He Remains Unfailing: Puny Strength, Patient God

“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst of sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

1 Timothy 1:16

After months of praying and holding our breath, another brain MRI is in the books for Benaiah, and it looks like slowly, very slowly, his ventricles are shrinking. No surgery at this point. It is so, so rare that a case like his can be managed with medication alone. We begged the Lord to intervene and He heard our prayers. I should be dancing for joy. I’m relieved. But it feels like the kind of relief at the end of long, tense movie where the suspense would not let up for a second and you’re exhausted from the adrenaline when it’s over. I feel absolutely drained.

He’s okay. He’s going to be okay. I’m so glad he’s going to be okay. I wonder if I will be.

We talked through some of the challenges we’ve walked through and are currently facing with our mission’s member care team and they pointed out that I use the word “should” a lot. They explained that “should” tends to describe our expectations and that constantly comparing reality to our expectations sets us up to feel guilt, anxiety, and discouragement over things we cannot and do not control. “Yes, that’s about the sum up of it,” I responded. We laughed. I cried.

Man, I am hunting for some new “should’s.”

Dancing for joy? Not so much these days. Begging for joy while I drag myself out of bed after a night of getting up with the baby to make breakfast for a high-strung toddler that will demand to have his eggs cut just a certain way? That’s happening a lot more often. Groping for joy when I feel spent after working like crazy to get ourselves set up to serve overseas only to watch all we’ve worked for get pushed further and further back on the timeline? You bet.

Is it enough, when you don’t feel joy, to bring your request before the source of joy?

Is it enough to ask for new mercies this morning when my heart is tired and teary instead of thankful?

My heart often tells me, “You should be handling this better.” But I think it would be more helpful to tell myself, “You should take this to the Lord.”

“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you.”

Psalm 37:5

He. Will. Help. You.

I do not have the promise that I will be strong enough. I have the promise that He will help me when my strength fails. When my joy fails. When my endurance fails. When my love fails. When my heart feels drained and I fall short of all the “should’s.” He remains unfailing.

“…For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!”

Lamentations 3:22-23

One step at a time, one morning at a time, we are going to get through this. And when we look back, we will not be impressed with how I did what I should have. We will be blown away by how God was faithful and merciful to me when my “should’s” gave out. How He crafted a story full of things I did not expect, and worked through every detail of my disappointments.

I’m still processing through having to step away from ministry in Papua New Guinea for a season, facing one health crisis after another, a car accident, the loss of our trailer, moving from house to house, feeling at a loss with my toddler, and finding myself on my knees for my baby. I want to be over it. With the good news about Benaiah, I want to dust myself off and move on full speed. But there is some brokenness that’s taking time to smooth out.

Here’s what I’m working to remember. People are not necessarily drawn to the Lord because I serve Him so flawlessly and my life is so exemplary and I move through difficulty so gracefully. My faithfulness to Him is not the point or the power of this story. It’s His faithful love to me.

Oh Lord,

Thank you for having mercy on me. May others see in me the evidence of your great kindness and patience, and so be drawn to trust in you. Remind my heart that I am not the hero of my story, you are. When I am disappointed and aching over how I fall short; over my weakness, my issues, my wrestling to believe you, my self-centeredness, pride, impatience, and anxiety – May I remember that you are patient with me.

You are steadily working transformation in my life – the things that are pleasing to you. However it looks right now, as I gaze on you, you will keep changing me. I can have hope. Not because I am performing well, but because I am your work.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For WE ARE God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Ephesians 2:8-10

Sufficient: grace that holds up in our hardship

“…We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.”

2 Corinthians 4:8

It’s been weeks of processing, crying, need-meeting, trying to adjust my expectations, feeling how up-in-the-air our lives are, and wondering when we will ever feel settled again. I feel absolutely spent. I have been thrust into a plot line I would never, ever choose. 

Our church had a parent commissioning for families with new babies a few weeks ago, and I sat in a room full of beaming couples with their healthy, beautiful babies – safe and sound and whole…and my broken one. My precious, tiny son with his brain cysts and spina bifida and swollen ventricles and cerebellum gaps and a shaky future full of scary possibilities. I was heartbroken for him.

For weeks, I have been crying out to the Lord for joy that overflows and peace that passes understanding and strength that overcomes this awful situation. I’ve been searching his word for guidance for how to walk through this. I’ve been reaching for a hope that touches my grief. I know there’s nowhere else to turn. I know that the Bible is precious and life-giving. But this is painful at a level that its promises don’t seem to touch. I look at them and I repeat them and I remember that God is working things for good and that, in eternity, everything will be healed and whole, but my baby hadn’t even made it 20 days from his first breath and he was back in the hospital. We’d had just 5 weeks of newborn snuggles when we started discussions on which brain surgery would be best for him. We had held on with all our might through this pregnancy. Little did we know how we would struggle on the other side of it. 

