Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Life Interrupted

I wonder if others are getting as weary of being "stuck at home," waiting for "life" to begin again. When the government first told us to shelter in place, it was to be for two weeks and I thought, "Piece of cake, we can do this." But now it seems like there is no end in sight for my state.  After listening to one of our pastor's sermons this week, I realized that I need to reframe my thinking so I don't become completely discouraged and overly frustrated.

When the shelter-in-place order was given, I had to shut down our support group ministry and have often thought about how much I hate having the important work we do with our ladies interrupted at such a crucial time in the group process. But this pandemic and this sheltering in place orders was not a surprise to our God. I know there are valuable lessons for each of us to learn about our God, about ourselves, and about life in general, if we are willing to learn. I have been thinking about different people in the Bible who went through things that may have been perceived as interruptions to what God was going to bring about in their lives and will share about two of them.

First, we have Joseph. He was highly favored by his father, who gave him a beautiful coat of many colors, designed to signify his favor towards him. Young Joseph then had two dreams, both of which indicated his brothers would bow down to him. He made the mistake of telling his brothers about his dreams and they were jealous and despised him and sold him into slavery. Joseph, the man who believed he would rule over his brothers landed in Egypt, living the life of a slave.

Pharaoh noticed that everything Joseph did was blessed by God and he gave him an important position in his home. Pharaoh's wife started making advances towards Joseph and he refused her advances. She then accused him of rape and he was thrown into person. Joseph's life as a slave--seems to have been interrupted once again.

There Joseph sat, until the chief butler had a dream Joseph was able to interpret. Joseph asked the butler to remember him when he got out of prison, but the butler didn't. It wasn't until Pharaoh had a dream that needed to be interpreted that the butler remembered Joseph. When Joseph interpreted the dream, it became clear there would be a great famine and they had seven years to fill storehouses. Pharaoh was thankful and put Joseph in charge over the land, knowing he would have the wisdom needed to store things for the future.

It was because of Joseph and his work in Egypt that his brothers came to Egypt, seeking food during the drought. There they ended up being under Joseph's leadership and had to rest in his mercy. It was because of the interruption in Joseph's life that the nation of Israel was preserved through the famine. I also believe Joseph learned all sorts of things about God and His grace as he navigated and prepared for the hard, grieved the betrayal of his brothers, and worked through the important issues of forgiveness.

Second, we have King David, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king after Saul. This was awkward as Saul was still alive, but David served Saul with integrity waiting for God to fully elevate him to his kingship. After a great military victory, the Israelites praised David so much Saul was consumed by jealousy. Even though David was a faithful servant, who performed music that soothed Saul's tortured soul, Saul turned on him and tried to murder him. David, the anointed king, ended up hiding in a cave. His brothers and father, who were now at risk joined him there. They were soon followed by everyone who was in distress, who was struggling with debt, and who was discontented and David became captain over all 400 men. I bet David had assumed when he became king, he would be in Jerusalem living the good life, not in a cave training a much of malcontents to be soldiers. Yet, in that cave he remained faithful to what God gave him, showed great restraint when he refused to kill Saul as he trusted God bring about his kingship.

I can relate to these men and the interruptions they faced in what they had thought their lives would be like. I thought this year would be different than it is. I hoped we would work with our ladies in our ministry and give them a celebratory sendoff at the end. I thought we would continue attending church every week. I had realized I needed to socialize more and had committed to have more sweet fellowship over coffee or lunches with friends and here I sit. I thought my husband and I would get travel and may be go camping with grandkids. I thought I would get another book done. Right now, maybe that last one has potential if I can keep my focus during this crazy time.

Sometimes, I wish I could talk to Joseph and David, whose lives seem to have been interrupted like mine. I can't, but I can read their thoughts during their struggles in the Word. Joseph who wept so loudly that the whole palace heard him was able to extend grace to his brothers, saying, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." God used that interruption to grow him enough to forgive the impossible and to save Israel. And the Psalms...they are so full of David's thoughts, questions, and painful emotions being countered beautifully by his knowledge of His God and His trust in His sovereignty, power, love, and goodness. With out reading the Psalms we might not know how personable and safe God is to run to. Their words are more powerful when I remember they were not omniscient, they were everyday people like me. I know that Greg Laurie announced that 50,000 people have accepted Christ during this pandemic. On line church during this hard has opened the flood gates, removed blinders, and turned people's hearts to God. In light of these stories I can reframe my thinking from being stuck at home waiting for life to begin again to being in the middle of something great God is doing in and through his Church.

