Category Archives: Searching in Suffering

5 weeks, 6 days

Standard

Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you,  and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. Ex.23:25-26.

Last Thursday I woke up 5 weeks 6 days pregnant. That night, I went to bed 0 weeks 0 days pregnant because I miscarried for the fifth time. This is my third miscarriage at 5 weeks 6 days. We did not plan for this baby; pregnancy was a surprise mingling anxiety and hope. I did everything right to overcome the genetic disorder that strips babies from my womb. I swallowed the vitamins and the blood thinners at the precisely recommended amounts and times. I prayed in faith on my knees, battering heaven with a request for mother-grace. But this baby emptied from me, my seventh child and my fifth to die.

I am so sorry, little one. I am so sorry that my body cannot take you past this one day in your little life. 

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev.21:3-4.

(Someday, someday, all of this will be untrue. Can I wait until that day?)

Long ago, when the world was still new, a woman named Hagar was a slave in Abram’s household. She served Abram’s barren wife Sarai. Sarai would not wait for the child of promise, so she gave Hagar into her husband’s arms. Since Hagar was considered property, not person, her child would technically belong to Sarai (a loophole in the promise?) 

In Genesis 16, the Bible says that when Hagar conceived, she despised her barren mistress. In response, Sarai mistreated Hagar, spilling out all of the rage of an empty season. Hagar fled into the desert.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert.  And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

(As I attempt to control and manage these pregnancies so that not even God can take these babies from me, He says, “Heidi, my daughter whom I love, where have you come from and where are you going? Who are you? To what have I called you? When will you live my story instead of the one you hold onto?”)

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

No thank you, Lord. 

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael (which means GOD HEARS), for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

O Lord, finally, some good news. You are going to fix this….

Right?

“He will be a wild donkey of a man…

Excuse me? What?

…his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

WHAT??? No thank you, Lord. I didn’t ask for this. This isn’t my fault. You are supposed to fix this, not make it worse. You are punishing my children for something that I didn’t even do?  No. No. NO.

No.

I am Hagar. I live a suffering I cannot manage or control, that takes my children away from me and I cannot save them. God comes to me in my desert with no solution; only the razor’s edge of this reality, You could have saved them, but You did not…..

That is hard news, almost too hard to bear. The Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, the walk of tears. The Cross before the Crown.

She gave this name to Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God Who Sees Me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

(Do you see it, the deepest mystery, the paradox of glory……..?)

Hagar’s response was worship, not rage or despair or a shaking fist. God gave her no words of comfort or alleviation; He offered no earthly intervention to lift her cross. He told her to go back to the abuse of her mistress and wait to bear a child whose life would be marked by conflict and rejection.

He gave her nothing but His Presence, and it was enough.

He saw her in her desperation and he came to her with the Truth of Who He Is alongside the full weight of what He required of her….(Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going…?) .  

Suffering and glory are parallel tracks. Yes, I lose my babies whom I love at 5w6d because my body and my blood are broken in their genetic code. Yes, God could have saved each and every one of them, but He did not. Those things are true. Also, He is the God Who Sees Me, the God who reaches for me in the desert because my heart matters to Him. That is also true. Our hearts were made for glory, so we falsely believe we have to choose which is more real, which to believe.  The tension feels like it will rip us apart, but it will not if we will bear it. Suffering and glory – they are both true.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor.4:10, 16-18.

I have learned that childbearing is dangerous for most of us. We each live our own surrender story, our own version of the parallell lines. Some have too many children, some not enough. We live under fear or anger or grief or exhaustion or guilt or some combination thereof because of the brokenness of our life giving stories. What is it about this season of life that is so fragile and vulnerable? I have two healthy and dazzling children that call me Mommy. I know life as well as death. I worship in joy as well as grief.

