Often life is hard, but God is always good

bluebirds - Easter

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. Psalm 62:11, 12 NIV

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen” is one part of The Nicene Creed that flows from my lips when I attend a liturgical church service. I can claim an understanding of the strength of God with his special creative levels of “super power”, but David, writing in his 62nd psalm, pushes me past that truth to a deeper, and more important, foundation: “…that you, O Lord, are loving.”

“Loving: committed to his people’s salvation and blessedness,” writes my Bible commentator in the text note. This powerful God uses his great strength to come through for us, to help us, to strengthen us for what we must do, and to provide the salvation that we truly need.

What a wonderful combination of qualities! Often strong people are out for themselves: their personal achievements, their own wins, their acquisition of wealth and education. But our God is out for our good.

Do we believe that?

“For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven….For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;…” (The Nicene Creed)

For you, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

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Broken Hearts and Infertility

bluebirds - infertility

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34: 17, 18 (NIV)

I was twenty-six years old when I got married. My plan for kids was to work full-time for exactly two years then start a family.

Having trouble conceiving was nowhere in my frame of reference, so I was emotionally blind-sided when it happened. Add to that living far away from friends and family when we began going to specialists and taking tests.

The result of all the anxious medical effort was “undefined infertility” and no guarantee if or when we could have a baby.

My yearning for a child burned like fire. How could I feel that horrible? No one ever told me about this desperate pain! For months, I followed my inner city pastor’s wife down the aisle of the church to the prayer altar after services. She always passed my pew with streaks of tears down her face. If she – a church leader- wore her heart on her sleeve, so could I.

My inner world was one quivering cry of doubt and despair. I had no trust in the outcome. I held onto one tiny scrap of faith that God was good and wasn’t punishing me.

There is no way around any mountain of suffering. Honestly, even now, my trust in God is mostly based on what He has already done, not what He will do, but He still acts on my behalf even with that “little faith”.

Now that is a good God – one who doesn’t hold back mercy or help until we are wise, strong or filled with faith.  He leans in when we are in despair and breathes life into our lungs.

Years later, I did become pregnant and we had a beautiful baby boy. Two lovely girls followed. “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” Psalm 113:9. I am overwhelmingly blessed with the gifts of my children, but they didn’t come as a reward for my faith-filled prayers, spiritual surrender, or organized plans. God just gave them to me, and I am profoundly grateful.

I don’t know why I was spared more years of infertility heartbreak.  I pray diligently for those women I know who are walking through disappointment in this area – for strength, for hope, and for their heart’s desire.

No burden of bitterness

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Photo Credit: Rhino Neal

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31 NIV

 I jumped back as if stung; the words on the page had leapt, too. Not mine, but my grandmother’s. Why had I opened her journal? Entering her bedroom was innocent enough – checking on whether she was ready to go to the church service. An open door and an empty room don’t excuse reading another’s personal diary! But, the damage was done. I had opened the worn leather cover and read the first page that opened to my touch.

What had I read? Her personal and anguished thoughts about moving away from her family and familiar Philadelphia environs. It must have been an old journal because my grandmother had lived for many years in the Chesapeake Bay area in this unique house by the water, designed by her husband to boat to and from. She had always seemed serene, busy, and connected to church and community in the Northern Neck of Virginia during these retirement years.

So what did it mean? It was another evidence of my grandmother’s faith and maturity – that she didn’t become bitter and isolated, even when her initial feelings about uprooting from Pennsylvania were so intensely painful.

I do not endorse or excuse my own actions to violate her privacy. I am ashamed that I never confessed to her what I had done, and now it is too late because she has gone to glory. This “story” came to mind recently because so often we don’t know what another person has had to overcome – so often the cheerful person we know has already moved far beyond hurt and pain, having won their personal battle with resentment.

I would like emulate my grandmother, carrying no burden of bitterness with me as I move forward in life. The Bible describes bitterness as something that can take root and grow– that, too, is something I pray to avoid.

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12: 15

Lord, please remove any small or large bitter roots in our hearts. May we follow Paul’s exhortation to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger”.  In its place, please grow kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Amen

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

bluebirds heart of the matter

Photo Credit: Elton Harding

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.   Romans 2: 29 NIV

My thoughts turn inward at Christmastime. That may sound strange since this time of year is full of outward events: decorating, shopping, food preparation and party hosting.

My question is this: Does my inner life match my outward activity?

God sees deep within us. I think He has laser vision. What does He see when He looks at my heart?

Thankfully, He doesn’t just coldly diagnosis the heart condition; He possesses the power (and the desire) to clean, stretch, and to fill our hearts so that we are genuinely the same inside and out.

Two Christmas story favorites, A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, focus on the heart. Hear the profound epilogues of Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss:

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.” (A Christmas Carol )

And what happened then…?

Well…in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light

And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

And he…

HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast!

