I Want to Be a Dandelion

Flower-Wallpaper-in-Spring

Last Sunday, I took a little walk around town after church. Here in the mountains of Colorado, it may be nearly the middle of April, but we’re hesitant to actually call it spring for another month or two. There’s a chance we’ll get a foot of snow this weekend. In some places, wildflowers won’t make their appearance until July. We’re stuck in a sort of seasonal twilight; it is not as cold or snowy as winter, but the plants and animals are not ready to commit to the abundance of spring.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see clusters of dandelions growing up from several cracks in the sidewalk and dotting yards here and there. Dandelions are one of my favorite flowers. They are soft, cheerful, and bright, they are still beautiful and enjoyable after their yellow fades and they turn into puffs made for children’s delight, and there is something about their stubborn, tenacious personality that makes me cheer more for them than for the landscapers who would try to banish them.

As I was admiring the dandelions, it occurred to me that we as Christians should be more like dandelions. These little yellow flowers can teach us a lot about living as children of God. How so?

  • They have strong roots which make them hard to destroy.
  • They can grow anywhere; they don’t need “ideal conditions” to thrive.
  • They are simple and cheerful; they do not need to be flashy or popular.
  • They serve many purposes and fill many needs – they nourish, heal, and encourage.
  • They are resilient – attempts to destroy or discourage them only make them stronger.
  • They spread seeds far and wide; they give of themselves and multiply in the face of strong winds and the changing seasons of life.

So what do you want to be? A beautiful but temperamental and fragile flower like and orchid, or will you be a dandelion?

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Tuesday’s Truth – The Gift of No

Welcome back, friends! Today I’m writing you from the unbearably hot and humid state of Kansas. Every time I see The Wizard of Oz, I wonder why Dorothy doesn’t do a little happy dance when she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It alternates between blast furnace and Roman steam bath. But I digress.

 

What I really want to talk to you about today is an important parenting principle. Before you dismiss me based on the fact that the only parenting I’ve done so far is poking my belly to keep my little guy kicking, let me tell you that I’m not going to actually give you advice on how to parent your children (although if you pick something up from this, that’s great). What’s really going on here is that I was inspired recently by a parallel between parenting and God’s ways with us.

 

Like any first-born, first time mother who is paranoid and certain that she will completely ruin her child, I’ve been furiously reading every parenting book I can get my hands on. (Note: this is not actually a good idea.) There are many rules, schedules, tips, and tricks that you are apparently supposed to follow to ensure a healthy, well-adjusted child. Some will probably prove useful, others to be a useless burden, but there is one that has really stuck out to me even before I’ve had the opportunity to try it out. It just makes sense to me. I call it “The Gift of No”.

 

The basic principle is that it is important for you to tell your child no (although not necessarily to use the word itself) on a regular basis. Your child will develop better emotional and psychological health if they do not get everything they ask for. It’s good for them to be denied once in a while. It’s okay if they don’t get every experience, toy, or opportunity. It’s healthy for them to be allowed to fail because you don’t solve all their problems for them. From my time teaching young children, I can see that this is a true principle.

 

But as I thought about it more, I wondered why it was true. What is it about being judiciously denied certain things that helps a child become emotionally strong and healthy? It seems to me that there are four main things that the Gift of No teaches children. First, it teaches them that they are not the central, most important thing in the world. They learn that their desires do not outweigh the needs and desires of others. This kind of humility makes for a thoughtful, caring person. Second, it teaches patience and self-discipline. When a child does not immediately get everything he or she wants, it develops the ability to deny self. This helps a child learn to either wait for a better time, or to choose not to indulge themselves. Third, it teaches contentment. Through experience, the child learns that he or she can still be happy and fulfilled even without many of the things that he or she may initially desire. Fourth, it teaches the child to prioritize. When you can’t have or do everything you desire, you learn how to choose what is most important to you.

