Prove It, God

dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

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Cause of Christ

I am contemplating causes.

Those things which clamor for commitment,

Constrain us to sacrifice for their worthiness.

 

Cancer has drafted the voices of millions.

Nearly everyone has a someone who has tasted of its dregs

And come up, if fortunate enough, forever changed by the bitterness of the disease.

It is broadcast from billboards and bumpers and tattooed on bodies.

It is touted from television and telethons.

It has been walked-for and Made-a-Wish for.

And millions declare this cause their anthem.

 

Cancer is a cause because it alters all that’s as it should be.

And we hate it for that.

Cancer is not greeting the sunrise with a steady stomach and

firm constitution.

Cancer is not combing swishy ponytails,

Not relishing long walks,

Not having a voice or controlling the bladder.

Cancer is not having conviction of tomorrow,

Not nursing a newborn.

Cancer is not caressing the smooth flesh of a lover’s breast.

Cancer is not life as it should be.

 

Causes are taken up for holiness of all that’s as it should be.

Causes are the human call for restoration of right.

Causes ought to be Christ.

 

How can I call Christ a cause?

How can He be all that should be, if He isn’t all that is?

How can I take up a cause for the establishment of

something that is not yet,

And how can I be sure that Christ, the consummation of that which is not seen

Is really as it should be?

 

Christ contains all that we do know as it should be

And scatters it through a kaleidoscope.

He takes all that really is, refracting and reflecting ordinary

Through the lens of Himself and like cancer

Creates what is not.

But unlike cancer, Christ creates

All that is bigger, radiant and full of glory.

 

In our world, Christ is a cause because

He makes martyrs who do not slay themselves.

He is the Book which has not settled in grooves

On dusty shelves.

After centuries, Jesus is not irrelevant

As is normal for all names attached to dust-men.

His years were pocked with things not as they should be,

Things which are not now –

Blind men seeing, dead men walking, un-hands reaching.

He is things not as are in the confines of human intellect –

Fishermen teaching, murderers weeping then preaching.

He is redwoods from seeds no larger than a cherry,

Wings from a sticky chrysalis.

He is hearts that beat insatiably through decades and disasters.

 

Christian!

Where is your voice for the Cause?

Where is your anthem for Christ?

 

For His cause, His utterly other worldly cause

Consumes death,

Unlike all things as they seem – confined by years.

Christian, your Cause consumes all others.

Your Cause constrains you to declare it

Not only on bumpers and billboards, or bodies

Not only on television, telethons

Walks and wishes,

 

But in action and deed,

In expression and smile.

In small hand and sweaty backs,

In silence and solidarity.

In doing all things unlike as they are,

But all things, as they should be

As the Christ, whose Cause you carry.

 

(This poem is in no way intended to minimize the valiant efforts of all who have taken up a cure for cancer as their personal cause. It is only meant to draw attention to the fact that as a whole, we make a greater deal about something that steals lives than about the One God who promises eternal life.)

A Me-So-Happy-List

I learn so much every time I read She Loves Magazine. Yesterday, the author recalled All Saints’ Day and challenged me to consider the women who were the saints in my own life. Particularly, those who have passed and left a lingering legacy for the cause of Christ permanently inked on my life. Then, today, Tina asked us to write a “Me So Happy List.” A list to be applied as a direct antiseptic to festering wounds of loneliness, brutal days, sadness, sore knees, ceiling-bound prayers, loveless relationships, finding out you’re doing life all wrong.

Ever felt that way?

I think I can tie these two challenges together. Perhaps I’ll begin my happiness list with warm recollections of those who have loved me into the shape I am now.

Vanessa: I met her in church months after I got married and moved to North Carolina. That same season, my new husband deployed to Iraq for a year. At first sight, Vanessa was as vivacious, peppy and assertive as anyone I’ve ever known. Only in bits and pieces did I discover that she had just tipped over the brink of remission from melanoma. Months before I met her, she had nearly died from chemo. By the time I came along, she was trying alternative treatments successfully, her hair had grown back and she was charging full steam ahead.

