Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


2 Comments

Is Jesus Weeping with Us?

My parents’ next-door neighbor once told my mother, when she was going through a difficult time, that “God never promised you a rose garden.”

It was the first time I had heard the phrase. And it certainly wasn’t a particularly empathetic thing to say. But sometimes we can find truth even in hurtful words. While this pithy maxim was no comfort to my mother at that time, I can take some comfort in it today. It reminds me in times of doubting, when I let fear seep into my consciousness, that God is working even in the trials.

The saying isn’t in the Bible, but the Bible backs it up. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have troubles…” (John 16:33) and we see God’s servants–Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus, Paul–suffering over and again in the scriptures. We know that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

God, his Son not sparing, has given us salvation. And he has promised us a better life to come–but that is not this life. We can take solace in Romans 8:28, though: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This doesn’t mean everything we experience will be good, but does assure us that every experience will be used for our good. Our hardships and trials may strengthen us or better refine us into the people God wants us to be.  “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” (Malachi 3:3).

I have confidence that God–who is all powerful–is at times restraining himself from stepping in to lift us out of our trials. I believe his love for us is more than we can even begin to imagine, and that he feels pain at our sorrows.

When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, we can be sure he knew what he was about to do. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” he said to the disciples. “But I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). He knew before he even set out for Bethany that his friend would live again.

Yet, upon seeing the sorrow in this place, Jesus wept. He doesn’t weep here because Lazarus has died. He knows Lazarus will live again. It says, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:32-33).

He wept not because Lazarus had died. He wept because his friends were in pain.

What comfort there is in knowing that Jesus weeps also for us in our sufferings. That he would be moved by our pain also.

So many times I’ve thought, like Mary, “Lord, if you had been here….” Or, “Lord, if you wanted to you could take it all away. You could heal our broken bodies. You could pull us out at any moment from this trial.” And these things are true.

So why doesn’t he lift us out in immediate answer to our prayers?

If Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Mary is right to say this. But if Lazarus had not died, he could not have been raised from the dead. We see that there is more glory for God–and surely a deepening of faith for all those witnessing this resurrection–because Lazarus died. The trial–the death, the four days of mourning–was never in vain.

While I will have troubles in this world, God is using them. Not one trial will be wasted. Not one heartache will be for naught. And God must have purpose in our trials; if they were of no use to us or to him, I don’t believe he would allow them.

Maybe God will see fit at some point to step in and give us a miraculous healing. To bless us with children conceived naturally in our own home. But maybe he will give us children another way. Or maybe he is directing us to a childless life for a greater purpose and glory than we can understand.

But knowing that God has allowed trials in our lives, and that following Christ does not mean freedom from all pain or suffering or illness in this life, reminds me that in the hard times God is still with me. He is here, refining me like silver, blessing me in trials, feeling my pain and heartache, loving me and drawng me closer to himself each day.

And with that knowledge has to come grattitude. I’m thankful that he loves me enough to make me the person he knows I should be. Even when it’s painful for both of us.

Advertisements


2 Comments

Defining ‘Good’

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

What is good?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How do I know if something that happens to me (or around me) is good or bad? Is it even possible to know the difference this side of heaven?

Maybe this seems a pedantic question. Or even a semantic one. But I think there may be real spiritual implications in how we define this one little word.

As with many words, we can be a little loose with our language sometimes. How often have you said something was amazing or awesome–even though you know that these words can truly, deeply, only apply to God? And what do you love? Do you love your spouse? Your shoes? That great movie? Clearly we don’t mean the same love for all things.

So, I’ll start by refining what I’m talking about when I ask this question. I’m not talking about what tastes good, what looks good, what feels good–these are clearly things open to interpretation and different for each person. I can no more determine what tastes good for you than you can for me. It is a matter of personal preference.

I’m also not talking about clear, defined standards set forth in scripture. I don’t need to debate whether God is good–in the most complete and intrinsic sense of the word. And I don’t need to debate whether no one else is good. Jesus said as much. (See Luke 18:19, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone.'”) Similarly, I’m not asking if creation was good or bad–as God declared all things good when he made them. That was before the fall.

