Category Archives: suffering

God Rules

“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

Genesis 32:25

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Recently, we celebrated Pink-Out Day at our school – an October day dedicated for wearing pink to honor and to support the fight against breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, the kids contributed their spare change as a donation to our local cancer center. It was a blessing to walk amongst a sea of pink that day and to soberly reflect on its significance in my own journey of survivorship.

My classroom started our Pink-Out Day as we begin all of our days – in the Word of God. I’ve been telling them their story of faith – the history of their people, the Patriarchs. Rich have been our morning discussions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My students are learning a lot, perhaps retaining more biblical knowledge at the tender age of ten than most of the world’s population. It’s a good thing to glean head knowledge. It’s an even better thing when that knowledge works its way down into the heart where it can lodge for a season, perhaps eternally. So when one of my students showed evidence of that movement on that particular morning, I was delighted and humbled to lead her to that place of greater understanding. The backdrop for our discussion was Jacob’s great wrestling match with God at Peniel which, ultimately, led to God changing his name from Jacob to Israel (meaning “God rules”).

“Mrs. Olsen, do you think if God would have healed Jacob’s hip that night, instead of letting him walk with a limp the rest of his life, that Jacob would have forgotten that he wrestled with God and that ‘God rules’?”

Her question interrupted my train of thought and led me down an unplanned path. Tenderly, I knelt at her desk and allowed myself to be vulnerable, transparent at a level usually reserved for adults.

“Class, I want to tell you something about me that, in some ways, mirrors Jacob’s story from so long ago. I have a scar running across the width of my chest, from armpit to armpit. I have scars on my stomach as well – all scars the results of my needing to deal with my cancer. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I am reminded about that difficult journey, and while I’m not limping around the room like Jacob must have, a part of my heart limps along each day remembering the night when I wrestled with God and had to learn that ‘God rules.’”

My words resonated with some … mostly with her. My hope is that, years from now, when those night wrestlings arrive for each of my students, they will remember Jacob’s night, maybe even some of my story so that they might emerge in the morning with a new name, a fresh hope, and a holy reminder that “God rules.” God is not disengaged from our lives, friends; God is engaged with us, willing to split the night sky (if need be) to walk upon this earthen sod, take us to the mat, and wrench our hips with an everlasting reminder that he is God. His thoughts are not always our own, and his ways aren’t always the ones we’d prefer. But his presence in the midst of getting us to where we need to go … who we need to be?

Well, Jacob-Israel would probably tell you a limp is a small price to pay to learn this one lesson of eternal significance. I would voice the same.

God rules. Yesterday. Today. Forever. God rules. We cannot always see his hand in the story. On those days, perhaps, all we really need to see is our personal scars, to lift up our shirts and boldly behold the truth of just how far we’ve come. In our scars, we can trace God’s hand, we can glimpse his grace, and we can know that we’ve been held through the night in his merciful and loving grip.

Your body is not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body, scars and all. Limp on, sweet ones. Limp forward. Limp knowing that God rules and that God loves. I’ll meet you on the road. As always,

Peace for the journey,

Something

One glance in her direction, and I knew that she was carrying a terrible ache in her heart.

Maybe it was the way her head was lowered, covered up by the golden locks that frame her face.

Maybe it was the way she flicked her husband’s hand away from the back of her neck as he tenderly tried to comfort her.

Maybe it was because I knew some of her story.

Maybe it was because God needed me to notice.

Regardless of the reason for my knowing, it was clear to me what she was so desperately trying to hide . . .

Her grief. Her loss. Her something.

“Everybody has something. Your something might not be my something, but at some point in your life, you’ve had a something. Maybe not a big something, but something large enough to rock your inner equilibrium and force your outward response. It’s not particularly important what your something is. What is important is what you do with your something. Somethings come and go; what will endure, however, is the memory of how you handled yours.” (from Beyond the Scars, p. 13)

I think she is handling her something as best she knows how. Somethings don’t come with a survival manual, and the last thing she needed in those moments was another “how to” on how to handle her grief loaded on top of the already burgeoning responsibility of carrying it. Instead, what she needed was for God to notice her and to do his noticing through one of his children, through the unexpected hands of a servant who isn’t normally included in her inner circle but who was willing to momentarily charge in to deliver a message of hope.

And so I entered in and interrupted her grief to give to her what God had given me moments earlier. To wrap her up in my arms, cradle her pain, and strengthen her with heaven’s declaration.

“This is not the end of the story.”

