Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Thousand Gifts

I have finally started the book that inspired the Joy Dare I have been doing this year. The "dare" is to count up 1000 gifts though the course of the year, three gifts every day, intentionally stopping to see God where He meets us each day and to honor Him with our praise of thanksgiving. I've shared some of my Joy Dares, though I haven't been as consistent with it as I would like. BUT! I am starting a new project for May. I am going to blog through One Thousand Gifts. The book is part memoir, part spiritual thoughts. Only three chapters in, I am already finding the thoughts and stories permeating my mind and reminding me of the great gift of life and all the smaller gifts God takes great pleasure in giving us. I will write about the parts of the book that stand out most to me and speak to me. I loved my first project when I started this blog back in November, and I'm excited to do another one. I'm not sure if I'll write every day or a set number of times a week, but once I figure it out, I'll let you know!

I have created an Instagram account to go along with this project (and my blog in general). Find me at username sermonsfromstones! I'll be sharing Bible verses, pictures of my Joy Dare gifts, and quotes from One Thousand Gifts as I blog through it. Feel free to follow me and regram and share the hope and joy and peace that comes from the only Truth.

Stay tuned for May's project and get geared up for some serious joy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


"God will help you slay the Goliaths in your life."

It takes all my self-control not to scream out and start hitting the steering wheel as we pass the church. Another sign, but this time, one with a message so toxic, it makes me shake with anger. You have got to be kidding me, is all I can think, over and over. It takes me until I pull into my driveway three minutes later to realize why this makes me so mad. And it has everything to do with pain.

This view of God, this idea of Him, turns Him into a genie. The scene cuts to the pretty little girl skipping through a flower-filled field, not a care in the word, until a mean kid shows up and pushes her down. Her face twists more with humiliation than pain until a beam of light shines down from heaven and the bully's hard face slacks with awe and he slowly backs away. Just in the minute when she needed Him, God intervened and rescued the little girl from the mean kid. We rub our lamps hard enough or squint our eyes tight enough in prayer and God will swoop down, fix the problem, and whoosh back up to heaven.

Why does this make me so mad? What is so wrong with this kind of God, one who obviously loves His creatures enough to rescue them? It makes me mad because I don't see this kind of justice, the one in that wronged little girl's life. You know what I see? I see shuddering shoulders of countless women I know whose children never tasted breath before they died, women who wait to meet these precious blessings in heaven, the only place they will ever know them. I see the shock of betrayal so deep it can never be mended, not really, so deep that every time I think of it, it steals my breath. I see every headline my cursor hovers over, unable to click. War wrecking this place, the gaping maw of poverty in that place, children standing with guns in victory over the men they feel proud to have killed. I see friends who have watched their parents empty from the inside out and become shells from cancer. I see a friend sitting across from me at our dining room table, wide emptiness in his eyes, trying to make sense of senseless death. And I imagine me saying to him, "God will help you slay the Goliaths in your life." And I imagine him flipping our dining room table off its legs, plates and cups and silverware sailing through the air on their way to crashing to the ground. I imagine him walking out of our home because what kind of truth is that? What kind of help is that? How can that possibly be?

Our answer to struggle and difficulty is "God will fix that"? Well, what about when He doesn't? What about all those times when death wins and we lose? What about all those wounds we carry around that will never heal right, that cut too deep? Did that not count as a Goliath? Was it not big enough for God to step in? Tell that to every mom I ever saw stooped over their child's hospital bed. So was God just not there? Or maybe worse, was He there, but He didn't care enough to help? To stop it from happening in the first place or to fix it once it did? How can God love me and still be good if He just stood idly by? That's where this idea of God ultimately ends. It might feel good to think we have a magic bullet in our pocket, ready to be used in times of deep distress. But we will be disappointed. We will be disappointed in our times of deep distress when we whip that bullet out and it turns to air.

So what is the truth? If this is wrong, what is true of God? What can you say to someone in the midst of great loss or grief or struggle? (Hint: It's not "God won't give you more than you can handle." But that's a whole other post...) I'm not a trained counselor or an authority on the subject. All I can share is the road I have walked and walked with others. And all things have their time and their place, so please don't see this as me giving you your golden ticket to get out of an uncomfortable moment. Don't rush to this like it's a bandaid. But learn this. Because when pain comes for you or for someone you hold so dear that you feel the knife slash you too, you need to know this. And you need to believe this. And this needs to be the air you breathe.

The Bible's poster child for suffering (outside of Jesus himself) is sweet old Job. And he gets here too, to the "Why, God?" place. He loses his family, all his money, his home, his health. He continues to honor God through it all, through more than 30 chapters of story and dialogue and pain upon more pain and people telling him to curse God. And finally he cries out, "Why?" And you're like, "Yes! Thank you! I need to know the answer to this."

And God says, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"


"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

The first time I read that part, I honestly flipped back the page to see if I had missed something. Seriously, God? That's your answer? And He doesn't stop there. He goes on for pages and pages about all the incredible, amazingly powerful things He has done and the message for Job in them all is, "Where were you? Can you do this? Can you even comprehend this?"