I’m talking about how we evaluate the things around us. How do we view our life circumstances? Do we view them all on the basis of personal preference–if it feels good (or bad), it must be good (or bad)? Or do we view life circumstances and the trials and challenges and sufferings in light of scripture?

In Romans 8:28, we see that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Maybe infertility isn’t intrinsically good. But maybe it’s been good for me.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

If I am living in light of eternity, and living as a sojourner and alien in this world, then what is good and what is bad is going to take on a new meaning. What causes pain or suffering or temporary discontent in this life may be bringing me closer to God. What I see as “bad” and what causes suffering may be integral to developing my relationship with God. And does that not make such events–or at least the repercussions of such events–good?

The world is full of evil, don’t misunderstand me. And the devil will play his games and work his tricks to try to pull us down. But I would submit that if we are living life in view of eternity, we won’t be fooled by the devil’s schemes. We can’t be brought down into the pit of despair when we know that God is truly for us (Romans 8:31).

Bad things happen. I’m not saying that bad things are good. But if we believe, if we trust God in everything, if we do not fear the world because we aren’t of this world–even the worst things can be used for good in our lives.

And so I ask again–can we define what is good? Because I don’t think I can trust my instincts. I think knowing what is good for us and what is bad for us is impossible this side of heaven.

And what are the spiritual implications of not being confident in our definitions here?

There is one who knows. One who knows that the difficult childhood you went through directly relates to your acceptance of the Son. One who knows that the wealth and prosperity you received in this earth did nothing but distance you from himself. One who knows how to bless us–even when that blessing includes a baptism by fire and trial and pain–so that we will truly know him. And since he knows and I don’t, I must choose to trust him and trust his direction for my life–even when it goes against my hopes or plans or sense of what is good.

All the “good” things this world can offer us are really bad if they pull us away from God. All the “bad” things in the world that push us on our knees and draw us to God and Christ are a gift to us. When I’m with God, if I have any care whatsoever about this life I’m living now, I’ll not be surprised to hear him say, “That trial of infertility? I allowed that in your life. I did it because I love you, and because I knew it would draw your heart closer to mine.” And what response can there be to that but a heartfelt thank you?

So I give up on trying to value my circumstances. And I say, why not thank him now?

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)


7 Comments

Faith Lessons from a Steak Knife

I have written most of my essays for seminary. And though I’m not finished, I’m not feeling so overwhelmed about it now. I think I need to visit the campus before I’ll be able to finish one essay, and the remainder is resume stuff that I can do in fits and spurts: what areas of Christian leadership I’ve been involved in, campus activities I was part of in college, and my employment record. And then, I’ll submit it. Oh my!

In the meantime, we are really just feeling overjoyed and excited lately. There is so much to be hopeful for. I suppose there always was, but we had lost that excitement of trying to conceive and now it’s back–for the moment. I hope treatment works and works quickly! And we are so very grateful that God has given man this ability to research and find ways to overcome medical challenges. I am so glad he has not withheld from us even these good gifts of medical science.

Last Thursday we had small group to our house for dinner. I love hosting our group (we take turns), but last week was a busy week and I was feeling frazzled. This time I had started early and I was determined to have dinner ready by 7:00. I had from scratch tomato soup in the crockpot (best recipe ever), butter melting on the stove for a roux to add creaminess to the soup, and an assembly line for baked grilled cheese sandwiches (on gluten-free bread for me!) with avocados, tomatoes, and bacon laid out on the counter. The stove had just told me that it was preheated and ready to go. With about twenty minutes before small group was supposed to start–and with my husband still not home from work–I started chopping a frozen stick of butter with a steak knife to fit it in a small bowl to melt so it could be spread on the bread. And then–OUCH! I am not sure why the knife slipped, but I felt the injury before I suspected anything was amiss. I looked down to see a bloody gash on my left index finger.

