When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over."
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain. Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball.
So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
"When it is most difficult to worship God is when it is most important to worship God." ~Mandisa
On Tuesday, January 15th, I tuned in online to watch "A Night of Hope and Healing." I was not disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, I was inspired and thrilled to my core at the display of the love of Christ that was taking place. The event won't get any national media attention, but I can't let it go by without talking about it here. It was profound to me.
The event was billed as "a free event designed to bring comfort to the community (surrounding Newtown, CT) through music, prayer, and uplifting messages." The lineup of talented servants was impressive: Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, Steven & Mary Beth Chapman, Mandisa, TobyMac, Building 429, Laura Story and Casting Crowns. Lest you think, the ulterior motive of this event was to make money - It was a FREE event, and 10,000 tickets were distributed to the Sandy Hook victims' families and community members affected by the recent school shooting. I can't even begin to fathom what putting on this event cost. To say it was an extravagant gift to total strangers, is an understatement. Here is a taste of what the event included:
Familiar scriptures were recited corporately - the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm - taking on more personal meaning in light of recent events. Less familiar scriptures were proclaimed boldly:
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Hebrews 4:14-16, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Songs were sung with rich lyrics that ministered healing to those who would accept it:
It is Well With My Soul
Beauty Will Rise:
"It was the day the world went wrong. I screamed til my voice was gone, And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down. Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind. But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope:
Out of these ashes... beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes. Out of these ashes... beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning..."
Whom Shall I Fear:
"I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side."
"When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins. I will worship You and give You thanks, even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah."
Stories were shared. Mary Beth Chapman, in particular, shared openly, while holding back tears about the tragic loss of their own 5 year old daughter, Maria. Letting those present know they were not alone and they would not be forgotten. She shared her conviction through it all that in the end God is enough and He is faithful.
Prayers were prayed. At one point the names of each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed in the stadium and a time of silent prayer for their families took place. Louie Giglio told the group that the pictures and stories of each victim were on display backstage and that the performers had been looking at them and reading about them and asking God for help to minister to those left behind.
One of the performers tried his best to explain why they had all come and put on the event: "We just want to bless you and encourage you and enter into your pain with you and say we hurt too, and tell you
of the God who makes life worth living." I'd say mission accomplished, and I've never been more inspired by a group of fellow believers trying to live out their faith in the world.
Some of the heartfelt comments I jotted down as I watched include these:
Louie Giglio said, "In times like this people ask, 'Where is God?' We are the body of Christ. We aren't a building with four walls, an institution, an organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. If the world is going to see Jesus, they will see him through His sons and daughters. Where is God? God is here because the people of God are here."
Steven Curtis Chapman: "The world keeps spinning, leaving many paralyzed, angry, numb and stuck while the world goes on. We have not forgotten you. Not because we are wonderful in and of ourselves but because Jesus is in us. We may move forward, but we will not move on. We will keep listening to you, praying for you."
"I drove a stake down in the ground when everything went dark in my life. Even though I am still angry at times and even though I still don't get it - I have two choices - run away from God or run toward God and trust Him and trust His word is true. He is whispering, 'WILL YOU TRUST ME? I know your heart is broken. Will you trust me?' The story ISN'T over. We have lost so much but nothing is lost to God."
Max Lucado: "What Steven Curtis Chapman just did for you, you will one day do for someone else. For the rest of your life you can speak from a place of 'been there.' If you'll let God be your teacher then what was intended for evil will bear good - you will be a missionary to the brokenhearted."
The Night of Hope and Healing was an absolutely perfectly lived-out illustration of why I am a Christian. We do not "have" souls, we ARE souls and that night a group of humble, talented, people acknowledged the soul ache (that continues in CT long after the media attention fades away) and very respectfully and gently provided an outlet for those souls to reflect on the the Word of God, to pray and praise and thank and cry, and to find a way back to their Maker for restoration. Beautiful and powerful to behold.
The most poignant moment to me was when Chris Tomlin and a full band was singing the song, "I Will Rise" (listen below). There is a part of the song where the lyrics say: "Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead." The 10,000 people in the arena began to clap and cheer upon singing "The victory is won," and the clapping was so loud Chris Tomlin just stopped playing. And waited. And let the moment happen. People continued in their applause for several minutes and then they continued with the song. Truly, worship is never more beautiful than when it is offered in times of great sacrifice. When I find it hard to worship in the future because of something that has caused me pain, I will remember that night and offer a sacrifice of praise.
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
Our church has a group that meets regularly called Women's Missionary Fellowship. This week, I was privileged to attend and hear from Rachel Chambers who is preparing to return with her husband to Zambia and the work and people she loves and is called to.
