“You want a warrior Jesus.”

[This morning I spent some time reading through the private blog I kept a few years ago while walking through a deep valley. For the moment (I’ve learned that things can change in an instant), the path is much smoother, but these words resonate nonetheless.]

place-of-healingFrom A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada:

Here at our ministry we refuse to present a picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” a portrait that tugs at your sentiments or pulls at your heartstrings. That’s because we deal with so many people who suffer, and when you’re hurting hard, you’re neither helped nor inspired by a syrupy picture of the Lord, like those sugary, sentimental images many of us grew up with. You know what I mean? Jesus with His hair parted down the middle, surrounded by cherubic children and bluebirds.

Come on. Admit it: When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, when you feel like Morton’s salt is being poured into your wounded soul, you don’t want a thin, pale, emotional Jesus who relates only to lambs and birds and babies.

You want a warrior Jesus.

You want a battlefield Jesus. You want his rigorous and robust gospel to command your sensibilities to stand at attention.

To be honest, many of the sentimental hymns and gospel songs of our heritage don’t do much to hone that image. One of the favorite words of hymn writers in days gone by was sweet. It’s a term that doesn’t have the edge on it that it once did. When you’re in a dark place, when lions surround you, when you need strong help to rescue you from impossibility, you don’t want “sweet.” You don’t want faded pastels and honeyed softness.

You want mighty. You want the strong arm an unshakable grip of God who will not let you go — no matter what.

bittersweet

Some of you know some of my story — of how my husband of twenty-two years insisted on walking away from our marriage. This happened over four years ago, and sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s my story. Friends have encouraged me to write more about that experience and what I’ve learned, but it’s really hard for a variety of reasons. First, it’s not only my story. It’s also my children’s, and I’m sensitive to that and to the fact that he is their father. Second, I don’t want to overshare, and I don’t want to dwell. And, honestly, it still stings. But I think I should share what I can, because I remember how very desperate I was for every morsel of encouragement and hope when I was in that deep, dark valley. If my story can help someone else, I’m selfish to keep it to myself. So if I can figure out ways to put my thoughts together, I’ll share them here from time to time.

One of the things I’ve found curious as I’ve moved through these past years post-divorce is how my previous life seems like it’s not my life. Everything I found out was such a shock, such a complete and total up-ending of the life we built for over two decades, that I really don’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I’ve questioned everything.

But as I decorated the Christmas tree last week and unwrapped hundreds of mementoes collected throughout all those years, I was reminded that YES, I did live that life. It happened. The memories are real. I really did visit those places, make those friends, worship in those churches, make a home over and over again. I cared. I loved. I didn’t just dream it. And even thought that life is gone now, I still remember.

hulasanta

so many memories of our 8 years in Hawaii on the tree

mosaicstar

evidence of my brief foray into smashing plates and making ornaments

japanorn

a souvenir from our 2 years in Japan

britorn

I bought this one in my favorite city — London

So I decorated the tree feeling that now ever-present sense of bittersweetness. I felt sorrow but I wasn’t crushed by it. I took joy in remembering and was thankful for that. Surely that’s progress, right? I can’t take credit for the progress, but I know the One who can.

If you’re where I found myself about four years ago, or if you know someone who is, I can tell you that it gets better. It’s not a straight line, but more like a crazy stock market graph with lots of highs and lows. Pain hits at the oddest times , and it still hurts to say “ex-husband.” But God is always good and faithful, and I’ve found that He comes through for me. It’s often not in a way I expect or even want, but He’s faithful. Even when I’m hanging ornaments on a tree.

This I know.

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“…with some pleasant inns…”

cslewisFrom A Year With C.S. Lewis:

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

–from The Problem of Pain

“God was working all night long…”

storminsideFrom Sheila Walsh in The Storm Inside: Trade the Chaos of How You Feel for the Truth of Who You Are: [emphasis mine]

In 1956 Cecil B. DeMille directed the epic movie The Ten Commandments, in which the Hebrew-born Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince, becomes the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. It’s hard to forget that moment when Charlton Heston, cast as Moses, raises his staff over the Red Sea and the waters part in seventeen seconds. It was a moment of pure drama back in 1956, but it’s not the way it happened. The way it actually happened is far more meaningful to us as we face life’s inevitable storms. We read the story in Exodus 14.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:21–22 ESV)

All night long! It didn’t happen in a moment. God was working all night long through the darkness. We don’t know how long the night will be, but we do know this: no matter how things appear, God is at work—all night long! Only the morning light will reveal what God has done. Do not despair or give in to the chaos of what you feel. Stand strong on what you know is true.

God’s faithfulness

[A repost from August 2014]

On January 1, 2012, I began to read through the Bible using the 3650 plan. I had no idea on that first day of that year just how full of suffering 2012 would be. (Isn’t God good not to overwhelm us with future knowledge?) I used a brand new ESV Bible, and I marked it up, sometimes jotting a date beside a Psalm. Oh, what a treasure that Bible is to me! Immersing myself in Scripture was truly a means of grace that terrible year, and now I have such reminders of God’s faithfulness jotted in margins. It’s almost like a journal.

This particular Bible is fairly compact, so while I’m using a different one in my daily reading, I take this one to church. Last Sunday as I was flipping to the Psalm we were reading, I passed Psalm 57 and saw the note:

psalm57

Psalm 57 was the one I “happened” to read on that dark day as I worked my way through the 3650 plan. And how appropriate it was! Just look at God’s encouragement to me on that saddest of days:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts–
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Awake my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Oh, how good God is to us with His Word! This Psalm was true for David in the cave as he fled from Saul thousands of years ago, and it was true for a brokenhearted, grieving, and weak woman in southwest Georgia on a hot summer day in 2012. And it’s been true for countless believers in between and since.

