Monday, January 21, 2013

Life is Hard; God is Good

Last week was grim. Circumstances I found myself in dealt me a heavy blow; I felt immobilized and sad. Everything I had to do felt like weight pushing my feet into thick, gluey mud. And so I muddled through what couldn't be avoided and I did a lot of reading.

I read in Isaiah: 

"I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things." (45:5-7)

And concerning this verse, I read, 

"God ordains whatsoever comes to pass--in an ultimate sense, all things…God says essentially, 'Look no further, the buck stops here.'…So we see two crucial truths here: first, God is the cause of all things; but second, and just as important, God is the final and only ultimate hope we have in all circumstances…"[1]

And also, 

"…When God allows something, he is acting deliberately--he is decreeing that event. God doesn't just watch bad things happen. What is accidental from our perspective was specifically allowed by God. He who holds all things together must sustain the very molecules of the bullet as it flies toward it's mark."[2]

I read in Deuteronomy: 

"See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand." (32:39)

And concerning it:

"It is abhorrent for some that the Judeo-Christian God of the Scriptures might be the one who wounds and in his sovereignty 'afflicts' some with disabilities. However, if there is hardness on one side, there is profound comfort in the other.  He also proclaims himself the one who heals. It would be one thing if he only afflicted. Such a horrific god would certainly engender fear and submission, but not love and devotion. It would be equally horrific if he were a god who only healed, because that would mean he has no control over the afflictions that assail us."[3]

And this excerpt from a favorite blog:

"...But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life. [Ex. 21:5-6]
The edges of my ear, bore through and blatant.
This murmuring with David:
You do not want sacrifices and offerings.
    But you have made a hole in my ear
    to show that my body and life are Yours.” Ps. 40:6-8
I had been sitting in a Bible Study when my ear had tore straight through and here I was with a right opened ear…Sometimes what you think is an open wound needing to heal--is God opening you up like an ear to hear Him and obey...Stand before that door and be bore through — because this is the only way through...What do I need more than His love and what do I want more than His will and when I am my own master, don’t I have a fool for a master?"

I read and I thought and I prayed for God to connect the dots.  These are hard truths and rather than grapple with them, I began to wrap myself in them. I opened my heart to the inevitability I was reading that God decreed and authored these and other difficult events in my life. I was surprised to find that this brought me not the anger and frustration I'd expected but a sense of understanding and of comfort.

Even while I still hurt, I set in motion the closing of my fingers and wrapping of my heart around the truth that my grim week was sanctioned for a purpose that I couldn't see; may never see. It served a purpose--one that I can believe that He allowed to bring good and glory to Himself and is therefore better than I could ever hope for. And wasn't this part and parcel of my belonging to Christ? If I am to be marked His bondslave, wasn't this part of the process? All of this, I felt, should have weighed me down but yet I discovered peace and not discord in my heart; a lessened sense of drowning in my heartache.

Speaking of aching: when we ache, we want it to stop. When we've ached, we never want to feel it again. In fact, a large portion of our energy is spent trying to build a impenetrable force that ensures that we will never ache again. What was it Shakespeare wrote? "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"  

Aching is never without purpose; practically or spiritually. And when we look hard at only the hurting and not at the learning, we miss it. Easy words, though. But, if the reasons behind my hurting have God-purpose that I can abide in without seeing, then letting go of my lost expectations, desires, dreams becomes the next logical step, albeit an arduous one.

I'm far from having this all figured out. Could I think or say the same if events were worse? If violence and trauma marred the loss I felt? If the loss had been complete? Some stand in that place right now and these words seem garish and ugly; far from comfort and peace. 

At the end of the day, I stake my heart on this because it is all I have: God is good. His ultimate purposes (though I cannot comprehend them) are for good. Giving and taking does not change His goodness, no matter how much I might think it does.  

Learning, always learning. 

For now, though, it is a start to say and to begin to believe: 
"This too is from God's hand. I can go nowhere else."[4]

For these and so much more, I give thanks:
1--My daughter singing along with silly songs; hearing my husband say my name; a new worship song
2--Crisp air outside; warm air and cozy smells inside; fresh baked bread on a plate
3--Grace said over me by a mentor; grace said over me by a teacher; grace offered up by my daughter
4--An old appliance still works like new; a new stone loaf pan; new blue shoes
5--Reading about God in wool and honey and wine and disability; making a new scarf; seeing God's work in my life
6--Two new pens from my lover in my bag; two round wheels of brie in my fridge; amplified love of my Savior in my heart
7--Grace from my husband during my week of grim; grace from my friends when I feel lonely on Friday nights; abundant grace from my Savior each and every day
8--Sunset in a dusky sky; my reflection in the mirror when I'm having a good hair day; shadow of my man sitting next to me
9--Held my daughter's hand while we walked; passed by trees sparkling with ice; sat with Jesus-sisters in Bible study
10--Lemon sour to flavor my tea; chocolate pie eaten in fellowship; bowl of soup at just the right temperature
11--Each new rise of the sun is mercy; yellow dreams a friend shares is mercy; a sunrise on the morning of His rise is mercy
12--The starry skies above, the waiting spring below, my Savior and my God beside
13--I am grateful for being made to understand compassion; for beginning to learn patience; for being who God made me to be
14--Grace for my mistakes; grace in the hard truths; grace in my messed-upness
15--New jacket worn; outgrown clothes given away; lunch shared with a friend
16--Witnessed God's blessing of new life given; witnessed friends' work toward a goal completed; witnessed much progress made by my girl in communicating
17--My husband brings me laughter; hard things and thanks bring me prayer; waiting on God brings me quiet
19--My daughter; my husband; but for the love of God, my salvation
20--The joy in serving; the strength in godly relationships; the beauty of marriage
21--Fluffy flakes float from the sky; the cleaning power of water; the memory of sweet communion

