Rest to Be Restored

Today marks three years since the loss of my job. My Facebook status that day included words to the song, “Promise of a Lifetime”, by Kutless. “I have fallen to my knees as I sing a lullaby of pain. I’m feeling broken in my melody as I sing to help the tears go away.” Many times since that day I have left my bed to fall on my knees in the other room, mixing worship and tears. I was devastated and still grieve even three years later. I remember choking out a question, “What am I supposed to do?” As I’ve said before, God’s answer was, “Rest and let Me heal you.” I was not a fan of that answer but it has certainly grown on me as I’ve slowly come to understand God’s purpose.

As we near the end of 2018, I’m in a reflecting mood. The word God gave me for this year was ‘restore.’ I didn’t notice until now that the word ‘restore’ doesn’t even exist without ‘rest’. It’s amazing to me that God gave me both of these words. I know now that we can’t have one without the other. We can’t heal from any wound without rest and we can’t be restored without resting in God. I was exhausted in every way – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – because I had been trying to do everything myself with no help from the Lord. Three years ago I thought I just needed to be restored physically but now I know that I more desperately needed to be restored in every other way. In order for that to happen, I needed to rest.

We rest to allow God to carry our burdens. “Then I remember the pledge You made to me. I know You’re always there to hear my every prayer inside. I’m clinging to the promise of a lifetime. I hear the words You say to never walk away from me and leave behind the promise of a lifetime”(Kutless). We can rest because God promises that He will never leave us. We are safe with Him; safer than we are when we try to protect ourselves. We never have to carry our burdens alone. God invites us to this deep soul rest in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Doesn’t a light and easy burden sound wonderful? I was very happy in my job and my personal life but the damage from previously trying to hold myself together had already been done. I had put so much burden on myself to be everything to everyone, to fix myself and everyone else. I needed to learn how to let God carry the unnecessary, self-inflicted load.

We rest so that we can be refreshed. “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). Even my status three years ago alludes to my striving, “After 4 years, 9 months and 8 days of living, breathing, and loving my job, I said goodbye today. There are no words to describe the heartbreak. Prayers appreciated as I struggle to find purpose in my life again.” Not only did I have my purpose entirely wrong, but I put my whole self into it. I never stopped. Jesus told His disciples to rest when they had been doing too much without taking care of their own needs. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'” (Mark 6:31). Jesus cares about our needs and asks us to rest with Him. We need to pay more attention to His nudges so that He can refresh us and we can stay healthy in every way.

We rest so that we can be repaired. Honestly, learning to rest doesn’t always feel gentle. One of the definitions of restore is “repair or renovate.” “Will You help me fall apart? Pick me up. Take me in Your arms” (Kutless). I didn’t think about it three years ago when I used the song lyrics to ask God for help but, in order to be repaired, it’s necessary to fall apart first. I felt deep in my soul even then that I needed to fall apart but I didn’t know how. I needed God to help me. Up until then I had been doing everything I could to hold every broken piece of myself together. I didn’t know how to let myself crumble and the thought terrified me. I have since learned the beauty of brokenness. We don’t get to experience healing restoration if we don’t allow ourselves to break first. It hurts SO MUCH, but the treasure of falling apart is that we fall into God’s arms. How can we experience such comfort if we don’t allow ourselves to fall?

We rest so that we can be blessed and made holy. “Find my way back from the storm and You show me how to grow through the change” (Kutless). “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). If we don’t stop to let God work in us, we don’t give Him the opportunity to make us holy. If we’re striving in our own work without God’s help, that work is not holy. Holy work is done by God in us. All we have to do is give up our control and let Him. I don’t want to miss such an opportunity for God’s blessing.

In order to gain all of these benefits of rest, we have to stop what we are doing and we have to let go of our own understanding. “I am holding on to the hope I have inside. With You I will stay through every day, putting my understanding aside and I am comforted” (Kutless). When God rested, He ceased doing. I needed to stop doing the destructive things I was doing (self-protecting, trying to control, trying to prove I was worthy of restoration, basically trying to be God). I needed to let go of my need to know and my striving to figure it all out and I needed to soften my heart to God’s purpose and restoration.

