one year later

one year later

It’s been exactly one year now since we found out I that I have multiple sclerosis. (you can read more here) It doesn’t feel like it can be a year. I’ve mourned, cried, questioned, feared, and sat in a pit of despair. I’ve willfully trusted, looked to Jesus as my rescuer and hero, and worshipped in the midst of it. I realize it’s only been year, and there is far more to come, but I want to remember this: there’s far more that I get from MS than MS can take from me.  

And so, as I reflect I can truthfully, although painfully, say: I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change God’s plan for my life. Of course, I would never choose this for myself, which is exactly why I would never choose Jesus for myself! My flesh wouldn’t pick this. Any yet, my Spirit is resolved to God’s will and plan; even though that’s scary to actually write the words, “there’s far more that I get from MS than MS can take from me”.   However, I am getting to taste and see that the Lord is good. I get to see Him in control. I get to see Him loving me. I get to see Him using me. I get to trade in my self protective “running and hiding” tendencies for looking at the new adventure straight in the face and seeing sorrow that is a servant to my joy.

I wouldn’t trade the scales of the eyes of my heart falling off to see His abundance, His power and His goodness. I’ve been awakened to pain, suffering, and questions. But, MORE than that, I’ve been awakened to God’s Word in new ways – it is alive, sweet and nourishing. Jesus – His Word – sustains my life. Knowing God’s character – His holiness, limitlessness, might, power, sovereignty and love – makes the questions okay, because I get to know and to see Him more fully.

What joy it is to say along with L.B. Cowman, “He has chosen me. Sickness you may intrude into my life, but I have a cure standing ready – God has chosen me. Whatever occurs in the valley of tears, I know He has chosen me.” (Streams in the Desert).   I look back and see where Ryan wrote in my bible when we were at the hospital, “our theology must become our doxology”. And I see how much that has changed everything. If I didn’t believe God was completely sovereign over everything – from salvation to interruptions, to multiple sclerosis – I wouldn’t have been able to trust Him this way, because if He’s not sovereign over this, working all things for my good and His glory, then that makes him a little like me. And, I know that I need Him to be absolutely different from me – perfectly Holy, limitless, mysterious, powerful and good beyond imagining.

I want to experience this adventure in its entirety. I’m reminding myself as I write this, that this IS an adventure. What an adventure it is. I’ll close with what Russ Ramsey says: “I do not want simply to endure my affliction. I want to experience it – to receive it as an adventure and follow it to its end. Knowing that I come to this season having seen the world only through the eyes of the well, I ask God to help me see whatever this struggle might reveal.” (Struck) Amen, brother. Amen.

gifts, hope, idols, approval

gifts, hope, idols, approval

I had a good MRI a couple weeks ago, from the brain through the spine. Meds and alternative strategies seem to be working well and I got a good report (for the first time!). As we left the MS clinic at The Shepherd Center, Ryan reminded me of this verse: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7) Or we could say, some trust in MRIs and doctors, but we trust in the Lord. We can take the good as we’ve taken the bad and our trust has to remain the same – steadfastly in the Lord – taking good news as a gift to be received, but not necessarily grasped and clung to for dear life, as if the gift provides the life. As Augustine says: “It is easy to want things from the Lord and yet not want the Lord Himself, as though the gift could be preferable to the Giver.”

It’s almost easy for me to trust in the big “scares”…I do say almost because I waver and still, He meets me in my wavering. The small things, on the other hand, the things I think I have control over and am sufficient to handle – those I forget and I make my flesh my strength….and I’m cursed in it. As Jeremiah 17 reminds me: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the dessert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in parched places of the wilderness…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought.” The image of the tree associated with this verse is so deeply meaningful to me it is tattooed on my wrist as a constant and permanent reminder of WHO planted me and to sink my roots deep into His soil, trusting Him.

It also reveals to me when I live “cursed”…Cursed in the way that my mind can’t turn off, can’t stop the comparison trap, can’t stop until everything is “perfectly” done, and tries to forecast the future protect myself. It’s tiring. Even in the good days – the days where the kids do well and we’ve accomplished in school what we (I) set out to accomplish, and we talked about Jesus and read the bible and prayed and got along, and on and on…I’m cursed in my mind when I trust in that because I HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN AGAIN.

