Thursday, January 31, 2013

God's Love and Our Suffering

“The more I learn about the normalcy of suffering in this life, the more afraid I am that God is going to make my life harder.”

Does that statement sound familiar? Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to voice your concerns to that degree, but deep down, when you ponder suffering you are also afraid that God might choose you to be the one to bear the stamp of suffering. And if you were truly honest with yourself, you really don’t want to be that example for everyone else.

I mean, God is a loving God isn’t he? He is the very embodiment of love. How could he truly expect his child to endure lifelong suffering or terrible heartache? And when you do, how do you respond to your preconceived idea about his loving, wonderful plan for your life?

It is a term that gets thrown around quite frequently. God is love. But what does that mean? Does it mean he always gives us what we want? Does it mean he is non-judgmental? Does it mean he is a happy, father figure in the sky waiting to pour out blessing on us?

God’s Love is a Mysterious Love

To believe that God is love means we must learn to trust his heart, as Spurgeon said. We can all recall times where we have absolutely no idea what he is up to, or why is ordering our life a particular way. And I have good news for you, Christian. If you are in Christ, God’s heart is always favorable towards you (Romans 8:1). He always acts on your behalf in view of his love for you. He will never give you anything that is not sovereignly designed for your good and ultimate glory (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). Like every good father, he knows our deepest need—even if we cannot see it. He is ready and able to meet that need, even if it means taking us through devastating trials and suffering. It is all from his loving hand. Sometimes it is a great mystery to us, but our suffering is never an unknown to him.

God’s Love is a Better Love

Jesus knew our tendency to doubt God’s love for us, and so he used the best analogy possible for helping us see the depth of God’s care (Matthew 6:25-34). All we have to do is look at earthly fathers and their care for their children. A good father always provides, always cares, and always gives his child everything she needs. He knows his child better than she knows herself. And Jesus says something profound, “God’s love is better than that.” God is infinitely more wise, loving, and willing to provide for those who are his. Every single thing we receive is because he knows we need it, and he knows that something much better is waiting for us.

God’s Love is a Forward Looking Love

Because we are often in the dark about God’s purpose for our suffering, we are tempted to draw our conclusions about him from what our eyes can see. The reality is that in suffering our eyes are usually blurred with tears and pain. We must always go back to his character and his past promises as the basis for our hope in the midst of this suffering. If we would not make conclusions about those we hold dear in the deepest moments of suffering, we must not make conclusions about our God either.

Two and a half years ago I suffered a miscarriage. In the months following I was gripped with fear that something would happen to my husband. There were a variety of things that contributed to this fear, but the greatest one was the fact that I felt like God could not be trusted with those I loved. If he took my baby, what would stop him from taking my husband, too? I was using my circumstances as a test for his goodness, rather than trusting that he had a good, long-term purpose for all of the pain. Fundamentally, I did not believe that he was for me. Yes, he can take my husband and he will have done me no wrong. But he is also not in the business of taking every good thing from us just because he can. I needed to believe that his love for me ran much deeper than my earthly pleasure. His love, evidenced in my suffering, had eternal purposes (1 Peter 1:6-9, 5:10).

When we face suffering and trials we are tempted to think that this moment is all there is. But it’s not, and God knows that. He knows the thousands of details working behind the scene of our suffering that are preparing us for glory. He has the eternal perspective in view, which is why we can trust him.

And isn’t that so much better than believing in a love that only gives us what we want in the moment? God will have no spoiled children. How many of us can recount with thankfulness the times we asked God for relief, or for something specific, only to find out later that if the prayer had been answered our life would be much more miserable now? I know I have.

Suffering reminds us that God is God and we are not. But it also reminds us that this God is a God who takes care of his children every step of the way. It reminds us that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). It reminds us that everything we ever needed is found in him. It reminds us that one day our weak faith will be made sight, and then we will know the meaning of it all. And in that day, when all tears are wiped from our faces, we will praise him for his love, wisdom, and salvation forever.

Monday, January 28, 2013

How Christians Approach Death: Post at Her.meneutics

Like many of you, I was heartbroken over the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. As a mom pregnant with two little boys, all I could think about were those parents who went searching for their children only to find out they had been killed by a mad man. I wanted to know the names of these children. I wanted to know how to pray for these families. And my heart continued to break more and more.