I climb into bed each night so relieved that I’ll be unconscious soon and I lay in bed each morning, trying to rally for another day in a story I don’t want to be living. I have no control here. Not over this. This is not something I can study for or work hard enough to fix. In a moment, it didn’t matter what I had wanted my life to look like. It rearranged itself around a new priority, and I watched, helpless as the pieces fell into place for a role where my training didn’t apply and my desires didn’t matter.

This is do-what-needs-to-be-done territory. This is a hold-our-whole-lives-before-the-Lord season, because we are helpless here, and all we can do is look to Him. We are discouraged, and fighting to cling to our hope. We are weary, and we are learning what hard work it is to do the good God has set before us and not lose heart – to be content with the good He has set before us in place of the good we had in mind. To trust in our disappointment that He is our helper and that He has not abandoned us. We are fighting a battle with our own hearts to entrust our baby and our story to Him.

Here is what I’m working to remember:

I have no control, but the One who has all the control is very good, and He loves Benaiah very much. He is for us. He has planned good things for us since long ago. Our lives are his masterpiece, not the jumbled, broken wreck it feels like at the moment. We are confused, but He is faithfully ordering our steps. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Benaiah has some things that didn’t form well, but who he is was formed with great care. God not only created the temporary body, He crafted the precious, eternal soul living in it. Benaiah is more than just his body and his brokenness. With all that needs treatment, yet he is wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)

Peace that guards my heart and mind comes in proportion to my choice to fix my thoughts on the Lord, cast my cares on Him, and refuse to worry. His peace doesn’t fall short, but I do fall short of stepping into it. I am begging Him to help me here. To help me to fight the temptation to back away from Him in my disappointment, confusion, frustration and fear. He is ready to hold me, guard me, comfort me, and walk me through this if I will throw myself and my troubles onto Him, whole-heartedly trusting his faithfulness and his care for me. (Isaiah 26:3-4

Oh Lord, 

We are looking at this unexpected season before us and asking you for help. We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 

I believe this next year can be full of your grace. Your grace for all the appointments. Your grace in the surgeons and doctors you provide to care for Benaiah. Your grace over his surgery and procedures. Your grace for parenting and marriage, even out of our brokenness. Your grace in orchestrating a way for us to serve that is a good fit, here and now. Your grace at work in our hearts to teach us to trust you, to endure, and to be satisfied in you through the waiting. Your grace to keep hoping you will make a way for Cody to fly again. Your grace in our relationships. Your grace for all we’ve lost and left behind.

Your grace will be sufficient for us. And this year, I believe we’ll see it again and again and again. Lord, give us the eyes to recognize your grace in the hardship. Help our hearts to find your peace as we gaze at who you are. Teach us to trust you when we feel perplexed, that our hearts may face each next moment with courage. When we cling to you, we will not be driven to despair. You’re worthy of our trust. Lord, help our unbelief.

Just Keep Walking: learning to count on grace and help

“It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.”

Hebrews 11:29

Even if the way is clear and the waters have parted before you, it takes faith to walk it.

The Egyptians following right behind drowned. As awestruck as the Israelites must have been, gazing at the newly dry ground and the towering walls of water before them, my guess is that at least some of them felt conflicted:

Yes, there’s a way forward here, but what if God stops holding back the water? That is not a path I can walk without an enormous amount of help! What if the help runs out before I’m through it? I’m committing to a bottleneck here.

I have shared some of these frightened thoughts, halfway through my own water canyon. I’m now in week 23 out of 40 in this journey through another hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy. We’ve now been through over 40 rounds of IV fluids, a trip across the Atlantic, a hospital admission, cardiac arrhythmias…and I’m becoming acutely aware of how just easy it would be for me to drown here. I have a heavy sense of how slowly I’m moving forward and how much further I have to go until there’s open air around me instead of the threat of going under.

Just keep walking. Just keep walking. 

But with each step, I must remember that there are two ways to walk through this: in torment or by faith. The very One who faithfully held back the water until every woman, child, elderly straggler and wayward sheep made it to safety, marked their faith for taking the steps. He is the ever faithful One, and yet He cherishes my every moment and every move that banks on his trustworthiness.

Oh Lord-

Help me not to question whether you will keep giving me the help I need. Teach me not to ponder, in the depths, the frightening thought of whether I could ever be worthy of that help. Your grace, support, and rescue are given to me freely because of who You are; because of whose blood has purchased me; and I can walk forward confidently, counting on the grace I so desperately need to carry me to the finish.

“…better things are waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all He has promised.”

