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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Fear Not! – Biblical Command or Invitation?

I am intimately familiar with fear, but I am no longer consumed by it. These days when fear rears its ugly head it is quickly overtaken by resignation (the acknowledgment that I am not able to change some things) and acceptance (the knowledge that God’s plans trump my desires every time – and rightly so) and the hope of eternity (the assurance that what befalls me in this world is not the end of the story). I know the Bible repeatedly tells us not to be afraid, but I think that has less to do with fear being sinful than it does with God’s acknowledgement that fear is the natural response to a perceived threat. 

God knows we will repeatedly confront fear in this life!

Fear is often the impetus that leads us to reach out to God. And maybe God tells us not to be afraid because when we call out to Him we have summoned the most powerful entity in all existence, therefore there is no need to be afraid. He is the giant that steps between us and that which we fear. Instead of interpreting, “Fear not!”, as a command we are all too prone to fail to implement, maybe we should instead interpret it as a gentle reminder or reassurance. Maybe,”Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I can take care of this. Nothing is too difficult for Me.”, is a better translation than “Fear not!” Of course I lean toward wordiness (which is why I think the Amplified Version of the Bible is the all-time best Bible translation) and “Fear not!” is unarguably concise. But I also think Biblical saints were frequently told not to be afraid because a great big, glowing angel appeared before them and having never seen one they were reasonably terrified. The greeting, “Fear not!”, may have effectively snapped a terrified individual out of their adrenaline induced fight, flight or freeze response. 

This world is filled with very real dangers. In some ways fear is a gift to us from God who loves us. Fear inspires us to be aware of our surroundings and often prevents us from blindly walking into trouble. The admonition to fear not may have a more robust meaning than those two simple words imply. I think what goes unsaid is the reason why God encourages not to be afraid and the truth that He is not disappointed in believers when they are frightened. God does not want us to be consumed or crippled by fear. He certainly doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by fear. He absolutely doesn’t want us to be controlled by fear. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told,

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour. ~ AMP

When we interpret the occurrences of “fear not” in the Bible as commands we set ourselves up for failure. Conquering fear is not accomplished by positive self-talk. Maya Banks in her book, Hidden Away, distilled this overlooked and dismissed truth in one short sentence,

 “We can’t turn it [fear] off just by realizing we shouldn’t be afraid.” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that God commands us not to be afraid. But that just didn’t sit right with me (primarily because I felt it was not something I could do by sheer force of will). So I set out to google the Greek and Hebrew definitions of the word “fear” to determine the original intent of the word and I inadvertently stumbled upon the definition according to the Holman Bible Dictionary. Below you will find the portion of that definition that applies to the phrase “fear not”:

“Fear not” The expression “fear not” (also translated “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”) is an invitation to confidence and trust. When used without religious connotation (15 times), “fear not” is an expression of comfort. These words come from an individual to another providing reassurance and encouragement (Genesis 50:21 ; Ruth 3:11 ; Psalm 49:16 ). When “fear not” is used in a religious context (60 times), the words are an invitation to trust in God. These words appear in the context of the fear and terror that follows divine revelation. God invites His people not to be afraid of Him (Genesis 15:1 ; Genesis 26:24 ); the angel of the Lord seeks to calm an individual before a divine message is communicated (Daniel 10:12 ,Daniel 10:12,10:19 ; Luke 1:13 ,Luke 1:13,1:30 ); a person acting as a mediator of God invites the people to trust in God (Moses, Deuteronomy 31:6 ; Joshua, Joshua 10:25 ). ~ Holman Bible Dictionary, Claude F. Mariottini

Now that makes more sense to me. An invitation to trust, not a command. An expression of reassurance, encouragement and comfort. 

Conquering fear requires a conscious decision on our part, and I personally believe, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I have become increasingly aware of my utter dependence, my desperate need, of the intervention of the Holy Spirit in order to live the Christian life as God intends. . . The Christian life was designed to be one of cooperation between the believer and the Holy Spirit. Psalms 56:3 tells us what our part of that cooperative effort to overcome fear entails. Since different Bible translations often provide a more comprehensive understanding of scripture, below are several versions that present nuanced interpretations of the same verse.

 When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. ~ New American Standard Bible

Even when I am afraid, I still trust you. ~ GOD’S WORD® Translation

From the height of the day I shall fear: but I will trust in thee. ~ Douay-Rheims Bible

In the day that I am afraid, I will confide in thee. ~ Darby Bible Translation

The day I am afraid I am confident toward Thee. ~ Young’s Literal Translation

One thing Psalm 56:3 makes abundantly clear is that we all experience fear regardless of the depth of our faith. Fear and trust, faith and fear, are not mutually exclusive. 

The NASB represents the most common translation of Psalm 56:3, but I love how the God’s World translation acknowledges that fear and trust coexist. I love that the Douala-Rheims Bible makes it clear that fear will always plague us. I love that the Darby Bible Translation reduces trust to the act of confiding our fears to the One who is able to do something about them. And I love that Young’s Literal Translation expresses both fear and confidence simultaneously. 

