Because I believe in God’s sovereignty, my perspective is constantly being rescued and reframed. For years I have been closely effected by a roller coaster ride of heartaches due to the addictions and bad choices of a sweet adult child along with turbulence in some of the relationships he became entwined with. Mixed in with the fun times we all have shared, there have been times that waves of despair have crashed in on our family. Through it all I believe that God is rescuing and keeping those I have committed to Him, and in fact, our entire family. (“…and that is why I have suffered these things. But I am not ashamed because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.” 2 Tim. 1:12) As Carol Kent points out so well in her book, “When I Lay My Isaac Down”, the entire family suffers when a family member is arrested; i.e. not just with the shock and heartache, but with a taste of the ill treatment that is often dished out liberally to the incarcerated. From exorbitant phone call charges, visitation lines, changing rules, searches, lies, rudeness, scapegoats, assumption of guilt, etc., we have learned more then we ever wanted to about our system. As Joseph said to his brothers after his long set of trials at their hands, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result…” (Gen. 37-45) Seeing things from God’s perspective caused him to be able to forgive his brothers for the evil scheme they had carried out. It’s not always an easy thing to keep my eyes focused on God’s perspective, but when I do I see clearly His love and mercy even within difficulties. Then there are the unexpected moments of God’s grace in the hard places, such as when a friend picks up the corner of our stretcher by encouraging words, cards, prayers, hugs (both virtual and real) or sacrificial actions. There have been some who have sought us out just to help us stand strong in a hard place; as well as those who have essentially left us alone in it.
That thing that I would most like to erase from my circumstances is often the very thing God will get the most mileage from in His molding makeover plans. This is something not understood by those who have not put their trust in God. The lure of success, popularity, and power along with the slippery slope of pride can be too strong to welcome or see the need for a trial to sharpen spiritual perspective and increase trust. Yet the most humbling things that I would choose to avoid, He uses for His glory and my good.
Last fall I planted bulbs, which, like cocoons and butterflies, wombs and babies, and so many other design marvels, illustrate the amazing skill of a Master Weaver to use the dark and hidden places to yield something no less then splendid. His transforming powers are not at all affected by my ideas of where they should occur, whether behind prison walls built by men or those constructed within hearts encased in a fine exterior in denial of the slavery within. Meantime, true heart freedom is being forged in the hard places not the easy ones.
The beauty of flowers and spring is like a visual banner shouting God’s handiwork that was done in the hard and hidden places. I am thankful for following through with the instinctive nudging to plant more bulbs last fall in addition to other landscape specimens already here. Beginning with helleborus, Magnolia Jane and white forsythia defying winter in the midst of freezing temps, the floral processional has begun. Moving on from hyacinths, viburnums and daisies to tulips, flowering almonds, spireas, Japanese Maple, lilacs, azaleas, and the unfurling of peonies, I’m feasting on an array of visionary and olfactory reminders of God’s creativity, faithfulness and love.
If the kaleidoscope of colors doesn’t settle the matter, there is the intoxicating aroma of hyacinths, Korean Spice Viburnum and lilacs to further prove He does exceedingly above all that we ask or think. In “Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything”, author Steve DeWitt says, ‘…every created beauty was created by God to lead our affections to Him. That’s why He made the pleasures of earthly beauty so fleeting – so that on the other side of the pleasure we might experience either wonder and worship and ultimate satisfaction in God or the pursuit of the pleasure that beauty provides for its own sake. If we choose the latter, we will only be disappointed again.’
As one wave of blooms fades and another comes on, there is a rhythmic reminder that, like the blooms that come and go, my life, too is a vapor to be poured out in whatever channel He desires. My response to the course He chose for me is sweet surrender, and yes, even gratefulness. Since nothing happens to me outside of His permission, He must have confidence that I will display His glory even in arid places. Perhaps He has handpicked you for a hard place as well.
A sweet friend encouraged me after a recent turning point in my family’s heartbreaking saga of the loss of a family member to incarceration, “Now you have the framework for the future.” Her words were comforting and also reminded me that I’ve always had the framework for the future from the time I turned my life over to Christ at age nine. Through ups and downs, valleys and “mountaintops”, seasons of drought and seasons of showers, God has always been there and been my Savior and my friend. The gardens have not failed to rescue and reframe my perspective!
