Life has been busy and complicated of late. Seasons like this sprinkle the timeline of our lives like snow (sometimes like a blizzard). Busy doing what needs to be done…what has to be done. Running to and fro. Dealing with the challenges life has. Aging parents. Health concerns. The future. It seems as though everything else gets pushed aside. Our good intentions become just that, intentions; things dreamed of or planned, but never coming to fruition. The out-of-control elements of the day dictate its course. Sometimes we simply feel like we are bobbing on the waves, being pushed to and fro, struggling to keep our heads above, at the mercy of the tide.
It was the Saturday before my first day of middle school. I was scheduled to babysit for a family from our church. When I arrived, the couple was finishing up a few last minute details. Their youngest son looked up at me and asked, “Do you want to see my dog?”
Without thinking twice, I said, “Sure. Let’s go.”
Never one to shy away from any animal, I went right up to the dog. What happened next was a blur. I remember bending over a bit when all of a sudden the dog lunged at me. When I picked up my head, I instinctively covered my face with my hands. The young boy, horrified, yelled, “My dog bit you,” and ran inside.
I stood there covered in blood.
The boy’s mother, a nurse by trade, ran outside to see what had happened. She took one look at me and ran back inside to grab clean towels and ice. I was in no pain, but I could see that everyone around me was visibly upset which made me quite uneasy. In a few short minutes, the young boy’s dad was driving me to the hospital.
The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity. Few words were exchanged. However, I do remember the father repeatedly stating that he hoped that my nose was not broken. Not terribly comforting words.
Upon arriving at the emergency room, I was sent directly in to see a doctor. My mother would arrive shortly after. She came into the room and asked me to remove the covering from my face. I did, and she promptly asked me to cover it again.
We waited for quite a while in the emergency room that evening. A plastic surgeon was called. I remember his name, Dr. Tuckman, which I thought was a rather funny, yet appropriate name for a plastic surgeon. He was wonderful. He was incredibly calm and had a soothing voice. I remember him looking at me in the face, something that most had evaded doing that evening. He had an incredible bedside manner. He spoke very plainly and tenderly to me. He assured me that he would work carefully and slowly to piece me back together. He commented that once he had completed his work, there would definitely be some pain and my face would look beat up, but I needed to trust him. He knew what he was doing and with time the scars would fade.
I would come to find out that my nose was severed in two, punctured, and torn.
I remember going home that evening and heading off to bed in silence. The following morning I examined myself in the mirror and cried. My face was discolored and swollen with lines of black stitches all over. I was a mess.
With time, I began to heal. The swelling and discoloration subsided, and eventually all of those stitches were removed. What was left was nothing short of amazing. Eventually my scars were undetectable to the casual observer.
I imagine that most of our bodies bear a scar or two, and each of them has a story to tell. Some stories are painful, others humorous. Some traumatic, others a badge of honor. Scars are evidence of both the pain our bodies have experienced and the healing that has taken place with time. It is interesting how the two are married, how pain and healing work together hand-in-hand. While scars typically fade with time, they never completely disappear. There is always a remaining bit of evidence of past pain.
Not all scars are the same. While some scars are obvious and out in the open for all the world to see, others are nearly undetectable or completely hidden from view. Many people bear their scars alone or in secret: The scars of wrong choices, missteps, and foolishness; at innocence lost, of sickness, of loved ones gone too soon; of harsh, cutting words, of disappointments, rejection, and failure. Some scars cut down deep into one’s soul and change the very fabric and make up of who we are. They shake our very core and change the course of life.
Most of us likely bear both types of scars.
There are so many people with a story, so many people whose scars speak. So many people who have experienced hurt. So many people who still look for healing from their scars. For some, healing is elusive. Many look for ways to soothe the hurt, to cover the pain, to forget it all together.
During this Easter week, I am reminded of how true and lasting healing is possible. There is one set of scars that heals.
I can’t help but reflect on the ultimate story of pain and healing; the most powerful story found in the scars, the story of my Lord. The Easter story doesn’t begin with Easter or Christmas, it begins before time. Our Lord knew our desperate need; He was keenly aware of the separation that sin would cause between our Heavenly Father and His people. In His infinite love He sent His son to be born a man with the sole purpose of dying to redeem me. Me…an undeserving, sinful soul, in need of a way to Him.