Take a look at what the Pulpit Commentary says about this verse:

“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee; literally, the day when I am afraid. When the day comes that I feel fear stealing over me, by an act of will I (even I, weak as I am) will put my trust in thee (comp. Psalm 7:1; Psalm 11:1; Psalm 18:2, etc.).”

Of course any discussion of fear and faith is incomplete without addressing 1 John 4:18, 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – KJV

I don’t know about you but when this verse is tossed out, I often feel condemned. It’s presented as if fear can be eradicated from our lives – as if we are capable of attaining the goal of perfect love. I’ve pretty much concluded that anytime the word perfect is placed before an adverb in the Bible and contextually applies to humans instead of God, it is a quality that I will not be capable of achieving this side of heaven. The Pulpit Commentary seems to agree in a much more theologically comprehensive manner.

“Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be limited to God’s love to us, or our love to God, or our love of the brethren. Love and fear coexist only where love is not yet perfect. Perfect love will absolutely exclude fear as surely as perfect union excludes all separation. It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has no fear. . . To cease to fear without attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous [taking unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God]. Hence the apostle is . . . pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire, but to which no one attains in this life.”

Casting Crowns, Oh My Soul, reminds us that when fear encounters almighty God, God will be victorious over it if we confide in Him* and place our trust in Him with confident assurance that He will hear us and perform that which is for our eternal good. And that last bit about God performing what is best for our eternal good, that’s the kicker right there. Fear keeps us in its clutches when our humanity demands that which is for our earthly good over surrendering to that which is for our eternal good.

Overcoming fear is not a battle – it’s an all out war made up of numerous individual squirmishes. Understanding that truth prevents us from the self-condemnation that leaves us feeling defeated and more inclined to quit trying. But knowing we will live to fight another day and recognizing that we are in fact gaining ground on the enemy, builds confidence and encourages us to persevere. 

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]” ~ John 16:33 AMP

Here is the story behind Oh My Soul:


The Story Behind Oh My Soul

And here’s the official lyric video:


Oh My Soul Official Lyric Video

I hope both will bless and encourage you. 

Soldier on Saint!

*It should be noted that confiding in God may necessitate repeated conversations on the topic. I can’t tell you specifically why that may be the case although a number of theological explanations have been discerned by numerous Biblical scholars. That’s a topic for another day. However, there are times I think revisiting the conversation in prayer peels away unknown beliefs and misconceptions about God’s love and enables us to uncover the true root of our fears. I know from my own experience that praying and making a conscious decision to trust God has not frequently resulted in the much longed for peace that passes all understanding. Maybe that’s because I haven’t yet succeeded in consistently keeping my thoughts fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3).

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2017 in Faith

 

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Elijah, Why Are You Here?

Photo credit belongs to FreeBibleimages.org

At some point in the last three years the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal became a focus of study for me. Talk about a mountaintop experience! But, what really grabbed my attention – what I’ve mulled over in my mind countless times since – is what happened after God demonstrated His power above and beyond any idol created in human hearts and by their hands. The story of Elijah and the prophets is found in 1 Kings 18. But look with me to the next chapter . . . 

1 Kings 19 New Century Version (NCV)*

1 “King Ahab told Jezebel every thing Elijah had done and how Elijah had killed all the prophets with a sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me terribly if by this time tomorrow I don’t kill you just as you killed those prophets.”

3 When Elijah heard this, he was afraid and ran for his life, taking his servant with him. When they came to Beersheba in Judah, Elijah left his servant there. 4 Then Elijah walked for a whole day into the desert. He sat down under a bush and asked to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he prayed. “Let me die. I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and slept.”

Huh? Did a prophet of the Lord just ask to die? Did he then just lay down and sleep? In this modern day a certified counselor would recognize this behavior as indicative of depression. Maybe even PTSD. He did, after all, slaughter the numerous prophets of Baal with his sword. Doing the right thing doesn’t exempt us from the physical and mental fallout of our actions. But aside from that, we just don’t expect our biblical heroes to be human enough to wish for death, do we? And you know what, we are appalled when a modern day believer expresses the same desire.

Around March of 2014, about three months after Bethany and Katie died, I received a phone call from my father. In those intervening months between December and March David and I had been caring for Gracen in ways we had never done before. There were pain meds, belly shots, bed pans, sponge baths, and two person transfers since her right leg was encased in an imobilizer as she recovered from the injuries she received in the accident that killed her sisters. David was unemployed and the bills started rolling in. We were exhausted on about every level possible. 

My Dad, after catching up on what was happening three hours north, asked me, “How are you really doing?” To which I replied, “I’m tired. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m just wishing for the rapture.” My Dad, bless his heart, responded, “You can’t feel that way”, and went on to tell me why.

We act as if it’s unscriptural to wish for death unless someone is suffering severe physical agony. Then it’s deemed okay to pray that God will take them home and relieve them of their suffering. But that’s not the message in scripture. 

It’s not wrong to long for your eternal home. 

It’s wrong to take it upon yourself to end your life, but not wrong to wish for death.**

What I find really interesting here is the fact that neither God nor His angel rebuked Elijah for either his actions or his feelings. Instead, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah. See for yourself:

“5b Suddenly an angel came to him and touched him. “Get up and eat,” the angel said. 6 Elijah saw near his head a loaf baked over coals and a jar of water, so he ate and drank. Then he went back to sleep.”

