Fearless Faith

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In our new-parent zeal for baby milestones, we spent hours staring at our newborn just to see what she might do next.

I used to lean over a sprawled out Olivia, cooing, “How much does mommy love her baby girl?” Then, I would answer the question myself as I picked up her tiny arms, flinging them outward:  “Mommy loves Olivia THIS big!”

It was a startle reflex, of course, that caused Olivia to spread her arms and legs wide at the exact moment that I squealed. I’m sure that some logical part of me knew that I was witnessing an ordinary phenomenon called the Moro reflex. (It’s when babies respond to sudden movement by throwing back their heads, extending arms and legs, crying out, then curling up again.) But when Olivia did it, I was sure it was a pent-up declaration of love for me.

The Moro reflex happens when an infant feels like she is falling–the fear of which most experts believe all humans are born with. We’re all born afraid to fall, yet a glance at the picture above will reveal a child in joyous rapture as she is being launched at the sky by her taller-than-average father.

So how does Olivia go from startling at sudden movements, even from the safety of the ground, to laughing gleefully as she is tossed into the trees?

How do you and I go from jolting at every bump in life’s road to resting easy, joyfully even, no matter how far down the ground seems to be?

Faith.

NOT mechanically shouting faith words through a hoarse voice–raspy from trying to prove belief and conceal doubt. What good is it to understand the power of words if you do not trust the heart of God?

Just faith.

NOT praying, “Lord, if it be thy will” with ankles shaking and hands clenched–too scared to ask for what has been freely offered. How sad to realize the peace that comes through submission only to miss out by selling the promises of God short!

Faith can’t be mustered up any more than fear can be wrestled into compliance.

What happens when I speak words of faith because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t? What if I stay silent out of fear that believing and speaking won’t make a difference?

Fear just finds a new mask.

Matthew 12:34 says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Can a heart full of fear speak faith? Not any more than a deceitful heart can tell the truth.

When we try to draw faith from a well of fear it’s like picking rotting fruit from a bad tree or writing a hot check on an account in default.

Only perfect love casts out fear. Faith comes, not just by hearing, but by receiving the Word of God (I John 4:18; Romans 10:16-21). We hear the good news about Jesus and accept the words as we embrace the One who speaks them.

How can Olivia, afraid of falling since birth, smile as she’s thrown into the air?

She learned firsthand that her father’s hands are the safest place to be.

How can I rest easy in the most fearful of situations?

Only by getting to know my Father so well that I can’t imagine Him ever dropping me.

Faith comes through relationship, and that only happens face to face. I find God’s ability and willingness to come through for me in His written Word, the self-told story of His constant love. In Jesus made flesh, I see perfect dependability and a spotless track record. In the presence of God’s Spirit–always with me and in me–I discover unfailing faithfulness.

Now I am a tree, rooted in Jesus and bearing good fruit.

I write checks on an account in solid standing:  backed by the One who built the bank and based on His enduring promises.

I speak faith-filled words, and they are drawn from a well of deep trust.

When I pray, “Your will be done,” I’m running toward God’s sovereignty, not away from His promises.

I come to Jesus as I did the very first time: like a child, with simple belief. I recognize that He is the basis for my faith and the only rightful source of its expression.

Jesus is both the Author and the object of faith. When I’ve experienced his faithfulness intimately, I can’t help but declare my trust in Him!

Face to face with Jesus, the living Word, I find real faith.

Startle-proof,
Gravity defying,
FEARLESS
Faith

Only Believe

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This is what it feels like to be at a crossroads. That place where a decision demands to be made. Left or right. Believe or don’t. Sink or swim. Live or die.

Trust God or cower in fear.

Here, there is no more time to sit and consider the options; the river’s waters have come to a head, and there are only two choices:  get out now or surrender to the falls.

I hope that every person who has ever read a word I’ve written, especially about Olivia, reads the words I am about to write. Because every tear, prayer, blog post, and God intervention over the last two years has brought me to this moment.

I stand here alone but for Jesus beside me and His Spirit inside me.

You see, Olivia is only almost three. She cannot walk this path for herself. Robert and I walk it together, but in some ways–just as salvation is an intensely personal thing–so is belief in all of who God is and in every promise He’s made. My husband can love me, pray for me, support me, and lead me. But He cannot respond to Jesus’ radical command for me. Only I can do that.

Here, I come face to face with the words that Christ used to pursue me all along:

“Do not be afraid; only believe.”–Mark 5:36 (NKJV)

I suspect Jesus spoke those words many more times than are recorded in the Bible. In this instance, they followed some of the worst words any parent could hear, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further (vs. 35)?”

This father–ruler of the local synagogue–had found himself at a fork in the road. I can relate. I’m OK with troubling the Teacher, because I’ve learned that the Teacher is never troubled by those who come to Him believing. Again and again he was moved by faith. He rejoiced over it. Again and again, He stirs my faith, almost pleading for simple belief. Just as He once did for Jairus, Jesus speaks even before the full magnitude and seeming impossibility of the need is revealed.

“Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

This time, I’m answering Jesus’ bold exhortation full on. The time for subtlety and restraint is over. I choose to let go of all claims to plan B.

