Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Devotional’

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.

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A Look Back: Seeing the Past Through God’s Eyes

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.

Getting Free and Clear

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Peter wrote us a list comprised of mostly “inside out” problems. Clearly, he took to heart Jesus’ teaching on cleaning the inside of the cup.   I imagine Peter listening intently as Jesus confronted the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV)

This truth in Peter’s first epistle has come to us English speakers as a call to “get rid of” these inner sins. (“to rid oneself” is to relieve or free oneself of something unpleasant or undesirable). In ancient times, Norsemen and Germans used the word “to rid” to describe clearing land.

So what do I need to clear out of my personal territory?

I am most struck by envy because I struggle mightily with that invisible ugliness in my heart. Each week, I avert my eyes from the magazines displayed along the grocery check out line- not because they horrify me. On the contrary, I am irresistibly drawn into the world of the beautiful, the famous, and the rich. I wish my life were more like theirs.

“Envy is nothing more than a hostile form of self-pity.” Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups, Inc.

Other cannot see my envy – unless they look closely and notice its secondary effects. According to Proverbs, its cancerous corrosion actually makes us less healthy: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

The antidote is “a heart at peace” or, put another way, “godliness with contentment”, as Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy.

“Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have.” I Timothy 6:6 (CEB)

To sum up, it is not enough to do good works, look great on the outside, and paste on a smile to mask our malicious, envious thoughts. Keeping silence and hiding our insides makes us very effective hypocrites, not true disciples.

Let’s obey Peter and get rid of it all, clearing our lives to make room for all the lovely stuff that God has ready to grow in us.

 

A Willing and Able Helper

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler
Creative Commons License

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 118:7 NIV

As I stood at the front of my church sanctuary last month soaking in the wonderful worship song, I felt the pressure of a hand against my back. It stayed gently and warmly present during the song. Strange to say, when I finally turned around, there was no one there.

That encounter carried a special significance for me: I was struggling with a problem that Sunday, and the previous week my counselor had described my own parental help to my teenage daughter as a gently, supportive hand upon her back.

God was reminding me that He is my helper.   “People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” Isaiah 30: 19

My goal as I write this post is to keep it very simple:

God wants to help us.

He can.

He will.

Let’s ask Him.

Let’s receive it.

Of course, the manner in which His assistance comes varies with the way we hear Him and with the form of our present need.

If we are …

Confused – He gives wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Tired out/Weak – He gives strength

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:29

Hateful/resentful – He gives tender heartedness

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Troubled/Grieving – He gives solace

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

Self-loathing – he gives forgiveness

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Fearful – he gives peace of mind

“So we say with confidence,’“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6

Let’s believe and receive the help from the best Source of all!

My prayer today for you and for me: “May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.” Psalm 20:2

How Important Is It? Foolish, Stupid Arguing

Photo Credit: Adam Arroyo

Photo Credit: Adam Arroyo

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:23

I confess to engaging in “foolish and stupid arguments”. Often. My lack of good judgement arises out of a mixture of pride in my own opinions and a lack of foresight about what will result from the argument.

Here’s a clear example of a “foolish” altercation I started recently: I didn’t approve of a decision made by a leader, so I went alone to confront her directly with my dissatisfaction, but when the argument became heated I stayed in the fray and kept repeating my discussion points.

I saw her eyes glaze over. I heard the frustration in her voice, but I didn’t back off. I felt my blood pressure rising and the heated flush creep up my neck and face, but I pushed on and argued (then yelled) which brought other leaders into the room to shush me. With calm hindsight, I was “foolish”, i.e. unwise and shortsighted.

I am fresh from a “stupid argument” too: My cat threw up on our family room step (wooden, not carpeted, thank the Lord). I had been first up to bed the night before and I thought our teen girls, or perhaps my husband, had seen the yuck and not cleaned it up – i.e. They had left it for me – the pet poop, pee and vomit patrol – a job expectation I especially resent.

Incensed, I wanted to keep the “evidence” on the step until our girls woke up so I would have a gross visual aid for my life lesson (“Clean it up when you see it. Do not leave it for Mom”).

I got “stupid” when my husband, disgusted by the vomit, insisted on washing it immediately. I blew a gasket because he was interfering with my educational moment. He was angry that I would even consider leaving such a unsanitary mess.

