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

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