Friday, November 15, 2013
Whew. This one, y'all. I'm already crying. I've been waiting on this one because I knew it would be hard. But today, my sweet daughter is five months old, and it just seems like the right time, so here we go.
I've already shared with you that I struggled with understanding why all of this was happening to us. Why my little baby had to be so sick, why we had to uproot our life for eight weeks (and longer) to help her, why we had to be left with so many lingering questions. I never felt at any point that God had abandoned us, but that still didn't answer my questions. God had prepared me (unbeknownst to myself), and I resolved to have faith in facing the unknown, and God strengthened my faith as I prayed.
God knows our hearts, and He knew that I needed a dose of hope. He used one of the members of the community we enjoy to give me just such a dose. I had emailed after a rough morning; my daughter's feeding tube was leaking (and would just days later fall out leaving her with a giant, gaping wound in her stomach), and I was feeling stressed and frazzled. Our church is always so faithful to pray, so I knew when I sent out the SOS, they would respond. One of my dear friends who had passed through her own struggles and sought the face of the Lord in them all sent me a link to a song and a sermon that had encouraged her. She included her own words of encouragement and assurance that she was praying every day for us.
Much like the moment I talked about in this post, the first time I listened to the song, something inside me changed. "Though you slay me / Yet I will praise you / Though you take from me / I will bless your name / Though you ruin me / Still I will worship / Sing a song to the one who’s all I need" The guys who sing the song lost their father unexpectedly and wrote the song in response, as they were grieving their loved one. The lyrics cut me right in two. "I come, God, I come / I return to the Lord / The one who’s broken / The one who’s torn me apart / You strike down to bind me up / You say you do it all in love / That I might know you in your suffering" Ohhh, wow. I return to the God who has broken and torn me apart in love. This is right where I found myself, coming back, over and over again, to the One with the power to heal, but who kept breaking us, over and over again. Why, God? Why? Here's where my heart stopped: "My heart and flesh may fail / The earth below give way / But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord / Lifted high on that day / Behold, the Lamb that was slain / And I’ll know every tear was worth it all" One day, I will know that every tear was worth it all. Why? Jesus. The sacrifice of God for me, seeing the culmination of that in the glories of the heavenlies. "Though tonight I’m crying out / Let this cup pass from me now / You’re still more than I need / You’re enough for me" O Lord, O Lord, please let this be.
To look around at the situation, to see my daughter splayed out in a hospital crib on a warmer because she couldn't hold her own body temperature, to see her have needles in her body and tubes coming out from everywhere, to not be able to hold her for days and days, to not know if she would ever eat properly, to not know if she could gain weight to survive, to not know if her brain would function well enough for her to talk, learn, grow -- it all looked hopeless and it all looked meaningless. To look with our human eyes and see the pain and all the problems, it looked like a giant mess and seemed to have no purpose. She was so small. She didn't deserve this. We are a faithful family. We attend church, serve God, seek to teach our children about Him. Why would He do this to us? We didn't deserve it.
That is what our human eyes would see and our human hearts would say. This song hit me so hard because it spoke the truth of God, not the "truth" of man. The truth of God says this: "Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that." These are Piper's words from the accompanying sermon (which I highly, highly recommend), and they opened my eyes to a truth I had never considered before.
He's referencing 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." He talks about how Paul who as the writer saw so much pain and trial in his life (ending with his own beheading) characterized those trials as "light" and "momentary" -- they were small and fleeting. Compared to what? The eternal weight of glory. The forever-lasting, hugeness of the life beyond this life.
But Paul, it doesn't look that way, not even a little bit. He knows that. He anticipates that, which is why he writes, "Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen." I had spent a lot of time looking at the things that were seen: the scabs from IVs, the puckered skin around her tube incision, her yellow skin, her skinny little body. These things made me lose heart. These things kept me up at night and made me hurt for her and question God. But all of these things, even though they seemed so big and powerful and painful -- they were light and momentary, not because they weren't important or painful, but because they were part of a much, much bigger picture.
The picture isn't just this day or this month or this year or this lifetime. The picture includes an eternity at the feet of the Savior of the world. When you zoom out and see the whole thing, this is but a breath. That is not to say it is a meaningless breath; it has great purpose. But the purpose is not found in this moment, right now, tangibly. The purpose waits in the unseen. The glory that our trials in the here and now produce we will meet on the other side. We can't see the glory or touch it or taste it. Piper says our eyes will tell us that our suffering is meaningless. But we have faith that it is not: "Either you see it with the eyes of faith, believe it because the text says it, or you lose heart."
God's word tells us in Corinthians that our trials in this life are creating a glory in heaven that is beyond all comparison. That promise is the "unseen" that we look to, that gives us hope when the seen looks scary and dim. We believe in this promise in faith, not because we can see that it is true but because God has promised it to us. My request to our church included this: "I want to be faithful and trust but my heart and mind get caught up in the problem instead of resting in our Savior." I had spent all my time looking to the seen and it looked terrible. I couldn't see anything happening, any good coming of all this. And here's the thing: in my lifetime, I may never see anything good come out of everything we've been through. It would feel really good to be able to point and say, "I see what God was doing now!" And there have been moments when I've seen Him shine through and I can see the work being done. But the Word never promises that. It never promises that we will see the big picture while we are here living it. It does promise that when we leave this world, all the pain and tears and injustice and struggle and brokenness that we encountered, all the trials of this life, will have built for us a glory beyond anything we could ever imagine. "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)"
In theory, this doesn't feel good. It doesn't answer questions. It doesn't clarify. In the midst of pain and trial? This is sweet, sweet manna from Heaven. It says that this life doesn't have to feel good or answer questions or clarify. This life is spent in the marathon of faith, enduring to the end when we will see Jesus, glorified and sitting at the right hand of the Father and we will rejoice, being showered with glories beyond our imagination. And not only does that beautiful moment occur after we endure the pain; it occurs as a result of enduring the pain. It is not simply a "well done" after making it through the gauntlet; it is being prepared as we trial and persevere.
Finally, finally I could see. I felt like scales had fallen from my eyes and the giant weight lifted from my shoulders. Just as I have faith in the healing sacrifice of Jesus, I have faith in the promise of eternity. I can't see either of those things, but they form a foundation stronger than any physical, tangible, seen experience. Unfortunately, I am a physical, tangible, seen being and it takes me about 3.5 seconds and one little hiccup to have me spiraling into frustrated despair again. The solution? Preaching. Piper again: "Therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for." Every day I have to remind myself of what I know and believe. Every day I have to come back to the fountain of life -- as Piper says, not a fountain where one sip heals, but a continually flowing fountain that we need every single day -- and drink until my thirst is quenched. Every day I have to sit at the feet of Jesus and ask him to teach me, remind me, heal my heart.
Want to know the most beautiful thing? He teaches me and reminds me and heals my heart. Sometimes it comes through the victories we celebrate. Sometimes it comes through remembering how awful things were and how much better they are now, even if they aren't perfect. But most of the time, it comes just because. It comes because I ask for it in faith, knowing that God will heal. Sometimes I ask out of desperation because nothing else offers an answer and I can't fix it. But God hears those cries and slowly, slowly He is teaching me that trust in His almighty hand and His promises and His plan will never leave me empty-handed. I preach that to myself every day; my friends preach it to me. And the glory we will see at the end of this rainbow will be like nothing we have ever imagined.