Beauty From Ashes

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Beauty From Ashes

Life Lessons From Job

Audio Intro to Study

Are you in the midst of a trial?  Have you ever experienced hard times?  Is someone you love enduring the unthinkable?  Is an unknown challenge lurking around your corner?  Every person living in this world will answer “yes” to at least one of the above four questions.  Thankfully, our gracious Lord provides His word to steer us through even the most difficult struggles of our lives.  God provided the book of Job to encourage His children with a victorious example of how to overcome the unimaginable.  ‘Life Lessons From Job’ will become our guide as we turn our tragedies into our triumphs.

Most Bible studies stray away from the book of Job.  They like to reference it, but a more detailed study of its pages is hardly found.  Job is dark, depressing, grief-stricken, and long-winded.  As much as our culture likes to shun uncomfortable subjects, the reality of our sin-ridden world equates to stages when our own life is dark, depressing, and grief-stricken.  At times, we find ourselves filled with problems that seem long-winded and never ending.

On the other hand, the book of Job is also filled with conquering hope. It offers a powerful strength to overcome our darkest hours.  Job is unique in that we receive a rare glance at Satan’s tactics as he tries in vain to crush God’s child.  Words of wisdom are peppered throughout its pages (contrasted with glimpses of advice worth avoiding) providing us with examples of greater compassion.  And the earthly blessing gifted for Job’s faithfulness gives us a foreshadowing of the glory in Heaven that awaits those dedicated to the Lord.  Job is a story that cries out to those in tears.  It is a story that contains unprecedented endurance.  It is a story for those seeking wisdom during the unthinkable.  Job is a story not to be missed……

To all the family of God

who are going through times of great suffering

and have been devastated by the pain

you have had to endure.

Like Job, you have been unable to understand why.

Like Job, you have not deserved the affliction,

but the pain continues.

Like Job, you have prayed for answers

and waited for God to bring relief.

Neither has occurred.

Like Job, you keep praying and waiting.

Like Job, you sometimes wonder, “Where is God?”

He remains silent and seems aloof.

Nevertheless, you faithfully endure.

Because of that, like Job, you will someday be greatly rewarded.

You have my highest admiration.

Dedication from Charles R. Swindoll in his book:

 ‘Job – The Man of Heroic Endurance’

Foreword

When I first contemplated this study, I was concerned about its acceptance.  After all, Job is not a light-hearted topic.  Yet the more I prayed, the more I felt pressed upon to teach on this magnificent man with incredible endurance.  A topic especially needed by so many struggling through painful circumstances that do not make sense.

Although on a smaller scale, the previous two years my family endured Job-like trials and I felt compelled to write about my challenged faith during these seemingly unfair events.  In October of 2012 I had chosen the topic, the outline was written and curriculum well on its way.  Although it looked as if I was ready, I confessed to my husband that I did not feel prepared to start teaching that Spring of 2013.  The timing was somehow not right, I felt completely unprepared – as if something was amiss….

On November 16th, 2012 I discovered why my schedule did not match God’s.  My daughter Rebecca relapsed from her disease of chronic pancreatitis.  The next several months were spent in the hospital which included seven separate pancreas operations, a life flight to Mayo Clinic and a meeting with a transplant team in Minnesota.  My life turned upside down – again.  My faith was tested to new levels, new heights.  Although I was no longer teaching on Job, I felt I was living as Job.

When approached to teach for the Fall of 2013, I was hesitant.  The doctors informed me that Rebecca’s current stability was tenuous.  She could go into remission for years or only for a mere few weeks.  I did not want to start something I could not finish and, truth be told, I was scared to share the emotions I worked very hard at suppressing while in survival mode.  I knew this study would be painful – my fresh wounds open and raw.

While praying for an answer, I heard a woman named Laura Story give her testimony as the wife of a man who suffered from a serious brain tumor.  As I was sitting, listening to her trials, I felt my heart pound relentlessly.  It was as if God was speaking to my soul, and what He said I could not ignore – “You need to share yourstory.”  I knew then, painful or not, I had to teach.

We were never promised an easy life or a simple journey – in fact the Lord assures us “in this world you will have trouble,” John 16:33.  None of us are immune to struggle.  But God finishes that verse with a hope greater than we could possibly imagine, “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  So while we are assured temporary trials, we are promised Jesus.  And because of Jesus, we can endure the impossible through, “Christ who gives me strength”, Philippians 4:13.  What a beautiful gift from a beautiful Lord.

If I could model anything from the study of Job it would be this – when everything in us screams to reject God, that is the very moment we need to trust Him the most.  Regardless of our understanding….despite our suffering….the Lord expects us to have faith.  Accepting this truth may be the most difficult challenge of our life and yet if we are able to persevere through our suffering, it will ultimately be the most rewarding.

Thank you for joining me on this sometimes painful, but always rewarding journey with our Lord into the world of Job,

Christyn Taylor

Format

Women of Victory – welcome!  I feel honored you made the commitment to study this heroic man of God alongside me.  ‘Life Lessons from Job’ will be different from my previous classes.  This semester I will share a personal journey through my family’s most difficult trials.  Although I will be telling my own story, the point of this class is not about my tribulations – rather for you to apply Job’s lessons to your own adversity.  My struggles may be vastly different than your own, and in no way are meant to be compared.  Some of you have endured difficulties I could never comprehend while others may feel they have yet to encounter an overwhelming hardship.  Either way, every woman’s walk is unique and can be used for the glory of God.

This class will not be a chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse study of Job.  Instead, we will examine 12 important life lessons we can glean from the study of Job’s life.  I will break this class into 4 levels of involvement.  You may participate in one or all four levels – depending on how much time you are able to dedicate to this study.

Level 1 – Class Attendance

‘Beauty from Ashes’ will be every Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m.  Each lesson stands on its own so one could be absent a week and stay on track attending the next.  If you would like to listen to a lesson missed, an audio recording will be available on our website:  http://www.womenofvictory.wordpress.com

Level 2 – Reading Assignment

Every week you will have a short assignment to read in advance of class.  At the end of each assignment, questions are provided for you to think about, pray about, and answer.  These questions will be discussed with the ladies at your table.

Level 3 – Journaling

This semester I will include personal journal entries I wrote in a time of crisis that helped me cope during my trials.  I will also pose a topic to inspire your own journaling.  My chronicled writings to God have kept me sane through years of tribulation.  Most of my words are deeply private so only occasionally do I feel compelled to share.  If you already own a journal, please consider writing about the weekly topic.  If you do not, may I suggest you purchase one and allow yourself the gift of documenting how our Creator works in your life?  Because of the intimate nature of Job – you may choose to discuss your entry with your table or discreetly keep your thoughts to yourself.  Either way, you will be blessed by chronicling your own exclusive journey with the Lord.

Level 4 – Reading the Book of Job

Nothing is better than God’s word.  Although I will be discussing Job and its scriptures at length, only a reading of the book will give you a complete picture of this amazing story.  You will finish all forty-two chapters by the end of the semester if you read the suggested chapters each week.  I warn you, the poetic chapters of Job can be very tedious and hard to understand.  That being said, there are still nuggets of wisdom in every chapter.  Mark scriptures that stand out and make notes along the way.  Reading notes written during difficult struggles will provide encouragement time and time again.

It is important to acknowledge we are all women.  Which translates to times in our life when we are so strung out we cannot think straight, much less complete assignments.  Regardless of your situation, know that this is a judgment-free class.  If it takes everything in you to get to class while you are still in your pajamas from the night before – we understand.  If you sit through class crying from start to finish because it was just one of those days – we understand.  If you walk in fifteen minutes late because your work meeting ran over and traffic was terrible – we understand.  You will be welcomed with open arms whether you participate in one or all four levels, dressed in pajama clothes or a business suit.  We love you and are thankful you are making an effort to learn more about God’s word.

Table of Contents

 

  Lesson 1 – Life is Unfair

 

Lesson 2 – You Are Chosen

 

Lesson 3 – Satan is Always Second

 

Lesson 4 – When All Hell Breaks Loose

Lesson 5 – Praise Through Pain

 

Lesson 6 – Never Curse Your Creator

Lesson 7 – Grief is a Given

 

Lesson 8 – What Not to Say

 

Lesson 9 – You Got to Have Faith

 

Lesson 10 – Manna For the Day

 

Lesson 11 – Lower Your Expectations

 

Lesson 12 – Beauty From Ashes

Blessings Women of Victory as I join you in our study together of ‘Life Lessons from Job’,

Christyn Taylor

Introducing Job

 

Theologians have long debated if the book of Job is an illustration of God trying to convert Satan.  They believe the Creator of the universe was showing Satan an example of a man stripped of every earthly blessing and living with unbearable pain, who, despite his circumstances, remained faithful.  That man, Job, did not have the privilege that Satan did of seeing God in all His majesty and yet Job trusted God.  Job, therefore, became an incredible example of faith to the greatest evil of all time.  Job’s adversity became his most powerful witness.  Through Job, our Lord is asking us, “Can our adversity become our most powerful witness?”

 

Job was written sometime between 2000-900 B.C. as there are conflicting opinions on when scholars feel Job lived.  Many attribute him living in the patriarchal age around the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob due to his old age and nomadic existence.  Some feel he lived during the time of King Solomon.  Solomon’s reign became the height of Israel’s international contacts and Job’s wealth and lifestyle fit that environment.

What we do know is that Job came from a land called Uz (which is centered in modern day Arabia).  He had seven sons, three daughters, and a large number of servants.  Job owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred oxen and five hundred donkeys (Job 1:2-3).  He was considered the “greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3) and yet the most admirable of all these accomplishments was that he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  Blameless did not mean perfect – the only human to fit that bill was Jesus.  Blameless meant that he did not compromise himself with moral evil.  He was beyond reproach in his character to those surrounding him.  Job was a devout man of God and Satan understood this truth.

