The Life Free of Disappointment

Sometimes in our world there is news or a circumstance that breaks through the cloud of Christian clichés that give us an illusory sense of control over our life. Do you know what clichés I mean? We’ve all heard them. Someone puts their house up for sale, and it sells immediately, and someone posts “That’s God’s favor, right there!” Or the guy speaks up at community group about how every time they give to the Lord, money just appears out of nowhere.

And I always think, “That’s great, but that’s just not how it goes for us.” In fact, lately, as I look around, many of our friends are in this place with us of trusting God despite great disappointment and amidst the carnage of broken dreams.

  • What do we do when the miracle we hoped for, prayed for, and desperately needed, missed the deadline?
  • When the adoption we knew we were called to falls through, leaving us devastated with an empty nursery?
  • When we feel called to be a wife or a husband, but the years of waiting for a partner has made our hope weak?
  • When we find out that the parent who is the glue that holds our family together has a body racked with inoperable cancer?
  • When the money we needed to make the payment doesn’t show up?
  • When the path we know God told us to take leads us into a valley deeper than anything we’ve ever known?
  • When month after month after month our body betrays us and the baby that we hoped for isn’t there, and we feel broken and forgotten?

Where do we go when life is real and tough and the clichés and “what you give, you get” faith doesn’t pan out? This week I, along with the rest of the world, have watched Rick and Kay Warren face every parent’s nightmare scenario. We all know the fear that we will lose our child, and it is hard to even imagine that these righteous wonderful people are now facing the aftermath of the suicide of their youngest son after his lifelong struggle with depression. I am broken for them.

These earthly realities, and the Warrens’ pain, confronts us with the simple terrible truth that sometimes, in this world, the miracle we need doesn’t happen.

 

What do we do with that?

I think we have no choice, in these places of brokenness and desperation, but to force ourselves to look up to the Lord and look ahead to the next world. To say, with abandon, this place is not our home and the circumstances I see now are not the whole picture. To allow ourselves time and space sometimes to grieve. To cry out in justifiable anger and fear and disappointment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Because, just as the Lord not only allowed but ordained his Son to die on a cross in this world, to achieve a greater good in the world to come, unimaginable sorrow and pain is sometimes allowed in our lives in this world to achieve a greater good in the world to come. And we don’t always get the luxury of understanding why.

The healing we hoped for comes in the next world, leaving only devastation in this one. The investments we are making are in the next world, leaving debt and insecurity in this world. The children we want to carry in our wombs and fill our homes in this world are sent instead to heaven, where we will someday hold them (and hopefully understand). The path we are on will sometimes take us into pain and loss in this world, to reap a harvest of joy and righteousness in the next world.

We do have hope for a future, because of Christ (and for that I am so grateful), but sometimes we need to release our desire to see that hope realized in this world. Because the simple fact is, sometimes it isn’t.

I think that is the hard lesson of the Warrens. They will see their son again. He will be whole, at peace. They will be reunited. But everyday until then, as they walk this earth, they walk it with the weight of grief. And may God help them, and us, to bear that weight well until they can say, with their Savior, “It is finished.”

And then the life free of disappointment will begin.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

Until then, we “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15) and we “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). And we stop with the ridiculous unhelpful Christian clichés that do nothing but add weight onto our brothers and sisters who are bearing burdens.

 

Shifting Gears

Courtesy NY Daily News

Still taking a break from Facebook, mostly because I want to still love everyone I know once the election is over.  I have gotten back on Twitter, because without cable, it’s my news source. But even that I’m taking in small doses.

I have shifted modes, though. The damage on the eastern seaboard and the storms plaguing 20% of the American population are heavy on my mind. It has forced a perspective shift. So I am no longer praying for the election or worrying about the outcome. I prayed for months before I voted about who to vote for, and I know that the Lord is in control.

No man in the White House has the power to save us or condemn us, and no matter who wins, our country has survived worse.

I am praying for the people in our land, and in the lands around us also hit by the storms. For those who have lost loved ones, for the thousands displaced from their homes and their businesses, for the millions of people without power on this cold night and the cold nights coming with the next storm hitting in days. For the relief workers, local government leaders, and first responders who are exhausted. For the millions of people processing the events of the past week – for their PTSD-affected minds and hearts. Jesus be near and give peace. We need the voice that said “Peace, be still” to the waves, and the waves obeyed, to speak in might and power and shift this newest storm away from these hurting people.

