A Blue Rosary

I have a beautiful blue glass rosary hanging from my bed. If you know me, you might find this odd, since my Catholic background consists of some dearly loved relatives, several years of Christmas mass, and numerous viewings of Sister Act (1 and 2). I’ve never actually prayed the rosary, although for someone with a chronically scattered mind, the idea of something to give structure and direction to my prayer time is very appealing. The rosary is there not for my daily prayers, but as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. When I see it, it reminds me that every unexpected twist in my life is part of His plan and is leading me closer to Him.

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You see, this particular rosary belonged to my grandma. It was a gift I found for her on a visit to the Vatican while backpacking through Europe after college. At the time, it symbolized everything that was beautiful about our relationship. It was a reminder of travel, a love of which she had encouraged in me all my life. It was a symbol of the faith that is universal in all those who love and seek the Lord, that her protestant granddaughter would give her something so meaningful to her own way of worship. It represented the endless discussions we’d had over the years about who God is and how we relate to Him. We didn’t always agree, but we always spoke with love and respect. Now it means even more to me.

This week marks the second anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. A grandmother who taught me so much: how to knit and quilt, how to play cards, how to shop like a pro, how to love unconditionally, how to find humor and joy in everything, and how to be strong when life is crushing you. One of the last things she said to me when I visited her in the final weeks of her life was, “Don’t forget me.” How could I? Not a week goes by that I don’t miss her, that I don’t wish I could call and tell her some exciting news or ask her advice about something. I wish I could hear her tell me her stories again. I think she would be proud of me, raising my sons to love God, people, and learning; working to improve health and community care, especially for moms and children; and keeping up with my writing. There are 1,001 things that make me think of her nearly every day. The Murano glass rosary by my bed is just one of them. She is far from forgotten.

One of the things I remember best about my grandma is her love of storytelling. She loved a good story, whether it was a book, a movie, or her own history. I was privileged to hear her relate the joys and struggles of her life many times, so richly that at times I felt like I had  been with her in New York City in the 1950’s as she completed nurses’ training, or smelling spring tulips in Holland on her trip of a lifetime to Europe. As I look back on her story, I see the theme of God’s faithfulness. I see the countless ways He provided for her, prepared her for the storms, and showered her with blessings.

My grandmother was certainly not perfect, but she was blessed with a number of excellent character traits. Among them were courage, compassion, and common sense, all of which served her well in her life: in a career of over 30 years as an ER nurse, as she faced the loss of her beloved husband after just a few years of marriage, in her walk for several years as a single mother to three small children, and in her final battle with cancer. She loved fiercely, and she fought tirelessly for those she loved.

God also blessed her with an outstanding network of friends and family that surrounded and supported her throughout her life. She had parents that encouraged and inspired her, and helped her get back on her feet after becoming a young widow. Her eight younger siblings loved and respected her all her days. She remained close friends with several women who had gone to nursing school with her to the very end of her life. She found love and partnership again with the man I always loved as my grandfather. Her children and grandchildren loved and admired her. Many others were there at key points in her life to care for her, encourage her, and walk with her. At her memorial service, everyone who was able brought or sent in the Christmas stockings she had knitted for generations of family and friends. They were hung on the wall, and stretched the full length of the ballroom. It was a visual testimony to how many lives she touched and was touched by.

Not only was my grandmother blessed with a strong character and support network, she was blessed with many moments of God’s goodness and joy. She experienced success in her own career as an RN, and saw all of her children graduate from college and become successful in their own fields. She saw plays and musicals on Broadway. Her travels took her across the country and across the world. She glowed at the wedding of her eldest grandchild, and several years later she bounced her first great-grandchild on her knee and sang the same songs and rhymes to him that she had sung to his mother 30 years before. For a woman who valued family above all, it was a sweet gift. In the final month of her life, she was able to visit the ocean one last time with many of her siblings, where she laid in the sunshine, reading a book and listening to the waves. It was a little preview of heaven for her. Even in her last conscious day, she was blessed with the knowledge that when her life on earth ceased, her eternal life with her Heavenly Father would begin, and she would be reunited with loved ones who had made the journey before her.

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Grandma and me on my wedding day

Grandma didn’t have financial wealth to pass down to her children and grandchildren, but we each inherited great treasure from her legacy. And me, I was given back the rosary that had come from Italy 10 years before and been beside her bed ever since. Now it is beside my bed to remind me not only of the exceptional woman who had loved me all my life, but also of the God who had loved her all her life. No matter where her journey took her, no matter how close or distant she felt to the Lord, He was there. I take great comfort in knowing that I have the same God shepherding me as I encounter the trials of my own life.