One mother of the slain children wrote about the process of identifying her son. It is difficult to read, but moving as you get a glimpse of a mother's love even as she views her son's lifeless body. Her decision to come forward caused a journalist to write about how we owe it to these families to listen to their stories, even the gruesome ones. And I agree.

I wrote a post last week at Her.meneutics that ties her assertions to our responsibility as Christians to grieve with people. Here is an excerpt:

"When Lazarus died Jesus went to him even when he was warned that the smell of his dead friend's body would be overpowering (John 11:38-40). Not even a decomposing body could deter him because he knew that he had power over death. As those who trust in this Christ who has victory over death, we owe it to the grieving not to run from death but to run towards it with them, to look death in the face and walk with them in their pain. But also to acknowledge, like Jesus did, that for those who are in Christ that this death does not have the final word (John 11:4).

Not only did Jesus choose to face the death of his friend, but he willing took on flesh in order to defeat death and sin. Jesus became a human being who could die so that little ones, like Noah Pozner, would one day be whole and new—and unstained by the atrocities that ripped them from this world.
As Christians we can look at death and refuse to turn our faces away because we know the One who conquered death by his own and is coming again to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We owe it to grieving families to enter their pain and hear their stories."
You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In The Next 40 Years

In the next 40 years, I pray that our country would see it's endorsement of abortion as reprehensible as it's once approval of slavery.

In the next 40 years, I pray that millions more babies are born because of brave mothers who choose life over death.

In the next 40 years, I pray that thousands more crisis pregnancy centers would open up all over this nation and would continue in the work of saving the lives of the unborn and caring for scared mothers.

In the next 40 years, I pray that the idea that an unborn baby is a mere fetus would be a sad part of our past, not part of our national rhetoric.

In the next 40 years, I pray that my children and grandchildren live in a country where the killing of the unborn is as atrocious to all as segregating based on race is to us.

In the next 40 years, I pray that churches and Christians would continue in the brave endeavor to love pregnant mothers, adopt orphaned children, and serve at pregnancy centers all across this nation.

In the next 40 years, I pray that a post like this is not necessary because abortion is illegal.

Abortion on demand was legalized ten years before I was born. I don't even know a world where abortion is not part of our national conversation. I don't even know a world where abortion is not an option for a pregnant woman. I pray that one day that is no longer the case.

For all the babies who never got to experience the light of day and breathe their first breaths, God knows your names. And we have not forgotten you.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Crushed Spirit, Who Can Bear?

"A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" - Proverbs 18:14

Have you ever had a crushed spirit?

Disappointment. Grief. Pain. Sorrow. Strife. Broken relationships.

All of these in isolation, or all together, are enough to crush even the strongest among us. And a crushed spirit can often last much longer than any sickness. Illnesses often have cures or medicine to alleviate the pain. A crushed spirit knows no such relief. Or does it?

Psalm 34:18 says that the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. The psalmist goes on to say that while the afflictions of the righteous are many, the Lord delivers him out of them all.

The proverb is true. We cannot bear a crushed spirit. But God can. While we would break under the sheer weight of such sorrow, God upholds us. And we are not alone. God knows our circumstance and is there to deliver us. Is it always immediate? No, but it will happen one day. While he will always be near to us in our moments of deepest suffering, he might not deliver us right away. Deliverance is coming, and while we wait for that day his promise to be near sustains us.

But there is something even more profound about this God who is near to the crushed in spirit. He knows the crushing blows intimately well. How can we know this? Because he crushed his own Son for our deliverance. The Savior, God the Son, was crushed for us. The Father was momentarily separated from him so we would always be near him. No one ever experienced a more crushed spirit than Christ on that day on the cross, all so we would never face such wrath and condemnation. Our ultimate deliverance from pain and sorrow is sure because the cross is sure. Psalm 34:18 is true because the cross is true.

A crushed spirit is impossible to bear, this is true. But by God's grace and kindness we do not have to bear such crushing blows alone. We have a God who not only promises his presence in every pain, but also knows our pain most intimately. A crushed spirit only God can bear, and he daily bears us up.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Are You Pro-Life Enough? Post at Her.meneutics

Earlier this week Her.meneutics published a post I wrote called "Are You Pro-Life Enough?". Taking a statement from a pro-choice writer I try to show how some of our language in the pro-life community sometimes comes across as less than pro-life, especially when it pertains to miscarriage and IVF embryos. To my shame, I have been party to such thoughtless comments. Here is part of the article:

"It's been many years since I uttered those heartless words to my grieving friend. Having now lost one child of my own through miscarriage, and having since walked with a number of women through miscarriages, none of us would say that what we lost was the "potential" for life. It was so much more than that. Our lost baby took with it the many dreams and hopes that began forming in our minds the moment we knew of the baby's existence. What was lost was a life that will never be replicated.