Give me Hagar eyes, so that I may see the God Who Sees Me. Help me to lock eyes with you, to bear the tension of the parallel lines of suffering and glory that are both true. I choose to look up at you as Hagar did, to see the One Who Sees Me and to worship in response. I choose to believe that the death that happens deep in my body is not the end of my story, not even the defining part of my story. Show me the life of Jesus revealed in my body, in my story. What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. This life is just a shadow of the glory to come. I cannot see the glory, but I can see the One Who Sees Me. I trust You, I love You, I choose You.

Advertisements

Barren

Standard

It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Chip Brogden.

The question of suffering is, really, the only unanswered Question that really matters. Every theological construct unravels in the face of undeserved suffering. Even truth feels trite in the teeth of deep pain. Those who live long enough to see darkness overshadow glory wonder if it can really be true that a world exists that can make fallenness un-true. Is there really an eternity where I will not be defined by my Question, my loss, my suffering? We all ask the Question differently, with our specific queries, like –

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

That is my Question. Well, one of them.

I used to cling to Bible stories.  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s parents, Hannah, the Shunammite woman, Elizabeth.  The Bible bloats with barren women who gave birth to miracle babies who advanced the Kingdom of God. I used to pray with flamboyant boldness to be a Hannah – to birth my miracle baby then a family full.  Lord, I know you have given us two miracles, but, O, Lord, I cannot let go of my strong belief that our family is not complete. There is a hole in our family.  An emptiness.  After four miscarriages, I started to dwell on other stories.  A planet distended with childless women who never held a miracle.  Instead, they wept the empty, unanswered tears of a Question. To them, perhaps I have no right to my Question, and I do not blame them.

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?

One Daniel rescued from the den of lions; forty Roman catacombs swollen with the decayed bones of martyrs fed to the lions.  Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the Widow of Nain’s son raised from the dead; millions of lost loved ones buried in dust while Jesus walked out His mission.  Half a million people miraculously saved from Egyption slavery; half a million people perished in the wilderness without laying eyes on the Promised Land.

There are more unanswered Questions than intervening miracles.

What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Chip Brogden.

I read Job in my quiet times now.  Job is bloody, slashed with gaping theological wounds, like raw meat. There is no book like Job for Questions.

 My complaint today is still a bitter one,
and I try hard not to groan aloud.
If only I knew where to find God,
I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
and present my arguments. Job 23:2-3.

Everybody deals with the Question of suffering in their own way.  Cynicism, idealism, political justice, personal vengeance, nihilism, suicide, addiction, a cause, denial, grief, rage, hedonism, philosophy.  What I love about Job is that its haunting archetypal Question does not end with answers.

It ends with worship.

It ends with God revealing Himself, and Job responding on His face.  Job has just flamed endless savage rage, and God simply acknowledges his pain, then tells Job Who He Is.

Isn’t that how the cancer of suffering heals?  Not with resolution, but with recognition.  The stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  We cannot un-suffer; our story is what it is.  We make our peace with the grief of our story in our own ways.  I cannot make your peace for you; that was Job’s friends’ mistake (well, one mistake among many).  For me, I choose to worship.

Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Shall I accept only the amount of miracle children I desire, but not less than that?  Shall I accept the story of Hannah, but not the story of a barren mother?  Shall I accept the miracle, but not the emptiness?

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

Shall I accept the Answer, but not the Question?

Simons

Standard

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. Luke 17:4

Luke the Evangelist records a special piece of Jesus’ story in chapter 7 of his gospel.  Jesus, a blue-collar itinerant preacher, attended a refined dinner party in the elegant home of a Pharisee named Simon.  These cultured men surely believed that a rough carpenter must have been overwhelmed by the grandeur of their important world.

A scandal ruptured the glittering event.

A woman in that town who had lived a sinful life (Luke 7:37) flagrantly interrupted the dignified meal.  She rushed into the formal affair, threw herself at Jesus’ feet, and broke open a vase of expensive perfume (surely the wages of her harlotry). She bathed his simple feet in the liquid fragrance.  She wept so profusely that her tears mingled with the perfume, and then she wiped the mess with her undone hair.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Then Jesus, who was more than a prophet and knew every detail of her sordid story, answered the hissing implication of Simon’s legalistic heart.

