Thursday, December 27, 2018

Living in Desperate Places

One of our pastors recently preached on John 4:46-54. This is an account of an official who was so desperate to save his son's life that he walked a marathon to beg Jesus to come and heal him. Pastor Matt described the man as being in a desperate place--we all know that place. It is where life, as we know it, has been turned upside down and we found ourselves at the end of the proverbial rope, feeling powerless and unsteady. It is that place that we know only God can help us. As I listened to the sermon, I thought about a few of the desperate places I've been in that were similar to this man's.

One of the desperate places I experienced occurred the day I turned ten years old. My family was planning on celebrating my birthday, but an unexpected phone call radically changed our plans. My mom's aunt had had a serious stroke and was in intensive care in another town. Our celebration turned into several intense weeks as we traveled most evenings to the hospital she was in. Because they did not let children visit patients, my brother, sister, and I either sat in the car or in the lobby waiting while my parents and grandmother visited my aunt and uncle. The first night we went, my uncle came downstairs to visit with us kids and he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry and his emotional pain scared me. And each time the phone rang at our house, my mom feared the worst and ran to answer it, choking back sobs before she knew who was calling.

I now know I experienced powerlessness as I watched the adults ride an emotional roller coaster that was full of ups and downs and scary turns. As a ten year old, I couldn't do anything to make my aunt get well and I couldn't do anything to take the pain away the adults were experiencing. All I could do was pray the simple prayers of a ten-year-old heart. I don't remember the prayers I prayed, but I do remember wanting her well and for things to be like they were before she got sick. I also remember desperately wanting God. I remember peace flowing through me as He met me in the fear of death, the fear of possible loss, the anxiety of seeing my caretakers hurting, and in my admitting I didn't know what to do.

The second desperate place that came to mind was when our son had an ATV accident. I met him at the hospital and we were told his collar bone was broken in several places. He had told the triage nurse he felt like he was bleeding inside and she noted it in his chart, but the ER doctor dismissed it as radiating pain from his collar bone. They sent us home and several days later he came out of his room an ashen gray. This time the ER doctor discovered his spleen had ruptured and his belly had filled with blood. When they wheeled him away, we assured him we would see him when he woke up, secretly fearing the worst. I was desperate and knew there was nothing I could do to guarantee the outcome I wanted. I was drawn to God and afraid of Him at the same time. I knew He had the power to heal him but in HIs sovereignty He also had the right not to. I was too tied up in knots too pray eloquent prayers, but felt His presence growing bigger, ever reminding me He was with us. There were complications and he remained in ICU for 12 days and the hospital floor for another 4. I left to shower and walk during the nurses' shift changes. In the shower tears flowed freely and on walks the prayers flowed directly from my heart to God's. I knew God was near.

The third desperate place that came to mind was when my daughter-in-law was put in the hospital on bed rest during her pregnancy. She and my son were on the other side of the country, making daily decisions that no parents should ever have to make to get their child here safely. As my son kept me posted, I felt the same feelings of powerlessness I had felt as a child. All I could do was listen and tell him I was available to him anytime he needed me. I daily poured out my heart to God, telling Him everything I longed for in regard to my kids and their daughter. And God met me there in the middle of passionate prayers. We were at the beach when my son called with the news that they had no more choices left, but to deliver our granddaughter early. She was three months a head of schedule and a very sick little baby. Our son's voice was so solemn as he gave us the news. My heart ached for them and I stayed up all night praying for them as a family, asking God to intervene and to let her live. Our son called back the next morning and said the x-rays that morning showed no sign of the infection that was there the night before. There was hope even though the next couple of months were critical for her. But our little granddaughter held on and was soon thriving and her parents found the strength to survive the ups and down of preemie life.

There have been several other desperate places for me. I could recount them, but for now they are not as important as the lessons I learned from them. I learned that God can always be found in desperate places, but to find Him I had to choose to lean into Him through radically honest prayers. I learned that desperate places have been the fertile soil for my faith to grow exponentially as those places brought me face to face with what I believe about myself and what I believe about my God. I learned that there is a very real Enemy and if I don't continuously pray, he preys on me, trying to convince me that desperate places are proof that God stopped loving me. I learned that deep intimacy with God happened as I leaned into Him in the hard, praising Him for who He is and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do in the future. I learned that my faith was purified in the hard as it brought me face to face with my limitations against the backdrop of His pure character and His powerful attributes, essentially reminding me He is God and I am not. I learned desperate places purify my heart as I have to decided if I really want Jesus or if I just want His benefits. I learned desperate places expose my tendency to make idols out of the things I desperately want and that idolatry is broken when I am put in a place that I have to give the desires of my heart to the Lord.

As I sat listening to the sermon, many people came to mind--people who have experienced desperate places in the past--people who stood over child sized coffins weeping, people who dealt with cancer in that came in its ugliest forms, people who suffered through horrendous abuses whose cries went unheard, people whose lives were turned upside down by someone's decision to drink and drive, people who watched their hometowns burn to the ground, people who watched homes being swept away by floods, and people who were suddenly laid off, wondering how they could feed their families. I wondered what lessons they learned about themselves and God. I wondered how they survived their desperate places on a daily basis and how their faith grew.

I thought of people who are currently living long in desperate places--people living with debilitating pain of chronic illnesses no one can see, people watching as their loved ones’ minds slip away, others watching loved ones with sharp minds whose bodies begin to cease functioning, those living with infertility and unfulfilled longings, displaced people who are beginning the long process of rebuilding, and those who suffer in the aftermath of mass shootings with PTSD and flashbacks they cannot control.

I also thought of those who will find themselves in desperate places this next year. Maybe they will be parents who will get that call from their soldier's commander because he won't be coming home because they sacrificed their life on the battle field. Maybe it will be the woman whose doctor calls to say her test is positive and the prognosis is serious. Maybe it will be the parents of a college student receiving news that their student has been missing for several days. Maybe it will be the business man whose auditor will tell him that someone swindled so much money from his company that bankruptcy is imminent. Maybe it will be the couple whose marriage begins to crumble under the weight of betrayal, untreated mental illness, or self destructive addictions.

I wonder, will they lean into Jesus or will they run from the very One who wants to minister to their heart? Will they see His infinite goodness or will they believe the lies the enemy speaks as he tries to destroy their faith and harden their tender hearts? I am praying for them because I know that as much as I care, we have a Savior that cares infinitely more who is longing to reveal Himself more fully to them. I know He is seeking to instill in them a hope big enough to allow them to fully live in the desperate places.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!