I am also praying for our country after the election. For peace in our land. For the side that loses to respect and honor the leader the Lord has allowed to be at the head of our country. For protection for our next president. For whoever wins to lead with honor and wisdom. For the voices of division and hatred to be silenced. For the next president to humble himself in the sight of the Lord, so that He may lift them up. I believe that neither of them is too far gone for the Lord to draw to Himself, and that is what I am praying for, in faith. The weight of a nation is too big for any man – and I am praying whoever wins would take that weight to the one Power strong enough to carry it.

I’m shifting gears. I’m praying hard. I’m believing for good. And I hope you’ll join me.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Psalm 107:28-31

He Makes All Things New

This is a new season in the Wells home. Grace starts Kindergarten tomorrow, oddly enough on the same day I start full-time college. Today I’ve had school supplies strewn out in my living room, one pile colorful and fun, one slightly more serious. We’re both excited and giddy at the new adventure God is beginning in us.

He makes all things new. 

The beginning of fall is in the air, and change comes with it. I have one friend who is starting a new job as a teacher, another is soon to return to work after the birth of her new little boy, another waits to hear word that she can travel to go get her new daughter from the country of her birth, and another is adjusting to a new normal after her world collapsed into what seemed like an unholy mess, but for God. Today in church I got to sit next to a new friend, and I pray the Lord will bring her back to join with our little messy body of Believers.

He makes all things new.

New hopes rise, sometimes in the shadow of hopes lost. That is certainly my experience this Fall. In my head, the countdown to what would have been my due date is still ticking away. I thought it would have stopped by now, but I am still learning to grieve and trust even when the grieving takes longer than I wanted it to take. In some ways, although this fall brings great blessings, it still feels like there is a hole where the new baby was “supposed” to fit into the picture. And I’ve had to come to peace with that void and with that feeling of incompleteness. Our little family in my head and heart is five, even though it stubbornly remains at four. And I’ve had to wrestle with that over and over this year. In the quiet, after the wrestling, I remember that God is still good, is for us, and is still doing new things in our hearts and minds even if the new thing we were expecting isn’t going to happen.

He makes all things new.

I’m so grateful for that truth. He even makes new our hopes and dreams, and our visions for the future. My heart that felt weary and full of doubt as I cried out my fears and questions to people who loved me just as recently as last week – that heart today feels hopeful. And that is a miracle of our God. He brings fall every year, with the death of some things and the change of others, and in all the change, He remains loving toward us, accepting of us, pouring on us His mercy. He shows us that death is never the end, because of the cross, and we never have reason to lose hope.

He makes all things new. I pray that truth is real to you this Fall, despite your circumstances.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17

Yea Though I Walk Through The Valley…

The Lord is my shepherd; 
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley…

This week I had a miscarriage. I realize many of you family and friends didn’t even know we were pregnant, and I am so sorry. We had just gotten to the point where we were excited to start telling people about the baby when I started having complications and everything became very uncertain. At first it seemed like the baby was strong despite the difficulties, but ten days later, the pregnancy was over.

I am tired, and aching, but grateful. Grateful for a husband who holds me, even as I am coming to peace with things hard to understand. Grateful for my girls dancing around me oblivious and so priceless. Grateful for a sister who held my hand in my darkest moments in that doctor’s office and a mom who took us in like she always does to carry our burdens and meet every need. For a dad who prayed and held me tight, and friends and family who called and texted and brought flowers and meals and prayed countless prayers that broke light into our darkness. They carried me through this experience. I’m grateful for practical mercies too – insurance literally days before we needed it, and a Christian professor and a Christian boss who allowed me to disappear from my life while I walked through this valley, no questions asked.

As this unfolded, I was astonished by what I didn’t know about miscarriage, and what I wish I had known. Not to make this experience easier, because frankly I don’t think there is a way to make it easier, but so I could have had empathy for my friends who have gone before me in this, and also maybe I could have anticipated this past week better. Because in general people don’t talk about it, except in very clinical, sterile words that aren’t accurate, but I wonder if maybe we should.

