“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. Maybe you can relate? We don’t say it exactly like that, but anytime we project thoughts, emotions, and turmoil into the future— where God hasn’t given us grace to live yet— we are imagining a fake future where He is not God.
For me, because I have Multiple Sclerosis, living in this fake future can happen when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … The pervasive thoughts of this fake future can come in and steal my joy, robbing me of the beauty of the present moment anytime that I stop preaching the gospel to my oh-so-prone-to-wander heart.
Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it is simply not true. It’s a bold lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. Anytime those three are in cahoots together, say during a pandemic, my fake future is all the grimmer. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self-preserve, and ultimately self-serve, forgetting about God and others in the present. This pretend future becomes ridden with the stench of self – what Jesus came to rescue me from! This future is an awful place where I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and all-wise one… except, since I’m not those things, it is a place of great fear – a place where God is not present.
During our livestream worship gathering last week, we sang Sovereign Over Us and I was convicted that I’m not living as the song declares:
“There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever – perfect in love
You are sovereign over us.”
In my broken, immunosuppressed body (that fights against my nervous system), I can choose to worship God no matter what. In brokenness, I can worship more deeply, fully, and beautifully. Yet, as I stood singing, my heart was unsettled and restless. “You have to be careful!” my mind shouted.
This is very true. The ramifications of getting sick while I have less B-cells to fight it off (taking forever to get over sickness and incurring permanent damage resulting from white blood cells attacking the covering of my nervous system) are very real. Yet, I can choose whether or not to abide safely in Jesus with this knowledge. My outward actions probably need to remain the same – safe and cautious – but my heart needs a heavy dose of the truth, stability, and safety found only in the One who is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
The reality is that even if I get sick, and even if my broken white blood cells go rogue and attack my nervous system, and even if my foot and leg (or eye, or hands, or bladder or whatever) stop working permanently, He is still sovereign over even that. Even if I am more permanently damaged, to God be the glory forever because that is what He has planned for me to love Him more deeply and proclaim Him more fully.
Nothing can touch us, as children of God, without God’s permission. Remember Job? Satan had to ASK God for permission to take Job’s stuff, make him sick, allow his kids to die, and more. The book of Job is 42 chapters long, but the story could have been told in merely 6. There are 36 chapters devoted to allowing us to walk with Job through his questions, anguish, and pain. While knowing God is sovereign doesn’t take away the difficulty, or the grief, or the sitting in pain and suffering for a time, it does put those feelings in perspective with the eternal glory that outweighs it all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I’m thankful for the words of another song, He will Hold Me Fast, that reminds me of the truth: “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.” His grip is stronger than my lack of faith. This is encouraging to me as I am bluntly, yet kindly, reminded of my own lack of faith in who God says He is and who He has proven to be, time and time (and time) again.
This body is what God has given me to worship Him in. Broken, and hurting, and not always working right – it is where my soul lives. And, I can worship Him in my present reality: In my strong faith or my lack of faith; in my fears and insecurities or my deep and abiding trust. This is the body, the season, and the place in which He has called me to live, move, breath, and worship. So, I will trust that I am held fast by a sovereign God who is always good, loving, faithful, and in charge.
And when I forget, I will repent and believe again (and again) … with this body that will one day – on the day of God’s choosing – finally and forever be made perfect.
 Sovereign Over Us | Aaron Keyes. Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring
 He Will Hold Me Fast | Ada Habershon & Matt Merker
*I am grateful to have this article appear in enCourage!
I’m excited today to share with you a free e-book devotional I wrote for you and my church, for Lent. You can download and use on your device or print it out. Here’s the introduction:
40 days of quiet.
This is an invitation, more than anything else. It is an invitation to feast on the abundance of God and his Word. It is a calling to a quieted soul. It is an offer to drink from deep streams of mercy and grace; to find stillness, and quiet, and soul rest; to lift your eyes and heart to Jesus.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus was not only fully God but also fully man. He talked to God the same way we do – through prayer, silence, and solitude. He showed us what it is like to commune with God – to create space in our souls for God’s Word and hearing from Him.