(How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

What is happening in our hearts this Christmas season? It matters the most to God. May we ask the Holy Spirit to give us spiritual heart therapy. He knows exactly what we need so that our hearts will truly laugh.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139: 23, 24 NIV

 

Photo Credit: Noemi F Creative Commons flickr.com

Photo Credit: Noemi F
Creative Commons flickr.com

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.'”  Revelation 12: 10 (NIV)

I stood on the ornate paving stones, looking around at the brick buildings and the decorative trees. The autumn air was cool and fragrant with those pleasing scents of fallen leaves. My college looked well cared for after 31 years.   The chapel bells began to peel, and the evening hymn rolled out across the deserted campus.

Taking my college bound daughter to check out my alma mater included a walk down my own memory lane. I didn’t expect so many flashbacks – from all my years of life from 18 to 53, but they came fast and furiously. And so many were filled with actions and attitudes that I deeply regretted.

And yet, they didn’t sting. I realized, as I walked the college campus, that I have faced my crimes, my faults, and the harm I did to others. My Christian faith includes confession. My God offers forgiveness, and I take it with humility: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9  (NIV)

Amazingly, joy is the result, because now I can face my past, seeing it with courageous, clear eyes and knowing that God not only forgives, but also puts it right.

But, Beware! “The accuser of the brothers” doesn’t like us making peace with our pasts. Satan blames us and wants to bring up the wrong and keep us accusing ourselves and living with our heavy burdens.  He gnashes his teeth at our free gift of being set free from the charges against us and will do anything to try to strip it away, even after we have received it.

We have the choice to hear the voice of our Shepherd:

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” John 10:3-5 (NIV)

If it is necessary to re-visit our past, let’s do it armed with the truth and with humility and with steady faith in our forgiving God who gave us complete acquittal through Jesus Christ.

Drinking Rain from Heaven

Photo Credit: Jasleen Kaur

Photo Credit: Jasleen Kaur

“But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. ”

Deuteronomy 11:11-12

I woke to the sound of rain this morning and rejoiced.

The summer months in my native state of Pennsylvania have progressively grown drier and drier. It hurts to walk on my lawn; the grass crackles and pricks my bare feet, almost like the high desert of Colorado where I lived for a time.

Fresh water is desperately needed by every living thing upon the earth. We human beings crave it for our bodies. Even the earth cries out for rain.

Yesterday’s prayer began like this: “Lord, I am so tired and the school year hasn’t even started.” All my responsibilities rose up in my mind’s eye.

And so the soft fall of rain on my face this morning was an answer: The Lord sends us rain, both for our souls and for the works of our hands.

“He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful.” Isaiah 30:23 (NIV)

I am grateful for my strength, my abilities, and my ideas. Truly.

But what a relief to know that it is not all up to me, to do everything in my own strength.

He sends rain from heaven.

God Did It!

Photo Credit:  Angus MacRae

Photo Credit:
Angus MacRae

Your ways, God, are holy.

    What god is as great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;

    you display your power among the peoples. 

Psalm 77:13-14 (NIV)

At our church women’s conference, I eagerly reached into the basket to choose the necklace that carried the profound word that would strengthen me in this hard year.  Each one was unique, our pastor’s wife had informed us. When I turned the ivory square over in my palm, “Servant” was spelled out in calligraphy. My heart sank. “Servant” to me meant more housework and more of the needs of others to consider above my own.

I was so disappointed.

Later that year, I accompanied the youth mission team to Mexico as a Spanish interpreter and as the “mom” for the group. As I prepared my heart for the trip, the Scriptures that kept popping up were all about Jesus the servant and humble friend.

Especially poignant was my personal devotional reading on the Sunday we were to be commissioned before leaving:

“But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place,’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14: 10 NIV

I decided to wear my servant necklace daily as a reminder.

After the trip was over, on the airplane ride home, I obeyed a prompting of the Holy Spirit to find a private moment speak to our flight attendant, Kaley, and give her a special Scripture God had brought to mind which I had written on an airline napkin.

We stood together in the back of the plane. I gave her the napkin and explained why I had thought of her. She began crying and poured out her story in a few precious, uninterrupted moments. Then I returned to my seat satisfied with the outcome of the encounter.

As we prepared for our touchdown in Atlanta, Kaley came down the aisle and stopped at our row. Leaning over close, she said,

“I am convinced you are an angel. I saw your necklace and knew something was different about you. When I was telling you my story, my migraine went away completely. I was planning to go to the hospital when we arrived. My headache was so bad and my meds weren’t working. But it’s completely gone!”

What I love most is that it required so little effort on my part.

I had never witnessed a physical healing, or knowingly participated in one before. I had no clue that she had a debilitating headache. I didn’t touch her or even pray for her. I simply obeyed that inner nudge from the Holy Spirit to write down a Scripture on a napkin and find a private moment in which to give it to her.

God did it. He healed Kaley.

The gift was clearly for this young woman,, but it encouraged my faith,too. She came back to tell me what had occurred when she could have just praised God that she was healed.

God is powerful, but he uses us.

It’s such simple teamwork.

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