Verse of Encouragement: Healthy Thoughts

My thought-life can get me down. It can cause me to despair over humanity. It can induce terror that has no foundation except in the rare possibility that disaster will strike. I mean, I’m a writer. I have an outstanding imagination. I can see the disaster in minute detail and feel the pain, fear, and loss involved in whatever that disaster might be. Example: I have to fly in an airplane this weekend. My imagination wants to go down the terrifying path of explosions and nose-dives and all the other horribleness of that potential reality. Another example: I read the headlines and conclude the humanity is largely short-sighted, violent, and perverse–and I know it’s going to get worse, because God said it will.

God gave human beings their amazing capacity to imagine, to empathize, to look ahead beyond the now. And he who knows my every thought, knows that this amazing capacity can be dangerous to my health, my attitude, and my outlook. I think that’s part of the reason why we are called to lead a different sort of thought-life.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Philippians 4:6-8

Does this mean we are to hide our heads in the sand, wear blinders, turn a blind eye, and all the other cliched phrases for hiding from the facts? Not at all. We are called also to lift a hand when we see injustice, abuse, pain, suffering, sorrow. See it, act on it, but do not lose focus. Facts are facts, things are bad, that’s undeniable, but what is true is that God has everything in hand. We are to keep our focus on him for that very reason. He is the only lifeline that keeps me from sinking into panic and utter despair. And it’s so much easier to despair than to maintain the faith again and again and again. Having faith is hard. Questions still rise. “Why is this happening? How can you let this happen? Where is your hand in this?”

cloud-silverliningWhen I feel the terror, the anger, the despair rise, I am learning that it is better to face the future with a prayer in my mouth than to try to handle it by myself. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I disagree. Some storms don’t have pretty edges. Some stories don’t have hopeful endings. Not that my feeble human mind can perceive, anyway. That’s when my thoughts have to turn to God. In every situation, pray and give thanks. Every situation. Not easy. But possible.

“Jesus, you are what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I have peace only when my mind is settled on you. Thank you for blessing me more abundantly that I can ever think or imagine. You have given me friends and family who I can turn to in a crisis. You have given me a mission to keep me breathing. My body is healthy, my mind is sound, my heart can be light amid all this tragedy. And I can be your hands when a friend is hurting. Thank you for loving me, so I can love in return.”

 

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, chapter 9

Chapter 9 of Becoming Myself, “Beauty Forged in Suffering,” is so full of good stuff, that I found myself underlining and underlining.

And do I know something about beauty forged in suffering. Behold, my little sister. This is sacred ground to me, and I’m sure I won’t get through this post without sobbing.

My sister was one of those fiery, go-get-em kids who wanted the corporate job and six kids. Full of attitude, bullheaded, nothing would stand in her way once she’d made up her mind (we at least have that in common). The goal of corporate stardom dwindled as she matured, but the desire for an army of kids remained. Once she married, she was impatient to have them. As soon as her husband was in accord, she went after it. And something went wrong. The bleeding wouldn’t stop. My little sister just had  miscarriage. What? No! This didn’t happen to women in our family. We are a huge family. We are always surrounded by tons of healthy babies. What is this?

sad girlI made the stupid statement or believed foolishly (I hope I didn’t say it aloud) that the worst was behind her. For a while this seemed true. She soon gave birth to a healthy, gorgeous baby boy. Then came another miscarriage. Then–six years ago in October–came Baby Vaune. I remember when my sister was picking out girl names for this baby. She wanted a name with dignity, a name that would “grow up with her.” To settle on a name, she had to be able to envision a woman in a suit introducing herself with that name. So “Vaune” it was.

Vaune was born the day before Halloween; she was going to be “our little black cat.” We were astonished to hear that she weighed only a little over 5 pounds. Whoa, what? We finally get to have a small baby? Other women have small babies; women in our family have babies between 7 and 10 pounds. We were astonished at first, but not yet alarmed. Then the doctor came in and told us that all was not well, and Vaune needed to be flown to a bigger hospital for tests.

I cannot describe the physical pain that descended throughout my body. I had never felt that kind of pain before. I can only imagine what my sister felt, still in her bed robe and hooked up to monitors, or our mother who was sitting beside me and could not protect her own baby from this. I’m not sure how Mom and I ended up in that room alone; all I know is that as soon as we were alone, she grabbed me and started praying. “God, we trust you. We don’t know what this is, but we trust you.”

A few days later, we learned that Vaune had Edward’s Syndrome or Trisomy 18. We did our research and discovered that, unlike Downs’ Sydrome, Edward’s is 100% fatal by the age of 2 and that 1 in 3000 miscarriages is caused by this particular syndrome. We started counting the days. Mercifully, my sister was allowed to bring Vaune home and bring in hospice care. She and her husband and our mother learned how the feeding tube worked, along with the other monitors needed to keep tabs on what was happening inside Vaune’s little body. I tell you, I held that baby every chance I got. I held her so I could see her face and talk to her because I knew our time was short, and I wanted to memorize her sweet little face.

