Thursday, June 30, 2016

This Grace in Which We Stand

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

I had forgotten how freely and intimately conversations flowed among women at Family Retreats.[i] There were several that left me stunned. For fifty-one weeks of the year, I had kept my business my own and had carefully maintained the façade that all was well, that I had it together. But I had learned two years ago that family retreat was a different environment. Here, many felt safe to share what they could not at home. Here, no one had to have it all together. In one-on-one conversations, in small groups, in the craft circle, fellow moms opened up about exhausting caregiving of medically fragile children, about their mental health challenges, about marginalization in their churches, about deep loneliness in their marriages and communities. Retreat gave us all one week of respite, a sense of belonging, and a place to be heard and where our stories were valued. For me as a black woman, Family Retreat has been that one week where every barrier I normally face is broken down. Reentry each year back into our routines, even back to our communities of faith, can be rough. Little will have changed with our circumstance, and it’s a fight of faith to hold on to the message of hope and joy in Christ fed to our hearts in word and deed.

So what is our comfort in this crucible that is daily life with disability? It is in what we know to be true: It is our security in our standing with God, which gives us strength and perspective in suffering. It is also our hope, which gives us joy in trials and propels us to persevere. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

Our greatest comfort is that we have God himself. As believers, we have peace with God and access to his grace through Jesus Christ. We are secure in that position. He has given us the right to draw near. We have the aid and the faithful ear of the very one who designed and allows the trial. With suffering, he gives his presence and the comfort of his promises to enable us to endure. Charles Spurgeon says, “He is more present than friend or relative can be, yea, more nearly present than even the trouble itself.”[ii]

Our steadfastness (patient endurance) in suffering and trials is grounded in the steadfastness of Christ. We can be certain of his promises because of his character of faithfulness and love. Our footing and position now are sure, because God himself keeps us safe and secure. Trials and suffering, however overwhelming they may seem, come packaged in his grace to stand and withstand. Whatever the intention of the enemy, we know that God is using suffering to work endurance and his character in us. It is his designed means for our sanctification and perseverance in the faith.

God ordains that that our trials work together to mold us into the image of Christ.  His aim is to perfect us, and the chisel used to shape, mold, and define is often suffering.  But He gives the examples of saints who have gone before and the vision of our glorious end to give strength to our weary minds and bodies. In the midst of trials, he assures us that they are momentary pains that bring eternal benefits.

Therefore, we choose to rejoice. We look ahead with hope to the promised culmination—union with Christ, and an end to all suffering for our loved ones and ourselves. We look at the journey we now travel with the perspective of the promises that he will carry us, he will never abandon us to the trials of this life, but will use them, even strengthen us through them. We need never be ashamed in suffering because we know we are always loved and carried by God.

Therefore, we press on with the patience and endurance he will faithfully give. We do not trod alone or in our own strength. We cry out to our accessible God for grace. Annie Johnson Flint, a wheelchair user severely impaired by rheumatoid arthritis and cancer was well acquainted with both suffering and the faithfulness of God. Writing at the turn of the century, she penned what she had learned firsthand of God’s inexhaustible grace in her poem, He Giveth More Grace.[iii] May God press these truths into our hearts as well.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure;
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

PRAY:  Lord, you see our burdens and suffering--all that makes our families different and inconvenient to others, all our struggles we try to hide, all that weighs heavily on our bodies and minds. Remind our hearts that you are near. Incline your ear to our cries. Remind us that you give no trial without the grace to bear it. Come to our aid! Give us joy, peace, and hope in you. Amen.

[i]  Joni and Friends Ministry’s annual family retreats for families affected by disability.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The God Who is Always There

Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You led your people.
~ Psalm 77:20, MSG

It is tempting, in times of weariness, to think that God is not present. And the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 77 is not unfamiliar with that struggle. What can we learn from him as we struggle in 2016? How can we relate this passage to our here and now and find the same hope that this author found?

The simple answer is that we serve the same God today who never changes, who is good, and who is in perfect control. We can learn from the Psalmist because we can listen to his inspired words and learn to really pray. Take a moment to read it all right now.

The author starts out by crying out to the Lord in his dire situation. We too need to learn to cry out in our times of distress. 

The author confesses his honest struggle with doubt, he doesn't sleep, he stresses over his present circumstances. These things are getting him nowhere and he is honest about them before God. Then he remembers something.

The Psalmist starts to recount and ponder the things that God has done. These early hearers would remember clearly the miracles that God performed bringing His children out of the wilderness. This is an amazing remembrance. It gives him hope, yet how much more so should we have hope when we consider what God has done through Christ. His death and resurrection on our behalf is astounding. This is a greater miracle that we can recount and as we do, our hope will be restored. Our doubt dwindles. Our love soars. 

As God accomplishes all of these things that the Psalmist recounts, he ends with , "Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You led your people like a flock of sheep." This is beautiful to me. It resounds in a way that I hope encourages you as it did me. 

You see, though the people could not see God directly, God used men to lead them through the wilderness. God was not always seen, but He was always present. Today, we are like the Moses and Aaron who lead our flock.  God is quietly using us to grow, lead, and move our children toward Him. It is no mistake that you are a parent to the specific child you are raising. God is working. He is present. He is quietly sanctifying you and your child to be more like Christ. 

