Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, Take 2

[[Edit 5/28/15:I literally just realized I wasn't 16 in 1996 ... I was 13. So dear 1996/1999 me, You know how you're terrible at math? SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE. Love, A Little Slow on the Uptake You.]]
Dear 1996 me,

Happy 16th Birthday from 2015 you! SPOILER ALERT: All those Y2K fears are largely unfounded. I'm twice as old as you are now, so I decided to call today my Second Sweet Sixteen. ;) What's 2015 like? Gosh, where do I even begin? A woman is running for president, and the current president is black. You can use your phone to listen to music, and connect your TV to the Internet. Yeah, the Internet becomes a big thing. Like, huge. Pro tip: Start talking about "googling" things now, and you'll be a trendsetter.

But I don't know that you care about all that stuff right now. I've been racking my brain trying to remember how you think about the world ... but all I can remember is your own little world, lived inside the sanctuary of home and church and extracurricular activities. I remember you loved the Lord as much as you were able to, and you know, your lose you way for a little bit down the road, but it gets even better. What I remember most about you are your dreams. You were just bursting with dreams! So for your birthday, let me lift the curtain a bit and give you a glimpse into how some of it goes down.

It will be a year or two before you really start driving, but DO NOT WORRY. You more than make up for it now, and you'll even come to love the country-ish because they're some of the best drives. I KNOW. It's crazy, and you will laugh and marvel and chase sunsets.

You'll live in four different college dorms, two houses, two apartments and even do a short stint back with your parents. I promise you survive that, and so do they (I think). All in all, you'll end up with something like 16 roommates, so brace yourself. You do get to live alone at least a couple times, though (I'm currently on round two), just like you wanted. Being responsible for All the Chores is a pain sometimes, but you get to eat rice over the sink while jamming to "No Scrubs" and no one will be around to make fun of you, so it all evens out. (You will eventually learn what "No Scrubs" is. And also irony.)

I know you were looking forward to a huge group of friends to galavant around the city with, or a close-knit sisterhood in college. That doesn't really happen the way you envision, but you end up with friends you never could have dreamed up on your own, from places you weren't even expecting. Some of them stick around for a long while; others for a season. Both are good!

I also can't remember exactly what you think about being hard of hearing (are you still saying "hearing impaired"? Switch to "hard of hearing" now. Just trust me on this). You might still be trying to not think about it at all, because you're tired of being the odd one out. No one else you know wears hearing aids, so you'd rather wear your hair down and try to blend in. You're going to be all over the map, honestly. You'll try being Deaf, you'll try throwing yourself into being hard of hearing, you'll try sweeping it under the rug. Eventually you'll land in a place that's hard to explain. It's like you'll realize you don't think about it very much anymore, but that's not entirely true, because every day you're making decisions and taking actions with your hearing loss in mind. But it's a reflex, not a burden, and you ... you're just living the life you've been given, knowing God designs all things for his purposes and for your joy.

I'm almost afraid to tell you this, because I think it would crush your tender heart the most ... I know you thought you'd be married with kids by now, but I'm afraid that's a dream that just flat-out hasn't materialized. I don't even have any boyfriends to tell you about! Plenty of crushes, but no boyfriends. But the good news is that there are even better dreams to be had! I pray now that God would make all my dreams begin and end with him, and as I do, the sting of not being married has grown duller. God is good, and he'll show you that marriage is not the end, He is. Isn't that great? We don't have to worry about getting a lesser version of life even if we never fall in love; we've already been loved to the most! It's super liberating, I promise.

So basically, your life turns out almost not at all like what you thought it would ... but then, it was never your story to write in the first place. That's good news because it's freeing! Someone else, not you, carries the burden of being in charge. Hooray! The Author of your faith is the Author of your life, and his stories are way better than anything you could have come up with on your own. You have a Father who loves you so, SO much, a compassionate Savior who died to bring you to him (because frankly, my dear, God is so holy and your sin is so great that you need a Mediator to bridge the gap), a victorious King who promises that not even death is the end of life, and a righteous Judge who will one day make everything sad untrue.

The story he's writing for you, by the way, you think it's all about and for you. In a sense, it is for you and for your joy, but as you'll come to learn, that has way more to do with God putting his glory on display, not yours. Your life is about more than your life! And in another sense, you're the antagonist in this dramedy. You're the Javert (turns out that Les Miz, not The Sound of Music, is your favorite musical), the Mr. Pulitzer (scratch that, Newsies is still your fave), the bad guy. The real hero of the story you're in is Jesus; he's the one who rescues you, who makes all things new. A lot is going to happen, not just in your world, but the world, in the next 16 years — even in the next five [[I mean two]] — that make it feel like that's not true, but I promise it is.