Whose legacy inspires you? 

A Prayer for Contentment

Discontent is a universal human affliction. And it is particularly epidemic in our affluent and Western culture. I know that I have more than most people, and far more than I deserve, and yet I can always find something that isn’t good enough about my life and circumstances. Our natural drive to be better and have more can serve us well if channeled through the lense of God’s will and His perspective for His glory, but when our focus turns to making more of ourselves, and for ourselves, we lose sight of the greatness of His blessings that have already been poured out on us. If you find yourself, like me, often tempted to be discontented with your life, join me in a prayer for contentment:

Lord,

When I am tempted by discontent, remind me that I already have more than I need or merit.

When I am tempted to envy another’s reward or recognition, remind me that my reward comes from You and not from men.

When I am tempted to compare my ministry with someone else’s, remind me that You have called me and prepared me for the ministry You have given me.   

When I am tempted to compare my children to others, remind me that you have specifically chosen each of them for my family.

When I am tempted to compare my parenting with another’s, remind me that you chose me for the calling of raising the children you placed in my family.

When I am tempted to compare my family’s income with another’s, remind me that money can’t buy peace, harmony, or time together.

When I am tempted to fear change, remind me that You make things new and beautiful in Your time.

When I am tempted to boredom, remind me that You have created innumerable wonders here on Earth, and have many more awaiting me in Heaven.

When I am tempted to envy someone’s bigger, newer, better home, remind me that my true home is with you, and that the shelter you have provided for me is more than enough.

When I am tempted to see my clothes as dated and out of fashion, remind me that You clothe me in garments of righteousness.

When I am tempted to compare my physical strength and beauty with others, remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in Your image.

When I am tempted to envy someone’s latest vacation, remind me that in You I have perfect rest no matter where I am.

When I am tempted to begrudge another their good fortune, remind me that You have already blessed me far beyond what I deserve.

Amen.

May your focus be on God and His goodness this week, and may you see His blessings everywhere.

Woven with Thanks

Last night, somewhere between midnight and 4am, I spent a good portion of an hour lying awake for no good reason. This is par for my course as a pregnant mom of a toddler (who still wakes up at least once a night because he needs a graham cracker/there’s a moose in his room/he got lonely). I don’t think I’ve actually slept a whole night through since sometime in 2012. But that’s not the point.

During these midnight musings, I have learned that our parents lied to us as children. If you just close your eyes and lie there quietly, well, it will be quiet and dark. It will not help you fall asleep, and you mind will not suddenly think to itself, Oh, she’s trying to sleep; I’ll quit bothering her with the task list for next week and the panic about whether potty training is damaging her child’s psyche. Since I’m too lazy to be one of those people who say, “Well, I guess I’m not sleeping, I should probably clean out the garage,” and I’m too pregnant to take large doses of sleeping pills, I knew there had to be another way to quiet my mind. So I turned to prayer.

Not prayer that I would fall asleep quickly. I’ve tried that once or twice in the past, and I’ve come to the conclusion that God’s not really in the Ambien business. No, I start praying through the needs of my friends and loved ones. (That’s where Facebook really comes in handy. You know exactly what kind of prayer your friends need, even when they haven’t asked for it, if you know what I mean.) I usually get through several before I start to drift off.  

I haven’t found anything that calms my spirit in the middle of the night like bringing the people I love before God. Not only does it bring peace, but in my intercessions for others, I find God speaking to me. Take last night, for example.

I was starting to run through my list of people and their needs, when that nagging voice of some Sunday school teacher from childhood piped up, “Always begin your prayers with thanksgiving,” (presumably so God doesn’t think you’re taking Him for granted and ignore you). For a moment, I thought, Well how am I supposed to thank Him for divorce or mental illness, Mrs. Holypants? Hmm? But then He showed me a picture of how we can thank Him in even the most joyless situations.

I suddenly imagined our prayers as a basket or cloth being woven. We go in and out, up and down as our lives and circumstances change. We weave the threads of supplication and intercession all through a framework of joy and thanksgiving. Lord, give strength and wisdom to my single-mom friend. Thank you for the ways you have provided for her and the people you have surrounded her with to support her. The struggles I am praying for on her behalf lead me to recall how faithfully God has upheld her even in the midst of a life-storm. Father, bring peace and healing to the one struggling with depression. Thank you that she is bringing awareness to her condition and that she is encouraging others. I want to see her mind and spirit healed, but in the meantime I rejoice in the courage and boldness she has found and in knowing that her transparency is going to bless others.