Elijah went back to sleep! And the angel just let him. There were no recriminations. No get up!, Do something! messages from on high. No count your blessings rebuke. Neither God nor His Angel had one word to say to Elijah about his desire for death. 

Not one word.

And the story continues . . .

7 “Later the Lord’s angel came to him a second time. The angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat. If you don’t, the journey will be too hard for you.” 8 So Elijah got up and ate and drank. The food made him strong enough to walk for forty days and nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. 9a There Elijah went into a cave and stayed all night.”

Okay, so here’s what we know. God sent an angel twice to Elijah and each time the angel came with food and water. We also know that at the second visitation the angel told Elijah he needed the nourishment so he’d have the strength to make a journey. What we don’t know is if Elijah was planning the journey or if God instructed the angel to tell Elijah to get his butt to Mount Sinai. I’m leaning toward the idea that Elijah had rested and decided, if God won’t come to me, I’m going to Him. Maybe he wanted an answer to his request that badly. (And I wonder if he was such a mess that he would have ventured off without the provisions necessary to physically make the trip). 

Regardless, it bears mentioning that in all the time between Elijah’s run to escape Jezebel, his request to die, the angel’s first visit, the second visit, and the 40 day journey, God is silent. 

He’s silent.

And it seems Elijah was too. 

I suppose you could say that Elijah had said his piece in back in verse four, “I’ve had enough. Let me die.”. and he didn’t believe it bore repeating.

Finally, God speaks. 

I don’t know about you but God didn’t say anything I might have expected Him to say. He simply asked Elijah a question. 

9b “. . . “Elijah! Why are you here?”

And when you consider that God knows all, isn’t it interesting that He extends an invitation to Elijah to explain himself? 

And you know what? That wasn’t the first time in recorded history that God interacted with His children that way. Way back in the garden of Eden, God questioned Adam. “Where are you?”, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The angel of the Lord questioned Hagar on two separate occasions. “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” “What ails you, Hagar?” God questioned Jonah too (who, by the way, also wished for death), “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” 

Sometimes we don’t really know what we think and feel until the right question is asked. We are filled with angst but incapable of expressing our thoughts and feelings with words. 

A year and a half after Bethany and Katie died, I was visiting with my brother-in-law and he asked me, “Why do you like to read?” I responded that reading enabled me to escape the constantly churning thoughts in my mind. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t answered the question before me in the spirit it was intended. The majority of bereaved individuals contemplate every thought through the filter of grief. Grief brain some call it. And that’s exactly what I had done. 

Following the collision, reading was an effective distraction for me. It filled my mind with thoughts unrelated to death and the minutiae of health, legal, financial and insurance issues. I needed that, but I’ve had a lifelong enjoyment of the written word. It takes me places I will never visit in this lifetime. It increases knowledge. It has generated empathy for people in circumstances with which I lack experience. It makes me laugh and cry and question and it promotes understanding and compassion. That’s why I like to read. That’s the answer my brother-in-law was expecting. That’s what he wanted to know.

Likewise, Elijah didn’t answer the question God asked either. He filtered God’s question through fatigue, fear and discouragement. 

10 He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I have always served you as well as I could. But the people of Israel have broken their agreement with you, destroyed your altars, and killed your prophets with swords. I am the only prophet left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

11 The Lord said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain, and I will pass by you.” Then a very strong wind blew until it caused the mountains to fall apart and large rocks to break in front of the Lord . But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle sound. 13a When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.”

What on earth was all that about? A tornado followed by an earthquake and then fire. Could it be God wanted Elijah to realize that not only was He near, but He wasn’t angry with him? Every one of those natural disasters are frequently equated with the wrath of God. But God wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. No, God showed up in a quiet, gentle sound. 

13b Then a voice said to him, “Elijah! Why are you here?”

14 He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I have always served you as well as I could. But the people of Israel have broken their agreement with you, destroyed your altars, and killed your prophets with swords. I am the only prophet left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

I wonder if “why are you here?”, really translates to, “Elijah, talk to me! Tell me what you’re thinking. Are there questions you want to ask me?”

Back in verse four, Elijah was pretty clear about what he was asking for. He told the Lord he’d had enough and asked to die. But face-to-face, so to speak, Elijah didn’t ask to die. Instead he just reiterated his discouragement and fear. He also didn’t change his response following a show of God’s power either (maybe the purpose of the wind, earthquake and fire was to demonstrate God’s power in order to encourage Elijah by showing him that He had the ability to protect him from all those who sought his life). 

I wonder, did God repeat His question to give Elijah an opportunity to decide if he had it in him to continue serving as a prophet? It’s like asking, “Is that what you really want, Elijah, to quit? Make sure that’s really what you want. Say it out loud so there are no misunderstandings.” And Elijah’s response put in motion the ordination of Elisha to take Elijah’s place.

Wow, that speaks to me!

I also think the fact that Elijah replies to God exactly the same way he did the first time the question was asked is telling. The wind, the earthquake, the fire and the quiet gentle voice did nothing to change Elijah’s perspective regarding ministry and life. Is not God’s passing by Elijah synonymous with God showing Moses His glory? 