You are loved — by God, by your family, by your friends. I know you have a hard time believing that right now, but once you let yourself be loved ... oh, gosh. Game. Changer. Love really is the greatest of these, and I don't necessarily mean romantic love. I mean all of it. Godly, familial, friendly. It buoys. It drives. It comforts. Sometimes I wish time travel was a thing so I could go back and learn this one truth earlier — I wonder if some things will be easier for us if you just run headlong into being loved now. But I also trust that God is sovereign and that learning it later in life than I wish I had is something he's using for good, so hold on to that when the tough times come. (Isn't our God amazing, that he can take things we think are bad or sad or unfortunate and make them not just shiny again, but useful?!)

This, your 16th year, it's one of the last years I remember of true childhood. After you turn 17, you'll start working and driving, and adulthood will start trickling in. That's not a bad thing at all, and there's lots to look forward to. If it were possible to reach back through the years and whisper some encouragement to your heart, though, it would be this: Don't be in such a rush to grow up that you miss out on where you are now. Savor the moments, and be brave, little one (don't be mad at me for calling you "little one." I call my grown-up self that all the time).

Happy Birthday! You. Are. Loved.

Love,

Me

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The ministry of reconciliation in disability

I was putting my three-year-old nephew to bed one night, and perhaps as a reason to put bedtime off even longer, he peppered me with questions he'd been asking for a while. Why do I have to look at you when I talk? Why do you have those (hearing aids) in your ears? Why do I still have to look at you if you have those things in your ears? I patiently explained to him (again) that my ears work differently than his, and lipreading and hearing aids help me understand people a little bit better.

DO NOT WORRY; he had a plan. We can fix it! he insisted. Like mommy fixed her eyes (my sister-in-law had Lasik surgery a long time ago). I told him that Mommy fixing her eyes was different than me being able to "fix" my ears. He ignored me. But we can fix it! He is nothing if not persistent.

My heart sank a little that at such a young age, he already thought something about me needed fixing — and not just anything, but the very thing I’ve been wrestling with for almost 30 years. But it was really time for bed, so I shut it down. It's OK, I said, God made me this way, so I don't need to be fixed. Now go to bed, good night and I love you!


At first, I found his determination to “fix” me disquieting. My original approach of avoiding language that would make him think there was anything wrong with me whenever I talked to him about my hearing aids seemed to have backfired. I was discouraged, perhaps, that despite my best efforts, he still innately perceived that my disability divided us and hampered communication.

But the more I think about it, the more I see that both the three year old and this 30-something fall short in our understanding of what disability is, what God made it for and how we as Christians ought to respond to it. According to my nephew’s logic, my disability itself is the problem, and if my full hearing could be restored, everything would be hunky-dory. Where I’m wrong is trying to sweep disability under the rug, to pretend there’s no problem at all, that if we just raise our kids right, they’ll be blissfully oblivious to the differences that we adults have allowed to divide us.

Maybe the reason that neither of our solutions work is that we’re trying to solve the wrong problem. It’s not the disability itself that’s the problem, but our hearts.

Back to the Garden

My church recently offered a class on developing a theology of disability that has gone a long way in starting to reshape the way I think about disability in general and my hearing loss in particular. In one of the first lessons, our teacher explained that when Adam and Eve sinned, it wasn't just their relationship with God that was broken, but their relationship with each other. How quickly they went from unashamed to blaming the other person for the fall! So because we live in a fallen world, our natural unity has been shattered, and we need supernatural reconciliation, both with God and with one another.

Disability is one way that this division manifests itself. For instance, because I’m hard of hearing, I have to work harder at communicating with others in person, and they with me. Sometimes neither of us want to put in the effort — I’m too tired, they’re too uncomfortable or unsure of what to do — so our relationship suffers. My not being able to hear water running is not the issue; the isolating factor of not being able to keep up with group conversations is. Being hard of hearing, apart from the grace of God, drives a wedge between me and the people around me.

In other words, the real problem of disability is not in how it affects the person physically, but in how it affects our relationships with each other, those with a disability and those without. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that Jesus means to unite us — to himself and to each other. If we look at some of the New Testament accounts of how Jesus healed people, we can see three things happening:

1. He always forgave their sins first, because their soul's need was far greater than their physical need — he restored them to himself.
2. He healed them physically — he removed the leprosy, stopped the 12-year-long flow of blood, restored sight, and made lame legs to walk.
3. In doing so, He also brought them back into the fold by healing the thing that had made them "unclean" or unwanted in their culture, as evidenced by the times he said, "go and show yourselves to the priests."

