Scripture is clear, that God uses times of trouble and pain in our lives to sanctify us- making us more like Jesus. As Romans 5:3-4 says “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” But sometimes that truth gets presented as if suffering is a magic pill you swallow, making you grow at rapid fire speed.
It is also clear that suffering can cause us to rely on God more wholly, and draw closer to Him. As one of my favorite psalms says: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).” People often experience that God’s presence seems nearer to them, and their fellowship with Him is sweetened, during times of great pain. But is that always the case? Do sufferers live on a perpetual mountaintop experience of closeness to God?
It’s not a super hard question really. I mean, have you ever had a stomach flu? Or even a bad head cold? Did you feel super close to God all day, every day, while you walked through that? When your head was hung over the toilet, were you amazed with the godly attitude that just seemed to rush over you the more you vomited? Probably not, right?
Because suffering is still suffering, and it feels like suffering. It doesn’t often feel like magic and mountaintops.
I’m sharing this because I’ve wrestled with it. Christians, myself included, talk a lot about the deep things they have learned through suffering, but sometimes our talk might leave people with a sanitized view, like suffering draws a tidy straight line towards Jesus and holiness, and those who walk the path are always glowing. During the most challenging year of my life, when I felt anything but glowing, my number one question was: Why doesn’t it feel like God is bringing anything good out of this? Continue reading →
Monday I saw my doctor’s replacement doc (as mine was away) to request more iron infusions, and I was surprised to discover my biopsy results were in. The young doctor opened them and without any time to brace myself I adjusted my chair to view the screen.
Gibberish. The page he had opened was full of what I can only assume was technical medical language, that may as well have been Greek. My eyes scanned the document for words I could understand, and I only found three: “GIST” (gastro-intestinal tumor)- which I already knew, “Rare”- which I also already knew, and “aggressive.”
Aggressive. Shoot. I do not like this word.
The doctor admitted this is unfamiliar territory for him and I should contact the specialist to explain.
So I did, and got an appointment for Thursday afternoon, which gave me approximately 72 hours to stew over this word “aggressive,” sandwiched between a bunch of Greek, while trying to maintain my cool and keep it quiet in case I was wrong. No need to stress people out before I had to.
As I’d imagine anyone would, I spent many of those hours bracing for impact. If this was bad news, how would I survive it? How would I get through this without being emotionally destroyed? The Lord knows I have gone about these things in both wrong and right ways before. What had I learned from darker days, that I could apply now?
Did I get ahead of myself? Probably. Yet, the Lord allowed me to have this scare, and even used these ridiculous three days for my good.
So, I will share some of the conclusions I was coming too while I waited:
1. God will do with me whatever will bring Him the most glory. This is a pretty simple, but powerful truth. I think of Philippians 1:20-24:
“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
Those are some very challenging words, and no doubt my faith would need to grow to make these claims as boldly as Paul. But there is truth here to grab onto- Jesus Christ will be honored, if I set myself to either live for Him or die for Him. He knows which is better for me. He has a plan to receive glory by either my life or death, and that thought is comforting. It gives meaning to everything. If I live, I live for Christ, and if I die, I gain Christ.
2. There is only One whom I must fear. Psalm 34:9 kept coming into my head this week: “Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” As I thought about that I realized that if sickness, pain, or loss made me turn away from the Lord, wouldn’t that prove that I feared those things more than I feared Him? But if I feared Him above all else, that fear of Him would help me respond in reverence instead of sin. And what did Jesus say? “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:5)!”
People, illness, or disaster can destroy your body, but not your soul. In Jesus Christ, my soul rests safe. I have a refuge in times of trouble, and atonement for the day of judgment. Sometimes, it is those ultimate, overarching truths, that settle our hearts and bring us rest. Continue reading →
I was reading Psalm 44 this week, and at verse 22 I noticed the familiar words from Romans 8:36, “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
In Romans 8, I knew the context was that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that through Christ we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” It is a section that stands out as victorious and triumphant. It is the kind of text that evokes praise and brings comfort.
So it really stood out to me, to find these words here in Psalm 44. You should read the Psalm, but to give you the basic content I will break it down in sections. I’m not quoting the text here, just doing summaries.
Verse 1-3 “We have seen your faithfulness of old, and how our people conquered through You.”
Verse 4-8 “We also trust God alone to give us victory over our enemies.”
