Just Be Held

The words to “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns are so powerful. You can find them here, and the official music video is here.

Lately, I’ve needed to just be held…life has certainly hit me out of nowhere. And I don’t know how not to hold on desperately to anything within my grasp. I am on my knees, and answers seem more than far away…they seem non-existent. What does it mean for God to be on the throne? What does it look like or feel like to be held, to have Him hold my heart? As I type this, I really don’t know.

I feel desperation, like the father of the boy who was demon possessed in Mark 9. And like that desperate father, I’m crying out to Jesus to help my unbelief. I am struggling with unbelief…not the kind that wonders if God loves me or if He is still on His throne, but the kind that wonders if this pain will ever stop…the kind that wonders if I will ever again see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). Because life doesn’t feel good right now, and “being held,” raising my hands, believing God is holding my heart…

none of those have made the pain go away.

When I was growing up, I thought Romans 8:28 meant that God would fix up my mix-ups and life would feel good. Then life collided with my beliefs and I discovered what a bad theologian and exegete I really was. God doesn’t promise to fix up my mix-ups and make life feel good. Jesus actually said that life would be hard, but we didn’t need to worry because He has everything under control (John 16:33).

So often, however, it feels like God is anything BUT in control. Life hurts. Bad things happen to good people. Good people do bad things. Bad people win. And the good guy finishes last.

How do we reconcile that with what we read in Scripture?

How do we come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t necessarily feel good?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that Scripture has much to say about suffering.

Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Psalm 147:3 says He heals the brokenhearted.

Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) says:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…”

This is Jesus. It is how He described Himself in Luke 4:18. The words are almost exactly the same.

What does it look like to let go? What does it feel like to really be held by Jesus…to truly trust Him to that degree? I don’t know…yet. But, I have a feeling that the God who came to earth to bind up the brokenhearted can show me.

I’m counting on it, actually.

Advertisements

Guaranteed Outcomes?

I wish life had guaranteed outcomes. I really do.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I wish that it worked like a vending machine; you put a certain number of coins in, you make your selection, and tada…whatever you want comes out of the little slot.

 

 

 

Or you go to the coffee shop and give them money and they give you a cup of joy with foamy creaminess.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, life does not have guaranteed outcomes. You can invest your entire life in something, only to have it collapse into a heap before your eyes. You can invest your life’s savings into a “guaranteed” investment opportunity, and watch your future disappear in moments. You can make “all the right choices” and still deal with negative consequences, through no fault of your own.

That can be especially true in parenting.

Parenting, it turns out, is much like a crap shoot. You can make your choices, but you really don’t know what the outcome will be for a very long time. And even if you do all the things that “experts” recommend, you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially as children get older. It isn’t like when they are young and you can control all the details of their environment. In the end, control shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Having worked with college students professionally and raising a few of my own, over-controlled home environments leave children weak and unprepared for the real world when they leave home, and be assured…they will leave.

But, it still seems like we should have some guarantees…some sort assured return on our investment, especially when we try so hard to be faithful. And when you don’t get the outcome you expected, prayed for, worked towards, and invested in, it is very disappointing. Such has been my reality lately. God and I have had many a serious conversation on this issue, usually involving tears, and a great deal of meditation on what the Bible says about parenting.

And what the Bible says about parents.

Which led me to Daniel.

In the opening verses of Daniel, we find out that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all taken to Babylon after Judah fell.

What I find intriguing about Daniel and Co. is that in a generation so corrupt and disobedient that God sent them into captivity, these four young men were different…very different. They were so in love with the Law and the Law Giver that they resisted the peer pressure and indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire, remaining true to God and His ways through out their lives; Daniel for more than seventy years.

That didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because their parents did a fantastic job raising them

in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We can tell by the outcome that these parents did a good job, in the midst of a perverse generation where so many others failed.

