Friday, February 23, 2018

WHAT DO I DO WITH THE HURT?

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
"For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
"Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.
- Romans 11:33-36
* * *
At our Romans study this past Thursday, our large-group leader observed that "Right theology produces doxology. A high view of God produces heartfelt praise."

Kathy continued: "God's perfect wisdom and his plans are above our understanding. Thankfully, we do not need to understand everything in order to trust the God who does." Then, because she is good at challenging us to apply doctrine to everyday life, Kathy asked, "How do you respond to things that come into your life that you don't understand? Do you worship God (like Paul did in these verses)? Or, do you turn your prayers into opportunities to complain?"

(I don't think I've shouted it into the blog-o-sphere yet this week, so let me do it now: I LOVE THIS STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS! Now, back to this blog post...)

Am I a worshiper? or a complainer?

I've been through a rough season lately, fraught with much that I do not understand. I have not doubted God's sovereignty or goodness, but I have frequently wondered, "Lord, what on earth is going on here? What are you doing?!"

Sadly, many of my prayers have been complaining prayers:
"God, this is such an atrocious mess. Why don't you just fix everything?"
"Lord, convict ---- of sin and grant them true repentance!"
"God, plead my case on my behalf! Why do you remain silent?"
"Lord, what am I supposed to do with all this hurt?!"

And in response to my complaining prayers, God has brought to mind verses such as...

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45).

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you...love your enemies, and do good...Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:29, 35a, 36).

"See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God is Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18).

Over the past several weeks, God, in his great mercy, has redirected my prayers from a preoccupation with my own wounds, to genuine concern and compassion for those who have wounded me. And, as is so often the case in God's upside-down economy, I find that while I have been praying for those who have hurt me, God has been quietly healing my heart.

I still do not understand God's plans in this particular situation - I am completely baffled - but the kindness and tenderness with which He has met me during this trial has transformed my prayers of complaining into prayers of heartfelt worship and praise. God faithfully speaks into the details of my life with such precision, and He continually draws me closer to him. God is SO GOOD.

This morning, a friend shared on Facebook an article by Jonathan Parnell - "When God Calls You Out" - posted over at Desiring God Ministries. Jonathan writes: "God brings trials into our lives to give us more of himself. Their purpose is that we might not rely on ourselves - not look to ourselves for salvation or hope or joy - but that we might rely on him. The purpose is that we would lean on God, that we'd fix our eyes on his glory, clinging to the truth that in Jesus he is always enough for us. Always." (Read Jonathan's entire article HERE.)

In place of the hurt, God has given me himself.

And He is enough.

Always.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

FEBRUARY BLESSINGS

February seems to always end up being a blue kind of month for me. Gray skies and, more often than not, rain-rain-rain-rain. Occasionally, like today, we have a warm sunny day, but about the time my winter-stiff muscles begin to relax, it's back to the deep-freeze again. I am so ready for winter to be over.

In defiance of the February blahs -

Today, I am thankful for:

  • God's Word, which continues to speak so precisely into the details of my life.
  • Friends who pray for me and who challenge me to grow.
  • Carol, my exercise buddy, sister pilgrim, and pseudo-therapist.
  • Addie, my real therapist.
  • Sunrise across the hay field. Beautiful every morning. Never gets old.
  • A walk back on the farm. Creek bed music, bright-eyed deer, croaking ravens, curious calves, feathered jewels on sap-swollen twigs.
  • Spring peepers - such a raucous chorus! Their singing is an instant mood lifter.
  • The smell of damp earth.
  • Turtles in the pond, lined up like hubcap buttons on the limbs of a fallen, half-submerged tulip poplar tree, thawing in the afternoon sunshine.

I am also thankful for...

First daffodils of the season!

Honeybees on the sweet-breath-of-spring!


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

THE NEEDY

"I want someone to see and acknowledge the truth. I want to be vindicated!" Finally, it felt like I was getting to the root of my disquiet.

I was tired of being misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned. I was tired of the manipulation, dismissive-ness, and relational ineptitude. I was tired of the duplicity, the emotional jockeying, the scripted dialogues, and the verbal power plays.

Such unpleasantness is not to be unexpected in this life, but still, I was so very tired of it all.

I am thankful for friends who consistently point me back to Jesus. "And, yet, look at Jesus. He was misunderstood and misrepresented. He was lied about and abused. Even when no one understood or appreciated him or what He was doing, He faithfully persevered at the work God sent him to do. He kept pouring himself out for sinful people like us, even when no one defended him." Everyone needs a friend like my friend Carol.