With this in mind, then, disability becomes not a burden to society, but a conduit of grace, a way for God to display his ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). I don’t need to be fixed, because hearing loss in and of itself is not the problem. God is kind to bestow upon us the common grace of medical solutions such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, prescriptions, and surgery that help us accommodate our disabilities or manage their effects if we so choose. But more than seeking medical “cures,” we also need to pursue relational healing, and for that, we need a right view of God.

The image of God

Something else I learned in my church’s class on theology and disability was the nature of the Trinity. Now, the doctrine of the Trinity (one God existing in three Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is one of those things that I should, like, totally know by now, but find myself encountering in new and unexpected ways. One of those ways was when the teacher pointed out that the Triune God is an interdependent being. The Son can't act apart from the Father. The Father doesn't effect salvation apart from the Son. The Son sanctifies us through the Spirit.

The takeaway was that since we're made in the image of God, and God is interdependent within Himself, that we are designed to need and be dependent on each other. This flies in the face of our Western value of independence. I can do this on my own, thanks. I don’t need anyone. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps already! But listen. We are not designed that way, or there wouldn’t be so many articles about how Facebook is isolating and depressing us. We all need each other. None of us are exempt from the "one another" admonitions in Scripture. And the Church, our teacher said, needs people with disabilities. When we don't allow a person with a disability — someone who God created with his own hand! — to serve or to be part of the Church, the Body of Christ, then we all suffer for it.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)
If He’s creator of all, and if we’re made in his image, if we’re more alike than not, if we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, then what room do any of us have to exclude anyone else? We were all once far off, but he’s drawn us near. We were once all strangers and aliens and hostile, but he himself is our peace. He has not made us to go it alone, or to stick only with the people who are like us. How small our view of our God when we hide behind the familiar and the known.

But when we run freely and recklessly into the glorious truth that Jesus has broken down in his body the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14), when we humbly and self-forgetfully put aside our fears, our insecurities, our I-don’t-know-what-to-do-ness to love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22), we get to see more of God, witness more of his varied grace, more of his creativity and imagination, more of his very heart.

Look to Jesus

We’re all guilty of isolating ourselves from each other, of turning away. This goes for all of us, those who live with a disability and those who don’t. We all need the gospel; having a disability doesn’t make me any less sinful, any less a perpetrator of the dividing wall of disability than my brothers and sisters who don’t live with one.

So to my brothers and sisters who do live with a disability: I know it can be tough. Sometimes we feel misunderstood, ignored, unheard, unseen. So was our Jesus, so we can trust that even when the people around us don’t get it, he does. He understands fully and can and will comfort thoroughly. Draw your hope from him alone, not from inclusion itself.

God made you. He designed your disability for you. Now you steward it for him. Don’t try to hide your need of him or of other people. Be upfront about your practical needs, and be patient, not entitled. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself, to avoid the company of others because you’re afraid or embarrassed or proud. Give thanks in every circumstance. Be faithful. Ask for eyes to see how God is working in and through the frustration, the daily annoyances, even the grief. Preach all day long how God is good, even in the midst of all of those. Because when people see that you are so very satisfied and joyful in your Lord, despite what they perceive to be external difficulties, that will sing to their hearts the truth that we all need the most: that our biggest problem isn't on the outside, but the inside, and only Jesus is the solution to that. Like our friend Johnny P says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

To my brothers and sisters who don’t live with a disability, I know it’s tempting to think this isn’t your problem. I’m guilty of thinking that myself when it comes to people with disabilities I don’t know much about, or when it comes to issues that sound eerily familiar to this one, like racial tension. We’re not sure where to start, and we don’t want to offend anyone, so we make like ostriches and bury our heads in the sand. Or maybe we want to do the right thing, but we don’t know what to do. There is grace for that! God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything, so we can come to him and ask for wisdom and he’ll give it to us, because he loves us, because he wants to build his Church.

God designed disability for you, too, Church. Make your church building and your redeemed hearts accessible to the people in your midst who need accommodating. Ask — don't tell — your brother or sister what they need in the way of accommodations, and don't forget relationships. Add subtitles to your videos. Make your website accessible for people who are blind. Train your childcare volunteers to welcome kids with Down's Syndrome or autism. Leave room in the sanctuary for wheelchairs. Look at your sister when you talk. Sit with your brother if you see no one sitting with him. Love them as you would anyone else — by praying for them, visiting with them, making meals when they're sick, saying hello when you pass them in the hall, seeking ways to draw out their gifts. And don't forget the parents — sometimes disability is harder on Mom and Dad than on the child. Be a friend, be a brother, be a sister, be a good and faithful steward.