Verse 9-16 “We are slaughtered, disgraced, and ashamed before our enemies.”
Verse 17-22 “We have not turned away from God or forgotten Him, yet we are still killed.”
Verse 23-25 “God please wake up and help us.”
So the context of Psalm 44 is basically being conquered, while innocent, and in addition to that, not understanding why it is happening, or where God has gone off to.
The context of Romans 8 and Psalm 44 are not as different as I thought at first. Paul asks “Shall tribulation, distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword,” be able to separate us from the love of God? That question and context sounds very familiar to Psalm 44, so no wonder it came to Paul quoted it here.
As I read these texts, a phrase came to my mind: “Being conquered, we conquer.” I started to think about how this could be possible. I asked, “So even if I’m killed for my faith, or debt sinks, cancer spreads, natural disaster strikes, or armies attack- the bible says I conquer? We conquer, even when it looks like something, or someone else overtook us and won? How does that work? Continue reading →
I’m going to be straight up with you- it’s been rough lately. I’ve had this weird cough that comes out at night for weeks, and a muscle spasm in my back for a week straight which isn’t loving the cough, and among all this I’m trying to process and go through the rigors of figuring out what is going on with this tumor I’ve been diagnosed with.
But the regular daily routines continue, and I’m keeping up with them as best I can. Laundry. Dishes. Groceries. Diapers. Children to chase and keep occupied. I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who works from home full time and has prepared 90% of all lunches and dinners for the past- how many years? I don’t know, but he’s a gem, that is for sure.
Almost strangely, by the grace of God I’m sure, I have been ok for the most part. I’m taking one day, one task at a time, and trying to enjoy what I can in this life, as much as I can. Mostly these days, I’m enjoying watching my tiny person start to explore her world, and interact with it. I mean- there was that moment today when I took my eyes off her for 30 seconds and she got into the garbage can, started eating a banana peel, and I kind of lost it, but overall, she is just this tiny little package of contagious joy.
I just love my kids. They make my head spin sometimes and I am crazy tired at the end of the day, but there is nothing I would rather be doing.
I recently shared an article “Worrying About Your Future,” and by the grace of God I have actually stomped my foot down on occasion and said “No. That’s it. Not going there,” put the worries about my future behind me and carried on with my day. I like that groove. It’s working for me. I don’t like to think about things I have no control over. For example, when I had a scheduled C-section last year, I prepared by not reading a single article about C-sections. If there were potential complications, I preferred to remain in the dark, because what could I do about them anyway? But when they brought me into that bright and surprisingly busy room, it suddenly hit me: I have no idea what is happening here. What on earth was I thinking?
I met with the surgeon this week who might be doing my surgery, or might not be. This surgery seems to be more complicated than I would have hoped, and it sounds like she will be involving more people in the matter. There were many more maybes in this appointment than I would like. So many potential things that “might” result, or treatments that they “might” try, or methods that they “might” use to “maybe have to” reconstruct my stomach. Just so many maybes. And I’m supposed to do my research on these maybes, I suppose, so that I’m not surprised by them. Continue reading →
As I am going through some tests in hospital this month, you could say I have some cause for worry, but I am happy to say that God is helping me cast my cares upon Him, and it is so freeing. There are so many scriptures that help point us towards God in the midst of anxiety, but I wanted to consider some that talk about the future, and particularly the following from James:
James 4:13-16 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
These may not seem like verses you would turn to in a crisis, or in the midst of worry, but read them over again and you will realize that they deal with what is often the content of our worry- the future.
The people addressed in this verse however are not worried about the future; They are confident. They have plans for today, tomorrow, and for the following year, and forecast that time spent will bring them profit. It seems odd in our day that this confidence should spark any spiritual concern, doesn’t it? And generally, people who use the term “if the Lord wills” when they talk about the future, are seen as being either hyper-spiritual, or perhaps not spiritual enough. They are too spiritual, for honestly considering the rule of God as supreme over every detail of life, or, they are not spiritual enough since they obviously don’t trust that God is going to bless their plans and aid their success. Maybe which viewpoint depends what Christian circle you run in. Regardless, this posture that plans stand or fall whether or not the Lord wills, isn’t the norm.
