These Are Gift

Logs piled high with fire bright to keep
away pain of deep freeze snow night;
Brilliant sun rises on even a dark day reminding
that peace our despair will allay;
Fears faced with soft laughter and voices
loud that flit high toward rafter;
These are gift
Hand offered up to tightly hold while heart
searches hard to discover it is bold;
One timid smile offered slow on a troubled
day that conspires to bring heart low;
Tiny dimpled fingers tightly wrap around
a thumb with paper skin deep in nap;
These are gift
One who spoke earth and star is found
wrapped in small by those traveling far;
He who is Creator’s song takes on
all our discord, killed for our wrong;
Promise of freedom from fear, of healing
our broken, of wiped away tear;
These are gift
for which we give thanks

Two Years Ago

Two years ago this week, our beautiful Kristina left this earth.  As I take some time to remember her, I’ll dust off this essay that I wrote just after her death and share it with you again.
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He had to do the unthinkable.  He had to bury his wife.
Mike and Kristina Wedding

 

I sat at the feet of this younger brother of mine as he said goodbye to his wife of four years, the mother of his then one-year-old son.
Family Photo
I watched him struggle through despair, depression, doubt as he faces a long road of raising his son alone.
I watched my nephew cry and cling to his daddy, looking for his mommy and feeling afraid that his daddy will leave him too.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)
credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

In Which I Hate

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I see bombs going off, clouds of fire rising over a town, and I hate the brokenness of this world.  
I see women devalued and shamed, children murdered, and I hate the pain of life that can so easily be weighed down with darkness.
I see a sermon topic of parenting after divorce and I hate this sin-disease infecting all hearts which leads to the necessity of such a lesson.
I see my girls’ faces after I have yelled ugliness and I hate the struggle that wars inside of me.
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I want this all to end. I want our world and our hearts to be healed and made perfect.
Yet I think about Joseph and about Daniel, stories that tell about ugly, horrible things that turn out to be part of God’s overarching, glorious plan.
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If I could, I would convince God that He should come back right now and make everything right again.
Yet deep down, I know that God does have purposes and He does have plans, and I trust what He is about.
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Sometimes, though, it is difficult to raise my eyes above the fray. I hate this sin that has broken our hearts and our world with such passion that it is difficult to look away.
My heart is divided between hope and despair.
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What do I do?
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I could sit and fix my eyes on the ugly squalor of the sin and brokenness and fall quickly into despondency.
Or.
I could stand and fix my eyes on Him who has already begun the healing by His blood.
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I could raise my hands in awe of One who could change all with a word and yet allows us, instead, to help in the restoration.
I could ask God’s Spirit to show me ways to hasten the healing of our world.
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So I open my arms and hold my family close. I roll up my sleeves and look for ways to work.
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Just as these did:
 
(click on the photograph to read about some who responded to horror with courageous mercy)

Receiving Grace with Grace

This week’s post is the last guest post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from some other talented and wise writers!  Next week you’ll be stuck with me again. :)  This essay was written by yet another old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (known as Kelly Duncan back in the day).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes regularly about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but she is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  I keep her around as a friend because she is incredibly intelligent and can give me much needed advice.  She’s also stinkin’ hilarious.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure why she keeps me around.  Enjoy her beautiful thoughts!

