Loved, Wrested, Lost…By the Giver

I’ve watched a lot of heartbreak in the last few weeks. It makes me feel almost guilty to say that, because it hasn’t been my loss. No, I’ve felt pain as a ricochet, a blow bounced back, only slightly less forceful. I have watched loss strike violently at the hearts of my friends and I wonder if my comfort is sufficient or cheap.

Two have lost babies before birth. One knows her husband likely won’t be there to kiss her on January 1, 2015. Another lost her best buddy, a pup she’d loved from before she found her own husband. One buried a treasured aunt.

What do you say to loss when you cannot literally sidle up alongside and bear the brunt of it with the loved one pained?

You pray.

Unfortunately, even in Christian society, maybe especially in Christian society, that assurance has lost its power. It comes across as weak, timid, cursory and half-hearted. It’s the same feeling of resignation that births the statement, “I’ve done all I can. All that’s left is to pray.”

But this post isn’t intended to resurrect your passion for prayer, your conviction that it is the single most important, effective thing you can do for loved ones in pain, in the throes or on the precipice of loss. (Though it is.) If a renewed respect for prayer is a side effect of my words, may God receive glory.

No, this post is my own reflection on loss. It’s what I hope I recall the next time a beloved is wrenched from my hands.

Job 1:21 says, “…“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I wonder about God taking away. In truth, there’s a vast difference between something being lost or stolen, and something being gently tugged from clutching fingers by a loving Father.

When I was little, I recall my sister getting into the medicine cabinet. After watching Mom dole out vitamin C tablets to her older siblings, she wondered about the orange-colored “candy”. Why couldn’t she have some?

So, this little one climbed up on the counter, popped the child-proof cap and downed the rest of the bottle. When Mom found her, she was mauling the final “candies”. Hastily, Mom snatched the poison from little fingers. My sister cried.

The pain a child feels when a parent takes something away (even a bottle of vitamins–innately good but harmful for a child at that age) is when tiny fists grip it tightly and sting when the object is finally wrested away.

Though my experience of these recent pains is only an echo, I marvel at the strength bearing up my friends. I pause and take notice of their valor and humble submission to the God of “every good and perfect gift”.

It is vastly different to lose something, have it stolen or to understand, even welcome, the loving hands of a Father who takes it away.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

In the Wake of the Storm–Protecting Our Own

I write as one blooming in puddles the aftermath of a tempest. In the wake a horrific storm—the kind that turns the sky sallow, rips roots from the ground, lifts homes and drops them in strange places, I am watching it. I am watching the clouds recede but know they are merely bearing their cruel chaos forward to other homes and lives.

My readers here know my story. For more than a decade I was caught up in the storm of anorexia. Some could see it happening; those close enough could see the toll taken by, even feel the gusts of metaphorical winds. Others, a bit farther way saw the storm as one watching it on the horizon. It looked menacing enough that some took shelter, took precautions to guard their daughters and loved ones from this tsunami.

It finally dropped me. A bit ragged—worn, but whole. And in it’s wake, there are huge puddles, inches of water and the sun has come up and a rainbow welcomes me to life again. And so it’s from this place of awakening, this place of stretching wide in the clear blue of freedom that I now watch the receding clouds and wonder of the havoc they will wreak on someone else.

Storms have varying impacts. Growing up in Oklahoma, on more than one occasion we saw side-by-side homes—one left the other taken. Winds vary and shift; what struck from the north may swing wide and assault from the south next.

And so when I read this story, my heart shook. The memories of shame, fear, confusion, anxiety and loneliness are fresh enough that I empathize with a broken heart.

I was 14 when insecurity and shame overtook me. In response, I constricted my entire being hoping to control at least what remained of me. But this little girl, this little Fern, hasn’t yet taken first steps. She has not yet said, “Mama” or beheld her own face in a mirror. She hasn’t picked a favorite food or color or experimented with a hobby and already the vicious storm that is our world is assaulting her. Already, the cacophony of personal opinions, thoughtless remarks and ignorant stereotypes are pounding on her tiny doorstep. Already the mold has been cast into which she will never fit.

The storm against identity, individuality, sacred life and undefinable beauty was already raging when she arrived—has been raging for all time. From the day Satan persuaded Eve that she was not created with all that she needed for a full, God-intended life—since then we have been searching, sure that God’s design of and for us is deficient.