But James hits us hard with a few short words “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” That verse applies to everyone. It is the same for the super successful as it is for those barely getting by. Tomorrow could change everything, couldn’t it? No one has tomorrow pinned down and secured, no matter how pristine or haphazard their plans. Continue reading →
I have probably never referenced a hymn more often on this blog, than this one. It is without a doubt my most loved hymn, and so I thought it deserved its own post. Here’s a brief article by Tim Challies about the author William Cowper, and you will find a link to a lengthier audio biography by John Piper here as well if you are interested.
Call it odd, but I love William Cowper as a brother, although he died centuries ago. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and thank him for how his hymns have impacted my life.
All I wanted to do here is go through the hymn line by line and share some thoughts to encourage people who are struggling to make sense of God’s plan for their lives. Perhaps tragedy has struck and you are left reeling, or maybe you struggle with depression and have no idea why it does not leave you. Or maybe you look around at this sin cursed earth and wonder how God’s hand is ruling over this at all. This is a song to sing from the pit, a song that moves us from doubt to faith. Maybe God would use it for you as He has so many times for me.
I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Sometimes God moves in a way that we cannot understand, in a way that doesn’t seem to make any sense. But out there in the turbulent seas, where you are not able to go, but can only imagine their fury, God has planted His footsteps firmly in the midst of the waves. He is in full control. He rides upon the storm like One controlling its’ every move and direction; Because He does.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill He treasures up His bright designs And works His sovereign will.
We stand as frail humans, confined by time. We have no idea what is ahead for us, or for our loved ones. Although we make our plans and imagine our futures, all can change for better or worse in an instant can’t it?
There is a secret, hidden mine of God’s wisdom and knowledge that we cannot comprehend in this life. The Lord alone knows the beginning from the end. What I love in the above lines is the acknowledgement that God is working all things out with “never failing skill,” foresight, and power. He is stacking the events of history and of your life, one on top of another, and He is building for Himself and for us a perfect and “bright design,” even when we stand blind to it.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Psalm 31:24 “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”
It is imperative to my faith, to hope in the Lord. We have eternal hope, hope of Heaven and being with the Lord, but we need hope in our circumstances too. It makes a difference during dark and oppressive trials to look for the light. This reminds us not to lose heart and believe that God has nothing good for us, even today. Anticipate that the God who loves you has blessings in store, even when life hurts, and let your eyes search for them. Sometimes your eyes grow weary of searching, but these lines remind us not to quit.
Psalm 27:13 is another verse I quote often: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”
God is good when life is bad. And He will, with certainty, break the skies with blessings on your head in time, even if that happens in dying. Christians who hope in God will never be put to shame (Psalm 25:3), God will see to that.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
If you have never been here, you might be some day, and if you are, you need a song like this to sing. When everything in your body, mind, and circumstances screams out at you that God is angry with you, punishing you, and that He has turned His face away from you, then you lose sight of Him. You think of God and you see a frown.
Psalm 88:6-7 says “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” Many believers have had times of feeling this way.
It is a horrible place to be friend. You need to sing this to yourself. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.
I’ve sung this in time’s past, and thought “not fast enough Lord,” but sang it anyway. There is great faith at work here. Life might taste awful now, but one day it’s going to blossom into something beautiful. There’s an eternal weight of glory being stored up in Heaven while I’m down here being weighed down by trials- and it is going to be far weightier in glory than this was in pain (2 Corinthians 4:17). You can’t even imagine the work God is accomplishing through your pain, in this life and the next. That beauty will supersede your grief in such a magnificent way, you can know that one day you’ll say: “It was worth it.”
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.
These are some hard, but kind lines, and they have put me in my place at times. Some trials in this life seem worse than worthless don’t they? They don’t seem to accomplish anything at all other than heartache. Maybe you have gone through something that has made you feel robbed of a very good and pure thing. That’s hard. You say that there is no way God could ever use this for good, because it is bad, very bad.
It’s ok to acknowledge that some seasons and events in life are bad, and sometimes the trials we are in make absolutely no sense to us. We live in a fallen world, full of sins that hurt us, poverty, disease, and death, and God never told us that we had to call those things good. We weren’t meant to be fallen creatures in a fallen world, and the result can be depression and confusion- yes even for Christians. The pain we are going through isn’t good on its own. It wasn’t part of God’s original design, and only through Him can it be redeemed and turned it into something beautiful in time.