o is for open

Michael W. May via Compfight cc

“Before I tell you what happened, where are you?” my husband asked. I replied, “Well, I’m sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot. Starbucks was too cold.” One night a week, I spend a few hours all by myself outside of the house to go and write, and my husband watches the kids. On this unusually windy and cold night, I was about to spend my time of solitude in the local McDonald’s, indulging in some coffee and the free wifi.
My husband continued with his story. He and the kids were spending their evening with some Papa Murphy’s pizza and Star Wars (typical “Writing Night” fare) when someone rang the doorbell. Tyler opened up the door to an older man, standing on our front porch with a Christmas gift bag. The man smiled and said, “Tyler?” My husband replied, “Yes.” The man handed him the bag, offered a quick, “Merry Christmas,” and left. Tyler mumbled, “Merry Christmas to you,” in return and walked back into the house.
The package easily weighed five pounds, a deceptive weight in a decorative Christmas bag meant for a bottle of wine. Inside the bag, Tyler found a book, a letter, and a quart-sized mason jar filled with change and small bills. Our family just received a little Christmas miracle of almost $100.
All too often, I’ve heard sermons about the amazing power of being selfless, how giving of your time, effort, money, talents to other people in the name of God’s glory brings joy to your life. We hear about how we should approach those acts of kindness in humility, never letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We should give generously, only seeking praise for our Father and not for ourselves.
I’ve learned how to give with love and without expectation. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about how to receive an act of kindness. How should I accept someone else’s sacrifice? Have you ever accepted help with no way to repay that help? Have you ever been the recipient of truly unconditional love and sacrifice?
I’ve seen this kind of love and sacrifice tangibly, vividly in my life several times. As a teenager, my dad fought a battle with cancer for about a year. I can remember my church taking up a special collection for our family. I wept at the sight of my church family readily grabbing at their purses under the pew or digging in their coat pockets for their checkbook. Not long after that, our family received another stack of cash, collected from the merchants of my hometown. My dad sat on his hospital bed in shock before his sister said, “How many times have you thrown in $20 or $50 like that for someone else?” I remember watching this unfold as a teenager. I remember being humbled by it, feeling a sense of gratitude, yet I did not feel the true weight of the sacrifice because I had no idea about the concept of money.
Recently, my mom has been struggling with her own battle with cancer. In the past year, I’ve received cards in the mail from extended family with an unexpected check and a note of encouragement. We’ve only lived in our current city for about six months, yet I’ve had cash slipped into my hand after an embrace with a new friend at church. The only explanation? “A friend wanted me to give this to you. So you can go see your momma.”
Every day acts of sacrifice like this always point me to the The Cross. How much more is the sacrifice of our Father and his Son? Our Father allowed the sacrifice of His only Son to bring an avenue back to His people. Our Brother and Lord, Jesus, gave his life unselfishly for all of mankind. I’ve been taught about this sacrifice all of my life. The enormity of it only washes over me once in a while. Rarely, I can make a tangible connection to the unfathomable sacrifice of our God and his gift of grace to us. More than anything else this year, I’ve learned about the power of grace, unconditional love, and true generosity from normal, everyday, broken, amazing friends and family. There is nothing more humbling or more empowering than seeing this at work.

Success With Values

My first guest post is written by my good friend, Andy Dunham.  Andy is a friend from my undergrad days whom I respect greatly. He is incredibly smart and incredibly funny…a fabulous combination for a friend! If you like what you read and want more, he writes with two other college friends at TheBasiks.com. Enjoy!

 