So Christ bore my sin on the cross. He was wounded for my transgressions. He was beaten and scarred and became a vessel for the Lord’s wrath, all to pay the penalty of my sin. All for me…for you…because of love. Through His scars we can experience true healing, healing from our sins. His sacrifice has loosened the chains that bind us, has bridged a great chasm, has restored us, has healed us in the truest sense of the word. His resurrection defeated sin and Hell.
Would you consider who Christ is this Easter? Would you contemplate those scars and the story they tell? Do you search for healing? You need not look any further than Christ.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
A few weeks ago my husband and I conducted a little experiment of sorts. We gathered our children around the computer to watch a video clip of a church service from a very, very popular pastor. This mega church leader and author is known for his uplifting, positive, and inspiring messages. Regardless of how his message begins, the ending is always the same: All will be well; the Lord will bless; you will be happy because that’s what God wants…your happiness. The prosperity gospel defined. This, my friends, is a dangerous, yet popular gospel and millions of people are drawn into the false hope that is preached.
We wanted to see if our kids could pick up on the erroneous ways of this kind of preaching. Our children are getting older. In a few years they are likely to be on their own, making their own decisions. Would they fall for this hook, line, and sinker?
Well, we sat through roughly 15 minutes of the sermon. Within two or three minutes my youngest, twelve, looked at me through the corner of his eye. I looked back at him and asked, “What?”. We paused.
“Mom, Dad; why did he just say that on the other side of the valley God has promised everyone blessings?”
Hmm. “Hold onto that and keep watching,” we said.
As we continued we heard groans and comments from under the breaths of our boys. Finally, my oldest piped up, “What in the world is this guy talking about?”
We stopped and talked for a very long time about what they had picked up on. Blessings. Happiness. Prosperity. Self. Little God.
We were thankful that the boys picked up on the false nature of this teaching. As we ended our time I pulled up a picture of the arena filled to capacity for one of the church services.
“Is that a concert,” one asked.
“No, it’s one of the church services. This church has a membership of over 40,000 people. They meet in a 16,000 seat arena. There are a lot of people who fall for this and cling onto a false sense of who God is and how He works in our lives.”
You may be asking, “What’s wrong with someone giving hope to others? Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Doesn’t the Bible say that He wants to bless us?”
Our happiness is not God’s first priority.
I am not a Bible scholar, but I am unaware of any verse in the Bible that tells me otherwise. We are a people of happy endings and lovers of a rags to riches story. We want to hang onto the hope that God will fix, bless, and prosper.
He may. But, He may not.
It is very easy to get pulled into this thinking. Very easy.
A few weeks ago I was working on my last blog post. It was a tough, pointed one that came from a very personal place. This was a heavy piece. I had read my rough draft to my husband before publishing the article. He had suggested that I needed an ending paragraph to tie everything together. He was right. As I reread my piece, I was compelled to end the post on a high note…to leave some encouragement with people. I typed away. Once completed I had asked a dear friend to read things over one last time for me. She did. In her honesty (the mark of a true friend), she questioned my last paragraph.
What was in that paragraph? The promise that God would make beauty out of the ashes. The false promise that all would be well. The misguiding promise that God is planning to fix all problems and provide a storybook ending.
I had done it. I had written the happy ending.
I got to work and rewrote the ending paragraph so that it was Biblically sound.
This now leaves us with a question: What happens when God doesn’t make everything all right? Here is where the false teaching of prosperity and happy endings causes the most damage. If we expect God to fix everything, and He doesn’t, we are often left feeling angry, let down, and bitter. Our perceived lack of action from the Lord drives a wedge between our relationship with Him. We begin to question and doubt His goodness. We doubt His love. We question His sovereignty and authority. We doubt that He has a plan. We simply begin to doubt Him. Our doubting brings us exactly to the place where satan wants us to be. Doubt does not come from a loving heavenly Father; it is a tool used by the evil one to draw us further away from the Lord.