This was no minor event in Elijah’s relationship with God. It was a big fat deal when God passed by. It’s not something He routinely did. And yet Elijah is . . . underwhelmed. I don’t get the impression that Elijah was at all impressed with this Devine visitation. 

I do, however, get the distinct impression that Elijah was completely world weary. 

He was done. 

And God knew it.

Yes, God assigned Elijah new tasks, but they were passing the baton tasks not carry on tasks.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back on the road that leads to the desert around Damascus. Enter that city, and pour olive oil on Hazael to make him king over Aram. 16 Then pour oil on Jehu son of Nimshi to make him king over Israel. Next, pour oil on Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to make him a prophet in your place. 

Notice how Elijah responds to Elisha’s request to return to his parents to tell them good-bye after anointing Elisha his successor in 1 Kings 19:20:

“Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” 

“What have I done to you?”, is the most common way various versions of the Bible translate Elijah’s response, but here are a few others:

“Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” ~ NLT

“Go back,” Elijah answered him. “I’m not stopping you.” ~ GOD’S WORLD Translation

“And he said to him: Go, and return back: for that which was my part, I have done to thee.” ~ Douay-Rheims Translation

The first time I read Elijah’s response it was in a translation that read, “Go back. What have I done to you?” I came away with the impression that Elijah didn’t really care what Elisha did following his anointing. It reinforced my impression that Elijah’s tank was empty. 

I am no Bible scholar, but how God handled Elijah’s request for death, both in what He said and did, and what He didn’t say and do, made an impression on me. 

And then comes 2 Kings chapter 2 . . . but before we get to that let’s backtrack a little.

I know many pastors, preachers and theologians believe the events described in 1 Kings 19 indicate that Elijah lacked faith, but that’s not what I see at all. Nowhere does it indicate that Elijah thought that God was incapable of caring for him, in fact, his response indicates the exact opposite. Twice in Elijah’s reply to God’s question he refers to God as the “Lord God All-Powerful”. 

Elijah didn’t lack faith in what God could do. He feared what God would allow. 

And why wouldn’t he? He certainly wasn’t a fool. He knew how all the prophets that came before him died. They were killed by the sword – by God’s own people. They killed the messenger because they didn’t like the message. 

Elijah didn’t think too highly of himself. He didn’t expect a better end because of his service for the Lord. In verse four he plainly states, “I am no better than my ancestors”. 

In Elijah’s despair, God was patient and kind. He provided for Elijah’s needs and protected his life. He pursued Elijah. He didn’t minimize or rebuke him for his fear. What I see is God’s great love for His weary servant. Elijah feared a prophets common end and in God’s great and merciful love He spared Elijah not only a prophet’s demise but death altogether.

Back to 2 Kings 2 . . . I love this part!

“And it came to pass, as they [Elijah and Elisha] still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” ~ 2 Kings 2:11 KJV 

A flaming chariot is one seriously awesome ride! Don’t you agree? 

I love this glimpse into the heart of God for His world weary servant. It tells me that God will treat me with the same tender care – that I can trust that He knows when enough is enough. That I am not just a pawn for kingdom purposes. That my feelings are of great concern to the Father. And on difficult days when my heart longs for death, when the cares of this world are too much for me, I need the assurance that God responds with compassion, love and faithfulness. I need to know that in my head and my heart

I need to be able to experience Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians every single day of my life.

“16 I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” ~ Ephesians 3:16-19

How I need this! 

My inner being strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

To be rooted and grounded in love. 

To comprehend the full measure of Christ’s love for me – far beyond the realms of intellectual understanding. . . 

Far beyond what the human heart and mind can grasp. 

I need a supernatural understanding of God’s love. 

That is not something I can manufacture by determination and tenacity. My individual efforts can only take me so far.

I can never be filled with the fullness of God outside of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
 

When a believer expresses the desire for death, there are two things you should be concerned about,

1) Is this individual at risk of harming themselves?, and
2) How can I validate their feelings, while affirming their ability to continue on? 

Then you should act accordingly.

If you believe the individual is suicidal, or you are unsure, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Just do it. They can point you to local resources.

It’s better to call and have your fears allayed than it is to assume an individual will not act upon those feelings. A phone call can save a life. I can tell you horror stories of families who have suffered unspeakable pain and trauma because someone who was concerned didn’t make that call. 

Err on the side of caution!

In the majority of cases, when a desire for death is voiced by a believer, that individual has experienced great loss and/or trauma or repeated hardships and losses. That person needs a friend who listens without judgment, without rebuke, and they might need a trip to their physician. They most definitely need to know that their desire is not uncommon among deeply wounded believers and that they are in good Biblical company. 

They need to know that God understands and treats broken believers with tender care. 

The question God asked, “Elijah, Why are you here?”, could very well have been asked of me. How would I have replied had that quiet gentle voice asked me, “Janet, why are you here?” My answer probably would have sounded something like this: “I’ve done my best. I’m tired. My eyes have seen things that are impossible to scrub from my mind. Too many losses. Too much sorrow and sadness. Too much pain and too much fear. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’ve had enough!”