And so our story begins with a glimpse of the big picture in God’s plan.  A plan that involved the life of a man who had everything – while no one could deny he deserved everything he had.  A man who was blameless, with riches and blessings beyond compare.  A man whose life is ripped out from under him in one vicious blow.  Yet somehow that same man continued to praise his Lord, somehow his faith remained steadfast.

This is where Job’s life ended and miraculously started all at once……

 

Lesson 1:

Life Isn’t Fair

Audio Life Isn’t Fair 

“Every great thing will happen to you based upon how you act when life is not fair”

Andy Andrews

Call me a pessimist, but I believe life is never fair.  Those who differ with my opinion need to look at the world around them.  For example, is it fair that a child is born into an American family where food is in overabundance while at the exact same moment a child is born in Uganda to an impoverished family that is starving to death?  Is it fair that one sister is married to a handsome, successful, kind, Christian man while another sister spends her entire life praying to find her soul mate?   Is it fair that one mother is blessed with four healthy children while another mother loses the only child she has to cancer?  The list could go on and on but the outcome stays the same: no matter whom you are or what your position is – our lives are never equal.

The problem is that our human nature craves equality.  Starting in childhood, we want to ‘even’ things out by making sure we receive as many cookies as our sibling.  News stations today are full of adult reactions to societal grievances.  We are incensed when the guilty murderer goes free…. bemoan the thief who got away…. rant about cheating politicians.  We want justice.  And is that so wrong?  But at some point – if we examine the cold, hard facts, we realize that true justice is hard to come by and life rarely makes sense.

Take Job for example.  Satan’s desire to test Job was based not on his sinful nature but on the fact he was considered ‘blameless.’  And God allowed His blameless child to be harmed.  So because Job was righteous, he was afflicted with the most grievous of trials.  Max Anders states, “While Satan was the immediate cause of Job’s troubles, God was the ultimate cause.”    What a difficult concept to swallow….

So how do we come to terms with a God who allows such adversity – especially knowing those afflicted may be the least deserved?  There is no easy answer to this question, but a first step is accepting the fact that life does not always make sense.  In fact life can be downright, over-the-top, mind-blowingly unfair.  But just because we cannot make sense of our circumstances, does not mean that God cannot make sense of it.  And if our Creator of the universe felt it necessary for us to understand our trials – He would let us know.  Sometimes just knowing our Lord is intimately aware of our pain is enough.

In surrendering the power to understand, we are given the power of peace.  We can rest on the fact that our Maker who created us and loves us, is firmly in control.  So we trust in the Lord even if we do not understand Him as Proverbs 3:5 states.  It was this trust that empowered Job to endure the unthinkable. It is this same trust that will empower you to endure your darkest moments – especially when life isn’t fair.

Enhance your Knowledge

Journal Topic:

How do you come to terms with accepting that life is not fair?  Is this a challenge in your relationship with the Lord?

 

Questions:

 

  1. Why do you think God allowed the book of Job in the Bible?  (There are no “right” or “wrong” answers, just thoughts and opinions.)
  1. How do you feel about God using one man’s trials to influence millions of others?
  1. Can you accept the ‘unfairness’ of this life?

Lesson 2:

You Are Chosen

Audio You Are Chosen

 

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome.  The hilltop would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”

Helen Keller

Webster’s dictionary defines the word “chosen” as: “one who is the object of choice or of divine favor, an elect person.”  We like it when we are ‘chosen’ for the baseball team or ‘chosen’ for an award or ‘chosen’ by our fiancé.  The word itself is synonymous with something positive, something special.  But what if we were chosen for an event that was anything but positive?  What if we were chosen, by God, to be the recipient of pain and suffering?

This was a new concept to me and one I never fully investigated until after my daughter was first hospitalized with pancreatitis over three years ago.  We thought we were making progress with her disease, only to find out that Rebecca’s health was deteriorating and the doctors were at a loss as to her next step in care.  This was one of my journal entries written at that time:

**********

Days like today can be frustrating to say the least.  Coming off of 19 days in the hospital with an incredibly ill child and believing we are making progress only to be told we have to start at square one can be completely overwhelming.  I felt numb – wallowing in self-pity had already come and gone.

One of the ministers from our church dropped by this morning outside our room and reminded me of something very important.  He asked me if I told Rebecca how special she was to be chosen for this time in her life.  I had to think about that for a moment.  Rebecca, chosen to be the one out of millions of children that acquires a rare infectious strain that attacks her pancreas and creates a disease typically found only in much older adults?  Rebecca, chosen to have a very difficult case of pancreatitis that creates an enormous amount of pain and seems to confuse all surrounding specialists with its increasing complexity?    Rebecca, chosen to develop a potentially life-threatening blood clot that was the first a practicing pediatric specialist of 20 years had ever seen in a patient?  When you think of it in those terms, Rebecca has to be chosen.

As I re-entered the room, Rebecca was in a lot of pain and crying about the fact she wanted to finally leave the hospital and go home.  That is when we had our talk about being chosen.  “Rebecca, did you know that God has chosen you to uphold a very special mission for His kingdom?  One that even Mommy does not fully understand, but one that I know God is preparing for you even as you sit in this hospital room.”

You see, I am not under the thought process that God does not allow the children He loves to be sick.  On the contrary, I believe He has a very special purpose for those He has allowed to be ill.  My daughter is not still in pain due to a lack of prayers.  At this present moment she has virtually hundreds of people scattered across the world, praying for her.

I actually feel God has a unique purpose for Rebecca and all His other children He has allowed to be sick. At any moment God with His great and infinite power can reach down and touch my child and every pain she experiences will melt away.  God is choosing, for the time being, to allow Rebecca to continue in her current state while loving her all the same.

Maybe it is for the nurse who just two nights ago, said she had never seen a church family so loving and wanted to bring her own family into that same fellowship.  Maybe it is for the, now, legendary stories going around in the pediatric hospital about the selfless acts that dozens of family, friends, and strangers have made to move our family from one home to another so that I could stay at my daughter’s side.  I have no idea, this side of heaven, how God has orchestrated His greater purpose surrounding Rebecca’s illness.

One thing I do know is that my daughter is one of the most empathetic children I have ever encountered.  Due to her previous sicknesses and struggles, she is keenly aware when others around her are hurting and she makes every effort to help them feel better.

In the middle of her exacerbating, and at times unconscionable, pain levels, Rebecca still took the effort to draw a rainbow picture with dozens of names underneath.  She called it her “prayer rainbow” because she wanted to pray for the names on her rainbow every day.   Rebecca has been given a gift, the Lord allowed, that most children and adults, will never begin to relate to or understand.  In Rebecca’s own words last week after a difficult time in the hospital, “Mom, we are really lucky”- “Why,” I ask –  “Because God made us special and he created each one of us to live on this earth.”

God is showing me every day why we have to become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Brian and I will pray for the day that the Lord will completely heal our chosen Rebecca.  But I will follow that prayer with a request that her healing be in the Lord’s time – not a minute sooner or later.”

**********

          When I wrote this piece I had no concept of what adversity awaited Rebecca.  And although I explained to her about being ‘chosen,’ it took years before she finally grasped my words.

Our extended family took a vacation last year to Yosemite National Park.  We had a wonderful week and were amazed at the splendor of our Lord’s creation.  One day a tour guide led us through the famous outdoor sites and eventually we came to the mountain “El Capitan” which is known for its jagged surface and rugged beauty.  We discovered that many rock climbers face dangerous challenges as they attempt to mount its peak.

Our tour guide told us a fascinating story of an athlete who lost his leg in a freak climbing accident.  Amazingly, this man fought hard to recover and continued to climb some of the nation’s most difficult mountains.  But what was most inspiring about his story was that his new mission in life focused on leading and training other fellow amputees.   In fact, he organized numerous expeditions to the top of the very mountain we faced.  Looking up the sheer cliff of “El Capitan,” it seemed impossible that such a feat could be accomplished by a man with two legs, much less one.   I saw an unforgettable look on Rebecca’s face while listening to this remarkable tale – she was captivated by the guide’s words.

Later that day as we entered our cabin, Rebecca asked to speak with me.  We walked into a quiet room and she sat beside me holding my hand.  Rebecca wanted to discuss the tour guide’s story.  She told me she thought about it and felt God allowed the famous rock climber to lose his leg in order to help other people who were disabled like him.  After pausing for a moment Rebecca said she felt that maybe God allowed her to get sick in order for her to help others who were sick like her.

I was dumbfounded.  I sat there staring…..wondering how a ten-year-old child could comprehend a situation that was incomprehensible. It was that moment Rebecca knew, deep down, she was chosen by God for something very special.  She received an anointing of the Lord – wisdom from above.

Not a day goes by where I am not cornered by friends, family members, acquaintances, and even complete strangers who inform me how my daughter is changing them for good.  Grocery stores, dental offices, restaurants, and baseball parks become opportunities for me to hear uplifting stories about Rebecca’s inspiring strength now mirrored in others’ lives.  It continually baffles me that our Creator can use a little girl’s diseased pancreas to transform souls.  We worship a God who is that powerful – that magnificent.

So although my child’s road may be filled with difficulties, our Lord chose Rebecca for a divine purpose that will continue to be carried out in His time.  Just as God chose Job to carry out his fiery trials for His glory.  Just as He chose you for your own divine purpose that will be carried out in His perfect time.

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job 1 – 3

Journal Topic:

How do you feel about God ‘choosing’ you to endure your specific struggles?

Questions:

  1. Do you feel honored or embittered by this concept of being chosen (feel free to be honest with your feelings)?
  1. In viewing your trials in such a light, does this change your perspective on the hardships you have faced?
  1. There are times when it is possible to see how God can use you because of your struggles.  Have you experienced this truth?


