Wednesday, December 14, 2016

even when the night is long...

Even when the night is long, nothing is wasted.

This is a phrase that I have constantly used throughout this exhausting, bitter yet grace-filled year. A phrase that was told to me years ago in a time that I thought my pain was at its worst. Little did I know that God was working in me and planting, watering and tending to a seed that would one day begin to truly take root in my heart. 

Exactly one year ago today, we said, “See you later” to my beautiful mother. I had no idea that what was supposed to be a routine surgery would forever change the world that I had known for 26 years. An environment that was so secure for me and a safety net to which I would always run to when the days were long or hard. A world that I could have never pictured without my mom, without her laughter, and even without those “annoying” 20+ phone calls a day. 

As I look back to the four days we were in the hospital, I really wonder if I was truly there. As many probably say, it felt like a total blur. I thought and hoped I was having a bad dream every time I would walk into my mom’s room, hear the beeping of the machines and see her there in the bed. That beeping sound to this day still gives me anxiety, even when I hear it on TV shows or movies, I have to switch the channel. I would blink my eyes really hard just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I would look around and double check to see if there was any inclination that this wasn’t real. I remember laying my head on her hospital bed and falling asleep and waking up hoping that she would be awake. I remember begging God to wake my mother up just as He had done with Lazarus and just as He had done with Jarius’ little girl, but it truly seemed that I wasn't being heard. As if everything I said, was deflected like a defensive player on the opposing team. “You’re supposed to be on my side!” “Your word says You are for me!” So why did it feel like the opposite was true? 

"The grass withers, the flower fades
but the Word of the Lord will stand forever."
Isaiah 40:8

365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes have passed without speaking to, seeing, or hugging my mom. There are days where I literally think of something to tell her and reach for my phone and then slowly put it down. I will catch a whiff of her hairspray or perfume and I feel hopeful but then sick to my stomach. There was a moment when I was at church and saw a woman from a distance and thought it was my mom. I must have stared for about 10 minutes just to double check. Even the type of car she drove will pass me, my heart jumps a little. I look in the rearview mirror just to see the small blue sticker on the back that would confirm it is her car. I have constantly wished this wasn’t my reality or that I could be taken out of this reality or be immune from the hurt and tears. I wish my brother and I would still have our mom here, that my dad wouldn’t have to go home to an empty house and that my niece and nephew would still have their BeBe. But God has sovereignly chosen this as our reality. That may sound so foreign and wrong, but God and His plans are just the opposite. Just as He chose for Joseph to be thrown into jail, just as He chose for Paul to face the many hardships that I will probably never face, and just as He chose for His own Son to be brought to this fallen world, God has divinely ordained us to step in the path of suffering. Because with each of these examples, and with each step me and my family take on this journey, there is a purpose. 

“Consider that every work of God
 is wise, just, and good, and there is an admirable beauty and harmony
 in His works, and all will appear at last to have been for the best. 
Let us therefore give Him the glory of all His works concerning us, 
and study to answer His designs in them.”
Matthew Henry

I mentioned earlier about crying out to God to save my mother. Though that was not an ill request and fitting for the circumstance we were in, I was reminded a few days ago that He is still as sovereign and loving in the miracle of healing as He is in the pain and suffering. When I saw God heal others and seem to disregard my mom, I screamed out to Him, “That is exactly what I asked you for and You chose not to do so! God, this feels so personal.” In my utmost hurt and honesty, He still remained Faithful. He would remind me His will is best even when my will and mind think otherwise. His Faithfulness is not based on my merit or how many words I can fit into my prayers but on His Word and His Word alone. His Word stands forever. He cannot take back or break any promises He has made. He is committed to His children. He says that we will face trails (1 Peter 1:6-9) but because our faith and hope is in Him, we will still have “inexpressible joy.” No, we are not joyful of the circumstances, but in the One who is in control of such seasons like the one my family and I are facing today. God’s children are filled with joy not because of what we have done, but because of the work of the cross and the conquering of the grave. That is why even in the ugliest days of suffering, I can still somehow remember that Christ is on His throne and I will see Him and my mother one day. We know the end of the story. And if you’re a Believer, death isn't it.

