I just came in from sitting outside in the sunshine and breeze, finishing the book, Grace for the Good Girl. It is a wonderful, wonderful book. Over the past many months, I have read it off and on. The beginning was a little slow to me so it took me forever to get to the really good stuff.
These last few chapters were the most powerful to me. And it's incredible to see how God works everything, even the "little" things and the things I would consider as almost "failures", for good. These chapters would not have meant as much to me a few months ago. I literally had to stop at some places to blink away the tears swimming in my eyes, catch my breath, and swallow the lump in my throat. Below are some of the quotes that really stood out as I sat under my fleece blanket enjoying spring's warm coolness.
"'It isn't about the cancer, it isn't about what it has the ability to do to our bodies, it isn't about the treatments or the part of us it takes away; it's about the journey. It's about rediscovering the parts of yourself that you never ever knew existed, and giving them room to grow and room to take flight. It's about seeing life through cancer's eyes and being better because of it, being more whole and more alive despite it. It's about living.'
Even though the first thing I noticed about Heather was her bald head, that most certainly was not my final impression of her. When I think of this brave woman, I think instead of these words she spoke that bring me great comfort when I begin to fear the unknown future: 'I do not fear what my future holds. I can't. I can't spend the energy anticipating the next horrible event. I am choosing to anticipate the next great provision, whatever provision that may be. I am choosing to believe that no matter what, even if God calls me home tonight in my sleep, He never stepped off His thrown. He simply brought me closer to it.'
"Heather will be the first person to admit the anger, the fear, and the fist shaking that went on with God about her daughter's sickness, and her own brain tumor. But she did not stay in that place. Heather knew she was safe in the presence of her Father. When faced with death, safe takes on an entirely new meaning. If anyone knows what it is like when it all goes wrong, Heather knows. But she also knows that she is safe.
She could have chosen to believe God was ignoring her. Instead she chose love, to believe she was loved, and to love in return.
It is tempting to think, Well, if someone like Heather can make through a child's terminal illness, an autism diagnosis, and a brain tumor, then why can't I make it 'til lunch? Sometimes I hear stories like Heather's and think. Wow. Look at what she's been through. Now you don't have it so bad, do you? But the truth is, every heart knows its own pain. My dear friend Holley writes about feeling guilty for struggling when it seemed other people had it so much worse, until the words of a wise college professor came to mind: 'Do not compare your pain with others. The worst pain you will ever feel is your own. That does not mean you are selfish--that means you are human.' I don't tell Heather's story to make you feel guilty. I tell it because the faith it takes for her to make it through a brain tumor the same faith it takes me to make it 'til lunch. It's all Jesus. It's all dependence. Sometimes it's just harder to see our need when we are healthy and well." (Chapter 17, pages 200-202)
"It doesn't always work out so beautifully. That's why it is so important to cherish those times when it does, so that the track record of faithfulness the Lord is building into our lives will mean something during the times when things go wrong." (Chapter 17, page 203)
"As we practice receiving the lovely things as from God's hand, we are perhaps more quick to trust Him even when it all goes wrong. What began as an experiment of living in the moment slowly evolved into a habit of seeing on purpose. I'm becoming an intentional noticer and it is leading me into thankfulness for things beyond the obvious. For the mess as well as the masterpiece. For the unexpected as well as the best-laid plans." (Chapter 17, page 204)
"Small gifts wait in quiet places. They hide under piles of daily tasks, waiting to be discovered and celebrated. That's why I think Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread--not bread to last a lifetime, but bread to last this day. It was a call to dependence, a call away from self-sufficiency, a call to turn to the Giver, a call to humbly and thankfully receive." (Chapter 17, page 204)
"He never promises that our families will be safe. Not in the way we think. He does promise His presence, though. And if you don't know Him, you may think that is a bad trade-off. There are times when that is how it feels. I want my children. I want my husband. Today have them all. But control? The idea that I actually have a hand in the way things will go? The veil has been lifted on that illusion.
I am learning more about what it means to have the presence of the Creator of the Universe with me wherever I go. It is important t know I'm not alone, especially in those moments when my life and the lives of those I love are revealed to be vulnerable. Feeling insecure does not always mean you are unsafe, just as feeling safe does not always mean you are safe.
In other words, I can't count on the feelings because they aren't always right. And I may have to redefine what it means to be safe.
My only option is to trust in the One who holds all things together, even when they fall apart. To trust even when it doesn't feel true. To believe in safety even when I don't feel safe. To set my mind on what is true even when it feels foolish and naive.
One of the hardest times to remember God's truth is in the midst of strong emotion. Fear, worry, or even excitement, can cloud our perception of truth. If it doesn't feel true, it's hard to believe it is true." (Chapter 18, pages 211-12)
"Don't deny the feelings, but realize it takes no faith to stay in the feelings. They are like the screen saver that comes up when the computer is inactive. It is the automatic response, the natural response. You cannot set your mind on two things at once. Thoughts may come fast and furious, but they only come one at a time. Feelings generally follow what our minds are set on. We get to choose." (Chapter 18, page 215)
"I can live victoriously in the midst of the dry, arid, hopeless desert in which I sometimes find myself. In that place where water doesn't flow and there is no rest, where it seems His voice can't reach, I am challenged to trust Him before I see the river, before I hear His songs of love. And so I believe, and then I wait. I first believe the truth is true, and then I wait to feel it.
One of my favorite pictures of safety in Scripture comes from Psalm 139:5-6, where David says, 'You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it.'
Imagine a day when you are overwhelmed beyond what you thought you could ever bear. Perhaps you just discovered a loved one is sick. Or you have a child who is living contrary to what you know is good for her. Or your husband just lost his job. Maybe you are simply having one of those days where you woke up in a funk. The house is a wreck, the laundry is piled high, the fridge is empty, and it's raining. And you feel fat. Imagine that day. Maybe you don't have to imagine. Maybe you're living that day right now.
Sometimes in those days, it helps to remember that God has enclosed me behind. That means everything in my past--every situation, circumstance, pain, fear, and longing I've ever had--He has been a barrier between those things and me. The Hebrew words translated "behind" is also used in Scripture to mean "west." And He has also enclosed me before, meaning forward, front, or everlasting. It can also mean "east." East and west are opposites forever. They have no beginning, no ending, and they never meet one another. He covers my yesterday and He holds my tomorrow. Still, this present moment is where I live. What about today?
He has enclosed me forever in the past and forever in the future. And then He lays His hand upon me in the great right now. The New Living Translation says it this way: 'You go before me and follow me. You place Your hand of blessing on my head" Imagine a hero who not only leads the way but also brings up the rear and holds your hand all at the same time. I can't imagine a safer place than that." (Chapter 18, page 219)
"All He asks is that I receive Him. Not just for salvation, like when I was seven. But to receive the inheritance of victory that is mine today. And after I receive Him, He asks that I remain in Him, like a trusting daughter refusing to leave her daddy's lap. Worship and service flow out in response from that safe, secure place of abiding in His presence. And even though there will be waves of temptation to keep the glory for myself or cower away in shame, and even though worry and anxiety will continue to scream at me when I am most vulnerable, the most important, life-changing things this good girl can do is remember to remember.
Remember you have a choice. Remember to let peace rule. Remember to believe God's truth even when it doesn't feel true. Remember that your life is hidden with Christ in God, you longer have to manufacture your own safe places. And when we forget to remember? We don't have to travel over mountains and rough terrain to get back to God. Simply receive and believe that the truth is still true, and purpose to stay safely in Him."
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)