We cannot always see His leading clearly but if we are in Christ we have the Holy Spirit living in us. It is by that power that we can lead and guide our children in all things no matter what needs they have. We can do this because God is with us. He is always present, working, some times quietly and other times more loudly, but let us pattern our hope and trust after this Psalmist when the rough times come.

Father, thank you for never leaving us or forsaking us. Thank you for the gift of your Son who lived the perfect life so we did not have to, we couldn't and were hopeless without His sacrifice. Thank you for being a generous Father who is always guiding us. We thank you and praise you for this word of encouragement from the Psalms. Thank you for your word. In Jesus Name. Amen.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When a Pedi Goes Wrong, or Does it?

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons "Nail polish (practical joke)" photographed by Kungfuman
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, 
who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NRS)

Can all things really work together for good? Really? Even if you go to get a pedi to get in a little self-care in the midst of raising two children with significant developmental delays and physical disabilities and the person seated next to you comments about wanting to rent a child in a wheelchair so she can skip the lines at Disney? Can God use even that and turn it into something good? Why, yes.  Yes, God can! And here is how.

As my friend Elizabeth’s aforementioned attempt at getting a pedi unfolded, two women near her started talking about an upcoming trip to Disney. Worried about how her children would handle the long waits one advised she had hired a guide for $150 an hour to bypass the lines (Seriously? This is a thing? And people pay for it?). The second lamented she could not afford that and wondered aloud if she could rent a child in a wheelchair, so that her precious bundles of joy wouldn’t have to wait their turns with the masses.

You know that moment when you are shocked beyond speech, but the words come later? Boy, did they come! Elizabeth shared a “teachable moment” post in a community social media group.

“…I was so stunned I couldn't say anything. Now with my heart pounding, I wish I spoke up on behalf of my children and every other person with a disability. So if that was you, here is your teachable moment: You don't "rent" a person. Certainly not for your gain and especially not so your kids can jump on rides faster. I have two kids with special needs, including a daughter with a wheelchair. Your kids are lucky to have legs strong enough to wait in line. I could go on, but think I've made my point... remember to be kind. Disabilities are not humorous. They are not convenient, and they most certainly are not to be used for your convenience!”

She didn’t rant or use ugly words, but made it clear that as a family living with the daily reality of wheelchairs the conversation had been both painful and inappropriate.  (And yes, the two “Disney ladies” did see the post!) It was a healing balm to say what she meant to say and help others outside of the world of disability understand a different reality. End of story. Right?

God had other plans.

The post went viral within her community message board.  Support poured in.

And then came the replies from a silent population of special needs moms in her own community, neighbors she had never met. They got it because they lived it. They needed each other and, through intense vulnerability, began introducing themselves and their children.  A few clicks of a keyboard later and a secret group was born creating a safe place for moms to connect, over one hundred and growing.  The post filled a void, creating a network of support, advice, idea exchanges and more.  Their latest adventure? Indoor skydiving at iFly! The activity will be adapted for families of all abilities.

There comes a moment when we need to make a choice. Ignore the pain or face it. Sit in isolation or find community. Sometimes it takes incredible vulnerability to follow where God leads. Thanks be to God that we can trust in God to make all things work together for good.

 Healing God, we thank you for community. Give us the courage to be vulnerable enough to find it and the courage to speak up with words that are pleasing to you when we face our own teachable moments. Amen

Monday, June 27, 2016

Storms, Whirlwinds & Finding Dry Ground

image courtesy vorakorn at
 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.   He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
2 Kings 2:2-14, NIV

I’m thankful for the depth and breadth of last week’s lectionary selections. Throughout these passages, we find God listening, calling, rescuing and turning his face towards his people. The passage from 2 Kings 2 is the poignant farewell between Elijah and Elisha. Traveling from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, the prophets retrace a route taken years ago by Israel when they first entered the Promised Land. Knowing that his mentor’s time was nearing its end, Elisha twice refuses to leave Elijah instead promising to stay by his side. Upon crossing the Jordan, Elijah takes his mantle and strikes the Jordan River. Also reminiscent of Israel’s first journey, the waters part so they walk across on dry ground just as Moses at the Red Sea. After asking for a “double portion” Elijah’s spirit, Elisha witnesses the prophet being spirited away in a whirlwind, leaving him successor to the prophet’s ministry.

Whirlwinds and storms were ways God used to speak into the lives of his people. Curiously, it seems God often finds these the most opportune moments to find his people listening and ready for him. He answered Job out of a whirlwind (Job 38:1), and earlier spoke to Elijah in the calm quiet immediately following a storm. (1 Kings 19) Maybe this is why the our reading from Psalm 77 chooses to recall God’s greatness and “wonders of old” by remembering his stormy ways. When the psalmist recalls upon the greatness of Yahweh, he is the God who made the waters tremble, who caused thunder and lightening in the whirlwind, whose way was through the sea with “unseen footprints” as he led Moses, Aaron and Israel to safety. (Ps. 77:19)

Many of us can identify with times of storm and whirlwind. We can each probably recount the seasons in our life when we most needed to take refuge from the fierce winds of life that have blown uncertainty our way. I need to be constantly reminded that there are unseen footprints ahead of me, making a path for me in the deepest of waters. And sometimes, it is the storm itself that God uses to speak into my life.

Dear Lord,

Like the psalmist, I will “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” this week. When his soul refused to be comforted, the writer instructed himself to stop and meditate on all the ways God has brought his people through storms and tragedy. Help me take my eyes off the flashes of lightening long enough to prepare myself to walk on dry ground. Amen.