Friday, May 23, 2014

When we really don't understand what God is up to.....

There were some rough nights recently for this mama.  Adam, our youngest, started a new school that we think will be a great experience for him.  He came home the first couple of nights exhausted and emotionally distraught, however, at the stress of his first days, feeling really out of place and begging us not to make him go back.

On one of those nights I listened, cuddled, and told him I understood, but later tried to give him some gentle advice.  I told him things that are not simply platitudes in my heart.  Things that really do bring me peace, hope and courage.  I told him that God is always with Him, that God will protect Him, that God always loves him and cares for him.  Several members of our family were scattered around the room trying to just 'be there' for him.  But as I gave Adam my little pep talk, one of our kids got up and left the room.  And it hit me...

While I've had hard things happen in my life, there has honestly not been one moment bad enough to challenge my faith in His loving protection to the core.  I've always felt His ultimate protection and care.  Not so of the child walking away.  They've had some terrible things happen to them that would make anyone question the concept of a loving, ever-present Father.  And my little speech to this child must have sounded like empty platitudes.

This child has suffered abuse that I've only recently come to know about.  They know what it feels like to be helpless at the hand of another.  They must have had moments of crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What do you say to bring comfort and peace into situations like that?  What could I possibly say to my child, or even to myself?

I guess faith isn't really faith if it hasn't been tested.  And we can only grow deep roots in faith when we've been brought beyond ourselves and watered from the rivers of trials.

I remember the first time I felt really, truly, totally beyond myself.  My first husband had died in Fiji where we lived the week before and the shock had begun to wear off.  The previous few years had provided me with plenty of moments to be 'watered' by trial and I was at low ebb even before he died.

Family and friends showed up quickly from overseas, Fijian friends embraced us with loving care, but that morning I needed to be alone.  It was the day of his memorial service, and I didn't know how I was going to make it through the day.

The only 'alone' place I could find that morning was a few moments in the bathroom.  I knelt, face to the floor and cried out to Him.  I felt stripped to the core, naked from the womb.  Nothing existed for those minutes but myself and Him.  I got up moments later with an amazing, supernatural peace that lasted for the next several months.  While things were still incredibly tough as the kids and I packed up, said our good-byes, and moved to the USA (a foreign land), God was as close as the air that I breathed.

What brought me to that place was pure desperation--and a revelation of His grace.  I was beyond asking questions, beyond anger, just beyond.  So I looked beyond the situation and desperately reached out to WHO He is.

Luke 11 talks about how parents love to give good gifts to their children and that if that is so, wouldn't the Heavenly Father be even more so?  The gift that this passage talks about is the coming of the Holy Spirit, something unknown at that point.

When the gift is unknown, the best thing to help us form an opinion about what the gift will be like is to understand Who the Giver is.

Ps. 145:17 says, "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does."  The base of walking through hard times and growing in Him is coming to the point of faith in trusting WHO He is.  In trusting his just character when we don't understand the circumstances or God's plan in it.  We need to trust in the character of our Craftsman.

I love the Pslams.  They're examples of pouring our hearts out in authenticity to God and they never leave you hanging.  They come to a resolution where the Psalmist finds faith again because of Who he is serving;  God's character.

Psalms 23 is an amazing example of His character in relation to us personally as our Shepherd.  But to get to Psalms 23, you first have to read Psalm 22.

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  Why are you so far away when I groan for help?  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief?"  -vs.1-2

Note that the question isn't, "Why did you let this happen?" It's a much deeper question.  The Psalmist cries, "Why have you deserted me?  Why have you withdrawn from me?  Do you even care for me at all?"

Christ in the midst of His unthinkable suffering on the cross chose to quote this as His cry to the Father.  It's really the deepest cry of mankind.

When we lived in Kolkata we were totally surrounded in our neighborhood by Hindus.  Hinduism wasn't just their religion, it was their lifestyle and culture as well.  They constantly offered sacrifices at the shrines that dotted the footpaths seeking attention from their gods.  Every night at dusk the neighborhood was filled with the clanging of metal to metal as they asked their gods, "Are you there?" The poor were never able to rise above their humble positions because of the financial drain of participating in the many festivals of the calendar year looking for favor from the gods.

They were asking just like all of us, "God, are you there?  Have you abandoned me?"  

After the first few verses of Psalms 22, the Psalmist begins to focus on God's character.  He says things like, "You are holy."  "Our ancestors trusted in you and you rescued them." "You made me." "No one else can help me." "You are my strength." The words of verses 25-31 are words of faith restored.  Because longings pointed at God rather than at ourselves turn to faith.

Richard Exley said, "We can hug our hurts and make a shrine out of our sorrows or we can offer them to God as a sacrifice of praise.  The choice is ours."  If we have to walk through trials we might as well let them be used for good, after all!

Ultimately those trials let us see Him for Who He is.  And He is GOOD.  Job, in the midst of his devastatingly hard time where he had lost everything said, "When he tests me, I will come out as pure gold." (Job 23:10)  Gold and trials, intricately intertwined.

Humans of New York is a book and a Facebook page with photographs taken of the diverse people that reside there.  Each person is interviewed and a quote found to go with the photograph giving insight into their inner workings as well.  I love this reminder on my Facebook feed that there are people out there totally different than me.  Reminders like that can keep us sharp and open to engage when we encounter someone different in our own little worlds.

Recently there was a photo of a rough looking, middle aged man sitting on a step.  His watery eyes and dangling cigarette made him an unlikely philosopher, but he profoundly said, "Saddest moment?  How am I supposed to choose between loosing my parents and seeing my friends die in Vietnam?  I don't catagorize those things. Listen, a person is like a rubber band ball.  We've all got a lot of bad rubber bands and a lot of good rubber bands, and they've all wrapped together.  And you've got to have both types of bands or your rubber band ball ain't gonna bounce.  And no use trying to untangle them.  You know what I'm saying?"

Trials help make us who we are.  And while I've experienced my own trials that have been keenly separating the gold in me from the dross, and while I don't like the experience one little bit; they've allowed me to see more and more of the Character of the One who made me, the One who died for me, the One who will never leave me or forsake me. It leaves us able to say with Job:

"I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes." -Job 42:5

I've been a Follower of Christ since I was four years-old.  I thought I knew Him before.  But I really didn't.  

Practical Application:  Psalms 23 is an amazing example of God's Character and how that relates to us.  I often use scriptures like this as a barometer of where I'm at and where I may need to allow God to work.  Read Pslams 23 slowly out loud several times.  If there's a section that just doesn't ring 'true' in your heart or causes you pain, you may need to examine what you may have incorrectly internalized about Who He is.  For example, I recently  found the words, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life," difficult to believe and have been talking about it with Him since.

Steve's dad was a bomber plane pilot in WWII.  For the past couple of weeks he's been part of a delegation from New Zealand remembering the Battle of Cassino in Monte Cassino, Italy.  This photo was taken when Prince Harry met the delegation.  As the only pilot in the group, Dad stopped him for a prolonged chat with the words, "Pilot, like you."  Prince Harry said at one point, "Now that was real flying.  Now we just push buttons."

I enjoyed having this lady, Steve's mum, visiting for part of the time that his dad was away!

Last week Steve and I celebrated our 6th anniversary.  He surprised me with a lovely dinner out at Auckland's Sky Tower's revolving restaurant.  The view was amazing, both out the window and across the table.

Our kids a couple of weeks ago.  I wonder if we actually have a 'normal' picture of them anywhere?  Guess this IS 'normal' for them!