Like a starry-eyed gambler recklessly betting everything on a single hand, I’m all in. Only I’m not starry-eyed or reckless at all. My eyes aren’t turned toward a last ditch effort, they are set on the Creator of the universe–my own Father. Reckless would be looking anywhere but to the One who made all and loved all, then sent His Son to save and heal them all (Luke 6:19). Where is the gamble when victory has already been won (I Peter 2:24)?

I’ve written from places of deep pain and been honest about my struggle against fear. I don’t regret that, and I’m sure I will write with tears streaming down my face again. I am human, and Jesus never promised me a life without trouble or sorrow.

But I have never said so clearly or explicitly what I mean to say today. In the past I’ve whispered faith instead of shouting it, tempering my tone to the tune of “what if and who’s reading?” and although I always hope to remain transparent, I will never write about another medical report or health hurdle again unless my next words immediately revert my attention and yours back to Jesus, the only One with the power to answer:

Yes, the diagnosis is bad. Very bad. I’m aware that the doctors expect her to die young. I realize the hearing test showed degeneration.

BUT GOD.

I am not in denial. Glance through any post on this site and you’ll see that. Raw and emotional at times, yes. But not in denial. I’ve simply stared the facts in the face and chosen to exalt the truth instead. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”

The truth is, my daughter’s fate on this earth is in the hands of the same God who holds her eternity. He who died for my sins also died for her healing. The Bible never records a single instance where Jesus did not heal a person who had come to Him asking in faith. “He healed them all (Matt. 12:15).” I would never think to doubt Jesus’ ability or willingness to forgive my sins and secure my eternity. Neither will I doubt the strength of His hand and the compassion of His heart to heal.

The goodness of God cries out, “Only believe!”

I BELIEVE.

Olivia is healed. Her eyes and ears, liver and metabolism. She’s healed, and her future is secure in the promise of God!

I believe. I don’t know the details of what comes next, but I don’t need to know–any more than Olivia needs to know where her next meal is coming from. Her mother will feed her.

My Father will lead me, and I will follow–just as Peter, Andrew, James and John left everything and followed Jesus. These fishermen began with no knowledge of where they were going or how they would get there, but they knew more as they knew Jesus more. Even when they grew old without knowing all there was to know, still they followed. Still they believed.

I believe, and that is all I need to know for now. If you ever see me linger in fear or waver in doubt, please remind me:

Do not fear.

Only believe.

P.S. Today is my birthday, and I want to begin my 29th year by doing more than just talking or writing about my faith. So, I’d like to follow the example of a friend AND take advantage of the extra “Happy Birthday” traffic on my Facebook page and blog to ask you to join my team and shine a light on slavery of all kinds. People all over the world are hurting. Let’s do something. Give $7, and then create a team of your own. Just click the link below. 

Join my 27X7 team & become a FREEDOM FIGHTER. It all starts with us! Join me! #ENDITMOVEMENT

*After I wrote this post, I stopped to think for a moment about how strong words like the ones I’ve written can be painful for those who have lost someone they love, which is most of us. I have grieved over the loss of people very dear to me, and I don’t know why they weren’t healed here on earth. I do know that Jesus won anyway, because they trusted in Him, and He redeemed their lives for eternity. This fact dispels any shadow that death can bring. I think that my grandma–who is now in heaven–would have me believe and fight unwaveringly for Olivia’s healing for as long as I have breath. There is no defeat in following Jesus, and there is every reason to believe Him for every promise–on earth and in heaven. We live believing here and now, even as we set our hearts on eternity, where Jesus will reign victorious forever. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).”

 

 

Serendipity

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Serendipity. It’s a word that sounds mystical, and I think most people could more easily tell you how it “feels” than describe exactly what it means. It is the title of the 2001 movie where two people meet, fall in love, and then lose track of each other, only to be brought back together by a series of serendipitous events.  The movie defines serendipity as “a fortunate accident.” We think of the accidental discovery of penicillin or Christopher Columbus’ unexpected finding of the “New World” when he was trying to reach India. Webster calls it: 

“The phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.”

I don’t believe in fate or luck, but Webster’s definition of serendipity reminds me of God’s amazing ability to give us something of great value when we’re not even looking for it.

Serendipity in History
While sitting in on a world history class today, I learned that Christopher Columbus gave the Holy Spirit credit for inspiring his voyage to the other side of the world. Divine intervention is in God’s wheelhouse, and when He supernaturally crosses paths and aligns moments, it’s never by mistake:

–An Egyptian princess opens a floating  basket made of reeds to reveal the face of a child who will one day lead his own people out of slavery.

–Another Hebrew boy is sold into slavery by cruel brothers and, through a series of anomalous events, is positioned to save these same brothers from starvation in a time of famine.

–A young orphan rises through the ranks of the most beautiful women in the land to become the Jewish queen of the Persian king–just in time to save her people from annihilation.

Moses. Joseph. Esther. Three times, God providentially orchestrates events to preserve a nation, and the stories go on.

Serendipity in Threes
It’s only Tuesday, but my week has already been caught up in a serendipitous storm.