Since God treated world weary Elijah with such gentleness, I can expect He will do the same for me. . . 

Well, maybe not the flashy flaming chariot ride home . . .  but I could be among the generation of people who get snatched up in the rapture. 

That’s every bit as cool as a flaming chariot, in my opinion. 

Flaming horse drawn chariots are so passé!

No, feel free to beam me up Lord. I’m all over that!


*All scripture references from 1 Kings 19 are from the New Century Version translation unless otherwise noted.

**It should be noted that in 1 Kings 19:4, Elijah was not planning his demise. He wasn’t asking for permission to end it all. He was making a request of the Lord. He’d had enough. He wanted to go home. And he expressed that desire to the Lord God All-Powerful.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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A Day of Hope

Gracen and Hope (left to right)

Gracen’s third semester at John Brown University brought her a brand new roommate. That is when Hope (and I mean that in more ways than one) literally entered our lives. Hope is a confident, lively, opinionated, fierce and determined little thing. In a word, she’s a spitfire!

Gracen and Hope compliment each other. Gracen helps Hope keep track of things and Hope gets Gracen out in the world. But what makes Hope unique among Gracen’s friends, family and acquaintances is one singular thing. She is disabled – or uniquely-abled – as I prefer to think of it.

Gracen was born with a genetic disease known as ARSACS – a progressive neuromuscular condition which is a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. She has been wheelchair bound for the last three years as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident and the progression of her disease. 

Hope was born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition that generally occurs as a result of birth trauma. She gets around aided by two cuff canes and/or a scooter. Let me tell you, that girl can move! It’s absolutely shocking how quickly she gets from place to place with those canes.

Parents of special needs children worry about a great many things. Big things, small things and downright crazy things. That old saying that encourages people to major on the majors is really not applicable in a lot of special needs homes. That’s because things that are minor for average people are anything but for the uniquely-abled. Molehills are mountains and life demands the constant awareness of your environment or other impediments encountered in the outside world, from accessibility to socialization and adaptability. 

From the time Gracen’s disease became apparent, I have been responsible for paving the way through and around the things that hinder her progress. But there are some things a mother cannot do for their child; uniquely-abled or not. The list just seems to be longer for Special Needs Moms. Among the things I’m incapable of providing for my daughter, friendship ranks high on the list.

As a mom, I can provide opportunities for Gracen to connect with others, but I can’t make real friendships develop. Over the years I have watched from the sidelines as Gracen (and her younger sister, Katie, before her death) navigated through the quagmire of social situations. 

I’ve seen her overlooked, ridiculed behind her back (sadly by adults in some cases) and marginalized. It’s not something we openly talk about, but Gracen isn’t mentally disabled. She’s not unaware of what goes on around her nor of the motives of others.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner! ~ Dirty Dancing

Through the years, Gracen has surprised me in innumerable ways. I have watched her insert herself into activities and conversations repeatedly. There’s a line in the movie Dirty Dancing that describes Gracen well. 

If you remember the movie at all, Baby is the youngest of two daughters. The family dynamics portrayed in this film show Baby to be sidelined by the (perceived) superior talents and beauty of her older sister. Baby’s the afterthought. She resides in the shadows, or on the periphery of family interactions. Johnny, the resident bad boy recognizes this reality. And at the end of the movie, in the triumphant moment, Johnny says, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” just before sweeping her onto the dance floor and publicly showcasing her talent.

That line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”, describes Gracen to a ‘T’. The only difference being that Gracen doesn’t need someone to stand up for her. She has routinely refused to be overlooked. She refuses to be relegated to the corner. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a Parent-Teacher conference where a teacher hasn’t been surprised by her outspoken class participation. I’ve seen her insert herself among her cousins at family gatherings, her peers at church and in innumerable other situations.

I really don’t think this demand for acknowledgement is a personality trait so much as it’s a subconscious response to the way society as a whole treats the disabled. It’s as if she is silently telling others that they don’t have to like her, but they will not ignore her. Hope confronts the world in the same way. Still there’s a vast difference between being acknowledged and being befriended.

In the world we live in people have all kinds of motives for the ways they interact with others. Sometimes inspired by simple curtesy, shared interests or as a ministry project. Sometimes motivated by what another can do for them. Social interaction is a complicated and messy endeavor.

However, Hope and Gracen cannot be found silently sitting on the sidelines, enabling others to pridefully pat themselves on their backs for their inclusive character or acts of service for the Lord. No, Hope and Gracen can be found at a prominent table in the center of the room living large with strong opinions and copious amounts of sassy sarcasm – holding their own and dismissing those who see them as less than others. 

And you know what? Hope and Gracen gladly invite you to their table because they have something of value to offer others, not because they have any need of help themselves. They don’t need the benevolent kindness of others (when it’s motivated by nothing more than thinly disguised pity) in lieu of true friendship.

The bottom line, of course, is that we all want to be liked and appreciated for who we are underneath all the subterfuge of human interaction. We all desire to be understood and wanted, warts and all.