I won’t go into the details, but Jesus came for Vaune on December 7th.

I remember being afraid that this would make my sister a hard, unhappy, bitter person, who resented God and became untouchable to her husband and her family. The opposite is what happened. Through that process of pain and healing and surrendering to the care and sovereignty of God, my sister became the most beautiful person I have the privilege of knowing. I sit back and watch her, in her service to others, with her kids, in her relationship with her husband, in her trust in her God, and I am in awe. This is my little sister(?!), and she is stunning. Yes, she still can be bullheaded, and still has that fiery temperament that has earned us the nickname “the dragon sisters,” but her loss instilled in her a sense of right priorities and unshakable faith.

yellow-angelDid God cause Vaune to have Trisomy 18? I doubt it. But God used that time of unimaginable pain to create something exquisite inside my sister, to strengthen our faith, and in my case, for sure, to prove that I had it at all. I learned that during life’s worst moments, I do know where to turn, I won’t resort to blind anger, we won’t fall apart. And I can tell you that during those few weeks while Vaune was with us, I have never felt more strongly the presence of God. The peace that surrounded us was so palpable I could almost reach out and grab a fistful of it.

I can look back on that time and know absolutely that God is with us, that he does care about the intimate details of our lives – and if we let him, he can take that horrible, undesirable situation and with those hands that flung out the stars, forge something stronger and lovelier inside us than we ever expected.

Favorite Quotes

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange is happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

“Christianity is not a promise to enjoy a life without pain…. It is a promise that pain, sorrow, sin—ours and others’—will not swallow us, destroy us, define us, or have the final word.”

(Becoming Myself, 146)

“The very first thing painful trials try to do is separate us from God. But being separated from God is the worst thing that can happen, much worse than the most excruciating of trials.”

(Becoming Myself, 147)

“God created a world where the choices of angels and human beings matter. We are not puppets on a string. When someone sins, it is not God causing them to sin. That sexual abuse was not arranged by God; he did not cause your brother to be raped any more than he caused those terrorists to bomb the train station.

It is crucial for us to be careful with our interpretation of events. We must ask God’s help in making sense of it all. But for heaven’s sake, don’t blame the sin of the world on God. …

Your interpretation of events will shape everything that follows. It will shape your emotions, your perspective, and your decisions. What if you are wrong?”

(Becoming Myself, 148)

“… though God doesn’t cause all the trials in our lives, he does use them. He does work all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) He will use pain to expose our false beliefs about our hearts and about his heart … to reveal our brokenness so that God can heal it. …

There is more going on here than meets the eye. There is a battle raging over the human heart. Will we love God and choose to trust the goodness of his heart in the face of the immense brokenness of the world? Will we stand in our belief that God is worthy of our worship in the face of immense brokenness…?”

(Becoming Myself, 150)

“How do you find peace in the midst of difficult, painful circumstances? … [Jesus is] right where you are, right smack dab in the middle of your life.”

(Becoming Myself, 151)

This last quote brings to mind something Staci mentioned a couple chapters ago in which she described the circumstances of Jeremiah’s  tortured life and rescue.  She quotes a promise God made, saying, “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (Jer. 1:19)

“But,” Stasi writes, “Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern, and opposed by a false prophet.

“Ummmm. When did God rescue him exactly? After he was beaten. After he was imprisoned. After he was threatened.”

(Becoming Myself, 116)

And lastly, back to Chapter 9:

“We need to be honest about what we have done with our suffering. What have we allowed it to do to our hearts? Have we become more fearful? Controlling? Has resentment toward God or others entered in? … bring that to Jesus, for this is cancer of the soul, and it ravages what God means to make lovely.”

(Becoming Myself, 154)

For Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Have I let him do this for me? Have you?

When_My_Sadness_Born_by_j3ff3rson-800

“When My Sadness Born” by j3ff3rson, 2009

 

Verse of Encouragement: Troubles

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

A road trip wonderfully interfered with routine, so I haven’t been in a place to read the next chapter of Becoming Myself or blog about it. Should get back into the swing of things next week. Until then, this poignant passage about God’s faithfulness and desire for restoration just sang to me.

Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.
You have done such wonderful things.
Who can compare with you, O God?
You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
but you will restore me to life again
and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again.

Psalm 71:19-21

I guess life’s troubles have often been compared to climbing mountains. It’s so apt a description that it’s even become a  cliche. But it was illustrated quite vividly last week when I attempted to climb Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak (its lower slope is visible on the right side of the photograph). Troubles definitely look intimidating from the ground, with all that progress still to go. Keep your head down, trudge on, one step at a time. Lungs burn, legs give out, the trail goes on and on, and there is still more mountain to climb.

Sometimes the mountains even win. For a while. But they can also cause us to realize our weaknesses, where we need God to intervene and help strengthen our faith, our character, our maturity. Then, we mount the slope again, again, again, until one day we can say, “I got this,” and suddenly the summit no longer looms overhead but lies beneath your feet.