Thanksgiving is an absolutely integral part of our prayer life. It’s not a magic password to the throne (Thank you, God, that all of the past seasons of NCIS are on Netflix. Ok, I’m listening. Did you see Season 10, Epsiode 5? I mean, yes, go ahead with your request. Um, yeah, could you heal my friend’s sister’s cousin’s dog? I think he’s got mange or something yucky.) Prayer is about change. The more I pray, and the more I find ways to thank Him, the more I am changed, which I believe is the true purpose of prayer.

Prayer, in my personal opinion, is not meant by God as a means for us to manipulate the divine providence and sovereignty. If it were, no one would die from cancer, parents wouldn’t bury their children, and the innocent wouldn’t suffer. So Mrs. Holypants from 4th grade is right, we do need thanksgiving if we are going to have a meaningful prayer life.

Not because it gives us points towards answered prayers, but because as we thank God, we see where He has already answered our prayers and provided for us in ways we never thought to ask. In light of His faithfulness revealed by our thankfulness, we see how pain and tragedy really are part of God’s merciful plan to draw us into a deeper knowledge of Him. Our sufferings become less about how we feel or how we are affected in the immediate, and more about how God’s grace is weaving through a story that began long before us and will continue long after us.

Thanksgiving fills us with hope. It reframes our perspective. It reminds us of God’s promises and His faithfulness that never fails. It reassures us that His mercies are new each day, just as we need them.

 

How are you thankful?

Selfish Faith

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There it was, right between posts selling old lawn furniture and telling me how I wouldn’t believe what happened next: a mind-bomb that I didn’t see coming. Right next to each other in my Facebook newsfeed were two posts. The first was one of those inspirational quotes showing a healthy, happy, financially secure woman with words to the effect of “my God can do anything” in fancy script. The second was a sobering reminder of the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees. It featured a picture of a mother and child in rags walking through the desert past a vast tent city. I might have given them both little thought, if that hadn’t been so perfectly juxtaposed.

The absurdity of the contrast hit me right between the eyes. When I say, “My God can do anything,” I’m thinking about how He can help me get through a busy week without getting angry at my husband and son (especially since my next spa day is a month away, seriously!), or how He can provide a million dollars to build our church a new building with enough classrooms and bathrooms. At the very top of my faith game, I’m believing that He can sustain us when there’s an unexpected job loss, or that He can heal a loved one. My God can give me anything. 

But what about the mother who lives in a refugee camp, or a migrant worker camp, or in a city of shacks built from trash scrounged from the dump 100 yards away? She’s not trusting that God will help her get her next college degree, or that He will help her husband get a raise so that they can take their family on a Disney cruise. She’s trusting Him to help her find enough food to keep her baby from starving. If God is really feeling like blessing her, there will be enough food for her child to eat and not cry from hunger afterwards, and a real miracle would be if she had something to eat as well. She’s trusting Him to protect her family from those who would take advantage of them by stealing from, raping, or enslaving them. If her God can do anything, maybe one of these days He will make a way for her family to live in a real home, with no more fear of hunger or of what their fellow men might do to them. But for right now, she’ll be satisfied with daily bread. Her God must do everything, because she can do nothing. 

A part of me wants to rail against our selfishness as comfortable American Christians. How dare we even pray for a pay raise when others are praying to survive? How selfish is it to ask God to bless us with tropical vacations and newer cars? Certainly, we should be more thoughtful about why we are asking for what we are asking God for. We can ask Him for things we don’t necesarily need, but we should be very cautious about gauging God’s blessing in our life by nonessentials. 

This is not to say that we, who mostly live in (or at least come from) the “first world” and the middle and upper class, do not have real problems or need real faith. I’ve been blessed to see friends cling to God in incredibly difficult and painful situations, and He has surely carried them through. Nor is it to say that one of the posts I saw this morning was more true than the other. I happen to know that both posters have great love for the Lord and for people, and they both trust Him to use them to express His love for others.

What those posts were was a much needed reminder for me of two things. First, that I am already blessed with so much, and should be so much more thankful for mundane things like leftovers, a car that runs, and 24/7 access to medical care. Second, that my problems need to be put in perspective. Even if my husband were to lose his job and we had to leave our little town that we love for him to find work, there is almost no chance that we would end up living in a tent or starving to death. Even if I worry about my children, there is virtually no chance that they are going to be trafficked or kidnapped for use in global terrorism. Even if my worst fears came true, my God would be able to make something beautiful from my ashes, to be glorified in my sorrow, and to restore my joy.