Last fall I was well into a dark and difficult season of my life in which I needed to cling to every scrap of hope just to function. I longed for a time machine to jump in and travel to a few years from now and skip this season. Since that didn’t happen, I did the next best thing and purchased several bags of beautiful bulbs and crammed them in every available flower bed and pot around the house. Other then the times I was buoyed with the lifeline of empathy, encouragement and time out with family and friends (who are cemented in my personal hall of fame), my “recreation” centered on bulb catalogs and wondering what mile marker I would be passed when each variety bloomed. Bulbs symbolize what God, in His Divine Providence, is doing in the hidden realms that we don’t see. Yet for those who love Him, He is faithful to work all the intricate details out and use them for His glory and our good. He is a master weaver of our circumstances, even though we can’t see the finished tapestry yet.
Amaryllis gave me just what I needed during the dead of winter to hold me over until spring and outdoors. It was fun to buy several and share them with some family and a mentor who has stood staunchly on faith and determinedly propped me up a few times, as well. Our faith filled prayers for God’s glory to be evidenced in difficult circumstances are synchronized as we tend to our amaryllis bulbs and watch their beauty unfold.
His creation of the flowering bulb holds striking symbolism of my faith and trust in Him even when I can’t see what He’s doing. Even the bulb, itself, holds symbolism. While it is in the cold, dark, earth, it finds it’s sustenance from within to send forth the new growth. While I am in the dark trial, I must find strength from my inner most core; i.e. the Lord and His Spirit and the comfort, direction, and even sure promises that I can only get from time spent alone with Him
Unless you count this as one, we won’t be writing a Christmas letter this year. Come to think of it, it’s been a number of years since I sent a Christmas letter. But if we did you might be hanging onto your seat. Then again, in the off paragraphs you might be snoring. But ultimately what I would want you to know is this: Even in the hard years, God is good and does exceedingly above all that we ask or think. (Eph. 3:20) He is to be praised.
Imagine getting a Christmas letter saying that in a fit of jealous rage one of two sons had killed the other, and in another family letter came the news that the husband had risked his wife’s sexual exploitation for his own hide; then a few years later the same wife had gotten so jealous of a relationship that she, herself, had put into place, that she had sent the destitute progeny away forever. What if your friends wrote you that one child had tricked the near blind, dying father into changing his will. Now here’s some Christmas letter news: the dad had suffered some devastating consequences in his life for a rooftop peeping tom escapade, and later there were some problems in the blending of the half siblings. One had raped his half sister and in revenge another had murdered the rapist. And then later the disowned teen murderer used his charisma and become popular and powerful enough to try to destroy his father.
Likely responses to such tabloid-like stories from God-fearing families might be shock, gossip and judgement. The latter springs from our insatiable desire to measure someone’s tragedy against our own life and surmise how that could never happen to us. Thoughts, if not words, might be…”if the parents had just had them in church every Sunday” to “if they had not chosen that school” to “if they had not been so strict”, or “if they had not been so lenient”, or “if they had just went to marriage counseling” and on and on. We believe in grace, but it often shadows our prideful logic. The disciples tried to lay blame as well, but received this response…”Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) The works of God in a life are really so much more refreshing to focus on! If we could just quickly shift our thoughts to how God may use circumstances, as well as start praying we’d become a part of the miracle of grace, redemption and restoration.
In the above scenarios, God dealt with sin, but saw the heart, (yes, especially the parts that bore His likeness) which is why He could call the fearful husband the father of many nations, the jealous wife a woman to be emulated by all women in regard to respect for her husband, the #1 loser dad a man after God’s own heart in regard to his worshipful and compassionate heart, etc.
Unfortunately, God’s grace and redemption are sometimes not as convincing in humans, and on occasion even purposely omitted, leaving many of us trudging uphill through the storms of life with social apathy (not to be confused with spiritual apathy) as our trail guide. A friend of ours and midwife for two of our childbirths years ago, blogged recently on Christmas letters. “The fact of the matter is, any time any of us have a bad year, we aren’t as likely to send out Christmas cards or a Christmas letter. If we’ve experienced a death in the family, struggled financially, had medical issues, serious kid problems, emotional trauma, a divorce, church drama, or just a year where everything seemed to go wrong, we don’t really feel like sharing. Those things don’t go as well in the end of year brag letter as do educational accomplishments, travel, promotions and awards.” You’ll likely be blessed and entertained if you take time to read her entire post @ the above link. You might even change the way you write next year’s Christmas card or letter.