I do not need to search for long to come across instances where the Lord chose not to remove hardships. The life of Paul…imprisonments, shipwreck, snakebite, house arrest, beatings, stoning, mockings, plots of his death, loss. Most notable is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a persistent condition that many have speculated about. The word thorn is best translated “stake”. From this we can assume that this condition was significant and intense. Three times Paul petitioned the Lord to remove this thorn from him. In His will, the Lord said no.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10
As was with Paul, sometimes the Lord does not remove our thorns. He permits them because He has a far greater purpose in them, a purpose that in our limited minds, we can not comprehend. Storybook endings do not necessarily fit into the Lord’s earthly plan for us. Yet, through pain and sickness and loss He moves and works and refines, drawing us closer to Himself to make us more usable.
We were recently driving home from a college visit in Virginia. Everyone in the car was snoozing, so as I was driving, I turned on the radio to help me stay alert. An unfamiliar song was playing. As I listened to the words in the quietness of the car, I was brought to tears. The words of this song summed up perfectly everything that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks; it brought all of my Bible readings and discussions regarding blessing, prosperity, and happy endings to full circle. Here are a few snippets of the lyrics as well as a link to the song (with the lyrics).
by Mercy Me
…It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can
It is well with my soul
Like many of you, I’ve experienced hardships of many kinds throughout the course of my life. There have been times that my faith has faltered. There have been times when I have ached for the Lord’s hand to simply move and heal and fix. And while there have been times that the Lord has indeed moved and answered, there have also been times of silence. There have been times when the mountain in front of me has remained unmoved as part of God’s plan. Through it all my God has been good. He has been faithful, and my hope still does rest in Him.
As we gather together over the coming days our minds will naturally reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for. And while it is important for us to reflect and remember that we are truly blessed, while we need to remind ourselves that we indeed have much, will we remember the challenges of this life? Will we allow our thoughts to go back to the tough times? Will we give thanks for those valleys? For the struggles? For the life lessons learned through failures, tears, wrong turns, and mistakes? For us to truly say that we give thanks in all things, we must look at those times where the Lord was at work and call them good.
God’s intervening work in our lives is part of a master plan, a script crafted before our first breath was taken, a course plotted before time began. Rarely are our stories uneventful. They are often dotted with high mountain top experiences and low valley moments. Our natural tendency is to give thanks to the Lord while we stand tall upon the mountain top. We praise Him for victories; we call Him good when all in our life appears good.
But what about those valleys? What about those not-so-lovely moments of life when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone, when we are struggling, when God’s refining work is indeed remaking us? Honestly, calling God good in those times can be challenging. Yet, again, if we believe that God is good, we must acknowledge that He is ALWAYS good.
As I reflect this morning on what I have to be thankful for, I am allowing my mind to go back to the unsavory moments of my life. I am permitting myself the time to remember the low times, the scary times, the times full of tears, uncertainty and anguish. For when I recollect those moments now, I can truly see the goodness of the Lord; I can see how His hand was at work in my life. I can see that His glorious plan for my life was unfolding, and I give thanks.
So today I offer thanks. I give thanks to the Lord for He is keenly aware of me and my state. I give thanks because my life is not insignificant to Him. I give thanks because He cares enough to intervene. I give thanks because He changes paths and makes a new way. I give thanks because I am never too far out of reach. I give thanks because God is not finished with me yet. I give thanks that I can come before Him just as I am so I no longer have to remain just as I am. I am thankful for forgiveness, grace, and mercy. I am thankful for my story…full of miry pits…with its moments of despair and hardships. I give thanks for the gut wrenching moments and extended seasons that have allowed me to see the goodness of God, to see His hand at work in my life, to see hope and change. I thank Him for sickness and loss and failings. I am thankful that I can stand outside of the valley and truly say God is always good.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
It was nearly dinner time. For the first time ever, I wasn’t sure what I was going to serve for dinner. It wasn’t for a lack of inspiration or that I hadn’t planned, it was because my pantry was nearly bare, my refrigerator was just about empty, and my freezer was a vacant wasteland. I had three little mouths to feed and an empty wallet. Payday was tomorrow, but I still needed to get through today.
With the economy in a downward spiral, my husband’s employer had spent the last two years making cuts. People were let go, benefits were cut, co-pays sky rocketed, hours were slashed, and mandatory unpaid furloughs were put into effect. While I was thankful that my husband still had a job, there was no denying the fact that we were struggling to just survive. That was also the time that I was at my sickest with Lyme Disease. I was barely able to function and live, nonetheless be employed to help with the bills. And as for the bills, there were many. The doctor bills and lab bills flooded our mail box. It was a tough time for us….a humbling time for us. Yet, it would be during that time that we would see first hand the Lord’s promises played out.