 

Now, you may be thinking, this is interesting parenting advice, but what does it have to do with issues of spirituality and Christian life? Well, as I was thinking through they why’s and wherefore’s of the Gift of No, it suddenly dawned upon me that this isn’t a new principle at all, but something that God instituted from the beginning of Creation, and that it is not just true in raising children, it is true in God’s development of us as well. Those four character qualities that we find important in the emotional health of our children are equally, if not even more  important in our spiritual health. God wants to develop in us others-centeredness, self-discipline, contentment, and right priorities. Those four are cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life. The Bible is full of examples of God giving the Gift of No to His children. Think through them with me:

  • God told Adam and Eve, “No,” when it came to the forbidden fruit in order to develop discipline.
  • God told Moses, “No,” when it came to entering the Promised Land because Moses had not prioritized obedience over expedience.
  • God told David, “No,” when it came to building the temple not only because of David’s prior actions, but also to teach both David and Solomon discipline and others-centeredness.
  • God told John and James (and their mother), “No,” when it came to promising them positions of honor in His kingdom to remind them that they were not more important that His other followers.
  • God told Paul, “No,” when he asked for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed to teach him contentment.

 

There are many more examples throughout the Bible, and in the lives of Christians throughout history. You’ve probably heard someone say that God answers our prayers three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. We like the Yeses. We’re okay with the Waits. But we like to try to make all of the No’s into Waits, don’t we? We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes God is flat-out telling us, “No.” Not because He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to be unhappy. Not because He is being arbitrary. He tells us, “No,” precisely because He does love us, and wants us to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. When we accept that a “No” from God is just as loving and gracious as a “Yes,” then we are one step closer to being the healthy and whole person that He made each of us to be.

 

May you grow in grace!

Tuesday’s Truth – Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Welcome back again! Today I want to share something with you that I discovered in my daily Bible study. I’ve been going through a chronological reading of the Bible, and recently I’ve been covering the end of Solomon’s life, and the division of his kingdom into Israel and Judah. In my reading, I went through the last few chapters of the book of Proverbs. While most of the sayings in that book are clearly attributed to Solomon, Chapter 30 is supposedly written by a wise man named Agur. It is not clear who Agur was. Some sources believe that it was a symbolic pen name for Solomon. Others say that he was an Arabian ruler. The context, history, and Hebrew structure in the passage make it hard to be definitive. What is clear, though, is that whoever the writer of Proverbs 30 was, he made some very helpful observations about God, life, and the ways of the world. I’d like for you to look at just a few verses out of this chapter with me. Let’s start with a promise:

“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

I love this idea of complete security. I’ve been reading lately about the kings of Israel and Judah, and it is amazing to me how simple it was that when they obeyed and trusted God, there was peace and prosperity, and they were never defeated, but when they went their own way and trusted in their own strength, or in their armies and allies, they invariably experienced failure and defeat. What a clear challenge to trust Him with everything.

The writer goes on to make a request of God:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

The wise man here is giving us a lesson in contentment. How often do you pray this same sort of prayer? Do you ask for God to give you only what you need, what He wills you to have, or do you continually ask for more? Give it some serious thought this week.

15b “There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
16 the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

The writer continues with the idea of contentment vs. desire. I think we can all identify with the first two examples he give. As we talked about last week, death is something that is constant an inevitable. And all of us have known couples who have struggled with infertility. It is amazing what lengths people will go to try to conceive a child. The drugs, procedures, and financial costs are each extreme, and yet there is no slowing in the business of helping people have babies. The desire for the child overshadows any physical or financial discomfort. And while I cannot directly relate to that example, I certainly can relate to the final two. Here in our beautiful state of Colorado, our gorgeous spring and summer have been marred by a severe drought that has contributed to extensive wildfires. Last summer we dealt with the same issues, but this year seems even worse. Over 500 homes were destroyed just in one fire. In another area of the state, a popular tourist area was almost completely destroyed. In yet another area, over 50,000 acres of beautiful alpine forest have been consumed. Watching the reports come in each day, it is easy to see that fire never says, “Enough!”

Notice that these things which are impossible to satisfy are not spoken of positively by the writer. We live in a culture where a constant drive for more (more money, more power, more recognition, more success, more possessions, more happiness, more everything) is seen as a positive character trait. Commercials for athletic products tell us to keep pushing for more – faster times, more points, more wins. Educational institutions tell us that we can become more, earn more, learn more, if we attend their school. Movies and television tell us to climb the ladder, find a better spouse or partner, reach for the stars. We are told to never stop pushing the envelope, never accept defeat, never stay in one place too long. Satisfaction is the same thing as laziness and apathy. Every opportunity is meant to be taken, every risk is worthwhile.