 

Lesson 3:

Satan is Always Second

Audio: Satan is Always Second

“Till Christ came, no soul was ever made such a battleground between heaven and earth as Job’s soul was made.”

Alexander Whyte, 19th Century Scottish Divine    

Satan, The Devil, Lucifer, Beelzebub, The Wicked One, Accuser, Power of Darkness, The Tempter – these are just a few of the Biblical names for the archenemy of the Lord.  So what happened to God’s highest archangel?  How could he achieve such heavenly heights only to be thrown into the depths of hell?  The book of Job gives us unique insight into this cruel adversary that is unseen anywhere else in the Bible.

In chapters one and two of Job, we are provided a behind the scenes glimpse into the celestial world.  But before you study this unusual interaction between God and Satan we need to understand how the adversary of the Most High came to be.

Ezekiel 28:11-15 paints a picture of Lucifer before his rebellion:

“You were the model of perfection,

full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

You were in Eden,

the garden of God;

every precious stone adorned you:

ruby, topaz and emerald,

chrysolite, onyx and jasper,

sapphire, turquoise and beryl.

Your settings and mountings were made of gold;

on the day you were created they were prepared.

You were anointed as a guardian cherub,

for so I ordained you.

Your were on the holy mount of God;

you walked among the fiery stones.

You were blameless in your ways

from the day you were created

till wickedness was found in you.”

It seems hard to believe that adjectives such as, “model of perfection,” “wisdom,” “perfect in beauty,” and “blameless” were used to describe today’s greatest creator of all evil.  How could something so beautiful become so wicked?  Ezekiel continues in verses 16-17 to explain what changed the heart of this spectacular guardian cherub:

“Through your widespread trade

you were filled with violence,

and you sinned.

So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,

and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,

from among the fiery stones.

Your heart became proud

on account of your beauty,

and you corrupted your wisdom

because of your splendor.”

Satan’s downfall was his pride – the pride of his beauty, his wisdom, and his all-around splendor.  C.S. Lewis explains this concept best in Mere Christianity when he states, “the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison:  it was through Pride that the devil became the devil:  Pride leads to every other vice:  it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Satan wanted to be God himself.  He craved, desired, and coveted the position of the Most High.  His pride in his abilities overtook any thought to the Almighty who bestowed the gifts upon him in the first place.  He wanted the ultimate control – and he made plans to usurp that power any way possible.  Isaiah 14:13-14 reveals the Devil’s scheme:

“You said in your heart,

‘I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne

Above the stars of God;

I will sit enthroned on the mount of assemble,

On the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most high.’”

God knew the plans of Satan because he read his heart.  Our Lord is an all-knowing and all-powerful Creator – something Satan seemed to forget.  Even the reigning terror of darkness will always answer to his King.  Unfortunately for the Devil, he will always be second, no matter how he connives to be first.  Ezekiel 28:17-19 explains the eventual gruesome fate of this world’s gruesome foe:

“So I threw you to the earth;

I made a spectacle of you before kings.

By your many sins and dishonest trade

you have desecrated your sanctuaries.

So I made a fire come out from you,

and it consumed you,

and I reduced you to ashes on the ground

in the sight of all who were watching.

All the nations who knew you

are appalled at you;

you have come to a horrible end

and will be no more.”

In the end, the Almighty will take care of Satan. But did you notice where God threw Satan?  To the earth – where he gets to wreak havoc until the Lord ultimately destroys him.  As we delve further into the book Job, five key principles become very relevant to our study we need to keep in mind:

  1. We have a very real and active enemy.
  1. There are trials, permitted by God that we do not deserve.
  1. From these trials, we can become bitter and angry, or we can be molded into a better version of ourselves.
  1. God does not owe us an explanation for His actions – He is God.
  1. If God allows a hardship, He has a righteous purpose for it.

In the height of our tribulations – it helps to remember that our God is in control.  That Satan and all his evil cannot compare to the power and majesty of the one and only Most High.  Try as he might to crush Job disaster upon disaster, and try as he might to crush us trial after trial, – he will never succeed in the end.  Our God will always be first and Satan will always be the final loser!

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job 4 – 7

Journal Topic:

Can you picture the spiritual warfare behind your trials?  Do you envision Satan’s attacks while God is faithfully in control?   

Questions:

  1. Is it difficult for you to picture Satan as a beautiful, blameless creature?
  1. Can you see how devastating the sin of pride can be?  Especially with those who seem to be the most talented and gifted?
  1. Job 1:7 speaks of Satan, “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it”.  What can you do to better equip yourself with God for the eventual attack?

 

Lesson 4:

When All Hell Breaks Loose

 

“When you are weak and needy and broken, that is when God can be showcased through you.” 

 

Laura Story

We all have a testimony orchestrated by God.  It becomes a critical component to our relationship with those surrounding us, but most especially with our Maker.  As long as we are breathing, our Lord has purpose for our lives.  The question is:  will we allow God to use our story for His Kingdom as Job did?  Or will we be crushed under the overwhelming pressure of adversity – giving in because we relied on our own compromised strength as opposed to relying on God’s supernatural strength?

I faced this challenge three years ago.  When my life was falling apart, I realized my relationship with God was based solely on conditions.  I had drawn a line, so to speak, and I expected my Lord to honor my boundaries.  When my boundaries were broken – my world shattered.  The only way I knew to regain my sanity was to make a decision we each have to face.  Are we going to offer our lives to our Maker without boundaries and conditions?  Or are we going to give up on this God who allows the agony we are experiencing?

My journey into the fullness of God started with a letter written on August 22, 2010.  It was the day before Rebecca’s first pancreatic surgery and three weeks after our baby girl died.  It was imperative that I came to terms with God prior to Rebecca’s surgery.  He and I were not on speaking terms since my Annabelle died and I felt it would be disingenuous for me to say ‘God is good’ if Rebecca’s surgery turned out the way we hoped.  My praising of God would feel phony – I was too raw to be fake and I knew the Lord at least deserved my sincerity, if nothing else.  I understood the thousands reading our caringbridge site needed to know that I held true to my faith regardless of the next day’s outcome.  So I was at a crossroads.  I had to decide the nature of my relationship with God right then and there.  My ‘come to Jesus’ meeting with God was forced by my inability to be anything but naked.  I needed the world to know I made a decision to follow my God without regard to my circumstance, or reject my God because of the intense pain He continued to allow.  My mind and emotions wanted to reject Him.  It made more sense to reject Him.  After all, He allowed all of this to happen.  He could have saved my baby from death, He could have saved my daughter from pain, He could have….

I knew what I was asking of myself.  Make a forever decision – one way or the other.  There was no room for halfsies.  Give up full control and hand it to the Lord – knowing the pain I already and surely would endure, or move on without Him – never allowing Him to hurt me or my family again.  Ann Voskamp wrote in her book, One Thousand Gifts, “I either take the ‘what is it?’ manna with thanks, eat the mystery of the moment with trust, and am nourished another day – or refuse it… and die.”  This was my crossroads – be nourished or die.  So I made my decision and wrote my own raw version of a creed, so to speak:

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My line in the sand was drawn since my relationship with God began.  This line was not consciously drawn; in fact I did not even realize its existence until this past week.

The Lord and I have always been close.  I cannot think of a time in my life where I did not feel His presence right beside me.   The two of us have endured numerous, difficult trials together, and through it all, I could still praise Him.  I knew in my heart that God truly, “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  I knew I loved God, therefore, I knew He ultimately worked for my good.

Being hospitalized 7½ weeks with a placental abruption was terrifying, but I held faith.  Visiting the hospital 13 separate times in one year with Brian and my 2 children was exhausting, but I held faith.  Losing Brian’s family members, one by one until there was only one living survivor, who was then diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, was incomprehensible, but I still held faith.  The list could go on and on but the outcome was still the same – I held to the faith that God worked for my good and though I did not necessarily understand the trials, I trusted God‘s bigger, unseen plan.

The problem was, my strength in God was based on my own faulty perception.  God and I had a deal – I would endure the trials that came my way while God acknowledged my stopping point.  He knew where my line had been drawn and subconsciously, I knew in my heart He would never cross it.

On August 2, 2010 my line in the sand was crossed.   My one-way deal with God…shattered.  On the way to the hospital that night, there was no doubt in my mind that Annabelle would live.  Coming off of the hardest summer of my family’s lives, with Rebecca still at home on a feeding tube and her future health completely unknown, it was a foregone conclusion that this baby we so wanted and loved would be saved.

When I was told Annabelle would not make it, my fear set in and my faith began to crumble.

Everything changed in that moment.  My ‘safety zone’ with God was no longer safe.  If this could happen in the midst of our greatest struggles, then anything was fair game. For the first time in my life, anxiety began to overwhelm me, to the point where panic attacks took control of my otherwise controlled self.  The thought of living my life without my ‘safety zone’ filled me with trepidation.

I have spent weeks trying to figure out why a God I so love, could let this happen to my family at such a time?  How could I go through Rebecca’s impending surgery without the foreknowledge that everything was going to be okay in the way I best saw fit?  The only conclusion I came to was that I cannot live my life the way God intended with this suffocating fear.

How do I return to the faith that God works for my good – even if that good is unseen by human eyes?  I have to give up my line in the sand.  I have to offer my entire life, every minute portion of it, to God’s control regardless of the outcome.

Rebecca is in God’s hands tomorrow.  No lines have been drawn, no deals made, I have given her to the Lord.  Peace begins where panic once resided and calmness settles where anxiety once ruled.

**********

Peace.  I gave my other daughter to the Lord, fully knowing what that could mean and yet I experienced peace in handing her over.  I knew what I was saying to the Lord – I knew the potential for disaster.  Yet, I also understood for the first time ever, that God did not need my permission to take someone I loved.  He was going to do whatever it took for His Kingdom and I had to choose to have faith in His sometimes misunderstood love, or live in a state of anger and bitterness while God’s plan continued to unfold with or without my faithfulness.