I went to my kitchen and gathered what I could. There was a bit of rice and some veggies left in the fridge. “It will fill their bellies,” I thought, “and I’ll find a way to make it yummy.” I remember one of my boys asking what was for dinner. I was honest. I told him that I didn’t have much, but we would enjoy dinner nonetheless. My husband came home from work, and I told him to expect a pretty humble supper that evening. I was broke, and I didn’t want to use my credit card…we didn’t have any way to pay for it. I continued to cook.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
I opened the door to find a familiar face. It was a woman that I worked alongside of in our homeschooling co-op. We had a working relationship; we would attend meetings together and talk “business” on the phone. We rarely, if ever, had a social get together or a casual, non business related phone conversation. Yet, she was one of the few people who knew of our struggles. She always made sure to ask how my husband was, how work was going, how we were doing.
Standing on my porch she sheepishly told me that she had cooked up a large ham for her family and had some leftover meat that she felt led to bring over to us that evening. I think that she was unsure of how I would react to her offer. Sometimes personal pride can cause us to act in ways we shouldn’t and turn down things that we need. I thanked her and told her that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for that evening’s meal. I accepted the tin foil wrapped package, hugged her, and waved goodbye.
As I turned around I saw the eyes of my three boys looking on. “The Lord provided dinner for us this evening, boys. I never want you to forget this moment. I always want you to remember that when God promises to meet your needs, He will.”
And with that, I cried.
So, that night as a family, we sat down to enjoy our rice, and veggies, and ham, and we thanked God for meeting today’s need through our friend. We thanked Him for impressing on her heart our need, for her listening to His prompting, for her taking the time to drive to our home, for her not questioning what good a little ham could do. We thanked Him that we were able to lay aside our pride and receive.
My children were all old enough to remember that night. We still talk about it. Wrapped up inside of that little foil packet was more than just a meal, it was a life lesson like no other, one that none of us will ever forget. We saw scripture and promises come to life.
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
In the year to follow that same smiling face would greet me at my front door several more times, each time with something to offer. A winter coat for one of the boys. A shirt for me. Some homemade soap. A bag of clothes for the kids. They were all little expressions of her care and concern and big reminders from God that He had not forgotten about our needs.
My husband would tough it out at his job for nearly two more years until making the excruciating decision to leave his long time employer in search of something more stable. Those years were rough, but the Lord would continue to provide in many ways:
- $300 left anonymously on my front porch
- grocery store gift cards given to us by a neighbor
- a church member buying us a freezer and providing some groceries nearly each week
- great success in selling unwanted and unneeded items on eBay
- neighbors, friends, and complete strangers hiring my husband to do work on his unpaid days off
- cards with money or giftcards
- small successes as I started out in my venture of competitive cooking
Each event, gift, or opportunity came at just the right time to meet a very specific need. These were not coincidences…I do not believe in coincidences. They were evidence of God’s provision…of His care. They were reminders to us that God knew of and was very aware of our needs, and that He had it all taken care of.
The same God who provides for the birds of the air, Who has numbered the hairs on my head, is indeed concerned about my life and my needs. They do not slip His mind; He does not turn a blind eye. No. He knows me; He hears my voice, my cries, and knows it is me. He is aware of my needs even before I am. He not only cares, but He WILL provide in His perfect timing. It is a promise that He has made to His children. I’ve seen it first hand; I’ve lived it.
I do want to caution you here. Sometimes the things that we see as needs are nothing more than wants. The list of what we really need to survive is actually quite small. On the evening detailed above, my family did have food. It was humble and not plentiful, but there was food. I am keenly aware of that. Yet, God chose to provide a little bit more, not with the plan of filling our bellies, but with a plan to fill our hearts and give us the hope that would be needed to endure that very rough time in our lives.
I want to leave you with a few verses that mean a great deal to me. They remind me that God knows me. He sees my needs and will provide.
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:7
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13
Come back next Monday as we look at how generosity is not exclusive to those who have much.