You can run freely to God when life hurts and your mind is troubled. He already knows. This hymn helps me to remember that, and to remember that God is good; He is in control even when life makes no sense, and one day, whether in this life or the next, He is going to make His purposes plain to us. “Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”
I’m glad the bible doesn’t shy away from these themes, and I’m glad old hymn writers didn’t either. We need more songs today that doubting and downcast Christians can sing. Here’s a version of God Moves In a Mysterious Way that I enjoy, and I hope this has been encouraging for someone.
I wrote this poem a few months ago, and it came alive on its’ own (somewhat literally). I love when that happens. Being back in the world of secular University, I was hearing again old jargon I had almost forgotten about; Sentiments such as “There is not really such thing as truth,” or “Everyone has their own truth that is right for them.”
It seems a crazy thing has happened since I wrote this poem- and I might be wrong, but it seems that fashionable way of thinking is on its way out. There are not many people singing kumbaya on my Facebook feed these days anyway.
Alright, I’ll let you read the poem- maybe read it twice, and then I’ll say some more.
Free Thoughts Rise Up
“Thoughts are sand,” she said
And it was true;
Water them- they’ll clump
Together and glue.
“Beliefs are sand,” she said,
But culture dumps
Making builders chumps.
“Truth is sand,” she said,
Follows what is felt
And casts a vision.”
“Call us all to shore.
Let the pot melt
Our portrait of man
In shades yet undealt.”
“In the great contest
All truth should stand,”
She said, bias unfelt
Pen poised in hand,
Ready to judge
She approached the sand
And I sensed danger.
I sensed danger
For the sand life forms smiled,
Starting with a thought
And an idyllic plot.
But I sensed danger
Since crooked does exist,
Since evil comes wrapped up with bows,
Portraying what we want to know.
So I sensed danger
When she left the happy scene,
Each structure with a ribbon
Between its teeth.
But the life forms
Lived to compete.
I saw them snarl,
Taking up their swords,
The tide turned like a flood,
And they all bathed in blood. Continue reading →
God has moved in my life in mysterious ways, to teach me lessons I would not have learned by any other means. I have a wandering heart; I have an idolatrous heart. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love, here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above,” is a song that I can sing and mean.
After Liza was born (you can read about that treacherous pregnancy here), I was done with suffering. I needed a chance to breathe, settle, heal, and adapt to life again with a newborn. The trials were behind me, and it was onward and upward, or so I thought. We had sleepless nights (of course) and nursing difficulties (again), but those things were expected, and I was just content to finally have my girl in my arms. That first month was hard, recovering not only from a C-section, but from the horrific pelvic separation I get during pregnancy. I remember having NO idea how I was going to care of this baby, but my resourceful husband tied a sturdy basket to my walker with soft blankets inside, and that is how I got her around our house the first month. It was difficult, but it was happy, so happy.
I don’t think Liza was more than a month old when my church split. Blogger Land isn’t the place to divulge all that, but let it suffice to say it was sudden, unexpected, and drastic. It was upheaval that I certainly wasn’t looking for at the time, and it shook me.
I was tired then, really tired, but who isn’t tired with a newborn who has her days and nights mixed up? But then one night, when Liza was 2 months old, I fainted and my husband couldn’t wake me up. He called 911 and I woke up by the time they arrived, but fainted again when I got to the hospital. My hemoglobin had crashed dangerously low, and I needed a blood transfusion.
I continued to be tired, and honestly, I have been tired ever since, and have especially struggled to raise my iron levels.
Somewhere in the mix of this, I realized Liza was not meeting her milestones. At three months old she still couldn’t raise her head off my chest at all, and wasn’t able to turn her head to look to the side well either. I didn’t handle that realization well at first. Why couldn’t I move past these long years of difficulty? Why would God put me through all these difficulties, and then place me in a situation where I worried daily for the baby I had waited so long for? I felt like all my happy moments were being tainted by the foreboding that hovered in the back of my mind, and I was driving myself crazy over it.
But you know what? God taught me about surrendering while I waited for that little peach to lift her head. He worked in my heart to accept whatever His hand had in store, and not to worry or be afraid. He took that worry from me, and when she was four months she finally lifted her head. And guess what? At 15 months old, she has started walking. She is doing great, and I have had extra joy at all of her milestones.
I turned 30 last September, and wrote about some of the lessons I learned in my twenties here. What I didn’t say, is that I really hoped, and even believed, that somehow the dawn of my thirties could mean the start of easier happiness. I don’t know if that expression makes any sense to you, but it does to me. Maybe my health issues could stay behind me. Maybe I could succeed in some of my goals. Travel somewhere. Further my education. Publish a book. Run around freely with my kids. Hike mountains with my husband.