All of us, look to Jesus. The longer we look to Jesus, the less we’ll even have categories for things like hard of hearing or disability. The more Jesus eclipses our view, the easier it is to forget ourselves. The more obsessed we become with just how much he loves us, the more eager we’ll be to open our arms a little wider. The deeper we press into him and learn to love what he loves, the more our hearts will burn for all the saints. Don't misunderstand me; Jesus isn't a means to an end of unity and accord. He's both means and end. Unity itself won't bring about the peace our souls clamor for; only Jesus can do that.

Let’s lock arms as we labor toward unity, with eyes fixed heavenward, and ask our Father for eyes to see him as he is, discernment to see ourselves as we are, and a willing spirit to sustain us as we "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

He has made us so free

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I'm a thinker. I like to weigh every single possible option before making a decision. I'm also a perfectionist, so some decisions just hang there, stagnating, because no possible outcome is good enough.

Which is probably how my drafts folder is bigger than my published folder.

Can you relate? You agonize over a job offer that requires you to move. You feel stuck in your circumstances. You're reluctant to reach out to people for fear of rejection.

Or maybe you're not. Maybe you have no problem calling the shots, are an expert networker and an energizing pal. But deep inside, you feel like a fraud, convinced today is the day it'll all come crashing down.

Thank God, there is grace for all of us.

I've been reading through Acts, and as I follow Paul on his missionary journeys, I marvel at his freedom. Paul doesn't sit around wringing his hands, wondering where to travel next, or pondering his purpose in life. He knows his upward call — our call — is simple: Make disciples of all the nations. So he and his companions just go. Sometimes "the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them" to go to a certain place, and they simply course corrected. There is no panicking on their part, no agonizing over their decisions, no sitting around waiting for the Lord to make a specific route or journey absolutely clear, safe and perfect before proceeding. There's also no pretense; they're not relying on their own brilliance or strategy when they plan their travels.

They're confident that their Jesus will prevail. He will take His Word to the ends of the earth. He will use those He has called to do it. God's providence has set them free to do His work. They fix their eyes on their Father, and go, trusting Him to keep the pace as they do.

Because of Jesus, we have the same kind of freedom. This I know, for the Bible tells me so:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) 
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1) 
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
What does that mean, to not be held hostage to sin, to fear, to the dominion of darkness? It means our most desperate need — to be made right with God — has already been fulfilled. Our biggest failure has already been redeemed, and the very worst thing that could have happened to us — not just death, but eternal punishment in hell — has been canceled. Undone. Deleted. So what's left to fear? For those of us in Christ Jesus, who are kept by Him, who are being guarded through faith — if we are seeking the Lord diligently, then what decision or move or relationship could we possibly make for the kingdom that would destroy us? He's our helper, He's on our side. What can anyone do to us?

And besides, the cross tells us we can't do it on our own. Perfection is always beyond our reach. We can't make our own way to God; He had to send His Son to bring us to Him. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us, because we can't sanctify ourselves; we need His help. We will never craft the perfect plan or make a perfect decision or move in a perfect direction or even write a perfect blog post — we're free from that burden. And for the days we feel like we have it all together, we're free from the burden of keeping up pretenses, confident that it's God who works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure.

We, like Paul and his traveling companions, are free to fix our eyes on our Father, grab hold of His outstretched hand, and run wild after, for and with Him. What wondrous love is this, oh my soul? The kind of love will not let us stumble or fall. The kind that tends our every need, hears every cry, joins in every laugh, sets the pace for every mile. All that's left is for us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days, to glorify Him by enjoying Him forever.

Buoyed by this tender mercy of our God, we are free, beloved, because He who gives us life and breath and everything else — He loves us so much! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

See how He loves us

It was strange, to stand at my grandmother’s casket and think, See how much He loves us.

I mean, funerals are for weeping, for mourning, for wishing we had just a few more minutes with our loved one. But they also prompt us to ponder the fleeting-ness of life, and to examine what we really believe about what happens after death.

Death is our worst enemy, isn’t it? We go out of our way to avoid it. Our biggest fears usually center around losing someone we love forever. We hold our lives so dearly precisely because we know it’s not forever, that it’ll all be over someday. We visit graves and mark the years by the anniversaries of our loved ones’ deaths. We do our best to prepare for our own. Death is a Big Deal.