I joined the world’s noblest fraternity earlier this year. After many, many hours of labor ended in a c-section, my wife and I finally got to meet our firstborn son on September 18. Several thoughts rushed to my tired yet jubilant mind as I held our baby:
  • How did a homely man such as myself get blessed with such a beautiful child?
  • Good grief, his hands are huge! He’s probably going to be taller than me one day!
  • How is it possible to love someone this much when you just met them?
These are pretty common sentiments for most new fathers. I guess I should have had some concerns about paying for college, etc., but that stuff will work itself out. Mostly, I was just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
There is another question that came to me then and continues to nag at, if not haunt, me now. That is, what sort of man will I teach my son to be?
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I can show you more pictures! Really! Just ask!
There are certain things that we all try to teach our children: Play fair. Tell the truth. Try your best. Share. Don’t throw a fit! Don’t hit your brother! Don’t eat that! Yes, you have to eat that! These are the same things most of us were taught growing up. They make sense. If lived out, they create a happy home and a harmonious society.
Robert Fulghum explored some of these principles in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Here’s Fulghum’s list if you’re interested:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
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Sadly, Fulghum’s book has no rules about eating paste.
Pretty good list. Of course, Fulghum’s point is that these rules don’t just work for kindergartners but are for lifelong use. They are just as true and useful for a fifty year old as they are for a five year old.
I believe that. I try my best to live by these or similar principles. I mean, I’m not so good with the cookies and the naps, but I try to be a decent, fair person. Of course, I would add some things to the list: Love your neighbor, esteem others more highly than yourself, meditate on what is praiseworthy. But generally, sure, these are good principles to live by.
But, I have to admit, sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes you look around, and it seems like the road to success is paved with selfishness and shady dealing, and people who adhere to the “kindergarten” principles are just fools:
  • I work as a trial attorney, and there is often a sense that you are not truly advocating for your client unless you are “pushing the envelope” through gamesmanship or other means: intimidating a witness, arguing passionately for a position you know not to be credible, being downright dishonest as a part of negotiations. Can a nice person be an effective litigator, or must we cede the field to the rude and unethical?
  • I need hardly comment on our political system, but the recent election reinforced how nauseating the process can be. I trust and hope that many (most?) of our elected officials began their political careers with a true desire for public service, but it seems that the current climate will allow nothing but rabid adherence to party lines, the public good be damned.
  • I had a client not long ago who told me that his hero was Donald Trump. Donald Trump?! The same petulant gasbag who I see on TV that would set his ridiculous hair on fire to get attention? A grown man who throws worse temper tantrums than a four-year old having a sugar crash after eating 25 pixie sticks and who has less sense of public decorum than a Rottweiler taking a dump on a public street? That Donald Trump? That’s what passes as admirable these days?
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“You’re fired for not looking at me!”
  • I can’t even escape it when trying to watch a relaxing sporting event. Have you seen a college or NFL football coach recently? Between the joylessness of Nick Saban, the petulance and duplicity of Jim Harbaugh and the completely unhinged rage of most other coaches, it’s truly disturbing to watch. My current (least) favorite is Florida’s Will Muschamp, who looks like an actual psychotic person on the sideline. The picture below, in which Muschamp looks like he’s auditioning for Jack Nicholson’s role in a reboot of The Shining, was from the Florida-Georgia game earlier this year. Meanwhile, the announcers were chuckling about Muschamp’s “intensity” and “leadership” and other such nonsense. Leadership? This is how you treat another human being? By looking like you just snorted bath salts and are going to eat his face? This is what our society values and pays millions of dollars for?
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“All work and no play makes Will a complete sociopath.”
So, it can be discouraging, or at least confusing. Is it better to teach my son to be a “man’s man,” to do whatever he must to get his way, to charm those you can, sling mud on those you can’t, and run over the rest to get where you want to go? Can you be a “success” and a decent human being at the same time?
You can. I believe you can, and there are many who have shown the way. You may be familiar with John Wooden, who is one of the most admirable people I’ve ever read about. John Wooden is one of the four or five best basketball coaches of all time, arguably the best ever. He led UCLA to ten national championships, more than twice as many as anyone else in college basketball history. He was also, by all accounts, an extraordinarily kind, thoughtful, and decent person, a man of faith and integrity, and an example to all around him. One story of him I cherish is that he wrote his wife a love letter every week and set aside time to spend with her. And, by the way, this continued for over twenty years after she died, with Wooden visiting her grave and delivering a letter every month. Wooden was truly a success in every sense of the word.
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Achieving success with grace and class.
So, as I hold my son and dream of what he will be one day, I hope he will be a far greater man than his own father. I hope he will be a man who is a blessing to others. I hope he is a success, but that he does not have to abandon his values to become one. I know he can. Others have done it before.

Losing My Temper Again

Her eyes begin to flood, her hands creep up to cover her open mouth, and her body caves in on itself, trying to hide from the world around her.

My eyes narrow, my hands clench into tight balls of anger, and my body tenses up as if ready for battle.

By this sixth meltdown of the day, occurring because we took a different route home from the game, my heart is weary and my patience is gone.

My voice is low but harsh as I demand that she stop fussing and quit crying, and I spit at her to just be quiet if she can’t be happy.

