Sunday, May 18, 2014

Suffering - A Reason to Rejoice

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a Women's Tea at a friend's church. As always, when we prepare for a lesson, devotion, or talk, we are the ones that benefit. I don't want to forget what God showed me in this time.  My notes would not make sense so I am just including some highlights...

Hebrews 12:1-3  Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

My illustration used throughout the talk was Mt. St. Helens. The anniversary of the eruption is actually today. Before May 18, 1980, the mountain was beautiful, full of life, sweet scents from the wildflowers, and sounds of birds singing. Then of course the eruption and the chaos. The ash shot up 15 miles into the air. The damage was widespread and had a great cost. Of course today, 34 years later, we see beauty once again. New life, new trees, flowers, animals, clean water and fresh snow.
It has been said that we each fall into one of three categories.  We are either pre-crisis, in crisis, or post-crisis.  We go in and out of these all throughout our lives.  I think I have been in them simultaneously these last few years. 

Many of you know it was three years ago that my husband was diagnosed with cancer.  What I thought would be a quick trip to the ER became a year long cancer battle.  Praise God the cancer is gone now.  Though the effects of that diagnosis and treatment continue to hold on tightly.  A series of unfortunate events followed that season and most recently my mom's unexpected death has brought grief and loss to a new level.

(At this point I think I said something like, "Aren't you glad you asked me to be here today!")

Well, God in His great goodness has taught me - is teaching me - some valuable lessons about loss and pain.  Here are three highlights:

1.  There is no magic wand!  As much as I begged God for a way out of our pain, it was not given.  Psalm 23 says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;” We need to walk through our pain. As desperate as we are to avoid the pain, to go around it, or to medicate it, we need to walk through it to find true healing.  Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched…”   Clearly God knew we would experiencing pain - all of us - but He made promises we can cling to as we go through it.

2.  There is purpose in your pain. God was not too busy or too tired to care for you. Whatever your pain, He has allowed it. That is a very hard pill to swallow. We know though that His ways are not our fact His ways are always better than ours. I don’t know why God has allowed you to suffer...the Bible shares some reasons: to discipline or correct, to refine you and make you more like Jesus, or just for His glory alone. Psalm 121 says “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made the heavens and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” God is very aware of your circumstances, He is very near and there is purpose for it.

3.  Suffering is a way to joy. Again God’s ways are not our ways. There is joy in your journey through pain. As your receive God’s grace, as you choose to fix your eyes on Jesus, as you give thanks in all circumstances, the Lord allows joy to grow in your spirit. (see the closeness of the words Charis and Chara, grace and joy) How do we experience true, life giving joy? Psalm 16:11 says, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."  The Path of Life...there it is again...there is a way made for us and in the Lord’s presence is where we will experience the Joy of the Lord, we can choose to stay in our sorrow, or we can choose to stay close to Jesus.

What do you think? Do you fit into one of these categories?

Are you “pre-crisis”? (pre May 18, 1980) Life is okay right now, maybe a little bumpy, but mostly fine….REJOICE! God is giving you this time as a gift. Use it wisely! You have the chance to grow your roots down deep into God’s soil, you will be firmly planted so when crisis comes ...and it will not be destroyed like all those trees downed from the lava and ash at Mt St Helens.

Are you experiencing a crisis right now? (May 18, 1980) Maybe you haven’t healed fully from a past crisis.  REJOICE! This is not the end of your story. God will walk closely with you as you go through this pain. There is purpose even in this, God will not waste it. God is still trustworthy, God is still good and He is still in control of all things. There is joy set before you. Your mourning will be turned to gladness, your darkness into light and your burden will be bearable.

Are you beyond your crisis? (after life came back to Mt. St. Helens)  Past the sting of the pain? REJOICE! God has brought you through and you are now experiencing something new. New life, new purpose, new mercies, new reasons to rejoice, new perspective.
Did you notice the common theme for all of us? Rejoice. Rejoicing is the outward expression of our inward joy. The Lord commands it in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say rejoice!” Always.  Does that give you a pass if your circumstances are especially difficult? No. In fact Paul had to say it twice, rejoice! Probably because he knew we’d think he was crazy if he saw what we were going through.

Christ is our ultimate example, as the opening scripture says in Hebrews, Christ “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame…” What was set before Him? The cross. Along with beatings, mocking, pain and the anticipation of the most horrible death. But look a little further beyond the cross...scripture says what Christ saw was JOY..a resurrected life that was representing all of our redeemed lives. And this was the ultimate act of grace...that He would take our place. If you can see through your pain, there is joy waiting to embrace you.
Dear ones…God does see what you are going through, what you've been through…. He loves you, and He is near. My hope is that not one of you will doubt the Lord holds you close and wants to capture your whole hearts. If you are holding back loving him fully because of a pain, will you confess that and ask Him for His help to bring you into completeness?

In closing, here is a treasure for you...
Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me, To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Did you notice the beauty of these verses...God's good gifts to you?  He is replacing your pain with joy.  And the purpose?  So you and I will be called oaks of righteousness.  Why?  That He may be glorified.  May He be glorified in your suffering as you receive His grace in the midst of it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

Have you ever experienced that moment when you willed yourself not to cry?  In your head you repeat over and over "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry"...then, blink, blink, blink...head shake, brave face...confident walk, okay we're good.  This seemed to be my mantra today.  

Somehow I thought today wouldn't be so bad.  The "big" days aren't supposed to be hard, it is the unexpected days right?  I don't know, maybe since this is my first Mother's Day without my mom it was harder, or maybe since it's been less than two months since she went to be with Jesus.  Or maybe this is just our new normal.  

I'd love to end the day with some sweet thoughts of my mom, so here is one of my all time favorite photos of her.  I'm not quite sure what it is about it, but I absolutely love it.
I think it was taken when I was in High School, we are on a day trip, she is in her Willets Canoe.  She always had an adventure awaiting us.  A family excursion in the beautiful outdoors.  She carefully planned the details: picnic lunches, bug spray, red checkered table cloth...yet I don't remember her frantic or worried, just ready for fun with a great amount of patience.  She looks so relaxed in this picture (she should, she isn't paddling!). No matter the circumstances (cranky kids or chronic back pain), she somehow managed to create a ridiculous amount of happy memories for us.  We usually sang girl scout songs or played games in the car.  I am so grateful for the legacy she left in valuing family, fun and the outdoors.  I am certain most of my good mommy moments came from her example.

For some reason, I didn't see how influential she had been in my life until she was gone. So much of who I am is who she was.  This life really is so short and each of us will leave a legacy when we are gone.  Our choices will be echoed for generations.  May our moments today be sweet memories for all the tomorrows yet to come.

My sister emailed something my mom used to say, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." (Robert Louis Stevenson)  I believe she truly was happy, it was a choice she made and trait she inspired in others.

Happy Mother's Day dear ones, you are loved.