Hebrews 10:34-36

Shaky Feet, Steady Ground: understanding and mercy when my best isn’t enough

For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest…let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin.

-Hebrews 4:10-11, 14-15

Oh Lord, help me today to do my best to enter your rest. Help my heart to trust that your work at the cross is complete, just as your work of creation was complete, and so you have invited me to rest with a clear conscience.

It occurred to me this morning that Jesus faced the test of starvation. My High Priest can have informed understanding and compassion on hyperemesis moms. He gives mercy in our weaknesses. He can guide us to success and victory and hope. I beg for that.

We’re still working on getting the Zofran pump dose dialed in so that I’m not losing my meals. I’m having irritation all over. At every site that the needles have transferred medication, I have red, raised, painful welts. I don’t have that much of a baby bump at only 17 weeks, but I’m already finding creative ways to avoid bending because of these angry, swollen spots all over my abdomen.

It’s challenging to hold my wiggly son close. I’m so thankful for the pump…and I’m having a hard time adjusting to it. Tears of relief and overwhelm threaten at the same time.

Oh Lord, be bigger in my heart this morning than the 23 weeks I have left.

Thank you for the gentle language of “do my best” in the sentence that calls me to enter your rest. Thank you that I can humbly confess I do not excel at this. Thank you that you are merciful and gracious in my need, in my struggle, in my suffering, in my testing, when my best isn’t enough.

You lift my shaky feet to steady ground and lead me to your rest.


Frayed: grace to help us when we split under pressure

“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake…We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:5, 7

We’re in the second stage of language learning here in Papua New Guinea. Instead of going to either the classroom or a teaching session out in the village, we’ve been cut loose to learn as much as we can by being with people in their daily lives. Sometimes this means helping in their gardens, washing clothes in the river with them, visiting their homes, or going on a walk and talking with whoever we meet on the way.

One difficulty I ran into last week was this: men and women usually spend their days apart.

Where Cody can pretty freely come and go, it takes a little more legwork and planning to set up a safe way for me get those same experiences. I was brainstorming and doing my very best to meet all the expectations I felt, but one day, my plan fell through and my heart sunk with it.

Cody had a long hike with the men planned that day and with my Plan A out of commission, several people would have had to change their whole day in order for me to get the language time I’d been hoping for. I got disillusioned with how unfair and complicated this process felt. I cried, hard. I miss the structure. I miss our teacher laying out our lessons and making sure everyone was right where they should be. I miss the freedom to just hop in my car and go where I need to go. I miss my mom!

The next morning, one of the sweet ladies here offered to watch Abi for a few hours, and I took the opportunity to reset. I could accomplish all kinds of language study, but if I’m driven by a fearful, panicky, proud heart…what would it be worth?

I asked the Lord to help me accept that part of learning this culture is taking it in stride when a plan doesn’t work out. Part of learning to be faithful is looking for how I can be faithful with what I can do, rather than stressing over what I can’t.

I’m adjusting to a lot of new limitations. And I realize that leaving campus for these language-learning experiences has become, to my heart, a need. An idol, that when threatened, pushes me to distress. I saw that there were pressures I was allowing to influence my choices and forfeit my peace.

I was fearful of falling behind in language. I hate how it feels when I struggle to understand. We do have a really important message and I want to communicate it clearly. But deep down, I think it’s more about my fear than my good intentions. It’s important to me to feel at home, and I’m just plain afraid that I’ll struggle to settle in and I’ll burn out if I don’t get this language down. So there I was, grasping for control and fighting like crazy to set us up here, when the Lord pointed out to me one startling fact:

I had place my hope for successful ministry and life here on adequate language learning instead of throwing myself upon His grace and strength. Somewhere along the line I decided again that this is up to me. And so, I was blowing a fuse instead of begging for help.

In that moment, I saw all over again that I am a fragile clay jar. And this is by design. It helps to make it crystal clear that any power, gifting, or ability that shows up in my life comes from Christ alone. I am not the savior or the solution to anyone’s need; I am just the stained and battered envelope bearing a message of inexpressible joy:

Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay. Not because I’m here, but because HE is. And look at what He was able to do in me, in spite of all the places I split under the pressure.

Oh Lord,

Please help me to shift my hope to you and you alone. Help my stressed-out heart yield to the rule of your peace. Teach me to surrender the things I am so desperate to control. You have not just set me aside to make sure Cody learns all that he needs. You have different things to teach us, and I am positioned perfectly to learn what you have decided is most important. Make me a humble learner who is willing to learn what you are teaching, rather than rejecting it because I had something different in mind.