After much wrestling and finally resting, I can now see these last three jobless years as God’s way of blessing me. He has changed my view of His purpose for me. He has helped me let go and allow Him to carry my load (obviously, I’m not completely cured in this area but I’m thankful to be God’s work in progress). He is refreshing me and healing me. And He’s not just repairing me. He’s doing a complete renovation of my heart. Now I truly believe that’s what God meant when He told me He would restore me this year. He is renovating me- making me holy and preparing me for His purpose. I am so very thankful that I’ve FINALLY surrendered and am allowing Him to do so.

“Looking back at me I know that You can see my heart is open to the promise of a lifetime” (Kutless). After I finally invited Him, God opened the door of my heart this year and poured Himself in. His abundant love and grace are pushing out everything that doesn’t match His will for me. I am so grateful for the changes I see in myself and I look forward to what He is preparing me for… the year of HOPE.

May you let God pour His heart into yours this new year.

Song I’m feeling: Promise of a Lifetime, by Kutless

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In His Tender Mercy, God Still Enters In

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). From nothing, God brings forth something wonderful. From a stump that appeared to be dead sprang the most beautiful shoot of life: Jesus.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:5). There is so much I don’t understand about Jesus. I think I’ve had a cleaned-up picture of His birth in my mind for all these years because I can’t imagine my Savior being born in such a human way. Surely God would have cleaned up the stable a bit, right? He certainly wouldn’t have wanted His Son to be born in filth. Don’t you think God would have removed all the animal spit germs from the manger before He allowed Jesus to lie there? It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus’ complete humanness. But the truth is, the Son of God laid where dirty animals put their mouths. Jesus was vulnerable to the grime of a stable and the smell of manure. I guess I never wanted to imagine the reality of the mess.

I shield my eyes from the cross as well. I find myself believing that God couldn’t have meant for it to be that gruesome. Maybe He helped Jesus with some supernatural pain management. It didn’t actually hurt that bad, did it? But the truth is, as much as I try to shield myself from believing in pain, Jesus refused to shield Himself from it. He entered into the pain, the horror, and the filth of His life and death. He refused the wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34) that might have eased his suffering a bit or ended it sooner. I struggle to grasp that He fully and willingly entered into humanity.

Why would God do all of this for me? Zechariah tells us in Luke that God sent Jesus “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75). “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). I love the part that says He did it to enable us to serve without fear. Because of Jesus, we are no longer bound by the Law. Because of His ultimate sacrifice, we don’t have to live in constant guilt and offer countless sacrifices. God, in His tender mercy, sees us in our dark and death-like places and He doesn’t turn away. Instead, He pours out His grace. He has removed our guilt once and for all so that we are are free to serve Him in peace, not fear.

It’s important for me to uncover my eyes and gaze upon this truth if I am ever to believe that Jesus enters the stench and sin of my own heart. I need to see Him as a vulnerable infant lying on animal spit with the smell of manure wafting over Him if I am ever to believe that He cares about my vulnerability. I need to stare Jesus in his agonized face on the cross if I am ever to believe that He could enter into my own pain. I need to believe in Jesus’ humanness and sacrificial love for me if I am ever to have the peace that God intended. I need to understand that God will never turn away from my heart no matter how dark I feel it is. He springs forth beautiful shoots of life where I see only death. God brought about the highest good from the greatest pain and He will bring about my greatest possible good from my own pain.

God didn’t change the time of the census so a very pregnant Mary could give birth in comfort. He didn’t make room in an inn so that His Son wouldn’t have to be born in a stable. He didn’t clean up the stable and He didn’t skip the messiness of human birth. He didn’t take away the pain and horror of the cross. Jesus did not shield Himself from the agony and vulnerability of His human life and He does not shield Himself from ours. This Christmas, I pray for a greater understanding of what God did for us. I pray for us to embrace the reality of our mess and open our eyes to see Jesus in it. I pray for the wholehearted belief that God, in His tender mercy, still enters our misery and pours out His grace. I pray for the courage to look Jesus in His agonized face and cry, “Thank You.”

Song I’m Feeling: It’s About the Cross, by Go Fish
“It’s about God’s Love nailed to a tree. It’s about every drop of blood that flowed from Him when it should have been me.”

