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Monday grace

As the month of September meanders to its end, I glance backward to what lies behind me.

Those days have been hard, dry and cracked open with suffering. And how do we go on from here?

Three times in my seventy years I count the most sorrowful of seasons. All involved death, real and symbolic. As if something were being ripped from my grasp, my heart was left crushed, my soul whimpering.

I spent time wandering the wilderness of my own confusion, my questions were without answers as I watered my path with weeping.

Looking backward with the perspective of time and wisdom, I see lessons I was meant to learn. Though I felt alone, I perceive that God’s presence surrounded me. My tears were noticed, my groaning was heard, and the Father of all comfort drew nearer to me in my brokenness.

I bear the scars still. The wounds have healed but their evidence remains, a reminder that no one gets a reprieve from suffering in this fractured world.

As I walk beside others in their wilderness journey, I identify with their pain, remembering the aloneness and the desperation. I feel their longing for relief from the angst of this affliction. We enter into the fellowship of human suffering.

With thanksgiving, I recall the bright and beautiful days, the gentle meanders through green meadows, the soft breezes on my face, the sweet communion of friends in joyful song.

But it is in the dark, thunderous storms that my heart is tendered by my tribulation. Those were the times I ran to the gentle and strong Shepherd while wolves surrounded and I trembled in the unknown. His comfort and protection were what I needed.

While questions without answers raged in my mind and I couldn’t see farther than the next step, He who is the Way opened the door to Himself, and I ran to His arms.

While I learned to trust Jesus at my mother’s knee and from my father’s example, it was in the dark night of my soul that I comprehended a dimension of God I could not have known any other way.

“The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud.”

If I could have chosen, I may have taken the gentle way, the easy path, but that would not have been the best for me. I would not learn endurance. I would not know peace in the storm. I would not experience a comforting Presence in my pain. I would not have empathy for my fellow sojourners. I would not see hope in a hopeless situation. I would not stand in awe of the brilliant stars in the blackness of night.

I would not know Jesus the way I do.

So I will walk where my Savior calls me, the road where He promises to walk with me. And though it be through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. He makes a way in the wilderness and rivers in my wasteland.

He turns my Valley of Baca into a spring of refreshing.

He sends a sunrise after the night, and mercy awaits me for the new day.

Sunday grace

Pain is part of life. Living in misery is a choice I make.

Someone said it in a different way long before me. Looking for its author, I find that no one actually knows. Perhaps because it is a truth we all need to acknowledge sometime in our lives. Hopefully, we learn it early rather than later.

Here is a quote whose author I do know:

“Instead of being broken and miserable, I chose to be invested.”  — Shelley Gigleo.

I wrote that one down. There were seasons I lived broken and miserable. I don’t berate myself for that since it was difficult circumstances, grief I needed to work through. But one can’t stay there too long without consequences.

In some way, I too chose to be invested. Looking back on how that mindset settled on me, I can only attribute it to my God.

He is the Father of compassion and understanding of my suffering. He weeps with those who weep. He comforts the hurting. He is near to the broken-hearted.

He sees our pain and walks with us in the vally of the shadow of death. He is the Shepherd who brings us to still water and to resting in green pastures.

But He is also the One who calls me to courage, commands me to “fear not,” and offers me an abundant life.

Jesus said it this way: In this world you will have trouble.” It’s a given. We can’t avoid trouble, pain, sorrow in this broken world of ours.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus said those things so I could live at peace in a world bereft of it. He is the peace I need when tribulation comes my way, as it surely will.

But I don’t have to live in misery. I can rest in the arms of a Savior who has overcome all things. He is the Captain of the Lord’s army. He is the Victor over sin, death, hell, and the grave. He has a strong arm to save me, to impart strength, to infuse me with power from on high, to enable me to do all things through Christ.

Pain is a part of life. Mine and yours. But we can choose to live in hope, joy, and peace, encompassed in the love of the Heavenly Father. All provided through Jesus Christ.

Sunday grace.101_2112

 

As the storm gathers

Sweet William and I have the weather channel tuned throughout the day. We check the latest updates of Hurricane Irma.

We have friends and family who live in Florida, Alabama, and our concerns for them give way to breathing prayers during our daily activity. And not only for them but for others in the path of this storm. Some have left looking for higher ground and others choose to stick it out. We pray for mercy.

