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As I pressed my face against the cold glass, I looked out at the half-melted snow in the back yard. My eyes fell on the dry dead grass peeking through the snowy patches. Tears were streaming, sobs were billowing out from deep inside. I felt like that dry dead grass.
The day started with a young child answering my call to start school with “I hate school, it isn’t fun and I don’t want to do it”. That was followed with an older child telling me about a great awakening they had had in their view of things. It was a good thing, but I guess I was a little distracted helping another child find their book which led to frustration for the older child and an abrupt ending to the conversation.
Just when I was trying to settle down to do grammar with my son, the yell came, “Taylor is having a seizure”. What? My head was spinning, it was only two months since the last one. What is going on? After rushing upstairs, we helped her through. There is always a time of confusion and unrest following a seizure for Taylor. She needs reassurance and answers to the same question multiple times as her mind gets back to normal. She usually feels defeated and wants to hold my hand and ask me to pray for her. It is a sweet request made by a tender heart. The challenge this morning was that I felt like I was in her same place. How could I encourage her when I myself needed encouragement? She tearfully said at times like this she wondered if God even loved her. I wanted her to be assured of His love because I know he loves her. But in the very same thought, I felt exactly as she did! If he loves me, why is this so hard? I was pouring from an empty vessel just like the widow did back with Isaiah.
As I leaned on that glass, looking out at the dead grass, feeling as worn and broken as ever, I thought to myself. “I need to text some friends to pray for me.” Quickly, I banished the thought. “No, I can’t do that, they are all under pressure, just like me… They can’t be troubled.” I waited for my next call from Taylor to ask me again, “what happened?” and could I pray for her?
She did call me in, but only to tell me that there was yet another piece to this challenging situation… something a sibling said to her preceded this seizure and when she told me, it only sent me more into a tail-spin. Now, I needed to confront other people and work through more mud and yuck.
I knew I had to do what I didn’t want to do. I texted three dear friends and asked them to please pray. It was hard, not what I wanted to do, but I knew I had no other options.
The day went on, I noticed that our health insurance had the wrong doctor listed as our PCP which led to a mess of phone calls. I received an email that had news and requests that I didn’t want to hear. It felt like bricks were falling down not only around me, but on me.
I checked my phone and found the sweet message of a faithful friend feeding me with the only bread worth eating: The Word. Psalm 91 to be exact. Words of prayer and love, followed by the others. In the midst of the storm I had an anchor. I stopped floundering and scurrying, scraping to gain my footing and rested in the words of the Psalm. I took a minute, poured a mug of cold coffee and warmed it in the microwave… moved the dirty dishes and books from the bar in our kitchen and found a place to open my Bible. I was reminded that all is not lost. God is still on his throne. He has good for us and I have hope and confidence.
We are ministers and we need to be ministered to. We need each other and we need to be willing to be used by God even when we may feel incompetent or unqualified. My sisters were there for me and I hope I can someday be there for them, too. We need each other when we can’t see because the battlefield we are in is too thick with smoke.
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As I wept I felt my heart break and shatter. The tears falling from my eyes seemed to be draining away every last vestige of hope I had within me. I felt hollow and broken. “I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep trying.” After all our efforts, it just wasn’t enough, nothing was working. “Is this what you want God? This hopeless empty feeling? Is this what waiting is?
Am I supposed to just keep waiting like this, trapped in helpless limbo, hoping and praying for you to notice my pain and despair and have pity on me? What do I do God, when you ask me to wait on you, and to keep waiting, and keep waiting? How do I keep going?” Hesitantly I got up off the floor and opened the Bible. I turned to my reading for the day. Romans 8. Verse 23 says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
As I read, comfort crept into my soul and slowly I felt hope returning and this time it wasn’t based on fertility options, on figuring out the exact right thing to do. This was more, so much more. The words wait eagerly leapt off the page at me. Oh how I longed to be like that, with a living passion in the here and now, no matter what waiting was before me!
How do I live life eagerly while I live in this waiting? I needed to know, I needed to taste it in my very soul. So I dove into the word and I searched for days. And the verses came and washed across my soul with a living hope.
Galatians 5:5. ”For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”
Is it that easy? That the Spirit through faith in Christ works eagerly waiting inside me? But what about the times when I don’t feel any eagerness?
1 John 3:2. “Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” One day, I will be like Him and one day I will see Him. That in and of itself causes eagerness and hope to spring forth in my heart.
When my focus is on Him and the hope of life with Him, all the waiting of this life dims in comparison. I believe He really can teach my heart to eagerly wait on Him instead of this empty waiting I automatically tend to do on my own. I can identify with the father who begged Jesus for mercy on his demon-possessed son in Mark 9; “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” Waiting in helpless situations seems to be a theme in my life, but I am learning that I don’t have to wait with emptiness or lack of hope. My circumstances might not change but my heart has. I can keep going because life with its sorrow and trials will not last forever and He will help me keep my eyes focused on the hope that never fails me and on the life that lasts.
Psalm 42:1-2. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God, When shall I come and appear before God?”
Psalm 130:5-6. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
Lord, let that be my desire, let that be my hope. You turn my waiting into eagerly waiting. You Lord are worth the wait.
But now I had a new, unexpected feeling brewing in my heart… GUILT. Many know our family has had many years of health challenges with our daughter Taylor. In July, she was finally able to get surgery to repair her severely damaged shoulder.
Recovery is progressing well. So, why the guilt? In part, it is because I have very dear people around me who are not receiving good news. One friend is learning to live again without her husband as he went to be with Jesus last Christmas Eve. Another is facing the unknowns of brain cancer. Still another is in the grip of mental illness. These sisters are dear to me and they are suffering. I find it hard to rejoice in my good news in the midst of it all. My heart is heavy for them but also, I feel like I have somehow betrayed my fellow suffering club members. Perhaps being in a similar position as me, you have felt the same? So, before I share the rest of my good news, I’d like to share some thoughts as I work through this struggle.
