Not Forgotten

I had a completely different blog post to write today. I had it roughly planned in my head to talk about what happened with us with the church five months ago and what’s been going on since then. But God had other plans.

(I will write that one, but apparently not today.)

It’s been a long five months since my husband and the church where he served parted ways. There have been happy days, and days that are peaceful, and there has been growth and learning and listening to God. But there have also been hard days–weeks–painful times, anger, hurt, sorrow and feelings of desperation, fear and the painful sense of being cast aside.

There are times when we have felt the presence of God so strongly, and times when we’ve felt as though He’s forgotten us.

This morning was one of those latter times. Nothing was wrong, per se, except that we’re working hard not to be anxious about provision or lack thereof, and we’re struggling to meet needs of those who have reached out while still being conscious of giving time and attention to our own family and to each other.

I was talking to Olivia, and I suddenly had a flash of a scene from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was the part where Joseph is in prison, wrongfully accused of having tried to rape the wife of a high official in Egypt. He’s interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, but they have forgotten him.

toa-heftiba-278088Close every door to me, 
Hide all the world from me

Bar all the windows
And shut out the light

Just give me a number
Instead of my name
Forget all about me
And let me decay
I do not matter,
I’m only one person
Destroy me completely
Then throw me away
I picked up my Bible, intending to look at that part of Genesis. As I set it on the table, the book fell open . . . to that exact chapter and verse. (Genesis 40:23)
The commentary in my study Bible noted: “Humanly speaking, Joseph was a forgotten man, stuck in prison with no hope of ever getting out. God alone remembered his existence.”
An hour later, as I folded laundry, I realized I was humming a hymn I traditionally associate with Thanksgiving:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

There it was again. He forgets not His own. 

I love it when God reaches out to give us reminders, if only we’ll open our eyes to see them. Even as I sat here at the table, struggling to hold onto His words, Clint got a phone call from a friend. It wasn’t anything that changed where we are or how we’re doing, but this man reached out to check on us, subtly letting us know that he had not forgotten about us.

We are not alone.

All of us have plans and dreams and a certain route we’ve mapped in our lives. We see how things should go in the World According to Us. It seems so clear, so simple, that when our journey veers from that plan, it’s hard to accept it or to reconcile our ways with His ways.

Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.…”

Stubbornly, I want things to go MY way. I reason with God: “It would really be nice if . . . I can’t see why this can’t happen . . . Seriously, just give us this and we’ll make it work.” But what I’ve learned is that if we have told God that we are handing Him the reins, he’s taking us as our word. He’s going to lead us the way He knows will bring us the most growth, the most blessing (ultimately) and the greatest most efficient fulfillment of HIS will.

Thy kingdom come, THY will be done . . .

It’s not our timing. It’s not our way. It’s His. And what He asks of us is trust, obedience and whatever confidence we can manage to dredge up.

Lamentations 3:25-26  “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,  to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Folks, I’m here to tell you, if you haven’t experienced it yet . . . this isn’t easy. It’s painful, this stretching and stripping and growing. It hurts. It tears us from friends and family and comfort and contentment and a sense of belonging. It can mean sleepless nights, days of tension and uncertainty about what comes next . . . it’s not for the faint of heart.

God’s economy is such that He will never accomplish just one thing when He can affect more than one. He loves to bless as many people as possible and grow as many as possible. That’s why HIS timing is so important. That’s why He calls us to wait on Him.

So today, I’m clinging to that promise. He hasn’t forgotten us. Remember what happens with Joseph? Pharaoh has a dream, and finally, the cupbearer remembers that Israelite down in the prison, who was kind of good at interpreting these things. Joseph, who could’ve been forgiven for expecting never to see the light of day again, tells Pharaoh what God is saying, and his foresight and faith are rewarded when he is elevated to the highest position in the land under Pharaoh.

What’s more, he is eventually reunited with his family and comes to know great blessing. God used Joseph: if Joseph had not been sold by his brothers, kidnapped to Egypt, wrongfully accused and put into prison, he wouldn’t have been in a position to guide Egypt and to help his family during the famine.

For we know we shall find
Our own peace of mind
For we have been promised
A land of our own.

I’m holding tight today. I am not forgotten. God doesn’t forget His promises or His people. Will you pray with me and for me?

