on ubiquitous, inexorable grace

What do I deserve?

I have experienced healing, thanks be to God. Through medicine and God’s grace, I am no longer plagued, haunted by leukemia. Its possibility still lingers and will for some time, but for now I can rest in this, in being made well. What an amazing gift.

I have lived in fear these past eight months. When I have been in pain, especially, I have withdrawn most often from communion with God. I retreated into myself. Into nothing, really. And there was no joy. And I asked myself more than once whether I thought I deserved to be healed. I knew I didn’t. I knew that whatever came my way, God would be good and sovereign and holy and loving. But all I wanted was to be healed. I didn’t want to have to go through the gauntlet of treatment and infection, that cycle that wore me down. I didn’t want to go through the fire. I just wanted relief, always just relief, please, God. Just take this away.

Well. He has relieved me. But He has not left me alone; He is still working on me. We’re not done.

Thankfully, God never gives what is deserved… ¹

If He did, I couldn’t bear it. But He does give gifts, every day, some so ordinary we miss them altogether. He gave me sleep in the hospital. He gave me someone to catch me when I passed out there once. He gives me the pleasure of cold drinks and fruit. The presence of plants in my home to lift my spirits. But also, weakness in my body to remind me I rely on Him for everything. This is a hard verse: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”²

What I have seen as evil – hospital stays, blood draws, so many pills, swelling, headaches, cancer – God always is far above and His story is so great I can’t fathom it. From this “evil” I have experienced the greatness, the sweetness of the Church. I have met new friends and strengthened old friendships. I have seen my husband grow and rise to the occasion, and he is my hero. I have seen my family more than I would have. And these are only the results that I can observe; God knows so much more.

So I believe, though I don’t always like it, that all is grace, all is gift.

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And now I must learn, just as before, to give thanks in all things. And to let go of what I think, even subconsciously, I deserve. Because I’m wrong. But God gives joy. I haven’t experienced consistent joy in so very long. If God gives it, how can this be?

My hard heart. My inward looking. My mind trying to escape reality. The reality is, we can find joy amidst pain. The joy is found, friend, not in relief but in Christ. Oh, this lesson has been nagging me for months, trying to get through my prideful walls. I can speak this truth, but even now to believe it requires me to let go… of control, fear, the clenching, grasping for what’s beyond the pain. It requires me to be. To rest in God’s presence, no matter what assails me.

A dear friend gave me a bracelet with a verse etched on: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” [Exodus 14:14] Yes. And when I know that all is grace, that God is always good, that I can trust Him to fight for me, I can rest at last. And give thanks for so many gifts. And in thankfulness, in letting go, the heart lightens and softens a little, and joy can come, even through tears. I have cried painful tears of surrender at times, fighting my will to deserve.

But He is able to withstand my hardness, my will, my fighting. He knows pain and He more than anyone deserved relief. But He forfeited it, and may I never forget. Christ, who deserves all surrender and praise, relinquished authority to evil people, separated from God in a way I have never been. He is not threatened by my will and my thanklessness.

Rather, He desires to give gifts and joy, to win over my heart, to fight for me. He would that I let go and be.

For in His presence there is fullness of joy.³

 

 

 

¹Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 178

²Job 2:10, ESV

³Psalm 16:11 ESV

on looking for the green

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”

“I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.”¹

///

I may have a compulsion about plants. I’m no skilled gardener, but I suppose I have this affinity for growing things. I want to gaze on them, be surrounded by them, and see them transform. Thus is it always to my dismay when one of my own succumbs to rot or perishes for some other reason. I try what I can to replant, trim back, and wait for recovery.

And I have done this several times. It’s a slow thing. Weeds have no trouble growing quickly once cut back or plucked, yet the things you want to thrive seem to struggle.

But this summer, I have seen a turn. I have come across so many of my rooted friends growing again, after I’d given up hope and come to accept the losses. I have seen small eucatastrophes, if you will.²

If I sit open, I could find a greater hope than this.

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What hope is there in life, with affliction and certain death and suspicion and fear? I’m coming to think Christ is telling us all the time, but we have our eyes and ears inward, looking to our own answers, so wise are we.

You are leading me I know not where. I know not how. But I do know a few things. God is real. God is gracious. God saves me. But how can I make that to my heart the wonder it really is? I am hard and cold. Like old East Berlin in winter behind that wall. Help me out of here, out of myself. Why do I cling when I’m so miserable to cling to? I’m no kind of home to myself. Would that I could rest my soul in something sweeter, brighter, stronger. Would that You would become all to me, and that I would yield and trust and fall to worship.

So there is a great chasm to cross, but we can’t reach that far. We can’t stretch out and touch the hope that is there. No, friend, it would seem in all this world and life, hope lies hopelessly far beyond our fingertips.

