Repost: And If Not, He’s Still God


It’s a hard, hard lesson to learn.

It’s even harder to carry it like a precious burden in the bosom of your heart.  

Because while it is oh, so true, it does not take away the pain when circumstances just don’t change no matter how hard you pray, how long you endure or how much you wish they would.  

God’s ways are not my ways.  His thoughts are not my thoughts.  He is not required to fit into whatever box I want to put Him in.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/10/09/and-if-not-hes-still-god/

Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!

When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.

Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.

It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.

Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.

Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.

Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.

Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.

And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.

Love will not be denied.

Love wins.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

Nothing!

I am not powerful enough to do it.

Death is not powerful enough to do it.

Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.

Love will reach down and resurrect my son.

On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.

QUESTIONS:

  • When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
  • I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
  • Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.

My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!

Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.

Hallelujah!

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Closing Argument

I was a debater and raised my kids as debaters.

There’s unique beauty in crafting an argument so it crescendos to an irrefutable conclusion.

For the the master orator, nothing is more satisfying than watching her audience lean in and anticipate the glorious finale.

Paul has been leading us to these verses since he began laying the foundation in chapter one of Romans.

So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? 32 If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? 33 Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty”verdict is already declared. 34 Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. 35 So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.

Romans 8: 31-35 VOICE

In today’s vernacular (Melanie’s paraphrase):

“So here’s the deal, guys. What else is there to say? If God has provided for our salvation through His own Son-bought and paid for us-who else can make a claim? And if He was willing to pay that high a price for us, what is He going to withhold from us? No one can overrule God. No one can deny the evidence that the sin debt has been paid. The only thing that could separate us from God’s love is sin and that’s been handled. So, yeah, life can be really hard. We might even have to face death before we come into our full inheritance. But we don’t have to worry. It’s handled. It’s settled. It’s done.”

Paul’s closing argument is simple.

Remember, this is no contest of equals. There is no yin/yang dual universe where darkness has power enough to overcome the light. God has the devil on a chain. Sin mars creation and wreaks havoc but even all that awful is being woven together into a tapestry of beauty and usefulness that one day will display the glory of God and His love for us.

God is for us. REALLY for us.

So who can be against us? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

No one.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that “God is on your side”?
  • Are you ever afraid? Why or why not?
  • What do you do with that fear?
  • Consider writing these (and any other verses we’ve looked at) in your own words. When we make them personal, they are easier to remember.
  • Do you agree that Paul has made an iron-clad case for the supreme authority of God? Why or why not?
  • What makes it hard for you to believe that nothing separates us from the love of God? Can you bring that to the Throne of Grace and lay it down?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I think the world is like a giant tug-of-war and I can only hope and pray You win. It’s hard to remember that You are still in control when so many things seem out of control.

Help my heart rest on the rock of Your sovereignty and goodness. Open my spiritual eyes to see how You are working all these things-the good, the bad and the heartbreaking-into Your plan of redemption and restoration. Give me strength to believe when my own is fading. Make Your Word my guide. Thwart the schemes of the enemy to tear down my faith and breach my wall of hope.

Thank You for grace, mercy, love and courage.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Not Everything IS Good

Romans is a dense book full of quotable verses often taken out of context.

Today’s verses include some of the most hopeful and, frankly, hurtful verses tossed at broken hearts.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ” (Romans 8: 28 NIV)

Often this verse is shared by well-meaning friends who want us to “look on the bright side”. They can’t comprehend that the darkness of child loss is so complete our hearts can’t imagine light still exists.

Joe Amon via Getty Images

But when you see that verse and the ones that follow in context, a heart can find a foothold.

A similar thing happens when we pray. We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words. 27 Don’t you know that He who pursues and explores the human heart intimately knows the Spirit’s mind because He pleads to God for His saints to align their lives with the will of God? 28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. 29-30 From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters. As for those He chose beforehand, He called them to a different destiny so that they would experience what it means to be made right with God and share in His glory.

Romans 8: 26-30 VOICE

Paul has laid a foundation earlier in chapter eight for the Spirit’s work in the life of the redeemed. The Holy Spirit testifies to our sonship, is a down payment on what’s to come, informs us that all creation is waiting for redemption and prays for us when we don’t know how or what to pray for ourselves.

As we align our hearts with the heart of God, our will conforms to His and we are positioned to receive even the hard things of life as having passed through His loving hands.

Not all things are good.

Let’s just get that out of the way right now.

Sin has infected every aspect of life on earth. Disease, genetic mutation, environmental destruction, people’s personal foolishness, sin and cruelty all add up to awful outcomes.

The sting of death has been removed but the fact of death remains.

Frankly, life is hard.

