More Than OxiClean {A Short Devotion on God’s Grace and Goodness in Trial}

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At the request of a few others, I thought I’d post what I shared with my local Community Bible Study (CBS) chapter recently.  CBS is an international ministry that began 40 years ago in the Washington, D.C. area. Click any of the links to find out more. While I’m used to speaking in front of groups of children, adults and peers are a different story!  I am happy to say it wasn’t as scary as I thought.  When you are passionate about something or have a message to share, it seems that nerves subside and the Lord gives you the peace, strength, and stamina to speak. Although I now fully know what the expression “knees knocking” feels like.

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You may be familiar with the cleaning product OxiClean. You can probably quote the commercial: how it gets out set-in stains, even mustard! or how it’s “not like those other imitators.” Several months ago my little guy latched on to this product after seeing a commercial during a home improvement show. He begged to try it, quoting its alleged wondrous stain fighting super powers.

So we bought it.  We tried it.

Then my son literally jumped up and down when his white soccer shirt became white as snow after a practice in the rain and mud.  You can imagine…

“It really works, Mom!”

That is what I want to share today, how I’ve seen God work in mighty ways this year.  I don’t want to reduce our Lord to a cleaning product — but take it as an analogy, an illustration that of how without the tests in our lives we would not have the testimony.  Well, we still would but it’s in the rubbing, the fire, the breaking that perhaps we see Him most clearly.

The test, the trial that I’ve been walking is infertility and miscarriage.  Yes, we have our son; I call him my sandwich: the meat — the peanut butter (and jelly because he’s so sweet) — between the slices of bread, the years of trying and loss.  In October, we finished a bunch of testing and were given a 1-2% chance of conceiving on our own.  We told our families and made peace with that. We linked our hands in God’s sovereign hand.

A couple of months later we were shocked and elated to find out we were in fact, pregnant — in the ER, of all places and while my husband was out of town in New York City for his intensive seminary class.  They found a small infection and I was closely monitored in the weeks that followed. Everything looked great, the “numbers were good,” then fast forward to February…

We found out that once again, the Lord had given and taken away.

What I find so incredibly interesting looking back on all of this is how it’s possible to experience God’s goodness, peace, and grace smack dab in the middle of sorrow.  I’ve shared a little bit about this on my blog — I call them Glimpses of Grace.  Basically, the ways God has comforted and pursued my heart throughout this journey.  A few of these glimpses are:

  • seeing our baby 4 times on ultrasound in 2 months
  • laughing in the hospital
  • warm blankets
  • forehead kisses from my husband
  • freedom from bitterness toward women who seem to have an easier time getting pregnant

And these are just a handful of the many ways God continues to surprise me with his goodness in times of trial.

I’d like to close with a quote by Tim Keller, one one of my favorite authors.  This is from his book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering:

The grief and sorrow drive you more into God.  It is just as when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat.  Similarly, the sorrow and the grief drive you into God and show you the resources you never had.  Yes, feel the grief.  There is a tendency for us to say, ‘I am afraid of the grief, I am afraid of the sorrow.  I don’t want to feel that way.  I want to rejoice in the Lord.’  But look at Jesus He was perfect, right?  And yet he goes around crying all the time.  He is always weeping, a man of sorrows.  Do you know why?  Because he is perfect.  Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world.  And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside of sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping.  The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you” (253).

This is not a story about a cleaning product, my blog, or me — but about the One, the reason we are all here today: how He has worked, is working, and continuing to work!  I, you, are the vessels, and I am incredibly grateful to be able to share the story He has given me with you all and other women.

I invite you to look for the glimpses of grace in your own life: not just the nice things or serendipitous coincidences but true marks of His kindness, goodness, and love in whatever you are going through.

God is definitely not “like those other guys” as the OxiClean commercial goes…He is so much more.

Thank you to our teaching director, Lisa. She has shared so openly and vulnerably about her experience with miscarriage and loss.  She came over and brought flowers and a listening ear.

(Un)Hidden Love

Photo credit: Hannah Evans – Mill Valley, CA

The morning began with a beautiful picture of a mother’s love and care. Two cardinals conversed outside our front window. The vibrant red dad kept careful watch as the brown and muted red momma gathered twigs and leaves to prepare her nest in the Japanese maple tree.   I thought how in nature the mother’s coloring is often dulled and how motherhood involves what seems like hidden tasks and prayers. Yet they’re not hidden at all!

Our children may not fully see our daily doings or hear our heavenward pleas but God certainly does. The tending, the mending we do day in day out, of ouchies and of hearts, are not in vain.

Mother’s Day can usher in some tough emotion as many tread water in a murky sea of loss. I once was the almost-mama on Mother’s Day, fiercely fighting tears when the pastor called all of the moms to stand up. I had not a babe in arms but one in heaven; did that make me a mother? Should I stand?

My heart is especially tender toward so many women with aching hearts.  Warm hugs to the mothers out there and to those who have lost a mother or a child, and those who long to be a mother.

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.”

-Amy Young

Sorrow and Joy Together in One Breath

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 …the sorrow and the grief drive you into God and show you the resources you never had.  Yes, feel the grief.  There is a tendency for us to say, ‘I am afraid of the grief, I am afraid of the sorrow.  I don’t want to feel that way.  I want to rejoice in the Lord.’  But look at Jesus He was perfect, right?  And yet he goes around crying all the time.  He is always weeping, a man of sorrows.  Do you know why?  Because he is perfect.  Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world.  And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside of sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping.  The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you” (Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, 253).