Faith in the Fire

Last night, my husband and I re-watched the movie Contact with our youngest daughter who had never seen it. (She was only two when it came out 20 years ago.) It’s always been one of my favorites, but I hadn’t seen it in a while; it’s not one of those movies you can turn on while doing something else. It requires concentration and focus.

depositphotos_40956519_original.jpgIt’s rather a conundrum of a story: an atheist scientist (played by Jodie Foster) is obsessed with making contact with other life-forms in the universe. She ultimately does hear something that leads her, along with the rest of the world, to a situation wherein they build a machine designed to take her to Vega, the genesis of the message. What happens there is life-altering to her, but ultimately can never be proved, because there is no video, no audio, nothing tangible which she can produce to make her claims concrete.

In a twist of fate, she, who had always scoffed at believing what she couldn’t touch, finds herself asking others to take on faith something that they find preposterous.

Watching this movie was timely for me. I firmly believe that if we allow it, God uses everything in our lives to guide us, to assure us and to inspire us . . . and after a rough few weeks, we needed a little affirmation. Because, you see–and perhaps you know this–living on faith isn’t always easy.

When my husband’s position at the church was eliminated five months ago, on Epiphany, we were in shock, we were hurt and we were reeling. We’d been abruptly and without warning cut off not only from his ministry and his job, but also from the church we’d been attending for seven years. The rhythm of our lives was destroyed, and we couldn’t see the future.

However, underpinning of all of these feelings was a foundation of faith. First of all, in the week leading to Christmas last year, we had fasted together, praying that God would lead us, open doors and show us His plan. Now, this wasn’t particularly the outcome we had anticipated, but it was undeniably His path. Several other things happened that made it clear that He had gone ahead of us, as He promises (more on that in another post).

But of course, we had immediate needs, too. The knee-jerk reaction to losing a job is usually to find another one, right? But I felt very strongly that God was asking us to do something new. So instead of jumping into a new church, a new chaplaincy position or anything else, we purposed to wait on Him, to see where He is leading.

To say it hasn’t been easy is a gross understatement. These five months have been painful on a level we haven’t experienced in a very long time. There have been personal hurts, as those we thought of as spiritual brothers and sisters struck out in attacks that leave me breathless–and not in a good way. There have been days when God has seemed silent, and Clint struggled, wondering if he was hearing God at all. There have been days that are so painfully empty, they echo.

In addition to that, having no reliable income has been a challenge. Thanks to a royalty check in February, we were all right for a while, but the longer we are unemployed, the harder it becomes, as anyone who has been through this can tell you. My own book sales, which we’ve hoped would rise to help sustain us, haven’t been great, and there is quite a gap between what I earn each month and what our bills require.

This is me being brutally honest, folks. I’d love to be able to report that God provided so mightily that we never had a worry. I’d love to say no bill has been late or unpaid. I’d love to say we’ve gone from the strength to strength. But that’s not the case. It doesn’t mean God isn’t faithful–He is. It doesn’t mean we don’t trust–we do. But this is the kind of faith that the world really can’t understand. It’s a faith that is at war with our rational selves, and it’s contrary to American cultural.

You see, the hard truth is that in this country and this age, we support faith in God for some things, but when it comes to money–that makes us uncomfortable. We’ve definitely learned this in the past months. People want Clint to have a job. They want him to be employed. When we say we’re trying to be faithful to God’s call and that means not seeking paid employment just now, they sometimes become agitated. They don’t like it.

And in God’s economy, when He provides, he doesn’t simply cover one need. Usually, in our experience at least, He provides using another person to minister to him or her and He makes sure we can see His hand in the provision . . . and He teaches us something else, too. Because, you see, the point isn’t the provision–it’s the trust.

I don’t believe God wants us to be living moment to moment because He’s capricious. This is an exercise in growing us. He wants us to rely on HIM, not on jobs, salaries, health insurance, royalty checks or anything else. He is a bountiful God, and His desire is for our growth and our well-being.

I remind myself of that on days when I can’t see how things are going to get better. Right now, I can’t see how bills are going to be paid next week. Right now, the coffers are pitifully empty. Clint’s looked for jobs, and all we’ve gotten back are tumbleweeds; it is glaringly obvious to me that God wants him to continue in this ministry to those to whom no one else is reaching.

(If you want to see what we’re doing, check out The Community Chaplain on the website or on Facebook.)