So it seems to me that much of our faith in God’s abilities is selfish, whether we are a displaced refugee trusting Him for our most basic needs, or a happy homemaker trusting Him for a little bit extra. We believe that God can do anything for us. And that’s okay, because God is personal with us, and so our personal fears, needs, and desires are important to Him. But if we have this great faith that God can really, truly do anything, shouldn’t we be a lot more generous with our prayers? This is where I was convicted this morning. I pray for myself and my family a lot. I pray for my church family and other friends whenever they ask. I occasionally pray for something I see on the news or on social media. If I’m honest, though, I don’t spend all that much time praying for people like the Syrian refugees, the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or the riots that seem to be regularly breaking out across the US. If I really believe that God can make something beautiful out of these situations, shouldn’t I be fervently asking Him to do so? Of course I should. You should too.

Let’s do it, because our God can do anything. 

Refuge

Happy Friday!

I just wanted to leave you with a quick thought for this weekend.

Yesterday, I saw a flyer for one of our local churches, advertising its mid-week meeting for the Hispanic community.

It was called “Refugio de Amor”.

Refuge of Love

Is your church a refuge of love? Can broken people come there to find shelter, or is it just a country club with a prayer service?

What will you do this week to make yourself and your faith community a refuge of love for those who need shelter for their souls?

Where will you go for refuge in your own trials?

Copyright 2013 Jessica Weeks

 

Meditate on Psalm 46 this weekend:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Somebody’s Baby

Hello again. Last time I wrote, I talked just a little about how having a son has been changing my life. Today I want to share a profound way that my son has changed my perspective.

 

To start, I have a confession to make, and this is something I’m really not proud of. So here goes. Sometimes when I’m out and about and I encounter a person who is somehow ‘odd’, I get a little uncomfortable. I know intellectually that there is no reason to be, but it’s an occasional gut reaction. And, sadly, I imagine that I’m not the only one who reacts this way.

 

There’s something about our human nature that reacts poorly to those we perceive as different. It’s the basis for all prejudice, be it racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. To an extent, our snap judgments help us quickly process the myriad of inputs we experience as we go about our lives, so they are useful. But when it comes to people, we need to use our metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking – to reach the truth, not just first impressions.

 

As I said, I have often found myself confronting these first impressions, and my usual rebuttal to myself is to go through the litany of “You don’t know them or what their condition really is; they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else.” Which is completely true. The problem was, I was addressing a gut reaction with a mental process. Sometimes that works, but often we need an emotional response to an emotional problem. We need something to strongly affect our core in such a way that it changes not only the way we think about things, but also the way we feel about them.

 

That is exactly what happened to me when my son was born. I remember one of my first forays into the outside world after he was born, I encountered one of the regulars at the store I was visiting, a person who, on first impressions, can make me feel a little uncomfortable, even though I know that I have no reason to be. This time, though, a new thought went through my mind: “He is somebody’s baby.” Just that. Just imagining, for a second, that at one time, he was a tiny, precious newborn, no different from his peers; someone small and helpless and sweet, and just as perfect as every other baby. Someone who was the absolute center of his or her parents’ heart. The moment I realized that, it completely changed the way I look at people. It spread not just to those who make me uncomfortable on first glance, but also to the people who irritate me, the people I am quick to judge.

 

And then something truly miraculous happened in my heart. I began thinking more and more about this idea of a parent’s love for a baby. I thought about how much I love my son, a love that I couldn’t even begin to imagine before he was born. As I was thinking about it, I realized that God loves my son far more than I love him. That realization has helped me so much in trusting God to care for my son. And then I realized that God loved all those people, the ones I struggle with judging and loving, as much as He loves my son. That was an amazing realization, because it dawned on me that God’s love for humanity is so much more than a kind, general benevolence. I love my son with an indescribably fierce and all-consuming love, and yet God loves him, and by extension everyone, infinitely more than that, because He is infinitely more capable of loving than I am. Wow – that changes the way I look at people when I begin to understand the way God sees them. Mind officially blown.