I finished trying to reason and understand what was happening to our family.  There was no answer I could receive that would satisfy me enough on this earth.  I had no energy, no strength, and no stability.  I simply existed.  For the first time in my life I was truly still.  “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).  I could not fight for myself if I wanted to.  That was now the Lord’s job.

Just as God did not need my permission to shower me with blessings, God did not need my permission to take someone I loved.  Nor did he ask for Job’s permission to decimate his bountiful life, nor does he require your blessing before your life seems to fall apart.  Can we accept that reality?  Can we give up our conditional line in the sand?  Or will we chose to live in a state of panic and anxiety, angry that our life did not go the way we decided?  What will your decision be?

 

 

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 8-10

Journal Topic:

What is your “line in the sand” with God?  Are you willing to give up that control no matter what it takes?

Questions:

  1. Have you set up boundaries with God?  Lines you do not expect Him to cross?  If so, what are they?
  1. Are you willing to give complete control of your life to the Lord?
  1. Why do you think this is such a hard choice to make?

Broken Praise

Lyrics by Todd Smith – Album ‘Music Inspired by The Story’

If one more person takes my hand and tries to say they understand
Tells me there’s a bigger plan that I’m not meant to see
If one more person dares suggest that I held something unconfessed
Tries to make the dots connect from righteousness to easy street
Well I, I won’t deny I’ve relied on some assumptions
A man’s honest life entitles him to something

But who am I to make demands of the God of Abraham?
And who are You that You would choose to answer me with mercy new
How many more will wander past to find me here among the ashes
Will you hold me? Will you stay?
So I can raise this broken praise to You

Who else will see my suffering as one more opportunity
To educate; to help me see all my flawed theology
If one more well intentioned friend tries to tie up my loose ends
Hoping to, with rug and broom, sweep awkward moments from the room
But I, I can’t forget, I have begged just like a madman
For my chance to die and never have to face the morning

But who am I to make demands of the God of Abraham?
And who are You that You would choose to answer me with mercy new
How many more will wander past to find me sitting in this ash
Will you hold me? Will you stay?
So I can raise this broken praise to You

But You were the One who filled my cup
And You were the One who let it spill
So blessed be your Holy name if you never fill it up again
If this is where my story ends, just give me one more breathe to say
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Lesson 5:

Praise Through Pain

Audio: Praise Through Pain

 

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the engineer.”

Corrie Ten Boom

Praise through pain – the phrase itself seems contradictory, the ultimate oxymoron.  Is it possible to praise through your worst struggles?  Those very moments you find it hard to breathe – much less find the strength to worship?

The concept most find impossible, Job somehow embraced.

The charmed life of this upright man quickly became a nightmare.  With his wealth stripped away, his servants slaughtered, and his beloved ten children gone without a single goodbye, no one could blame Job for reacting irrationally.  He had every reason to fall apart and reject the very Lord he expected to protect him.  And yet Job responded the exact opposite from which anyone would expect.  Job 1:20-22 gives us this grieving man’s immediate and remarkable response:

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised.’

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Job acknowledged his intense pain while still praising the God who allowed this pain to happen.  Amazing.  In the depths of Job’s agony, he focused on a profound truth:  everything he had was never his to begin with.  It belonged to his Creator whom had every right to remove Job’s borrowed blessings.  Job understood he came into this world with nothing and would leave this world in the same way.

I remember in my darkest hours the last thing I felt like was walking around with a phony smile or saying a phony phrase pretending everything in my life was just fine.  And yet, I felt my duty as a Christian meant that somehow I needed to find the strength to raise my hands in the air while proclaiming, “Thank you Lord for causing my child pain.”  I knew I could never do that with a genuine spirit and so I felt inadequate – almost sinful in my lack of enthusiasm during my current crisis.

Studying Job, I realized he grieved heavily and yet still recognized that God was in control.  That became my example – allow myself to grieve while finding something good (even if it seemed miniscule) in my situation.  While I continued to focus on the utmost miracle of Rebecca’s complete healing, I discovered I was missing less transparent miracles that surrounded me on a daily basis.  I wrote about this new-found thought on how to praise during the most unexpected times:

**********

This week has been very difficult. The hardest of Rebecca’s life and, by default, one of mine as well. Rebecca’s pain has been excruciating and unrelenting.  The massive amount of steroids exacerbated her situation by not allowing Rebecca to sleep (for days) and creating a crazed-type anxiety.  The doctors determined the drugs were beginning to manifest into a steroid psychosis and immediately started tapering her off her dose as safely as possible.  Day after day, night after night – an intense struggle.
Friday night she started to turn a corner. Her pain became more manageable and a new medication allowed her to have her first night of real sleep in almost a week.  Although small in the eyes of most, I was thankful for this momentary but significant relief – a miracle, so to speak.

Throughout the past few years, I have changed my perspective on miracles.  So many times we falsely view God’s work of wonders as a forever blessing.  And yet, any physical marvel on this earth is temporary.  This may sound sacrilegious to some…… as far as I am aware though, Lazarus is not still alive.  Jesus raised Him from the dead – a proven miracle – and yet eventually Jesus allowed him to die.  His miraculous healing on this earth was temporal, yet still a miracle.  And the reason for his healing was, “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it (John 11:4).”  God granted Hezekiah an extra fifteen years of life and yet, once again, his healing was short-lived.  I heard of a person with cancer who prayed his disease be cured from his body.  And it was…..only it returned a decade later.  This individual felt God had not answered his prayer because a true miracle would never allow the cancer to return again.  Yet, what if the miracle was in the ten years of remission?  What if God knew that facing death would result in a life filled with more meaningful zest in ten short years than forty years of perfect health could ever produce?

We somehow get into a trap of feeling that this earth is our home.  That God intended for us to live healthy, wealthy, easy lives while we exist in this sin-ridden world.  And yet, the examples of God’s most faithful lived anything but a life of ease.  In fact, it was by their sufferings that the Lord was truly revealed.  Job gives hope to all enduring the unthinkable.  The story of Joseph gives strength to those victimized and wrongly accused.  Moses allows us to persevere for future blessings we may never realize and the disciples exemplify an unmatched passion for Christ straight to their violent, unjustified deaths.

Instead of waiting (years in Rebecca’s case) for a miracle to cure every portion of her damaged body, I am learning to accept the daily and sometimes hourly miracles that God bestows in our lives. Rebecca’s past state of pancreatic remission for “only” a year and a half becomes a treasure chest of beautiful memories, and our family living together under the same roof for an extended period of time becomes a cherished act of Providence.  Sleeping five hours of interrupted sleep as opposed to a total of one is viewed as a blessing.  And in the midst of a severe pain attack when Rebecca smiles and says she loves me – now that becomes a true miracle.

Perspective is key to every situation.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”  When my future and the future of my family are permanently focused on heaven, then the abominations this earth has to offer becomes a side note – barely an honorable mention in the scheme of things.  That is not to diminish the trials we endure.  If I had a thousand adjectives, it would never begin to describe the intensity of hearing your child moan, scream, and writhe in unrelenting pain on a minutely, hourly, daily, and weekly basis – the nauseous exhaustion, the unanswered questions…..  This seemingly never-ending cycle leads straight to insanity or straight to God.  I choose God.  Although by worldly standards I am irreparably scarred emotionally, and my child physically – it is only passing.  This earth is not our home and it was never meant to be.  The more I grasp that concept, the more freeing my situation becomes.  My life is no longer on hold for a fleeting miracle that may or may not manifest.

So as I fervently pray for the miraculous healing of my daughter’s broken body on this earth, and watch for the “smaller” daily miracles our Lord bestows, I will choose to focus on the one permanent promise – “For Our God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever (Me, My Rebecca, My sons, My Brian, Anyone) believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”  That is our everlasting miracle – one that surpasses all.

**********

This world is not our home – I had to accept that conclusion before I was capable of worshipping my Lord in all circumstances.  My “praise through pain” became searching for the unexpected miracles in my daily life.  This was genuine worship – nothing fake, nothing for show – just a simple display of gratitude for blessings that would typically go unnoticed.  This exercise was difficult at first.  It took little effort to wallow in sadness and extra effort finding anything positive in my current hardship.  Yet the more I searched, the more blessings I found.  Eventually it became so easy for me to see these unexpected miracles that I ran out of time to writing them down every day.

When everything in Job screamed to reject God, that was the very moment he trusted Him the most.  His story gives us the freedom to grieve our circumstances while finding our own genuine way in which to praise the Almighty.

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 11-13

Journal Topic:

What would genuine “praise through pain” look like to you?

Questions:

  1. Why do Christians find Job’s response so remarkable?
  1. How hard do you find it to praise God in the midst of such difficult circumstances?
  1. Are there ways in which you would feel ‘phony’ worshipping the Lord during your struggles?

Praise You In This Storm – Casting Crowns

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can’t find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

Lesson 6:

Never Curse Your Creator

 Audio: Never Curse Your Creator

“Wracked with pain of every kind imaginable, Job was forced to simply trust God.  This exercise in faith came easy at first but became increasingly difficult with time.  In the barren emptiness of his soul, not knowing why such trouble had come, Job was brought to the place where he could only cling to God.”

Steven J. Lawson

A professor once stated, “No one would have blamed Christopher Columbus if he turned around – no one would have remembered him either.”  No one would blame Job if he fell apart, if he crumbled in a heap never to get up again.  And certainly no one would blame him if he followed his wife’s seemingly rational advice by cursing the God who allowed this terrible pain.  But would we have remembered him had he followed that advice?