BUT . . . God is good. Will the bills be paid? Maybe . . . and maybe not. I don’t delude myself into thinking I know what He knows or see what He sees. His plan is greater, and that’s where my faith has to be anchored. If God doesn’t provide as we hope He will, and if we end up living on the street, does that mean our faith is misplaced? No. It means we haven’t seen the end of the plan yet. Will we like it? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean our faith is wrong or that His promises are empty.

I can’t explain this kind of faith. It reminds me of an exchange from the movie last night:

Palmer Joss:
Did you love your father?

Ellie Arroway:
What?

Palmer Joss:
Your dad. Did you love him?

Ellie Arroway:
Yes, very much.

Palmer Joss:
Prove it.

Like love, faith is one of those glorious intangible. I can’t prove it. But I can trust it, and I can believe.

I hope you will, too.

Get Real

Yesterday was a shitty day.

Now, if you clicked onto this blog expecting some very churchy-type words spoken in a holy, lofty way, and my phrasing offends you, I really am sorry.  It’s not my intent. But it is the truth.

Years ago, I was part of the leadership of a women’s Bible study. The woman in charge made an impression on me . . . at the time, I didn’t realize just how strong it had been, but even now, nearly fourteen years later, I’m still trying to shake some of her beliefs that I took as my own. She wasn’t deliberately in error, but what she taught was hurtful and damaging to many women seeking God.

I clearly remember her telling us that as Christians, it was our responsibility to always put on a happy face.

“Never go out into the world and complain or admit that your life is anything but blessed,” she instructed me one day. “As a Christian, you are the example, and who is going to follow Jesus if you look like you’re not always happy?”

For a long time–too long–I bought into that. If there was something wrong in my world–and there was crappy crud, most of the time, because we live in this world–I stuffed it down. I put on a good show. I walked on the sunny side of the street. I put on a happy face.

But I was miserable.

Because God is a loving Father, He very gently but firmly led me to see that the way I was living was not what He asked. I checked, and nowhere in the Bible does Jesus instruct anyone to pretend anything. He doesn’t tell the disciples, as they’re about to preach before record-setting crowds, to put on their game faces.

Only one time does Jesus tell us to ‘cheer up’: in John 16:33, He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “Believe in me and life becomes one big banquet of happy.” No, He very clearly tells us that we WILL have troubles. But He also tells us that in Him, we can have peace.

So I stand by my first sentence. Yesterday was a shitty day. I’d finished a book the night before, and I was so relieved about that, but as always, the next one is bearing down on me. We just returned from a trip to New Jersey to see my father-in-law, who has Parkinson’s disease and is in a nursing home, with severe dementia. The visit was not a good one, and his decline is sad. My husband continues to seek pastoral opportunities–chances to minister to those who need to know God loves them–but doors seem to be closing, not opening. The bank account is dwindling close to zero, nearly five months after the church eliminated his position. A check promised us for one of his preaching engagements hasn’t arrived. My publisher is very, very late on my royalty payments. Friends are suffering, and violence struck in the UK.

Yup, it was a shitty day.

Instead of pretending that it wasn’t, I did what God wants me to do. I got real with Him. As I went about my day, doing laundry, catching up on work and making dinner, I talked to Him about what troubled me. I pointed out why I was worried, where I felt maybe He was falling down on the job and how I think things should be.

He listened, because He loves me, and what He desires from me isn’t false happiness, pretend praise or a veneer of Christian joy. He wants my heart, that damaged, ugly, scarred and less-than-perfect vessel. He wants me, in all of my imperfection. He wants a relationship that is real, not a daily check-in where I put on a happy face.

And then He answered me, because He loves me, and what He wants for me is real growth, maturity and an even closer relationship with Him. He didn’t give me a timeline for answers. He didn’t promise things were going to get better before they got worse. But He did tell me that He is in charge, He knows the whole story, beginning to end, and even if things get much, much worse, He’s still got this.

He reminded me of one of my very favorite songs, The One Thing I Know by Sara Groves:

And the veil just lifted
I can finally understand
The way you work in me
But even if I didn’t
You are still a sovereign God
Who has a plan for me.

So even if I don’t get it, He is still God, and His plan is still in place. I can trust Him.

This morning, my husband handed me a little square of cotton. He’d been doing laundry yesterday and found this . . . these small facial wipes were a gift from an author friend, and each has an inspirational saying. This is the one my husband gave me:

FullSizeRender

That, my friends, is as real as it gets. Yes, things get shitty sometimes, but God is never going to leave us. I don’t need to pretend to be happy all the time; He only wants me to hold tight to His promise:

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”