But meantime, if you didn’t hear much from us, neither did most. Like Roxanne and many of you, we’re still here, still alive, still trusting, hoping, and finding healing in the time out.
When the city’s in shambles
and unknowns abound
pray hard for the vandals
that truth would confound.
Lies meant to stir hatred
violence, crimes and unrest
destroy what is sacred
and won’t pass the test.
For evidence will disclose
a man’s effort to be true
one who heroically forgoes
his own safety for me and you.
He has respect from the grateful
even if a sorrowful state of mind
and violence from the hateful
who have an axe to grind.
They forgot the mockingbird was innocent
like the very one set up.
He was not defined by insolence
nor fight, thievery and such schmuck.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” was a sin
because the plot did imbibe
meanness, lies, and scandalous rumors wherein
the fearful and bullies felt emboldened in the tide.
But now who is the mockingbird
and who is the lynch mob?
Where is the hero who will stand strong and be heard?
Must the mockingbird’s heart continue to throb?
Lord make us humble
walk in truth, respect and by a code
Let us not stumble
into hypocritical mode.
I am in a Master’s Degree School Program as I trudge through some one way valleys. After over 25 years of homeschooling seven children I have become accustomed to curriculum, whether bought as a package or whether I put it together hodge podge style. I spent many an August watching kids and sometimes grandkids swim at the city pool while I poured through the following year’s school plans and calender. Implementation of each year took off with grandiose thoughts of how organized I would be, how much they would learn and what balance of study versus hands on and field trips would be used. In addition to hours of planning, there were many, many more hours of reading out loud, drilling of tables and verses, etc. Admittedly, I did fall asleep a few times while reading out loud in the evenings, and my kids won’t let me live down the way I mastered “reading” in my sleep. There were a few such times when I sent them to bed, but still under the spell of sleepy delirium, told them to do such interesting things as “Brush your teeth and get in the toilet.” But none of those years of homeschooling required my focus as much as the intensive classroom of praying and keeping faith while an adult child wades through serious troubles.
As I focus on standing on many scripture promises, I can’t allow myself to indulge in logic and reasoning. Oh no. I serve a big God who is able to do exceedingly above all that I ask or think. (Eph. 3:20). Nothing is impossible for Him. (Luke 1:37) He can reach where I can’t. (Isa. 59:1) He will rescue my children, even when they’re not innocent if I keep my hands “pure” because of Christ. His rescue is first and foremost the soul, but sometimes he rescues circumstances also, if He chooses to bring glory to Himself from them a different way. (Job 22:30) His Word that we helped them store away, won’t return void. (Isa. 55:11) He is able to bring our children back to the Way; i.e. their own spiritual “land”. (Jer. 31:17) And best of all He is able to accomplish all this in spite of me, and all of my teaching efforts, because He will actually be their teacher and give them peace. Not only does He not judge me, He makes up for my lack. (Isa. 54:13) That is my teaching retirement verse. The very spring of my last year of supervising our home school, God caused that one to stand out in “neon” letters, both as a wake up call and a comfort, so that I can get on my knees before Him each day and give the teaching results to Him. Then I’m able to start a new day with renewed faith knowing He made this day for my faith to land on and soar in, no matter what circumstances I’m in. He causes me to repeat such promises as “What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee.” (Ps. 56:3) and Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil. 4:6) And most of all, He brings me around to a sacrifice of praise to Him even when I’m down. My praises may come out in a sob but they switch my focus to Him and bring His presence into my circumstances or that of someone I’m praying for, sometimes with a surprising turn of events.
Giving the results to God as I bow my head in the “faith” school takes focus, but is rewarding. I have set backs, where I just don’t really want to display His glory. I’d rather stay under a pile of blankets (at least mentally) and indulge in some grief over some latest turn of events. He is patient with me as I need a little “down time” before forging ahead in this Master program He has me in. During those times I feel all the brokenness and all the pain and know that it is real. There is healing in this acknowledgement and in tears, which God collects and keeps. He hears my cries and yours!