Now, I can give a shot with expert precision and usually not even feel it. I’m perfectly comfortable reading biological research papers on gamete development, reproductive anomalies, surgical procedures, and hormone functions. I can discuss with doctors all manner of surgical procedures, results of blood work, and what they may be looking for. But friends–when I saw that blood on my finger, I about passed out. The room started spinning and I felt so very hot and I knew I had to snap out of it and get moving.

I ran to the sink and held my finger under cold water for a while. I pinched it together to close the wound, but as soon as I let go, the blood just kept coming out.

I managed to move to the bathroom, where I cleaned the wound properly and bandaged my finger–probably a little too tightly–to stop the bleeding. I called DH and fussed a little about it, because I knew he’d talk me up off the floor and get me back to the kitchen. He did.

By the time I got back to the stove, my butter was burned. I dumped it and started over. And dinner was a bit late. Well, a lot late. We didn’t sit down to eat until 7:40. I love my small group. They didn’t mind. Didn’t bat an eye at the tardy meal, and we had a great meeting anyway.

Later that night, I unwrapped my finger, cleaned it again, and changed to a bandage that wasn’t cutting off the circulation of my fingertip. I checked it and felt sure I didn’t need to go to the emergency room or anything.

As DH and I were snuggled into bed Thursday night, after we’d prayed together, I lay there a moment thinking to myself, huh… we didn’t pray that my finger would heal. And I knew why I didn’t ask God to heal my finger. It’s because I trust, and have no doubt whatsoever, that my finger will get better. That’s part of God’s design for us–cuts can heal themselves. What an amazing thing. And this is something I have taken for granted. I thanked God for healing my finger and fell asleep.

In my prayers, I often want the quick fix. The miracle fix. The supernatural fix. And maybe sometimes that means I’m missing out on what God is doing in the natural, how God is changing my circumstances even without any drama or fanfare.

The next day–really the next few days–my finger was sore. It was painful. And I expected it to be. Although I knew God would heal me, I didn’t wake up Friday morning or Saturday morning or even this morning and find that my finger had  been magically put back together without any time or waiting or effort. I am typing this now with a little medical tape still wrapped around the finger, giving it a little protection from the keys and the germs and keeping it from splitting open again while it is still vulnerable. But even as I am waiting, I don’t feel any less sure that my finger will be healed.

And I think this is faith. I have faith that my finger will heal. And I don’t know if I have that kind of faith for everything. But I want to. I want to have this kind of faith–this certainty, really–that what God has promised will be. I have this faith for my salvation. I really have no doubt that I am forgiven. But I don’t know if I feel as sure about the things that aren’t as straightforward as cut skin or the gospel message. Do I believe God is using me for his glory today? Do I believe that he has ordained my path for a reason? Do I believe that he is working all things for my good?

Some days are better than others.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)


4 Comments

A Father’s Love

There’s this song on the Christian radio station I’ve always kind of disliked. But this morning it hit me in an entirely different way.

It’s a song by Plumb called “In My Arms,” and it starts with this verse:

Your baby blues, so full of wonder
Your curly cues, your contagious smile
And as I watch, you start to grow up
All I can do is hold you tight

I find the song mildly annoying because it always stirs that little piece of discontent in my heart, that piece of me that won’t stop shouting, begging, pleading for a baby of my own. That piece of me that is always there but which I can usually keep pretty quiet.

On the surface this song is all about a parent’s love and her desperate desire to keep her child safe in a totally messed up and fallen world.

But today, as I was driving in the middle of a heavy rainstorm on I-10, it spoke something different to me.

Instead of changing the station when the song came on (yes, I normally do), I listened to the words. And in the chorus I got a mental picture I wasn’t expecting.

Knowing clouds will rage and
Storms will race in
But you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down
Waves will crash all around
But you will be safe
In my arms

I had a quick thought first that changed my perspective. Mothers can hope to protect their children, but no amount of holding them in their human arms will truly keep them safe. But we are safe in the arms of God. I believe that fiercely and I needed to hear it today.