Hurt radiates from her eyes as her sobs get even louder. Guilt pierces my heart as I once again realize that I lost my temper because I didn’t want to deal with her. Hard truth: She was inconvenient to me.
I remember that she hasn’t had much sleep because her sister just moved into her bed to make room for Baby. I remember that she is struggling with a new sport and feels afraid of too many kids all crowded around the same object. I remember that she is only four and that if I sometimes have irrational meltdowns, perhaps she is allowed a few as well.

This feels like my moment-by-moment cycle: I forget, I am harsh to those I love, I remember, I am guilty. 

I now speak harshly to myself, trying to will myself into perfection, into loving without fail. This always fails. I am not perfect and my will is not strong enough.

And

I am loved by One Who is pouring more than I could even imagine into the lives of my husband and children.

I and my family are loved by One Who loves us enough to call us His children

We are loved by One Who, before the world was even made, loved each one of us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault. 

I am loved by One Who can make up for all of my mistakes, Who tells me that His power is made perfect in my weakness, Who reassures me that His grace is sufficient. (II Cor 12.9)

My strength is not sufficient to calm my temper.

My will is not sufficient for me to love my loved ones perfectly.

My fierce desire is not sufficient to force my little ones’ hearts into a state of loving God and each other.

His grace. This is sufficient. 

I am struck with relief and gratitude, and so I sing. 

He is good when there is nothing good in me. 

He is love, when I am not, on display for all to see. 

He is my hope because He has covered all my sin. 

He is true even in my wandering.

I run to His arms and allow His power to be made perfect in my weakness. I trust all of our hearts to His love.

(song adapted from Forever Reign by Hillsong)

I Am Angry

I am really angry.

On Sunday, I began thinking about every wrong and ugly thing that has touched my life recently.

My brother and his little boy, missing their wife and mommy for more than a year now.

My Papa, getting weaker and weaker, and my Gram, facing life without her husband of 63 years.

My sweet friend, who has struggled for years with disease and multiple transplants and who now has to stay at a rehab center in a town not her own, away from all she knows well.

A dear family from church, whose seven year old son was hit by a car and who is struggling to figure out their new normal as well as how to care for their other children (including a newly adopted daughter) while also caring for their son in long-term care in a far-away city.

I know that each one of you has your own list.

Are you angry yet? This world is broken and we have an enemy that takes full advantage of our brokenness. He is prowling and trying to devour all of us. He is hurting people who are dear to me, and that makes me angry.

It also makes me grateful. 

I am grateful for a God Who has already fought this enemy, has died in the battle, and has won the war through His resurrection. 

I am grateful for a God Who cares so much about bringing people to Himself, that He was willing to die. 

I am grateful for a God Who loves us so much that even though we were the ones who brought death into the world, He works crazy hard to help people stop running away from Him. 

Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him. ~ II Samuel 14.14

I am grateful for a God Who cares more about molding people into the image of His Son than about protecting them from danger or pain, and so is willing to allow our enemy to continue prowling. 

I am grateful that our enemy’s time is limited.

I am angry. And I will allow my anger to drive me. I will allow my anger to motivate me to work, to show God’s love to the hurting around me, to do my part in bringing God’s kingdom to earth here and now. As my dear friend said, “Give fully, believing He will fill the space.”

Why?

Because I am grateful.

Are you angry too? As I tell my four year old (and myself, too!) when rage threatens to erupt, getting angry is not wrong. It is what you do with that anger that is right or wrong. Instead of allowing that anger to harden your heart, allow it to soften your heart towards God and send you clinging to His peace. Let it send you off to battle for those that He loves. 

God has already done all the work through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Now God allows me to join in the defeat of our enemy through the all-powerful love of God that moves through me.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~ I Corinthians 15.54-58

A Difficult Anniversary

He buried his wife one year ago today.

I sat at the feet of this younger brother of mine as he said goodbye to his wife of four years, the mother of his one-year-old son.

Over the past year, I watched him struggle through despair, depression, doubt as he faced a long road of raising his son alone.

I watched my nephew cry and cling to his daddy, looking for his mommy and feeling afraid that his daddy will leave him too.

Through this long struggle that still is not done, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?

When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think? 

What do I really believe about God in all of this? 

God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world. We should not be surprised. 

More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship. Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.

