"Open hands defy the dark - and testify to a radical act of trust. Grace beyond our imaginings can fall into open hands. New things will happen to us - unknown, unwanted, unexpected things - and we can name those things grace. In a world preoccupied with control - the most radical act is openhanded trust."
I listen to the pastor speak, and he talks of the ostracized woman...the foreigner...who fell at the feet of the only One who could heal. The only One who could banish the spirit of demonic activity in her daughter. He speaks of her faith and of the Savior's acknowledgment of such belief when she told him that the very crumbs of His mercy would be enough (Matthew 15:21-28).
I sing the songs chosen of faith...and my hearts aches. Because I have very little right now. But I sing the truth into my soul. I sing it anyway. Because, like the woman, I know that He is the only source of life in a world uncertain and messy.
The holy bread and cup are passed around later on. As I bow my head, I realize that I must repent: I must confess my unbelief. Because that is the stemming issue of my fears. In whatever way they manifest themselves, fears are simply a human way of expressing our unbelief. By giving way to them, I indicate to God that I do not trust Him. Because if I truly trusted Him, I would walk in peace constantly. I feel His forgiveness wash over me and take the communion for what it is: an acknowledgement of His love and the simple fact that, by His death, burial, and subsequent resurrection from the dead, He has overcome the world...even my fears. He died to set me free from such things and, because of Him, I have the joy of resting in the sovereignty of Him who holds all in His mighty hands.
As I think of that ancient woman casting her care on the Savior, I realize that am much in the same state of need. But what must be cast out is no devil but a spirit of unbelief. I cry out in weak faith as she did, "Lord, help me." Yes...that is the key. It is not my human effort to believe. It is not my determination to trust that will save me and restore my joy. It is simply the prayer of reliance and dependence. Help me. Because only He can.
I see here too a new side to a statement I've always heard...when Jesus tells us to request our daily bread, I don't think He's simply telling us to pray before meals and to be grateful for the physical...I also think He's speaking in the spiritual. We have no way to sustain our souls. Yesterday's grace is no good, and tomorrow's grace isn't available to us yet. Today's grace is all we have. Give to us, Lord, the daily Bread of Life. Without it, we die.
Thanksgiving for today's gift of full grace is the key to getting through. It is the start of believing. My faith is granted me from the rich storehouses of all He has to offer. And I have access to such abundance each and every moment. The very second I begin to live off of day-old spiritual bread is the second I begin to die. Like eating stale and moldy bread, I take dead and life-less sustenance. I must go to the fresh storehouses today. I must take, along with such Bread of Life, water out of the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3) to make for a complete quenching of my hunger and thirst for joy...for Him.
As I sit in the church pew, it all becomes clear now. Fighting the good fight necessitates taking His offered grace in the now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now. And choosing faith in this holy moment is the only way to combat the fears that so easily beset the journey to Grace. And so I raise my eyes toward Him and simply say: yes. I do not ask why. I only say: yes. And thank Him ahead of time for His "yes" which will answer in the proper hour. And I accept His daily bread in the present...because even the crumbs of His goodness are enough.
Nine years ago today, my life was changed forever. My mom and I took my father into the hospital and thus, our family began a journey that would transform us and our lives. He didn't come home until fourteen weeks later...and then we added on about another year and half of doctor's appointments, more complications and, eventually, a few weeks out of state at a different hospital. God wrought a miracle. There is no denying that. I still hear the echo of the doctor who told my mom and I that had "never seen someone come into the hospital with those [lab] numbers and survive." My dad's health scare proved that nothing is impossible with God.
But ironically, as we mark nine years of relatively good health for my dad, he is now back in the hospital for another situation. On this day, we face the past and the current all in one. He is a healthier dad than when we came to this place in 2007, but we all still struggle with the aftermath of what happened...and the acceptance of the now.
Throughout the last couple of weeks since we first got him to the hospital recently, I have had to face the past in a way I never thought I'd have to again. Not only have I had to face fears of the unknown, I've had to face my old self. Within those hospital walls is a former Katherine that still follows me from time to time. She is a person run by fear, a person afraid to show her struggles, a person who wants to hide from everyone...including God. When I walk those halls even today, I can feel the chest tighten. I can sense the heart begin to race. I can notice the pulsing, the shaking in the veins, the trembling in the knees. The old me calls out: you know what this is. Run from it all. Run from Him. For a moment, the old path is tempting. I know how to walk in that darkness. There is a sort of false security of going toward that strangely luring way.
