Thoughts Matter

So much of this battle has been fought in my mind.

Really, even more than in my heart.

Because you can’t argue with sad or shock or missing or disappointment.

But you can absolutely argue with hopelessness (there is nothing to live for), apathy (there is nothing to do) and distrust (there is no one who can help me).

So I spend a lot of time filling my mind with truth and doing the best I can to empty it of lies.  Some days I’m more successful than others, but I battle on regardless.

dont let anyone rent space in your head toby mac

When hopelessness tries to take up residence I say:

Remember the word to Your servant upon which you have caused me to hope.

~Psalm 119:49

AND

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

~Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

Apathy sits heavy on my chest and makes me want to give up and give in.  Why try if life is random and chaos is rampant? 

I push it off with:

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 8:28-30 VOICE

I remember that I still have work to do:  

“For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. “

~Ephesians 2:10 AMP

The enemy of my soul whispers the same lie he told Eve in the garden, “God really doesn’t have your best interest at heart.  He’s holding out on you.  You can’t trust Him.”

I shout him down and declare:

all the promises of god are yes in christ

The God Who sent His only Son to save me will not let me go.  He will uphold me with His Righteous Right Hand.  Even in the flood of grief, the fire of trial and the darkness of despair, He is with me.  

carry you old age

I have verses and quotes and hymn choruses posted all over my house so that everywhere I turn, my eyes can land on encouragement.

I won’t win any awards with my decorating scheme, but I don’t care.

All of this will be dust one day. 

I’m building an eternal future that won’t rot, rust or decay.  

“3 Blessed is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that will never fade or fail. Through faith, God’s power is standing watch, protecting you for a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.”

~ 1 Peter 1: 3-5 VOICE

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

 

 

New Mercies

I love to read familiar verses in different translations or paraphrases.

It helps my heart hear what I might otherwise miss because familiarity DOES breed a form a contempt even when considering the Word of God.

Recently, on my way through verses on HOPE I copied out Lamentations 3: 19-26.

A couple of the verses are ones most of us have seen or heard often:

mercies new every morning

But back up a little bit, and read it in a different version ( the VOICE) and it takes on even greater meaning for those of us walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Jeremiah (the author of Lamentations and known as the “Weeping Prophet”) is overcome with grief.  He uses words I understand to describe how relentless sorrow and despair drag a heart down, down, down. 

He’s bitter, he’s crippled, he can’t move forward or even move at all.

Grievous thoughts of affliction and wandering plagued my mind—
    great bitterness and gall.
Grieving, my soul thinks back;
    these thoughts cripple, and I sink down. 

And, stopped in his tracks, he waits.

He knows he needs hope if he is to get up again.

So he turns his heart to the only One Who can help.

Gaining hope,
    I remember and wait for this thought:

He remembers that God’s love never runs out.  God will never suffer from compassion fatigue because the Lord is loyal, steadfast, inexhaustible.

God’s faithful love is new every morning! 

As reliable and obvious as the light that spreads across the eastern sky and chases the darkness from every corner.

How enduring is God’s loyal love;
    the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.
 Here they are, every morning, new!
    Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day.

Repeating that truth brings a heart courage to face even the most frightening or dismal circumstances. 

No one can stop the sun!

No one can stop the unfailing, loyal love of God from breaking forth!

Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need.
    My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.”

I can boast (make much of, speak boldly about) about my hope in the Lord because He never, ever fails.  I will not be put to shame. 

i am the lord not ashamed who wait for me

I am not left alone to my bitter thoughts and my affliction will not be forever.  When I seek Him with my whole heart, He lifts me up and carries me through the darkest night.

It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him,
    to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly
    for the Eternal to make things right again.

God will not allow injustice to reign forever. 

Sorrow will not have the last word! 

It is good to wait in full confidence, trusting that the Lord I love, loves me and will redeem and restore everything the enemy has stolen.  

“The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes”

Matt Redman 10,000 Reasons

sunrise trees

Is God Punishing Me?

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

My heart strains to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I sometimes reach for any explanation no matter how far-fetched or theologically inaccurate.

Because truly, child loss is sometimes only the beginning of the pain and sorrow and ongoing drama and trial.   Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, many, many things have gone wrong.

Many,  many things have been hard.  

After Dominic left, life just piled on like that childhood game where one person held the ball and everyone else tried to get it.

I woke up every day expecting another blow and it nearly always came.

I remember begging God to simply make it stop!

He didn’t.

So I began to wonder if I was being punished.  What other explanation could there be?  If God was allowing all these hard things, it must be because I owed Him something.  I hadn’t done enough or wasn’t doing enough.  My spiritual discipline was lagging behind.

Somewhere, somehow I was falling down in my faith.  

But those thoughts weren’t placed in my head by God.  They were fiery darts of the enemy of my soul trying his best to make me doubt and turn away from the Source of my hope.  

God is not punishing me.  

He made provision for all the punishment required when He sent His Son as a complete, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

My Heavenly Father is a good and loving God Who did not leave it to me (or you, or anyone else) to square that debt.  Because it is impossible for us to do it.  Even all the pain I’ve borne is insufficient to pay it.

Jesus paid it ALL.  The debt is no longer outstanding.  

john3-16-17

Now, I may very well (and often do!) have to reap the natural consequences of my own or other peoples’ sin. 

But that is very different than thinking God is doing me harm for the purpose of punishment.  

We live in a fallen world where things do not work as God originally intended.  Human hearts are callous at best and evil at worst and we do things to one another that should never be done.  Sickness, disease and accidents happen.

Sometimes all these things happen at once.  

God can and does intervene.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  I don’t know why in one case and not in another.  That is His wisdom and purpose and beyond my understanding.

But I know that He is not punishing me nor is He punishing you.  

