessons to be learned from grief, alright.

The thing about the story of Lazarus that keeps coming back to me are the words of Jesus. "...If you believe, you will see the glory of God."(John 11:40) I believe He is whispering to me, "Trust me. Just keep believing. Trust me in this and you will see My glory."

God's glory is hard to find, however, amid the cacophony of grief. Grief incessantly hurls insults and yells nasty, discouraging remarks, always quick to remind you of your loss. And when you feel, at the same time, as if God's being silent, Grief's taunts seem believable. You know what it's like to wait with Mary and Martha when you don't see God and wonder where he's at and you keep asking, "When's he going to show up?" "When He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was." (John 11:6) But God makes it clear that His silence and His delay are not a sign of His absence or lack of love. John 11:4 is followed immediately by this: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

Jesus is the only One who can bring healing. Healing must happen. A wound has to heal. There is no middle ground with a wound. It either heals or it doesn't. Doesn't is not an option here, for several reasons. First, it does the rest of my children a HUGE disservice to them if I choose not to accept God's comfort and healing. Second, it, in no way, honors my son's memory. Third, it simply does not glorify God.

Unfortunately, however, I think there is the perception that healing means that we (the bereaved) will look like we did before and be the way we were before. But that's a lie. And the sooner it's recognized as a lie, the sooner real healing can start. Rebuilding life after child loss is way more involved than anyone, even those experiencing it, wants to admit. I am not the same person. That person died the day my child died. My child's death has redefined me, and I am still trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like.  

The story of Lazarus has reminded me that God knows, He cares, and He is working. I know that every parent who has lost a child has felt this: "...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;  indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves..." (2 Cor. 1:8-9a) Yet reassurance comes in knowing that He is good. " that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,..." (2 Cor. 9b-10)

I need to again hope in Him. While grief screams at the top of his lungs, God whispers in a steady, calm voice. He is whispering to me with gentleness and love the same thing He said to Martha: "Believe and you will see My glory."

Speaking of glory  ̶  This was the sunrise this morning.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Walking the rails

I screamed at God on Monday. In the midst of my tantrum throwing and yelling, "It's not fair!" I remembered our pastor's sermon from Sunday. Of all the stories from the Bible that one would think is the most unrelatable to grief, it would be the story of Jonah. Basically, God asked Jonah to do something, and Jonah didn't want to do it because he thought he knew better. He was convinced that the people of Nineveh should get what they deserve because he knew that if they repented, God wouldn't give them what they deserved. He knew God was gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Jonah was mad. Jonah thought he had every right to be angry. The sermon struck me because I related to Jonah. I was mad. I, too, felt I had every right to be angry. Like Jonah, I questioned God's actions, convinced He didn't know what He was doing. 

I've been walking the rail of grief for weeks now, and it is a tiring balancing act. I don't know if I've sorted anything out, but I have come to the conclusion that my life can't be all about my loss. God does not intend for His children to live in despair any more than I intend for my children to live in it. There is joy, though it may mean I have to mine for it.(Isaiah 45:3)
 “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. 
He knew it already. It was I who didn't.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed  

I cried out to God telling Him that I needed to know He was there. When I opened Ann Voskamp's devotional email yesterday, I laughed. It was titled, "When You Need to Know God's There" Obviously, God was telling me He is here.