Job’s awesome ability to praise God in the center of his pain was remarkable in and of itself.  But how would Job respond to sinful pressure from his soul mate – the very person he trusted most in the world?  Job 2:9-10 gives us the answer:

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!’

He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.’”

While Job clung to the Lord, his wife ran.  Yet, her response seems understandable considering her circumstances.  After all, she was a mother who lost all ten children that she carried in her womb and raised to adulthood.  She lost all of her possessions and wealth in one fell swoop.  She lost the servants that cared for her and her entire family.  This woman of respect lost her position as the wife of a political and honorable man.  And Job’s wife lost the husband she knew and loved to a debilitating disease that consumed his life.  Didn’t she have a right to be angry?  Why wouldn’t she want to curse the God who caused these tragic events to happen?

What happens when you hit rock bottom?  Are there times when you find yourself angry with God?  Are you bitter at the tragic and unfair events that have transpired in your life?  Do you struggle with your brutal reality?  And if you are completely honest with yourself, don’t you – at times, feel like cursing at a God who could stop your suffering yet chooses not to?

So how do we cope with this never-discussed situation?  How do we stay Job-strong in the middle of our severe hardship?  After all, Job was just a man.  He possessed no super-human strength to help him remain faithful when he was tempted to reject his supposedly loving God.  He did not own a red cape, an invisible cloak, or a magic wand.  Job was simply flesh and blood – the same as each of us.

So did Job possess a secret formula that allowed him to stay strong?  Yes.  And the secret to Job’s power was giving up.  That’s right, Job gave up.  He completely let go of the idea that he could get through his disastrous life by himself.  Job recognized it was impossible to make it through this trial by his own compromised power.  This blameless and upright man’s strength was insufficient and lacking for the tragedies that faced him.  And even if everyone in the world turned against him, Job decided to stay faithful to his God that he served and loved.  He knew that his friends and even his wife would be unable to provide him the endurance that he needed to carry him through his darkest moments – that power could only come from the Lord.

During a difficult hospital season last year, I continually relied on my own tenuous strength.  I struggled to maintain a role that God knew was too much for me to bear alone.  One simple event triggered my awakening that allowed me the freedom to hand my burdens to the Lord.  The Almighty patiently waited for me to come to a place where I could not stand on my own so He could lift me up:

**********

People think I am strong.  They do not know me very well.  Yes, I can somehow move past the intense urge to pass out as the surgeon is telling me my daughter’s options for survival are limited.  And yes, I mustered the strength to encourage my child through vomiting blood for ten straight hours after said surgical failure while staring calmly at the doctors who inform me her picc-line to the heart now has an infection.  And yes, after finally placing a new central line because Rebecca’s choices were limited from vein damage – I handle the news gracefully that the Broviac line developed a clot and immediate, potential life-threatening medications had to be used.  I wanted to get sick, I needed to get sick – but I held steady – from nine at night until four in the morning.  And only a short few hours later, I managed to clean myself up, put my make-up and jewelry on, and attend a conference with doctors regarding Rebecca’s next major move – a med-flight to Mayo Clinic for an undetermined amount of time.  And yes, I smiled and laughed and even joked through the meeting in order to make a serious conversation more comfortable.  Overdoses were handled with dignity, medical blunders with a kind acknowledgement of a mistake.  I moved liked a robot – making life-altering decision upon decision, living without sleep and without the help of drugs or alcohol (although I craved both many times) and somehow I made it work – or so I thought, until an infamous visit to a yogurt store named Orange Leaf…

It was my first time in six weeks to take my neglected sons out for a treat.  I repacked clothes at home and was driving back to the hospital when I decided to make a detour to the frozen yogurt store they love – hoping desperately to provide them with a sweet memory to hold onto while I was perpetually separated from them.  We filled our cups, went to the cashier and I handed her my credit card while she asked for my ‘Orange Leaf’ member card.  I gave her both and she proceeded in processing my credit card first.  Afterward, she informed me my member card had five dollars of credit on it.  “Great”, I replied, “please put that toward my order.”  To which the cashier informed me that because she had processed my credit card first, she could not credit the five dollars back on my bill and would not even give the member card my newly deserved benefits because I was maxed out.  You would think out of all situations – this I could handle.  I felt my emotions rising as I asked her to redo the transaction and credit my bill appropriately.  Her response was simple, “Just come back with your boys and use it sometime later this week”.  Just come back with your boys and use it sometime later this week!?!  It seemed like an innocuous statement and yet the meaning behind the words cut me to the core.  So instead of handling myself with grace and dignity as I tried so many times before – I lost it, in the middle of a frozen yogurt store…..over five dollars.  My first time to take the boys out in weeks with no foreseeable opportunity to do it again, and a well-intentioned cashier’s words (ignorant of my crisis) cracked me.  It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  All of the emotions I thought I could handle, came out on a naïve, unsuspecting teenager behind a counter.  I answered her statement by saying, “Let me tell you exactly why I cannot come back with my boys later this week….”  Then I proceeded in giving her all of the gory details of my daughter’s life – from start to finish – while the line behind me grew longer and longer.

I felt such pressure – I had one shot at making a good memory for the boys I left behind.  My sons who essentially had no mother.  And when they spent a mere few minutes encountering the women they call ‘Mama,’ she responded in an ‘I do not have time for you because Rebecca needs me more’ mode.  This night was supposed to be perfect and yet it ended with all three of us sitting in a cold car eating cold cream because I could not stand to be in the same room with a young yogurt woman who was oblivious to my situation.

I am not strong.  I am human.  God knows that more than anyone.  He knew at some point in our lives we would encounter situations we could not handle.  In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, Paul writes, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.”

The Lord knew the trials the Taylor Family would experience – pain, anguish, sleepless nights, and even wrongly processed transactions – yet it happened so that we rely on Him and not our self.  When my life becomes ‘far beyond my ability to endure,’ my God expects me to rely on Him.  Every false sense of strength I mistakenly thought I had came crashing down in a yogurt store.  The Lord patiently waited for me to acknowledge I needed Him to get through all that our family was enduring and would continue to endure.  It was important to God, for me to recognize whatever strength I had was His to begin with.

I am not sure if I will ever show my face in Orange Leaf again, but I am thankful the Lord taught me a powerful lesson:  My weakness was not in Him but in me – trying to acquire a strength that can only be provided by God Himself.  And in that Godly strength, He provides victory over every situation – even from the checkout line of a frozen yogurt shop.

Psalm 118:14, “The Lord is my strength and my song, He has given me victory.”

*********

The Orange Leaf story has a happy ending.  One of the owners of the franchise read about my unfortunate incident and decided to surprise our family by inviting us back to her store.  When Rebecca returned home from the hospital my husband drove us to an Orange Leaf where they had a welcome sign and a table decked out with a cloth and balloons.  Their staff arranged for us to eat as much yogurt as our hearts desired and left us a gift certificate for future visits.  God found a way to turn my disastrous date with the boys into a humbling blessing.

If our strength is firmly rooted in the Lord, we are not swayed by others’ misguided attempts at turning us away from our Creator – even if the ‘swayer’ is someone we love and want to please.  Job recognized his desperate need for God in order to endure his plight.  Job’s wife, on the other hand, relied on her own weakened might and crumbled under the weight of her trials. Will we curse the creator we do not understand, or will we valiantly lean on His insurmountable power?

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 14-16

Journal Topic:

What is your ‘Orange Leaf’ moment with God?

Questions:

  1. Do you find yourself relying on your own strength as opposed to the Lord’s during your hardships?
  1. In times when you rely on God for strength – do you experience peace in letting go or do you struggle with giving Him control?
  1. Have you let loved ones influence you against the Lord? If so, what could you do to help guard yourself in the future against such pressure?

 ‘Strong Enough’ – Matthew West

You must, You must think I’m strong
To give me what I’m going through
Well, forgive me, forgive me if I’m wrong
But this looks like more than I can do on my own

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy, won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough
For the both of us, yeah

Well maybe, maybe that’s the point
To reach the point of giving up
‘Cause when I’m finally, finally at rock bottom
Well, that’s when I start looking up and reaching out

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy, won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough

‘Cause I’m broken, down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to the one thing
You are God and You are strong
When I am weak

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
I don’t have to be strong enough

Strong enough

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
And I don’t have to be strong enough
Strong enough, oh, yeah

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy, won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough
Strong enough

Lesson 7:

Grief is a Given

 Audio: Grief is a Given

“Grief is a statement of faith that one day, things will not be this way.”  Tullian Tchividijian

Grief – there is no other feeling even close to its kind.  Just the word itself denotes an overwhelming sentiment of sadness, pain, and suffering.  This process of mourning can be raw and brutal – leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.  Yet despite the negative adjectives used to describe grief, it remains an unavoidable coping mechanism.  There is an oddly redeeming quality about this oft unspoken emotion.  And anyone who has experienced this all-consuming feeling realizes it is a necessary step in processing loss.

God created grief and knew it was imperative to our healing.  He understood, in each individual’s life, there would be a time and a place for weeping….for mourning….

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

Grief is a given byproduct of living in this broken world.  In reading chapter three of Job it becomes apparent that even ‘upright’ Job did not bypass this melancholy state.  In the world of psychology, there are five acknowledged stages of grief:

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Job’s immediate response to his earth-shattering crises was admirably brilliant.  But as time went on, the actuality of his situation started to sink in and he began to despair of his incredible loss.  Job’s agony became too much to bear and he found himself fluctuating between the stages of anger, bargaining, and depression.  Job wanted to die, and although he did not contemplate killing himself, he wished in Job 3:20-22, the Lord would do so for him….

“Why is light given to those in misery,

and life to the bitter of soul,

to those who long for death that does not come,

who search for it more than for hidden treasure,

who are filled with gladness

and rejoice when they reach the grave?”