I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that a miscarriage sometimes takes days; days of fear and blood and pain and exhaustion and prayers and confusion and labor. I didn’t know the vulnerability and fear that came with simple acts such as standing up or going to the bathroom. I didn’t know that doctors and hospitals really don’t have answers when you are facing something like this. I didn’t know that hope and despair battle in your mind as you pray for mercy and a miracle. I didn’t know how hard it is to tell people what is happening because it is private and messy and terrible; plus most people didn’t even know you were pregnant, much less that the pregnancy is in jeopardy. I didn’t know about the feeling that your body is betraying your baby, the what-ifs and guilt  (that you must fight through because there is nothing you could have done to affect this outcome). I didn’t know about the moments begging God to make it stop, and then the moments where you have to reconcile yourself to the idea that it isn’t stopping, and that God is still good. I didn’t know how it drags on and on, as your house gets messy and your laundry piles up and kids need to be held and hugged and fed and taken to school and picked up and bathed and put to bed, but you can’t do any of it. So you rely totally on all of the precious people around you, and they do it all, balancing your life and their own, and you feel so guilty, but you also know that every time you stand up it gets worse, so you lay there, and they all work hard and carry your burdens.

I didn’t know, and I am sorry. I am sorry for people who went before us, I am sorry for anyone going through this now. This was so much harder than I thought it would be. I’m sorry if I ever judged your pain, or your reaction to pain. I’m sorry I didn’t help more or understand. I’m sorry for the little life that never grew up and for the moments you didn’t get to have and the loss of your sweet little baby.

I’m sorry that any of us ever had to go through this.

And the sad part is, this happens so often and many, many people I love have experienced this hurt, and many others will certainly walk through this valley. So let me tell you about what I learned about the goodness of God in this, because there was much I didn’t know there as well. I didn’t know about the way he prepares your heart for news you don’t see coming, or about the fog that surrounds your mind as you work through each step in this process, or about the peace that truly is beyond understanding even as you are facing things you never imagined. There are small mercies that help make this bearable. He allowed this to proceed slowly because he knows I am a person who needs time and he gave peace when I needed it at each step. He also brought people beside me who grieved this with us – family and friends who carried the burden of grief and cried with us and for us. I needed that so badly and for those of you who carried that, thank you. Looking back at this entire thing, from day one, I can see his hand of mercy. I returned to school today and my professor stopped me and told me that I looked good and that she was so thankful I was smiling, because she could tell that the Lord was with me. And I feel that. I can tell you that he never left me alone, not for a moment.

Now I am at the point where I am struggling to wrap my human, planning, finite little mind around this tiny life that was lost, and the idea that a child that is part me and part Justin is in heaven, who would have been my girls’ sibling, my siblings’ niece or nephew, and our parents’ grandchild. I’ll be honest and tell you that doesn’t feel real yet. But even in that – the Lord has spoken.

He spoke through Angie Smith’s amazing book What Women Fear, when she wrote these words, “I am still standing, and I still believe.”

I am still standing, and I still believe. I believe that God is good. I believe our child is safe in the arms of the Lord. I believe that death didn’t win.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

I know this post was personal and heavy, but I had to write about it. I write about it because I need to process the lessons of this valley. I write about it because I cannot imagine writing about anything else until I have written about this and explained how I was changed by it. I write because I wish I had something like this to read when I was in the middle of this searching for answers on the internet. And I write because I always share what I learn from my children, and this child is no different. I’m grateful for the lessons this little baby taught me, lessons of empathy for other moms and cherishing my girls and the mercy of God during dark frightening days. I write, and I heal, and we move on toward heaven ourselves and toward Jesus who does understand all of this.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.  (Psalm 23)

What Women Fear

Something is going on in my heart right now and has been for a few months, and I pray it continues. I feel like I’m experiencing a personal revival of sort, except that the word “revival” makes me nervous to type because for me it conjures images of old big-haired men and bad “special” music and manipulative invitations. But what is happening to me has much to do with hearing the Lord and having a tender heart and this feeling that the Lord loves me and has His hand on my life, and nothing to do with guilt or manipulation, so I am trying to redeem the word revival from even my own perception. The Lord has been speaking and I find myself more open than I’ve been in the past. It’s been priceless to me. I’m grateful for it.

One of the things I have loved about these past few months is that I have read some amazing books that have shown me new things about the goodness of the Lord. This week I read “What Women Fear” by Angie Smith, and it really touched my heart. Many of you may have heard of Angie Smith, and many more of you have likely prayed for her. Her husband, Todd, is in the group Selah and she began to blog in 2008 when they found out that the child she was carrying, a beautiful little girl named Audrey, would likely not be born alive because of serious complications. I stumbled onto her blog during that time and was so moved by her heart for the Lord and her honesty in writing through such an incredibly difficult time. It’s interesting that I prayed for her without knowing her and now the Lord is using her and her story to draw me closer to Himself. This is why I love the body of Christ.