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred coins, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 

You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.

You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. 

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

This is my very-super-extra-forever-favorite gospel story.  I can scarcely read it without welling up with my own tears of scarred surrender.

So, why, O why, do I who have been forgiven so much struggle with all of my weak heart to forgive so little?

I am this sinful woman.  I have sinned as deep as the ocean.  Shame has torn me apart.  I have absorbed the ache of rejection. I have known the sweet and shaking power of a grace so abundant that it toppled strongholds with soft yet shattering whispers. I live at His feet with trembling hands, hiding behind a battering ram of mercy that sets me free.  I love Him much because He has forgiven me much.  Yes.

Yet, to my shame, I have not forgiven my Simons.

I write this out of exposed confession, not justification.  I grieve my own self-righteousness.

I forgive weakly, palely.  I forgive like a bloodless ghost who comes back to haunt my own pocked past with deathly whispers.  Remember when she said that….What did he mean by that?…..How can she justify that….?  

Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.  George MacDonald.

Forgiveness raises the dead.  It pumps life into corpses of fallenness.  It puts meat on the bones of forgotten spectres.  Forgiveness redeems and resurrects lifeless relationships and empty characters.

So I memorized these verses and I will repeat them every day this year as I pray to be a Forgiver, like Jesus.  Lord, make me a Forgiver, a Grace-giver.  May I look at my Simons with the same merciful release with which You look at me.  I choose to forgive seven times seventy times, forever, because forgiveness is the life-giving Way of the Cross.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:14-15

This is the Year of Forgiveness

Towers

Standard

When I was in (Christian liberal arts) college , I was the angst-y sort.  I listened to Counting Crows and Ani DiFranco. I dated a guy who wrote a play about an intelligent but melancholy chick who questioned everything.  Her name was Sarah, and she was (TA-DA!) me.  In the play, titled The Bridge, Sarah (played by moi) stood on a rickety old wooden bridge with different people in her life and discussed deep issues like how-far-is-too-far and did-my-parents-screw-me-up.  The play was a huge success.

I made a friend who was a kindred restless spirit.  He and I would sit around on the (for real) old railroad bridge near our school, smoke cigarettes, and contemplate weighty topics with the earnest duality of angst mingled with idealism.  We decided that there are two types of people – blinking lights and steady lights.  We based this insightful metaphor on the radio towers that peppered the endless Indiana horizon.  These radio towers gleamed blinking lights on their pinnacles and steady lights on their lower rungs.

Blinking lights were on top, we mused, but they paid the price by switching off half of the time.

Steady lights were, well, steady. They were unfailing, dependable; but lower.

(D to the RAMA…….)

I lived like a blinking light.  After all, I had a well-developed metaphor to justify, right?

Throughout my twenties, I danced a long, broken rhythm of failure and salvage. Through both extremes, I learned that I am the beloved object of divine pursuit.  I began to recognize the steel underpinnings of mercy in an inconsistent life.  Slowly, I understood the cost and the glory of holiness.  The Holy Spirit transformed me deliberately, excruciatingly, through a lifeline of grace in the murky waters of regret and loss.  The joys of those years far outweigh the pain. I finished college and graduate school, moved to breathtaking Colorado, met and married my best friend, gave birth to two miracle babies, experienced indescribable healing, settled into a beautiful life.  The theme of my twenties was REDEMPTION.

though i have closed myself as fingers, 
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens 
(touching skillfully,mysteriously)her first rose. (e.e.cummings)

As I approached my thirties, to be blunt, I wanted to get off the crazy train.  No more aching crashes and burns, no more falls from earthly grace.  I began to hunger for my long redemption to produce the quiet solidity of righteousness. The theme of my thirties is PURITY.  I ask God to transform me from a wrecking ball into a rebuilder as He purifies me.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. James 1:5.