Hope is her name, but it is also the gift she bestows upon Gracen and others who have found themselves living outside the norms of society. She serves as a reminder to others that their lives hold purpose and contribute to the world at large. 

Hope is not the girl who goes silently into the night. Hope sweeps in like a hurricane, disrupting and reordering the people around her. She doesn’t leave a trail of destruction behind her; but she does leave others with the awareness that she is a person, not a project. 

In Hope, Gracen found the first person who understands her from an experiential perspective. And that’s huge. 

Indescribably Huge!


They have shared attitudes, feelings and frustrations. They look at the world though a lens others cannot fathom, let alone comprehend. 

We all have a room in our hearts I refer to as the Ugly Closet. It’s the place where we hide all the feelings deemed unacceptable by society when everything within us cries out that those feelings are both reasonable and justified. When someone comes along and echoes those hurtful thoughts and feelings that door gets flung open in immediate and overwhelming relief. 

It looks a bit like that famous scene from When Harry Met Sally*, when Meg Ryan demonstrates a woman faking an orgasm in the middle of a diner (minus all the moaning and head tossing). She slaps her hand on the table emphatically shouting, “yes, Yes, YES!” in a comical portrayal of physical release. But I’ve seen that exact response (I mean the table slapping and shouting) when an individual completes the sentence, I feel like . . . the same way another would, “Oh my goodness (Slap), yes, Yes, YES (Slap)! That’s exactly how I feel (SLAP)!

That was the first gift of Hope.


“Yes, Yes, YES! (Slap)! Oh my goodness (Slap), yes, Yes, YES (Slap)! That’s exactly how I feel (SLAP)!

And those words, that sentiment, has echoed repeatedly through the air every time Hope and Gracen spend time together. Hope carries true friendship with her every time she powers her way through the front door. (She doesn’t really walk – she’s too much of a force of nature to do something so mundane).   

That’s why, anytime Hope comes to visit . . . 

I refer to it as a day of Hope.

*Okay, the When Harry Met Sally scene is not the best example (it’s kind of tacky), but I seriously couldn’t find another where the hand slapping and yes, yes, yeses were so emphatic, and that’s the image I want to leave you with, because it happens just like that.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Adversity, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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And Then I Saw Her . . . 

I stopped by my local Walmart today to pick up necessities like creamer for my coffee, coffee for my creamer, chips and peanuts (because there is actually protein in them – you know, something good for you). I looked for bing cherries and plums which sadly could not be found ANYWHERE! And I bought frozen pizza because I needed to make dinner tonight. . . and I just don’t do that anymore. 

I remember thinking that I need to relearn how to make dinner everyday. I know, it sounds crazy doesn’t it? But when life falls apart – it really falls apart in ways others just can’t fathom. I’m not really sure how it happened – or even when it happened – but I have lost my way in so many ways that it’s just completely bewildering to me. 

And then I saw her. A beautiful young teen, completely bald, with a germ prevention mask . . . Cancer. . . it’s such an ugly, devastating and frightening word. She looked completely healthy, even happy. . . but my heart hurt . . . for her . . . for her family.

As luck would have it (or divine assignment more likely) we had parked next to each other. The young woman climbed into the car while her mother unloaded their groceries into the trunk. I commented to her about the beautiful weather as we both went about filling our vehicles with the must haves and the I just wants that filled our Walmart bags. But, I really wanted to say more. To speak of things far more important than a beautiful day. 

I just didn’t know how.

I wanted to tap the sticker on my van door. The one with the wheelchair icon that reminds others to give me plenty of room when they park beside me. I wanted to say, “You are not alone. I understand what living with deep depths of fear feels like.” 

I wanted to tell her that she is a warrior . . . a brave, brave woman in this broken world. I wanted to tell her that I had prayed for her daughter – for her as I pushed my cart out to the car. I wanted her to know that there are others out there putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next thing, holding it together as best they can and trusting the Lord in spite of being terrified at what He might allow to come to pass in their lives. 

I just wanted to let her know that I understand her – who she is deep down in her soul, in ways only those who have lost, or live in constant fear of loss, can possibly understand.

But I didn’t. 

I just didn’t know how. And I hate that. 

She seemed so together, and yet I wonder if she is really just good (far too experienced) at putting her game face on – for her daughter and for the world at large.

The greatest of these is love . . . was written across the back of her purple t-shirt. 

That there is her strength on days she feels all too weak. 

The love of God – holding her up – carrying her through. 

I wish I had spoken up. 

I wish I knew how. 

I wish I could have helped her to feel just a bit less alone. A bit less afraid. A bit more fortified for whatever else the day, week, month, and year might hold in store for her. 

And as I exited the parking lot the tears began to flow for that mother – for her child – for innocence lost – naïveté forfeited to rogue cells multiplying and hiding until the destruction they wreck could no longer be hidden and the world as she knew it began to crumble beneath her feet. 

I cry for the brokenness around me. Everywhere I go I see brokenness like flashing neon signs.

It hurts! 

How can God stand to look upon it – to be unable to overlook it or ignore it. How can He stand to hear the unrelenting cries of fear and sorrow that must surely rise up from the hearts of His creation every minute, every hour . . . Every day? 

Does He endure like Christ did on the cross for the joy set before Him? 