In that sacred pause between us, I knew that she believed me . . . believed God, and I felt the burning of a great love inside of me for a woman I barely know. I am grateful for those flames because they remind me, even as they reminded her, that I am alive and that . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

Not for her. Not for me. Not for you either.

I don’t where you are in this season of life. I don’t know the suffering somethings that have walked these many miles by your side. But I do know what it is to lower my head in sorrow, to wet my lap with bitter tears, and to flick tender caresses away from my neck. And I know what it feels like to feel alone, to feel so buried beneath my grief that I didn’t even know that I needed God to notice me. When all I could see, all I could hear, all I could absorb was the terribleness of my something.

Like a death march to a bottomless grave.

Maybe today you’re marching in similar stride. I don’t know how long it will last, friend. I wouldn’t dare try to talk you out of your grief. Grief walks its own timetable, and I’m not in charge of the clock. There’s a seasonal work taking place in your soul, and it can only be accomplished by your willingness to walk it through. Piece by piece, step by step, until one morning you wake up and you feel the warmth of something stronger, a peace that surprises you and that reminds you . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

That day is coming, and it isn’t very far from now. Our God has taken notice of your pain; your something matters to him. It matters to me as well. Rest easy in the arms of Jesus, friend. There are more lines to your story, and our very good God is working on a way to make them all count for the kingdom . . . even when you can’t feel past the pain.

Especially then.

I love you dearly.

If you or someone you know is walking through a suffering something right now, I have a resource that will serve as a gentle companion to you and to them while moving through the pain. It was written with you in mind; it is released to you in love. Click here for more details.

Also, my friend, Laura Boggess, is hosting a give-away of the book at her website. Click here to learn more.

 

 

 

it might be hope

I made a telling discovery this morning during my morning devotional time – a few thoughts I’m lingering on and in as I begin this grace-day with Jesus. It’s about my standing “near the cross” and the posture of my heart therein. Let me explain.

Three years ago, I led a group of women through Alicia Chole’s study, Choices: to be or not to be … a woman of God. In this current season, I have the privilege of doing the same with another group of women at our new church. One of the questions that Alicia repeatedly asks of us in our times together is, “How is your garden growing?” (alicia chole, choices: to be or not to be a woman of God, 2003, p.4)

What I like most about this question is that it roots in intentionality—something along the lines of: This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there? And therein, I cannot sit back and simply lead. Instead, I must sit alongside my sisters as a participant. Just because I’ve done the study before, doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some fresh digging, fresh seed planted in the soil of my own heart. If I can’t give God access to the spade and shovel to work within the confines of my soul, I certainly shouldn’t waste the time of the members of my group in shepherding them toward the same.

And so, I give the trowel over to Jesus and ask him to break up the soil of my unplowed ground, to see, once again, what is growing within me nearly three years after this familiar blade first broke the soil regarding the choices I make … to be or not to be a woman of God.

Week Three, Day One (ibid, p. 29). Alicia guides me to consider that familiar scene at the cross, where Jesus’ mother, close friends, and followers were “standing by” as eyewitnesses to his suffering (see John 19:25). I journal my thoughts regarding the many, strong emotions that must have been present that day. I do so without looking back at the responses I wrote to this same question three years earlier. In keeping my responses fresh, I’m able to (at the conclusion of the activity) look back to those earlier responses and compare them with my current ones. It’s a rich exercise in evaluation.

Easily, I find the similarities. Feelings that include: confusion, emptiness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, gut-wrenching pain. I imagine many of you might reach these same conclusions regarding the emotions surrounding that day at Calvary. What surprised me the most in the comparing of my two lists was the inclusion of a couple of emotions this time around that were glaringly absent from my list three years ago. Those emotions? Relief and hope. Relief that Christ’s anguish had come to an end—a finishing point to an event that had, undoubtedly, been building up in their minds for a long season. And feelings of hope based on the reality of the finishing work of the cross—something along the lines of: Now that we’ve come to this moment in his story, I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

And therein is my discovery, my lingering. Why the emotions of relief and hope this time around and not three years ago? Well, that’s another story for another day. But when I look back to where I was three years ago (a season of deep suffering and wounding) and to where I am today, the discrepancy is more clearly understood. Suffering sometimes clouds the truth, and the truth is … suffering does a finishing work in all of us. When we arrive at suffering’s end, hope often turns up in our hearts to surprise us and to invite us forward into holy expectation for the words yet to be written onto the pages of our lives.

This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there?

Well, it feels like relief; it feels like it might be hope. What about you, friends? What is growing in the soil of your heart? Won’t you take some time today to consider the question with Jesus? It’s a fine deliberation and one that has the potential to yield abundant fruit for your soul. As always …

Peace for the journey,
 

yet inwardly

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  -2 Cor. 4:16-17

Yet inwardly.

