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

 

 

Something to Hold On To When You Feel Like Letting Go

I have to talk to myself all the time.

Literally.

There are some mornings I open my eyes and would do just about anything to be able to stay in bed, hide under the covers and wish the day away.

But I can’t.

So I recite truth until my heart can hear it.  I speak courage to my own spirit.

If you are feeling weak and weary today, may I share a few of my favorites?

 

blessed is the one who perseveres

I don’t have to arrive at the finish line cute and perky, I only have to complete the course even if I’m barely crawling or dragging myself the last few feet.

Endurance IS the victory and perseverance IS faith.

 

my grace is sufficient

God’s grace is enough.  Sometimes I don’t believe it but that doesn’t make it untrue.  God promises to provide the strength I need when I need it.  When I am weak, He is strong.

lamentations-3-22-23

Even the very WORST day of my life only lasted 24 hours.  All I have to do is live this moment, this hour and this day.  Every morning is a new beginning with new mercy and sufficient grace.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God is still on the throne and still in control.

you keep track of all my tears

What a precious promise that the King of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the God of Heaven is keeping track of MY tears!  Not a single drop hits the ground but that He scoops it up and saves it.  One day every one will be redeemed.

began a good work

God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is working in and through me to conform me to the likeness of Christ.  That work is often painful.  But He is going to use even this most awful, heartbreaking thing.

revelation-21_4

When all else fails and a day is full of tears and sorrow, I remember that there will be a Day-a glorious Day!-when every single tear will be wiped away and, in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every bad thing will come untrue.”

Hallelujah!

Amen!

no evil can conquer grace forever

 

Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

What If I’m Angry* With God?

God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Yes, I know, the commonly touted wisdom in church circles is not to ask, “Why?”

It’s also bad form to admit that you might actually be angry* with God. 

But I can pretty much guarantee that over half of any congregation sitting in the pews on a given Sunday has had at least one moment when, with raised eyes they screamed, “Why?????” to the sky aimed at a God they didn’t understand but believed in anyway.

I know I have.  

David did.

Paul did.

Job did.

So what does a heart do if it’s upset with God?  Stuff it?  Reason it away?  Shame it to silence? Hope it fades on its own?

I think the only thing a heart can do with that anger and doubt and disappointment is take it straight to the Throne of Grace where we are promised to find help in an hour of need.

Hebrews-4_16

That’s what I did.  

I wrote hundreds of pages of journals with my Bible beside me.  When the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to mind as I was writing, I looked it up, read it and usually copied it into my journal right alongside my questions and rambling.

Sometimes I would write the letters large and decorate them or look up the meaning of words in a concordance or dictionary and write the definitions or synonyms out to help me deepen my understanding.

In the end, my heart was finally able to accept the truth of Who God is-my loving, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Heavenly Father-even when I do not like what He is doing.

Reaching a place of accepting His will while still acknowledging the pain it brings me (like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) has given me a measure of peace.

It has freed me to walk on in this life and to take the good, the bad, the painful and the wonderful in stride.

Do I still have moments (days!) when I want to scream?

Absolutely. But I am submitted to God and bow my heart to His.

It took a long time.

The more I read and studied Scripture, the more I found evidence of anguish, tears, and the messiness of human emotion. When we are in pain, the pain we are facing is temporary, even though it never feels temporary. Pain can linger, and it will always be with us, but for the believer in Jesus Christ, pain is never the final destination.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine, p. 134

*I am lumping a lot of strong (often considered “negative”) emotions in with the one word “angry”-for me, it was actually disappointment-God did not live up to my expectations (which is not to say He should or that my expectations were accurate).  For others it might be distrust and for some it might be doubt (does God love me?).  I’m most certainly NOT suggesting that Jesus was angry with God in the garden but it is plainly stated in Scripture that He begged God for another, less painful way that would still accomplish the Father’s plan.

 

When I Don’t Know What to Pray: Praying the Names of God

The Bible says that “The Name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved.”  (Proverbs 18:10)

Clearly that does NOT mean that every person who calls on the Name of the LORD will be kept physically whole.