It's really important to never delegitimize the life that was once growing inside of a grieving mother or was once frozen in an IVF clinic. To her (and to God), this life was never a mere blob of tissue or a fetus. He or she was a life. Treating the baby as such gives meat to the bones of our fight for the unborn. And if we want to be consistently pro-life, we must care about every life, from the tiniest dot on an ultrasound machine to the embryo in the petri dish."
You can read the rest of the article here. And be sure to browse the new website while you are there. I think they've done a great job with it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who is Afraid of the Ultrasound?

We’ve all grown accustomed to seeing images on an ultrasound screen, or at least the pictures held proudly by expectant parents. Some choose to share these images with their friends and family. Some broadcast it to their internet friends. Others keep the images to themselves. And there are some who just flat out think no one should really be sharing these pictures with a broader audience—namely a social media audience.

Last month the Today Show (I couldn't find the video) tackled this topic by asking whether or not it was appropriate for women to share ultrasound pictures publicly. But what was most surprising to me was not as much their uneasiness with ultrasound pictures, but their hearty approval of another form of showing your pregnancy via social media—belly pictures. Weekly belly pictures are as prolific as ultrasound pictures. I’ve been known to post both. But they went even farther than embracing simply showing off a bulging belly. Not only are belly pictures more acceptable than ultrasound pictures, apparently the more skin revealed during the photograph the more “beautiful” the picture becomes. A pregnant woman in a bikini is deemed appropriate, while a picture of an unborn baby a little bit creepy.

Nearly nude pregnancy pictures are not a new trend. From Demi Moore to Jessica Simpson, showing off your pregnant body is the thing to do when you are a pregnant celebrity. But add an ultrasound picture to that photo shoot and the image suddenly becomes awkward and inappropriate, as if the image of an unborn baby removes the beauty from a pregnant woman’s aura.

Of course this is hardly surprising in a culture that doesn’t acknowledge these babies as human beings. But it is sad. While it might seem encouraging that so many celebrities are making pregnancy fashionable and acceptable, their embrace of pregnancy only goes so far. To heartily embrace a baby on an ultrasound machine would require the media to go against its approval of abortion. By calling an ultrasound image posted on Facebook a little bit weird they are staying right in step with their belief that these babies really are nothing more than the mere potential for life—not a life itself.

Christians understand that our culture has it backwards. To embrace the pregnant woman is to embrace the life growing inside of her. You can’t have a belly picture without the little one that is making that belly grow with each passing day. No amount of dismissing ultrasound pictures as inappropriate for public consumption can deny the fact that the ultrasounds don’t lie. They tell a very powerful story about the life that is growing inside of the mom.

It shouldn’t surprise us when the media portrays images of pregnant women as more acceptable than images of their unborn babies. That’s to be expected. But we also should remember that you cannot separate the mom from the baby either—they go together.

Monday, January 14, 2013

When God Doesn't Answer Our Questions

Asking God "why" is probably one of the more common themes of the Christian life. We've all probably been there. After the big, much deserved promotion goes to another rather than us, we ask God "why?". When we miss out on another opportunity to fulfill the dream we have always held, we ask God "why?". But maybe your circumstance is more severe. When a child dies, a baby is lost, a loved one suffers for years with a debilitating illness only to succumb to death in the end, through tears we ask God "why?". It all seems so senseless.

Job was no stranger to suffering. And he also was no stranger to asking God "why?". Job is often seen as a test case for understanding suffering. His friends failed miserably in their attempts to help him, and we are taught that this is definitely NOT the way to respond to a suffering person. It's true. But if you read through to the end of the book, when God shows up he focused a lot more on Job than on the friends. Yes, he rebukes the friends in the end, but Job gets the bulk of his discourse. And in all of the words that God breathes out to Job in these chapters, he never once says "and this is the reason why I afflicted you."

