Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Suffering and God's Grace through it all

I am reading Ann Voskamp's book, "One Thousand Gifts" with the ladies of my church. You can read our blog here. I was in charge of writing on chapter 5 of the book. It was so good I thought I should share it here.

 To be honest, this was a hard chapter. Reading on grace, suffering in the world, and God’s goodness in all of it reminded me of how I’d struggled with this very thing for so long. I surely don’t have all the answers, but I'd like to discuss a little of what I've learned along the way.
As I write this, my mind goes directly to a story in the book of the author's son, Levi, breaking his finger in a fan accident. He needed surgery but would recover. It could have been so much worse, but as her mom said, that by“God’s grace”, it wasn’t. At the same time as Levi’s accident there is a Mennonite family that loses their 13 year old son in a farming accident.

I have my own story, as a nurse, when I worked in the NICU.
Amanda had triplets that were 24 weeks. They tried for ten years to have babies. I am working fervently to save her little boy. She had already lost her only girl earlier in the week, so I prayed and worked for hours only to have him die too. Before she goes to hold him for the last time she throws herself on me and cries out to God in anguish, “God, please, can’t I just have one baby?! Please don’t take them all!”
I look at her one surviving son and pray the same thing myself. At that moment I feel my own baby kicking in my womb. She would be our fourth baby.

What is God’s grace?
Was it God’s grace that Levi was fine and that even though I ended up with 16 weeks of bed-rest, I had a healthy baby girl?
What then of that Mennonite family and Amanda, who had just lost two out of three of her children?
Was God’s grace not on them as well?
Is God’s grace only the good that happens in our lives?
What are the other moments then?

Many times people struggle to make sense out of things like this. Many become angry and bitter. As Christians it is tricky because we know God loves us and we love Him, but still the questions are there.
“Why, God, can’t everybody be healed? Why is there so much pain? Why, God, why?”
What if our perspective is wrong?
Ann says perspective is how we see things with our eyes.
On our own, how we see things are very dim. We are in darkness, actually.
The Word of God is a lens that puts our perspective right.
Without God’s Word as a lens, the world warps.
We have to always turn to God and His word to see things how God does.

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” Matthew 6:22-23

Listen to the words of Job, “…should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Job 2:10
While everyone can easily ask for and accept the good, can we accept the bad as Job did? While no one is eager to suffer, we as Christians have the promise that, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him…” Romans 8:28
God uses those dark moments of pain to birth something new. Just as we labor in pain and suffering during childbirth to bring forth a new life. Can we trust God, that He loves us so much that he labors with us to birth grief into greater grace?
Ann calls this processugly-beautiful. That which is perceived as ugly transfigures into beautiful. The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace. The God of the Mount of Transfiguration cannot cease His work of transfiguring moments- making all that is dark, evil, and empty into that which is all light, grace, and full.
Amanda did take that last baby home. His name was Jonathon which means “God has given” or “Gift of God”. How fitting as God took her pain and began to birth a new beginning with that sweet, baby boy.
Suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart.
We need to give thanks for all things at all times because
All is grace
- Teresa

Friday, October 12, 2012

Battle Scars

Another extra thump in my chest, again, and again.
Pins and needles shoot through my body and I start to feel dizzy. Fear paralyzes me as I crumple to the ground.
“Not more of them, God! Why can’t you just take them away? I hate this, this feeling that my heart could just stop beating at any moment! I just want to move on and forget what happened to me.” I yell at God, alone in my bathroom that morning.
I say this as my thoughts travel once again to that day. My body so swollen that I am almost unrecognizable. My one week old baby lying next to me asleep. My husband sitting next to my hospital bed, his face ashen, his eyes filled with the fear he would never express in words, as we watch the monitor.
My heart rate is slowly dropping 35………………32………………….28.
I know I am close to death. I can feel it. I can feel the life slowly draining from my body. I try, but I cannot will my heart to beat. I have no choice, with each long pause between beats, to depend on God. To trust Him that He will keep my heart beating. To trust that He will take care of my family should it stop.