But then the renewed self speaks forth - and I listen loud: you have the Light now. That old self has no place in your heart anymore. You are being made into something new. And I realize that I cannot hide. God has not given me that option. Unlike nine years ago, I am walking through this saga quite publicly in that He has given me platforms from which to speak about my brokenness. He has asked me to step forward and shine brightly, to speak about that which haunts me...and thus, to speak about what gives me hope. I have no option of listening to that old self, strong still though it may be. To do so would be to forfeit all that has been taught to me the last nine years. To do so would be to forget Him. To ignore His love. To walk away from the message of Grace that I attempt to proclaim to those around me.
And here I make a confession: while I know that many of you see me as an example of faith and hope and all things Him...my life often feels just as broken as yours. I often speak from my pain as much as my faith. What I write I am often writing for my own benefit as for yours. There is something about putting the words down in print that makes it irrevocable for me in some way...thoughts that are turned truth onto paper and made to be believed in a greater way. I struggle. Oh...do I ever struggle. Living in faith and trying to accept His will is tough. And these days, it seems harder than ever before. But somehow, I pray that through my vulnerability, perhaps God uses what I say and do to make you press into Him deeper too. Maybe by my faith-fight, He strengthens your hands to war for joy, too. Just perhaps...He places all of us in each other's way to be healers of sorts to one another - that by our feeble attempts to look up and see Him for Who He is, we may assist each other to keep going...just for today. Because today is all we have.
My faith is a weak one right now. But its flame is still burning because God fuels it. God sustains it. God tells me of His love in such a way that I cannot hide the light anymore. Yes, the darkness may surround for a time...but He has assured that those who follow Him truly will not walk in darkness but that even the darkness will be light around them because they posses the Light of Life (John 8:12; Psalm 139:11).
Nine years have passed. The scars on my heart are still there. They always will be. After what we've gone through, the fight for faith and joy only becomes greater. But greater still is He that has stolen my heart for Himself. And, as I breathe deep and pray for peace, He tells me that His love has overcome and I have nothing to fear.
The question has been on my mind for days now...how do you find joy? How? How do you find it when you hear of your good friend walking into the sadly anticipated good-bye as his mother slipped away from cancer, having bravely fought for five years? How do you find joy when your hope is deferred and you cannot bring your father home from the hospital today as you thought...that another few days there must fill up the calendar? How do you find joy when the enemies of God set out to discourage and take your peace, when those who hate everything He is...when the ones who fight His love, go after you - simply for believing and having faith? How do you find joy when you hear of shootings, floods, disrespect, hatred in the world...when it all appears to make you want to go wild? Is God even in control, you wonder? Where is life to be found in so much struggle? Where is that joy we seek?
Today it strikes me as I take a walk through my neighborhood: perhaps joy is found not in that we do not mourn but in that, because we have mourned, such happiness can be possible. Perhaps it is found not because we have not experienced the rain but, because of the rain, the sun is more welcomed. Maybe true living is discovered in that we have tasted the sadness of death, and we can come to appreciate the moments, the little miracles, that tell of a Savior's love. Just maybe faith is strengthened not because it has not been tested but in that, because it was tested, it has been found firm. Not fearing isn't the point. It's conquering that fear that makes us winners in the journey of life.
So often, I realize, I think it is the absence of pain, the removal of trails, that gives me my joy. But I see now that the world cannot fully see my Jesus if such is the case. If they do not view my scars, if they do not see me running headlong into His arms when the storms arise, if they cannot watch me be upheld by the daily grace of Him alone...then my light is hidden. If I cannot be brave and shine when all I want to do is hide, then I am no ambassador for Him at all. I have failed.
It is only when I have become truly broken that the Light of the World can shine through my cracked places. It is only when I have nothing on which to stand can the Rock of Ages be fully understood. It is only when I have learned to accept my sufferings as my teacher that I can completely look to Him and find the life, the joy, I so earnestly desire.
How do you find joy? You find it in the simple truth that, no matter what uncertainties plague your path, no matter what tragedies fill the journey, no matter what assaults His foes throw at sweet you - His chosen beloved - HE IS STILL ENOUGH! His love is all you need. His joy will fill you when you have no joy of your own to give...and isn't that the best anyway?! His grace will provide the strength you need when your own strength fails you totally. His peace will be your comfort when your heart beats wild and your thoughts run crazy and this world feels like a total mess.
When it all comes crashing down, you have a choice: you can choose to hide - and every human wants to - or you can let this dark world see how you shine in spite of it. And if you choose to shine Him, joy follows....even when it seems like there is no reason for it to be there.