Recently, I found myself nodding along while reading this quote by Tim Keller as I’ve been reflecting on the possibility of experiencing both joy and sorrow together, often profoundly at each end.

Keller’s words here are more than niceties on a page bundled together with a bunch of other pages in a book to make you feel better.  Rather, they bring up an important truth that fights any fiber of common sense within us.

Joy can exist in sorrow.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you have read bits and pieces of our struggle to have children.  We have our sweet boy — for whom we are incredibly grateful — sandwiched between years of trying and loss.  What I have learned is that instead of focusing on what was lost and what is not I can share the tremendous gain and what is.  

I can share the glimpses of God’s grace in the midst of a trial — all the ways He is ever-present in the bleak statistics, the ultrasound rooms, and the operating table.

I can tell you not in theory but out of testimony just as one might tout a really good cleaning product, the joy of the Lord really does happen inside of sorrow, as Keller suggests.

I can feel the grief, yes, but shout out the joy that like a super-strength Oxi-Clean this “stuff” — this FAITH — really works.  God is the reason I no longer harbor jealousy or bitterness when others have a seemingly easier time in having a family.  Only through Him can my depraved self extend more grace when faced with questions like “you only have one?”  I still might wonder why? and what what He is up to, yet peace and joy reign through the hard questions.

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This post by Jen Wilkin brings to light how tender the childbearing road is.  Often we are just curious; however, we don’t always know if someone is coming from a place of unexpected pregnancy, infertility, etc.  I relate to the friend mentioned in the post: “She cried tears of joy, but I know she carried her sorrow with every casserole she brought to my home.”

Friends, in life and online, I want to hear baby announcements, see the ultrasound pictures, even walk your difficult pregnancy with you.  While I may carry a deep ache in my heart, I can rejoice with you and rub your feet.

It IS possible for joy and sorrow to exist in the same breath.

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.”  — Psalm 126:3

Story Influencers

 

I’m intrigued when authors and artists post books they’re reading, musical/artistic inspirations, or just influences in their lives in general.  It’s like a peek into someone’s psyche. Maybe it’s a writerly thing, this curiosity about a person or character and his or her back story?  In any case, I thought I’d try something similar here and share what’s been inspiring or influencing me.  The working title is Story Influencers: the who’s and what’s that are making impressions on my life story, otherwise know as what I’m reading, listening to, or watching.  Here are three current “story influencers.” 

Image-1-2Ellie Holcomb.  I’ve been listening to Ellie’s music for a few years now (Magnolia and Rain for Roots, a children’s record, are probably my favorite albums) and recently caught her interview on the Listening In podcast.  Although I am not a singer, I am drawn to the art of songwriting. Ellie calls herself a “recovering perfectionist”, a term which hits home for me.  She also speaks of breaking the mold of a “good person”, defined by works and people-pleasing.  She describes her music as “interlaced with Gods word” and I appreciate her vulnerability as she openly shares about her own brokenness.  Vulnerability does not come naturally to me but it’s something I value as I like to move past the small talk and get right to someone’s heart.  The  above lines from “Only Hope I’ve Got” have become an important reminder as a Christian writer: as much as I love to write and share my story, I desire to be the vessel carrying words of a much bigger Story.  Check out Ellie’s music if you haven’t already.  You can listen on her website ellieholcomb.com.

IMG_7075.JPGWalking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller.  I’ve always been a fan of Keller, who amazes me in his ability to approach Scripture and difficult topics with a unique blend of intellect, clarity of thought, and a soft heart.  I often listen to the Redeemer podcast while at the gym and think what a gift he is to the people of NYC.  This book has been perched on our bookshelf for a couple of years; a recent turn of life events had me pouring over the hard questions of suffering that Keller brings to light.  As is his style, this is an extremely thorough book and Keller even grants “permission” in the introduction to skim the what is suffering and why suffering parts of the book to the practical how to chapters.  These were my questions: how does one truly walk through grief as a believer and how does one suffer well?  In a nutshell, Keller talks about the importance of not merely coping with or covering up emotion but diving in and wrestling with it.  It’s refreshing to have a prominent Christian leader and author share this in black and white; he shares how the weeping, trusting, praying, thinking, thanking, loving, and hoping are all part of the process.  Yes.  Also check out his books on marriage, vocational purpose, and doubting God.

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts.  Recently, my husband and I watched the memorial service of Kara Tippetts.  During the service, many spoke including pastors, her editor, and Focus on the Family President, John Daly.  My friend, Kitty, mentioned Kara’s book on social media soon after we found out we had lost our second baby.  I identified so much with Kara’s words and was struck by the way God’s grace was the hallmark of her life even in the midst of cancer.  It was evident that she believed and lived out the gospel.  I mentioned throughout the series of posts on miscarriage how God’s grace carried me and it was comforting and affirming to “meet” someone else — even if only through words — who found grace in tremendous pain and suffering.  I’ll leave you with this game changing (for me, at least) quote from her book:

Miraculously, my story had the freedom to be changed.  I was able to turn over the authorship of my story to the One who knew how to best write my life.  I could trust again, knowing the story wasn’t promised to be easy, but I was no longer silent in it.  I was a beautifully redeemed daughter of the King.  I would walk in grace.  But what about you?  Are you avoiding your story, embracing your story, living out of the pain of your past, or looking to the horizon for Jesus to redeem your hurt and walk with you in faith” (34).

There you have it: three of my current Story Influencers.  What are yours?  Please share in the comments!