Many, many believers have suffered and died while the name of Christ is on their lips.  

But I do believe that in a very real, very meaningful way, calling on the Name of the LORD has saved me.  

It saved me first from my sin and guarantees that I will meet my son in eternity.

And it continues to save me when I am at the end of my own resources and need to appropriate the strength of my Heavenly Father to hold onto hope.

Over twenty-five years ago I was introduced to a wonderful book by Sylvia Gunter called PRAYER PORTIONS.  My copy is battered, dog-eared, torn and treasured.

prayer portions

It is full, full, full of wonderful teaching about prayer and, more importantly, of biblical prayers to actually PRAY.  

While my prayer life post child loss is not at all what it used to be, I still rely on her list of the names and attributes of God to help my heart make it through tough days.

Here is one Alphabet of the Names and Attributes of God

Abba Father – Gal. 4:6
Balm of Gilead – Jer. 8:22
Comforter – 2 Cor. 1:3
Deliverer – Ps. 18:2
Everlasting God – Isa. 40:28
Father of Mercy – 2 Cor. 1:3
Good Shepherd – John 10:11-15
Holy One – Pro. 9:10
Intercessor – Heb. 7:25
Judge of the living and thedead – 1 Peter 4:5
King Eternal – 1 Tim. 1:17
Light of revelation – Luke 2:32
Man of sorrows – Isa. 53:5
Never-failing One – Heb. 13:5
Offering for sin – Heb 10:14
Potter – Isa. 64:8
Quieting Love – Zeph. 3:17
Righteous – 1 Cor. 1:30-31
Santification – 1 Cor. 1:30-31
Teacher – John 14:26
Upholder of all things – Isa. 41:13
Very present help – Ps. 46:1
The Way – John 14:6
Exalted – Psa. 148:13
Your glory and lifter of your head – Ps. 3:3
Zealous – John 2:17
From PRAYER PORTIONS by Sylvia Gunter
I pray that it helps your heart as much and as often as it helps mine.
strong tower1

Did God Take My Child?

This is a question that comes up all the time in bereaved parents’ groups:  Did God take my child?

Trust me, I’ve asked it myself.  

How you answer this question can mean the difference between giving up or going on, between turning away or trusting.

So this is MY answer.  The one I’ve worked out through study, prayer and many, many tears.  You may disagree.  That’s just fine.  I only offer it because it might be helpful to some struggling and sorrowful soul.

I believe that God is the Author of life and the arbiter of death. What that means (to me) is that He is ultimately in control of everything and could (if He chose) intervene and stop the death of any person if He wanted to.

Nothing and no one is stronger nor more powerful than God.

However, we live in a fallen world where sin has tainted the original creation God declared “good”. So there are natural disease processes, genetic malformations, undetected birth defects (that may go unknown until well into adulthood like heart defects) that lead to death.

God does not intervene each time-but He could.

People make sinful and foolish choices that have natural consequences. My son was going way too fast in a curve on his motorcycle. God did not override my son’s free will (just as He does not override our free will all day every day) and my son ran off the road.

There are universal physical and biological laws that most of us are thankful for each day that then took over in my son’s case and doomed his motorcycle to certain paths and his body to certain death when it impacted the ground.

God didn’t intervene but He could have.

Job was ultimately protected by the fences God placed around his person. I believe each of us are too.

Yet God is weaving a bigger tapestry, writing a bigger story than only the part that includes me and my family.  So my son’s death and the changes it has wrought in me, in others that knew and loved him and even further out into the world are part of God’s big story.

I have made peace with the fact that I do not understand nor like what God has done in my life by allowing my son to die, but I will trust His loving character and wait to see how it will be redeemed in eternity.

No, God did not TAKE my son. But He allowed his death.

I gain more comfort in a God Who could have saved my son but chose not to, than a God Who does not have that power.

His word declares that He keeps my tears in His bottle. 

I believe it. 

And I believe that one day He will redeem every one and restore what my heart has lost.  

you keep track of all my tears