And yet, it is no match for our Warrior King. Jesus died, too, but He didn’t stay dead. I mean, stop and think about that for a minute. Who does that? Who can die and then be not dead three days later? There are all kinds of theories on whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is real, but supposing the Bible is true, that this really did happen … well, ponder the implications of that for a minute with me, will you?

If our Jesus has proven to us that He is so powerful that not even death can end Him, then how much more confident can we be that when He says He is for us in every way, is on our side, is always interceding for us, He is able to do just that? Our objections to Him, our wanderings, our wrongdoings — what are those compared to death? He is greater than all of those things, and we can’t ever be too bad for Him to come to our rescue.

And goodness, are we ever in need of rescuing! We don’t like to think we are, but I think, deep down inside, we all know it. We cover it up by trying to prove ourselves in countless ways — by working late hours, by navel-gazing, by buying all the things. If death is our biggest fear, then perhaps our second-biggest is, “Am I good enough?” We’re not, and we know it. We can’t break free from the cycle unless Someone outside of ourselves reaches down and pulls us out of the hamster wheel.

But, see how He loves us? Because who else would do that? What kind of Father would hear the cries of the hearts of His people and spare no expense to give them a safe passage home? What kind of Creator would leave His lofty throne and become just like us so that He could someday make us like Him? What kind of King does it take to not wait for His subjects to come to Him, but to set a plan in motion before the beginning of time that had Him coming to save us before we even knew what we needed?

Only a good one. Only a loving one.

I cried at my grandma’s funeral. I cried because I’ll miss her. I cried and I couldn’t finish reading her eulogy at the graveside service. I cried for my grandpa, for my mom and my aunt, because they will feel the loss the most keenly.

But the thing about Jesus is that we do not have to weep as people who have no hope, because He has completely changed the rules. There are still tears, but they are no longer bitter. We will still die, but it will not be the end of our lives. There is grief, yes, but there is joy beyond the sorrow. Even death has lost its sting.

See how He loves us!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Silence Saturday

It was a good Easter weekend. I went to my church's Maundy Thursday (new to me!) and Good Friday services. I had the sweet privilege of worshipping with not just one, but two church families on Resurrection Sunday. Like Mary, I am treasuring all these things and pondering them in my heart.

One thing that lingers with me is Holy Saturday. I know, I'm as surprised as you are. There is almost nothing in any of the Gospel accounts about Holy Saturday. We don't even have a fun name for it like we do for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Matthew 27 ends with the guard at the tomb, and Matthew 28 begins with "Now after the Sabbath..." Mark 15 ends with Joseph of Arimathea asking to bury the body of Jesus, and Mark 16 begins, "When the Sabbath was past ..." John 19 ends much like Mark 15, and John 20 doesn't even say anything about the Sabbath, just "Now on the first day of the week ..."

Only Luke reminds us of the silence: "On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." (Luke 23:58)

What was that Sabbath like for the disciples, I wonder? The day after their Friend was killed, they ... rested. They couldn't escape to the comfort of a familiar routine, like going out on their fishing boats. They couldn't distract themselves by tilling a garden or taking the trash out. The women couldn't even go and finish preparing Jesus' body for burial. All they could do was follow the command to rest and be still.

Jesus had told them what would happen but they didn't have eyes to see it yet. Did they doubt that day? Their dreams of a Messiah to save Israel from her earthly rulers were dashed. Their expectations crushed. Their longings unfulfilled. Was their Holy Saturday full of weeping, full of wondering why God hadn't shown up? Did they walk around in a stupor, refusing to believe that any of the events of the last several hours had taken place? Did they search the Scriptures for answers? Did they panic, wondering if the last three years had just been one long con?

I don't know. None of the Gospel writers seemed to have thought that particular Sabbath was worth recording in detail. But it is easy for me to imagine what that Sabbath might have been like in their hearts ... because in the Holy Saturdays of my life, when God has seemed silent, when hopes deferred have made my heart sick, when disappointments, fears, and griefs are far too present, I have doubted and panicked and searched and wept. Is it really a stretch to think the disciples' Holy Saturday was so different?

There would be no answers that day. We know, of course, the answers — and Answer — would come later. The next day, even. We would see how God was up to immeasurably more than all the disciples could ask for or imagine, and that is good news to us, even in our present circumstances. We should rejoice in that! Oh, lets!