Because God loves to speak with precision into my daily struggles, He had me read this the morning after the above conversation:

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:1-4).

Ouch.

I have always thought of this passage in terms of material giving: money, food, clothing, school supplies, transportation, childcare, etc. Physical things to meet the physical needs of the physically poor people around me. And surely, this passage is referring to these very practical physical needs and gifts.

But last week, on the heels of my expressed frustration and my friend's admonition, this passage took on a much broader meaning.

"...when you give to the needy..." Who are the needy? Can this passage also refer to emotional/relational "gifts" to meet the emotional/relational needs of the emotionally/relationally poor people around me?

There are those - like me - who feel compelled to justify everything they say or do, people so vulnerable and insecure that they feel unworthy to be loved unless they convince the people around them that they are in the right and that all others are in the wrong when they encounter differences in thought and experience.

There are those - I struggle against this temptation myself - who believe that God's grace is big and wonderful and free...for ME, that is, but not for those offensive people who, out of ignorance or evil intent, say unkind or untrue things to me and about me. God's grace and mercy are only almost big enough for those people.

There are those - I am one of them - who verbally affirm the gospel of grace and proclaim the good news of Christ's righteousness on behalf of sinners, only to retire to their prayer closets to recite their rosaries of good deeds and exemplary behavior.

Concerning these needy people, with whom I so intimately relate, my wicked heart cries:

"Sound the trumpet! I have given to the needy! I have answered the gossip with words of kindness, and I have prayed for the slanderer! In the face of false accusations, I have maintained integrity and a countenance of peace. Sound the trumpet! Let everyone affirm: I am vindicated!"

But God's Word commands:

"...when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others...But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Gods sees the secret places of my heart. And because God sees, I no longer need to be vindicated before others.

I pray often for God to show me my sin and grant me true repentance. I pray for him to humble me  and help me, by the power of his indwelling Spirit, to walk in greater conformity to Christ.

I can testify to this: if you ask God to show you your sins, He will.

Who are the needy?

I am.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NATIONAL HEART HEALTH MONTH

As far as I know, I have never had high blood pressure.

Until now.

Two weeks ago, I went to the dentist's office for a routine check up. Because I am older than Yoda, the technician checked my blood pressure before she began poking around on my teeth.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "We're not going to do anything in your mouth just now!" Although I felt fine, my blood pressure was out the roof. I finally convinced the technician to go ahead and clean my teeth, but before I left, she admonished me: "You really need to make an appointment with your regular physician to have that checked out."

Here is what I have learned about high blood pressure over the past couple of weeks -

Many different factors can contribute to elevated blood pressure:
  • Stress (I've had more than my fair share of that over the past couple of months.)
  • Age (I am definitely older today than I have ever been before in my life.)
  • Being overweight (Harumph.)
  • Genetics (A girl's gotta play the hand she's dealt.)
  • Diet/nutrition
  • Exercise (more specifically, the lack thereof)
  • Blah, blah, blah...
I also learned there are many things I can do to (hopefully!) help lower my blood pressure:
  • Lose weight. (I'm working on it.)
  • Exercise regularly. (I'm working on it.)
  • Reduce stress in my life. (I'm working on it.)
  • Eat more berries. (Yum!)
  • Increase my intake of magnesium and potassium. (Not too difficult.)
  • Limit my consumption of caffeine and alcohol. 😕
  • Reduce sodium intake. (Okie dokie.)
  • Eat more dark chocolate. (Heck yes!)
  • Cut back on refined sugar. (Not too difficult.)
  • Eat more calcium-rich foods. (Ummm...)
  • Do deep-breathing/relaxation exercises. (Am I the only person on the planet who has to remind herself to breathe deeply throughout the day? Thank goodness for yoga and pranayama!)
I had a follow-up appointment with the dentist to have a tooth filled yesterday. My blood pressure was still elevated, but it was no longer freak-out-the-dental-technician high. I've been checking my blood pressure daily, and the numbers are slowly coming down.

To celebrate this small accomplishment, I think I'll take a deep breath and have another piece of chocolate.

💖 I love my heart! 💖

Friday, February 9, 2018

AROUND EVERY CORNER

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life..." - John 6:68
* * *
I wrote a couple of days ago (Joy Comes in the Morning) about God's faithfulness in meeting me in a very broken place. But God did not meet me in that dark night of the soul, perform his "surgery" on my heart, and then step back to let me continue healing on my own.

This past week, I have met Him around every corner.