But all those things that are outside the perfect will of God-the pain, the heartache, the destruction, the awful, awful sadness-aren’t outside His power of redemption.

He takes those dark moments, months, years, LIFETIMES and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that ultimately displays His glory and our transformation into the likeness of Jesus.

I am a co-heir with Christ.

One day I will look more like Him than I ever thought I would.

And it will be the pressure of pain and struggle that squeeze me into the mold of His likeness.

Not everything IS good, but everything will work TOWARD good.

You can take that to the bank.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever had “all things work together for good” tossed at you? How did it make you feel?
  • Does seeing that verse in context make it easier to read/digest? Why or why not?
  • I personally find great comfort in this whole chapter. Knowing that even creation is subjected to the effects of sin and decay helps my heart put my own experience into perspective. If you’d like to read more about how I’ve been able to do that read here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/06/10/did-god-take-my-child/
  • Being conformed to the likeness of Christ is painful, regardless of how the pressure comes. Can you see how the pain of child loss has molded your heart into a closer approximation of the heart of Jesus? Why or why not?
  • Why is it important to make a distinction between the idea that everything that happens is good versus the idea that everything that happens (good or bad) can be used by God FOR good?
  • I remember that dark morning just having no words. I think all I could manage was to repeat the names of God. When has the Holy Spirit prayed for you? Are you encouraged by the idea that even if you don’t know what or how to pray, He has you covered?

PRAYER:

Lord, I know people don’t mean to do it but it hurts my heart when they toss Your words at me like a volleyball expecting me to just hit it back and act like nothing’s happened.

My world stopped. My heart was shattered. Child loss is not good. You can use it FOR good, but it is not good.

Thank You that Paul was a faithful scribe and put Your truth in context. Thank You that I can look up all the verses and see that the message You gave him was not that ALL things are good, but rather that even the awful, heartbreaking, terrible things can be USED for good in Your loving, sovereign hands.

Give me the courage to trust You with even this. Help me lean in and take hold of an eternal perspective so I can endure patiently. Give me strength to finish strong. And when the process of conforming me to the image of Christ seems too hard to bear, remind me that You are here and will give me sufficient grace.

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Incomparable Glory

Aspen trees.

Truly glorious.

By Famartin – Own work

I was blessed to live several years in Colorado and it never got old to head off in the mountains, round a curve and come upon a grove of trembling golden aspen. They demanded I step outside the car and drink them in.

Photographs don’t do them justice.

You have to be there, see them, hear their leaves make music in the wind and smell the cool, clear air of the mountains to understand.

When Paul says that the sufferings in this life are incomparable to the glories of the next, I think he had something like this in mind-Heavenly experience is so far outside mortal language and understanding, it’s simply impossible to describe.

Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children. 17 If we are God’s children, that means we are His heirs along with the Anointed, set to inherit everything that is His. If we share His sufferings, we know that we will ultimately share in His glory.
18 Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. 

Romans 8: 16-18 VOICE

It’s no accident Paul tags this assurance on the end of declaring the fullness of my relationship to God the Father through Jesus His Son. If I, like Christ, am a child of God, then I. like Christ am an heir to the promises.

It’s a fact, not a theory.

God doesn’t lie. He will do every thing He says He will do.

I can rest assured in that truth.

We endure many hard things for a guaranteed earthly return on our time, money, energy, strength and tears.

How much more sure are the promises of God?

The glory to come must be some kind of wonderful it if makes the pain of child loss so small there’s no comparison.

Am I willing to trust Him even here, even now?

QUESTIONS:

  • What’s your first impression of these verses? Do they hit a nerve? Make you defensive of your pain and suffering? Are they comforting?
  • What does it mean to you that God is Father? That you are a co-heir with Christ?
  • Have you ever had the last verse tossed at you by a well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) person trying to “cheer you up”? How did you respond (internally or verbally)?
  • Write out your own example of an awe-inspiring experience that stopped you in your tracks? Read it back to yourself aloud. Do you feel like you were able to convey the depth and breadth of your actual experience in words? Why or why not? Does this give you more or less confidence in how amazing Heaven will be?

PRAYER:

Father God,

I am thankful I can call You Father. I am thankful my position in Your family is secured by the blood of Christ. Thank You for the gift of salvation through His sacrifice. Thank You that the Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am Yours.

It’s hard to suffer well sometimes. It’s hard to hold onto hope when pain is so very real and Heaven is somewhere I can’t really picture well. I’m trying to lean into the promises here and throughout Your word.

Strengthen me by Your word and with Your strength. When my heart is overwhelmed, calm me with Your songs of deliverance. When my grip is weak, wrap Your arms around me and help me hold on.

Amen