At the end of all of Job's pain and suffering, all of yours and mine and the whole world's, is God. He isn't absent, floating on a cloud somewhere unaware. He isn't a genie to be called down to grant us our wishes. He is the author of time. He is the God who, before He formed the universe, first created nothingness in which to bring the universe. He is the God who knit you in the womb and holds the Colorado River as it forms the Grand Canyon. Job asks, "Why, God?" And God says, "Who are you?" And what this gives us is not a compress to stop the bleeding or a few stitches to make the scar look right. What this gives us is a right perspective and a right view of God. This gives us a God who is conducting a vast orchestra and whom we should trust. This gives us a God who is here, who does see, and who loves. And we can look to our left and our right and not see Him for the dust life has kicked up around us. But we know He is there... because He says He is. And our picture is so small; what we see is so tiny. We get the slightest glimpse of this vast earth and we don't have a clue. We walk out with our right view of God and we get a new perspective. It's not about me. It's not. It's not about me and it's not about you and I can't always tell you what it is about, except that God is holding the reigns. And I trust Him.

I trust Him through death and the threat of death. I trust Him through violence and emptiness and strange, twisted roads. God will give you more than you can handle... so you will lean on Him. God will not slay all your Goliaths... so you will cry out to Him. And when you do? He will tell you, just as He told Job, "I am God and you are not. Fix your eyes on me and watch."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Her Song

It was a week before I could sing to her. Her song, the one I had picked for her while she was still growing inside me. "Be Thou My Vision" is my son's. I walked down the aisle to my husband to that song and I wanted it to be his anthem. Jesus, my child, keep your eyes fixed right -- there -- on -- Him. For her? I rolled a few others around in my mind, unable to settle on one (not unlike our search for her name). And one morning at church, we sang it and I knew.

I could picture myself, singing this truth to her while I rocked her to sleep in the dark of night. "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18) There is hope, sweet child, that while this life laid out before you will be hard and twisted and though your heart will betray you, Jesus paid it all, every last debt. You owe everything to Him and what freedom awaits you!

It was a week before I could sing to her because I didn't know. When I picked her song, I didn't know that really, God had picked her song. I didn't know how hard the words would be to tell her. I didn't know how much pain she would carry and how great -- weighty -- the promises would be for her. I didn't know how those words would feel like falling boulders instead of freeing wings in the midst of pain and struggle. I couldn't even sing it... I couldn't make it past the first verse...

I hear the Savior say,
"Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in Me thine all in all."

I thought the song would be for her. And it was; it is. Jesus, I could hear him saying it, "You are so sweet, baby girl. Your strength is so small." I watched her breathing while she slept and tubes all everywhere and I couldn't even hold her and yes, I knew, her strength was so small. But really? My strength was so small. And I wanted to fall into a million pieces and instead, Jesus said, "Watch." Don't fall into a million pieces. Watch. Pray. Look at Me. Look at me -- and find.

Are you sure, Jesus?

For nothing good have I
Whereby thy grace to claim

Are you sure?

I'll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv'ry's Lamb

It was a week before I could sing to her and even then, I barely made it through the second verse. We watched and we prayed and we waited on Jesus. We surrendered the strength we thought we had to Him and He gave us His strength and we watched and we prayed and we waited. We rode the roller coaster of hospital life and we kept going back, washing our garments white. And we drew from His power...

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and Thine alone
Can change the leper's spots
And melt the heart of stone.

The power that we saw was a healing power. Slowly, her body put itself back together and she could get rid of this tube and that warming lamp and those medicines and that doctor. The healing power of Christ was working in her... And it was working in me. The heart that I wanted to wall in and protect blossomed open, bowed down before the One who healed. Who healed her... and healed me. And even death lost its power in the face of that.

When from my dying bed,
My ransomed soul shall rise,
"Jesus died my soul to save
Shall rend the vaulted skies."

I would escape her sterile room for the fresh air across the street and under the bridge and the birds would sing to me. And I would look up to the sky and pray, and every time, I saw the skies split open at the name of Jesus. I could not save my daughter, and I could not save myself, but the power of the Lord would save us both.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

It was a week before I could sing to her, a month before I could make it past the first two verses, and I still can't make it through the last one. We know now that she is going to be okay (whatever that means for any of us). She is healthy and happy and smiles and sits. We have jumped so many hurdles and high-fived so many victories and struggled through so many defeats and decisions and long nights. And we are "out of the woods" and onto the clear, open path.

Except for her hearing. We will get her cochlear implants (Lord willing) and she will hear with her bionic ears. But she will be deaf. She will live a life filled with the challenges that come with disability and you bet your bottom dollar I'll be walking right there with her, but it will not be easy and it will be a fight. We aren't scared; we have the power of God. But I still can't sing that last verse...

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete
"Jesus died my soul to save,"
My lips shall still repeat.

Complete. Whole. I can't sing it. I can't sing it because I can't bear the weight of that. She will live her life knowing very acutely what it is to be incomplete. Most of us don't have that privilege. We at least get to cling to the delusion that we are "fine". But she? She will know. Every last day. Every time she has to ask someone to repeat what they said. Every time she gets stopped in the store about those weird things on her head. Every time she has to have therapy. Every time she takes off her implant and the world goes quiet. She will know that she is missing something.

I can't sing that last verse because I did not know what God really wanted me to know. He wanted me to know it too. He wanted me to remember that when I look at my daughter and see what's missing, I should immediately look to my heart and see what's missing. I can't sing that last verse because I can't imagine that moment, when all the blood red crimson is gone and I stand before the God of the universe and I am whole. Not fallen or trapped or stuck. Complete.

And in that moment, I will not say, "Look how great I did." "Look how awesome my life was." "Look at all the amazing things I did for you, God." Just like my daughter will not say, "Look how strong I was." "Look at all that power I had." "Look at everything I learned to hear and say." My lips... they will spill forth with the only truth that ever was and ever will be: "Jesus died... my soul to save." It will be all I can say. It will be all she can say. It will be what makes us complete.