And yet, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”³

Here He comes, the great Bridge Builder, crafting a way to Himself with Himself, stretched out and laid down so we might pass over into peace. If ever there was any hope to be with God, it was by His design and His death and His glory and love. And it is a turn of events unforeseen, least expected, least looked-for. A eucatastrophe of the greatest degree.

And so there is hope for me.

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That sweet surprise of new life. That beauty. Some days are hard, dark at midday, yet even these have beauty in them. And beauty calls to us, “God is here, with us. Wait.” Like these tiny new tips inching from the soil, soft and bright and green. Their small, smiling progress speaks to the nature of things – that growth is bitsy and tender, and breathtaking. Mine can be too.

Let it be.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! [Psalm 27:13]

 

¹ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

² Term coined by Tolkien: a sudden and favorable resolution of events

³ Psalm 27:14

on the senses and their frailty

Somewhere between the early days of this and now, things started feeling harder. Things have settled in. At first I felt some supernatural peace and ability to soar above everything, to accept whatever came. But now I’ve experienced more of what was to come, and I haven’t enjoyed it. I’m a bit more tired, broken down, disillusioned. I’ve let myself let go of that vision to praise God with everything, to tell everyone about His goodness. When the struggle becomes ordinary and tedious, there’s less to feel inspired about. And it’s unsustainable to keep inspiring oneself without end.

Even with a “good” prognosis, there’s the possibility for things to get much worse, much harder. More fevers, a relapse, who knows? My treatment plan was just extended by about a month, right after a week delay before that. It seems very possible that more delays will come. And there might be more intense suffering, and after options are exhausted, my life might end sooner than I’d ever anticipated. This is the first time I’ve written about that sort of thing.

People talk about death, for Christians, as “going home” to Jesus. In a way I think that’s right, because we will be more fully with Him than ever before. But heaven isn’t home. Jesus is. I don’t even know fully what heaven is, and it doesn’t matter that much to me. What’s promised for those who know Christ is that they will be with Him forever, no longer separated in a world sick with sin.

Then it seems to me that I should strive for that while I’m still here. I could learn to experience God as my home even now, just as we are called to become more like Christ here on earth, just as we are told to be rid of sin here on earth. None of these things will be ultimately completed until we are consummately reunited with God in death and in the new earth and heaven. There’s so much about that I don’t understand. But I don’t intend to wait until I die to practice making God my home.

In Him is found everything we could ever want in a home – peace, protection, unconditional love and welcome, wholeness. In Him is everything we look to the world to give us, everything we ask of other people and things. Everything we think will make the hard stuff better. He is ultimately everything I want, but it’s harder somehow to look to Him for it. So that’s my practice. That’s my hope – that I would experience God as the Home He is. It’ll be a way of getting ready to meet Him face to face, a year from now or 70 years. Or any number in between.

//

Last week was gorgeous, so bright and clear and sunny and warm. It was so opposite how I felt inside, where darkness called the shots. Everyone kept remarking how beautiful it was, and it brought me no joy. Me, who in the depth of winter felt shrivelled and blanched for the deluge of water and the blackness of days. Me, who cat-like would sit in sunlight any chance I have. Me, whose spirits used to rise at the mere sight of a ray of light. Here, after all the wet months, I wished it would rain. I sat in a puddle in a cave, humourless and hopeless. It came on like the gradual chill of evening after sundown, but I didn’t perceive it until I was shivering and alone in it.

And then I felt trapped and confused, disenchanted with the small delights of God’s gifts, taking interest in nothing, resenting people for caring to interact with me. Smiles escaped me, words evaded me. Nothing mattered. It’s been weeks and weeks of listless trudging. Fear. Cynicism. Sadness. Loneliness. Social fatigue. Ungratefulness. Tiredness. This became all I could taste. I was in no mood for God and His glory.

At the end of last week, my husband spoke some good, true words to me about the nature of life and God, and it seemed my heart was so desperate that drops of truth slipped in by the cracks in the dried up ground and started to nourish me again. My heart actually desires God, beyond simply needing Him. I can’t deny His goodness, not when I know He loved me to death and not when pink magnolias exist in the world. What’s true doesn’t rest in what I feel. As roots slowly drink to restore their stems, my exit from the dark has been almost imperceptible, but at times I notice a deeper breath, an easier smile, a firmer trust in God’s sweetness. By little bits, God is peeling back these layers – I don’t remember how they came to be – and recalling me to light. Maybe I’d be blinded if He did it all at once.

Blurry eyes, remembering how to gaze. Blurry window panes. And the rain that is falling tonight seems refreshing, gentle, and sweet, like a spring evening rain maybe ought to be. It falls on my garden and the grass, and grace falls on my soul, and we both will grow.

….

Psalm 34:8

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

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