Man I hate when the things I hope for in this life turn to disappointment. But I’m still just 30 right? There’s a lot of space between here and 40. Hoping can be such a difficult and painful endeavor.
Well, I think we have found the reason for my ceaseless exhaustion. I had a scope done through my throat and into my stomach before Christmas, which showed blood in the stomach and a large tumor which can be seen pressing into my stomach, changing the shape- kind of like how a fist pressing into a balloon would appear on the inside. The doctor said it has likely been developing for years, and it will need to come out. Continue reading →
It’s been awhile since I wrote one of my lengthier poems, Job: A Champion of Faith by Grace. I read it again recently and found myself turning back to this great book of the bible. Once again, I was amazed by Job’s response in chapter three. It is so dark, so utterly sorrowful and desperate. Why am I amazed? I don’t think it is because his response is strange. It isn’t strange. In fact, it is kind of what you might expect from a man whose property, herds, servants, and children were just lost and destroyed to two sets of violent raiders, fire from heaven, and wind strong enough to collapse a house.
And then, as if his pain wasn’t great enough, he was smote with “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 2:7).”
I mean, this scenario is insane. I would write more about it, but since I already have in the poem and here I will let that suffice. I just wanted to zero in on chapter three.
After seven days and seven nights of silence, and pain which made him unrecognizable to his friends, he finally opens his mouth and starts by cursing the day of his birth. He wishes he had died as a stillborn child, or been miscarried and discarded. The imagery here is graphic and disturbing. He believes that to have died and been at rest would have been better for him than to have lived and suffered this excessive loss.
Then he asks “Why?” as most people who find themselves in suffering do. “Why is light given to him who suffers (Job 3:20)?”
But it was the last three verses of the chapter that stood out to me the most recently.
Job 3:24-26 “For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, and my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”
Try that out as a Facebook status.
I’m being cheeky of course, but how comfortable are you with those verses? How would you respond if a friend said this to you? Picture a person too grieved to eat their food, too distraught to sleep, who cannot be quiet, but cries out loud about their woe? Someone who says “there is no rest in me. I have no peace. I am undone.” Continue reading →
1Timothy 4:7-10 “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
If you could choose one word to use as a label for your year in 2016, what would it be? I know mine. It would be determined.
I started this year with a desire to break away from everything that reeked in the previous year. My mind was set as far as resolutions go, that as far as it depended on me, physical pain was not going to be my master. That might sound weird to people who haven’t lived with chronic pain, but this is where I was at. As far as I was even remotely able to this year, I went to the gym three times a week. If I was in pain, I didn’t really care, I was going anyway. If I was utterly exhausted (which I generally was since I have been anemic most of the year), I didn’t care, I was going anyway. Sometimes that meant slow cycling with my eyes closed, but at least I was moving. Sometimes that meant leaving the gym feeling worse off than when I started- but for me, it was a way of taking back control. It was a way of saying that pain could never bring me back to that horrifying black corner of helplessness. Get me as far away from that corner as possible. Basically, exercise was my way of kicking pain in the face.
I also went back to university this year and took a Creative Writing course, which I really enjoyed. Sure, completing each writing assignment meant my hands ached for a week, but once again, I did not really care. I was determined. Pressing on. Taking my life back. Kicking pain in the face.
And treatments. I tried so many treatments that it is almost funny, just trying to keep on functioning.
Often I have not tempered my determination with open hands. At times I have had this huge piece of my heart that just hasn’t wanted to trust God’s will in this area, to be honest. My eyes have been on temporary things so often that they don’t feel temporary anymore. When we set our eyes on temporary things, they simply take over our whole view.
It has been the most difficult part of my Christian life, to balance determination and contentment, or in other words, to balance desire and surrendering. There is nothing wrong with my wanting to be free of life hindering health issues, and there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and striving for them with determination.
But it’s wrong to want something so badly that you are no longer willing to accept your circumstances when God doesn’t give you what you want. It’s wrong to stop trusting Him in an area and to go chasing after it apart from Him. And it’s wrong when you put more effort into reaching temporary goals, goals that don’t even hold a promise for you, rather than exerting much of your effort into becoming more like Christ. Continue reading →