Monday, September 12, 2011

Fibular Hemimelia: At the Cross

I was asked to speak tomorrow night at a ladies' fellowship meeting in order to share my thoughts about this summer and how I've grown spiritually.  Hmmm .... which lead me to ask myself, "How have I grown spiritually?"  Well, the blogs have slowed down a bit since being home for two main reasons:  1.  The world outside the basement is, in many ways, much more stressful than was the world inside the basement.  2.  I've had some struggles. 

What?  Me, struggle?  The blogger? 

If you know me at all, then you know that I suffer from a terrible disease:  perfectionism.  Apparently it's not contagious, and the symptoms are wide ranging:  anxiety, fear, workaholicism, weariness, and feelings of inadequacy.  Odd symptoms I know for a disease that involves trying to be perfect, but hey, it's exhausting.  I apply my disease to all walks of life:  my marriage, my mothering, my teaching, and even my blogging --which means that I don't want to blog until I have things "figured" out, something profound to say.  Unfortunately, life isn't easy to "figure" out and just when I think I have things "figured" out, something happens to blow my theories to bits.

There is a cure for my disease, though.  And it's found in the most humble of places ... at the foot of the cross.  There, I lay down my imperfection and allow His perfect sacrifice to cover me --to cover all the places I need hidden, those hurtful places no one sees or even knows exists.  It's only then that I can rise and share something profound --profound not because it comes from me, but becomes it comes from Him.

So, what has He told me lately?  What did He allow me to realize this summer?  Hold on now, some of this you've heard before, but it bears repeating.

1.  He is Sovereign. 

Matthew 6:26 -26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Life lessons.  They're for the birds!  My Heavenly Father knew the needs I had this summer and provided for them in quite miraculous ways.  He knew we needed a place to stay, and He gave us not just a basement apartment, but a family to look after us during the hardest summer we've yet to experience.  He also timed Hurricane Irene to hit the Baltimore area two weeks after we'd packed up for home.  The resulting damage to the basement was quite severe; in fact, my Baltimore family jokingly said that we would have floated out of the basement on our air mattresses!  My God knew that we needed financial help as well; two public school teachers hardly have the means to pay for thousands of dollars in surgery and physical therapy costs.  What a blessing that the cost of living in Maryland so exceeds that of Southwest Virginia that we qualified for 100% financial aid at Mt. Sinai.  The $48,000 surgery bill we received yesterday, we don't have to pay.  You could only imagine the looks on our faces when we opened the letter that explained we'd be responsible for zero dollars!  What a miracle that He burdened the hearts of so many to give to us; we left Virginia with gift cards that paid for many meals and several tanks of gas. 

You have to realize that these answers to prayer came after I cried and worried and prayed and cried and worried and prayed some more! What did God teach me?  That I am a bird of the air -no, better -- I am a child of the King!  At first I thought that I must have been doing something right for God to so richly bless me --to supply all of my needs.  But He quickly reminded me that I don't earn GRACE.  God lavishes us, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us.  Notice those birds --they don't reap or sow, yet God cares for them.  Oh, He cares for me, too! --And He cares for you!

2.  We see Him through the CLOUDS!
I'll refer back to Oswald Chambers:  "It is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something. His purpose in using the cloud is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is exactly like that of a child— a relationship simply between God and our own souls, and where other people are but shadows."

So what have I unlearned?  I've unlearned that blessings come only through joy!  I've learned that when your circumstances are difficult, you seek the Lord.  And His Word tells us:  "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).  The song by Laura Blessing comes to mind:
What if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching(s) of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

When did Laura Story begin asking these "What If" questions? --Only after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the newly married couple struggled with his surgery and postoperative memory and vision loss.
"God has grown us up," Laura states, "deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for him as a savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it. This is a good place to be.”

She, like me, learned to see Him through the clouds.  My need for the Lord became more and more apparent as I watched my little boy struggle, saw him physically weakened and emotionally tired. --And I could do nothing.  I needed my Father to intervene -- to give Ethan the strength I could not muster, the courage I could not supply --And to heal my hurting heart.  He's still doing that --giving us enough strength and hope and healing for TODAY.  For that's something else I've unlearned.  The truth is that only today exists.  Philippians 4:8 reminds us:  "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true ... think on these things."  We can only live today ... only handle its challenges and even enjoy its blessings.  Jesus commands us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11).  When we begin to pray for today and to watch Him supply our daily needs, then we begin to see Him.

3.  Prayer Changes Things!
Okay, this is my latest battle.  I've grappled with prayer and with what it changes.  Does it change my circumstances, does it change me, or does it change the mind of God?  The answer to the questions:  yes.  Our God who rightly declares:  "I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6) also rightly declares: “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hosea 11:8).  Somehow the immutable God of the universe allows us, his children, to play a part in His grand design.  We rouse His compassion and He orchestrates events in order that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

So I'm learning "by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving" to  "let [my] requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6) and to sit still and watch Him work it out for my good and His glory.  I'm learning through the example of Jesus, to ask from my heart, yet yield to His will:  "And [Jesus] went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39).

4.  "God has a special place for those who feel left out."
After Josh's brain surgery, we spent a pain staking three months waiting for his skull to heal.  This meant no running and playing and no P.E. or playground time at school.  For a little boy whose only request on his third birthday was "a big pile of gravel," this was a long three months.  Freddie's grandmother's sister, Barbara, feeling Josh's pain, gave him a book titled The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado.  This book has long since been buried in a book shelf spilling over with children's books.  Just the other day, however, I stumbled across it again, and decided it would be Emily's story before bed.  Now believe me, I hadn't read this book in years.  Brace yourself ... and get out the tissue.  The first page reads:

Once upon a time there lived a little lamb named Joshua.  He was white with black spots, black feet, and ... sad eyes.  Josh felt sad when he saw the other lambs running and jumping, because he couldn't.
Josh had been born with one leg that didn't work right.  He always limped when he walked.

  When I read those words, my heart melted.  This BOOK, a gift for Josh, given eight years ago-- before Ethan was even born, was Ethan's STORY.  It continues ...

Abigail was Josh's best friend.  She was an old cow, and her voice was always kind and friendly.  Some of Josh's favorite hours were spent with Abigail.  ... When Josh got sad[,] ... Abigail would say, "Don't be sad, little Joshua.  God has a special place for those who feel left out."

Where is that place --the place for those who feel left out?  Well, for Joshua the crippled lamb that place is in a stable, warming the baby Jesus with his wool.  How did this little lamb, troubled and alone, make his way to Jesus?  You have to read the rest of the story ...

Had he been like the other sheep, he would have been away in the valley.  But since he was different, he was in the stable, among the first to welcome Jesus into the world.

For those who are hurting, who feel lost and alone, there is a place of quiet rest ... at the feet of Jesus.  Perhaps God allowed your difficult circumstance to bring you near to him.  For, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).  There are many "away in the valley"; thank God if He has brought you back to the stable! 

Charles Spurgeon asked, "How can you act as a guide through the wilderness if you have not walked through it?"  God allows our circumstances to point us back to the cross, and then we, in turn, are called to point others to Him.  Let your little light shine!