I knew, even in the depths, that God was with me and for me, and I had to take every step in faith because I just couldn’t see how He would work out His plan for me. And, of course, I have no idea what’s coming, what other valleys He will lead me through.

That year I marked every reference to God’s steadfastness and faithfulness I came across because I clung to that aspect of His character. And He proved Himself over and over. He still does, even as He reminds me in this joyful season of life that He has been with me all the way — comforting me, strengthening me, and preparing me to meet Paul. It is good to look back and see how God fulfills His purpose for me.

I begin this Sunday full of joy and gratitude at how good my God has been to me. He was good to me in that valley, and He is good to me today. He is good all the time.

With a joyful heart,

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“But you can believe that God understands it.”

bestillFrom Dr. Wilson Benton Jr. in Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):

You are one person living at one place, at one point in time and even if God chose to explain to you how all of the pieces of his giant puzzle are fitting together in a manner consistent with his own righteous and holy and gracious nature, so that he may faithfully fulfill his promise in your life and work everything that happens to you for your good, you couldn’t understand it. But you can believe that God understands it. And you can believe that God is loving enough, and powerful enough, and wise enough, and gracious enough, and faithful enough to you to do what he says when he promises to work everything for your good.

…finitum non capax infiniti.”

bestillFrom R.C. Sproul in Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):

Things may appear to be without purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective.

An important slogan in theology is finitum non capax infiniti. This means, “the finite cannot grasp the infinite.” The limit of our comprehension is the earthly perspective. We do not have the ability to see things sub specie aeternitatis — “from the eternal perspective.”

The eternal perspective belongs to God.

“Let history finish.”

bestillFrom Philip Yancey in Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):

In seventy years we can develop a host of ideas about how indifferent God appears to be about suffering. But is it reasonable to judge God and his plan for the universe by the swatch of time we spend on earth? Have we missed the perspective of the timelessness of the universe?

Who would complain if God allowed one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort? Yet we bitterly complain about a lifetime that includes suffering when that lifetime is a mere hour of eternity.

In the Christian scheme of things, this world and the time spent here are not all there is. Earth is a proving ground; a dot in eternity–but a very important dot, for Jesus said our destiny depends on our obedience here. Next time you want to cry out to God in anguished despair, blaming him for a miserable world, remember: less than one-millionth of the evidence has been presented, and that is being worked out under a rebel flag.

God is not deaf. God is as grieved by the world’s trauma as you are. His only son died here. But God has promised to set things right.

Let history finish. Let the orchestra scratch out its last mournful warm-up note of discord before it bursts into the symphony.

“I don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone…”

everydayprayersFrom Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith:

Jesus, because of your great love for me in the gospel, I lack nothing that I need. I don’t get all my wants, but I do have everything I need for life and godliness . . . and a whole lot more.

I praise you that it’s green pastures and quiet waters to which you lead me—all for the restoring of my tired, weary, broken, rebellious soul. For your glory and my good, you guide me along paths of righteousness, goodness, truth, and grace. And even as that journey involves traversing places marked by decay and death, you are with me, and that’s all I really need to know. I don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone, for you are with me.

You nourish me all the time, even when enemies are close by and threatening. Your generous anointing overflows for the blessing of others. To follow you is to be followed by the fragrance of your goodness and love. Even in the new heaven and new earth, you will be our shepherd, leading us to springs of living water (Rev. 7:17). Your greatness, Jesus, will reach to the ends of the earth, and we will always live securely, for you are our peace, now and forever. In your great and gracious name we pray. Amen.

God’s faithfulness

On January 1, 2012, I began to read through the Bible using the 3650 plan. I had no idea on that first day of that year just how full of suffering 2012 would be. (Isn’t God good not to overwhelm us with future knowledge?) I used a brand new ESV Bible, and I marked it up, sometimes jotting a date beside a Psalm. Oh, what a treasure that Bible is to me! Immersing myself in Scripture was truly a means of grace that terrible year, and now I have such reminders of God’s faithfulness jotted in margins. It’s almost like a journal.

This particular Bible is fairly compact, so while I’m using a different one in my daily reading, I take this one to church. Last Sunday as I was flipping to the Psalm we were reading, I passed Psalm 57 and saw the note:

psalm57

Psalm 57 was the one I “happened” to read on that dark day as I worked my way through the 3650 plan. And how appropriate it was! Just look at God’s encouragement to me on that saddest of days:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts–
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Awake my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Oh, how good God is to us with His Word! This Psalm was true for David in the cave as he fled from Saul thousands of years ago, and it was true for a brokenhearted, grieving, and weak woman in southwest Georgia on a hot summer day in 2012. And it’s been true for countless believers in between and since.

I knew, even in the depths, that God was with me and for me, and I had to take every step in faith because I just couldn’t see how He would work out His plan for me. And, of course, I have no idea what’s coming, what other valleys He will lead me through.

That year I marked every reference to God’s steadfastness and faithfulness I came across because I clung to that aspect of His character. And He proved Himself over and over. He still does, even as He reminds me in this joyful season of life that He has been with me all the way — comforting me, strengthening me, and preparing me to meet Paul. It is good to look back and see how God fulfills His purpose for me.

I begin this Sunday full of joy and gratitude at how good my God has been to me. He was good to me in that valley, and He is good to me today. He is good all the time.

With a joyful heart,

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