Jesus Himself suffered greatly in His earthly life, yet never sinned.  

That made His sacrifice the perfect, complete and utterly final payment for my own sin debt.   Having received the gift of redemption by His blood, my life is free to be offered back to God as a gift of worship, reverence and faithful obedience.  

But it is not required as payment for sin.  

Neither was my son’s.  

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

Holding On To Hope With Both Hands

I confess that I have not had a wholehearted desire to study Scripture since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

Oh, I nibble on verses every day, but I’ve shied away from the feast that used to fill my heart and soul.  

This year, though, I’m committing to a more diligent approach-choosing to focus on one word per month and writing out corresponding verses.  I am studying them, looking up cross-references, considering context and making personal application in my journal.

So the first word I chose was “Hope” because I think of all the things I’ve struggled most to hold onto in this life I didn’t choose, hope is the hardest.  

In my flesh, I want to give up and give in. 

If Heaven is my ultimate destination and I can’t control the future, why not just coast until the Lord calls me home? Why work so hard to live up to a high standard when grace covers it all?  Why lift my head when head down or head up, I’m assured of eternal joy?

I’m just being honest here.  

But I know, deep in my spirit, that this is not the purpose for which I was created.  I was not made by a loving Father to plod hopelessly through this world.  He breathed life into my soul so that I could fulfill His kingdom purpose in this place, at this time.

So I get back on the proverbial horse every time I’m tossed off and try again.  

Here are just a couple of the verses that are speaking courage to me, helping me hold onto hope with both hands. 

I hope they whet your appetite (as they have mine) for finding more.  

O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
    Why are you so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
    I will believe and praise the One
    who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.

Psalm 43:5 VOICE

“Despite all my emotions” I will hope in God again.  God created me with emotions.  They are a gift (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way!).  But I cannot be ruled by them.

Emotions are changeable. 

Truth is not. 

So I have to turn my heart by an act of will toward the truth that God is my Savior, He is my hope.  

We live with hope in the Eternal. We wait for Him,
    for He is our Divine Help and Impenetrable Shield.
Our hearts erupt with joy in Him
    because we trust His holy name.
O Eternal, drench us with Your endless love,
    even now as we wait for You.

Psalm 33: 20-22 VOICE

I love the phrase from Psalm 33:20 “our hearts erupt with joy” This life is hard and joy is often a distant memory or a fleeting moment, but there will be a Day when my heart will be so full of joy-when every hard and hurtful thing is redeemed-that the joy will overflow like lava from a volcano.

No stopping it!

Now that’s something to hope for! 

If your heart needs help leaning in and holding on, here’s a link to a month’s worth of short verses focused on hope: Think on These Things: Hope

Print it out and tuck it in a journal or your Bible.  You can even look up the verses online and check out different translations.  (Something I love to do because it often reveals things I might overlook!)  Copy them out.  It only takes a few minutes.  Then underline the phrase or phrases that stand out to you.

Make them your own. 

Hide the words in your heart. 

Let the Word of God speak life and love to your soul.  

put our hope in the lord he is our shield

 

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

 

Willing Submission or Fatalism?

I have to be completely honest-I’m not sure at all that my heart is truly submissive.  It may just be that I figure, “What’s the point of resisting God?”. 

Paul told the Roman believers to “present your bodies as living sacrifices”. 

Trouble is, living sacrifices can (and do!) crawl off the altar.  

I’m trying to stay there, subtle and malleable under the hand of the God Who made me.  But unlike inanimate clay, I feel every pummel, slap and squeeze as He continues to mold me into the image of Christ.

potter-clay

Some days I’m better at it than others.  Honestly, I think I’m better at it when I feel it most.  Because then I recognize the bits that need changing, the attitudes that need adjusting, the habits that need to go.

But when it’s little things-judging someone by his outer appearance or demanding my “rights” as a customer from a tired store clerk or even impatiently charging through the house ignoring a phone call because I “have to get (whatever) done!”-that’s when I want out from under the hand of God.

Then there are the REALLY big things that I always balk at. 

Why do I have to be ill when I have so much to do?  Why my child?  Why do all the appliances need replacing at once?  Why are relationships so darn hard?  Why won’t my RA go into remission?  Why did the hurricane make its way right over my parents’ home?

Why, why, why?

And I find myself back at the beginning because truth told, I can’t do a thing about any of that. 

Am I willingly submitting to what God allows in my life or am I simply accepting it because there’s no use resisting?  

It’s a daily battle. 

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.

Isaiah 64:8 VOICE

 

 

Hidden Manna

I’ve thought often of what good, if any, can come from child loss.  

I do not think for one minute that God “took” my son to teach me a lesson or to mold me in some way.  

But I do believe with my whole heart that God can USE this circumstance to conform me more closely to the image of Christ Jesus. 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Romans 8: 26-30 MSG

I also cling firmly to the conviction that there are things I can learn, truths I can understand and depths of love and grace I can fathom that are not available to hearts who have not walked the road of sorrow and trod the path of grief.

There are things I know because I have been forced to travel the Valley of the Shadow of Death that those who are spared will never know.  

I truly believe this is some of the “hidden manna” Jesus promises to those who persevere under trial, who resist the lies and lure of the evil one and who persist in holding onto hope in spite of all evidence that screams, “Let go!”

Let everyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven; and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.

Revelation 2:17 TLB

My testimony is not flashy.  But it doesn’t have to be.

You won’t find me doing a victory lap around a defeated foe.  

Instead I cling tenaciously to the truth that God’s faithful love endures forever and that death is no longer the last word.

I swallow every bit of strength the Spirit offers me.  

Resurrection, redemption and resurrection are coming. 

And I wait, in hope, and with assurance that my story does not end in ashes.  

The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God’s divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.

The world didn’t take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.

~Henri Nouwen