As God-followers, we must remember that for every outward reduction to our lives there is an inward renewal taking place. Soul renewal. New strength to replace waning fortitude. New life in exchange for that which is old, even when the old is mostly preferred.

We cannot always foresee the reductions coming. Sometimes they surprise us. Sometimes we are warned in advance of their arrival. Still and yet, when loss arrives to our familiar, we feel it profoundly. We’re quick to mourn its advent, even quicker to forget the deeper work of grace that is taking place underneath the pain, at heart-level. It is in this inward place where our soul advances. Where faith is shaped. Where eternal glory exponentially increases at a rapid rate.

We may not see the increase happening, but just because our eyesight is momentarily dimmed by personal pain doesn’t mean that something good isn’t occurring at a deeper level. What soil put to the blade has ever thanked the blade for its penetrating sharpness? Until the seed is planted, the earth watered, and the sun applied, the soil has no appreciation for this inward work of glory. The soil just has to wait and believe that, with every passing sunrise and sunset, there is something generous taking place beneath the visible.

As it is with the soil, so it is with the soul.

I’m fourteen days into 2014, and if there’s one word that best characterizes what I’ve experienced in these beginning weeks it would be simply and profoundly be … loss.

Not only have I known deep, personal reduction, but one of my children has as well. My parents, the same. We couldn’t see it coming on the backside of our 2013s; nevertheless, loss has arrived at the doorsteps of our hearts, and we are challenged to take hold of God’s inward multiplication despite man’s attempts at outward reduction.

By the generous grace of God, we’re all still standing in faith. We all still believe in the mighty work belonging to the unseen—the hidden places of our hearts where the Gardener’s inward work is taking place. Even in loss, there is increase. We just can’t see it yet, not fully.

What I can see and what I do know is this:

God is keeping me in his perfect peace. Why? Because I am intentionally choosing to trust him and, moment by moment, to place my mind next to his. Whenever I begin to fret and feel overcome by the arrows of chaos shooting poison into my thoughts, I move my thoughts to a higher place. There’s nothing mystical about this mind-movement; rather, it’s a choice I’m making—a fluid, uninterrupted heart-motion that begins with saying, “I trust you, God” and ends with my resting my head on his chest.

Therein, I am a kept woman, if only for a moment. Moments can accumulate into hours. Hours into days, and days into weeks … these past two weeks of continuing peace. I’m growing to expect this from God, and I am exceedingly grateful for his generosity.

This is an inward work by the unseen God. This is increasing, eternal glory. And today, this is enough to carry me forward.

How about you? I don’t imagine I’m the only one who is experiencing loss in this season. Perhaps you’re standing where I am standing, feeling the sharp blade of unanticipated reduction to the soil of your heart. Might I encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul that have greatly encouraged me?

Yet inwardly.

There is an inward grace taking place just beneath your seen and visible. It may not feel like much right now; this reduction may have temporarily numbed you to the truth regarding kingdom increase. But when you get to the other side of this loss—when the seeds planted in darkness begin to sprout as glory under the splendor of God’s radiant Son—then you will know that there is more to this current grief than what can currently be seen.

So rejoice with me, ye sojourners on the road of reduction! Yet inwardly, the Gardener is sowing for increase. Rejoice, at least, in this. It’s something more than we expected, and it just might wind up being our preference in the end.

Kept in peace,

Sabbath Sunrise – a prayer for my son

Paint my boy a Sabbath sunrise, Father – one filled with the color of hope, not the cover of despair.

Take the pain that’s been smeared onto his canvas at night and replace it with splashes of your morning grace.

What she has taken from him, replace it with what you have given to him. A hope. A future. A plan that includes something best, not something less.

His are deep wounds, bleeding red, hot, and furious. Stop the hemorrhaging with your hands—the very ones that bled and shed red for our sin and our pain.

I can no longer cradle him in my arms. My lullabies sing harshly, and I have few words to fix the ache within. Only scattered thoughts to fill the awkward pause in between his despair and his healing.

So Father, would you paint him a Sabbath sunrise? Would you paint me one as well?

How we need the color. The warmth. The reminder that all has not been lost in the night.

Your sun still rises. This is gain. This is resurrection. This is Sabbath.

Give us eyes to see it, minds to conceive it, and hearts to believe that you painted it just for us—your perfect peace in the midst of a perfect storm.

For him, my boy with a broken heart. For me, his mom whose heart breaks alongside.

Amen.

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