 

But then God decided to take the smoldering shreds of my mind and completely destroy my old ways of thinking about one person in particular. The one person I had the most difficulty forgiving, the one I was the quickest and harshest to judge. Myself. It was like God spoke clearly to me and said, “You know how much you love that little baby you’re holding right now? You know how deep, and fierce, and strong that love is, how you are constantly telling him that there is nothing that can change your love for him, that you love him no matter who or what he decides to be? Now, do you remember how you just figured out that my love for everyone is infinitely greater than that? Do you realize that you are one of those people? I love YOU infinitely more than you love your son. You, One-Who-Fails-Daily. And I sent my Son, whom I love even more than you love your son, to die for you. Even though you can’t begin to deserve it, even on your best days.

 

Very rarely do you get such clear spiritual breakthroughs, and to have three of them cascading all at once left me speechless. To change how I see my community, my child, and then myself, to begin to really appreciate the value God has placed on each of us, to have even a fractional understanding of how great a price He paid to redeem us – this changes everything.

 

My hope and prayer for you is that you begin to see how treasured you are, and that you look at those around you with a new appreciation of their worth. May God blow your mind too!

Giving Thanks

Hello, my turkey and cranberry eating friends!

I don’t really get into the Thankful Thursdays or 30 Days of Thanks. But, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would do a couple of posts on things that I am particularly thankful for.

One thing I am very thankful for is family. And not just in the 2nd grade, “my-teacher-made-me-put-something-on-my-turkey” kind of family. Real family, with all its many faces and foibles. I am thankful for:

Parents. For parents who cared for me and raised me to strive to be all that God has created me to be, and who still support and encourage me. And for in-laws who raised my husband and accepted me into their family with love.

Grandparents. I am thankful for the unique roles my grandparents have filled in my life, for the grandpa who took me fishing and taught me why you wear long pants when weed-whacking, for the grandma who made road trips fun and taught me to knit, for the grandmother who inspired my love of books, beauty, and the color red, and for the grandfather who encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be and never let a visit or conversation end without being sure I knew he loved me and was proud of me.

Siblings. Growing up as an only child, I think I may appreciate brothers and sisters more than many who grew up in a house full of other kids. I am exceedingly thankful for my brothers- and sisters-in-law who have accepted me as one of their own, and become dear friends, as loved as any natural-born siblings could be.

Aunts and Uncles. I’ve been blessed to have parents who both came from big families, and I have a wealth of aunts and uncles. They have cared for me, taught me, spoiled me, and advised me in every area of life. And without them, I would not have:

Cousins. Cousins are a strange bunch. You often start out close as children, grow apart during adolescence, and then rediscover your friendship in adulthood. Cousins may be very similar to you, or completely different, but no matter what, they are your people. Like siblings, they share your stories, your traditions, your past, and they know all the embarrassing stories, so you have to keep them close, if only for self preservation.

Nieces and Nephews.  I have absolute proof of love at first sight since meeting my new niece and nephew this past week. I am also thankful for the opportunity to get a little taste of having a newborn before I have children of my own.

The Others: Whether you come from a large family or a small one, whether you live down the road or across the country from them, if you are blessed you will find those rare and precious people who, though they have no genetic connection to you become a real and true part of your family. I am thankful to have been blessed with these special others who round out my family.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, and make sure to take time to appreciate and enjoy the special people in your life!

 

When Your Heart Doesn’t Feel Glad

The focus of this blog is joy, gladness and thankfulness. The background is cheerful, the topics are often meant to leave you feeling a little bit better than when you started reading. But the fact is, sometimes life hurts. To be human is to experience pain. I see this everywhere, it seems. The sweet little baby suffering from an incurable, painful immune disease; the vibrant, lively school boy who is now in a rehab hospital recovering from being hit by a car while biking with friends; the young daughter of missionaries suddenly struck with a life-threatening disease that has caused her organs to shut down; the mother with painful joints that refuse to heal; the marriages that are barely hanging by a thread;  the newborn who underwent open heart surgery to repair a congenital defect at just 6 days old – my heart breaks for them. Why is there so much pain? Why are these good people suffering so much?

I find that I am wholly unsatisfied with the answer, “Because we live in a fallen world of sin.” My niece was not born with a heart condition because of sin. My friends did not lose their first child because of sin. Children don’t get hit by cars because the world is fallen. Fathers don’t lose their jobs because people are sinful. Don’t get me wrong – sin does cause pain. Always. But it is nonsense to say that all pain is simply the result of the fall of man. It’s just too simplistic. And it makes it cruel and meaningless. When we give sin in general as the cause of our common pain, we make God out to be unjust and unloving if he allows us to suffer simply because someone else made bad choices. Sin is cause, but it is not the cause.