I often share about His sovereignty through my social media posts, but honestly there are days I don’t believe it. But just because I don’t believe it, doesn’t make it less true, but often reminds me of a greater need. Suffering causes a great deal of unwanted pain but in that pain, I am seeing myself turn to God more and somehow I think that is just one part of the grace of suffering. Without Him, I have no earthly idea how I would face what I am facing on a daily basis. In my opinion, suffering as a Christian doesn’t necessarily lessen the blow. What I mean is that even in my personal hurt, I’m not always quoting scripture to myself or telling myself “God’s got this!” nor am I running to the nearest Hobby Lobby to find the most inspirational wall decor to get me through this season (come on, you’ve got to admit some of them are a little cheesy). No, if I’m honest, I am mad. I am sitting alone in my room with tears streaming down my face and the only thing I can think of is, “This sucks and hurts so deeply.” And sometimes that’s all I can muster up to say to God or I don’t utter anything at all. But even in those moments, there is grace. Grace to talk to God like a dear friend and share honestly with Him or grace to silently sit in His presence. I’ve said before, God is not thrown into disarray when we are honest with Him nor is He when we can’t muster up anything to say to Him because our hearts and minds seem to be broken. That is why the picture of the Spirit interceding for us is so beautiful. Even when we are talking with God the Spirit is still interceding in words we cannot imagine, speaking to God of our deepest need. Nothing ever occurs to God. And then there are days where I am okay, He shows me His word and the feast of feasts that lies within it:

"In the day of prosperity be joyful, 
and in the day of adversity consider: 
God has made the one as well as the other…"
Ecclesiastes 7:14

"…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
And we know that for those who love God all things
work together for good, for those who are called 
according to His purpose."
Romans 8:27b-28

"Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…"
Job 13:15a

"But He knows the way that I take;
when He has tried me, I shall
come out as gold.
For He will complete what He
appoints for me,
and many such things are in His mind."
Job 23:10,14

You see, God is not unaware. He is not unaware of my pain or yours. Our struggles with sin nor this life and the brokenness in it do not go unnoticed by our Maker. He takes notice of our pain and our pain was a reason why He came to this earth. He brings forth compassion on the weak and fainting and the powerful Truth is that what breaks and exhausts us does not fatigue Him. He came for the sole purpose to save those who are lost and hurting. 

"...a bruised reed He will not break,
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench."
-Isaiah 42:3

And God proves His compassion through many ways. I have had countless people who encourage me and pray for me (maybe more than I will ever know) and my family. I have literally felt what it is like to have Galatians 6:2 come alive:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
I was reading a commentary and "burden" in this context means a weight that we literally cannot bear by ourselves. The weight of my mom’s death and the reality of life without her is something I truly cannot bear alone. We are already carrying our own loads (Galatians 6:5) with our strength so the addition of a burden is impossible to carry and that is why Christ gave us each other. I have a few friends that I call my “safe people” who I invite into this mess and who will speak Truth in love to me. People who I can literally scream, “This isn’t fair!” and they don’t judge me. They let me get out what is consuming me and then give me Truth or sometimes share the silence with me. I am learning that I cannot withdraw and hide because I am weary and sometimes confused, but to seek out those to help me “run with endurance” and to pursue righteousness even when it seems impossible. John Stott addresses this beautifully, 

“Human friendship, in which we bear one another's burdens,
 is part of the purpose of God for his people. 
So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves,
 but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us.”

All in all, I can question, doubt and even fight God with my anger and bitterness or I can choose to do something for His glory. No, I would not want to walk through this again but today, because that is all I am given, I am choosing to find joy in heartache and suffering. The only example I can think of is Christ and how He is “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and that brings me comfort. My pain and your pain are acquainted with Christ Himself. Sin and the broken world causes us and our Savior grief. This wasn’t supposed to be part of the story. Death is ultimately a result of sin, but praise the Lord, we were not left in this state if we trust in Him. One of God’s first signs of grace was when He casts Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden (even what Adam and Eve may have considered suffering, there was always grace) so that they wouldn’t live forever in a state of brokenness. He also sent His Son, who would later conquer death and bring salvation to those who believe and trust in Him. Because of that resounding Truth, I know (and have to constantly remind myself) that my pain is for a purpose and to make me more like Him. 