Is He fortified by the joy of the presence of the saints who have already joined Him before the throne of grace? 

What does a day in the life look like for God? It is beyond my ability to comprehend. 

The birth of a newborn baby, the salvation of a lost soul, a life destroyed by drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, and all manner of evil, welcoming a saint into their eternal home. . . 

All in a days work. 

Maybe God longs for that day . . . the day after judgment day . . . the day after evil has been defeated and the saints gather around His throne . . . more than we ever could. 

If the whole world is in His hands, the full weight of the world also rests squarely on His shoulders. Have we ever stopped to consider the cost of His long suffering love for creation? It’s higher, much higher, than the price of watching His sinless son die on the cross. 

What does it cost to love so much that you endure because you are not willing for any to perish? 

“The Lord does not delay [as though He were unable to act] and is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is [extraordinarily] patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” ~ 2 Peter 3:9 AMP

Sin entered the world and with it death and disease and unquenchable evil as Satan seeks to destroy that which he cannot conquer. And in the meantime, God works out countless stories of redemption in broken hearts and lives. And if Jesus did only that which He saw His Father do (John 5:19*) then how many oceans are filled with the tears of God (John 11:35*) while He lovingly catches every tear we cry (Psalm 56:8*) and keeps them in a bottle? 

He never asks us to weep for Him, but He does for us and every tear we cry is precious in His sight.

What kind of love is that?

One beyond my ability to comprehend. (Jeremiah 31:3*)

I dare say I did not cry alone as I left the Walmart parking lot today. No, I’m pretty sure God the Father weeps for that beautiful young teen as chemo and radiation wreck havoc upon her body in an attempt to destroy the cancer cells before they destroy her. And I’m fairly certain He weeps for her mother as she puts one foot in front of the other as she fearfully walks her daughter through treatment. I even think God weeps for my lost and bewildered self as I struggle to regain my footing after the loss of my girls and in the face of the degenerative disease that is slowly and systematically doing its best to take the only child I have left from me.

He sees. He hears. He protects and provides. He weeps. 

He loves.

*Reference verses:

“So Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself, unless He sees the Father doing it. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” ~ John 5:19 Berean Study Bible

“Jesus wept.” ~ John 11:35 Berean Study Bible

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ~ Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

“The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” ~ Jeremiah 31:3 ESV

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Adversity, Faith

 

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Just Call Me Jonah

Image by Rev. Henry Martin/FreeBibleimages.org


I’ve had a lot of time to think following the day I watched in disbelief as the court dismissed the felony charge against Troy Robins in spite of having evidence in hand of his guilt. A lot of time – aside from the moments I pushed it away refusing to go there in my mind. Afterall, what’s the point? It’s undoable.

This past week I’ve flipped through my Bible aimlessly reading highlighted and underlined passages and tiny notes squeezed into the narrow margins of the thin pages. Searching . . . but not quite clear what I’ve been searching to find. Encouragement? Explanation? Maybe nothing more than a theological distraction. And as I did my biblical wandering, I encountered the book of Jonah, a minor prophet.

Jonah intrigues me. Maybe because he is the only prophet I can think of who fled from the command of God. God said, “Go to Nineveh”, and Jonah said (highly paraphrased), “No way. No how. Not going to do it! Absolutely not!”

Without the knowledge of the historical background we find it hard to understand Jonah’s absolute refusal to obey God’s directive. And the backstory makes all the difference in the world. 

The Assyrians were the inhabitants of Nineveh. They were known for their abject cruelty to their enemies, and the Israelites were definitely counted among them. They flat out tortured their captives in front of the city walls so that the screams of terror were heard by the inhabitants of the city under siege. They staked the desecrated bodies before the walls so that the watchmen on the walls could see the fate that awaited them once the Assyrian army breached the city walls. The nation of Israel had no love or compassion for the Assyrians. You could safely say in fact, that the Israelites hated the Assyrians with good cause.

Jonah must have been flabbergasted when God called him and told him to go proclaim impending destruction should the inhabitants of Nineveh fail to repent. He was likely scared for his own life but also completely opposed to God treating the Assyrians with compassion. And so he ran and we all know what happened next. 

Eventually, Jonah, the reluctant and defiant prophet entered the gates of the city of Nineveh where he then preached the message God gave him for the Assyrians. In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown. That’s it. Short and sweet.

And low and behold the Assyrian King took heed of the warning, and decreed a fast throughout the land in repentance clothed in sackcloth and ashes for their evil and violent ways in hopes that the God of Abraham, would turn from His planned destruction and save their lives.

And, of course, God did that very thing. 

“For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” ~ Isaiah 66:2

And Jonah . . . he was livid! 

He was so angry that he offered this prayer before the Lord:

“. . . I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” ~ Jonah 4:2-3

And God replied, “. . . Doest thou well to be angry?”

Well, Jonah . . . he got a good mad on so to speak. 

He left the city and sets up a booth so that he can watch to see what will become of Nineveh. And God provided a gourd to keep the hot sun off Jonah, but then causes a worm to eat the gourd. 

And Jonah . . . he just got madder. 