So, I invite you to journey with me: 40 days of Lent; not just giving something up and fasting (which is good and needed!) but to also pick something up – a daily offering of prayer, solitude, and Scripture. I’m going to share heartfelt prayers and thoughts from my own journals and also prayers of the saints, prayers from the Psalms, and excerpts from other books of prayer. I’m going to ask heart questions – thoughtful questions to help guide the heart to stillness, as the Lord leads us.
I encourage you to read through a Gospel or two during the course of Lent. Follow Jesus’ life, walk beside Him, sit with Him, watch Him take our place. I’m going to read Luke and Mark. In part, this is because, between these two Gospels, one chapter each day adds up to 40 days of Lent. But it is also partly because these are the two Gospels I tend to read the least and so I’m planning to soak in them some more.
You’re going to see very short prayers some days. Other days, you’ll find much longer thoughts and prayers. Sometimes I’ll quote someone else, or a Scripture, or just a prayer with a question for you to consider. This devotion will primarily follow the weekly themes of Pastor Ryan’s Lent sermons if you are at New City Church. If not, check our our podcast at: to dive more into Lent and the themes of grace.
Short or long, day by day, it’s an invitation – come to the feast.
“For thus says the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.’”
Here’s the link. You can start anytime – it’s 6 weeks of 6 days per week until Easter (with some skip days added in if you start now!).
grace and peace ~
(I’m so grateful to my husband for suggesting I do something more robust like this, my friend Rebekah for reading along the way and encouraging me, and my friend Brandon for editing and making it pretty!)
Advent. A time of purposeful waiting, longing, hoping, anticipation, and mystery. The significance of Advent is not lost on me this year. I go to every December to get drugs infused in to my blood stream that will kill off the B cells in my immune system that are going rogue and attacking my nervous system. This is my Advent activity for the day. And perhaps it’s the best possible advent activity – purposeful waiting with hope.
We sit in an infusion room at the MS clinic and wait several hours while the clear, innocent looking liquid drips in slowly, so slowly it looks like nothing is happening. Nevertheless, it’s a watery looking fluid that is powerful, killing cells that fail me and attack the protective layers of my nervous system. Somehow, it works. It slows the progression of a disease that God, in His sovereignty, allows. And while I still feel the ever-increasing effects of my broken nervous system that cannot heal itself, only hopefully be prevented from further damage by the failing body that houses it, the innocent looking liquid drips…and does its work well.
The significance of sitting in an infusion room with others like me with broken bodies during Advent is not lost in me. Of course, whoever you are, you can resonate, right? Aren’t we all broken somehow? Feeling the brokenness of a failing body reminds me, reminds us, that our Hope comes from outside this world, and we wait with anticipation for the day He will fully and completely restore the broken and make ALL things new. Praise God! Hope has come and Hope will come again. Light has overcome the darkness and light will overcome the darkness.
But for now, He resonates with us. He, the Creator who become created, sympathizes with our weakness because He became like us, human and broken and tired and tempted.
What does Advent mean to you? Is it overwhelming? Fun? Busy? Reflective? Culture tells us: Go! Do! More! Plan an activity every day for your kids! Or, even, we ignore it and just think about buying things or let Christmas slip past unnoticed. But Jesus…Jesus invites us to slow down. To drink in the wonder, the mystery, the darkness, the brokenness, the light, the hope. He invites us to desperation. He invites us to the anticipation of something greater.
Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and longing. Why do we “wait” when Jesus has already been born? We aren’t Israelites waiting for the birth of the Messiah anymore after all… Oh, but we are. Are you broken? Does your body fail you? Have your loved ones died? Do you struggle with broken relationships? Things just don’t seem to be the way they “should be”?
We wait. We long. We anticipate.
Or do we rush past those deeper longings…to the next store, the next activity, the next…? I LOVE saying “yes” to things I normally say no to – like ‘Santa Belly’ doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, and Christmas cookies, and staying up late to play another game sitting beside the lights of the Christmas tree. But if that’s all that Christmas is about…then I am trying to create my own light, a light that won’t suffice or last because I am not the One who makes Christmas absolutely staggering and awe-filled.