Job’s down-cast words were filled with anguish as he voiced them in the depths of his despair.  He was depressed and the Lord was the recipient of his suffering.  When our world falls apart and our mind unravels – who do we turn to?  Do we unleash our sorrow on family and friends?  Do we bottle it up to fester inside our soul?  Or can we use Job as an example and pour out our strife upon the Almighty?

In my darkest hours, I felt completely unstable and unprepared at handling my overwhelming loss.  I felt no human could relate to the intensity of my broken heart so I expressed my despondent thoughts to the only one who truly understood my agony:

**********

I have no one to talk to.  I have no one to share my feelings that are so critical for me to express.  I have no right to grieve.  I have no right to be sad.  I have no right to be scared.  The only right I have is to pretend everything is normal.  Pretend my life is like everyone else’s and that a smile on my face solves every problem.  I have to be strong.  I have to hold myself together so I can hold my family together even though nothing feels together inside me.

Broken.  A million pieces-broken.  Unraveling at the seams and irreparably damaged – never to be woven whole again.

I have failed at every level.  Saving my unborn children.  Saving my living children from an unsafe emotional environment.  Saving my husband from my unstable mind.  I have failed at each and every task before me and yet I have to live with each failure on a daily basis.  I cannot fix their brokenness I have now helped create.  My very brokenness cracked their undeserved hearts.

My God I feel forsaken, although I know You are here.  Watching my every move.  My every failure.  You must be so disappointed – You are at the beginning of a very long line.

Is that the nature of living in this shattered world?  That we continue in a series of brokenness, never to be fully redeemed until death?  By the very act of our dying, we are made new and only by that act can we be repaired – woven together and made whole.

Or is it possible to live whole in this broken world with Jesus repairing our wounds by Him living inside us?  That every tear is stitched – slowly, painfully, together while we forge toward the life God created us to live in His image?  Our scars are visible and not-so-visible reminders that although this world is not our home, if we are still living, our assignment from God is unfinished.

Those that draw breath have purpose.

My brokenness will be carried to this next world as a mosaic of sadness, grief, and pain.  Its temporary mending by Jesus will be refined in Heaven.  Only that which is precious and meaningful will survive, that which is superficial and sinful will be destroyed.

Lord, let me start my purification now.  Refine me and form me in as much of Your image as this world will allow.  Hear my agony, my heartache, my fear.  I am begging You to Heal me.  Then turn my healing into something so beautiful only You could be credited for creating.  My ashes to beauty.  Use it all – my beauty, as well as my ashes, to further Your kingdom.

*********

While pouring my distress to the Lord, I discovered something beautiful.  Did you notice in the ‘stages of grief’ that anger and depression have to come before acceptance of our loss?  By living out the process of grief, I was able to accept the fact that my loss irreparably changed me.  By that acceptance I discovered that our miraculous God could use that very same loss for His glory.  Even my deepest, blackest, most torturous moments….

So the Lord used my mosaic of grief, as He used Job’s, and each and every one of yours, to allow us to come to terms with our suffering.  And with time, He transforms our greatest sorrows into our greatest testimony.  Simply amazing!

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 17-22

Journal Topic:

Attempt to pour out your deepest pain to the Lord.  He is listening….

Questions:

  1. How has grief changed your life – with yourself, those surrounding you, and most especially, with the Lord?
  1. Can you accept that grief is a God-given emotion used for our ultimate healing?
  1. Are you stuck in a stage of grief – unable to move to acceptance?

‘Broken” – Lifehouse

 

The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
I am here still waiting though I still have my doubts
I am damaged at best, like you’ve already figured out

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on
I’m barely holdin’ on to you

The broken locks were a warning you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded, I’m an open book instead
And I still see your reflection inside of my eyes
That are looking for purpose, they’re still looking for life

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain is the healing
In your name I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’)
I’m barely holdin’ on to you

I’m hangin’ on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way
And I’m hangin’ on to the words you say
You said that I will, will be ok

The broken lights on the freeway left me here alone
I may have lost my way now, having forgot my way home

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain, there is healing
In your name, I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’)

I’m barely holdin’ on to you
I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m holdin’ on (I’m still holdin’), I’m barely holdin’ on to you

Lesson 8:

What Not To Say

Audio: What Not to Say 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”  Henri Nouwen

When I grow up I want to write a book – and that book will be titled, “What Not to Say.”  The purpose for the book would not be to shame any unwilling characters from its pages, but rather to give clarifications of words which are most helpful and most harmful during our intimate struggles.  I am ashamed to admit that in my pre-trial, unempathetic life, I was the number one offender in my actions toward those in crises.  I desperately needed a guide to provide insight into this mine-filled path.  I would regularly repeat the dreaded phrases those in pain hope to never hear such as, “Don’t worry, you will be just fine, God will provide”, or “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle”.  I wish I could go back in time and glue my mouth shut – especially now that I realize first-hand the hurt my well-intended words caused those I loved.

Job’s friends were well-intended as well, they “met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job2:11).  At least they showed up.  Notice, during all of Job’s afflictions, this well-respected government official was visited by only four friends.  Only four.  While most of his friends bailed – these four cared enough to be there when Job’s world fell apart.

As the friends saw the virtually unrecognizable Job, they were kind and compassionate as “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).  They saw their friend in pain and they suffered with him.  There is a lot to be said about friends who “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).   Good friends, right?  And they were – attentive, thoughtful, empathetic, and dedicated……until they opened their mouths.

The old adage ‘stop while you are ahead’ would have applied perfectly to this group of holier-than-thou men.  Upon opening their mouths they unleashed a flurry of insults toward the character of Job, hurtful lies about the Lord’s will for his life, and accusation upon accusation which included Job being the cause of his ten children’s deaths.  Wow – with such fine friends, who needs enemies?  Job was already battered and beaten before his friends’ entrance and yet somehow their plan of comforting him turned into an even worse nightmare.  No wonder Job responded to their diatribe with, “If only you would be altogether silent!  For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:5).

Silence – the key to all comfort.  So many times we fill moments of solitude with words in order to make ourselves more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, or to make sense of a nonsensical trial.  Yet those in pain do not need words of advice – they need the touch of a tender hand, the warmth of a cup of tea, or the tears of a compassionate heart.  Such simple gestures illicit powerful gratefulness from the victim of a bleeding heart.

When my husband and I lost our baby, Annabelle, I realized how unprepared I was for the onslaught of painful statements I endured from those I loved.  With my reserves down and my sensitivities up, I felt like a continual punching bag for those well-meaning friends who were just ‘trying to help.’  The irony was, my Christian friends seemed to cause the worst infractions.  So many presumed to know God’s plan for my damaged life and used that ‘knowledge’ to help reform me.  My agnostic friends never assumed God’s role because, to them, there was no God.  In order to cope, as statements were made, I journaled an on-going list of ‘What Not to Say to Someone Whose Baby Has Died.’  After each statement, I wrote down my immediate, inner response in parenthesis.  Here are a few, tame examples:

**********

“It is all in God’s plan.”

(I don’t want to hear that my baby dying is a part of God’s plan)

“Just remember – God’s timing is perfect.”

(No time will ever feel perfect for my daughter to die)

“You are going to be fine – don’t worry, you are just fine.”

(I don’t feel fine and, for once, why can’t I feel really sad – my child just died)

“There was probably something wrong with your baby anyway.”

(Regardless of whether my baby was sick or not, I still loved her and wanted her.  Did I want Rebecca any less because she was sick?)

“You already have such a great family.”

(Yes, but wouldn’t our family be even better to have the little girl we prayed for and loved?  And wouldn’t I still be sad if one of my other three children were missing from this family?)

“Looking back and seeing how hard your year was going to be, aren’t you thankful for God’s grace in taking your child?”

(Never under any circumstances, no matter how hard my family’s life became, would I be thankful my child was dead.  And don’t you think the God of all creation has the strength to empower me to take care of my children through all circumstances?)

“Have you considered the fact your family may be under a generational curse?”

(Are you kidding me? Now I have to worry about being punished for my great-great-grandfather’s sins on top of everything else?)

*********

I was able to learn from these statements by writing them down and studying how these words made me feel.  I, like Job, needed silence and quiet service, not rationalizing and justifications.  If I was unable to make sense of God’s plan in the middle of my circumstances, what made someone else feel they could presume from the outside?

A grief counselor gave me my best piece of advice on how to respond to what can be sheer nonsense.  She said, “View unwanted statements from loved ones as an awkward gift – their intentions were kind yet the gift itself, entirely unwanted and altogether unhelpful.”  So, what do you do when Aunt Betsy gives you that ridiculous looking reindeer sweater that is three sizes too big?  Do you yell at her?  Do you lose your temper?  Do you tell sweet Aunt Betsy to jump off a bridge?  No, you smile and say thank you while thinking of a way to get rid of this never-to-be-worn garment.

Although there were many times I wanted to lose my temper, yell, and tell my friend to jump off a bridge, I knew they were attempting (in their own misguided way) to show compassion.  Thinking of the awkward gift analogy, I learned to smile and nod my head as they dispensed their faulty advice.  And the second they left, I ran as fast as I could to my journal to write another entry that will one day be included in my bestselling ‘What Not to Say’ book!

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 23-25

Journal Topic:

What is your “What Not to Say’ list?

Questions:

  1. Have you encountered painful comments from well-intended friends during your trials?  If so, what statements were the most hurtful (remember not to use names so we avoid dishonoring others).
  1. Have you been the cause of unwanted statements that were meant to comfort but instead created the reverse effect?
  1. What can we do to protect ourselves from receiving and dispensing hurtful advice?

 

Lesson 9:

You Got To Have Faith

Audio You’ve Got to Have Faith 

“Let God have your life; He can do more with it than you can.”