This song reminds me that I am always in a state of neediness before God. I cannot sustain my own life or be all that I'm supposed to be to those around me without God's grace giving me the ability and the strength. He is the motivation behind everything that I hope to become, and there is not an hour when I am not in need of looking to Him for all I have or ought to desire. Without Him, I would utterly destroy myself and prove to be nothing worthy in this short life. He is what gives me meaning and purpose to each and every day. He can do the same for you. Turn your eyes on Jesus and look into His grace-filled face...there you will find the hope and strength you seek.
Today is a new day of Thy creating. I thank Thee that Thy mercies have been renewed and that I do not have to live off of old graces. Allow me to fully appreciate and embrace Thy faithfulness, and let me look to Thee for daily strength to meet my needs. Thou are a gracious God who gives supply proportionate to all that is ahead.
"...My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?..."
I never thought I'd ever go back. Never. But somehow...here I was walking those sterile hallways once again. It had been nine years since I was last in the ICU of the local hospital. I had spent hours of vigil at the bedside of my father who, at the time, was flirting with death every single moment. Even though I had seen God show up big, still I couldn't go back. Couldn't visit that place all this time...not even though it was the sight of many little (and big) miracles that have since changed my life. Trauma had taken its toll. I have since lived with the tightness in the chest, the fear that comes over in the blink of an eye, the shaky knees...and so...I have avoided going back. I have resisted. I have seen it as the sight of my trouble, not my healing.
But relationships and love are stronger than fear. And grace can prompt you to do things, to change who you are, for the sake of His bigger plan. And now, for the sake of my dad once again and for the sake of my friend Phil, I went back. I trusted Him more than I trusted myself. And I walked through those doors where I did not wish to go...
Perhaps this is His way of healing, I ask myself. Maybe the path to faith lies in the fighting of the fears. Just maybe the ticket to joy, to peace, to truly living, is given through the journey of suffering...and overcoming. Through the struggle... and the victory.
I sensed His peace as I faced the old me in those hallways. In my heart, I told that old me that it no longer runs my life. Back then, I did not live in grace. I was governed by lies and fear, and I had turned my heart away from His love. Now, for several years, I have daily sought to live in faith. I have done all I can to open my life to Grace. I have strived to lean in when that old me still tells me to run away. I know that to hide might be my natural tendency but it doesn't have to my final choice. I can decide to follow Him, to believe even when all I want to do is doubt.
And so I went into my father's room, and I visited him. I visited my friend Phil. But I also confronted my past. And I walked out a stronger person. I left the old me behind those doors. I can't promise that that old me will stay there and won't try to come after me again. But I know that I can choose to not invite it to visit me. I can cooperate with my Savior to create a heart-environment that will not welcome such fear and falsehoods about myself, about life, about Him.
Just maybe going back is our way out. If you're struggling like me to make peace with something or someone in your past and yet you know your life has changed since you were there last, perhaps a visit back (figuratively or literally) is what is needed to put that old you to rest.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life and those who hope in Him and receive His grace are new creations. As such, making peace and leaving the old us behind is a necessary part of our journey to becoming more like the One who forgives, who is Himself the true essence of life abundant. The One who is making all things new...including us.
Sometimes it's so hard to believe in the promise of resurrection! When the world appears to come crashing down, when fear takes over, when the pain runs deep...the hope of His renewal feels so far fetched! And yet...He says that "I will rise again, stronger in the end." Oh sweet soul! Will you not accept this as your truth for today?! His love is greater than your worst moments. Fall into the brokenness because He must destroy the old self before He can make a new self come alive! Love will make you whole. Grace will transform.
"But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless."
Blessed Savior, I thank Thee for asking me to take the harder road. It is a sign of Thy favor that I have been predestined to for such sufferings of the cross. And yet, it is to my shame that I have so often complained against these very providential dealings! Forgive me for resistance, and help me to bear Thy gracious scourgings well...for they are the marks of Thy mercy towards me.
"God would have us come every day to the throne of grace. Our mercies do not flow from God all at once, but some today, and others tomorrow. All together they are too heavy for us to wield and manage. Our mercies come in great numbers, but God distributes them by parcels that we are able to acknowledge them and be thankful for them. He loads us daily that we may not forget Him but have new reasons for praise. Each day we are in need of new strength, new grace, and new supplies. Every day affords business, trouble, care, and burdens enough. We do not need to anticipate and occupy ourselves with the next day. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34). God would not have us to be overly burdened with worry about tomorrow; He would have us look no further than today. Life is a vapor, and we do not know whether we will have another day, yet we are prone to sing lullabies to our souls: 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry' (Luke 12:19). Take one day at a time, and go to God that He will most plentifully provide for you."