“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, 
but to the future. 
I know that the experiences of our lives, 
when we let God use them, 
become the mysterious and perfect preparation 
for the work He will give us to do.”
Corrie Ten Boom

My mom saw Jesus' face at 4:00 pm on December 14, 2016. After everything happened, my uncle sweetly took me by the arm and told me to step outside. When we left the room, he simply said, "I want you to see this sky. No clouds. No rain." and then he smiled and gave me a hug. It had been raining all three days we were at the hospital and even that morning and afternoon, but at 4:00 pm there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I could be over exaggerating this, but I think God was showing me the grace that lay ahead even in my hurt so I took the picture at the top as a reminder. In one of the hardest nights I had in this season, I asked a dear and wise friend, “Tell me where in the Bible it says this won’t be wasted because I don’t believe it.” She sent me the verses in Job I listed above and then she sent me this:
“You can get mad and quit.
You can get mad and fight for righteousness,
for eternity and things that matter.
Because we live and then our impact here is over.
Nothing wasted.
Do damage for the kingdom.
Chase what matters.
Life is short—people matter.”

Even when the night is long, nothing is wasted, dear friends.

Last thing, I promise :)
Here is a song that has truly been my anthem through this season. It is written by Shane and Shane and it is titled, “Though You Slay Me.” Many of the lyrics come from the book of Job. I remember seeing this song posted years ago but never listened to it until one night on my way home from Auburn a few months ago, I decided to listen to it. Tears after tears were streaming down my face because every word resonated with my hurt. I felt/feel God has ruined me, torn me apart, and taken from me someone so precious. The lyrics are honest but not hopeless words. God showed me through this song and reading through Job that the trials I face are never intended for my hurt but for my good and for the glory of Christ and this hurt is not useless though there are many, many days it feels just the opposite. I can praise Him in my hurt. He is beginning to put a “new song in my mouth” with every stride in this season, one note at a time.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who's broken
The one who's torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I'll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I'll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

Though tonight I'm crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You're still more than I need
You're enough for me
You're enough for me

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Remnants of Grief: No Filters

I was getting ready one morning just like any other morning and I looked across the room and saw a wad of used tissues on my bedside table. I had almost forgotten about the long night before that but was instantly reminded when looking at these remnant of grief.

I was telling my pastor the other day, "Grief is crazy." That's all I could figure out how to describe what has been this journey the past 4 months. There are days that I'm 100% okay and don't really think about what all has happened, and then there are days where I look down and realize I am wearing an outfit my mom picked out for me (which is usually most of the clothes I wear, thanks, mom ;) ) and nearly lose it in the car. It's almost like a part of my body is missing. I told my Aunt how I feel her absence more and more now that things are settling and trying to back to a "normal" pace. I know that may sounds weird to some, but my mom was my best friend. Yes, we fought like crazy sometimes and drove each other insane but more than that we were really, really close. Close enough to know how to get under each other's skin but at the same time know how each other is feeling without saying anything. I can't say that I've had anyone else that fits that bill. So that's why grief is crazy. It's crazy because there aren't any stages to accurately describe this process.

The other night was probably the first night since mom's passing that everything seemed to hit me. And it wasn't pretty. I couldn't keep my thoughts under control and everything in me seemed to just hurt and scream for God to make everything better. I kept asking and crying, "Why?!" I want Him to take away this pain that is the deepest I've ever known. I was openly honest with God in that moment and told Him that He wasn't fair to heal other people and disregard my mom. It felt personal, and I let Him know it.

A sweet friend of mine described a time in her life when she was mad with God. She told me, "Hillary, it was like I was coming to Him and just throwing blow upon blow on His chest like a child." When she said that, it clicked. That is exactly what I felt like. She reminded me that when we decide not to hide what we are feeling and just come to Him, He 1.) can handle it and 2.) He reveals that's part of His tremendous character. He can handle every bit of my anger, doubting, honesty and my moments when I tell Him that this feels so personal. When I tell Him these feelings and struggles it truly feels like I am just pounding away at Him over and over, like throwing punches in the air. But the fact is: He's still there. He is like a father who holds their raging/fit-throwing two year old (usually against their will) and tightly wraps his arms around them which oddly seems to calm them. I fight it so much sometimes but even in my fighting, while I am throwing punches, He wraps His arms around me and it is almost like He says, "I know, I know. But I'm not going anywhere. Keep it coming. I'm not going anywhere."