It is at that moment of remembering, yet again, that God speaks to me. “Those palpitations are battle scars. You have done battle and were wounded, but you are healed. What’s left are just the scars and they will fade over time. The scars you bear help you remember where you have been, what I have done and brought you through.”
You see, I was looking at my palpitations the wrong way. I thought they were a curse, but they were a blessing. My doctor had even told me they were benign, that my heart was just sensitive from the insult to it. They were evidence that I was alive and healed.
I am a nurse so God will often show me spiritual truths using our physical bodies as an example. This is a little of what He showed me about wounds. The physical healing of a wound is a process. It heals from the inside out and forms a scab. Once that scab falls off it leaves a scar. It is a process that takes time.
Spiritually and emotionally our healing is a process too, a process that truthfully, many of us don’t want to walk through, but God wants us to walk through it with Him. We have all done battle. For some of us it is a physical battle, for others it is inside where no one can see, but God can. He wants us to turn to Him, broken, but completely dependent on Him.
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
He wants us to learn to trust Him as He walks with us, as He heals our wounds. It is all a part of the process.
 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. Psalm 9:10
Last night, at our  church's women event, Night Of Pink, as we were honoring those who had battled breast cancer, my mind once again went back to my own scars and what God had shown me. Once the wound has healed and all that’s left is the scar, the skin where the scar is, is sensitive to the touch but eventually becomes stronger than before. Stronger, but never the same.
Spiritually I was walking defeated, paralyzed with fear and anxiety, but all along God had set me free. I just had the scar. The scar that I thought brought me down and kept me in that wounded place, but really brought me power.
Power to live fully, knowing that death did not claim me. Thankful for God’s mercy and faithfulness!
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11
 I’ll end by sharing a piece of a song by Point of Grace.
“Heal the wound, but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful you are
I am broken, torn apart,
Take the pieces of my heart and
Heal the wound but leave the scar”

Monday, October 1, 2012

He Withholds No Good Thing

For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. 
The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.
Psalm 84:11

The Lord is our sun-

He is our light and comfort in a dark world. He will guide us and lead us in the direction that we should go.

The Lord directs the steps of the Godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Psalm 37:23

And our shield-

He is our protector. He guards and defends us. He will be our shelter when we need. I once read that God's protection is like a screen. Anything that gets to us has to go through that screen. Much like a windshield protects us if a rock hits it. That windshield blocks that rock from hitting us and instead takes the hit for us.
How comforting to know that God takes the hard hits and anything that gets to me has had to go through Him first.

He gives us grace-
Grace is the unmerited favor of God. Through His love for us, when we accept Him as our Lord, we have become justified in His eyes. Grace is also the empowerment we receive from God to live out our lives as Christians, to do what He has called us to do. No matter what it is.

And glory-
To give us glory means that God gives us honor and distinction. He boasts on us. When we think of glory usually we think about giving glory to God. Here it says He gives it to us. How humbling to know that the God of the universe gives me honor and distinction.

He withholds no good thing-
How many times have we felt that God withholds from us? That He keeps good things from us to punish us? Satan started this lie long ago in the Garden of Eden. He deceived Eve into thinking that God was withholding knowledge from her, even though He was trying to protect her. He still does the same thing today by trying to make us believe that God holds back His blessings and good gifts from us. We may not always understand what God is doing or why He is doing it, but know that He is doing good in us and for us. Like this picture says below, 

It brings me great comfort to know that God leads me and protects me as I go through life. It humbles me to know that He has given me favor and honor. That He withholds NO good thing from me.

God doesn't promise these things to everyone though. The last part of this scripture says that God gives these things to those who do what is right. Righteousness is synonymous with holiness.

As we live holy lives we can stand confidently on these promises of God.

I wrote this post over at our women's ministry blog. I am writing over there again today on Battle Scars. Stop by and read it if you can.