Within minutes, an otherwise peaceful weekend of celebrating my parents' anniversary is painfully interrupted. The sounds of EMT's arriving for an unexpected drive to the hospital break the norm of a regular Saturday morning. A trip to the ER room follows as my dad is evaluated for a diagnosis and course of treatment. The day drags on into the next before we find out that surgery on Monday is the solution.
My chest tightens. My mind runs to the traumatic moments I've experienced in this hospital. My body won't listen anymore - it takes on a reaction of its own. While I attempt to choose faith, fear often seems like the better (and easier) option. But I tell myself that I must believe. That the Healer who has walked through all of my valleys will walk through this one with me yet again...
I then receive the text that a friend has just been admitted with a life-threatening condition as well. I head down to his room in the ER as I leave the hospital to go home for awhile. I see him lying there, helpless. I yes...I feel helpless in the soul as well. But as I set eyes on him there, I know that this is just another opportunity for God to work and do what He does best...perform miracles.
Each one of us is a living miracle - a walking story of God's faithfulness and grace. But so many times we choose the natural response to our sufferings...we choose fear instead of faith. We forget the many miracles already performed. We'd rather trust our own judgement instead of resting in the promises of God given to us for our comfort. We ignore the fact that there is such a thing as providence - that every event in life...even the things seemingly most injurious and sorrowful...have been ordained into the mysterious plan of God for our life and that of others around us.
As I attempt to breathe in His life and His ever-present peace, I remind myself that life takes courage. We can't count on anything to be certain each day...other than the truth that He is unchanging and true. We cannot rely on anything to remain the same or to hold firm outside of the knowledge that a sovereign God is holding onto us and will sustain us no matter the storms that rage. What He told those disciples who panicked when the boat was about to sink is what He tells this weak heart still today, " Why are you so fearful, oh you of little faith? (Matt. 8:26)"
As I face another day, I recall to mind that His goodness will be ever with me and that I have no reason to fear, no place for anxiousness, because if He can hold the world in His mighty hands, He can hold this moment too. And so I speak it to my fretting soul: you of little faith - be brave dear girl. Look up. For, in this very minute, a miracle is waiting to be given.
This song has been particularly meaningful to me this week. I've had some moments when I've had to tell that liar Fear to give way to the voice of Faith. It's amazing to me how often my unbelief prevents me from seeing through to God. I'm coming to see in my heart that I miss so many miracles, so many countless blessings, because I am not looking with spiritual eyes! I am beginning to pray in greater depth that He would allow me to keep learning what living in Grace truly is. That I would start to see that my weakness is not my enemy but is rather my door to real life abundant. Believing takes risk. May God allow each of us to fall into that "God-sight" called Faith with full abandon!
"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down."
"It is a great support and solace to the saints in all their distresses, that there is a wise Spirit setting all the wheels of providence in motion. He governs the most irregular creatures and their most destructive designs to a blessed and happy outcome. It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence. God will not expose any that take shelter under his wings and who fly to him for sanctuary. All the issues of providence are beneficial to the saints. How cheering, supporting, and encouraging is the consideration of these things! What life and hope it inspires in our hearts and prayers when great pressures lie upon us! In heaven, how delightful a sight it will be to behold the whole design of providence that we could not understand in this world! All the dark, intricate, and puzzling providences at which we sometimes stumbled, and which we could not reconcile with the promises, and which we so unjustly condemned and bitterly bewailed as if they had fallen out against our happiness; we shall then be able to understand them. Our present views of providence are imperfect in comparison to heaven. Yet our earthly view, under all its present disadvantages, has so much sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven. It is certainly a highway of walking with God in this world. A soul may enjoy sweet communion with him in his providences. How often have observers melted into tears of joy at seeing his wise and unexpected productions? How often, if the Lord had left them to their own counsels, they would have been their own tormentors? We can give our hearty thanks that providence considers our interest more than our importunity, protecting us from perishing by our own desires."
Every day on this journey toward Grace, I discover new ways in which my Savior is changing my heart. At it's core, my heart is unbelieving, fearful, unloving, and unwilling to follow - and yet, He continues to break me and re-make me into the person He wants me to become. As long as I keep seeking His ways, He will renew and restore my broken places and transform me into who I am meant to be.
" For many, it is difficult to accept that the past has passed. Sometimes, it's so hard to just leave it there, where it belongs. But until we do, we cannot make peace with the present or walk into the future with hope."