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Fire of Hope

I used to love Christmas. When I was younger, I would even decorate my bedroom. When I moved out, my roommie and I would combine our holiday cheer into a glorious festival of lights bordering on tacky. Okay, it was pretty tacky. For many years of my life after the Christmas Eve service, I would sit in my room by the light of the Christmas lights, quietly listening to the Point of Grace Christmas albums until midnight when I would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

That Christmas cheer left me a few years ago and now I pretty much dread this holiday. It’s such a chore to put the decorations up and even more depressing to take them down. Christmas seems to be a reminder to me that things are not as they were. The death of my holiday spirit was due to a combination of losses. Holidays have become just a marker of time for me, reminding me how very long I have been sick. My traditions can no longer go on. I can’t usually go ‘home’ to spend it with my family. I can’t attend every event, parade, or concert that I used to attend. I can’t eat what everyone else is eating and will never again experience my mom’s famous Christmas cookies. I can’t sing Christmas songs with the choir or worship team. I don’t have the ability to pick out perfect gifts for people. I lost my job three days after Christmas. Etc, etc. Oh, and one year while decorating, I discovered that a mouse had stolen all the fuzz off the front of the Christmas stocking that I had since I was a baby, wrapped itself up in it, and died. I’m still in mourning. Not for the mouse, but for my stocking, tradition, and sentiment. I’m sure the mouse died a nice, warm, peaceful death. Bah-humbug.

“Fire of hope is our only warmth. Weary, it’s flame will be dying soon” (Night of Silence, by Daniel Kantor). I think that’s what happened to me. It’s not possible to have Christmas joy without hope and the light of my hope was snuffed out. Why? Because my hope was in tradition, my career, my health, Christmas activities, gift-giving, and sentiment. I didn’t have a lot of hope in Jesus.

A friend recently said, “hope is the most important thing we have.” Honestly, I wanted to rebel against that statement. I feared hope for so long because, in my mind, hope meant disappointment. I couldn’t handle any more of that. I tried to find hope in heaven but I was still left to question the now. What am I hoping for now? Perhaps it’s a more mature faith than mine that can live with only the hope of heaven (as if that’s an ONLY and not the greatest hope ever), but the step I was finally willing to take toward that faith was hoping to experience God in the present. I am overwhelmed by how He shows up for me when I’m looking for Him. I am inviting Him here and He speaks to me in so many ways. The more aware I become of God’s presence with me now, the more I hope for heaven, and not in my usual trying-to-escape way. I hope for heaven because I want to see Jesus face to face. Experiencing God now has led me to a greater hope in heaven. Being with Him has become more important to me than health and sentiment. What could be more healing than the presence of God?

The more I think about this, the more I’m persuaded about hope’s importance. I was surprised when I finally noticed that hope is not listed with the fruit of the Spirit. I was puzzled. If hope is so important, why didn’t God gift it to us like He did the fruit? I think there are at least two reasons for this.

Hope fuels the growth of all the other fruit. Think about it. If our hope is in Jesus, we know that He will keep His promises. He promised to continue the good work that He started in us. He planted the fruit of the Spirit in us and, when we hope to experience Jesus, that fruit grows. When our hope is in Jesus, we grow the pure love of Christ, the joy of being in His presence, the peace that passes understanding, the patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control that matches His, and the faith that endures through suffering. Without hope, the fruit in us cannot grow. When we hope in things that do not last, our fruit becomes diseased. Mine certainly has. My love has not been pure, but conditional. My joy has been nonexistent. My peace has turned into constant anxiety, my faith weak, and all the rest of the fruit inconsistent and spotty. As my hope shifts back to Jesus, I am watching my fruit grow in health and vitality. Thanks be to God.

The other possible reason for hope not being a fruit is that hope can be lost, but the fruit of the Spirit is a gift from God already in us. The fruit may not have grown big and ripe yet, but it’s in us. In contrast, I believe the flame of hope can die. I believe this because it happened to me. I refused to hope and my world became a very dark place. My fruit started to shrivel as it searched for the Light. I couldn’t see through the darkness the compassions that the writer of Lamentations saw, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him'” (3:21-24). I wasn’t allowing God to fill me with hope. Therefore, I was consumed with disappointment and only begrudgingly waited for Him to rescue me. Now, I’m beginning to see the newness He brings to each day.