Have you ever had something bad happen only to have another bad thing happen directly thereafter and looked up to the sky and muttered, “Really? Seriously? Wasn’t it enough before and now this!” That’s exactly how Jonah responded when the worm destroyed the gourd.

And God, in His frustratingly perfect righteousness, again enquires of Jonah:

“. . . Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

I wish it were not so, but I can relate to Jonah’s anger – even unto death.

I get it. 

God’s forgiveness feels like a free pass from accountability for the evil and cruelty the Assyrians were known for. Jonah knew God’s heart. Back in verse 2 Jonah said, “for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” From Jonah’s all too human perspective, the very characteristic of God’s love and compassion for him is completely unpalatable when applied to his enemy.

And to add insult to injury, Jonah is taken to task.

“Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:  And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” ~ Jonah 4:10-11

God loved the evil, violent and cruel Assyrians because He created them. He laboured for them. He made them grow. And because they were helpless to discern between right and wrong. The Assyrians were God’s creation just as Jonah was.

And that’s the end of the book of Jonah. 

It’s a bit of an odd place to end don’t you think?

We are never told that Jonah feels remorse over his lack of compassion for the Assyrian people. Maybe that’s because Jonah was never able to let go of his anger and indignation. Maybe in his humanity he found it utterly impossible to be thankful for the repentance of the Assyrians. 

And oh my, . . . I can relate. 

I am Jonah.

When I think about Troy Robins repenting and finding salvation I feel torn. From an eternal perspective, I can stomach spending eternity with him because I know. . . I know he would be a new creation. He would in no way be the same person who killed my daughters. . . But when I think about the time Troy Robins would spend here on earth between salvation and eternity, I feel sick. 

Absolutely nauseated. 

Frighteningly angry. 

Resentful. 

Oh, so resentful! Because repentance results in God’s mercy. 

Mercy – not getting what we deserve. The just punishment for his actions, attitudes and choices forsaken . . . vengeance gone . . . And from the perspective of this wounded mother’s heart . . . well, that’s just unacceptable. 

It feels like a betrayal of the worst kind. 

The courts gave him a free pass. It is unconscionable that God would do the same. 

And like Jonah, I want to respond when God asks me, “Doest thou well to be angry, Janet?, 

“I do well to be angry, even unto death.” 

That’s what I want to say. 

By golly, yes I have a right to be angry. 

I have a right to be livid. To be enraged! 

And yes, this request, “O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.“‘, it makes perfect sense to me. Not that I would take matters into my own hand. That’s just not right. But pray for death? That I could do.

Maybe I won’t always feel this way. 

Maybe the Holy Spirit will change my heart. 

But right now. . . right now, I have absolutely no desire to cooperate with Him in that endeavor. 

I will not pretend to be more pious than I am. I know all to well that my attitude is wrong. However, that doesn’t change the way I feel. 

I will gladly bow to those with a greater degree of holiness and accept any criticism my fellow saints wish to chastise me with. I won’t argue with the rebukes you, or God for that matter, cast my way. 

I absolutely prefer to die before I am forced to face God’s mercy bestowed upon Troy Robins. 

Come eternity. . . when I am made perfectly Holy and Christ-like. . . I will, without a doubt, embrace God’s mercy and loving kindness. . . Until that time, I don’t want to have to address the matter anymore than Jonah did.

I am not sitting around reveling in the idea of this man burning in Hell. Honestly, I think that’s a little extreme. I don’t wish Hell upon him. I just want him to pay the fair and just price for his actions. 

Nothing more. 

Nothing less. 

If the Holy Spirit wants to work on my lack of compassion for this man, I invite Him to do so. I just want Him to do it behind the scenes of my heart. 

Because just like Jonah. . . I don’t want to participate.

Fellow believers are always quick to remind me that God is a God of justice, that He will repay, that I can trust Him to avenge the great wrong done to me . . . but they would be wrong! 

It’s just not true! 

Not all the time anyway.

Isn’t that one of the hard truths the book of Jonah teaches to the wounded?

God’s grace is available to everyone.

Everyone!

And none of us are deserving.

None of us!

Should Troy Robins repent, his sin will be forgiven . . . 

and forgotten . . . 

just like mine. (That truth hasn’t escaped me).

And like the prophet Jonah, I don’t want to see the one who hurt me so deeply escape punishment.

I am filled to the brim with righteous indignation. . . but it ceases to be righteous when I would stoop so low as to withhold the gospel from another.

I know this.

So I’m thankful God hasn’t called me and sent me to witness to what amounts to my enemy.

And yet my humanity howls . . . just howls at the mere prospect of facing the same circumstances Jonah found himself in. 

Twice I’ve sat helplessly by and watched as justice was denied all three of my daughters, my husband, myself. 

I don’t want to wake up and go to sleep over and over for years to come knowing with absolute certainty that the hope of justice has been lost entirely.

So, don’t come tell me if Troy Robins gets saved! Don’t expect me to rejoice with the angels in heaven.

Right or wrong, I just don’t want to know.  

Doest thou well to be angry, Janet? 

Maybe not. 

I am Jonah. 

I am no more Holy than he.


 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 4, 2017 in Adversity, Faith, Grief

 

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