God has been EVERYWHERE, speaking with precision into the needs of my heart and my soul:

  • In my daily Bible reading (Job, Matthew, Psalms, Romans...everywhere I look, I find God saying, "Camille! Here I am with you. I love you. Be strengthened. Take heart!")
  • In the world and the weather outside my kitchen window
  • In the BSF study notes for the book of Romans, and in Kathy's lecture on Thursday
  • In the comments made by the other women in my BSF small group
  • In the songs my daughter plays on the piano. (Thou lovely source of true delight, whom I unseen adore, unveil thy beauties to my sight that I might love Thee more, oh, that I might love Thee more!)
  • In the compassion of the woman on the treadmill next to me
  • In the book about prayer that a friend gave me almost two months ago, but that I just started reading a few weeks ago (I guess God knew this book needed to be saved until the moment when it would speak most effectively to my heart.)
  • In a technical book about the craft of writing, of all the weird places!
  • In the gracious words of the lady cutting my hair
  • In an article shared by a friend on Facebook
  • In the prayers of friends
  • In the still, quiet darkness of wee-hours morning
Everywhere I have turned, God has met me.

I am amazed at how much pain and hurt has been soothed away over the past two days by my loving Father.

Three nights ago, heartbroken and sore, I lay awake weeping tears of sorrow.

Last night, overwhelmed by the goodness, faithfulness, tenderness, compassion, and love of God, I wept tears of gratitude and joy.

GOD IS SO GOOD.

In the night before this morning's dawn, a passage from one of the Psalms came to mind. When I was a small girl, the church my family attended sang Psalms - the words of the Psalms of the Bible, set to music - instead of hymns or praise music. One particular chorus, a rather bouncy call-&-response learned way back in my childhood, kept running through my head:

"Oh, taste and see - [oh, taste and see!] - that God is good - [that God is good!]; Who trusts in Him is blest. Fear God, His saints - [fear God his saints] - none that Him fear - [none that Him fear] - shall be with want oppressed."

I was having a private little praise fest, lying there in the darkness! My heart was so full!

Then the sun came up. I showered, dressed, brewed a pot of coffee, poured a cup, and sat down with my Bible. Today's reading: a couple of chapters in Exodus, a chapter in Matthew, a passage in Romans, and a Psalm.

You want to guess which Psalm was up for today?

Psalm 34.

How cool is that?!

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack.

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted 
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all. - Psalm 34:8, 18-19

Have I mentioned yet...GOD IS SO GOOD?!
* * *
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." - Lamentations 3:21-24

Thursday, February 8, 2018

THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH & THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART

"You have to think about language...how a disciplined approach to language is a disciplined approach to being human. The apostle James tells us that a man who can control his tongue can control the rest of his body as well. This goes double for the man who is putting what the tongue does into a more permanent setting." - Doug Wilson, in Wordsmithy

Anthony Burgess, from his Expository Sermons, quoted in Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer, on the responsibility believers have to pray for one another:

  1. God has made you part of the body of Christ. If a part of your own body is injured, how does it affect you? You should have the same empathy for the body of Christ as for your own body.
  2. God instituted prayer as a means to help others. Instead, we are quick to criticize each other. Rather than finding fault, we should pray for fellow believers. That is our duty.
  3. Praying for one another will ease differences, jealousies, and suspicions. It will make the godly of one heart and one mind. If you find yourself thinking how poorly a brother has treated you, pray for that man. It will immediately "quiet those winds and waves."
* * *

I have posted here before about the incredible power of words, power for evil or for good. Apparently, this is something God thinks I need to be reminded of frequently: I encountered both of the above quotes in my reading today!

Sometimes, the words that come out of my mouth frighten me. Why? Because my words reveal what is inside my heart, and more often than I like to admit, what comes out of my mouth is neither pretty nor God honoring.

I may think I am a gracious, loving, forgiving, generous person because, even though Susie hurt me deeply on Friday, I smile at Susie on Sunday morning and say "Nice to see you today!" But, what do I say about Susie when I get home from church?

What do I say about Susie when I am behind closed doors with my husband, or my family, or with an intimate friend? In these private places, do my words testify to a gracious and loving heart, or do my words expose a critical and bitter spirit? Sure, I may put on a nice face in public, but in private, do I go off on Susie, recounting all the ways she has offended me or hurt me?

Ay, yi, yi! The struggle to tame my tongue!

But the problem is not really with my tongue, is it? The problem is with my heart. Like the apostle Paul, I find that "when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

And like Paul, I find deliverance from myself and my sin only in Jesus: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25a)

And thankfully, I am assured that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set [me] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)

No condemnation - hallelujah!