Before I lead you to believe that it has returned to Fa La La Land up in here, let me tell you that I have yet to regain my “thrill of hope.” However, the spark is back. God is growing His fruit in me again. I pray every day as we enter the week before the holiday that my Christmas will no longer be lost because Jesus cannot be lost. I pray that Christmas regains its sparkle for me because it’s about Jesus, not all those other useless hopes. And, as hard as it is for me to pray for hope, I pray that He will continue to fan that flame so it can grow His fruit in me. I pray all of these things for you, too. No amount of disappointment after hope can ever be worse than feeling your fruit shrivel and your spirit darken without it. “Breathless love awaits darkened souls. Soon will we know of the morning” (Daniel Kantor).

Song I’m Feeling: Night Of Silence, by Daniel Kantor. Oh my, you have to click on the link and listen to this arrangement.

“Cold are the people, winter of life
We tremble in shadows this cold, endless night
Frozen in the snow lie roses, sleeping
Flowers that will echo the sunrise
Fire of hope is our only warmth
Weary, its flame will be dying soon.

Voice in the distance, call in the night
On wind You enfold us, You speak of the light
Gentle on the ear You whisper softly
Rumors of a dawn so embracing
Breathless love awaits darkened souls
Soon will we know of the morning.

Spirit among us, shine like the star
Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar
Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely
Rising in the warmth of Your Son’s love
Star unknowing of night and day
Spirit we wait for Your loving Son.”

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God’s Excruciatingly Precious Timing

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” – Proverbs 3:5-8

Many of us know the first part of this passage by heart. I think I’ve even written multiple blog posts about it in the past. But the second part of the passage caught my eye today. Trusting in God’s wisdom rather than our own will bring health and nourishment to our bodies. There was a time I would have scoffed at these verses. How can trusting in God affect my health? Goodness, I could tell you some stories…

For a long time, I have struggled with my need to know answers, especially answers to the question of why God was allowing me to suffer so. I was hurt and angry with Him and I allowed it to fester into bitterness. I describe this period in my life, which actually wasn’t that long ago, as extremely dark. I tried to walk away from God multiple times but He lovingly pursued. My understanding of God’s promises did not match what I was experiencing and the perceived discrepancy caused an unbelievable amount of anxiety and anger. This emotional pain and spiritual tension started to hurt me in every way, including physically. In addition, I sometimes would convince myself that I shouldn’t be angry at God so I turned my anger inward. My self-loathing led me to very dark places, sometimes even to suicidal thoughts. When we have such extreme emotions, we feel them in our bodies whether we realize it or not. My stomach was always in knots, my neck and shoulders tense. Every weak part of my body would flare during those times. When I would have an intensely emotional day without properly expressing those emotions I would experience sharp pains shooting throughout my body the next day. I wasn’t giving my body the proper nourishment of God’s truth and promises. Instead, I was feeding it lies and hatred. My reliance on my own limited understanding about suffering left me malnourished and sick, careening down the crooked path of darkness and evil rather than God’s straight, beautiful path of light. I very often asked, “how long, Oh, Lord? How long?”, and that’s a perfectly fine question. But I understood there to be no good reason for my continued pain. In my perception, I had been suffering far too long and it was time for Him to do something. But what I didn’t understand was, He was doing something. He is always doing something.

I’m not exactly sure what started to change my attitude but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about that as I continue on this journey. I see what God is accomplishing in my heart through this illness and it takes my breath away and brings me to my knees. I want to say that I’m a different person than I was just a few months ago, but I think I am just becoming more me, more the person God intended me to be all along. I am fiercely protective of my illness now, in the sense that I know how precious this time is… excruciatingly precious. How dare the enemy say this painful time of waiting is wasted? I thank God that, on most days, I no longer believe that. My illness is accomplishing something wonderful in my heart that would not have been accomplished in any other way. God is becoming my everything when, for so long, He was my punching bag. He has helped me let go of so much anger toward Him and toward myself. There are times when the self-loathing and anger still rear their ugly heads but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. When I’m feeling particularly broken, I don’t often try to make it on my own anymore. Instead, I run full-speed to God. He is filling me with His truth and love. I am no longer starving and my bones are feeling stronger. I see more light than darkness.