A little closer to home, a different kind of storm cloud gathers and swirls over lives. Our prayer list is long with those sick and with needs beyond the ability of medical professionals. Some things can’t be helped with a prescription.

While we rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep. We feel their suffering to some degree. We identify with their pain. When we have felt the sting of adversity, we cannot turn away in deafness to the heart cries we hear.

There is a time for laughter, rejoicing, and celebrations. I love those seasons.

There is also a time for tears. We must give ourselves permission to participate in both. Hiding our tears is not a sign of strength, as we have been made to believe. The strong cry and they are the better for it.

May we bear with those who need our support and prayers, holding them up to the Father of all comfort.

May we rejoice with those who celebrate and be happy for them.

May our hearts be tender to our fellow man and do for them what we can.

The One who calms the storm is also the One who can calm His child in the midst of the storm. We trust Him no matter the weather.

Sunrise by MaRanda Green

 

 

 

When I don’t get what I want

What I want and what I get are sometimes roads apart.

I could make a list of the things I’ve wanted, prayed and hoped for that did not come to fruition. I could. But I won’t. We all have our own lists because life has a way of surprising us.

I am thankful I didn’t get some things hoped for when I was young. It could have been disastrous.

Growing older, and hopefully wiser, my perspective and my prayers have changed. I pray more “Your will be done” prayers than “I want it my way” demands.

I still believe in healing and miracles and angels unaware coming to the aid of God’s children. I ask for those things. And I know He is able.

It’s just that I don’t always get the answer I want.

Such was the case this week. People for whom I prayed hopeful prayers got less than hopeful answers.

I’m disappointed and hurt. This is not what I asked for. I know it isn’t what my friends wanted.

We live in a troubled world that bears the scars of sin and disease, of fear and anger and bitterness. Bad things happen to good people. And we wonder why.

The maxim is familiar: God is good. All the time. And all the time, God is good.

Do I believe that when the test results are not desired, when there’s pain and suffering at every turn, when people die because of predjudice and hate, when the road we travel suddenly takes a nose dive downward and we are holding on for dear life?

It is not given to me to understand it all or the reasons life is not always pretty. My purpose is not to figure it out. My purpose is to faithfully believe that God is good all the time and that He is in control; that what He allows and what He does has a bigger purpose than I can understand; that He is always working toward the ultimate plan for mankind and is not a genie to fulfill my wish list.

Yet at the same time, I believe He is fully focused on His purpose for me and those whose names I lift in prayer. I believe He is constantly working out His divine will for individuals through the circumstances of life. I believe He is personally involved in my life and that He wants my faith to grow in the bright light of day as in the dark night of my soul.

The Psalmist declares God hears prayers, and that He answers prayers. We are assured we will be satisfied with the good things He has prepared for us, even when the good is not wearing a smiley face and carrying balloons. When what stands in front of me is hard and painful, I can still expect good from a God who is wholly good, fully righteous, and always loving.

Exercising my faith-eyes means trusting Him for the outcome when I see the storm clouds gathering. It means leaning my entire self into Him, against the wind of tribulations. It means believing He is the all-wise God who will not fail to complete His purpose in me and in others.

I will continue to pray and hope and believe. I will expect an amazing-grace outcome.

Because God is good. All the time.

But I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.  — Micah 7:7

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December thoughts

December always brings its own set of lists, activities, family gatherings, and stress.  Each family is different.  Each celebration is different.  Each year is different.

This December 25 was so different, one we will remember.

While we treasure the season and the reason for it, which is Jesus, we often put all the stuff of Christmas away with a sigh and a relief.  It is over for another eleven months or so.  Life will go back to normal. Whatever that is.

But not this year.  Not for my family members who suffered great loss.  There is no normal today.  This is new ground.  They have never walked this way before.

Others have walked this journey.  Others have experienced a similar loss.  And it is only in the suffering that we learn to comfort one another.  It is only when my own heart has been broken that I have been able to weep with, grieve with, and hope with another.

My own experiences of anguish and adversity have made me tender toward another in comparable circumstances.  I tear up easily as we share the intensity of pain and suffering.  I understand the words and the feelings another shares with me.  I’ve been there.  I know.

And so we comfort as we have been comforted.  It is God’s way.  It is one of the ways He brings light from darkness, joy from sorrow.