[1] Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 37.
[2] Joni Eareckson Tada and Dave Draveky, eds., The Encouragement Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 964
[3] Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 32.
[4] Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 45.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Les Mis

The college I attended offered a 4-week session during each January called J-term. For many, it was simply an extra 4 weeks of winter vacation to relax and prepare for the spring semester. I took classes only one January but wished each and every year I was a student there that I could've taken the course that involved a 2-week trip to London.  The expense was always greater than I could afford but I had friends who went and allowed me to experience the trip vicariously through them; they brought me pictures and souvenirs; shared tales of their adventures and even made a couple of phone calls to tell me that they wished I were there, etc.

There was always one facet of that trip that I sorely wished to experience that couldn't be captured in pictures or souvenirs or phone calls: seeing performed, live theatre, main-stage popular musicals and the amazing artistic craft of the professional stage. Les Miserables was running in London, then, probably every year my friends went. I remember how wonderful the descriptions of the artistry of that musical: the costumes, the music, the set, the performances--all done professionally and as perfectly as theatre can get. Young men who prided themselves on being unemotional and unaffected by such things as theatre would tell tales of sitting in a dark auditorium, openly weeping during the brilliant execution of Les Mis. "It was moving," they'd say, "so very good!"

Time passed, I finished college and moved on with my life. There was never regret, per se, that I didn't get to go to London on one of those trips but more, a hope that someday I would get to go--a longing that I tucked away and still keep.

This December just past, the newest cinematic version of Les Miserables was released.  There have been others and I've never really had an interest in watching any of them. Somehow, there just seemed a lackluster quality to what I knew to be the spectacular onstage version. But this new one...this one was to be different. It was filmed in such a way that all the actors sang the dialogue in real time as the camera's rolled. And all the A-list actors who participated in the film actually sang. There was to be, built into the film, a theatricality that gave the movie that magical, live, onstage feel.

And today, I got to experience it and it was like my longed-for trip to London was fully realized. I may be a hopeless romantic and occasionally see things ideally rather than realistically, sometimes to the detriment of a proper perspective, but I allowed myself this joy. Like London in January, it was cold this morning--8 degrees--with snow still blanketing the ground. And we were bundled up in coats and scarves and hats and it was a special event...special because my husband woke up at 7 am to go with me to drop our Kiddo off at school and then treat me to this visual spectacle.

And as I sat in the dark and wept at all the right parts, I also found myself weeping for a different reason at other, less obvious parts. And because the themes of mercy and compassion and love and grace and justice were so obvious, I couldn't help but see God right there in the middle of Les Mis.  And I wept when Jean val Jean suddenly grasped that he'd been offered grace for the first time in his life and how it changed him and opened his heart to accept the grace that God offers. And I wept when mercy did not soften a heart made hard by years of mercilessness and Javert saw the only way out was at the bottom of a bridge. And I wept when desperation drove Fantine to sacrifice her pride and her honor to save her child and how, again, compassion and grace, while it didn't save her life, saved her child's and allowed her a peaceful death.

It dawned on me, as I watched, that I am--we are--all of these characters! I have been offered an undeserved grace and mercy; I've been given compassion of which I am unworthy.  This shone out glaring watching Jean val Jean, for the love of his child, carry her fiancĂ© through deep, dark, stinking sewers of refuse; of excrement, to bring him to safety. And to fathom that this is what Jesus did for me caused me to weep all the more.

I am infected and impure with sin. All my "righteous acts" are like filthy rags. And He left his righteous, unimaginably pure throne to wade through my muck--not wade, but swim, swallow, saturate Himself--so that I could be made clean. Overwhelming. Humbling.

Experiencing God has been on my mind and heart lately. I am preparing for spring Bible study and I find it in my preparation. I am beginning a journey that may lead to teaching others and asking this question of myself is the first necessity on that journey to impacting others--have I, am I, will I continue to experience God? To experience heart-change that He's begun? Through His Word? Through open and continuous conversation with Him? Through searching for Him in my day-to-day? Through thanking Him for every blessing He's put in my life?

Today, the answer is yes. YES. Oh, Father God, YES! I experienced You this morning! You gave me such a blessing--a multi-faceted blessing: a wonderful spouse who made a sacrifice to allow me to enjoy what I enjoy, a movie that was made and through it I tasted a morsel of what I missed out on in college, and the lessons that You teach me over and over and over...the ones that I cling to because they are what matters in this life! The heart of the law is mercy--You, Father are mercy! It is by grace I am saved--not my filthy rag-works! It is a gift! You have compassion on whom you have compassion--and You have compassion on me! You are a God of justice! This day, Jesus, I give you my thanks. I have so much to be thankful for!

And so it is with heart full of happiness that I will continue on my day, looking for God in my every step. Finding Him there, too, because He's in my heart. Thank you Jesus for Grace. For Mercy. For Compassion. And for a day like today when they blaze in my heart and give me a passion for You!