Saturday, May 10, 2014

True Grace

This is my fifth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 5: What in the World, In All This World, Is Grace?

Chapter five is about suffering.

It was as though Ann was in my head. I'd been working hard, naming gifts, redeeming time. But I couldn't hush this nagging in the back of my mind. If I thank God for the gift of a bird's song and the sweet "Yai wuv yoo" from my son and the way my daughter always, always, always sleeps with her right arm crooked above her head or across her eyes...

"What are all the other moments?"

What is everything else? What are the days with nagging upset tummies and attitudes a mile long and naps all broken? What are the scary doctor phone calls and the three-hour-old ambulance rides and the yet another cancer diagnosis?

"Do I believe in a God who rouses Himself just now and then to spill a bit of benevolence on hemorrhaging humanity? A God who breaks through... only now and then, surprises us with a spared hand, a reprieve from sickness, a good job and a nice house in the burbs -- and then finds Himself again too important to deal with all... suffering and evil?"

This is real and it is weighty. This truth finds itself in the hearts of mothers cradling their sick babies. This truth finds itself in the heart of mothers who have lost their babies. This truth finds itself in orphans and widows, and shake a hand and you have met someone who has hurt. And we can name big hurts and small hurts, but they are all hurts and in the grand scheme of things, all hurts hurt. We don't need to lay down our measuring sticks to compare them. They are all real and they are all pain and they are all worthy of asking: How is God mixed up in this?

Everyone's journey is their own. And there are many people who have walked through pain and their walk looks very different from mine. I will share with you what was my experience. A man asked me if I felt abandoned by God when my daughter came sick and I was able to tell him, truthfully, no, I did not feel abandoned. But I did cry out. I did ask why.

"I won't shield God from my anguish by claiming He's not involved in the ache of this world and Satan prowls but he's a lion on a leash and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry and I can howl and He embraces the David-hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief and I can moan deep that He did this -- and He did."

The Psalms are full of shouts and groans and "whys" to God, and in the midst of suffering and evil, they are absolutely appropriate. The virus that infected my growing child, that ate away at her soft tissues and left her in a silent world, I will call that what it clearly is -- evil. The depression that breaks so many souls into ending their earthly journeys -- evil. The anger and pride that swells men's hearts to put guns in the hands of children to fight their wars -- evil. The poverty that nags at bellies and leaves children dying from emptiness -- evil. It is real. It is impactful. It hurts. And in this symphony that God is conducting, there are minor notes. There are sore spots. And it breaks God's heart.

"I can hear Him soothe soft, 'Are your ways My ways, child? Can you eat My manna, sustain on My mystery? Can you believe that I tenderly, tirelessly work for all the best good of the whole world -- because My flame of love for you can never, ever be quenched?"

We are not privy to the big picture. We can't see where this has come from and where it is going. But how many "overcoming adversity" stories have you seen? How many people have you heard about on those heartwarming sections of the news broadcast who have taken their broken legs or broken minds or extra chromosomes or war-torn childhoods and from them, run races and healed hearts and brought joy and created peace? I can't even number them. I can't number the hands that have held mine and told me, "I have seen what God can do with loss."

"I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places,
and hasn't it always been?
Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life. And there is no other way.
Then... yes: It is dark suffering's umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.
It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace.
And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering."

We live in a world that has tumbled far and broken and we live in bodies that are trapped and wounded. And we cannot escape that, not while we are here for our little while, for our but-a-breath. But while we are here, breaking and being broken, we can know that God is redeeming.

"The God of the Mount of Transfiguration cannot cease His work of transfiguring moments -- making all that is dark, evil, empty into that which is all light, grace, full."

I have known the power of fear overcome by trust in God. I have looked into the eyes of the brave and marveled at their courage. I have known that fear myself and marveled at its own dissolving in the face of grace after grace after grace. God taught me more about Himself through my walk with my daughter than He ever did in anything else. She weighed as much as a small bag of flour and she was covered in bruises and her spleen was chewing up every last platelet her body could make. And I watched God transfigure her. I watched transfusion after transfusion sustain her while her liver and spleen healed. I watched those bruises fade and her sweet eyes open wide. I watched her gain ounce after ounce and round out. I watched God take dark, evil, and empty and make it into light, grace, and full. Miracles, every one.

Here's the thing: God didn't owe my daughter miracles. He didn't owe them to me or my husband or our family or anyone else who loved her. He chose healing for her, but He just as easily could not have. 

"When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift? For He might not have."

Those ways that are greater than my ways, the plans man means for evil that God means for good (Genesis 50:20), these are not things I understand. And maybe "if I had the perspective of the whole, perhaps I'd see it? ... Is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world?" And there is comfort in knowing that from evil, God can transfigure good. But the reality of our experience on earth is that we may never know that good. We may never see the grace upon grace upon grace. We may never see the miracles. But it does not change the story.

"I have hacked my life up into grace moments and curse moments. The chopping that has cut myself off from embracing the love of a God who 'does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow' (Lamentations 3:33), but labors to birth grief into greater grace. Isn't this the crux of the gospel? The good news that all those living in the land of shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart -- and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son?

What in the world, in all this world, is grace?

I can say it certain now: All is grace.

I can see through the woods of the world: God is always good and I am always loved.

God is always good and I am always loved.

Everything is eucharisteo."

We look around the world, even in our own little corners of it, and we see evil and we are right to name it so. This is not a land that has been healed. This is not a land where tears are no more. Right now, there is weeping and sorrow and it is real and it cuts and burns and destroys and we are right to tear our clothes and beat our chests. But never for one second believe that God is not weeping too. That God is not mourning too. He, too, waits for the day of our reunion with Him, of the peace that will reign in the place of upheaval, of the joy that will permeate in the place of sorrow. And that day is coming. We must trust in that.

In the meantime, while we wait, know this grand truth, this truth that will cut through any evil cloud lurking and any painful road waiting ahead of you or haunting behind you: God is always good, and you are always loved. It is true, not because I say it is true, but because God says it is true. And our beliefs must be ones that we hold onto even when they don't feel true. And there will be many days when this does not feel true. But when it does not, stop yourself and take a deep breath. Really feel your lungs fill with air, pushing out of your chest and filling up your heart. Grace. You are here to breathe and live another day. Grace. Of all the walls and hammers that could have brought you down, God has you here, right here, right now. Grace. And man may mean evil against you in ways you could not have possibly imagined, but God means it for good and you can stand on that. Grace.

In none of our moments guaranteed and in all the woods this world will grow around us, we must see through and know this truth. We must. And we must fight to preach Gospel to ourselves, to find the graces in the unlikeliest of places. Because the world will not do that for us. Our hearts will not do that for us. God does that for us. God opens our eyes to what we once could not see. And while we may wait for heaven to know the "why", we can trust in the "what is" -- God is always good, and you are always loved. And nothing -- no thing -- "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)

Did you catch that? Nothing can separate you... from the love of God. How do we know this love? What is our assurance of this love, our security in this love? Jesus. The God-man come and killed, broken for our repair. If God showed love like that, how can we ever doubt? If God was willing to give up His own son for us, "how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) It may look dark. It may feel dark. It may be dark. But look for the holes. God is always good, and you are always loved.

Tune back in on Monday, 5/12, for my post on Chapter 6: What Do You Want? The Place of Seeing God

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