And I can’t. Because it wasn’t completely up to me in the first place. I lead and parent and plan and teach, yes. However, if my hope for myself and my identity lies in how all those things go, then I’m jumping into a ditch – either way.

Usually when I’m in this place, and the past two weeks it’s especially been in my ability to school our children proficiently, I realize I’m looking to myself way to much.

Can I have a “life-quote”? Well, either way, this is it: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely….Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.” (want a bit more? check out this article!)

I am my own idol when I think let me good days make me feel superior and my bad days cause me worry and feelings of “not enough”. They are two sides of the same coin of myself being an idol. When the kids obey and our schooling goes well and I’m not running on fumes at 4pm, I long to praise God for the gift instead of letting it provide life for me. It cannot provide life and hope and security. In the same way, on the bad days, when there’s hard news or the kids are crazy and I’m incredibly embarrassed by at least one of them and wonder where in the world they came from; I can praise God because the verdict on my life is in and He says that in Him I am enough.

I am fully known, fully flawed, and fully approved of IN Christ. Not in my good works or in my bad works.

And in Christ? YOU are too, friend.

I’ll leave you with a profound thought from the Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes:

“We must not judge ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but the smoke of distrustful thought. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root.  We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may come to sin against the commandments in bearing false witness against ourselves. The prodigal would not say he was no son, but that he was not worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19). We must neither trust to false evidence, nor deny true; for so we should dishonor the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of that evidence which would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements.” (The Bruised Reed)

 

peace, interrupted?

peace, interrupted?

Oh peace, why do I often forfeit you? Why do I so quickly let outward things interrupt you? Why do we chase after peace and attempt to grab it as if it is something tangible – something that can be held or created by human will power? I’m a fan of discipline, and setting our minds on things above and renewing them all day long because it is needed and life giving, but do I think I can create and manage it on my own?

The peace of God isn’t interrupted. The peace of man is.  It doesn’t mean we are superficially happy all the time and forget to “be” where we are, lamenting and grieving when it is called for…It means that if you’re in Christ the peace you have to pull up from the roots of your being, is unshakeable.  The peace of God surpasses all understanding and leaves bystanders wondering, “how?” in a moment of hardship, a long day, or when you “should” be easily frustrated. But peace isn’t totally a mystery. Isaiah reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts you.” (Isaiah 26:3). Romans 8:6 exhorts us, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (these verses in their fuller context take on more depth and meaning, check them out! Also, an always applicable Philippians 4!)

How often does my peace get interrupted by endless questions from the 3 year old, a sick child, unexpected news, a rough day, and mundane tasks that never seem to get accomplished?

I don’t want to miss the opportunity, the invitation even, to worship Him in what He has for me today. When do I miss Him in the midst of laundry, hard conversations, and temper tantrums, or fear of the future? When do I miss Him in the midst of excitement, giggles, good stories, a beautiful sunset, and yummy food? With my mind stayed on Him, trusting what He gives – however monotonous or overwhelming – I can worship Him in what He has for me. I long to worship God in what He has for me each day – what He gives me each day, because nothing – nothing – is out of His control.

Here’s what Elizabeth Elliot says is the secret: Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.   I am the same me in any set of circumstances. As the old sayings goes, “wherever I am, there I am”. Do I let my peace get interrupted because I fail to see even interruptions as from the Lord? What if the interruptions are actually the plan? The plan to humble me, love me, transform me, and others around me.   Can I see them as gifts, even? Whew. That’s hard, huh? Easy to write as I sit uninterrupted drinking flavored coffee. Almost impossible to remember in the midst of the chaos of the every day crazy, or the monotony that can feel purposeless. Can I quote Elliot again? (Well, I am, because I never grow tired of her wisdom!) She says, “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands. (Keep A Quiet Heart)

He is my portion and He is enough. He is YOUR portion and He is enough…May we set our minds on that truth and let the peace of God overtake us.  

Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you….The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance…I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall never be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at you right hand are pleasure forever more.

sufficient

sufficient

If you know me, you know I am not a runner, by any stretch of the imagination. Hand me the weights instead, please. Don’t ask me to run. However, its funny how when you can actually no longer do something, there’s some sort of yearning for it. I guess I’ll be a little more blunt about how MS affects me physically today. I look completely healthy, I can do A LOT of things, and I feel pretty normal most of the time…..unless I attempt to walk consistently at a moderate pace for more than a couple minutes, much less run, do jumping jacks, or walk the neighborhood with the kids – my favorite. My doctor told me I could try a medicine that may potentially help with all that, making my central nervous system send the right signals – but it made me a lot worse, so we quit that. There was this little glimmer of hope for easily going hiking and rock climbing in Zion for our anniversary trip, but I know better to place hope in medicine by now. I hope you don’t hear me complaining, but longing – and seeing that sometimes my longing for physical healing is stronger than my longing for Jesus.  Maybe you can relate?