It is the blessing of Christmas, a Savior who came in infant form, had a rough and tumble boyhood and grew to become a man.  So human He came, though fully godlike in character.  He experienced life yet overcame its pitfalls and temptations.  He laughed and cried, loved and was loved in return, gave His heart and had it rejected.  He was hungry and thirsty.  He was tossed on stormy seas and was so tired that He slept hard through it.

He saw life as we see it yet He saw it through the eyes of One so much different, so much greater.

He had compassion on us.  And so He offers compassion to us.  He runs to our cry, our cries of heartache and heartbreak.  He understands our feelings.  He’s been there.  He knows.

We comfort as we have been comforted by a Great High Priest who lived and died but came back to tell the story.

I can tell the story, His story.  It is a story of a hope beyond all hope, a joy when tears fall, a love that will not let us go, a peace that cannot be explained when the ground shakes underneath us.

Comfort one another with these words.

It is Jesus.  There is no other.  He runs to our cry and we run to His arms.

mary and jesus

 

 

 

 

Sharing grace

I read the Psalms this morning and think of a friend who is suffering long and hard.  Her trial reminds me of the road Sweet William and I were on for several years, a dark road that looked endless.

I read the comforting words,

All you Israelites, trust in the Lord
    he is their help and shield.
House of Aaron, trust in the Lord
    he is their help and shield.
You who fear him, trust in the Lord
    he is their help and shield.

The Lord, our help and our shield.  It is He who gives grace for the journey.

I want to share grace with my friend.  Grace is what she needs to sustain, to strengthen.  It is her help and her shield.

I want to say, “Hold on to Jesus.  He is tender and compassionate and knows our sorrow.  He is near to the broken and wounded.”

I want to encourage her with “God is good.  He is Sovereign.  He is with you even in this.”

Grace has been sufficient for me in the darkest nights and the longest days.  Grace has strengthened.  It is grace that saves.

I would share grace with she who suffers today.

Not just Sunday grace, but everyday grace.

Grace and peace to you, my friend.

grace

Remember His suffering

Day 6 of 40 Days to Resurrection day

Today’s suggestion:

Read Isaiah 53 about our suffering Savior

In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus’ suffering is apparent in the opening scene.  He is praying in the garden to His Father, agonizing for relief.  One disciple remarks to another, “What’s wrong with him?  He seems afraid.”

The men who had walked with Him for three years had never seen Jesus shrink in fear.  He had faced down the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  He spoke with an authority that shocked and amazed people.  He had no fear of wind and storm or the demonic living in graveyards.

How could He, the Son of God, be afraid?

Yet, that is how it appears, at least in the movie.  Already Jesus seems to feel the weight of sin-soaked humanity, blood-thick sweat revealing His battles to do the will of God.  Satan appears, offering Him an easier way, a way out of the suffering that Jesus knows is ahead of Him.

I’ve heard people say they’ve never seen the movie, can’t stand to watch the graphic display of the life nearly beaten out of Jesus, the blood and gore of it.  The movie’s R-rating is well deserved.

While my body physically reacts to the movie every single time, I need to watch it, need to be reminded.  I need to get a picture of how much God loved me that He would allow His Son to pay such a high price.  I can only do it once a year, but once a year I must.

During Lent, aren’t we supposed to reflect on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness while fasting and praying before His public ministry begins. Aren’t we to be reminded of His suffering for us?  Aren’t we to consider the great cost of our salvation?

So we give up caffeinated drinks, certain activities, and Snicker’s bars.  Yeah, we’re really suffering here.

As I reflect on the nightly news, Christians around the world being martyred and persecuted, I wonder if I can even identify with real suffering?  I am not acquainted with true persecution.

What will happen when I am?  What will my response be when questioned “Are you a Christian?” with a gun pointed at my face or a blade ready to sever my head from my body?

In the movie, after the garden prayer, the scene changes.  Jesus stands resolute, his gaze fixed upon the cross that will come.  His crushing blow to the head of the serpent demonstrates a triumphant act of courage and determination.

The Son of God, the Darling of Heaven, the very Word who was in the beginning becomes a Savior. Our Savior. My Savior.

He was beaten.  He was bruised.  He was wounded.  He was mocked.  He was humiliated.  He was forsaken.  He bore my horrible sin.  He did it for me.

What I can do right here and right now is consider Him and live my life in the power of the Holy Spirit, a life that will reflect my Savior.  In His suffering.  In His death.  In His resurrection.  In His glory!

Isaiah 53 from The Message

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away. 

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—

    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
    but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
    threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
    so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
    he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
    because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

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