And I loved this book. Angie has struggled with fear throughout her life, as I certainly have and I know most of us do, and she writes honestly and insightfully about the struggle with fear and what we can do to live a full life trusting the God who made us. I saw so much of myself in her writing. I saw so much of my daughter Grace in her writing. It made me weep. I think I highlighted about 70% of the book in my Kindle. It is a powerful message straight from the Holy Spirit.

In the book, which is written with prayerful intention, full of kindness and love for the reader, she takes a fear, explains how it has impacted her life, shows it manifested in the life of a character in the Bible, and explores how the Lord speaks to that particular fear. Reading it, I saw common Bible stories I have read a thousand times come to new light, and it was extraordinary. She opens herself up to the reader, exposing her fears and her story, and in it there is grace. So much grace.

It was a really precious book. I’m starting it over today – rereading it because there is so much in here that needs to settle into my heart. I wanted to quote it for this post, but everything weaves together so well in context that taking anything out doesn’t communicate the message like I would wish. I just hope that some of you will read it. I highly highly recommend What Women Fear.

A Faithful Man

This past weekend, a man walked into my church, and when I saw him I started to cry. He was hard to miss, tall and broad, a former Dallas Cowboy, but that wasn’t how I knew him. I knew him because he had given the eulogy at the funeral of a man I deeply respected, John Weber, and I hadn’t seen him since that day. It shocked me how much it impacted me to see this stranger and how quickly all of the emotion from the day of Mr. Weber’s funeral came rushing back.

John Weber was a wonderful man. He had an important job – he was the chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys. But when I met him, I didn’t know that. I knew him as my friend Sarah’s dad. I was in high school, new to faith, new to church, and new to the idea of a Christian family that prayed together more frequently than at Christmas and Thanksgiving. And what I saw in the Weber’s home was absolutely amazing to me. I studied it like a creature from another world.

They loved extraordinarily. They laughed freely and cried bravely. They somehow seemed more together than other families. They all seemed to have this amazing ability to look directly into your soul and they cared about everyone around them. They valued people – me included. They loved Jesus. We had a few Bible studies in their home and stayed there for a Disciple Now – and every time I was there I basked in the love and the light of their family, feeling part of something extraordinary. As an adult I know that the warmth of their home was due to real community and the nearness of Christ, but then I only knew that it was different and wonderful and I never wanted to leave.

After Sarah had gone away to college, my encounters with the Webers became less frequent but always that feeling of being a part of them and valued by them remained. I loved them and looked up to them. Mr. Weber was not a tall man (in fact the Webers are all tiny people with massive hearts) but he was huge to me. Every time he saw me he focused on me, hugged me tightly, and asked about me and my family by name. I could tell he genuine loved me, and frankly, that both shocked me and made me feel important. Since his death I’ve heard dozens of people say it and it’s true. When you talked to Mr. Weber you felt like you were the most important person in his world. I certainly felt that. He had a gift of making others feel significant.

Mr. Weber

After I was married, I saw Mr. Weber a few times when he would come to speak at churches where I worked. He always touched people’s lives and it was fun to see the effect he had on others. Men, in particular, were impacted by him. He would speak at a men’s retreat at our church and men would return home changed – more loving and present and serious about leading their families in the way God intended. Mr. Weber was powerfully used by the Lord.

One fall morning my mom called to tell me Mr. Weber had passed away suddenly. I remember the shock. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that he was gone. What a light he had been to so many. I thought of Mrs. Weber and his kids – I couldn’t imagine how they felt. I ached for their hurt. I called the Weber’s house to offer to make a video for his service and to tell them I loved them. To my surprise, they took me up on my offer. I was humbled to get to honor him in this way.

As I went to the Weber’s home to get the pictures for the video – I was a little anxious. This place was always one of love and warmth for me, and I walked in afraid to intrude on their grief. But there were people everywhere, crying, hugging, laughing, sharing. The same love and energy that had been there in the bright days of my high school memories was there that day, on the hardest day. I was so grateful. It felt like the Lord was near. The magic wasn’t broken. Death hadn’t won.