The Lord whispered the theme of PURITY for my thirties through my friend Tosha, who has a theme for every decade of her life.  To cultivate PURITY, I prayerfully decided to devote myself to developing a PURE character trait through every year of my thirties.  Last year, the character trait was truth.  This year, it is forgiveness.  

(Why do I choose forgiveness?  Click here to read why.)

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb.12:12-13.  I thought I was good at forgiving, but, to my shame, I have discovered recently that my arms are feeble and my knees weak. This year, I pray for strength deep and abiding to be a grace-giver.  I remember well my seasons of limping, falling forward into grace.  I want to shine a light of grace on those in darkness.  I want to build a towering monument to forgiveness in my life.  Blinking or steady, it does not matter; I want to shine forgiveness from a glowing countenance free from shame and strongholds.  This is the year of forgiveness.

Roots

Standard

Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord.  He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. excerpts from Psalm 1.

A man tours an orange orchard in the midst of a drought.  The sky is endlessly dry. An irrigation line is broken, so the heavy limbs crack under the relentless sun.  The thirsty roots wither.  The trees are dying, the tour guide explains.  The drought has drained them dry.

The man asks many questions about the dying trees.  In response, the tour guide takes the man to his own orchard many miles away.  The trees grow sturdy and sweet in spite of the blaze of the fiery sky.  The man asks the tour guide what irrigation system he uses to conquer the drought’s power.

None, the tour guide responds.

How can that be?  Why are your trees so healthy? The man asks in wonder.

The tour guide explains.  When my trees were saplings, I periodically withheld moisture from them.  To survive, their roots grew deep and strong. The healthy roots sought the moisture they needed in the rich soil of deep earth. 

 It was a risk, the tour guide mused.  But now my orchard grows the deepest-rooted trees in the region.  Other orchards die in the drought, but mine have found nourishment in the depths of the earth, and they thrive.

What has God withheld from you?

Many years ago, God thundered a calling over me.  In the years after, life dried up.  Miscarriage, failure, loss, conflict, attack – my story withered and cracked.

Now, as God rains benedictions, my eyes widen in awe as I see the lush fruit of a mighty grace.  My roots have not failed.  I still stand.  Not because I am strong; I am only an orange tree under a sweltering sun.  But only, only because of amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  This mysterious grace has one source – the God who offers the cool waters of truth and life for those who will stretch strong to receive.

Are you an orange tree in a dying orchard?  Does your life drain away under the oppressive heat of a withering story?  Me too.  There is only one way to thrive in a drought – through the roots.  O, beloved, do not let yourself die under the blaze of suffering.  Oppressive sun cannot kill a tree with roots entwined deep into the endless well of Life.  Drought protection comes from within, from the strength of well-watered roots that feed life into limbs and leaves.  Stretch your roots down, down, down into the Word, into prayer, into community, into an intentional battle against the lies that scorch you. Wrap yourself around Truth and Life – they will course through your veins and strengthen you through your dry season.  

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
   whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Hope

Standard

It is good to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord. Lam.3:26.

Tonight we welcome advent as a family.  Advent is defined by purposeful waiting for a sure Salvation, certain but not yet grasped.  Advent is hope promised but still deferred. In Advent tradition, the Christ-child, the Savior, is nearly come, but He is not here yet.

Jack lights the Candle of Hope, his posture strong yet shy as he navigates the flame.  He catches Daddy’s eye in awe as the blaze licks the wick, catches, flares, then settles – Hope newly aflame.  

This week God ignites a fresh flame of hope.  My past four years were a crucible, characterized by crushing failure, aching loss, relentless opposition, piercing judgment, intervening rescue and infinite grace upon grace.  My life became a long season of Advent, of hope-certain-but-not-yet.  My fragile humanity crumbles to fragments, but I am safe, upheld by divine mercy.  I lived in dust, waiting, hoping, for my God to someday lift me out.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke 
   while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence, 
   for the Lord has laid it on him. 
Let him bury his face in the dust— 
   there may yet be hope. 