While Job is never told why he suffered, he is given something greater--a matured relationship with God. By the end of the book Job sees God in new ways and he falls on his face before him (Job 42). The point of God answering Job in the whirlwind is not that he would have all of his questions answered, but that he would get a bigger view of the God who is over it all. As far as the text tells us, Job never knows of the scenario between God and Satan. He never knows that his story is serving a purpose in God's plan to exalt himself and silence Satan. But by the end, when God shows up, it doesn't really matter. The very presence of God revealing himself to Job is enough to make him repent and resign himself to God's perfect will (Job 42:2-5).

We may never know the reason why we suffer. Sometimes we get little glimpses of God's purposes in our suffering; most of the time we don't. But we will always get what our souls most need--a deeper relationship with God. Suffering strips us of ourselves until all that is left is a broken, humble person. It is then where we can see God for who he is. Majestic. Other. Perfect. Holy. All together good. And that is better than knowing 10,000 reasons for our suffering.

God was just as concerned with Job's refinement as he was with rebuking Job's friends. In the midst of our deepest sorrows God is working. And even if we are never given an answer to our tear-filled questions, we can trust that God will show up and give us what we need more than anything else--namely, himself.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday is for Fotos (And an Update on the Twins!)

I am now officially in my third trimester. Even as I type that it's so hard for me to believe. In some ways the pregnancy feels like it has flown by and then other days it feels like it's dragging ever so slowly. Either way, there is not much time left in this pregnancy. And in six to nine weeks we will be meeting these sweet boys in person. We can hardly wait!

Update on the Boys

They are movers and shakers. I rarely need to actually sit and count movements because they move so much. I am very thankful for that. People often ask me if I can tell a difference in who is kicking. I can! Since I know where they are positioned I have learned to tell who is kicking me at specific times. Today I felt Zach hiccuping for the first time, or at least I think that is what it was. I feel Luke a lot more because of where he is positioned. He seems to be more forward in my womb. Both of them are packing a mean punch these days, and Daniel was even able to see them rolling around the other day. As of the last ultrasound Zach was still head down, but Luke had moved to a breech position. We are hoping he will move himself around in the next few weeks. Zach is still measuring larger than Luke, but they are both growing at the right pace (i.e. they are doubling their weight each visit). It just looks like Luke is a little smaller, but the doctor said that is perfectly normal. Daniel likes to call him our runt!

Update on Momma

I am really starting to feel weighed down by the boys. But that's to be expected at this point. My last day of teaching is this coming Wednesday and I'm really looking forward to spending some time getting ready for their arrival (and resting!). In all honesty, I would take tiredness and physical discomfort over the nausea of the first seventeen weeks any day, so there are no complaints here. Feeling them move is the highlight of my day and I just get so excited knowing that my two children are almost here. While the pregnancy has been fairly smooth up to this point, I did get a little bit of bad news last Friday. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was really bummed when I found out. I honestly wasn't expecting the diagnosis, so it hit me really hard. And then we found out that Zach was starting to measure a little larger in his abdomen, which could have been because of the diabetes. I met with a dietitian on Tuesday and was really encouraged that this can be managed for the remainder of the pregnancy and have already started seeing an improvement in my glucose levels.

As much as this pregnancy has been the greatest source of joy for me, it has reminded me again of the brokenness of this world. Pregnancy, like everything else, was cursed by the arrival of sin in the Garden. And while we often think of this in terms of the pain of labor and delivery, the entire process of pregnancy and motherhood brings with it pain and suffering. From the fact that our bodies don't make enough insulin while we are pregnant, to the pain we feel when our children reject the Christ we love. Motherhood is full of joy and full of pain--all at the same time.
Pregnancy, like infertility, has reminded me afresh why Christ had to come. All is not right in this world. My sinful heart, coupled with the ravages of sin everywhere else, necessitated a divine rescue. It also reminds me that one day things will be made right. One day our bodies will work properly. One day the intense joy we have already experienced will not be laced with sorrow and discomfort. One day the greatest pleasures we are given on this earth will pale in comparison to the overwhelming pleasure of being with our Jesus, who will wipe every tear away and make all things new.
So that's an update on our little twinsies. We are daily reminded of God's kindness to us giving us these precious gifts, and are often overcome with excitement about their impending arrival!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Help! I Need Somebody

I really don't like asking for help. Maybe it's the oldest child in me (i.e. pride and self-sufficiency). Or maybe I just feel bad inconveniencing people (again, pride). But I really don't like having to ask for help, especially on a regular basis. And lately, it seems like that is all I am doing.