And yet I wonder if we’re really happier, and more satisfied because of this constant drive for more. Look at the statistics relating to debt, divorce, and suicide just in the US. The average credit card debt in the US is over $15,000, The average mortgage debt is just under $150,000, and the average student debt is over $30,000. The divorce rate is around 40%. Nearly 40,000 people in the US commit suicide each year, and many more admit to thinking about it. We’re in a state of constant striving, and it’s not making us happier, more satisfied people.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon often speaks of human striving as being meaningless. It’s clear that more is not always better. Working hard, doing one’s best, reaching for dreams – all of that can be very worthwhile. Our failing is in letting our achievements, our possessions, our striving, take too high a priority. There are many ways we could talk about what this means, but let’s go back to what the writer said: having too much, seeking too much, can draw us away from God. We become like those kings I mentioned at the beginning who stopped trusting the Lord and experienced defeat and failure. Make the writer’s prayer your own this week. Ask Him to give you a spirit of contentment, no matter what your circumstance, trusting that He has given you all that you need.

 

Have a contented week!

Tuesday’s Truth – You Won’t Make It Alone

Hello again. I hope you’re ready for some more truth this week! Today we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about friendship. We’ll see why we need friends, why it can be hard to find friends, and what it means to be a good friend. Whether you feel like you have more friends than you know what to do with, or like you haven’t a friend in the world, you need to know these truths. Let’s dive right in.

 

Why do we need friends? The Bible has a lot to say about the purposes and usefulness of friends. Let’s be clear, though. When we talk about friends today, we’re not simply talking about people  you like to go out with – your social circle. We’re talking about a kind of friendship that is much richer and deeper than that. The Bible says that we need good, godly friends because:

We need people in our lives who will support us, defend us, encourage us, and yes, sometimes correct us. The great musical duo Simon & Garfunkel sang,

“I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”

Now, that song was likely a bit tongue-in-cheek, but many of us have adopted that way of thinking. I don’t need friends because they will let me down. I don’t need them because they won’t understand me, or they will judge me. I can’t be completely open and honest with them, or they won’t be my friends anymore. I don’t need friends because there’s nothing they could tell me or do for me that I can’t think of or do on my own. A strange mixture of self-loathing and pride let us deceive ourselves that we don’t need real friendships; that the social circle (or complete solitude) is enough.

 

And why not feel that way? Isn’t it awfully hard to find good friends? Yes, it can be. I know that at certain times in my life, it has felt nearly impossible. But why is it that we struggle so much to find and develop true friendships?

 

The first reason goes right back to the attitudes we talked about just moments ago. We block ourselves from seeking and developing friendships because we are trying to protect ourselves from pain and disappointment, or because we think that we are strong enough on our own that we don’t need anyone else deeply involved in our life. I am certain that this very thinking prevented me from developing meaningful relationships at several points in my life. I hate to be harsh here, but you are not all that. You are not so wise that you don’t need the counsel of others. You are not so smart or so refined that you would lower yourself to be associated with other people. You are not so emotionally steady and strong that you can weather the storms of life without others to anchor and support you. Even if you don’t usually think of yourself as an arrogant or proud person, if you don’t have at least one or two deep and healthy relationships with other people (preferably outside your immediate family) then check your thinking and really evaluate your attitude towards yourself and others. Here’s the way I see it. Jesus Christ was the strongest and most emotionally stable person in history, and yet he purposefully surrounded himself with people. He had his 12 disciples, and three of those who were especially close to him. He also had trusted, loved friends among the towns that he visited. While his relationships with them were in great part for their learning and benefit, they were also meant to provide support for Jesus himself. Think about the story of his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the disciples to stay with him and pray for him, not as an exercise in prayer, but because he was extremely distressed and longed for the support of those closest to him. If the Son of God needed friends during his time on earth, you better believe that you and I will need them too.