As I mentioned in my last post, my son had found a tick embedded inside of his shoulder. Try as I might I could not remove the tick. I was on and off the phone with my husband discussing ways to remove the little pest. My oldest son was scouring the internet in search of some solution. We tried tweezers, squeezing, Vaseline, liquid soap; we even lit a match, blew it out, and touched the tick’s back with the hot end. Nothing. He was not going to budge.
I thought to myself, “This is absolutely crazy. How difficult can this be? Why in the world can’t I remove this minuscule little creature?”
Even my husband scratched his head at my seeming inability to do this simple task. “How are none of these things working,” he asked.
We were both at a loss, and my son was at his wit’s end, so off we were to the doctor.
Frankly and honestly, I really didn’t have time for this today. We had to do school work…tests…things to do. We already had had a topsy turvy kind of week. This visit was not on my agenda today. I must admit that my insides were a bit agitated by this monkey wrench. But, this is life, and life has it’s little unexpected, unplanned, inconvenient, tick-in-the-arm kind of moments.
Soon after checking in at the office, my son was called back to see the doctor. Within ten minutes of that, we were asked to take a seat in the back. There is a large common area where people wait to have blood drawn, have IV treatments, or like us, wait to see the nurse. The nurse was quite busy that day, and as we waited, one person after another filed into the common area.
A woman, likely around my age sat next to me. I nodded and smiled as she sat down. The nurse quickly popped her head into the room to see us. She asked us to show her where the tick was and took down some information. She apologized in advance for the wait. So my son and I waited, and we waited some more. Then the woman next to me spoke. In a few short sentences, she told me her story.
“It’s a good thing you came here to have the doctor remove the tick. I have Lyme Disease, and it’s caused real problems for years. I didn’t know I had the disease. I got pregnant and passed antibodies to my son. Now, he’s sick. He’s really struggling, especially in school. We had him in public school, then moved him to a private school, but he just can’t seem to handle anything. The school officials think he is faking his illness. We are frustrated and have decided to pull him out of school to homeschool him. I’m not sure I can do this.”
And in that moment I knew exactly why I could not seem to extricate the tick from my son’s shoulder. I realized why a simple task had become impossible. I realized that the Lord had a meeting arranged for me. He cleared my schedule to make room for this very encounter.
See, that woman’s story is my story…almost exactly. I’ve had a little experience with Lyme Disease myself, been pregnant during my illness, passed antibodies along to my kids while pregnant, have one son who is sick and struggling, and, to boot, I homeschool. Coincidence? Oh, no. This was an orchestrated meeting. No chance or alignment of the stars here. This was the Lord placing me in specific place, on a certain day, at an exact time, to say a few simple words to someone who needed them.
And with that I turned to her and told her that I understood exactly what she was going through. I knew of her personal struggles; I knew of her son’s struggles. I knew of her apprehension regarding school. I then briefly told her my story. She looked at me and said one word, “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I responded.
I introduced her to my son. She spoke a bit more in depth about her son’s struggles. She questioned her ability to homeschool. She was unsure and scared. We talked about curriculum and such. She then looked at me and said, “Just tell me that I can do this.”
“Yes, you can do this,” was my simple reply.
And that’s why I was there, to speak words of encouragement to a mom whose shoes I have walked in. I was put there to show her that she is not alone in her struggles, in her concerns. My schedule was cleared so that I could have this encounter.
All at once and rather abruptly, both of us went our ways. She was called into the doctor’s office, and the nurse came in to take care of my son. We quickly exchanged names. I asked her where she was from. “Connecticut.”
Connecticut? Really? She had come from two hours away to have this doctor’s appointment in New Jersey? She had navigated Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey morning traffic? She arrived when I arrived?
There are no coincidences in life. They are providential, planned meetings of the Lord to carry out whatever His will may be.
These verses from Proverbs say it best:
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Proverbs 19:21
The Lord is always at work. He is not just sitting around casually in heaven as an observer. He is in control of all things and orchestrates our coming and going. Oh, how fast we can be to complain or moan or gripe when our best laid plans are disrupted. How easy it is to become frustrated by life’s inconvenient moments. We can get downright crazy when delays or setbacks come our way. Yet, the Lord is in control of all of these things. He is at work. His plan is simply unfolding, and you may have the privilege of being part of it.