Susie Larson said this of God’s timing, “He’s making me wait because He’s making me ready.” I have been hurt and offended by what I thought was God’s purposeless waiting period. But I am so thankful that He has opened my eyes to see His perfect timing. I think I said in my last post that I love quick fixes but God knows that I couldn’t handle today’s discoveries and hurts yesterday. He is feeding me His truth and His love so that I am just strong enough for Him to reveal another hard truth about myself so that He can help me deal with it in His way, the healthy way.

I have experienced several examples of God’s timing through the pain, but will describe just one today. I’ve been fighting for disability for almost three years now. It’s a fight I have hated and I’ve been devastated by the need to do so. I had waited years for my hearing and finally it was set for this past May. My attorney and I prepared and studied and a multitude of people prayed for me. But I sat before the judge for thirty seconds while he told me I was going to have to see yet another doctor. Months more waiting. I was so hurt and angry. Defeated, really. I wondered if God cared about all the prayers that had been uttered on my behalf and if He was ever going to provide for us in this way. Months went by and I finally had my second hearing just last week. It was a grueling, painful experience to say the least. It seemed that the judge’s aim was to make me feel as small, useless, and parasitic as possible. The way he spoke and acted made me feel like absolute scum. It cut deeply that someone would do everything he could to make it seem like I left the job that I loved on purpose, that my illness wasn’t real and that these last three years of what I had often considered pure hell meant nothing. I was deeply hurt and wanted so desperately for everyone in the room to know my story, to know that I would give almost anything to be back at work doing what I love. But I had to be silent and take the blows the judge was dishing out. Honestly, it could have destroyed me. If I had experienced the entire hearing back in May, it WOULD have destroyed me. At that point I was still fiercely clinging to my own understanding and self-loathing. I would have blamed it all on God or myself or the world and who knows what would have happened to my heart? Don’t get me wrong, it still cut deep. I still cried periodically throughout the rest of the day but the way I was able to handle it was drastically different than I would have handled it before. First of all, I let myself feel everything I needed to feel, whereas before, I would have done everything I could not to feel the hurt or deal with it at all. This time I took my hurt to God, pouring it all out at His feet. I repeated His truth to myself that I am His child and His opinion of me is the only one that truly matters. He knows that I am far from scum and, eventually, that became enough for me. The sting of what happened to me last week has become less and less by the day. God’s view of me is everything. Though it still hurt, He knew I was finally ready for that day and I am so, so thankful that He made me wait. He was making me ready. Thank You, Lord.

I received the letter from Social Security yesterday that said I am receiving disability. I am disabled. That statement has been difficult for me to swallow. I have been running the gamut of emotion since I received it, from relief that the fight is over and that our financial situation will be somewhat better to deep sadness that this had to happen at all. But I am continuing to seek God’s understanding, not my own, and I feel more nourished and healthy by the moment. This whole experience is drawing me closer to God than I could have imagined. I used to get angry when people would say the lowest times of their lives were when they felt most comforted by God because I didn’t feel that. But, I do now. I am drinking in God’s truth and this time of waiting and illness is more precious than I can describe. Excruciatingly precious. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thank you, God, for my illness. Thank You for carrying out Your good work in me, no matter how painful. And thank You for making me wait until my heart is ready for the next painful opportunity to run to You. Forgive me for the times I’ve questioned Your perfect timing. Help me lean on Your understanding, not my own. Amen.

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing in my journey and praying for me. I am sure I will need this reminder many times in the days to come as the darkness tries to creep back in and cover God’s truth. I pray God continues to fight it for me, to shine His light on the straight path, and to nourish me with His healthy understanding.

Song I’m feeling: Somewhere in Your Silent Night, by Casting Crowns

“Somewhere in your silent night, Heaven hears the song your broken heart has cried. Hope is here. Just lift your head for Love has come to find you somewhere in your silent night.”

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