Judging by the results, these parents did everything right. And I am very confident watching their boys be carted away by the lawless, heathen Babylonians was not the outcome they’d expected. And they probably never knew what the real outcome was. If they were anything like me, they struggled with what God allowed to happen.

On further reflection, though, I’m struck with the reality that God loves our children more than we do. Indeed, Jeremiah 29:11 is just as true for them as it is for me…God knows the plans He has for my children, and His plans are for good, not harm…for them or for me.

Romans 8:28 & 29 talk about God’s plans as well. He promises to use everything in our lives to make us more like Jesus.

That is absolutely the outcome I desire for my children…what more could I want for them than to be more like Jesus.

I am beginning to learn, however, that it won’t look like I want it to; it won’t be the neat, tidy package all wrapped up with a bow like I planned. My children will experience heartache and disappointment. My children will make poor choices and suffer consequences…consequences I would try to protect them from. But, in my desire to protect them from pain, I might also prevent them from truly knowing God, from being able to find comfort in Him. After all, when do we get to know God the most intimately?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through pain.

We can’t get to know God as Healer until we need to be healed.

We can’t get to know God as our Strong Tower until we need some place to hide.

We can’t get to know God as Comforter until we need to be comforted.

It is in those moments, when we most need Him, that God helps us understand His love in a way ease and comfort never will.

Suffering can build intimacy and faith.

Suffering can develop trust and confidence.

This has been true in my life. And as painful as the process may be, it is what I pray will be true for my children…

intimacy with God…a deep abiding confidence in His character, regardless of circumstances.

As I walk a broken road with children whose hearts I can no longer protect, the One who has so faithfully carried me is proving that He can also carry them. It doesn’t get much better than that.

A Long Obedience

Have you ever seen an ad (or a movie) where someone does a good deed, and before you know it, a whole community has joined them? Yeah; me, too. Those images always leave such warm fuzzy feelings in my heart. And I want to be part of something special like that.

My experience, however, hasn’t quite played out that way. Honestly, I’ve done lots of good deeds all alone; no one has ever known. You probably have, too.

Almost nobody notices. Virtually nobody remembers. Nobody is cheering, or giving awards, or helping with the efforts.

You can probably think of your own examples; times when you gave even though (or especially because) nobody was watching. The goal isn’t to be noticed; good deeds have their own intrinsic reward. But sometimes it seems like somebody somewhere should care that you’re making sacrifices to benefit someone else.

Perhaps you’ve never done it, but sometimes I figure if someone is doing a good deed, it must be because they have time. Or it is convenient. Or they don’t have anything more important to do. But, if they are anything like me and you, most of those people do have something else to do, and helping isn’t necessarily convenient, and they really don’t have any more time than we do. They are just choosing to use it differently.

Why, you may be asking, am I bringing this up? Well, let me tell you. It is because God gave me an object lesson, in the sleet and rain.

We live on a busy street. And we are responsible to keep the sidewalks clear. Initially, my son wanted to shovel the snow; he loves shoveling, and wanted to earn a littlIMG_00002278ae bit of money. But, as the sleet turned to rain and the snow got heavy, I knew he wouldn’t be able to get the job done. So, we traded places. And I started shoveling.

My plan was not to shovel that long; I just wanted to get the snow off the sidewalk so pedestrians would be safe (and we wouldn’t get sued). But as I approached our property line, God started tugging at my heart. Our neighbors hadn’t gotten their sidewalk shoveled yet. I needed to shovel their walk, too. So, I kept shoveling. And as I did, God and I wrestled, a lot.

I didn’t want to shovel for my neighbors. They haven’t always been very friendly. On occasion, they have been decidedly unfriendly, actually. And it was wet, and cold, and I had other things to do. And when the big vehicles drove by, they splashed gross mucky slush up on me and the sidewalk, further weighing down the already heavy snow.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t care. I would do the right thing, because it was the right thing, and that would be that. But I don’t live in a perfect world…and even if I did, I’m not perfect…

And because I’m not perfect, I wanted somebody, anybody, to help me. I wanted God to turn back time so I could accomplish my oh-so-important to-do list. I wanted somebody to notice and say good job. I wanted something. And, because I’m not perfect, God heard all about what I wanteIMG_00002285ad.