That is why grief and suffering are graces from Him. These two words have a lot of negative connotation added on to them. Grace is being given something you don't deserve. I don't deserve to have this understanding and love from Him. I know Him and see Him in a new way. To experience His loving character through this valley is a grace I do not deserve but I am thankful. Like I said in my last post, we normally don't decide that we want  to go through suffering or grief. But as a Believer my "filters" have changed since this season hit. I once saw the Lord as a loving and caring Father (which He is!) who wouldn't really allow "bad things" to happen to His children. But through this suffering and through this grief I can see how He is removing these filters so that I can proclaim what Job said:

My ears had heard of You
but now my eyes have seen You.
Job 42:5 (NIV)

I don't know nor can I begin to understand why God allows (He does not cause them to happen. Sin is the ultimate reason to our pain and discomfort here on earth) circumstances that we don't like to take place, but what I do know is that He will sustain us through it. If you know God* and have claimed Him Lord over your life, He will allow season in your life that you aren't comfortable with. Suffering looks different to each person. I am not saying that you have to experience death of a loved one to know this type of grace. What I am saying is that any suffering: singleness, divorce, struggling in your marriage/home life, death, loss of a job, in any of these circumstances God will uphold you.

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work
in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

*If you don't know the Lord or claim Him as your Savior, I honestly don't know how you hold up through suffering or loss. Maybe you aren't. I pray that you will see God in the midst of your pain and confusion. I pray that God will send you someone to show you His grace in the midst of this. I cannot answer your questions on your anger or doubt, but I can only tell you, friend, that He is good. He is better. He carries our burdens for us (Matthew 11:28-30) and allows us to rest. That doesn't mean every problem will be solved (at least not here on this earth) nor does it mean that we will be prosperous when we accept Him, but it means that when we know Him and believe in Him we are entrusted into the hands of a Heavenly Father who does only the best  for us (Romans 8). He desires good of you and wants you to know and experience the love He has for you (John 3:161 John 3:1Romans 10:9-13).

Like I said above, my filter has changed. I am learning to see suffering as a true grace from God. I see Him through a new lens. I had to ask God to rid me of the false lenses/filters I had of Him before this season. I have never been this honest with Him and now because I am journeying through this, I see that I can pound Him with honesty and questions. I may not get an answer right away and I may still be left with feeling pain (this takes time) but it won't be in vain. It won't be wasted in His hands. That has been the theme of this valley. God promises that He is going to make everything right again. He is going to use this season for His glory and my good.

Though He slay me,
I will rejoice
Job 13:5 (ESV)

Whatever my God Ordains is right
His holy will abides
I will be still whatever He does
and follow where He guides

Sweet comfort, sweet comfort
Yet shall fill my heart
Sweet Comfort, sweet comfort, 
Sorrow shall depart

Whatever my God ordains is right
He makes my feet to stand
Though sorrow, need or death be mine
He holds me in His hands

This bitter cup, I take it
May fainting heart restored
So here I stand, unshaken
I trust upon the Lord

He is my God though dark my road
He holds me, I shall not fall
Whatever my God ordains as right
to Him I leave it all

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

If You Want Me To: When Suffering & Grace Meet

Then the Lord said,
“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt
and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.
I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them
out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land
 to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…
Exodus 3:7-8 (ESV)


It isn’t something many of us would raise our hand and say, “Sign me up!” No, suffering, if we are all honest, is something we wish we could avoid at any point in our lives. Suffering means pain, unfamiliarity, being uncomfortable, or not getting an answer to the question, “Why?” In most cases, suffering doesn’t seem fair whether we’re the ones experiencing it or seeing someone else being dealt this unfortunate hand.

But with Christ, that’s where grace steps in.

Many of you know my mom recently passed away very unexpectantly. She was going in for a routine surgery (one she has had 4 times) but this time she never woke up. It feels like it has been an eternity, but I look at my calendar and realize it has only been 2 months. There are the typical “good and bad days” and some days that I honestly don’t know what to call them.

I remember crying out to God and begging Him to restore my mom’s health here on earth and to not take her from us. I remember telling Him, “If only you could see, if only you knew, God, how much glory you would receive if you would physically heal my mom here on earth and wake her up. You have no idea! If only…” There were and are many things I have said to God that I thought I couldn’t say. But He meets me with His grace. Grace to come to Him in my most honest and fearful moments and tell Him what’s on my heart, even if it isn’t nice. For example, I said (and sometimes still say) to Him that it wasn’t enough to know that she would be in a better place. I’ve learned in this season that honesty doesn’t scare God like it scares me. He isn’t caught off guard that I tell Him that I’m mad at Him. He isn’t thrown into disarray when I tell Him, that in the moment, I don’t believe that He is good. These are all the feelings that I have brought to God in the past 2 months and that I’m sure I will continue to bring to Him for a while.