Why, then, does God allow us to suffer? Even more, why does He sometimes seem to cause our suffering? Years ago in college I took a course on C. S. Lewis. While his Mere Christianity and Chronicles of Narnia are perennial favorites, I often come back to one of his less-beloved works, The Problem of Pain.  I appreciate the way Lewis seems to think of every argument I’m going to raise, and addresses it before I can protest. While the book covers a lot of theological and philosophical ground, I find myself drawn to two specific sections, one on the goodness of God, and one on the problem of human suffering. While Lewis’ discussions on these topics can’t answer the specific why’s of each individual situation, they do provide a framework in which we can begin to answer the questions of our own pain. I want to share with you a selection of excerpts from The Problem of Pain, and offer a few of my own thoughts on them.

(All quotations taken from: Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain (2001). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.)

The Goodness of God

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people would formulate a theology in precisely those terms; but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds.” 

Do we not often find ourselves guilty of such thinking? Don’t we feel that if God loved us more, we would suffer less? The twin lie to this is that God gives greater blessings to those He loves more. I can’t think of anyone God loved more than Jesus Christ, but I also cannot think of anyone who suffered more pain than Christ.

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit…is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes.”

If you have been an artist, or a pet-owner, or a parent, or a spouse, you can begin to understand each of these kinds of love, perhaps even several. But you will never be able to understand what it is to have every one of those kinds of love directed toward the same object. God’s love for us is wholly incomprehensible.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial menaing to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ [Revelation 4:11] We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. 

It is always good to be reminded that we are not the center of the universe, but how sweet a thought that we were created not just for God’s pleasure but so that He could love us. You and I were made to be loved. How amazing!

“But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces…Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.”

God is not Santa, not a fairy-godfather, responsible for meeting our demands. His every action in our lives is enacted with the sole purpose of making us more like Him, more as He created us to be.

Human Pain

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

God doesn’t enjoy our pain, but He is well aware of its effectiveness in getting our attention.

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ ” 

This was made clearest to me when my dear friends lost their infant daughter. Though their pain was extensive and excruciating, from the moment they knew she was at risk they had held her with open hands and had kept their hands open once she was taken, fully trusting that God had something to give them and with which to bless them. You can read more about their story here.

“God, who has made us, knows what we are, and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us and take away the plausible source of false happiness. It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise.”

“What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”

I have been truly amazed by the wonderful ways I have seen people, especially believers, rise to the occasion and support the suffering. Meals, transportation, listening, mourning with those who mourn, financial provision, childcare, taking over details, helping with daily living – so many go out of their way to ease others’ pain. God works to make us more like Him not only in our own pain, but in the pain of those around us.

“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…Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” 

Oh, how we need this reminder that we are not home yet, that we have more waiting for us. Our present sufferings are nothing compared with the joy we will receive one day (Romans 8:18). I love what Lewis points out here: that though we have troubles now – real and painful trials – they are not the whole of our experience. God is so merciful to us, every moment of every day. Each flower blooming in spring, each leaf with its own autumn color, every kind word from friend or stranger, each moment of rest…They are like springs of water to our dry, weary souls.

Why Me?

I don’t know what your pain is right now. I don’t know exactly what it is that God wants to say to you or give to you. I have a hard enough time understanding what He is doing in my own trials and sufferings. But I am sure of this, friends, that every trial, every pain is purposed to make you more Christ-like, more obedient, and more sure of God’s love for you. It is not calculated destroy you, or to separate you from your Heavenly Father. Even though He may be allowing or even causing your suffering (for His own perfect and good purposes in you) He is ready and waiting to comfort you, to reassure you of His unwavering love for you. Even in your deepest sorrow or most searing pain, you are not alone or abandoned.

How has God used pain to get your attention? How has He blessed you in your suffering? Feel free to make this a place to share your sorrows and your joys!

 

MASH

Hello friends! I’d like you to go down memory lane with me a bit. Come with me back to the days of middle school and high school. Depending on your age, it may be a longer trip, so if you’re over 30, I’ll give you a head start. 10, 9, 8…okay, here we all are. If you are of the feminine persuasion, as I am, you’ll probably remember a game called MASH. For all you guys out there who didn’t know girls existed when you were 15, and if you did, you had absolutely no idea what they were talking about when they were together, you’re just going to have to follow along.