I love what Tim Keller says in his book, Hidden Christmas, “The message of Christianity, is instead, ‘Things really are this bad, and we can’t heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark – nevertheless, there is hope.’ The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from outside. There is light outside this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he isthe Light (Jn. 8:12)”
When we don’t allow ourselves to sit and to feel deeply, the height and magnitude of Christmas and God being made human, like us, will not reach the heights it was meant to in our hearts. We short-circuit the joy of the hope that came, the hope that is daily coming to us, and the hope that will one day come.
And when He comes again, He will finally, fully, and completely restore us and those in Christ to a wholeness we cannot yet imagine. Don’t miss the fullness, the beauty of His coming because you can’t slow down and feel the brokenness and pain that He came, He comes, and will come again, to heal.
His rule and reign we will ever sing. All glory be to Christ, our King!
One of my favorite books to read to my 5th graders when I taught school was, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by none other than the quintessentially odd, Dr. Suess. I love it still, as it projects real life ups and downs into strange cartoonish charactors. I identify with the book and I thought of it recently as I was studying the subject of waiting.
We, as Westerners, are prone to look upon waiting as an inconveince, as something that we are far too good for. Even the great Dr Suess says it like this:
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting….
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
It sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? But underneath, isn’t it saying that people with a purpose, ability, or tenacity, don’t have to wait?
Don’t we all want to be purposeful – or at the least, have others think that we are?
We fear waiting because it doesn’t appear productive. We think there’s nothing to show for it. People may judge us.
By contrast, scripture points us to a different reality. No, not a lazy or cheap reality in which we don’t work hard; but a reality in which we are paitient because of our hope for what the waiting will produce….Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, the discipes in the upper room waiting on the Holy spirit, not to mention the entire book of Psalms…? Or the entire nation of Israel waiting all those hundreds of years for Jesus? A quick read through Genesis or Psalms or any book in the older testament will show us how little we know of waiting.
What if we thought of our waiting as purposeful, deep, and good?
What would change?
How would we change?
In the poignant and, well, ordinary book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren says she learned this from a farmer friend:
“Our waiting is active and purposeful. A fallow field is never dormant. As dirt sits waiting for things to be planted and gorwn, there is work being done invisibly and silently. Microorganisms are breeding, moving, and eating. Wind and sun and fungi and insects are dancing a delicate dance that leavens the soil, making it richer and better, readying it for planting.”
Whoa. Don’t you love to think of microorganisms breeding below the surface of your heart? But really, if they didn’t, the soil wouldn’t be as rich and the harvest wouldn’t be as plentiful – or perhaps, there at all…
What season of waiting are you in today?
Because somewhere in your life, there’s a waiting happening, and sometimes…well…
Flourishing often looks like letting the field lay fallow and the work happen in the invisible places.
Sometimes waiting looks like things are diminishing, but God is in even that apparent diminishing….a diminishing to provide glorious growth. A way for our eyes to be opened to the gifts of the waiting – gifts we wouldn’t see otherwise, as my friend Zoe described to me about what a time of waiting is giving her…She’s a runner recovering from an injury and as she’s having to bike more now while she heals, she said she’s seeing things that she missed on her runs through the same exact areas. Things of beauty that she missed while running, and listening to books and podcasts she never would have been able to listen to while running. This period of waiting to heal, while frustrating, is useful – Jesus is giving gifts and working below the surface even in the waiting.
The truth is that Jesus came to do a deeper work in us that we would ever choose for ourselves.
We’re in a season as a family where we’ve pulled back from some opportunities and things we were involved in. The kids whine and wail and I awake in anxiety over the things we’re not doing. In fact, it looks like there’s a barren field there. And yet, paiteince is really putting your hope in something that is yet to come. Believing that the fallow field is not dormant but being made ready for the coming season of planting and eventually harvest.
While Dr. Suess wants us to “escape the most useless place”…
what if we see our waiting doing something only waiting can?
what if we watch and we wait with hope?
what if there are gifts in the waiting?
what if God is doing more below that surface for our good and His glory than we could ever ask for or imagine?