Thankfully, I wasn’t struck by lightening (which I really did deserve), and God showed me that what I needed was an attitude adjustment…to praise God in every circumstance, even this one. So, I offered a sacrifice of praise, thanking Him that I can still shovel snow at my age (not that I’m that old, mind you), that I had the tools to do the job without freezing (gotta love modern conveniences like waterproof boots, insulated gloves, and warm coats), that I have a sidewalk to shovel  (I could be homeless, or live in a tiny apartment with downstairs neighbors who hated living under an elephant herd), that I have a shovel, and that I have neighbors to bless with a simple act of kindness. Mostly, I chose obedience; I chose (what felt like) a long obedience, in the same direction. And, the job got done.

More than the job, though, was the lesson God taught me about obedience. It doesn’t always feel good. It doesn’t always make sense. It isn’t easy, or convenient, or fun. But, when I choose obedience, God can make even an unpleasant experience blessed. What a mighty God we serve. And how gracious, able to take my rotten attitude and bless me as a result.

Thorns and crowns

We were blessed with tickets to WinterJam recently; what a crazy, amazing evening we had. Because you buy tickets at the door, people started lining up hours before the concert started. We were there pretty early (about four hours), making memories that will last a lifetime. And while I’m not a big concert fan (it is too loud, not because I’m too old but because I want to be able to hear when I am old, lol), it was a delightful evening.

IMG_20141112_172008IMG_20141114_164240

The experience was eye-opening in a way I didn’t expect, as well. WinterJam features ten different bands, from a variety of genres. Most are what I’m familiar with, artists I’ve heard of. A few, however, were completely unfamiliar to me…completely. The heavy metal, head-banging music didn’t attract me at all…I actually went to walk around the mezzanine during that one…

But one genre, equally unfamiliar, caught my attention. Trip Lee, a black rap/hip hop artist, shared a couple of “ballad raps” that were incredibly powerful. One in particular really spoke to my heart. The title is “Sweet Victory“. The words that caught my attention, though, were the beginning phrases and the chorus…”I feel thorns where my crown was…”.

fa0037e829f844e750f6bb31c33e4194

God seems to be taking me back to revisit the whole idea of keeping my crown on. For some reason (innocence?) I thought with such a powerful lesson, it would be “one and done”. I wouldn’t have to take another trip around Mt. Sinai with this one. But I do, and I am. The onion is smaller now…another whole layer peeled back (can there really be anything left?). But the concept is the same; my value is not based on my performance.

I’m struggling because as often as I repeat that statement, it still feels like my value is determined by my performance. And I hoped, beyond hope, that somehow I could guarantee an outcome by my performance?! That was wrong…totally wrong.

Outcomes are not determined by performance. David struggled with that in the Psalms. Our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters struggle with it on a different level today. To some degree almost anyone can identify. Performance…behavior…you can do your very best, and somebody is always going to be better, or at least appear that way on the outside. It is easy to focus on the circumstances and to accept the dunce cap (because that is so often what the world tries to squash down on our heads) instead of choosing to sit at Jesus’ feet, embracing the value we have from Him.

I am still struggling, honestly. Assumptions I made about cause and effect, and illusions I entertained about controlling outcomes, and the pain of coming to grips with the way life is compared to the way I thought life would be…I definitely feel those thorns…and they are sharp, and they hurt, and I don’t like them!! They don’t feel “good” in any sense of the word.