Nothing says helpless like the third trimester of a twin pregnancy. Most days I need help putting on my shoes. I can't get all of the household tasks done. After I cook dinner I'm just too tired to do the dishes. It takes me days to put away the laundry. I need help getting out of the recliner, and sometimes off the couch. When my husband travels I can't stay alone anymore because there are too many variables that could go wrong. And the list could go on. I am a woman in need of a lot of help. Add to this mix the fact that the last few years have been fairly needy for me (surgery, infertility, miscarriage, moving), and I feel like God is doing a number on my prideful self-sufficiency.

Asking for help does something to you. It is a declaration of dependency. When I ask for help I am essentially saying "I cannot do this on my own. I need the aid of another." Asking for help is an acknowledgment that I do not have it all together, and who really likes to do that?

But as I've reflected on my helplessness these last few months I've been reminded that any self-sufficiency on my part is only an illusion. Even in my healthiest days, my ability to move with relative ease and take care of my daily tasks with speed were still not of my own making. James reminds us that there is nothing we have that we did not receive. Left to ourselves we are a helpless people, in pregnancy and in non-pregnancy. Our inability to complete everything we want to do on a given day, even in the best of circumstances, reminds us of our finiteness--and God's infiniteness. Only God gets his to-do list done. Only God is self-sufficient. We are not.

And this understanding of our helplessness translates into our need for a Savior. We bring nothing to the table when it comes to God accepting us. In fact, we can't even save ourselves. The more we see our own helplessness as human beings, the more we will see our desperate need for the salvation that only Christ can bring. My weak attempts to put my shoes on in the morning are simply a reminder that this weakness pales in comparison to the deep weakness in my own soul (i.e. sin). Sin is my greatest problem. And sin is what keeps me from seeing the Savior. Every other little weakness I face on a daily basis reminds me that God is God and I am not. I bring nothing to the table except filthy rags. He provides every grace and garment needed to cover my sinful pride and weakness.

So the next time I'm struggling to put shoes on my swollen feet, or when I feel like a beached whale trying to get off the couch, I will remember that these momentary weaknesses are reminders of my smallness. Only God is self-sufficient. Only God gets everything done every day. Only God is capable of never asking for help. And when I ask for help, no matter how hard it is, I am acknowledging once again that he is God and I am not.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

God's Unexpected Gifts in 2012

A new year is exactly that, the dawn of something new. As the calender turns over we are filled with expectation over what will come in the days ahead. But we are also drawn to think back at the year that just went away. A new year is a time for reflection. We look back at the old and anticipate the new. Many are making their lists of resolutions and goals for 2013. Some are eager over all that the year holds. While some are weighed down with the prospect of another year filled with suffering and sorrow. Some are thankful that the turmoil of 2012 is behind them and thus hopeful for a brighter future.

Regardless of your circumstances coming into 2013, God has not changed. He is the same in 2013 as he was in 2012. He is working in abundant ways for our good this year, even if we can't always see clearly through the smoke and clouds of this sin-cursed life.

It's easy for me to believe that he is good at this point in my life. After years of heartache and longing, he has given us the desires of our hearts by giving us these twin boys. And we are in the expectant and eager category this new year. 2013 is the year our twins will be born, and we are anxious for that joyous day. But as I reflect on 2012, I am thankful for all that God did in the unseen ways this year, too. The most obvious gift for us was this pregnancy, but there is so much more wrapped up in this kind answer to our prayers.

I told Daniel yesterday morning that at the close of 2012 I am thankful not only for God giving us what we wanted, but more importantly giving us what we needed. Getting pregnant with twins would have been in vain if we never saw him as more glorious as a result. God was kind to give us the deepest desires of our hearts, but he did so much more than that. He saw into our hearts and gave us what our hearts needed but couldn't even think to ask for--namely, more of himself. In the overwhelming sadness and difficulty of 2012, God showed up. We started the year unsure of the outcome. We started the year with a long six months of treatment ahead (i.e. more waiting). We started the year with an empty womb and ended with a womb more full than we could have imagined. But through every tear-filled night and nauseated morning God never left our side. He sustained us. He made us love him more. He carried us and changed us. He gave our marriage renewed hope and strength. And all of this was not contingent on whether or not we ever could have gotten pregnant. The twins are just icing on the cake. We needed the darkness before we could ever see and appreciate the light.

So we are thankful this new year, obviously for our precious Zach and Luke. But even more than that we are thankful for the God who is there. He didn't just give us children. He gave us joy that will last for eternity. And that is a good way to start this 2013.