Category Archive: Joy

God Uses Pain

I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.

C.S. Lewis
Joy Davidman Lewis

Secrets. Deadly. C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer. But he didn’t hide his grief, writing about it in A GRIEF OBSERVED. His wisdom is meaningful because it comes out of his own life experience.

A Grief Observed

Our culture tends to think of pain as a negative, as something to sweep under the proverbial rug.

“How are you?”
“I’m fine thanks. And you?”

We may not want to take someone else’s time to share the truth of our journey, the faith crisis we’re in, the pain of loss, a wayward child, bankruptcy, or challenges within a community, a ministry, a marriage.

But secrets divide us. They raise barriers. Don’t go past this point. No more questions. Change the subject.

Have you been there? I have. In my last three posts I’ve written about being part of an inner city ministry for ten years, years that included times of significant joy and reward as we helped people through times of personal crisis, led children’s clubs and adult Bible studies, a teen choir, food and clothing distribution, and started a school in the ghetto. Joy as some committed their lives to Jesus Christ and started to walk a new path, making different, more positive choices than many around them.

But those years also included times of pain, with a controlling leader who told us not to talk to family or friends about doubts or issues with his leadership. So, along with others, I held a lot inside. I kept secrets. Was I fine? Definitely not. Did I tell anyone? Not for years.

So being with other women who were part of that organization two weeks ago was extremely meaningful. We shared honestly and openly, asking and answering questions and also sharing about our current lives. Although I know there was and is more to share, we spoke the secrets aloud. And it was healing.

Someone said when people speak about their joy, people listen and affirm. But when we speak our pain, people lean in. All of us have experienced pain, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. And pain spoken loses some of its power, while pain held in spreads like a cancer.

Obviously we need to be wise. Sharing everything with everyone is neither prudent nor effective. But we do need safe places where we can be authentic with a few trusted individuals.

When we speak of our pain (within appropriate boundaries), others want to hear. They may be experiencing something similar, and they want to know how we overcame. What gave us the strength to move through the pain to new understanding, to finding hope again?

Perhaps we can begin to welcome pain as a gift to help us grow or warn us of needed changes. The child who places her hand on a hot stove learns not to do that. The pain of betrayal may caution us against trusting too quickly, about delving more deeply into a person’s integrity before getting too involved.

These are some of the women in my life now, who challenge me in my walk with God and relationships with others. Our “Fab Friday” bunch is a gift!

The pain of distance from God may remind us that we need to spend regular time with him, enjoying this most important of all relationships.

None of us wants pain. Few of us invite it. And God doesn’t send it. But he can use it in our lives as it reminds us …

  • that God is our comfort as we move toward rather than away from him. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (I Peter 5:7)
  • to serve others–God comforts us so that we can pass that comfort along to others in need (II Corinthians 1:3-5)
  • to patiently endure–“My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71) and
  • to rely on God–“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life” (I John 5:12).

Out of pain and problems have come the sweetest songs, and the most gripping stories.

Billy Graham

Those are reasons to be thankful for pain’s impact in our lives.

May God guide you as you open your heart’s secrets to him, our ultimate Counselor; and to trusted confidantes, so that you may be healed.

Rainbows and Turtles

Rainfall was intermittent as we drove down the Hana Highway in Maui (if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes). At times it pelted down, the raindrops driven horizontal by heavy winds.

And then I looked up. All across the sky was a beautiful rainbow with radiant shades of green, blue, violet, red, orange and yellow. The symbol of God’s promise that He would never again destroy the world with a flood.

Sometimes I forget God’s good promises. I try to work things out on my own, to ‘power through’ on tasks without asking for His presence in all I do. And yet, He has given us great and precious promises:

  • Forgiveness of sins and a relationship with God (Romans 3:23-24, John 3:16)
  • Never to leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6, I Kings 8:57)
  • Abundant life in Jesus (John 10:10, NIV)
  • Eternal life for those who confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10, I John 5:11-12)

And there are so many more promises. Don and I experienced some “abundant life” incidents on our recent anniversary trip.

We stood on the cliff in a bracing breeze, watching a few brave surfers in the waves. Below us a group of people appeared to be looking at us, or at least in our direction. We couldn’t see what they saw because of the cliff. What could they be looking at?