D.L. Moody

 

Our gracious Lord works on a grand scale.  One in which we could not comprehend if we tried.  In His infinite wisdom, God understood that millions of His children would be inspired by the story of Job – this faithful, unassuming man.  That one man’s trust during the unfathomable would pave the way for mankind’s future perseverance.

When my life does not make sense – my focus falls on Job.  He is my hero.  Not because he was perfect, but because he allowed himself to be molded in the depth of his trials. He initially questioned God’s divine plan but ultimately learned to rest in His sovereignty. Last Spring I wrote this devotional from the hospital room:

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Sometimes I feel like God wrote the book of Job specifically for me.  Job provides me personal insight into a man who endured the absolute unthinkable and yet somehow stayed faithful while praising the Lord.  Today, I was reading a commentary on Job and came across this quote by Steven J. Lawson:

“In the bigger picture the person who undergoes painful suffering must remember that his life is part of a much grander scheme than he could ever imagine. Pitted between the kingdoms of light and darkness stands the righteous person.  At stake in this spiritual warfare is the glory of God.  Therefore, believers can face trials and tribulations triumphantly, knowing they are appointed for God’s glory and their good.”

I am not sure how ‘triumphantly’ I face our trials and tribulations, but I feel peace in knowing God’s glory can be revealed even in the midst (and maybe because) of our most painful struggles.  Thank you Lord for providing a beautiful example to guide my family through every hardship we encounter.

*********

So God’s glory can be revealed not in spite of, but because of, our trials.  And all of the terrible afflictions we suffer were ordained to be used for God’s kingdom.  When you realize your struggles are not in vain, but truly have purpose and meaning, then your outlook starts to change.  You fully understand the words of 2 Corinthians when Christ says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul’s response is beautiful, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

How can we boast about our weakness while resting in the power of Christ?  Even Job had a difficult time comprehending this concept.  He wanted an audience with God to prove he did not deserve the trials he was enduring.  And in his own misguided way, Job felt that he himself might make a better decision regarding the outcome of his fate.

God gave Job his requested audience, but it was unlike anything Job anticipated.  The Lord descended in a whirlwind-like storm and began the longest conversation by God ever recorded in the Bible.  It was imperative the Creator of the universe establish his command in order to humble Job and anyone else questioning His authority.  The Almighty began his discourse in Job 38:2-11:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel

with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man;

I will question you,

and you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footing set,

or who laid its cornerstone –

while the morning stars sang together

and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who shut up the sea behind doors

when it burst forth from the womb,

when I made the clouds its garment

and wrapped it in thick darkness,

when I fixed limits for it

and set its doors and bars in place,

when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;

here is where your proud waves halt?’”

God’s point was loud and clear as the answer to all of His questions became a resounding ‘no.’  No, Job was not born when the earth’s foundation was laid nor could he possibly understand its complexity.  No, Job did not mark off the world’s dimensions or measure its footings.  And no, Job did not hear the angels rejoice as the earth was formed, nor did he control the depths of the sea or the clouds in the sky.  Job was simply a miniscule part of the Lord’s undeniably awesome universe.  God was the Creator, Job was the created.

The Almighty continued this inquiry until He asked Job a total of 77 questions.  Every query had one goal in mind – to ensure Job knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the God who assembled every portion of this world was far and above better equipped to control Job’s life than Job himself.  God had a unique purpose for the events unfolding in this broken man’s life and Job needed to rest in that knowledge.

The Lord’s speech worked.  Job was sufficiently humbled and responded in chapter 40:4 by saying, “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you?  I put my hand over my mouth.”  Job recognized that he did not need to understand anything.  God would take care of him.

There are countless times I need to proclaim my unworthiness and place a hand over my mouth.  To stop questioning, stop worrying, and stop trying to control an uncontrollable situation.  To simply trust that God has a unique purpose for the events unfolding in my life – just as He did in Job’s.

Isn’t that awe-inspiring?  To stand before our awesome Lord – weak and powerless – but armed with the knowledge that the God who created the clouds as a garment to the sky and marked each dimension of the earth’s foundation cares enough about each one of us to orchestrate our humble struggles into His greater, grander plan.

Our majestic “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding” Job 37:5.

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 26-29

Journal Topic:

Have you had a ‘put your hand over your mouth’ moment with God?  If so, when?

Questions:

  1.  Can you trust that God has a bigger plan even (and especially) in the middle of your darkest moments?
  1.  Which portion of your struggles is the hardest for you to exercise faith?  For example, mine is watching my child in pain.
  1. How can your weakness ever be a strength to God?

 

‘Blessings’- Laura Story

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Lesson 10:

Manna For The Day

 Audio Manna For the Day

Happiness is like manna; it is to be gathered in grains, and enjoyed every day.  It will not keep; it cannot be accumulated; nor have we got to go out of ourselves or into remote places to gather it, since it has rained down from a Heaven, at our very door

Tryon Edwards (American Theologian, 1809-1894)

Exodus 16:2-4:

“In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you.’”

Manna: the ‘grain of heaven.’  God’s sustenance He provided His children as they were starving in the desert.  When the Israelites cried to the Lord in hunger, God answered by stating, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”  The Almighty knew what His chosen needed and became their sole provision for life.

When we cry to the Lord, do we expect manna?  Or do we feel abandoned and grumble about our unenviable circumstances as the Israelites did?    By a strange twist of fate (or Providence), the Israelites would never have appreciated the magnitude of God’s provision had they not been starving in the first place.

I, myself, never understood the true meaning behind manna until my life fell apart and I was ‘starving’ for any sustenance to make it through my day.  When Brian lost his job, our rainy day savings had already been spent on medical bills. Rebecca was in the hospital and we had no idea how we were going to pay for her next life-saving surgery, much less our mortgage, our utilities, or our food.  Outside of searching for new jobs, our situation was completely out of our hands – but never out of God’s hands.  Our Lord is showcased in our lowest moments.

My previously self-sufficient family that relied on no one but ourselves, was forced to be at the mercy of God.  And what a merciful God He turned out to be….  Each morning brought a new source of manna – our very own bread of heaven.  From anonymous cash donations in preschool totes, to grocery and gas gift cards, to hospital cafeteria meal vouchers – the Lord provided for all of our physical needs.  Not in one fell swoop, but little by little, day by day.  Most blessings were accompanied by a note stating how God placed it upon their hearts to give to our family.  Some of our givers we knew, many we never met.  And it was not just our physical needs the Lord provided for:  He gave us loving caregivers for the boys, sensitive educators, compassionate doctors, creative gifts to lift our spirits, homemade meals deliciously prepared, and unwavering family and friends to minister us through our most difficult days.  My list of provisions grew too long to count and I sat and marveled at how God carefully and thoughtfully lifted us from the abandoned state we felt only a short time before.

Even with our fervent prayers our trial still continued.  Our baby girl was still dead, Rebecca was still hospitalized in serious condition, the boys were left without a stable home, and Brian was still without a job.  Yet God used that dreadful time in our lives to show us He was intimately aware of our circumstances, that He still loved us, and that He was still in control.  That was our true gift – not the money, the food, the assistance, or even our Christian support.  Our true blessing was the peace that came with knowing God loved me enough to provide my family with exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it.  It took a crisis for me to fully understand the depth of my Creator’s love for His chosen children.

**********

My manna from heaven came in the form of a soft-spoken phrase from Rebecca.

This past Thursday, as I was walking beside my daughter while the EMS team was loading her into the ambulance, Rebecca whispered, “Mommy, I don’t have the strength to hold your hand.  Could you please rest yours on top of mine?”

My precious child did not have the energy to wrap her fingers around my hand.  She was too weak, too broken.  But what was so beautiful was that Rebecca knew her mother could and would take over that task for her.  She knew that her mother – the mother who helped create her – could think of nothing better than to be the strength for her child when her child could no longer be strong for herself.

The irony of this situation was, at that exact moment, my feelings mirrored Rebecca’s.  Hearing the doctor describe the extent of her surgery……knowing a tremendous recovery was ahead…..watching my child writhe in pain….her body in full tremors…..screaming for any semblance of relief…

My emotional stability was crushed.  I was too weak, too broken.  I felt like crying out to God and proclaiming that I did not have the strength to endure this.

I just needed my Lord to rest His hand on top of mine and lead the way. 

When you know that your Creator, someone who understands your deepest needs, is able and willing to provide comfort in your darkest moments – the unendurable somehow becomes endurable.  An unexpected miracle.

So as I placed my hand on top of Rebecca’s, I felt the Lord placing His on mine, and the three of us climbed into the ambulance together.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13

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The once illustrious Job was forced to rely on the Lord with every labored breath he took sitting on an ash pile at the city dump.  Yet when Job’s situation drastically improved, he credited his struggles as the very reason his ‘eyes have seen’ the Lord.  Ironically, trials were the avenue to receive the manna that opened Job, the Israelites, and my own eyes to the full majesty of the Lord.  Only God could turn the very nature of suffering into an act of mercy in disguise.

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 30-33

Journal Topic:

Have you received your own version of manna – the bread of heaven?

Questions:

  1.  Have you been in a position where you solely relied on the Lord for your day to day sustenance – whether that be a physical, emotional or spiritual provision?
  1. How did you see God’s hand in your crises?  Did you feel abandoned by your Maker or provided for?
  1. If you have tasted God’s manna, can you attest that experience would never have happened had your life been in a prosperous place?

 

‘Gratitude’- Nichole Nordeman

Send some rain, would You send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade
Would You send a cloud, thunder long and loud?
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down
Surely You can see that we are thirsty and afraid
But maybe not, not today
Maybe You’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never send us rain

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time
Or maybe not, not today
Maybe You’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after You
That a starry sky offers a better view

If no roof is overhead
And if we never taste that bread

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

So grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight
Or maybe not, not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in You
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
And if You never grant us peace …

But, Jesus, would You please …

Lesson 11:

Lower Your Expectations

 Audio: Lower Your Expectations

“Some people complain that God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses on thorns.”