Rachel shared from her heart, comparing our training in righteousness as Christians to an Olympic athlete's training to win the gold medal. Here are the four qualities she described as being needed by both in order to train well:
1. Discipline (2 Timothy 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
2. Courage (Matthew 25:14-28)
3. An Unwillingness to Quit (Hebrews 12:1-3)
4. Clarity (Philippians 3:13-14)
Our prize is not a gold medal, nor is our training about beating the competition like the Olympian's is, (Rachel was quick to point this out) but the qualities needed are very similar:
Discipline to reject that which weighs us down, misdirects us, derails us, and in any way keeps us from doing what it takes to continue becoming all that God has intended us to be.
Courage to take risks as needed, in faith.
Unwillingness to quit when things are hard, uncomfortable, painful, or difficult to understand, maintaining long-haul commitment through it all, problem-solving and trusting instead of throwing in the towel.
Clarity of purpose. A clear view of the reason we are training in the first place. The glory that is to come - HIS.
True victory, as a Christian, is about standing before Christ one day, hearing "Well done," and receiving a reward (Crowns/Jewels) that we can turn around and lay at his feet, getting the greatest joy from finally having something of worth to give back to Him to honor Him for all that He is, and all that He has done.
Thank you, Rachel!
*If you want to read more about Rachel's story and be inspired by all God has taught this dear sister, you can get her book, The Summons To Become through Amazon at this link.
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
The feeling of tears of frustration and fatigue running down my cheeks is an uncommon sensation for me... not entirely unheard of, but uncommon. I am known more for my loud, boisterous laughter than for outbursts of tears. Today, however, was a day when playing the "waiting game" felt like a bit too much to ask of me, and the tears flowed freely. Do you ever feel that way? Like what life is requiring of you in the moment seems a bit too much to take? Like what GOD is requiring of you is taking a bit too long and hurting a bit too much with not enough of an explanation of the "why" behind it all or the "when" of its eventual ending? I'm right there with you.
In my heart I know the Truth:
Thank you, Father. You are good. All the time.
Almost a week ago I read a blog entry by a missionary in Africa that I have been pondering ever since. Of an elderly African woman who has endured far more than her fair share of suffering, she wrote:
I live with these human eyes, and with these human eyes of mine I label. I label one thing as good and one thing as bad. I label moments as blessing or burden. And I forget that all this labeling, it is not my right, not my place, not mine to do. To declare what is a gift in my life and what is a curse is to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to sit in the garden full of abundance and beauty and choose the forbidden. The knowledge of good and evil, that was never intended for me.... Suffering, pain, loss, shame – all these things I have blamed on a broken world, Satan even. But can’t a broken world and even Satan only give what God allows? Suffering, pain loss and shame are only these things because I label them as such. Because I, a sinner, choose to eat from the tree, choose to turn away from nail-scarred hands and ignore the grace and miss the gift. He is beautiful and everything He creates is beautiful and if I choose to label it suffering I am choosing to miss the beauty that is freely offered me."
This shocked me and sobered me and disturbed me. The things this African woman has faced in her life - all of her children, dead due to war and corruption - surely I am not to hesitate to label this as "bad" simply because I am not God and do not possess the entirety of His wisdom. I have enough of His wisdom in the scriptures to know what God called "good." The opening chapters of Genesis, God created everything pertaining to the Earth and called it good. He created man and then surveyed everything He had made and called it "very good." This is before sin entered the picture. God's creation in its purest form = good. Why would I ever label the effects of war, corruption, disease, or disaster as good? God can bring beauty from ashes, but that doesn't make the ashes themselves beautiful.
When I hear the woman laughing through pain and saying, "whatever He wants," I do not hear joy over her situation, for it is not a good one or a joyful one. Rather, I hear a woman who is willing to endure unjust suffering without rebelling or blaming. A woman who knows that God is in control and she is not.
There is a difference between suffering for the cause of Christ and suffering due to the fallen state of the world. Christ showed Paul, "all that he would have to suffer for his Name," (Acts 9:16). This type of suffering happens because we are going against the grain of the world in obedience to God and it is good - it is very good. If we do not experience this kind of suffering, we aren't following very hard after Him. But watching a loved one waste away from cancer, seeing children sold as slaves, witnessing or living in extreme poverty due to injustice - God never called this good, and I think I have every right to call it evil, awful, horrible!
God is allowing (not condoning) the corruption of His creation - FOR A SEASON - and during that season He is preserving His church by promising to work all things together for our good and His glory - even the evil, awful, horrible stuff. We are not to despair or mourn as those who are without hope and we are not to whine or complain because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world, but we gotta call a spade a spade!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!