Getting into the car, we drove down the road, parked, and walked to the area where people stood. The beach was covered with large black rocks. I looked again–not rocks, but huge green sea turtles! I gasped at the unexpected, wonderful sight. What a delightful surprise!

Another day we were to meet Rodney, who was going to show us some grass woven handbags. We had walked by his kiosk several times when no one was manning the booth. This particular day we were to meet Rodney at noon in front of the Hula Grill, where he was supposedly setting up a display table. Nothing there. We walked down to the kiosk–no one there–so returned to wait by the Hula Grill. Then my phone rang.

“This is Rodney. I think I see you. Turn around.” Don and I turned from where we were standing and saw a man on a cell phone, about twelve feet away, facing the other way. “You turn around,” I said into the phone. “I think I’m behind you.” As Rodney turned and we looked at each other, we both began to chuckle as we realized we were indeed talking to each other–in stereo now, on phone and in person! Another fun moment.

We came back home to California and yesterday, as we drove to church, saw another double rainbow across the sky. And I thought “isn’t this like life. Sometimes it’s really hard, where heavy winds and rain attack and drench us; and then we have God-moments where, through God’s creative beauty in nature, fun surprises, the love of a partner, or re-connection with an old friend, we feel the grace and goodness and love of God.”

So I’ve seen about four rainbows in the past week, more than I’ve seen in a very long time, especially with California’s drought over the past few years.

Question: What lovely surprises have you experienced that reminded you of God’s creative, amazing love? I’d love to hear about your turtles and rainbows!

Abandoned … for Me

Abandoned.

Left behind.

Completely alone.

Terrified.

It was noon Sunday. I was nine years old, and I realized my parents had left church–without me! Frightened, I wondered how long it would take them to realize I wasn’t in the car.

Would they expect someone else to bring me home?

Come back for me?

Be annoyed with me?

Thankfully, my childhood abandonment was short-lived. Mom and Dad heard the silence in the car(!), realized they’d forgotten one child and, to my great relief, returned to pick me up.

I had very loving parents and I was terrified.

I grieve for the many children who are abandoned emotionally, physically, spiritually by addicted, incapable, or uncaring parents. I remember a former acquaintance who, along with his waste collection buddies, found an abandoned, live infant in a garbage can.

But for Christ, fully God and fully man, to say “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” expresses incomprehensible pain.

At that moment, Jesus, carrying all the sin of the world on Himself, identified fully with my sin, and the collective sins of the world. Although He did not sin, Christ felt the separation from God that we sense when we have unconfessed sin in our lives. In heaven, the Son was One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three experienced perfect communication, complete alignment, sublime love, total Oneness. Leaving all that only to feel forsaken, abandoned–how great a chasm that must have been!

Truth set me free!

After a God-honoring memorial service for my first husband, I fell into a deep pit of abandonment, aloneness, despair. I was crushed by the question “What if everything I have believed is a lie … there is no eternal life with Christ … and I will never see Jerry again …” My conclusion was that if the Bible was not true, and faith in Christ was based on a lie, life as I knew it was over. No hope. No sustenance. No future. I might as well quit now.

I was alone in another sense. Because I had experienced God’s faithfulness, presence and hope during Jerry’s illness and death, people often commented on my example of faith, and how they were learning from me how to respond in adversity. How could I now disappoint them by revealing my doubts, the anguish I felt, my separateness from God and others? So I kept my agony to myself and wandered through murky darkness for several weeks.

One day God brought Peter’s words to my mind: “Where else would we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.” And suddenly, my heart was free. Truth won out. The gap closed, and I was again in union with my Lord, who went to the deepest of all pits in order to give me hope and life eternal.

A dear friend once told me that God wants to be God even in my deepest despair; and that however low my pit, God has gone deeper still.

Where are you feeling abandoned? Where do you need to have God reach in to rescue you from your pit? Tell Him. Allow Him to touch you and renew your spirit. If you’re willing to share with me, I’d like to pray for you too.

Jesus agonized on the Cross. He suffered the greatest pain possible, both physically and emotionally, and He died. But then came Sunday, the day the world changed forever! This Easter week, let’s praise Him for His sacrifice and His resurrection, which give us forgiveness and life and hope and peace.

He is risen!