Anonymous

  ‘Lower your expectations’ seems like contrarian advice in our pressure-laden world where the bar is continually being raised.  Yet following that advice can be life-altering when used with a heavenly perspective.  Perspective: the one word that will change your life.

Living in a hospital room day after day taught me this important lesson.  I realized there was very little in my life I had control over, with the exception of my own thoughts.  The perspective in which you view those thoughts can be a powerful force – for better or for worse – in shaping your attitude.  What I chose to concentrate on was directly correlated with my emotional stability.  If I dwelled on the negative – I felt negative.  If I dwelled on the positive – I felt positive.  I wrote an example after a difficult night in the hospital with Rebecca:

**********

Thoughts that run through my mind every morning –

If I was a complainer….and I fervently try not to be….this is what I would complain about this morning:  Being up until one in the morning because the entire nursing staff was trying to save a child next to us who stopped breathing.  He was rushed to PICU – I do not know if he made it – I did not want to ask.  Up again every half hour with bouts of pain and fever.  Unexplained infection that continues to confuse doctors even after thorough testing.  Missing serving as a chaperone for Nicholas’ coveted once-a-year field trip to the zoo because Rebecca is not stable enough to leave – knowing how disappointed he will be that mommy is a no-show once again.  Fully understanding this cycle has not ended – there will be more surgeries, more hospitalizations.  My parents left town (which means no more chocolate iced brownies for me), Uncle Greg is out of town (which means no fun breakfast), my husband is out of town on business (which means no encouraging hugs), and although I am surrounded by people perpetually in and out of my room – today I feel alone.  I could dwell in this state for a long time.

But on the flip side – Rebecca’s spirits are up despite her infection.  She was able to laugh and smile with her doctors and nurses throughout yesterday.  She cuddled up with me during our long night and we watched a wonderful movie only girls would enjoy.  Every portion of her body intertwined with mine despite the four tubes coming out of her body – we always find a way to make it work comfortably.  Pain pumps are a blessed relief – without which, Rebecca would not be sane.  We live in a country with clean, state of the art hospitals; filled with this particular staff that adores Rebecca in every possible way.  Medical technology today – the first time in thousands of years of our civilization – allows my child to receive surgeries which save her life.  I have countless friends and family who encourage me on an hourly basis.  I have a wonderful husband and two precious boys waiting for me to come home with open arms.  And I have a God who created me in His image and loves me even more than I love my own children.

Today I will choose to focus on the flip side……

*******

I had to make a conscious choice to focus on the ‘flip side’ everyday.  But the only way I was able to make that happen was to acknowledge my life was not going the way I wanted, the way I planned.  I had to lower my expectations on what my present and even future was going to look like and hand all assumptions to the Lord.  God knew my struggles and if He was allowing them, there had to be a greater purpose.

So many times we assume the Lord’s role in our life.  We design our own course, as well as one for those we love, and map out a plan that is not to be altered:

God will provide a successful career with great pay…

He will give me my dream home…

The Lord will grant me my desire of having four children…

He will bless me with a long and healthy life…

All of those dreams seem attainable for a God-fearing woman, right?  But what happens when you lose your job and spend the rest of your working years struggling to make minimum wage?  How do you react when your dream house never grows bigger than a small apartment?  What do you do when you bury your child?   We are not in a position to play God.  Our goal and dreams may have nothing at all to do with God’s plan for our lives.  By assuming what course our life will take, we ignore God’s sovereignty.  We lose faith because our expectations were not met.  Job understood God’s sovereignty and knew that anything he had was a gift from the Lord.  His wife and his friends expected more.

It is easy to accept our Creator when things are going well.  We do not question the Lord when our children are healthy, we have a job, a roof over our heads, and full bellies.  Yet somehow, when we do not have what we feel we deserve, we doubt God’s faithfulness.  When our expectations are shattered, our trust in the Almighty is shattered with them.  God did not promise us wealth, health, and long life on this earth.  We may receive some or all of those blessings, but they are not a guarantee.  What the Lord did promise us is Jesus.  And through His son, Jesus, we will have access to eternal life in our forever home – Heaven – where our pain and afflictions will be banished.  The greatest ‘flip side’ we could ever hope for.

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 34-38

Journal Topic:

Write out your ‘flip side’ for the day – list the negatives first followed by the positives.

Questions:

  1.  Have you noticed how changing your perspective can change your entire day – for better or worse?
  1. What are active steps you can take in order to focus on the flip-side of your day?
  1. Do your struggles seem more endurable when viewed within a heavenly perspective?

 

Lesson 12:

Beauty From Ashes

 Audio: Beauty From Ashes

“Oddly, it is not real cooks who insist that the finest ingredients are necessary to produce a delicious something… Real cooks take stale bread and aging onions and make you happy.”

Susan Wiegand, ‘Cooking as Courtship’

Our Lord is a ‘real cook.’  He takes situations that are the equivalent of stale bread and aging onions and somehow turns them into a culinary masterpiece.  Our Almighty binds the brokenhearted, provides comfort to those who mourn, and finds a way to transform our trial of ashes into a magnificent crown of beauty.  And He does not stop there – our God will then use our worthless ashes for His greater, grander plan.

A couple of years ago I was sitting in our room at the Mayo Clinic Hospital after one of Rebecca’s surgeries.  I became depressed as I contemplated how very different my daughter’s childhood was, and would continue to be, from my own carefree developmental years.  As I was writing about this unfair burden, the Lord slowly began to reveal a unique beauty from Rebecca’s own pit of ashes.  For the first time, I realized how blessed my child’s spirit was because of her struggles.  Her hardship became her greatest source of courage; in fact, the very process of her disease marked her soul in an exquisite, unexplainable way…..

**********

Isaiah 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Dealing in times of crisis as our family has the past few years, I am (albeit slowly) learning the true meaning of the Biblical words “beauty instead of ashes.”  We see it in every day nature but somehow never think to apply it to our own, humanized selves.  For example, the pearl that lies in a rough, unattractive outer surface starting as a single piece of sand.  Ugly from its inner core all the way to the outer shell, and yet somehow God found a way to turn all that ugly into something exquisite – a precious pearl.  Who could ever look at a piece of coal or graphite and see past the dark, black nothingness to create a priceless diamond? Or comprehend how a dull, worm-like creature could alter to fly high, wearing vibrant colors?  Only God.  When I seem to be in the middle of my own dark, black nothingness – I know my Lord is there.  He is the overseer of all internal and external metamorphoses.  My personal diamond may be flawed and imperfect with the scars of this life, but in God’s eyes, I am priceless nonetheless.  God specializes in transforming our ugly into something exquisite.

The irony of this rebirth is that we have to see, feel, and live the ugly to really comprehend its transformative powers.  How does one fully experience the joy of life unless you have looked death square in the face?  Is it possible to anticipate Heaven with such fervency if you were not eagerly awaiting the reunion of your beloved lost?  Can you truly be empathetic to those in need, if you live a life in want of nothing?  Part of experiencing beauty from ashes means living the ashes.

Rebecca has lived the ashes and yet beauty somehow exudes from every pore of her being.  She wears it like a crown.  She proclaims a joy for life that cannot be learned.   Her heart is otherworldly – searching for those in need.  Rebecca has $79.67 in her piggy bank at home.  A collection from a year of special chores and yet Rebecca has no intention of keeping a single penny for herself.  Why?  Because she has chosen her World Vision child from Africa, Soliyana, to be the beneficiary of that fund.  When Rebecca woke up in her drug-induced state from anesthesia after her surgery this week, her daddy told her the doctor pulled her loose tooth and gave her two dollars.  Rebecca’s whispered response was, “Ohhhh I am so glad, two more dollars for Soliyana!”  A child in sheer agony, doubled over from her pain and yet her mind’s focus was still on another less fortunate.  That is Godly beauty – true beauty.  When her brother Nicholas asks Rebecca why she never spends any of the money for herself she replies, “Why? When I have so much and Soliyana has so little?”

She has a spirit to be coveted – an understanding from a child who knows what it is like to be poor.  Not of means, never would Rebecca living in our blessed first-world country be poor of means, but poor of health, strength, energy, and pain-free days.  Our God “preaches good news to the poor” because He knew at some point in our lives, we will each experience our own relative version of poverty.  He releases us from that darkness by providing comfort to our aching souls.

Rebecca has a bond, crossing all unlikely borders (even Africa), which reflects a simple but powerful expression of helping those in need.  Whether the need is based upon financial, emotional, or physical struggles, the calling for her to help overrides the difference in circumstances.  Rebecca is gifted, by God, with such a calling.  A calling led only through the unique yet difficult experience such a nine-year-old child as she has endured: Rebecca’s walk through the ashes.   The same God who can transform a piece of sand into an exquisite pearl can transform our walk through ashes into a crown of beauty.  And our Lord does this all for the display of His splendor.

“Rebecca will be called an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

*********

What is your personal version of poverty?  Are you poor in money?  Are you poor in health?  Poor in friends?  Poor in marriage?  Poor in children?  Poor in job security?  Poor in happiness?  Whatever your poverty level is in life, Isaiah reveals the Lord’s good news.  He will heal our impoverished state.  He will use it for His splendor.  You will be called righteous because of it.  And just as Rebecca’s soul was exquisitely touched, and Job’s eyes were opened to the Lord’s goodness, our lives will transform into beauty from ashes….

Enhance your Knowledge

 

Reading Assignment:

Job: 39-42

Journal Topic:

Spend the next few weeks writing out your personal transformation of ‘beauty instead of ashes.’  Recognize the Lord’s hand guiding you through your darkest moments and be blessed as you see those very moments metamorphose into something extraordinary.

Questions:

  1.  If you feel led, discuss your journal topic with the table.
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