As I was looking over our instructions for independent language study, I noticed this breakdown for how to spend our time:

5% – Plan

50% – Participate

20% – Process

25% – Practice

Man, if only 5% of learning depends on planning, I can still learn a ton when the plan goes out the window. Maybe more than if the plan had worked. And I think great learning versus great stress depends on whether I trust the teacher.

You’re changing me. You’re teaching me that YOU are the point, not me. You are freely giving your light and your strength – sending them into my desperate need. I am frayed, but you are unphased, intact, perfect as ever, able to withstand every pressure.

You are the only source of a steady heart. The only thing on earth that can hold us secure through shifting, through trouble, and through our own inadequacy. Lord, I praise your name for who you are and for what you are doing here and now in my life. Lead me as I form my plans for this day, and lead me still when I must take brave steps into unplanned territory.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hebrews 4:15-16

Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Stay In The Room: on grace with each other that doesn’t give up

While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this, “What a waste!”

…but Jesus, aware of this, said, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”…from that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Matthew 26:7-10, 16

Greed, dishonesty, and theft were already at work in Judas. But here, we witness a turning point. He sees someone freely pour out something precious for Jesus – a treasure wasted, in Judas’ opinion. A loss. A disagreement about how to manage resources. A “That is it!” moment. And Judas heads into the night, in more ways than one.

His story teaches me that I need to be wary when I start to get frustrated with how things are being managed, when resources start to become more precious than people, when the way a decision is handled tempts me to throw up my hands and throw in the towel. May I have the wisdom to hold my tongue and tread carefully when my heart grows angry enough to say “That is it!”

Bad decisions often follow.

In this season of much disagreement – in our nation, in our churches, and in our homes – my need to tend to my heart is greater than ever. It is labor-intensive to weed out the pride, bitterness, greed, and criticism that so easily take up residence within me.

As we work alongside others to manage the time and resources God has given, and as our lives are impacted by the decisions of others – how desperately I need him to give me a gentleness and a calm toward choices that are handled differently than I expect and toward events that may unfold differently than I hoped. We are not called to control our future, or to control each other. We are called to control ourselves in how we think about the future and in how we handle each other.

I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then…you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:2-3, 7

In all that is uncertain, I can be completely confident that I understand God’s mysterious plan: it’s Christ himself. The savior who laid down his life to rescue any of us who place our trust in him from the penalty and power of our sin. The author and finisher of our faith who lives in and through us and leads us forward when things get hairy. The solid rock where we find our firm footing. The vine that produces in us the kind of life that lays itself down for the sake of others, and reaches so far beyond our sad standard of love.

God’s plan and his instructions have much more to do with how I live through the events unfolding around me that it does with what those events are.

…you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives

Colossians 3:12-16

He does not require me to be carefully placed and painstakingly balanced within a very specific set of circumstances in order to display his power. The mystery and wonder of Christ in me is that his strength is enough and I can be thrown to lions, dropped in a furnace, overcome with illness, locked up, chased down or silenced with stones and He will still do exactly what he intends to in and through my life.

My hardships, weaknesses, and circumstances do not limit him in the least. Nothing threatens his plan for my life. And he asks me to fill my life not with questions about the future or a determination to steer it, but with the message of Christ as my firm foundation that gives me the fortitude to face absolutely anything, and to walk through it extending grace to other people.

When it comes to staying encouraged, maintaining unity, conquering evil impulses, and walking in new life – Christ is the secret, the source of power, and the only strategy.

When the pressure dials up, may I be confident that I understand exactly what God’s plan is and exactly where to turn for the help to carry it out. May I learn to sink my roots down deep into him and hang on tight. May I set my eyes on him alone and be renewed as I learn to know him.

Everything is wrapped up in him and to the degree that my life is, too, I live thankful, at peace, and able to extend a grace that doesn’t give up. It is out of that steady place that I can work willingly at whatever I do, forgive anyone who offends me, make allowance for the faults of others, take on his tender-hearted mercy in my interactions, put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking with me, and invite him into my most desperate moments, trusting him to transform what I am helpless to change.

Oh Lord,

When we reach our “That is it!” moments with each other, give us the courage to stay in the room and keep fighting for this to work. Give us the wisdom to turn our back on the night, not on the relationships that have become strained. Encourage our hearts so that we don’t give up on each other.

Take us deeper into an understanding of you so that we are changed from the inside out. Help us to offer ourselves and all we have daily to be used however you please. Remind us that we are united by something so much more significant than the issues that weigh down our relationships and leave us wanting to slam the door. Give us a glimpse of the forgiveness we have been given, and may it soften our hearts toward each other.

Equip us to understand how to walk in your power and display the life and abundance you offer to all who believe – to all who lay aside their pale efforts and revel in what you have accomplished on the cross – to all who trust you for this next step, too.

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...

Isaiah 40:31