 

Another reason that we have difficulty establishing the kind of friendships that the Bible says we need is that it is so much easier to make shallow friends. We can create these false friendships with wonderful people, but because we (and they) are not willing to put in the emotional energy and transparency, the relationships stay on the surface. We may trick ourselves into thinking that they are truly our friends, and to some extent they may be. They may like us, enjoy being around us, express concern about us or joy for us in the ups and downs of life, but when we get into a really sticky patch, or we make a big mistake, they are the first to head in the opposite direction. Proverbs 14:20 speaks about these kind of friends as those that are only with us when they are getting something from us. This is where belonging to a community of faith can make a big difference. In my church, I find people who share the same beliefs and values as me, who live similar lifestyles, and because of these things, I feel more comfortable exploring the depths of true friendship with them. Now, is every single person in my church going to become my dearest friend? Of course not. Sometimes we just won’t click because of different personalities. Sometimes it becomes clear that an individual is not as trustworthy or as ready to invest as I might hope. Some people are already heavily invested in others, and that is okay. But even with all of those people taken out of the equation, I still have a better chance of establishing the type of Biblical friendships that I need. Yes, the fear of being judged is out there. The truth is, though, that a true friend will correct you when you are in the wrong, but they will not judge or condemn you, because that is not their job.

 

Finally we come to the last thought – what it means to be a good friend. How many of you were told as a child, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend” ? It is simple, but as with many simple things, very true. You cannot expect people to care for and support you if you are not willing to do the same. If you want to develop strong friendships that meet God’s standards, you need to be:

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, if you think about it, the things that make for any healthy relationship are the same, whether a friendship, a marriage, or other family relationships. Many books, articles, and essays have been written on building healthy relationships, and many of them are worth reading. But even the best of them can only give practical expansions on what we just discovered in the Bible. Boiled down to it’s essence, you will get out of a friendship only what you put in. If you are compassionate, ready to serve, enthusiastically involved, and deeply invested in the lives of others, you can expect that they will invest in your life in the same way. On the other hand, if you are only willing to make shallow, cursory investments in their lives, they will not become deeply involved in yours. It’s not profound or new truth, but yet we seem to often forget it.

 

I have been on both sides of this truth. I’ve gone through times of not feeling like I needed anyone, times of wanting deeper friendships but feeling unable to develop them, and times of sweet joy in friendship. Fortunately for me it has been a progression as I have learned more about God’s Word and about myself. I want to encourage you, whatever stage you are at, to take a close look at your own heart and attitude, and at your relationships, and ask God to help you understand how you can develop healthier, more rewarding friendships, the kind that He has designed you to desire.

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!

 

Real Hearts, Real Joy #1

         Welcome back, friends! I am excited to introduce the first in a series on how God is working in the real lives of real people. Over the next several months, I will have the privilege of introducing you to people who have found God to be faithful in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Their situations may echo something in your own life, or they may not, but in either case, I hope that you will hear what they have to share and be encouraged.

Today we will be hearing from Sarah, who has recently had the opportunity to prove God’s faithfulness. In February 2011, Sarah and her husband found out that they were expecting their first child, a little girl, whom they named Elliana, meaning “God has heard”. Certainly it seemed that God had heard their prayers for an addition to their family. Sadly, at 26 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy, they discovered that Elliana had a very serious heart condition. Elliana was born on October 22, 2011, and underwent surgery to begin repairing her heart within a few days. After 7 weeks, it became apparent that though Elliana’s spirit was very strong, her heart simply could not keep up. After a couple of very difficult days, she passed away on December 13. In the midst of all these struggles, the question on many minds was, Where is God in this? We all wanted to find some reason why God would take such a beautiful little girl away after such a short time with her family. Colt, Sarah’s husband, answered the question very well when he said that the answer was not to be found in Elliana’s healing or death, but in the way that God sustained them through all of the ups and downs of her short life. I can attest to the fact that though she was with us for such a short time, Elliana made a big impact on my life, and the lives of many others. It is Sarah’s hope, as well as mine, that by sharing the things learned through this difficult time, others will be encourage to look for and find God’s faithfulness to them, no matter what the circumstances.