If you didn’t play MASH as a teenage girl, I’ll clue you in. No, it is not a game about army hospitals during the Korean war. That wouldn’t be very fun. MASH is an acronym for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House. Basically, the game was like a huge fortune teller that would predict who you were going to marry, where you would live, how many children you would have, etc. Sometimes the MASH gods were smiling, and you would get paired with your (for that week) crush, and you would live in a mansion with your 3 adorable children. Other times you would know that the MASH gods were angry and needing some small sacrifice because you would be paired with the most odious male in your acquaintance, and you would be doomed to live in a shack with him and your 47 children.  No one ever took it seriously, but it was a great way to pass some idle time on a bus or at a sleep-over.

Well, today as I was sorting through some mementos of my high school days (read: throwing out junk that mattered a lot 10 years ago, but now I have no idea why I kept it), I found a paper napkin covered in my best friend’s handwriting. Turned out that it was a game of MASH. I suppose the only reason I had stuffed it in my box of mementos back then was because it paired me with the most wonderful, beautiful, kind, talented, romantic guy in the world (read: the guy I had a crush on because he wasn’t already taken by one of my friends) That had to be it, since the rest of the game prophesied that I would be an auto mechanic on welfare with 13 children. I had a good laugh reminiscing about the crazy high school days, and then I wadded it up to throw out like the rest of the trash.

But then it got me to thinking. I can still clearly remember my 17-year-old self thinking that I couldn’t possibly be happy in life if I didn’t end up with that guy. I hoped and prayed that somehow God would work it out so that my whole like could revolve around the process of winning his heart. I knew that one day he would wake up, so to speak, and realize that I was a beautiful, alluring, talented, extremely desirable girl, rather than the awkward, overly loud, intimidating, somewhat bearable she-beast that he had heretofore seen me as. (Note: Me at 17 was a lot more like description 2 than I would like to admit). I’ll let you skip to the end of the book here: we didn’t end up together. He ended up with a string of several girls that were the complete opposite of me, even on my best day. I ended up with a man who saw me as beautiful, alluring, talented and desirable without having a revelation from on high. I am incredibly happy, and do not regret that my “dreams” didn’t come true.

I would imagine that we can each think of at least one situation from our past where we desperately wanted things to go one way, but in the end they went in a totally different direction. And for most of us, we don’t even need to think back to high school. It might be something from last year, last month, or last week. We often don’t have the final say in the situations of our life. And all too often, we accuse God of making the wrong decisions for us. He really shouldn’t have let our husband get laid off, or our wife get cancer, or our car get totaled, or our child get accepted into a college 2,000 miles away. Those things weren’t in the plan that we so carefully drew up for God. Apparently He wasn’t paying close enough attention when we told Him how our life was supposed to go.

Silly little human. 

Would you let your son play in the street just because he said that’s what he wanted? Would you let your daughter eat only jelly beans for a month because she just doesn’t like carrots? No, you know what is best for your child, and you will make that best happen, whether your child would like you to or not. So often we forget that God is our Father in every sense, not just in some master-overlord-originator way. He loves us in a way we can’t understand. He is constantly nurturing and protecting us, even when we don’t notice it.  He knows what is best for us, and sometimes, just like the three-year-old who doesn’t understand why she can’t subsist on jelly beans, we don’t understand why we can’t have it our way. God does not work for Burger King. He doesn’t take orders. Yes, He absolutely hears our prayers, our requests. He knows our desires. And what’s more, He wants to fulfill the desires of our hearts. In fact, He knows what we really want, going far beyond what we say we want. He understood that my desire as a teenage girl was to be loved completely, far more than my desire was for the attention of a certain boy. And He was faithful to fulfill the real desire of my heart. He did it in His way, in His timing, and for His purpose for me.

You may be looking at something in your life right now that is not at all the way you planned or expected. You may be praying for God to change your circumstance, to make it all better, as it were. There is nothing wrong with that. Tell Him you’re hurting. Tell Him you didn’t see this coming, and that you don’t know what to do next. Ask Him to help you find your feet again. Admit that you need His help. I can guarantee that He is not sitting on His throne in Heaven whipping the rugs out from under people just for the fun of seeing them scramble. Remember that we only see the immediate effects of the changes in our life; we cannot see where the changes will lead in a year, ten years, or a hundred years. God’s plan for you is good. His plan is for you to know Him intimately, to trust Him deeply, and to enjoy Him fully. To achieve that plan, there may be bumps (or even mountain ranges) along the way. The path may diverge greatly from the plan you mapped out for yourself. Sometimes you may be completely bewildered and feel lost. Take heart, dear friends, for just as your own children do not always see how closely you watch over them, you may not feel that the Father is protecting you or guiding you, but you can be certain, without a doubt, that He is indeed watching you, ready to pick you up if you stumble, to soothe and heal when you are hurt. He has never abandoned you, even in your darkest moments, and He never will.