Lam.3:27-29.

Today is a step into Hope.  It is my first day officially back on the women’s ministry leadership team at church, the same church that released me four years ago.  The enemy of our souls snarls and snaps, but Living Grace is my everlasting Hope and I am undone by His neverending cascades of loving favor.  My role on leadership is quiet writing for a season as the Lord builds a new vision in the women of our church.  God is birthing a dream within in our team for a deeper teaching ministry to women, so I will create a Bible study curriculum scheduled at this point to launch in Fall 2012 at Vanguard Church.

My heart brims over as I watch the Candle of Hope flicker on the faces of my favorite Three.  I rest in the glow of Advent, the long arriving redemption.  I remember the long trail of brokenness behind us.  I remember the bloody, battered talons we inserted into the Hope of God-promises through that long season of bitter gall.  I remember the joy of steadily dawning freedom shining over our recovery path.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His Holy Name.  Sing like never before, O my soul, and worship His holy name.  Matt Redman. 10,000 Reasons.

I exult that the Lord keeps His promises, that our Hope is eternally sure.  I revel in the grace of family in the glow of candlelight. I rejoice that God gives me a new voice to proclaim His brilliant glory to His beloved.

What do you hope for from the Lord right now? we ask each other in the Light of hope.

Lucy says, Blue and Pink.

Daddy & Mommy say, we hope that the Lord will alleviate personal and professional pressure & attack at work.

Jack, the little theologian, says this, I hope for faith, hope and love.

YES. And Amen.

Forgiver

Standard

And I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way You love us. O how He loves us.

How He Loves. John Mark McMillan.

I was not expecting to blog about the night, so I only had my iPhone for pictures.

Last night Super Friend Kristen and I went to Glen Eyrie Castle for a worship event.  (Our husbands stayed home together with the little ones to, as Dreamy Scott says, watch Tim Tebow resurrect the Broncos franchise and bring hope to millions.)   Fike and Dana (friends, worship pastors, Integrity artists & songwriters) invited us to be a part of a special night in their ministry.  This event honored the union of Integrity Music with David C. Cook Ministries – a marriage of two luminous ministries. A sea of songwriters and worship leaders cleared a space for an intimate knot of God-seekers to invest 2 and a half hours in sacred praise.  Fike and Dana, Jon Egan, Glenn Packiam, Brad Parsley, Jared Anderson, Travis Ryan, Kathryn Scott, Jennie Lee Riddle, Paul Baloche, Leslie Morgan, and more and more and more.  We gathered in a small room. Every seat occupied by a soul raised in wholehearted worship.

Fike, Dana & Travis Ryan leading worship, while I snuck iPhone pictures from the back of the room.

I wept when Fike and Dana, alongside Travis Ryan, led us in worship. My heart brims over with sweet delight as I see God raise up my friends to a precious role that fulfills their anointing. We went to honor our soul knit friends. We experienced more than we came for. (Isn’t that what happens when we access Infinity?) We received bone deep renewal.

Glenn Packiam spoke a simple devotion in the midst of the night. A blind man, Bartimaeus, sat by the roadside, begging. Bartimaeus heard rumors about Jesus, rumors that whispered, Messiah?  Promised Son of David?  Can it be? Jesus, the heart-seer, acknowledged the blind beggar.  What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51).  Glenn made a profound point.  Bartimaeus had a choice. He could have responded with a practical request. Money. Food. A home.

Instead, he asked for a Miracle. He asked for something divine, a request that could only be fulfilled by the Messiah.

The blind man said, Rabbi, I want to see. (Mark 10:51).

Glenn challenged us. When was the last time we asked God for something only He can give? Something celestial. Something worthy of God.

I feel a shaking in my spirit.  A dividing line.  What do you want me to do for you?  He asks me.