As I pictured God as a loving Father, which is how Jesus encouraged us to think about God, I saw him holding me through this current storm. And I felt this great relief. An unburdening I can’t really express.

In another line in the song, she sings, “My heart is torn just in knowing / You’ll someday see / The truth from the lies.”

And I wonder–does God think that about us? Does he watch us as children, knowing yet dreading the decline of our innocence?

And he [Jesus] said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2)

Does he look at the landscape that is before us and grieve over the consequences of living in a fallen world, the storms that will rage in our lives?

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matthew 18:7)

He knows the storms will roll in, and when, and how hard, and why. He knows that we can’t see through the darkness to the other side of it or to what glorious future he has planned for us. Does he feel sorrow over it? Over this human mess we’ve made that we’re slogging through in this world by our own choices?

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

I’m not saying that infertility or other pain we struggle with in this life is a consequence of personal sins in our lives, as I don’t think it is. I think there are consequences to sin that are specific and affect the person who sins, but I also think there are general consequences of sin, of living in a fallen world. These consequences strike who they may.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

And as God watches, and sympathizes with us, he is also working these most painful and most challenging trials for good in our lives. Not that the bad things are themselves good. But that good will come of it. And so he gives us hope to endure the trial.

For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I love that God can speak to me even in the midst of a song that I didn’t like. And that he can use someone else’s words to give me a picture of who he is and how truly, madly, deeply he loves me as his own child. As much as I know God is indeed working through infertility in my life for my good and for his glory, I don’t think he intended or desired for me to go through this trial. But since he knew it was coming, he’s making me better for it.


4 Comments

Out of My Head, into My Heart

I’m not a very emotional person–at least compared to other women I know. I live my life through my head. It’s hard–so hard–for me to get things into my heart.

I think sometimes this means I’m not a very compassionate person. I struggle with sympathy, not to mention empathy.

People talk about feeling someone’s pain so deep that it feels like it’s their pain. Or seeing something beautiful and just feeling this little twinge of emotion that flows up like something real and tangible.

Not me.

Like a white-washed tomb–my heart felt empty and unmoved inside this body.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had through infertility is convincing my heart that what I believe in my head is true. I’ve called this the head knowledge-gut faith disconnect.

And one of the biggest blessings of infertility is that my heart seems to be working better. Like infertility is the hammer that has broken my heart open and at the same time knocked down the walls I’d built around it. The feeling is coming back, empathy and compassion are slowly seeping in. Not perfect, but gradually coming to life within me.

Outside Recoleta Cemetery,  Buenos Aires

That opening up makes me hurt more. Opening up lets in the good with the bad, the pain with the joy, the heartache with the peace. And it is what enables me to trust that what God says is true, that God is who he says he is. That God is everything to me. These weren’t possible with my hardened, sealed up heart.

So today, my heart is aching. Aching for one of my only “real life” friends who is dealing with this infertility mess. Her embryo didn’t make it in her first IVF transfer.

And she says she is struggling with this same head knowledge-gut faith disconnect right now.

Praying for her today. For her faith and trust in God. For peace and strength. And for beauty in the pain of death.

And thanking God that he has used infertility for my good and his glory. That I can be there for my friend because of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

I may have picked a different road in life. But God knew where I needed to be today and how to get me here.


2 Comments

Can I Claim That?

People talk all the time about believing the promises of God in our life. I find defining the promises really difficult. There are promises I want to believe are for me. But how do I know that something in scripture is a permanent promise that applies to everyone and not just a promise that applies to certain someones?

There are some I have no doubt about. For example, Romans 8:28: “For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

I love God. So that promise must apply to me. (I sometimes struggle to remember it, and I often have to remind myself of it, but it’s a promise for me without any doubt.)

But then you read about other promises that are made in scripture. Here’s one I want to claim for myself, but how can I be sure it’s for me and not just for the people who were there?

“You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” Exodus 23: 25-26

And I want this one:

“Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” Deuteronomy 6:3

Or this one:

He will love you and bless you, and he will give you many children. He will give fertility to your land and your animals. . . . You will be blessed above all nations of the earth. None of your men or women will be childless, and all your livestock will bear young.” Deuteronomy 7: 13-14

And I’m not even asking for any sheep or goats to bear young.