But He’s too good for that.

I hope that Isaiah 40:31 will be physically true for me, “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” And yet, as I read before that I see more context: “To whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host my number, calling them by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing…Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. HE does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:25-28). There’s the power. There’s the Hope. HE doesn’t faint or grow weary. It’s okay for me to physically feel pins and needles in my feet that might go numb making me fall, or have legs that feel full of lead, because HE doesn’t. I hope your story picks up somewhere in my words here and that this isn’t just for me (thanks Sarah over at An Inner Disposition for the phrase!). Somewhere in this, you get it too. I get the joy – the joy – of longing for heaven more – and maybe truly for the first time ever – because my flesh is fading away.

Russ Ramsey says: “Unmet desires in this life are intended to arouse a hunger for the next. Physical limitations are felt as an ache for a perfected body. Coming face to face with my mortality has awakened my appetite for eternity.” (Struck)

Tim Keller talks about our joy being enhanced by our suffering – suffering being the servant of our joy and calls us to think about heaven until it pulverizes our discouragement (found in Be Still, My Soul).

I don’t claim to have the market on trials, by any stretch of the imagination. This is your story too. I have been overwhelmed with the seemingly inordinate amount of people for a small church plant that are walking through really hard things right now. Things, that because these are my friends, or I’m the pastor’s wife, I am privy to – I get the honor of the work of “burden bearing”. Mostly, this is praying. I’m coming to think of it like the paralytic’s friends who literally tear a hole in the top of the house and lower their friend to Jesus. Many (of you!) have done that for me, and I’ve learned that there is something sacred about that work. The sacred work of begging God to heal, to give peace, to provide, and yet knowing we don’t have to beg – He hears our cry and answers us because He delights in us (Psalm 18)! I have the sacred privilege of reminding my friends, and myself, that even lament is worship. I’d venture to say it is especially worship. Lamenting while trusting, imperfectly even, does a powerful work in us.

May He be sufficient for you today. Just as He is sufficient for me – even as I struggle to write that phrase, because if I’m being honest I need to tell you I daily wrestle to believe that He is sufficient.

Here’s a powerful thought from Elizabeth Elliot:  “He is not all we would as for (if we were honest), but it is precisely when we do not have what we would ask for, and only then, that we can clearly perceive His all-sufficiency.” (Keep A Quiet Heart)

I’ll leave you, and me, with these questions: How is Jesus meeting you in your longing?

Where is He pursuing your heart in your longing for other things?

Where is He inviting you to trust Him more?

earthquake abiding

earthquake abiding

Last week was a week where I needed LOTS of reminders to abide in Jesus. I felt the earth quake around me, specifically regarding parenting, and my roots felt like they might not hold the tree through the mighty quake. Thankfully, God’s hold on me is far stronger than my hold on Him, because if it had depended on me – my effort or my righteousness – I would have toppled over with a thunderous crash. Between the boy that needed stitches on his head, Ryan being out of town, a child needing to be picked up early from camp due to tremendous misbehavior on my way to which, I was pulled over by a police officer informing me that the windows of my MINI-VAN are tinted too dark, down to the regular mishaps and day to day challenges of lots of socks being throw into the toilet by the little ones, being yelled at by my children, yelling in return, and on and on it goes…not to mention the lack of a quiet heart…So, by Tuesday afternoon, things were looking rough. God, as He faithfully does, in the midst reminded me of my utter dependence upon and need for Him. As Ryan commonly says, “We were never meant to wean ourselves off of our need for Jesus. The longer we walk with Jesus, the more we realize we need to lean into Him.”

I think one of the hardest and most important things we can do as parents is to ABIDE in Christ. Abiding involves trusting God is working when we don’t see it; abiding is confessing my sin and seeking forgiveness when I’d rather not; abiding is admitting my need and weakness and lack of control; abiding is knowing and resting in the ONE who holds me and holds my kids in the palm of His almighty hand.