I kneel as we fall into worship again.  Lord, for what shall I ask You?  You invite me to ask for a God-sized dream.  I could ask for a practical request.  The advancement of my calling, the resolution of professional troubles at Jaxon Engineering, a baby.  I am Bartimaeus, blind to so much of my world.  Lord, open my eyes to Your glory.  For what shall I ask?

It shoots across my mind like a bullet.  Forgiver.

Worship surrounds me, overcomes me.  I am on my knees.  Forgiver?  I ponder what it means.  And it slays me.  Child, if you will ask, I will answer.  

So, reeling, I pray.  Lord, make me a forgiver.  A releaser.  Give me this rare gift.  Make my heart slippery, so that it cannot hold onto regret and bitterness, so that all the fallout of fallenness against me slides away into the ocean of your grace.  Open my clenched fists.  Make me a grace-giver, like You.  

Shaken by truth, God-thoughts invade me.  What if Forgiver becomes my name?  What if I just choose, today and forever, to be a Forgiver, a Releaser, a Grace-giver, like my Jesus.  What if I stop looking at the wrongs done against me and instead choose to see who I am?  What if I filter every interaction by my identity as a Forgiver?  What if I never look back?  I breathe it in.

Easier said than done, you think?  I no longer believe that.  I think it is a simple choice.  Perhaps I make that choice seventy times seven times.  I forgive you because it is who I am. Because of Who He Is. We are Forgivers, my Jesus and I.

So I knelt in the Presence of God and His worshippers and opened my hands, let so so so much slip away.  Not for the sake of my dreams, or even for the freedom it will surely produce, but as an offering to the One Who Sees Me, who invited me to ask for something only God can do.  That is my request, that I be a Forgiver.

Insomnia

Standard

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5.

Lucy climbs out of her crib.  She creeps into my room.  “Mommy, cuddle you.”  I pry open dry eyes, throw the covers back, swoop her up, stumble back to her room.  I rock her as she snuggles into my neck for a few breaths.  I lay her down, spread her blankie over her back, lurch back to bed.  I toss and turn for a long time.  My mind spins with our life.  Finally, I sink into sleep.

The dog, Diva, whines in her sleep.  My eyes snap open again.  The wheels in my weary mind start to grind – again.  I sigh, sit up, open my Nook, read a few Psalms, turn my body to shield the backlight from my sleeping husband.  After a few minutes, I lie down and wait for sleep to cover me again.

The wind whips a branch against the side of the house.  I jerk out of sleep, shoot straight up, eyes wide.  Just the wind.  I resettle my mind, rearrange my pillows, snuggle down under covers again.  My mind is too full; I push back my thoughts while I try to drift into sleep….

Then, the door cracks open – “Mommy, cuddle you.”

Over and over again.  Night after night.

I am so tired.

During the days, I wear thin.  I snap quickly, leave laundry unfolded, forget to return emails and phone calls. I want to live above my long tunnel of sleepless nights, but I am so human, so fragile.  Flesh thoughts. Victim thoughts. Melodramatic thoughts. It is hard to handle life tired.

We are slaves to our bodies.

I cry to God for sleep, just one night of long hours of uninterrupted sleep.  A quiet mind, a rested body.  Then –

What if this is an opportunity?

What?

An opportunity.  

For what?

To renew your mind.

Sleep will renew my mind.

Ah, so will a simple choice.  Do you trust me with these circumstances that spin in your mind in the dark hours I’ve set aside for your rest?

Huh.

I stop in my tracks.  Conviction cascades over me.  I see it.  I put aside my cares, my anxieties in a separate space during the day.  Then I pick them up again as I lay my head down.  I thread them through my night hours, endlessly spinning them on the strings of sleepless hours, the hours in which I can do nothing to redeem them.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7.

Lord, I have a busy life. I do not have time to dwell on hard things, nor do I want to. I want to be free.

Ah, that is part of this choice.  This is an opportunity to renew your mind. What will you choose?