I don’t have an answer. This is something I’ve been pondering for many months. In fact, I’ve wondered for many years what the promises are in the Bible. There isn’t any set rule that I can see. Like, if it’s written in Psalms it’s for you but not if it’s given by Moses. Nothing like that.

So I pray over these verses. And I ask God to let them apply to my life and to the lives of the many men and women I’ve come across through blogging or other means who are also struggling through infertility. And I keep asking for clarity and guidance.

Today, as I read those verses in Deuteronomy 7, I thought it was clear for a moment. Those promises are clearly made to the children of Israel.

But could I claim the promises to Israel? Am I like a child of Israel? I’m not descended from Israel (at least, not as far as I know). But I have been adopted into the family of God by belief in Christ Jesus and his work for me. Does that entitle me to the promises given to Israel? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. (I like this perspective on the subject.)

When I google the promises in the Bible, many lists come up. So I clicked on one. This is one of the promises listed:

“‘For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 30:17.

Some clearly claim this promise for themselves, even though it is prefaced with “This is the message the Lord gave concerning Israel and Judah” (30:4).

I realize this is pretty convoluted. I’m still trying to figure it out myself, so maybe I’m not the best one to be writing on this subject. But I’ll leave you with this verse (which I’ll be meditating on and trying to better understand over the next few days for sure):

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us–by me [Paul] and Silas and Timothy–was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
2 Corinthians 1:19-20

And I will say, “Amen” to those promises as I read them–just in case they are meant for me.


2 Comments

He Lives in Me

I go up and down a lot. And Christmas was tough. And the week after Christmas, full of decompressing and allowing my repressed emotions about all the baby talk of Christmas to come through, was really tough.

But then we started a new year.

Isn’t it beautiful how we can hope (or at least pretend) that a new year will be completely different than the old one? We can discard that old, worn out, used up year and trade it in for all the joys and excitements, for the hope and promise of a new, beautiful year.

And this is going to be my year of fruitfulness. So, what does that mean?

I’ve decided:

  • We will do everything in our power to conceive a child. That includes continuing and adding lifestyle changes that have some chance of helping us. And it includes trusting God to remember us. (Genesis 30: 22, “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.”)
  • We will take advantage of the opportunities presented to us. That means we’ll be doing some traveling this year, which I’m really stoked about. DH has a crazy schedule that involves a lot of time off between his long shifts. So, we’ll be going to Southeast Asia in March, which I am really looking forward to.
  • I will read the Bible. I have been doing a daily plan on my phone. It’s a bit of Old Testament, a bit of New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs every day. I’ve read the Bible before, but it feels new and different in light of our current circumstances. And I’ve been highlighting passages that strike me about infertility.

In the past few days, I’ve had a realization that we’re not going through this without reason. I don’t believe that it is God’s will for his children to suffer, so I really don’t believe that we are dealing with infertility because it is what God would have chosen for us. Our infertility is a result of a fallen world. But, given that we are dealing with infertility, I do believe that “God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

And I believe this means that going through infertility is going to bring us to our right family. I don’t know what our family will look like, but I believe infertility will lead us there. Who knows, maybe we are simply supposed to have twins. Maybe God will use us to provide a home for another person’s child. Whatever path we end up taking to get to a complete family–whatever that may mean–I trust that God is going to lead us to the right end.

Maybe this is something obvious to everyone else. But it just finally sunk in.

And as I was driving down the road today, I heard a beautiful song. I keep singing to myself, “Hallelujah, he lives in me!” What a wonderful and necessary reminder!

If God lives in me, and I believe he does, what powerful work he can do through me and even within my own body. The God who conquers giants and tells the dead to breathe can surely heal our broken bodies. This God has already shown me miracles. He has loved me when I was most unlovable. And I believe he will keep showing me miracles.

I pray I’ll have the eyes to see them.