Let this not be our legacy. We cannot control the weather; no more can we control the ebb and flow of societal opinion and cultural paradigms. But, within our homes, beginning within our own hearts, we can practice, preach and promote the truth that God has done all things well, every one of us is exquisite in His Creator-eyes. Who is the world to say otherwise?

I love the words of Fern’s mother:
“She is not abnormal. She is not normal. She is individually her and as she grows into a girl, a teen, a woman, she needs to always know to her core that she is exquisite and indefinable by the words of people and by the standards of this world.”

Given Everything

Romans 8:32
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

I just returned from a two week trip to visit my parents and help them move. While I was there, Dad asked me to participate in a phone call with his investment advisor and estate consultant. He and my mom extracted seventeen years worth of memories and not-so-memorable things that my sisters and I had collected in their basement, and then abandoned when we married and moved away. I helped them haul literally hundreds of pounds of “stuff” to the donation center. It was an all-inclusive attempt to take inventory of what they had, who wanted it “someday” and what isn’t worth anything anymore.

In the basement, I sat cross-legged with my mother emptying trunks of baby clothes, hand-made blankets and old Yahtzee games. Carefully, I selected the one dress I remember her sewing for me when I was about two. I chose two baby blankets and a stack of old letters that had been sent to me when I was sick for an extended period of time. Across the room, one of my sisters struggled to contain her tears; her sentimentality offended at the loss of anything sacred—even if that be an old church bulletin with doodles done during a boring sermon.

My parents are almost 60, and a move like this necessarily conjures the conversation of who will inherit what when they pass away. I know I want my mother’s ring with all her children’s birthstones. They have two paintings that I’d like to have. Other things my sisters want for their homes.

Romans 8 explains the full beauty of our relationship to God as Father, and our position as His heirs by virtue of our adoption through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Though our point of reference as an heir is our familial relationships, there is an important difference between what we experience on earth and the kind of inheritance we receive from our Heavenly Father.

My sisters and I are making choices, planning to divide my parents’ estate. We will have to take somethings and relinquish others. But the Bible says that in Christ, God gives us all things, and that every good and perfect gift is from above. And in the the Old Testament we are told that “no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” [emphasis added]

As if it were not enough to receive salvation and forgiveness of our sins, God has adopted us—made us His children—and given each one of us full share in His inheritance.

Jesus, I pray that you will open the eyes of our hearts, enlighten us in order that we may know the hope to which you have called us and the riches of our glorious inheritance through Christ.

 First posted on http://www.servantsisters.org.

There Never Was Any Danger

hurricaneGod’s been talking about going deeper. I love it when what He is telling me in one place begins to be reflected in other places, when the song that He is singing to me softly begins to resound from every direction, reinforcing the absolute truth of His words and my ability to retain them.

I just finished reading Ted Dekker’s book, Outlawand was only  mildly surprised to find God speaking to me about going deeper even in those pages. (I’ll be sharing a full review of Ted’s book here shortly.)

In Outlaw, the primary characters learned to view their bodies as mere costumes. Through this knowledge, a peace that surpasses understanding is found. One who knows who he is in Christ; who he is in the arms and eyes of his Creator; who knows from Whom his very essence is derived, and the security of believing that his Essence-giver is indestructible, this one cannot be destroyed. Even pain is mitigated by the understanding that only the costume is being affected.

But then, a new kind of anguish struck, one that even the strongest character found overwhelming. Rejection assaulted him, loneliness swelled within him and for once, he couldn’t relegate the pain to simply a costume experience. This new pain could be said to bruise his very soul. And for moments, pages even, I feared for him. I identified with him.

But then, he went deeper.

You see, it’s not that our spirits, our souls, cannot be bruised. It is not that they cannot feel pain. But the truth is, the peace is found when we look a little bit deeper and realize, that despite the pain, there never was any danger. 

For those who believe in Jesus and have rested all their hope in His finished work, there really is no danger. Even if the costume cries and bleeds, even if the spirit weeps, there never is any danger. And that’s where the peace is found – peering a little bit deeper.

Below the surface, even in the strongest of hurricanes, the water is safe and still. A submarine need only dive deeper to continue blissfully unaware of the surface destruction. Far below the chaos, for the marine life, there really is no danger.