But this I call to mind

But let's not breeze past Holy Saturday too quickly, either. We are no strangers to dashed dreams and rampant disappointments. That job we wanted but didn't get. Another negative pregnancy test. A relationship left unrestored. A wayward child, an ailing parent, a broken heart. And to top it off, no matter the length or intensity of our prayers, God seems silent.

I'm reading Psalm 77 for my women's Bible study at church this week; I think this psalmist would have understood Holy Saturday very well:
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
(Psalm 77:1-3)
It reminds me of Lamentations 3:
[M]y soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
(Lamentations 3:17-20)
So I read these and I'm relieved to know that God has made provision in His Word for grief. And I'm relieved to know He doesn't leave us there. Not only because of the promise of Resurrection Sunday, but the surety of who He is, even when He seems silent. Both Psalm 77 and Lamentations 3 go on to echo the same assurances:
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

(Psalm 77:6-9)
Rhetorical questions, all. Of course He hasn't. Of course He hasn't.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
... 
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.
(Lamentations 3:21-26; 31-33)
These are not answers — not the ones we're looking for, anyway. There are no guarantees here of jobs or pregnancies or healing or whatever it is we're longing for. What these are, are promises and reminders of who God is. I love that both Psalm 77 and Lamentations 3 (and many more) zero in on God's steadfast love that never ceases. His unwavering passion that never burns out. His consistent, steady, enduring compassion that can't stop, won't stop. 

What does that have to do with our Holy Saturday fears and longings and disappointments?

Everything.

Silence Saturday

I submit a new name for that day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday: Silence Saturday.  Silence Saturday isn't about getting the answers we want. It's about waiting, and resting, and being still ... and about marveling at just who our God is. We don't always get the gift of relief from our circumstances, but we always get the relief of knowing that the One who is FOR us is made of steadfast love.

I think it was a mercy of God that He even timed the crucifixion so precisely that it would occur right before the Sabbath, and so force the people who loved and missed Jesus to ... rest. To be still. Maybe I'm wrong about the disciples. Maybe in the stillness, they found Psalm 77 and Lamentations 3 and all the other Scriptures that point to God's faithfulness. Maybe in the silence, they were able to find peace.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
(Lamentations 3:25-26)

On Silence Saturday of Holy Week, and on the Silence Saturdays of our hearts, let's put our dreams, our thoughts, our fears, our griefs off to the side for a minute ... and sit in silence and ponder who our God is. Let's trust that it's good to wait on Him. Let's be confident that Sunday's coming. That He is coming again to make all things new.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5a)
Amen and amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trusting Jesus with my joy

What if I don't get what I want?

I have been asking my heart this for months now. If I don't get what I want, is God still good? Can I still hope in Him? Can it be that not getting what I want (or think I want) is actually what's good for me?

Of course it can. Earthly loss is heavenly gain, and this has been one of the sweetest truths I've learned in my life. I am so grateful for a God who calls us to joys greater than earth can offer. I am glad that He is so sovereign and so powerful and so loving that things like hearing loss or loneliness or grief don't faze Him — and not only do they not faze Him, He uses them to accomplish His purposes, for our good and for His glory. I mean, that is crazy to think about! I could spend the whole rest of my life pondering this and still never exhaust all the nuances of this precious and very great promise.

But so comfortable have I become with this idea of loss that when God pulls a God and graciously gives all things, I'm reluctant to accept them because I'm convinced they'll be taken away later. I've twisted Job's words to mean, "The Lord gives so that He can take away." Better not get attached, I think. Better not give my heart a chance to elevate gifts above Giver. 

I like to think I'm being holy when I do that, when I acknowledge God's gifts with a polite smile, then set them aside so I can assure Him, with lofty prayers, that there is nothing on earth I desire besides Him. I do this because I want to earn my sanctification somehow, and I do this as a preemptive move so that it doesn't sting quite as much when He takes the gift away.

How small my view of my God! Father, forgive me.

Things of Earth

I'm reading "The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts" by Joe Rigney right now. I'm taking my time with it, and I'm only on chapter five, but my mind? It is blown already.
Don't hold one biblical truth so closely that you refuse to let all of Scripture speak. Don't despair when your mind aches because of the tension. You should expect paradox; you should expect mystery; you should expect to have your categories blown, and your mind stretched, and your heart expanded so that you can take in more and more of God. (emphasis mine, p. 56)
I was feeling a bit in despair the other night, over some old sin or another, and fled to Romans 8. I went for the no condemnation; I stayed for graciously give us all things.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. ...
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:1-2, 31-32)
Graciously give us all things. 

Mind. Blown.