May He make your heart glad!

Year in Review

Wow. A year. How can it be so long and so short at the same time? And why am I bringing up the passing of a year in the middle of one? Well, this month marks one year since we began our great westward journey. One year ago, we left our home, our church, our jobs, our friends, much of our family – basically everything that was familiar – and moved ourselves to a new place. A place where we only knew two people, only knew the town from a few brief visits, a place where we had no idea where we would live. I had a job working for and with people that I had only met once, on Skype, working at a school that was as different from my previous school as it could possibly be.

To be honest, this could have been a disaster of epic proportions.  To be brutally honest, there were several times, in the first few months, that I asked myself what we had done, and what we had gotten ourselves into. Back East we had great friends, a church we loved, good jobs, and familiar home territory. Out here, we were modern-day castaways, wondering when we were going to make any real connections with the people and the place around us. We went from church to church to church, meeting lots of sweet people, but not finding any place that felt just right. We looked at several cute houses, but struggled with getting a deal in place because the cost of real estate was twice what it was back East, and because of flaky sellers and feisty bankers. The Titanic was looking like it might have been a safer bet.

And then, little by little, it all began clicking into place. We finally found a house to call home. We were finally able to stop living out of suitcases and boxes. On move-in day, we “chanced” to meet a trio of precious older ladies having breakfast at McDonald’s. They struck up a conversation with us, and invited us to visit their church. Since one of our biggest difficulties in finding a church had been the fact that the median age in every church we visited seemed to be about 65 (sweet, but way out of our phase of life), we were a little hesitant, but when we finally visited, we instantly knew that we had found our home and our family. It was exactly the loving, vibrant, diverse community that we had been longing for. At this church we have made so many valuable friendships and have found a support structure that has been critical to our happiness and satisfaction with our new home town. We found our groove and our routine, and soon we were asking ourselves not What have we done? but What if we hadn’t done this? 

Fairly quickly, I started to see the many wonderful ways that God was working through the changes in our location and situation. I tried so many new things, either by necessity or because I had already done so many difficult things that I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. I tried doing things I would have never thought to try before because I never would have believed I could do it, especially not well. What I discovered, though, was that I was able to do so much more than I ever thought possible. As my confidence grew, so did my joy and satisfaction. Similarly, my health instantly began to improve in many ways. This was the result of a healthier culture, access to amazing local produce and meats, and the endless availability of outdoor sports which made exercise natural and fun. I biked to work and the grocery story, and skied for hours on end during the winter. I also found a doctor who put together some puzzle pieces in a way that none of my past doctors ever had, and within weeks of beginning a new treatment regimen, I was feeling like a new person.  And of course, I can’t imagine a life without the friendships that we have made here. Though there is no way that they could ever replace the precious friends that we left back East (in fact, we have learned a thing or two about maintaining long-distance friendships), we are continually blessed by our new friends.

We love our small town, knowing the shopkeepers and restaurant owners, being able to get anywhere in town in 5 minutes, often by bike. We love the area we live in, with rivers, lakes, mountains and deserts and all the sports and activities that go along with the beautiful natural environment. We can’t imagine anywhere else being Home. We are so excited and proud when friends and family come to visit so that we can show off “our town”. Just as God led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, He has led us to a good land.

If I’m honest, though, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine (though we do get a good deal of both of those here). There have been some deep valleys in our little mountain adventure. Aside from two very short visits, I wasn’t able to be physically there for my dearest friends as they walked through one of the most difficult situations imaginable. I haven’t been able to help my sister-in-law prepare for her first baby. We’ve had to learn how to stay connected through the internet and to plan our vacations around family time, not exotic locales. We’ve learned to do without a lot of the things we took for granted when we were city dwellers. Some of the sacrifices and inconveniences were large, though many have been small. But each of them has stretched us, helped us grow, and changed us for the better.

So there you have it: the Year in Review. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the things I have learned and the ways that I have been changed because we embarked on this journey. What will the next year be like? How will God continue to stretch us and change us? I honestly have no idea. I know that there are more changes ahead, some we have planned, and some we know nothing about. I know without a doubt, though, that it will be exciting, and completely in God’s hands.

What about you? How has God stretched you and taught you over the last year? What big changes have you encountered? Most importantly, how has God made your heart glad in all of life’s changes?