But does "no condemnation" mean that I am free from the responsibility of controlling my tongue? No, it does not. In Christ, I am free from condemnation. I am not, however, free from conviction. On the contrary, the Spirit convicts me of the sinful attitudes of my heart from which my sinful words flow. He calls me to repentance, and He strengthens me to walk - to speak - in a new and living way.

Because God is so good, and because He cares deeply about my sanctification, He puts people in my life who gently call me out when my Sunday-morning sweet-talk is exposed as a forgery by my Monday-morning vitriol.

Today, I want to say a big THANK YOU! to Carol, my exercise buddy, who for the past several weeks has endured so much vomit coming out of my mouth, and yet who has somehow managed to gently, sweetly, patiently take me back to Jesus, so that I am truly sorry for the vomit (and for the wickedness from which it flows) and have a renewed desire to employ my words in ways that better reflect the beauty of my Savior. Thank you, Carol, for being a faithful friend, one who will not let me leave Christ out of the conversation.

* * *

"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil person brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:34b-37).

"Let your speech be gracious, always seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6).

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:40).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

JOY COMES IN THE MORNING

God wastes no time in attending to my wounds.

I went to bed last night with this verse running through my head: "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14).

Last night was not a restful night.

When I pray, I often do so with mental images. In the past, when a great grief has weighed on my heart, I have prayed something like, "Father, this is too heavy for me. I cannot carry it. I am giving it to you. Do with it what you will." And as I prayed, I would visualize the grief, cupped in my upturned hands. I would lift that grief up to God, and as I prayed, I visualized myself handing it over to God, releasing it from my grasp.

But last night was different.

Last night, it was a different kind of grief. It was woven too deeply into the fibers of my heart. My mind probed this grief like a surgeon, searching for a way to extricate it, but every poke, every prod, every thought brought such great pain that my courage and my resolve failed.

Last night, I prayed a different prayer. "Father, this nettle is so deeply embedded and is so terribly painful that I cannot pull it out. You must remove it." In my mind, I did not picture uplifted hands. I lay flat on my back, chest open, braced against the pain, and I waited for God himself to reach his hand down into my heart to deal with my grief.

Last night was a long, painful night. But no surgery lasts forever.

As black faded to less black outside my bedroom window, I thought of the challenge my youngest so often gives me: "Mom, what do you know is true?" The answer, always: "God is sovereign. God is good. And, He loves me very much."

I have been camped out in Romans the past couple of months. As I lay weeping, verses from Romans 8 flooded my thoughts:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

"Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts [Ah! My great heart Surgeon!] knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because 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."

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that...[NOTHING!] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

As the sky changed from less-black to almost-gray, my tears subsided. The night's surgery was complete. My heart was still sore, but the darkness was lifting. Exhausted, I prayed, "Thank you, Father."

The sun crawled up over the eastern horizon, and a soft cloud-filtered light crept across the frozen hayfield outside. A thousand-thousand ice crystals sparkled in the pale light of dawn. Right now, when I look up from my computer and gaze out the kitchen window, my eyes behold a world of fairy splendor - ice crystals, shimmering silver and white, blanketing the golden stubble of last summer's hay. The beauty takes my breath away.

But even more beautiful...

This morning, God had me reading in Job, and in Matthew. I opened to the last chapter of Job, and read one of my favorite passages:

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted...I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

Job had three friends who came to him in his grief to offer counsel. Their counsel was informed by and infused with what they understood and believed about God. Yet at the end of the book of Job, God brings this indictment against Job's friends: "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."

I have friends like that. Their counsel compounds grief. While unwittingly wounding my already tender heart, these friends distress me even more by their misrepresentation of God. I am grieved for myself, and I am grieved for them. I am a drowning man, surrounded by drowning men. I want desperately to help those around me, but I cannot even save myself. Lord, what can I do?!

This morning, God answered that question, right there in the last chapter of Job: "My servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly." Yes! Yes, I can pray for these friends! Thank you, Lord!

And then, over in Matthew, chapter 5, God applied this powerful balm to my surgery-sore heart:

"And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you..."

This morning, I am compelled to testify: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. His tender mercies are new every morning.

I am not so naive as to think that a deep heart-wound will heal instantly. I expect that recovering from this latest round of "surgery" will take time. If you see me out this week, I will probably be quieter than normal, and a little gray around the edges. I am very, very tired. I cry easily. But if you are one of those who loves me, I want you to know that underneath my sorrow, God has met me with a deep and satisfying joy: He has met me with Himself.
* * *

"Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." Psalm 30:4-5