Abiding is work. I dare say it is the work. We can’t produce the fruit of the spirit in ourselves or in our kids. But, we can remain in HIM, the One who can.   It is work to abide in quietness of heart when the well-thought-out plans get messed up. It is work to abide and ask the Lord to show me my own sin even when my child’s seems more glaring and in need of correction. Abiding is a good work . Cupping those small faces with my hands and responding in peace and love and joy knowing my response is pointing them to or from a loving Savior who can handle their every need. And, THEY are watching my abiding. My kids, my husband, my friends, my neighbors. Not only the people I can see, but the angels and the demons. What beauty – to glorify God in my abiding in Himeven when I think no one else sees it. The angels and demons look on in wonder when we choose to glorify God in our response of abiding. Angels cheering us on and demons maddened as we plunder the gates of hell with our abiding in Christ in our lives and parenting. And not that we could ever, hear me, ever do it on our own. That ‘being kept’ is by the Lord.

In the midst of the storm of last week, I was held. God gave me the gifts abiding in: my dependence on Him, the need for community and friends, mourning over and repenting of my own sin even when it seemed like my children’s sin was more glaring, and the knowledge and comfort that He was working in my waiting.

I love this thought from Elizabeth Elliot, “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands. Nothing touches me without my Father’s permission…Whatever He allows to happen becomes, for me, His will at the moment.” (Keep a Quiet Heart) She bases this reflection on John 14:27 where Jesus reminds us, “Peace I leave with you; I do not give as the world gives.”

The things I tend to see as interruptions are actually God’s will for me at that moment. When I do the hard work of preaching to myself instead of listening to myself, I abide in the truth and am set free to walk in peace. Abiding opens my eyes to the gifts He has for me as He does the painful and beautiful work of making all things new – in me and in the little people around me!

The Story

The Story

A friend and I were talking about longing for heaven a mere week ago. Our hearts both seeing the beauty around us as heaven comes to earth now, but also the brokenness around us that we long to be made whole. It wasn’t but a few days later that she endured some really hard news and was struck afresh by brokenness. News that makes you cling to the hope of God being sovereign and Jesus coming back.

It reminds me to read one of my hands-down-favorite stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. The interpretation of Revelation, “A Dream of Heaven”, which I can’t get through without weeping and choking out the words… Hear the beauty and power in this:

“And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped every tear from every eye!’…..And John knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for having been so sad. And he knew that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun.”

Wow. The sadness and tears will seem like a shadow because the ending will be so great. I can’t fathom.  I can never read through that without getting choked up so I let my kids see my tears this time and ask me why. I tell them, “I can be thankful even for something like MS because I get to have a longing for heaven I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I wouldn’t have thought I needed to be made new if I didn’t know brokenness. I wouldn’t long for it if I saw the world only through the eyes of the well.”

Russ Ramsey says, “Unmet desires in this life are intended to arouse a hunger for the next. Physical limitations are felt as an ache for a perfected body. Coming face to face with my mortality has awakened my appetite for eternity. As I have stood at the summit and surveyed the distant mountains beyond, I have longed to explore. Beyond what I can see lies a glory I was made to behold. The grand adventure tugs at my heart…Tim Keller wrote, ‘Human beings are hope shaped creatures. The way you live now is completely controlled by what you believe about the future’.   This isn’t a hope we can create or muster. It must be given. And by the grace of God it is – a hope that ‘does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5-6)” (Struck, pg 152-153)

I feel awakened. Awakened to the reality that I can’t fathom the wonder of heaven. Awakened to pain around me, and because of that, awakened far more to the beauty around me. Awakened to adventure and living to the fullest — whether it’s resting really well and not feeling guilty about it or doing something challenging and exhilarating I didn’t think I could do.

I believe, for myself, my family, and my dear friends, that God is good. God is sovereign – mysteriously beyond me in wisdom and love. I believe He is restoring and making all things new around me and you, even now, in the way our kids laugh, the way our taste buds delight in delicious food, and a good story can make us laugh and cry simultaneously. I want to embrace that and live fully – hoping, lamenting, laughing, and dancing – in sorrow and in joy, as we get tastes of heaven on earth. I believe that when He comes back finally and fully that He will make things new in a way we can’t even imagine and better than we could even dream. Hungering for that Kingdom changes that way I laugh, grieve, love, and dance here. I know it can change you too.

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