What is good, however, are the gentle words of Jesus…”I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT. Those words, taken to heart regardless of the circumstances change my perspective, and I can once again walk in confidence, a daughter of the King. Life is hard. Life hurts. But God is still good and He can still be trusted…even if I feel thorns where my crown was…

 

Disappointment and Success

My three oldest daughters applied to staff a leadership camp we’ve been involved with for the last six years.

They were turned down.

I’m disappointed.

But, as we’ve contemplated why they might have been turned down, I’ve been reminded again of what is true. Acceptance and success aren’t always based on character. Sometimes people are considered successful because they have a lot of money. Or because they have nice things. Or because they are friendly and popular. Or because they are friends with the right people. Sometimes, the gems get missed because they aren’t obvious to the casual observer.

God knows.

He knew what Israel would be looking for in a king. Someone who looked the part; tall, handsome, energetic, winsome (at least in some ways). He also knew what lay behind those good looks and winsome personality; a man without character. A man who would be led astray by the influence of popular opinion and who’s confidence was in himself rather than where it belonged. God knew, when He sent Samuel to anoint the king, what the journey would be. He knew.

God also knew what kind of king Israel really needed, even though that future king was only a shepherd, and a kind of scrawny one at that. God told Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NASB.

God said David was a man after His own heart, and he proved to be a good king. Actually, he was one of Israel’s best. And God promised he would always have a descendent sitting on the throne of Israel.

Even Jesus wasn’t that impressive, as far as world leaders go. He never owned a home, never led an army. Before He died, He lost all of His followers! And if you want to talk about impressive, you won’t be listing any of His disciples in that bunch. A rag-tag bunch of social misfits, they were anything but impressive. Yet, Jesus knew what lay in their hearts; He knew their unrecognized, untapped potential. And He used them to change the world! He knew that what mattered wasn’t what people could see. What really mattered was what people couldn’t.

Obviously, I’m a little biased about my children, and I am so proud of the young women they are becoming. I think the organization that rejected them was wrong. I also know that if my girls had needed the experience of serving with this organization, God would have worked it out. They didn’t, so He didn’t.

Instead, God is giving my precious, beautiful, amazing daughters (like I said, I’m a little biased) an opportunity to learn about disappointment, in the comfort and security of a loving home. It is an opportunity for them to “keep their crowns on”  no matter what the world tries to do, and to begin learning the definition of true success.

Rare Beauty

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a baby shower, celebrating the imminent arrival of a precious baby girl. It was a typical baby shower, with all the appropriate games, goodies, and festivities. Except, this shower was for a mama almost nobody knew, at a church she’d only been attending for three months, to celebrate her fourth child!

Having grown up in church, I know the drill…first babies (or the first baby born at the church, usually) get celebrated. But if you host a baby shower for every baby that a woman has, well, that can lead to problems. Some women can have several (disclaimer…I have eight living bio children, and have been pregnant thirteen times). And, well, we might miss someone!  How terrible would that be?  And it just wouldn’t be fair. So, to keep things even, and easy, we’ll just celebrate the first baby. Or maybe we won’t celebrate babies at all…just send a card and have a flower up on the piano.

Yes, I understand the reasoning behind the decision not to host a baby shower for a mama who has been blessed with multiple babies. And I understand the motivation not to leave anyone out. But I think along the way, we’ve lost sight of some very important details. First, babies are a blessing. They should be celebrated!! And where else should babies be celebrated, but in the Church?

IMG_00001142

Back to that baby shower I attended. It was truly beautiful. These women (at least twenty of them) really didn’t know the mama. They simply knew she was going to have a baby, and that she needed help. They didn’t ask why she needed help. They didn’t judge the reason behind her pregnancy, even though she is not married, and has children with two different men. They simply didn’t judge. They loved. And they loved well. One person gave a gift card for $150! Many provided diapers and wipes and other very practical gifts. Some brought handmade treasures – a gift that requires far more than just money. And, of course, she received LOTS of clothes – in a variety of sizes. A bouncy seat, an expensive car seat-stroller combination, even a swing, will be keeping this baby girl comfortable after her arrival. And all of this from women who knew little other than a young mother was in need of love.IMG_00001141

Well, let me tell you, she feels loved! She cried. And through her tears, she explained that she’d never experienced anything like that before, in her life. Her journey has been a difficult one.

This precious woman’s story would bring tears to your eyes, truly. It is not the story any mama wants for her little girl. But this story is a picture of God’s love!! Like that precious group of women at the shower the other night (most of whom I don’t know – we’ve only been at the church for three months), God takes broken, wretched, hurting people, and He showers them with love. He doesn’t limit who He’ll love. He doesn’t care about boundaries (though they are desperately needed) or consequences (though He lets us deal with them, most of the time) or stupidity (though, again, He lets us deal with the consequences). He cares. He meets us in our deepest, darkest hurt, and He loves us. And as He loves us, He heals, corrects, restores, and transforms. That is a rare beauty, indeed.

Doesn’t Need Sleep

Let me start this by saying that I love my children. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a passionate parent and bend over backwards to nurture and tend the hearts of my kids.

That being said, parenting gets exhausting. It truly does. And to be quite honest, I don’t always want to take care of my children, especially my youngest son. For anyone who has read my other blog, http://www.mamamarchauna.blogspot.com, the journey through the desert that started with my son’s birth has been incredibly difficult. And I am very tired.

Let me explain; my son arrived at the end of a very difficult labor, that came at the end of a very difficult pregnancy. I was so exhausted when he was born, I collapsed on the bed, physically unable to hold my son for almost thirty minutes after his arrival. Little did I know, as I gazed into the precious face of this (not so) little blessing (he weighed over ten pounds and was almost two feet long), what the next two years would hold.

My son has lots of health challenges. Diagnosed very early with Cerebral Palsy, anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder, reflux, swallowing difficulties, and developmental delays, his life has been neither easy nor comfortable. He really struggles with sleeping. Basically, he can’t sleep on his own. The therapist understands why, but I can’t explain it well.

This morning, after a week of dealing with his additional needs following the removal of his tonsils, I really didn’t want to take care of him. I really didn’t want to. I just wanted to sleep. Honestly, I waited as long as I could to respond to his requests for help; I rolled over and tried to pretend like he wasn’t pulling on me. And in those few moments, as I cried out to God for help, confessing my lack of desire to care for my son, I was reminded of the character of my God, and how He will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

Actually, God says, in Isaiah 49, that even though a nursing mother could forget the child at her breast , He will never forget us. Indeed, He has engraved His children on the palms of His hands. Isaiah 49:15, 16. In Psalm 121, the psalmist writes that “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:3, 4 NIV.

Psalm 86:15 says that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

Psalm 91 says that “he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.” Ps 91:1, 2 NKJV.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 is another example of God’s love and care, as is Psalm 23. The passages describing God’s faithfulness are woven through out Scripture. It paints an amazing picture of dedication. One that goes far beyond what I am capable of.

And that is very comforting. God never tires of caring for us, regardless of what messes we get ourselves into. He has infinite patience, and grace, as well as infinite wisdom. He always responds to us exactly the way we need to be responded to, always. I am not like that. In spite of my best efforts, I get impatient with my children. I lose my temper. I even yell at them, though I’m ashamed to admit it. I am selfish. Sometimes I just want to have a minute to myself, to do what I want to do because I want to do it, and not because I need to do or because it is good for my children or anything.  I am not like God. I grow weary.

Isaiah 40:28 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.”  NAS

What a blessing to know that the God of the universe isn’t like me. He never gets weary. He never gets tired. He doesn’t even need sleep. Wow. Knowing He is always there to catch me when I fall gives me the grace I need to keep going.

Can you relate? Do you get weary? Do you get tired? Have you seen God meet you in your desperation and give you the strength to go on? If so, I’d love to hear your story! And if not, please let me know so I can pray for you.