CL: Thank you for being willing to share with us, Sarah. To start off, can you tell us, in just a few words, your understanding of who God is?

Sarah: God to me is someone that wants to be involved in every aspect of my life, whether large or small.  I believe that He is worthy of our praise, affection, love, and devotion.  I believe that who He is should always be at the very center of who I am.

 CL: You have recently experienced some significant trials in your life. Prior to entering this time, how would you have described your trust in God?

Sarah: I trusted God to do what He saw fit in my life, but I never expected it to bring pain.  So, in a way I trusted Him to bring blessing because I was serving Him.  I knew it wasn’t Biblical, but it was easy to think that if I just lived my life the right way, only good would come.

CL: You found out midway through your pregnancy that your daughter, Elliana, would be born with a serious heart condition. What were your first thoughts?

Sarah:  My first thoughts were, “There is no way”, “They must have made some mistake” and “How could this be happening to us?” You hear about other peoples’ stories of difficulty, but you never think it will happen to you.

CL: How did God sustain you during your months of waiting?

Sarah: The first few weeks were by far the hardest.  My world seemed tossed into turmoil with trying to not fear, thinking maybe I had done something wrong, and trying to find some sort of normalcy.  God worked on me a lot during that time, challenging me with His word and beginning to show me what it meant to cling to His truth and believe it for myself.  Up until this point I had believed the Bible, but I had never had a situation like this in which I had to cling to His promises with every ounce of my being. 

CL: Was it difficult to make the choice to open your heart to your daughter even though her future was so uncertain?

Sarah: Truthfully, that was not hard for me.  From the beginning I loved our baby.  By the time we found out about her heart I had already enjoyed almost 2 months of feeling her kick, and each movement allowed me to dream about what she was like.  Her uncertain future brought fear, yes, but it never remotely changed how much I cherished her.

I think when we first realized she would have a difficult start I looked at Colt and there was this kind of knowing that this changed nothing.  We knew that no matter what it took, we would be with her every step of the way.  I wholeheartedly believe that if she were still with us, we would be doing that now.  It never would have stopped. 

We both also loved her from the moment we heard a baby was coming.  None of that ever changed just because her heart didn’t form the way most do.  Through the course of her life, God granted us the ability to see, even for a short season, all the unique attributes that were clearly hers.  I look back and see every moment we cherished with her as an absolute gift. 

 CL: What were some ways that God made your heart glad during Elliana’s time with you?

Sarah: There really were many times God brought joy in our weeks with Elliana, and even before she was born. It had been a couple months that we had known about her heart condition, the three surgeries that would be required, and the extra care that would be needed, and the bigger she got the more I looked forward to meeting her, no matter what the days ahead entailed.  I will never forget the joy and yet nervousness I felt about what lay before us when I went into labor and Colt rushed me to the hospital (an hour away).  Ten hours after we got to the hospital she was born, and I cannot express the indescribable joy and pride that I felt looking at our daughter and hearing her first cry.  When I got to hold her for 2 minutes before they had to whisk her away, it was incredible.  It was in that moment that I knew I had been created to be her mother.  This was what I was made for.  She just stared back at me content and curious. I will never forget that moment, filled with awe, joy, and a peace that no matter what would come, God would be with us and we would get through it.   

Elliana holding Sarah’s hand in the NICU

CL: Did Elliana’s life teach you anything new about God?

Sarah: Her life taught me that no matter what you face, God will be there.  I had an idea of this concept before, but more than ever I cherish my walk with God.  He is my delight and my joy. Even though I hope and pray there is not further pain in the days ahead, such as we have gone through, I know without a doubt that God will get me through. 

            Her life also taught me more clearly that His ways are not necessarily our ways.  Though I would love to tell a success story of how she got better and is alive today, she isn’t.  God sometimes doesn’t do what we want Him to do and it doesn’t mean that He isn’t just as good and just as faithful.  I have learned that God sometimes uses our pain and our weakness to show His power.  Though the pain we have walked through has been unimaginable, He still brings hope.  How is that? you may ask. The God who can perform miracles, yet sometimes chooses not to, still decided to perform a miracle in the healing of my heart.  So even though God didn’t give me what I asked for, and chose to ask us to give up our only child, I am honored that He felt that with Him, we could make it through this.  Even though He said no to what we asked, He did say that His grace is sufficient.  It truly has been. Though I hope and pray no one goes through anything like what we have been through, I do hope others will see that through our pain and weakness He will be strong and give us His grace if only we will let Him.