I will testify, again and again, that my hearing loss has brought me to God over and over. That my loneliness drove me to His arms, and I have never experienced sweeter comfort elsewhere. I would gladly do it all again just for that comfort, just for knowing that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. He gives Himself in our loss, for sure.

And He gives good things, too, for life and godliness. For life and godliness. There were times when I wished the Lord would make all my hearing friends and family understand me completely and communicate with me perfectly. Sometimes He was gracious to grant them, if not complete understanding, then compassion and a willingness to learn. The desire of my heart, though, was for people who intimately knew and shared all the ups and downs that come with being hard of hearing. And God, oh, He is so kind, and He did it! He gave me a group of friends who get it. They get the hearing aids and the audiologist appointments and the advocacy and the exhaustion and the humor. Because they are hard of hearing, too. I look around at us sometimes, and I marvel, how did we all end up here together? We're all over the map spiritually, socially, socioeconomically. Surely only Jesus could do this. 

If it's true that God graciously gives us all things, then it must be true that my friends are a gift from Him. Knowing them has helped me work through my own insecurities about being hard of hearing, introduced me to practical communication solutions and, overall, brought me joy. They are funny. They are kind. They are supportive. They aren't skittish. We've talked and even argued a little and made fun of each other and traveled (a true test of friendship if there ever was one!) and laughed and cried. I think most of them would not consider themselves the churchgoing kind, but that has not stopped me from learning more about God and about myself from them.

He has given them to me for my joy, and I am grateful.

Trusting Jesus with my joy

There have been times, and I mean even recent times, where I've been convinced that since my wants haven't materialized the way I want them to, that God must be withholding for my good. I want good and godly friendships, especially at church. I want to not be single, especially at church. :) When no answers to these prayers seem forthcoming, it's easy and strangely comforting to fall back on what I've always known, that dying is gain, that loss is gain, that not having something can be just as good for me — if not better — than having it. To stake my hope on the fact the Jesus alone is the desire of my heart.

My church's pastor is so faithful in preaching that following Jesus costs something. I have heard this many times in the last few months, and more than a few Sundays have left nearly in tears, wondering, Is this what following Jesus is going to cost me? Friendship? Companionship? Marriage? Have You called me to a lonelier life than I would like? Are You taking away so I might gain Christ?

When I look at Scripture, though, I think that can't be. Leaf through any of Paul's letters and see how many people he loved, and who loved and served with him. If God calls His kids to Himself, then He's also called us to His family. When I'm lonely, it's good to trust that Jesus is enough, but it's also good to trust that He puts the lonely in families. I don't know what families. The biological one I was born into? The spiritual one I was adopted into? The hearing loss one I was invited into? A brand-new family of my own making? A completely different one I never could have imagined? Some? All? Those I don't know, nor does God have any obligation to tell me right now.

He only calls me to trust that He fills the hungry with good things, that He satisfies the longing soul, and that there is a way to enjoy His gifts because they come from Him.
Note this: God acts. God meets the need. God gives life and breath and all things (including companionship). But God has designed us so that he would meet some of our needs through other people. We ought not dispute with God on this point. There's no virtue in being more spiritual than he is here. Infinite wisdom directed him to mediate his all-satisfying presence to us through suitable created companions. (The Things of Earth, p. 82, bold emphasis mine)
I am not holier than God. I cannot be holier than God. My lofty and winsome prayers, good intentions and self-imposed self-denial do not impress Him. Because of Romans 8:2, I can trust Romans 8:32. Because Jesus has shattered the law of sin and death, I am free — free to find my joy beyond this world, free to trust that there is something better up ahead, that my light and momentary troubles will only serve to increase my joy in the life to come. I am also free to trust Jesus with my joy now, to trust that He Himself is my joy, that we have a Father who graciously gives all things because it delights Him to do so, because my joy brings Him glory, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.



Treasuring God by Enjoying His gifts

Could it be that sometimes the more God-glorifying thing to do is not to hold His gifts lightly, but to enjoy them to the full, to squeeze every ounce of joy out of them? If I don't get what I want, I can trust Jesus with my joy, because He is storing up for me an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). If I do get what I want, I can trust Jesus with my joy, not because He is a way to get what I want, but because HE is what I want, and His gifts are ways for me to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When I give my nephew and nieces gifts, it makes me happy when they have fun with what I've given. When they bring me the book I wrapped for them and we read it together. Or when I dole out the Valentine's candy and sneak a Hershey's kiss from their stash. It would make me sad if I gave them something, and they took one look at it and said, "That's nice, now play with me." I mean, I would still play with them, because what are aunts for :) but I would think, "But I got this for you because I love you! Don't you like it?!"