I had never attempted door-to-door evangelism before, and I doubt I’ll summon the courage to do it again. But I did it with Vanessa. It seemed as if living in a thin place incensed her to talk about Jesus.

But then I watched her die.

Cancer is unpredictable. It came back so viscously that it seemed from one day to the next it sank into her bones, bound her to a bed and stole her voice. I watched her 10 year old son as she traveled far and wide searching for a miracle. None came.

But Vanessa never panicked. Her bulldog way of staring down each new day, daring the sun not to rise, buoyed the hearts of those around her until she was gone. But even the shattering pain, a wholeness filled each room of her house. That’s the way she remains to me – whole, full, complete, content, satisfied, too much, too big to contain. How does one manage that in diminishing death?

I am thankful for her.

I am thankful for a dog named, Brave. His furry body wedged between my knees at 2 a.m.  – challenging to me to sleep another wink.

That my husband loves, loves, loves his job and thrives in all its challenges.

My family loves me, and I can miss them when we’re miles apart. That longing fuels the warmth of reunion.

That God is not silent.

That I can write and that yesterday’s journal informs my heart more now than it did then.

For the difference between acquaintances and life-long friends.

For funny people who don’t know they’re funny, dressed in a blue Santa hat sitting at the table next to me.

 

Exploiting Pain’s Privilege

I met Sadie at bootcamp.

A little, blond Curly-locks wandered into the backyard. She was an old-soul. You could see it in her peaceful eyes. Instead of a wild, catch-me-if-you-can grin, like so many kids her age, she confidently walked over to a set of toy trucks and went to work driving over imaginary roadways and through imaginary cities.

Sadie has something I wish had. Sadie has a bearing, a confidence, a quietness, a contentedness, a peace about her. As I learned Sadie’s story, I understood where these qualities come from. Sadie was diagnosed with Stage II Neuroblastoma at the age of 3 months. Praise God, Sadie is now in remission.

Here on Predatory Lies, we have talked a lot about the privilege of pain. Certainly, no one would wish for Sadie’s struggles, hospital stays and the strain it placed on their family. But our Glorious Father has brought beauty from ashes and Sadie and her family have flourished into a sun-ripened, bountiful, life-filled field in the wake of her pain.

I am joining Sadie’s big sister Anna and the rest of their family at the Cure Search Walk for Children’s Cancer, on October 14. If you are able to join us – wonderful! If not, would you consider supporting CureSearch?

I can say with confidence that nearly everyone who reads this post has been touched by cancer in some way. I would be honored and grateful if you would join me as I join Sadie and her family in the fight.

P.S. Brave wants me to tell you that he’s walking too, and he would love your support!

Not Looking for Miracles

Wonders of wonder, miracles of miracles! That’s what we’re talking about this week. I would love to hear your miracles – please send them to me via comments here or feel free to email me personally. Also, if you need a miracle, please let me know. I promise to pray for you.

Let me share the miracle that I mentioned at the beginning of this month:

It was a drizzly, cold Monday morning. We’re still in the fledgling stages of Moms Who TRI. Kristen and I keep reminding each other that God is sovereign over our business’ success – and over the weather. Right now, we’re still training in her backyard, so rainy days effectively cancel our bootcamps.

The bum deal is that I am not omniscient, so I had no idea what the weather would do. I got up early, hustled through my quiet time with the Lord and then at the last minute, Kristen and I agreed, there was no way we could hold Moms Who TRI. So there I was with a whole free morning ahead of me. If you know me at all, you know that’s very disconcerting.

I’m from the Seattle area. I don’t melt. Brave was pacing around my ankles. So, we loaded up in the car and drove to the trails behind South Run RECenter. There’s nothing like a walk in the rain to clear your head. I was actually looking forward to the solitude, but noticed another woman heading toward the trailhead with her dog. Politely, we exchanged greetings and I expected to go our separate ways. God had other plans.