 A friend of mine, who is recently experiencing a tough season with one of her parent’s health, reminded me that feelings aren’t truth. Just because I feel one way towards God one day and another the next, doesn’t speak of His character, but speaks of my deceitful heart. It is an ever-constant reminder that feelings aren’t truth. Feelings are fleeting. What truly lasts is the Truth I know of God.  I know that He sees, hears and knows my suffering apart from what I may feel. In the verse above, His word clearly states that He saw, heard and knew the Israelite’s suffering and groaning. And because I know that our Father never changes, He still sees, hears and knows my past, present and future suffering. His word tells us: “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) The same “know” here is the same Greek word used in the verse mentioned above. The Greek for this is “yada`” which means, knowledge, perceive, acquaintance, to know by experience. Because Jesus walked in this same flesh (though free from sin), He experienced hunger, thirst, and even grief. Matthew Henry said,

Even the secret sorrows of God’s people are known to Him.

God is so familiar with our sorrow because He too experienced not only the loss of His union with His people (when Adam and Eve sinned) but with the death of His son, Jesus. So I know He knows. And because I know this Truth, my heart can be quiet and settled in the hard days.
I wonder on many occasions why my mom had to die at her age and during a time when I really need my mom the most. I cry when I think that she won’t be here for big moments in my life. These are all honest moments of grief and it’s okay. So if you’re reading this and you too are going through suffering/grief, bring these feelings, thoughts and quiet days where you honestly don’t know what to think or do, to a Father who doesn’t require you to have it all together, have a smile on your face because “you’re a Christian,” or to even like Him during your suffering or time of grief. Or if you're a friend or family member walking with someone going through grief, let them know it is okay to be not okay. Let them grieve in the way they need to (unless it is unhealthy). If you see they've had a hard day, maybe get them a "happy" to help brighten their day. If they don't want to talk, I have learned that silence is very healing in some ways. Embrace and share that silence with them. Ultimately pray for them and ask God to show you ways to love them in this season.
If we picture God as a terrifying, uncompassionate God, it is hard to take things so tender like the loss of a parent to Him. But if we remember that He is a compassionate Father (Psalm 86:15; Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:5-7), we know that He cares so intentionally for us in every moment of our suffering. We are loved, known, cared for, disciplined, by not just a God who is Almighty and Just but by a forever Faithful, Unwavering and Sovereign— even when it feels like everything is lost—Father. Whatever suffering looks like for you, entrust it to a Faithful God who walks with you through this season.

I have come to realize the true reality of life. I feel that it is cliché to say that but honestly I see how quickly our lives here on earth pass by. My mom was only 60. My cousin who passed way 10 years ago was only 24. We aren’t guaranteed a long and prosperous life here on earth but we are guaranteed an eternal life with Christ if we choose to let Him in our lives.

He [Satan] would rather us be faithlessly prosperous than afflicted and faithful. … Often it is in the taking away that our true love and trust are revealed, which is a great mercy to us and usually for others. And often, in this age, the most valuable, most satisfying, most beneficial, longest lasting gifts we receive and pass along to others end up coming through the experiences of our losses.
Jon Bloom, What God Gives When He Takes Away (Find the article here)

We aren’t guaranteed ultimate happiness when we trust Christ, or that bad things won’t happen, but we are ensured to a God who works all things together, safeguarded by a God who is a moment-by-moment sustainer. We are given a Father who gives only good gifts (Yes, even suffering is a gift even when it doesn’t seem like it) to His children. An Intercessor for days we can’t figure out how to get what’s in our heart/mind out into words.  With these truths in hand, I can live my life here for His glory. Even in my suffering I can cry and He can get glory. I can be upset and He can still get glory.  I can be honest and He can still get glory.

So I choose not to waste one ounce or moment of this season because nothing is wasted in His hands.

If You Want Me To
Ginny Owens

The pathway is broken and the signs are unclear
And I don't know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I'm gonna walk through the valley if You want me to

No I'm not who I was when I took my first step
And I'm clinging to the promise You're not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
Then I will go through the fire if You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that's not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I'd never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me and I'm all by myself
And I can't hear You answer my cries for help
I'll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will walk through the darkness if You want me to

When I cross over Jordan, I'm gonna sing, gonna shout
I'm gonna look into Your eyes and see, You never let me down
So take me on the pathway that leads me home to You
And I will walk through the valley if You want me to