Because…it is, we can, there are, and He is.
“Joy birthed out of suffering gets richer over time.”
As we’ve just passed the 3rdanniversary, September 1st,, of my diagnosis with MS, I’ve been sitting in the depths of reflection the last few weeks. Vaneetha’s words have been sitting like a an anchor in my soul since I read them at some point in this journey. So, if you’ll indulge me, here’s my reflection on walking with a limp as the joy birthed out of suffering grows much richer over time….Because each year as the limp on my left side (foot drop) grows stronger, the adventure grows stronger too…..
We had the opportunity to do some extra traveling this summer – taking our kids back to Las Vegas, where Ryan and I met and helped plant a church, taking them hiking all over Utah, and taking them to lean over and look into the depths of the Grand Canyon (their favorite!).
If you know anything about my journey with MS, or simply MS and heat, you may be wondering, “why in the world would you try to hike when it’s 100 degrees outside!!??” Well, that’s simply the timing the Lord provided for us, so I geared up with prayer, cooling towels, an extra hiking pole, and water back packs.
I move slow and my leg drags and I have to *think* really hard about lifting it high enough not to trip and yet, in that, the beauty and wonder of God and creation has been exemplified.
For that, I am thankful.
The hard makes the good even better.
Although I won’t say it isn’t annoying…When my body literally will not do what my mind wills it to do, when it means I miss out on things I’d like to try, I can begin to spiral downward. Recently an aqauntaince who had been living with MS before I was ever born, died. As my eyes burned with tears when I found out and thought back to the conversations I was able to have with her, I was simultaneously shot through with joy as I realized that my friend was no longer bound to a wheelchair. She was no longer unable to feed herself. She was running and dancing and jumping and doing the simple things we often take for granted.
The height of my joy has been magnified by the depth of sorrow, questions, and pain.
Walking with a limp allows me to slow down. It allows me to be more thoughtful, more grateful, more aware. It reminds me that I will not be made perfect on Earth, and that’s okay. I cannot begin to imagine the grandeur that is Heaven, and what true wholeness will look like physically, not to mention spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
But here, I walk with a limp.
Here, pain radiating through my arms shouts to me I am carrying stress and not keeping a quiet heart. My nervous system is *kind* enough to let me know it can’t function like that, so even though it is frustrating, it is a (not so) gentle reminder to let something go.
Because I am in Christ, my limp, my struggle, is for my good and His glory.
Recently, we finished reading the chronicles of Narnia, and as I cried through the book, The Last Battle, my heart also leapt within me because it painted a picture of heaven for me that answered my question of ‘why do I love hiking and beauty and mountains and Utah and the coast of Italy and laughing really hard with friends over a delicious dinner so much?’
Because it’s a shadow of heaven. I’m living in the shadowlands as Lewis puts it and every shadow of good is simply that – a shadow – it cannot compare to the mind-blowing joy and wonder and happiness of Heaven – but it points me to the Creator, who is my Savior and King. The One who has allowed me to walk with a limp on earth that I might be pointed more sharply to Him.
Slowly I come back to Risner’s idea: “Joy birthed out of suffering gets richer over time.”
There are heights of joy – literally – that I would not know if it were not for MS. I would not have hiked Angel’s Landing. I would not have asked to go on a hot desert hiking trip with my 4 kids. I would not have learned to wake board (with far more failure than success I will add). I would not have wanted to scare myself by rock climbing. But they give a thrill and a vantage point that isn’t visible otherwise. These things are a shadow. They give me a glimpse of heaven. Pointing me to a grandeur reality that this is not home. This is not all it should be. But the longing is sweet. It raises my eyes and heart and focus to that which is to come.
My limp is an opportunity to trust.
It is an invitation to long for heaven.
So, if you see me slightly limping or walking funny, don’t be afraid to ask – or just tell me to pause and slow down so my body can cool off.
We all walk with a limp in some form, but will we acknowledge it…?
My question for you is,
What are you doing with your limp?