“How are you? How did you come to be walking in the rain this morning?”
“My husband is working out in the gym, but the dog needed to get out.  My husband’s health isn’t such that he should be walking in the rain.”

Then.

“Oh well. I’m going to bear my soul.” Tears filled her eyes and out of the blue, this virtual stranger poured out her heart. “Until the day before yesterday we believed that my husband’s cancer was in remission. He’s been on an experimental drug that made him miserable, but we thought it was working. Then, two days ago, the doctor told us that the cancer has gotten into his cerebrospinal fluid. He may have only a few months to live.”

Oh how my heart broke as this lady continued. I never even got her name as she continued to spill her sorrows. She had already been widowed once. Her children had moved away and her dog was old. “I’m afraid I’m going to be all alone, again.” They had both recently retired at a young age. Looking forward they had dreamed up plans to visit Bulgaria.

I am as uncomfortable as anyone else in these situations. I’ve always thought that I lived a charmed life by most standards. But then… I’ve watched loved ones die of cancer. I’ve been completely alone. I teetered on the edge of divorce. I’ve been suicidal. So perhaps my life hasn’t been so rosy. So where does one find the capacity for empathy and sympathy at the same time? How does one identify and comfort and most importantly, what does one say to another?

“You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.” Psalm 73:24

“But don’t worry about what you should say. Say the things God gives you to say at that time. It will not really be you speaking. It will be the Holy Spirit speaking.” Mark 13:11b

Honestly, I said very little. I do know that we talked about Jesus. And at the end of our walk, we still never exchanged names, but this sweet woman pulled me into a hug and whispered, “Thank you. Thank you for being here today.”

I had never planned to be.

I’m only slowly learning that God’s destruction of my plans is for the construction of a miracle.

Let Me Be the Weakest Link

A common Christian misconception is that we will spend most of our lives battling our weaknesses. We bemoan our weak faith and idolize the super saints. We wish we had a bigger testimony. We wonder what we are doing wrong that God doesn’t remove our limitations, heal our illnesses or enable us to be more generous.

If only I could get a better job! Then I could send my kids to good Christian schools and support the missionaries at church. If I had gone to college I  could get a real job, then I could be so much more effective for God. Instead, every spare minute and penny goes right back into just staying afloat.

I wonder what I did wrong to deserve this cancer? I spend half my life in and out of the hospital. When I am home, I’m too weak to be effective. God, I’m so sorry, please, please make me more useful to you.

Ever had thoughts like these? Last week, I stumbled across a verse that surprised me. I think I read it wrong to begin with. Mentally, I replaced a “you” with an “I”.

“And call upon me in the day of trouble, I shall rescue you, and you will honor me.” Ps. 50:15 God tells the author that he will call upon God, God will rescue him and the author will glorify God. That’s where I found my weakness lie: God is pleased with my strength as a Christian. 

The truth, according to Psalm 50:15, is that God is honored when He rescues me. God is shown to be the great, awesome, super natural, astonishing, against-all-odds, Savior that He is. When I am beyond all hope and God activates His favor on my behalf, then His character, His greatness is on full display. But God shows more than His power in my weakness. He shows his everlasting love. When God rescues a weak, hopeless, failing, impotent mortal He shows His absolute power and His absolute goodness.

Here’s the secret: the more aware you are of God’s grace, the more humble, prayerful, thankful, patient, gracious, content and joyful you will be. And you are more aware of God’s grace when you are weak. – John Bloom

So be careful as you analyze your life. Continue asking God to search you and know you, to try you and know your thoughts. Then be willing and ready to hear Him. Confess your sins because He is faithful and just to forgive. (Ps. 139:1-2, John 1:9) But don’t confuse your weaknesses with sin. They are different.

Remember the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight? The disciples wanted to know who had sinned so that this man had been born blind. Jesus told them that the man’s blindness was not a result of sin – it may have been a limitation, a weakness but it was not from sin. And in the man’s healing Jesus was identified as the Christ.