Below your agony, below your sorrow, below your physical pain, your loneliness, your fear; below, slightly deeper, there really is no danger.

I will bless the LORD who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the LORD is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy oned to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
Ps. 16:7-11

Book Review, Ted Dekker’s “Outlaw”

If I hadn’t heard Ted Dekker speak in person at the re:Write conference in Austin, TX, I probably never would have picked up this book. I like to read true stories and prefer a good dose of probability if not historicity in my fiction. To the casual reader, Outlaw, delivers neither.

The first 21 chapters follow Julian, a lonely, unattached, single mother perplexed by a mysterious song in a repetitive dream. Feeling as if she has nothing to lose, Julian and her two-year-old son, Stephen, leave their home in Atlanta in search of the dream’s source, its meaning. And here the story opens, with Julian and Stephen “tossed about like a cork on a raging dark sea off the northern tip of Queensland in 1963”.

A sudden storm capsizes the boat, taking the captain under with it. Julian is rescued alone by three indigenous warriors representative of three tribes collectively called the Tulim, living in a jungle valley by the same name. Briefly, Julian clings to the hope that she will escape or be freed and return to her homeland. But, she also wonders if life without her son is worth living. Perhaps she would rather die at the hand of uncivilized strangers.

Julian never goes home.

I won’t wreck the story by divulging details, but I will try to explain the feelings that, Outlaw, evoked in me.

Most nights, I put the book aside determined not to pick it up again. I wasn’t drawn in. I didn’t identify with Julian. The jungle setting and depictions of tribal life seemed to stretch my imagination. But somehow, perhaps a bit like Julian’s winsome melody, Outlaw, held some magnetic power over me.

Outlaw’s obvious themes are sacrifice and redemption. But what captivated me was Dekker’s description of humanity. Through key characters, Dekker reveals his perception of human bodies as costumes, our immortal spirits as our true selves and the freedom that comes from internalizing this truth. I could almost taste a new freedom; personally feel chains and inhibitions fall away as his characters progressively released their fears of pain, loss and loneliness and embraced the all-sufficiency of The Father.

A few things marred my appreciation for this book. Three characters seemed to simply disappear without proper closure and the demise of one seemed unnecessary and slightly outside of the narrative’s flow. Secondly, in the final chapters, it is a little difficult to discern between what is happening to flesh and blood characters and what might be happening to them postmortem in their eternal existence.

As for the narrative seeming a little far-fetched, the Author’s Note explains it was in fact realistic, however outside of the average reader’s experience. Dekker was raised the son of missionaries in the jungles of Irian Jaya. He lived among a tribe of cannibals called the Dani tribe. I particularly appreciated this revelation as it lent authenticity to the story instead of simple, wild imagination.

Thanks for Aching

nail-993864-mFriends, a couple days ago I shared with you some of the frustrations and discouragement I’ve been facing in the course of my walk with Abba. It seems that when we’re smack in the center of His will we’re still not immune to setbacks. But this is the promise:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thess. 5:16-24

There’s a process required if we would profit from pain,

From rejection and loss and more of the same.

When we’ve sought for God’s will and pleaded for answers,

When we’ve plumbed the depths and scaled the rafters.

When no answer comes and day waxes cold,

When we’re waiting, still waiting, our dreams growing old.

There’s a process required if we would profit from pain,

Against all our nature, against human grain.

To bow the knee and thank the King,

The Providence who could,

Revive our dreams, rebirth the old.

To bow the knee, sing thankful refrain

Grateful in the shadow and rain.

This the process to profit from pain.

This is His will, this precedes peace.

He is faithful, He will do it.

~Abby Kelly

I’m Finally Thin – But…by Rachel Zimmerman

“’You’re never trapped. You have the keys to the prison! But sometimes having a choice is scarier than not having a choice. Sometimes the food prison is cozier than the big, wide world where I could bulge or break out or wrinkle at any moment. The question…is this: what is it worth, to you, letting yourself out of the prison? What matters more than that high? What matters more than thin? What do you want people to remember about the life you lived?

Will you gain weight or lose weight? Yes. Will I gain weight or lose weight? Yup. Will we hate our bodies or love them? Sure. I just hope, for both of us, that we are doing things that matter while we’re looking however we look and feeling however we feel.’

And then she tells me a story…”

You can’t miss this. It sums up the agony and, in fact, the reality of “The Thin Cage”.