But back in the faith classroom, He carries me to the table where I don’t see my brokenness anymore. I see things from His perspective and it’s so much better then my own. I’m whole and I know He is fulfilling His promises as He sees fit in my life and that of my family. This degree program doesn’t commence until eternity, but the dividends can’t be equaled in any other program out there. There is faith and peace for character enrichment and future crowns to lay at His feet. This is a program that some of the most intelligent folks don’t acquire; since it requires a surrendered heart.
Who am I to question His ways or His timing. It is enough that He carries me to a table I don’t deserve. Do you struggle with trials and His timing? What ways help you not see your brokenness, or that of a loved one, anymore, but rather the One who carries you?
When hope lingers slow and the mountain stays the same
words mean little minus public acclaim
When hypocrisies loom bold
and love waxes cold
When you live too many days
under friendly fire haze
And what was real
is denied by hearts of steel.
When friends join the throng
of the popular traitor’s song
it may hurt
but you learn – don’t dessert.
When vision is blurred
And your cries obscurred
Steps grow weak
and hands work meek
Fears grow strong
and doubts come along
God is there, rising up
to fill your cup.
When the promise is broke
and love wears a cloak.
Hate wins a round yet
angels rush to surround.
When the swords come clanging
Radicals at the door banging
or to your children say goodbye!
But you’ve taught them well
They won’t choose hell.
They close their eyes
and wait to meet you in the skies.
Storms may gather
but God would rather
we look to Him, not the storm..
Jesus is worth every trial
there’s no room for denial
His love grows more dear
with every year.
Regardless our circumstances
and the uninformed glances
He won’t waste our affairs.
He sees, He hears, He cares.
I was a child of the 60’s and blossomed in the 70’s, “the Peace Movement decade”, which was anything but peaceful. The lingering Vietnam war, campus riots, the Jim Jones mass suicide/murder case and many other social injustices brewed anger. Peace signs were everywhere from wall graffiti to embroidered on our bell bottoms, purses, and book covers.
The Beatles came on the scene and turned pop rock culture on its head, not only because of their pleasing abandonment to energetic musical expression, but also because they used their platform for political and social expression in a period when everyone wanted new and public venues of expression.
The church embraced the peace movement in so far as connecting with the culture and we sang songs such as the one below. Youth groups became the poster child of the traditional church, meeting in coffee houses and other such non traditional settings.
Often the most vociferous protestors for peace seemed to emanate the least amount of it. But in spite of a decade or more of clamoring for political and public peace, it remained illusive on many levels. That’s not really surprising because true peace is not about our circumstances or world affairs that effect us. Circumstances may rock our world, but they can’t steal our inner peace once we have time to reflect on God’s perspective.
Oswald Chambers said in his August 26 “My Utmost for His Highest” devotional, ‘Are you painfully disturbed just now, distracted by the waves and billows of God’s providential permission…is all barren? Then look up and receive the undisturbedness of the Lord Jesus. Reflected peace is the proof that you are right with God because you are at liberty to turn your mind to Him. If you are not right with God, you can never turn your mind anywhere but on yourself….Lay it all out before Him, and in the face of difficulty, bereavement and sorrow, hear Him…’ John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”
As we do Vacation Bible School this week at our church, we are wearing bracelets that say “Watch for God” as reminders to keep tracking God in our personal life. Since God’s mercies are new every morning, it takes “watching” to see them each day. If I’m not watching for God and His mercies then I often not only miss the sweetly personal supernatural, but default to complaining, fear, worry, etc. The more I train my eye to watch for God, the more I see Him at work and my eye becomes trained to see the blessing in something that at first glance may just seem like something negative.
To watch for God at work in trials is like seeing drops of water in arid places. The first definition for “arid” in Dictionary.com is: “being without moisture; extremely dry; parched: arid land; an arid climate”. In our lives arid places can symbolize those times of trials and stretching, often lengthy and difficult. But unlike geographically arid regions, which result in fruitlessness, “arid” life seasons can actually stimulate “fruit” production. Our difficult seasons cause us to either watch for God and see His mercies, or become bitter and miss the God sightings.
When we choose to watch for God at work in our arid places, we see mercy drops and sometimes showers even in our deserts. Oswald Chambers said, “…God has to take us into the valley, and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the place where He can trust us with the veritable reality.”
“And the parched ground shall become a pool” (Isa. 35:7), “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Isa. 41:18). “I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.” (Ezek. 34:26) God promises showers of mercy and blessing upon our arid places. Are you watching for Him in faith?