Wasn’t that a trivial argument?

In the Bible passage above, the Apostle Paul warned Timothy that these types of foolish and stupid arguments lead to quarreling – a serious type of dispute that is “marked by a temporary or permanent break in friendly relations” (www.dictionary.com).

I definitely don’t wish to break relationship with those I work with or live with. So how do I back off from this “I have to be right and prove it” attitude?

Before entering into a dispute – or continuing in one – I think I’ll ask myself, “Is this really important?” Or put another way, “Is it is trivial, senseless, pointless, not worthy of consideration?” (www.dictionary.com definition of “stupid”) “Is it unwise, short-sighted, trifling, and lacking in caution?” (www.dictionary.com definition of “foolish”)

To sum up, I am not advocating keeping perpetually silent and continually smiling no matter the interpersonal problem. However, I believe that disagreements that are kind and calm – and stay that way – work best to resolve conflicts.

“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2: 24

Let’s keep in mind that in some cases, we just can’t make the other person calm down, hear us, understand us, or work with us, even when we are avoiding those pesky foolish or stupid arguments.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

I stopped short of foolishness today. Score one for me!

Abounding in Love and Faithfulness

Photo Credit: Lisa Widerberg

Photo Credit: Lisa Widerberg

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Exodus 34:6 NIV

I first heard that the Lord “abounded in love and faithfulness” from my grandmother, Dorothy Clay Watson, aka “Grandmummy”.

She has gone to glory, but her own faithful declaration of the constant affection of the Lord for me built a solid foundation for my soul.

Every time I stayed overnight at her house, my Grandmummy walked with me up the creaky stairs to the spare bedroom. She paused at the landing to retrieve a silver candlestick with a candle stub that she would light. This magical ritual culminated in our kneeling by the bed to sing songs as a nighttime benediction by candlelight.

Precious.

Recently, I crooned one of these holy songs to my own infant granddaughter as I rocked her by the crib before putting her to bed:

Jesus loves me — this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong

They are weak but He is strong

Refrain: Yes, Jesus loves me! 
Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me! 
The Bible tells me so

(Original poem by Anna Barlett Warner, Hymn by William Batchelder Bradbury)

The faithfulness of God is yours and mine from our birth to our present moment.

My eyes with the clarity of heavenly sight look back and see He has kept his pledge to love me always. He has protected, re-directed, and placed strategic people in my life.

Can you see the evidence of His faithfulness to you?

May we “pay it forward” by proclaiming to others the wonder of our dependable, steadfast God who loves us forever.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, Oh Lord. ©1974, 1975 Celebration / Written by Edith McNeill

More to Come – Looking at a Bright Future

Photo Credit: Howard Ignatius

Photo Credit: Howard Ignatius

“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1: 2,3 NIV

The apostle Paul visited the city of Thessalonica and spent a brief but fruitful time preaching in the Jewish synagogue and encouraging new converts, Jewish and Gentile, “and some prominent women” to continue in their faith.   Heckling, threats, and a riot conspired to drive him on to Berea as the next missionary stop, but the Thessalonian believers remained rooted in their Christian faith and in Paul’s heart as evidenced by the two letters he wrote them which are now part of the New Testament canon.

“Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brother, to do so more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9 NIV

I was struck by the sincere admiration Paul expressed for the Thessalonian Christians and his heartfelt commendation for their love, their work and their faith. This is not flattery or cloaked criticism – not the “sandwich” method of saying something positive before and after a hard, negative truth.

So let me be your “Paul” – reminding you of the work, labor, endurance, and love of your present life. God sees all of it and smiles. Our heavenly Father is a good supportive parent, so allow me to direct your attention to all the good stuff and applaud you.

But you have more purpose and more acts and more love in your future. Like my little grandbaby who at five months is just learning to roll over and has so much more to do (like crawling), we are urged to keep on growing and doing.

“Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are now living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1 NIV

This applies to us no matter our stage in life.

Although Paul urges the Thessalonians (and us) to do more and more, he clearly points to the power source – God – who fulfills his purposes through our lives:

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV

Our future prospects glow with promise.  There is more to come.

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