Joy, Pain, and Peace

Quite the weekend! At a client appreciation dinner Friday night, Don and I received a significant answer to prayer, not only for us, but for someone we love.

Saturday we attended a magnificent Christmas concert at Twin Lakes Church. The rafters were raised and joy was present! Two hundred singers, instrumentalists, dancers, American Idol finalist James Durbin; Rebecca Jackson, violinist with the San Francisco Ballet; and Grammy award winning cellist Jonah Kim told the story, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of the cosmic war going on between light and darkness, and the knowledge that God in Christ has won the battle at the Cross, that Jesus is Lord!

My physical therapist, Emily, joined us, as did a former Intel colleague and his wife, Bill and Carol Munger. Bill and I haven’t been in touch for eleven years, until I recently learned he and Carol now live in the same area as we do. Wonderful to enjoy this concert with these friends. We were all lifted up, encouraged, renewed in spirit.

And tonight, we will celebrate a 50th birthday for one of my daughters-in-faith.

We are richly blessed in the things that really matter–family, friends, the God who is here with us, Immanuel. Beautiful, centering music. This morning, sunlight streaming through the window as Don and I sat across from each other, reading God’s Word and having our minds renewed.

Yet in the middle of all the festivities and celebration and joy, there is lots of pain.

  • Families have lost, and are losing, homes to California wildfires. Some don’t know where their next housing will come from.
  • Finances get stretched in the desire to provide a wonderful Christmas to our families.
  • A friend’s infant nephew is in the hospital with three infections.
  • Another friend’s husband has been in the hospital, fighting for his life, for over 200 days.
  • Families are stressed because of conflict, finances, illness, and other challenges.
  • Loneliness is heightened during a season focused on love, when many are surrounded by loved ones and it sometimes feels like everyone else has it together.
  • Political conflict abounds, here and abroad.

With all our technologies, our knowledge, life is still hard. Jesus said that “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)  While we still face difficulties, we have a God who has promised to be with us in all, who cares for our pain, and who promises His people a future when justice will reign, illness will have died forever, and we will live in peace, love and joy in His presence for all eternity.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” (Matthew 5:3, MSG)

Will you join me in focusing on moments of joy and gratitude this Christmas season, rather than in the “to do lists” we all have for the holidays? Let’s make more of presence than of presents; of the beauty in our loved ones than in our homes; of God’s good gifts than in our wish lists.

Blessings to each of you this Christmas!

“Why?”

Dennis R. Fast

I’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger today. Dennis Fast has been a senior pastor for 35 years and is now working in several part time ministries in central California. He recently wrote this devotional for his church congregation. He graciously granted permission for me to share it with you. I found it helpful in giving perspective to the question of suffering in the world. Thank you, Dennis!

 

“In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

A few years ago Lee Strobel, author of A Case for Christ, commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they would ask if they could ask God one thing. The number one response was, “Why is there suffering in the world.”

I’m thinking of that today as it feels like the state of California is on fire.  That’s an overstatement, of course, but the devastation and loss from south to north is incredible.  One report called the fire in Napa and Senora counties a “once in a life time” fire.  And this on the heels of last week’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, preceded by unprecedented hurricanes in The Gulf, sandwiched between earthquakes in Mexico.

Strobel said in a printed sermon, “That “why” question is not a new one; it goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th Century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And the 21st Century didn’t start any better. There was 9/11, the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why do all of these horrific things happen if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?

If you would like to read the full article/sermon by Lee Strobel go here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2012/july-online-only/doesgodallowtragedy.html?   But let me give you the five “points of light” that he shares in the article for your encouragement today:

The first point of light: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

The second point of light: Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.

The third point of light: The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.

The fourth point of light: Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for his followers.

The fifth point of light: We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.

We will never fully answer the question of “why” on this side of eternity.  But my prayer is that you will find some encouragement and hope today in the truth about God in his Word.  And I also pray that you can be a witness to the grace of God as you face the difficulties that God allows in your life.  When we face hardships, our hope is a powerful witness to the goodness of God and can draw others to discover the peace we have – the peace that so many long to experience.  It is easy to ask, “Why didn’t God create a perfect world?”  The answer is that he did, but that perfect creation has been marred over and over by the sins of choice that humans make each day.  Today, choose hope, choose joy, choose grace: choose Christ!

 

Carol Loewen Oct 11 (3 days ago)