First. Press on!—Thankfully. I am so thankful for the treasures I have found in the dark places of suffering (Is. 45:3). Suffering is part of our sanctification and there is no question that we will face it until we see Jesus face to face. If you find yourself in reprieve, love and give out of a grateful heart. Continue to stay in touch with your fellow sufferer. The walk of faith is like a hospital where the doctors are patients and the patients are doctors. We press on playing whatever part God has for us. “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good”. That is what Taylor quoted from the movie God’s Not Dead as the nurse rolled her out of the O.R. after her surgery. It was a rough time. She was feeling sick from the anesthesia and wrapped up with bandages that made her look like a football player. Those words were true then and they are just as true now when she is recovering and feeling much better.
Second, don’t allow yourself to be the victim. It might feel easier to stay in the shadow of hard times, looking for ways that things still are not right. I have been tempted to do this myself. Victim status is not a healthy place to be. When we fall on this side of things, we lose our saltiness. Our hearts end up becoming hard and less pliable. It may be compared to a pie. When you make a pie, one of the key elements is the crust. It can be tricky, there is a perfect balance of mixing the ingredients and squeezing them together to make the perfectly light and flaky crust that pie-lovers drool over (trust me on this one, I am married to one such pie-lover). If you knead that dough just a little too long it gets stiff, falls apart and generally frustrates the baker. Yes, I am speaking from experience! We do well to ensure that our hearts are staying pliable and fresh. We can only do this when we remember the gospel and stay grounded in our identity in Christ no matter what the circumstances are, good or bad.
With that said, I am going to step out in faith and share the rest of some very good news in hopes that you can rejoice with us. We are humbled to be sharing this.
Last week, I took Taylor to her annual eye doctor appointment to check on the cataract she has had since birth. The main point of this annual check-up is to ensure that it does not get bigger. This year, as in previous years, the cataract stayed the same size. But Taylor baffled the doctor by having her best exam yet. She saw better out of that eye than she ever has her entire life! There is no rhyme or reason for it, other than God’s mercy.
Also last week, we saw the orthopedic doctor who performed her shoulder surgery. Everything looked good and she will be starting physical therapy in September. Taylor asked the doctor once she is healed what she will not be able to do. His answer was astounding! He said, “Nothing! I expect you to have a full recovery and to be able to do everything.”
Finally, today we met with the neurologist for a follow-up. Everything is good with her meds. He said this break of five months without any seizures is a good sign and that she may eventually be healed and therefore able to get off of the medication altogether! I am in awe of God’s goodness. Thank you for praying!
Today’s headlines are downright scary but they might not concern you as much what is going on in your own home. Maybe you are emotionally and physically exhausted from a lifestyle that seems mostly out-of-control? Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “I just can’t take it anymore!” Welcome to family life in the 21st Century. Is there any real hope?
I would like to introduce you to hope. Real hope. This is not wishful thinking but confident assurance that despite circumstances, four things can still be true of you and your family.
First, a day will come when sin, death, pain, and suffering will end. These painful challenges will not last forever (Rev. 21:4). They will come to an end. Far better days rare still ahead. Living faithfully today involves remembering this important truth in the midst of the battle and allowing it, rather than our raw emotions, to shape our response to it. I admit that I do not dwell enough upon this important truth. How about you?
Second, God is using even awful circumstances to accomplish his will in your life. In Romans 8:28-29, Paul reminds us that all things, not just the good things, work together for our good. Although we prefer it when things are going great, the truth is, we don’t grow much in those times. We grow better through challenges because they help us see how we are not like Jesus. God’s will is that we grow to live more like who we already are in Christ. This brings God glory and provides us with joy.
Many readers know that one of my children suffers with seizures. I’ll never forget what she said to me one day. “Dad. I’d rather have the seizures and have what I have with Jesus than to not have the seizures and not have what I have with Jesus.” That is 100% real, pure hope talking.
God uses even the bad things in our lives to accomplish good in us even though pain is often involved in the process. This gives us incredible hope!
Third, there can be “joy” in the midst of suffering. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we read that even Jesus endured the unspeakable shame and suffering of the cross… with joy. How can that be possible? First of all, “Joy” can be but is not necessarily “happiness” or the euphoric feeling when everything is going our way. Jesus was not happy about the excruciating pain of crucifixion. When Peter and John went away rejoicing after being flogged it wasn’t because they enjoyed it. Rather, in each case the joy at its core was a simple yet enduring satisfaction in God alone; doing his will despite the excruciating circumstances that carried them through the suffering.
Fourth, our peace does not depend on our circumstances but on Jesus’ promise. Jesus says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.” Note that there is no qualification on the peace he has given. By faith, we simply need to receive it.
If Jesus has given us peace then we should live in light of that. His peace is lasting and withstands circumstances. The world’s peace is different. It depends upon circumstances and can therefore be taken away when threatening situations arise.
To be clear: we should prayerfully seek to relieve suffering. God does heal! God does restore! Our faith in Christ, built on hope, is powerful enough to do that if God wills. But circumstances don’t always change. Hard-hearted family members only grow more embittered. Financial ends do not meet. The loved one dies. These are the harsh realities of life in a fallen world that often blind us to the hope we need to shun despair or bitterness. Instead, we would do well to exercise a resilient faith that chooses hope.
This is the hope offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are losing the battle. Fear, anger, and despair have a grip on you. Have you ever considered a relationship with Jesus Christ? He holds the keys of hope! Perhaps you already know Jesus but are losing the battle. Whatever the case, it is only through the gospel’s message of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that we find the hope needed not merely to hang on but to flourish.