I wonder if it grieves God's heart when I'm dismissive or even fearful of His gifts. He gives them for my joy, and He even delights in my delight. To turn up my nose at what He so freely offers might make me feel holy, but it robs me of my joy and satisfaction in Christ, which in turn means my heart is not glorifying God as it ought to.

I haven't mastered this lesson yet, but I can feel my mind changing. My heart yielding. Even my prayers have taken on new life as He teaches me to enjoy His gifts in a way that doesn't rob me of my joy or in a way that elevates gifts above Giver.

I mean, is this good stuff or what? There should be, like, a name for this or something. (Keep your eyes on that John Piper fella, guys. I think he's going places.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When faith feels faith-less

I don't love being fearful. I'm weary, so weary, of the loneliness — of being single, of being hard of hearing, of being the new kid in town. I often chastise myself: Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt your God? Why is He not enough to defeat your fears? Isn't His presence enough for your loneliness? What is wrong with you, self? Faith up!

So I pray and pray and pray for my faith to be built up, for my fears to be overcome, for my loneliness to dissipate, for God to be enough.

I ask Him for the things I want, ask Him to give me what I need, ask Him for all my dreams to begin and end with Him. I ask Him for really good, deep and godly friendships. To teach me how to be a good, deep and godly friend. We have little chats about insecurities, budgets and even my hair. I ask for the right perspective on marriage and singleness. I go through the Lord's Prayer.

Every day, I pray this.

And every day, the fears persist. The loneliness abounds. And where loneliness abounds, the guilt of maybe I don't love Jesus enough abounds all the more.

Where is my faith, I wonder. Where is God?

I cry. I beg. I plead. Don't forget me. Where are You? What are You doing?

And for just a moment, the tears still wet on my face but no longer filling my eyes, I hear the still, small answer: Building your faith. Like you asked.

If it were up to me — if it were really and truly up to me to decide how to spend my day, what to think about, what to do — I would choose the things God says not to do. I would choose sin. I would pick the broad and easy way, not the narrow and hard one. I would do whatever I thought would make me happy, by whatever means appealed to me most in the moment.

When left to my own devices, I choose the lazy way through life. Every time. There is no way I can summon the willpower to pray for faith on my own. So how do I get to the throne of grace in the first place? How am I able to pray when, in my most base, natural state, I don't even want to?

I brag talk a lot about how I was an English major, but I was also a psychology minor, and one thing that stuck with me from Psych 101 was a discussion on motives. Why do people do the things they do? What drives us? What compels us? I learned then that we do what we want. In the classroom of life, I've discerned we also do what we have to.

Might there be a third option? We do the things we do because it is God who wills in us to act.

Faith — faith enough to pray for more faith — is itself a gift from God. Not all my wantings or all my having tos can bow my head or clasp my hands. This precious gift of God is a guarantee that our groanings aren't in vain. That He's present in our bewilderment, that our sense of feeling lost is itself proof that we are not. That He watches us always and knows exactly where we are and has promised never to leave us as orphans. If we look into the whirlpool of our sin and come away disturbed and fearful and concerned (as we ought to!), then it's only because He has let us know those things, and compelled us to call out for help, not because He has given up and left us for dead.

It bears repeating: If we can call out to God and express our fears that He's left, or forgotten, or overlooked us, that's proof that He hasn't, because we can't even ask for His help without His loving help.

If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see, then faith does not always come by way of answered prayers. God will not build my faith today by saying, Yes, here are like five new friends for your soul and also movie dates. My joy will not be increased today by Him turning me into a warrior princess who fears nothing and no one.

No, today, faith is being built in my helplessness. God persists me in prayer even as my hands are tempted to build walls around my heart. He sows His Word in my heart and sharpens my sword in the battle against sin, when I'd rather lay the shield aside and let sin have its way with me. His mercy pulls me out of bed every morning — because I can't even crawl out of bed unless He deems it so.

There's no such thing as a wasted workout. Even when I don't feel like going for a walk, I do anyway and my lungs still burn, because that's what they do when I walk. It's their very nature to burn when pressure is applied. So my feelings — or lack thereof — about exercise mean nothing to my biology. Muscles still stretch. My core still strengthens. My heart still pounds.

Maybe these mundane days of faith-building are like that, too. Even though I'm bewildered, even when my prayers are full of fears, when loneliness settles in next to me and threatens to choke, my soul knows no difference. God still incinerates my sin. Grows my faith. Increases my joy. And makes my heart (skip a) beat.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. — Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)