I’ve written before about his memorial, but I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how it impacted me. I honestly feel like, at the end of my life, it will be one of the pivotal moments in my journey with the Lord. Person after person filled that room, some very famous by the world’s standards, but all equal in our hurt and our powerlessness in the face of grief and death. It made us humble. It made us listen. We all wanted to matter like Mr. Weber mattered. That room was so full not because of fame, but because of impact, and every word spoken about him was so honoring. He had gotten it – the elusive key to a life well lived. And we all wanted to get it too.

In my mind that day is frozen – as real as if it occurred yesterday. That’s why I cried when I saw the poor Cowboy who had no idea he was inspiring a minor breakdown. I remembered.

Person after person spoke – all calling Mr. Weber their hero. But their words weren’t trite – they were genuine. He had changed their life. They talked about the value of a name and a reputation, and someone very famous with a well-known name said “Nobody ever had a better name than John Weber.”

His kids all spoke at that service, and their love and honor of their dad was overwhelming. I was a brand new mom, clinging to my husband’s hand, and in my head I was begging the Lord, “Please let us parent like this.” Each one spoke of Mr. Weber’s faithfulness and his wisdom. I didn’t know this until that day, but he had a saying he told his kids countless times and each of them talked about it in their eulogy.

Don’t strive to be extraordinary. Strive to be faithful.

It was his life goal. When I heard it – it rang so true. That was what Mr. Weber was – he was faithful. A faithful man. A faithful husband. A faithful father. A faithful friend. And his faithfulness made him extraordinary.

Last week after I saw the poor man who made me cry, I took a walk around the church building to pull myself together. But I couldn’t shake the memories. I cried as I walked and prayed. Again I begged the Lord to use me like He used that faithful man, both in my home and in the world around me. I begged Him to raise up men like Mr. Weber in our new little church. On the day of Mr. Weber’s memorial service I had seen a glimpse of the potential of a life lived in faithful service of our God, and I was changed by it.

Mr. Weber’s life made me want more God, more love, more humility, more purpose and most of all more faithfulness in my small life. He was ready for death because he lived a life faithfully focused on Christ. I have no doubt in my mind that the moment he closed his eyes on this earth he opened them in the presence of Jesus. And that gives me hope.

Lord, please let me be, both at the end of my life and everyday until then, a faithful woman. I confess that my flesh cries out to be extraordinary, but I want more to be faithful. I thank you for Mr. Weber’s faithful life. Please be near to his family today and everyday, give them more of You and fill the void of their loss. You are good and we are grateful.

One Thousand Gifts

I’ve started reading Ann Voscamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. It is admittedly not the easiest read, but I’ve found it really powerful and inspiring.

The book is about the ingratitude inherent to our sinful human nature (evident from the beginning in the story of Adam and Eve) and how choosing to give thanks in our day-to-day lives is an act of deliberate redemption. Focusing in particular on the life of Christ, Ms. Voskamp demonstrates this idea by showing how often Jesus chose gratitude, particularly in challenging times, and how this was a part of His redemption of the world. She theorized that when we acknowledge the grace all around us and give thanks, we begin to see the Lord more fully. Just as ingratitude is inherent to our sinful nature, gratitude is a defining characteristic of the redeemed life.

In the book, she began keeping a journal of things she was grateful for, and it changed her. She kept in her purse a book full of micro-moments that proved to her that God was real and loved her completely. In the end, she had listed over 1000 things she was grateful for, and her attitude and countenance had shifted in the process.

“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live..He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” – Albert Schweitzer

“The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”

“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our YES! to his grace. Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.”

Many women, myself included, have taken up the challenge to list our blessings. In doing this – I have found that my prayer life has definitely shifted. I have realized just how surrounded and covered I am by grace, all day everyday. My blessings will easily number in the thousands when I have finished listing them (if I ever really finish). In addition, I have begun to acknowledge, even in the challenging things in our life, that there is always a thread of grace and provision. Seeing those things with gratitude has begun to lift some of the weight of this past few years, and for that I am grateful.

I think there is definitely something to this book and this idea. I won’t share my 1000 gifts (although rest assured most of you number among them) because it is so personal to me – but I wanted to share about the book for anyone like me who needs to view life through a slightly different lens.

I’m grateful.

And I’ve realized that’s a pretty powerful thing.

(All of the quotes above come from One Thousand Gifts)