I don't know what all God is doing through this pandemic and sheltering order, but I do know that He is good and that He is the embodiment of perfect love. I am also confident that nothing can stop the work He is doing in and through each of us. So, I daily choose to trust Him as my husband and I seek His wisdom in how to live out these days of life seemingly interrupted. I am thankful that I am a follower of Jesus and that I have prayed more faithfully for those who are sick, those who are struggling with addictions, and for those who are grieving unexpected changes and big losses. I have also taken time to notice and celebrate births, marriages, graduations, and other milestones from afar. I have taken advantage of this time to enjoy sermons from all sorts of speakers and have gained some good perspective of God through this. And I am confident that our God--He is perfectly good even when life is interrupted.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Navigating this Roller Coaster Ride with Grace

The last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride for all of us. When it first started, I experienced overwhelming anxiety and found myself feeling cold and shaky, which evolved into mild anxiety when I hear or read conflicting information. I've experienced deep grief as we closed down support group meetings, as I watched grandchildren abruptly leave school, when I realized I couldn't be more supportive of a dear friend going through lots of hard, when I miss my church, and as I gave up face to face conversations with people I love. I have felt anger when trying to figure out what to believe about this virus, as I observe the insensitivity of some politicians towards those losing jobs and trying to figure out how to pay rent and buy groceries and medications needed. Many of us have experienced fear and rightly so. We're facing a virus we know little about, may not be able to purchase foods or goods we need, fear getting sick, or fear dying alone. We may even fear all of this has been a ruse to strip us of constitutional rights, including the freedom to of corporate worship.

I've experienced several traumas in my life that surfaced fear. As a child, I tried my best to keep a lid on it. It wasn't until I was pregnant with my third child, that fear could no longer be contained. I woke up one night with a stranger standing over me and was so paralyzed with fear I couldn't scream. I finally groaned loud enough to wake up my husband who chased the guy out of our home. Because I had already experienced trauma, the break in caused PTSD and I had flashbacks or woke up screaming believing the man was back. This startled my little guys. When bedtime came, the oldest often said he was afraid the bogeyman was in their room. I watched my husband gently take our little men to their room and look under the beds, in the closets, and in the toybox to prove the bogeyman wasn't there. He then sat down with them, reminding them God kept us safe when the man broke into our home and then pray with them, asking for God's protection over them as they slept.

Because my emotions felt so crazy, I ordered tapes from a tape ministry and listened to well known pastors' sermons on how to manage emotions. Until that point I thought all fear was a sin and a sign that one lacked faith and was shaming myself for experiencing it. One of the pastors pointed out that fear was a common human emotion and it helped us stay safe. He also pointed out that when Moses died the Lord directed Joshua to enter the promise land, telling him not to be afraid but to be strong and courageous because He would be with him and would not leave him or forsake him. Around that time a friend came up to me at church and handed me a piece of paper with a Bible verse on it. She explained she had never experienced someone breaking into her home, but God had laid it on her heart to pray that verse for me every night. When I got home I looked at the verse she had written out and it said, "I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." I committed that verse to memory and went to sleep every night meditating on it, comforted by that fact that my friend was praying the verse over me.

As I processed the verse and the sermon on fear, I began to view God's command to not fear differently. Before I had believed God was always displeased with me when I experienced fear, but when I put the command in its context it seemed like God was speaking to me in the same way my husband spoke to our boys when they were afraid of the bogeyman. Instead of avoiding God in shame when I experienced fear, I began to acknowledge it to Him and then focus on His attributes and His care for me. Several years later I told God I knew He was with me on the night of the beak in and asked Him to give a vision of where He was that night. Immediately I saw Jesus dressed as a soldier, standing at the head of my bed watching over me. When I think of that night I no longer experience fear, I simply see Him standing guard over me.

I pray we will be gracious to those who have been or are still struggling with fear as we navigate this pandemic and the reopening of our country. There is a time to confront fear, but we would be wise to confront it the way the Lord does with reminders of His continual presence and His lavish care. We want to remember some came to this pandemic with unresolved trauma. For those who grew up without enough food to eat, for the ones who have lost loved ones to horrible diseases, for the ones who were abandoned as children, or those who were harmed in someway this pandemic may surface strong fears that need to be honored and patiently worked through so they, too, can continue growing in their ability to trust God in the hard.

I have had to continue to take my thoughts captive to Jesus' truth during this time, reminding myself this pandemic was no surprise to God. For while He was forming me in my mother's womb, these days were already written in His books. I know my God knows my history and isn't angry when I experience fear. He is reminding me He is right here with me. His presence means even on my loneliest days, I am never alone. It means when I am feeling anxious or afraid, He can give me the courage I need to face the day in a way that honors Him. It means when I am weak, He will give me strength to do what needs to be done. It means when I am confused, He will give me the wisdom I need to navigate the hard. It means when I am feeling powerless, He is all powerful over all that pertains to me. It means when everything feels out of my control, He is in fact in control of it all. It means when I am struggling with sin, His perfect righteousness covers it. It means when I am feeling unsettled, He is my perfect peace. Oh, I hope that we would navigate this roller coaster season with His grace.

Isaiah 41:10 brings me great comfort these days:

"Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am you God.
I will strengthen you, 
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."


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!