CL: Elliana passed away after just seven weeks with you. Do you feel that your trust in God has changed since then?

Sarah: Yes, trust to me is not trusting God to do what I want or even what I prefer.  Trust is literally giving up the reins and saying “God, have your way, even if I don’t understand it.”  I don’t think that kind of trust comes from living life when everything goes the way you hope.  It is a different way of living life and a different way of seeing that which He has given you. Even now, choosing to trust God is a choice I have to make daily.  My faith isn’t something I “feel,” at least not very frequently; it has become what I must have each day to make it through.   He has to be my source, or I fall apart.

CL: In what ways does God make your heart glad now, even as you are still grieving for your daughter?

Sarah: Probably the biggest way has been through our joy in expecting our second child.  Just 2 ½ months after Elliana passed away we found out we were pregnant again.  Now, 27 weeks along, we recently found out we are expecting a little boy and that he is healthy and strong!  What joyful news for us! We have found that after all we have walked through, we cannot take a day for granted.  Expecting and giving birth to a healthy child is a huge gift that many parents take for granted, and I can say for us it is one of the biggest blessings we will ever be given.  I still struggle with trusting our child’s life into God’s hands, knowing that only He knows the future of this little one. and of all our lives as well.  But, His grace truly is sufficient for each and every day.  So, no matter what comes, He is faithful and full of goodness.

            Another way that God has made my heart glad is in memories of Elliana. It may sound odd, but God has helped me remember her with joy and hope.  I loved being her mother and it was one of the greatest joys of my life.  I can look back, and even though she died, I would never change any of it.  Yes, I wish she were here, but even knowing what would happen in advance, I would go through it all again because of the joys of loving her.

        Another huge blessing God has given that I am able to rejoice in is my husband.  God has brought us together in ways I never thought He could do through the grief of losing our child.  Because of the pain we have faced together, we can look at life and be thankful for all we have been given.  Even in the midst of the pain, God has given us times of such deep joy, laughter, and a love for life that I can only attribute to Him. 

 CL: Is there any advice you can offer to those of us who want to help a friend or family member through a difficult loss?

Sarah: The biggest blessing for me has been those people who are willing to sit and listen.  They don’t try and solve the problem or the pain of grief; they simply are there with me to hear whatever I have currently been working through.  A mother who lost her 18 year old son shared with me the most helpful, compassionate words she heard in her process of grieving, given by a friend: “I will never tire of hearing stories about him.  Even if they’re the same ones over and over again.  I’ll always be here to listen.”  That to me is one of the greatest things a person can do.  No matter if the day is full of joy or sorrow; they are there to help by simply being there. 

              Our pastor also said something to us that has been so true for my husband and I.   He explained that in the body of Christ our sorrows are halved and our joys are doubled.  I believe that is what the body of Christ is meant to be, caring and loving even in the midst of hurt that is unspeakable. 

CL: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sarah: Sometimes we strive to live a life of comfort and ease without pain.  However, I am reminded that if pain is not in our life at all, we really aren’t living.  We live in a fallen world, and to experience no pain is really not possible.  It is through our pain that God can pour indescribable joy into us, and a hope unlike any other.  Still, God leaves the choice to us, will we let trials create distance between us and our relationship with Him, or will we cling to Him, allowing Him to transform us and make us more like Him?  Somehow through the pain of losing a child, God has brought an even greater understanding of who He is and through this heartache; I have learned even more clearly how good He is.  How awesome that we serve a God who is not only faithful, but brings hope in the midst of despair, joy for sorrow and complete restoration to our hurting hearts.

If something in Sarah’s story connected with you, we would love to hear about it.  Are you struggling with a loss right now? Let us know so we can be there with you.

As always, may your heart be glad!

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!