I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”. Here is my conclusion. 

I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness. I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love. I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does. 

God promises that we will have trouble in this world. He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace. He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy. 

Isn’t that a much bigger promise? 

No matter what, God is still God. 

Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like? Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good? 

When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant. 

How can I think that I know better than God what is good? How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good? 

Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it? Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.

…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either. He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me. But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand. His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do. If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller

God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot

I can trust God, trust in His nature.


Of course he’s not safe. Who said anything about being safe? But he’s good. He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3

When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15

No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise

God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole. 

And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives. 

Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth. 

And then I look at Jesus, at His cross. 

I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah. In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die. God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life. And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born. This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9 

Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best. Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people. 

When through the deep waters I call you to go, 
The rivers of woe shall not overflow; 
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless, 
And sanctify to you your deepest distress. 

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, 
I will not, I will not desert to its foes; 
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, 
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. 
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized) 


a re-post from the archives for today, the anniversary of Kristina’s death
credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

His Invisible Hand

Our family has been learning over the past few years as we experienced some truly ugly things. We’ve learned about who God is and what He asks of us even when we don’t understand or like what is happening.


My learning will never be complete (for which I am grateful…I’m one of those odd ones who loves to study and learn!) and I recently was struck by yet another lesson as our church studied through the book of Ruth.

As I studied Ruth and as I thought about this book as compared with other books in the Bible, I noticed that God seems to work in two very different ways.

God sometimes uses His visible hand of miracle to accomplish His purpose. Think about the parting of the Red Sea and the manna provided from heaven. Think about the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the feeding of the 5,000

God also sometimes uses His invisible hand of Providence to accomplish His purpose. This is what happens in Ruth. Israel is in the period of the judges which means that they are bouncing around between brief periods of stability and long periods of rebellion, being conquered by foreign armies, and experiencing severe famines.


Here are Naomi and Ruth: they are widows, they are childless, they are in a foreign land, they are going home to Israel not knowing what they will find.

Naomi, especially, knew the traditions of her God. Perhaps Ruth had heard the stories. The miracle stories of Noah saved from the flood, of Israel rescued from Egypt. I imagine they may have wished for that visible hand of miracle.

Instead, they got hard work gleaning in a field, an owner of that field who just happened to stop by and act with kindness, the surprise of that very owner being a close relative, a desperate and courageous request from Ruth. The result? A marriage, a baby, perhaps a bit of stability. Several small blessings along the way, but certainly no miraculous raising of the dead.

And yet.

From that marriage and that child came the greatest king that Israel would ever know, bringing wealth and stability and godliness to the nation.

From that marriage and that child came the greatest King that our world would ever know, bringing rescue and mercy and grace to all the nations.


My honest confession? I want the miracle. I don’t want the invisible hand of Providence. When Kristina was fighting for her life, we begged for miraculous healing. That’s not what we got.

And yet.

Even though the miracle is what I wanted, I can still trust in God’s unseen hand. I can know that God is still working, even though we, like Naomi and Ruth, may not see the end of the story.

Even though I am now pleading for another miracle, I am so grateful to be assured that while I pray out my sadness, my anger, and my bitterness, God is right now at work healing hurts not even felt yet and creating answers to problems I haven’t even yet encountered.

Abba. Thank You.



(if you are viewing this via email/in a reader, click here to view this video)

art credit: Whither Thou Goest painting used with gracious permission by artist Sandy Freckleton Gagon


special thanks to our Pastor for his thoughts on Ruth

Joy and Gratitude, Sorrow and Longing

Easter.


Spring.


New life.



On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”



Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history

Death is beaten, You have rescued me

Sing it out, Jesus is alive!

Endless joy, perfect peace, 

Earthly pain finally will cease

Celebrate Jesus is alive!

Oh, happy day, happy day…

My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing. 



On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without Kristina



As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Kristina with a physical ache. As I plan a baby shower, I can’t help but think of how Kristina would have been at her finest, crafting beautiful invitations by hand. 

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God. 



And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well. 



And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis

May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much? 



You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.



On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.


art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene