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.

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.

Bringing Beauty Out of Ashes

Lately I’ve been contemplating the passage in Isaiah 61 where God describes bringing beauty out of ashes. Not sure how I got started reading that chapter, or what prompted the memory, but as I contemplate those precious words, God is helping me recognize how He is at work, fulfilling that promise, all around me.

The first example is my dad. He served in Vietnam in the 60s, before meeting my mother. His tour of duty included convoy escorts, MP duty, and sitting behind a machine gun on a helicopter. He saw hundreds of buddies die during his months in country, and came home with a ticking time bomb in his mind. Almost twenty years later, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reared its ugly head. At the time, few people (including my father) understood what was going on. Over the next several years, he suffered the loss of a very successful job, my childhood home, most of his friends, and almost all of his self esteem. It was only by the grace of God that my dad didn’t end his life, an option he contemplated on multiple occasions. 

Fast forward many years, to 2010, when my father attended a Bridges-to-Healing conference in Washington State. Not only did he hear about a biblical response to PTSD, but his survival and defiance of the odds was celebrated by the Cru Military staff sponsoring the event. That experience changed my father’s life. And, when the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to our city, my father not only visited (with all of us in tow), but he was able to do so in peace. Image

 

My father’s healing is complete, and God is bringing beauty out of the ashes of his suffering by giving him the opportunity to invest in the lives of other combat veterans who are still suffering the affects of their service to our country. He is actually a member of the Men’s Ministry team at his church, where they are launching a Bridges-to-Healing movement in November, just before Veteran’s Day.

God is also bringing beauty out of the ashes of my mother’s heartache. Not only has she stayed married to a combat veteran suffering with PTSD, but she has suffered the loss of a child; my sister died from complications related to Diabetes ten years ago. This spring, a woman who lost her daughter to pneumonia sought my mother out, for comfort and help in dealing with such a devastating loss. They’ve been meeting regularly to process the agony only a grieving parent can feel. God is bringing beauty out of ashes. Another mother may be joining them in coming weeks; her daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. She was only 15.

My eighteen year old daughter is struggling to trust God will bring beauty out of the ashes of her dashed hopes and dreams. Since childhood, my daughter has dreamed of entering the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Thanks to some very generous gifts, we were able to book two flights to Washington D.C. We got home the day before the House caved in on the budget and debt ceiling. My daughter spent a week in the nation’s capitol while everything was shut down (we bought non-refundable tickets, and didn’t get insurance) and missed seeing the Library of Congress by one day. It was heartbreaking; she spent part of one whole day fighting tears. I was sick to my stomach.

Sometimes we don’t know what God will do with the ashes of our hopes and dreams. We can’t see how He will bring beauty out of something so ugly and broken. Yet, in His own way, He always does. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But we often forget to include Romans 8:29. That verse says that those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (italics added). Ultimately, no matter what else happens, followers of Jesus can count on God bringing beauty out of ashes, and whatever happens being used to make us more like Jesus. That, all by itself, is beautiful.