How do I do that, Lord?  How do I redeem my sleepless nights?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is; his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom.12:1-2.

How could I miss this?  Is that not what keeps me up at night?  Trying to discern His will? Mulling over this muddy vortex that appears to complicate His good, pleasing and perfect will?  I mistakenly believe that my mind is what holds me back, but no, it is not my mind; it is my lack of discipline over my mind.  

Do you trust me with these circumstances that spin in your mind in the dark hours I’ve set aside for your rest?

Yes.

Will you let Me transform you by the renewing of your mind?

Yes.

I confess that I have not cast my cares upon the Lord.

I confess that I have dwelled on that which belongs solely to the Lord.

I lay down the circumstances that feel complicated to me, but are laid bare before You, Lord.  You have a way through. Indeed, You Are the Way through.

I tell you everything in my mind, Lord.  You already know, but I give it to You myself.  I pour it out to you in the daylight hours, knowing you will hold it through the night. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Ps.62:8.

I take my thoughts captive, making them slaves to my freedom – not the other way around.  

And I sleep.

Unless the Lord watches over the city, 
   the guards stand watch in vain. 
In vain you rise early 
   and stay up late, 
toiling for food to eat— 
   for he grants sleep to those he loves. Ps. 127:1-2.


Alignment

Standard

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Ps.27:1.

I offer an ugly confession.

I confess that I hide under the shelter of infinite grace, where I then trivialize that deep and priceless well of grace by entreating my God to hold others accountable for wrongs done against me.

I nurse select grudges for bloody gashes from those who have been careless or malicious with my heart.  I confess that I want God to repay them for wrongs done against me.  I want Him to intervene on my behalf.  I want Him to align Himself with my cause.  After all, I responded to attack with dignity and silence – I did not repay evil for evil.  Now (and here is the undefended outpost where the Enemy slithers in with insidious yet seductive malice) God owes me.  I did my part; it is time for Him to do His. Time for God to be a mighty champion for me, to fight for me while I stand back, smugly observing them receive my justice from the hands of an avenging Warrior.

The dark confessions of an unforgiving heart.  

I read Joshua 5:13-14  when I feel the poisonous appeal of bitterness rise up like black gall in my throat.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Resentment sneaks up on us, does it not?  We do not recognize it, because it is hard to greet the full capacity of protective self-righteousness that dwells in each heart.  We find ourselves fantasizing about how sweet it will be when God finally gets it together to fight our battles.  We nurse our bitterness with hunched shoulders, clutching the wrongs done against us like jewels that will someday bring us the precious satisfaction of revenge (disguised in spiritual words like accountability and church discipline).

Joshua asked the stranger, Are you for us or for our enemies?  I greet the Lord with that same question when I find myself in the dark waters of unforgiveness.  Lord, are you on their side or on mine?  I am much more right than they are, so I know You’ll pick me.  

Neither, he replied.

“Excuse me, Lord?” We reply, outraged.  Um, did you not HEAR what she said about me behind my back?  The promise he broke?  The affair she had?  The way that child defied me?  The lies she told?  The money he squandered?  The kind of people they hang out with?  The way they discipline their kids?  The debt he is in?  The way they raised me?  I could go on and on, right?  We nurse the wrongs done against us.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  Matt. 16:24-25.

The Way of the Cross.  The Via Dolorosa.  The Walk of Tears.  God is my defender, my fortress, my everlasting tower of strength, but His calling is hard.  He zealously defends our character, not our personal justice.  Our mission, not our grudges.  His reputation, not ours.

That is very hard.  But it is also the door to freedom.

I learn and re-learn this mystery: When I pray my eyes off of my story and onto His, my eyes open.  I see that He wraps His arms around me tightly and keeps me safe.  I confess, then re-align my perspective with His.

Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Joshua was a wise man.  He recognized the rebuke and the mercy in that simple but dividing word – Neither.  Joshua responded with rapid submission, re-aligned mission.  A few verses later, the walls of Jericho fall in a heap of rubble and the Israelites take possession of their calling.  You see, the question is not whether God is on my side, but whether I am on His.  If I lock eyes with Him, walk in step with Him, deny myself and take up my cross with Him, then the outcome is certain – redemptive glory, mighty victory.

Lord, align me with You, always.  

Tantrum

Standard

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:12.

I sit in Barnes & Noble, creamy Earl Grey tea steaming next to my left hand, my Bible unfolded to 1 Kings 19 as it has been for days as I drink it into my parched spirit, over and over.  I have started this paragraph & deleted it – many times.  I do not know what to reveal, what to protect.

I will speak frankly.  I am in the midst of a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.  

I beg Him to intervene for my justice, for my calling, for a redemptive outcome in a whirling vortex of circumstances over which I have no control.  (Child, perhaps My redemption will unfurl in an unexpected way.  I see you.  Do you see Me?)

I hesitate, because there is much at stake.  I want a specific outcome, a safe outcome, an outcome that costs something but not everything.  We may step into the redemptive healing of the outcome we believe is right; but we may not.   We must simply wait to see.

Lord, there is no sin in the outcome I desire.  We have been through so much pain.  We have seen Your glory.  You have done the work. Please do this for us.  

Beloved, I know all of that. Will you trust Me with it? Keep your eyes on Me.  I see you.  Do not look to the right or to the left.  Do not look at the rocky ground beneath you or the swarm of hoverers around you.  Look up at Me.  I see you.  

1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah’s heart after a staggering miracle God had done through him.  Elijah had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a battle of worship.  They lost.  Elijah commanded the convicted Israelites to kill every one of the pagan prophets, effectively purifying God’s people from corrupt worship and lifting a (literal) drought on the rebellious land.  The rains fell on the parched land after the pagan slaughter, washing away judgment.  A clean start for God’s people.  All because of Elijah’s faithful obedience to the God of Israel.

Did Elijah rejoice wildly in the work of God?  Did he throw a giant party?  Did he kneel in thankful worship?  Did he relish the healing that God had done through Him?

Nope.

He threw a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.

Huh.

Queen Jezebel (boo. hissss.) threatened to kill him for murdering her prophets.  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. 1 Kings 19:3.  He fled to the desert, where he flung himself under a tree in empty turmoil.  He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough Lord,” he said.  1 Kings 19:4.

Yes. Elijah is my homeboy.  A mighty work of God, followed by a mighty big fit.

God’s response?  Judgement?  Lightning bolt?  Stern reminders of the miracles for which He had consecrated His beloved prophet?  Get your head back in the game, Elijah!  Stop being such a baby!  Maybe you aren’t cut out for this……

No.  None of that.

As a Father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on us; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. Ps.103:13-14.

The Lord sent angels to serve Elijah.  He tucked him in for days of restful sleep.  He asked him for his grievances, then listened to his heart. His God spoke over him in a gentle whisper, the only language that a defeated Elijah was able to receive in those cloistered moments.

Then the Lord showered Elijah with grace. In those quiet whispers, God promised Elijah a smoother path under the leadership of his life.  He promised him a partner, Elisha, a companion in his lonely mission.  The grace of leadership, the grace of community, the grace of a God who sees us in our most desperate hours and shepherds us with tender strength and intervening mercy. 

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.  1 Sam.14:6.

Right now I sit under the broom tree. I have had enough, Lord. But I fix my eyes wholly on the God of the gentle whisper, my Jesus who remembers that I am dust in a fragile vessel, merely earth and breath.  My eyes fill with tears as I remember who I am and the cost to redeem my broken life.  I bow before Who He Is, my El Roi, the Strong One Who Sees Me (Gen.16:13), who knows me, who shelters me and speaks tenderly to me.

Spill out your temper tantrum, beloved.  You are safe with me. But lock eyes with me – and trust me.

Yes, Lord.

What does He whisper to you?