1 …
On Sunday, I taught children’s church, which I have never done in the six months we’ve been here. I didn’t have much time to prepare, so I picked something I knew:  a lesson we’d used on a mission trip in Honduras this past summer.

I tailored the lesson for a smaller and younger group of kids, but basically, we ended up reading and acting out the story of Peter walking on water from Matthew 14. The lights were turned off to represent nighttime, and our elementary students were rowing along in an imaginary boat, when suddenly the boat was hit with great waves (a blue scarf waved up and down by preschoolers). “Peter” sees what the disciples first think is a ghost, then recognizes Jesus and asks to be called out onto the water. “Jesus” (played by an 8-year-old girl, since there were no boys) bids Peter to come.

We all know that the story ends with Peter sinking until Jesus saves him, wondering at how little faith has been shown. I had started the morning with a question and ended it with the same:

“Where is the best place to be if you are in the middle of a huge sea?”

Most people, child or adult, would give the expected answer:  “in a boat.” Out of the mouth of a third-grader, though, came the radical reply:  “with Jesus.”

2 …
The little girl in children’s church was right, and I thought of her wise words later the same day as I was reading Tedd Dekker’s fictional but biblically-based “A.D. 30”–a telling of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of a Bedouin “desert queen.” When Dekker’s book began to recount the water-walking episode, I found myself in the middle of the storm once again–this time seeing it through the eyes of someone who might’ve been there with Peter and Jesus.

3 …
A couple of days later, I opened Facebook to find a close friend’s post about being “storm proof,” despite the crushing waves that life can bring. She linked her to post to a recording of “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail),” by Hillsong United.

Three encounters with the same “storm,” told in three different ways within the span of three days. Serendipitous, don’t you think? I might’ve overlooked the significance of it all had the phone not rung a few short minutes later to present my life with its own mini-storm.

My Mini Storm
I call it a mini storm, because the Holy Spirit made the thunder and lightning smaller in my eyes, directing my focus elsewhere, so that I could experience “the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for”: 

–I was looking for an easy children’s church message, and I found some of the truest words that can be spoken, uttered out of the mouth of a child.

–I was reading fiction just for fun and found myself experiencing truth vicariously through the characters in a story.

–I was perusing Facebook to pass the time and found comfort in the words of a friend and a familiar song–just before my own storm arrived.

The nature of my storm doesn’t matter. The things I “accidently” found in it do matter:

1) The best place to be when you are in the middle of a great sea, in the midst of a storm, is not in a boat of safety, conformity, the status quo, or trust in men. The best place to be is with Jesus.

2) The litmus test of faith is not in knowing about Jesus or even in believing in Him. “Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror (James 2:19).” Jesus spoke of Peter’s doubt, even though Peter knew and followed Him, even though the disciple got out of the boat.

But Faith doesn’t falter when it trusts in Jesus to the degree that the storm poses no threat.

Of trusting in “the boat,” Dekker writes:

 “Perhaps it is better to understand faith by your fears … We put our trust in wood and pitch and flesh and blood and wind and water, and so the storm has dominion over us. Don’t you see? We must let this world go and see no threat. This is what it means to believe in Yeshua! … In the eyes of children who trust their Father, there is no threat. No grievance against the storm (Dekker, A.D. 30 ).”

The storm is real, but the threat is not, because Jesus can be trusted. In fixing our eyes on Him, we find grace to let go of our fear of the storm. We also find the grace to surrender our grievence against anyone or anything.

This is why scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3)”

3) The only way to be “storm-proof” is to  turn our eyes to the Master of the wind and waves–listening as He cries out, “Peace! Be still!”

We must get to know Jesus’ sovereignty, becoming familiar with His faithfulness, until He holds His rightful place in our estimation.

Jesus is supreme over everything, the One in whose presence there can be no fear.

This is the God kind of serendipity. How much more of it would I “accidentally” find if Jesus were the focus of all of my searching? (Matthew 6:33)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

I will call upon Your name,
and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise,
My soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am yours and You are mine.
–Oceans (Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United)

 

No More Hay and Stubble

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I am supposed to be writing about pride. That’s what God has been dealing with my heart about, and that’s what I had planned.

But I don’t have any pride today. Today I just have tears and need and dependency, because there isn’t another option.

That word–dependency–has a bad connotation. Usually, it’s used in conversations about addiction or abuse, and its antonym, independence, is the silver-lined goal.

But there is no independence here, on the side of this pit with sides so steep and no hand grips or footholds in sight. There is only a single rope, hanging within my reach, and I am utterly dependent on it.

——

Olivia had a hearing test this morning. It had to be administered under sedation, because she didn’t respond well to the last test they gave her in a booth. When the audiologist came out after the procedure, she said that she had turned her machine up as loud as she could, but Olivia’s brain did not register any sound. The paper she gave us read:   “profound hearing loss.” Not mild or moderate hearing loss as before. Not even severe. Profound.

Being a person who loves language, the nuances of the word “profound” are not lost on me. It speaks to something that is extreme or overpowering; I might use the word to describe a life-changing revelation. But today, it points not to what has been gained but to yet another thing that seems to be slipping through our fingers. First it was missed developmental milestones and clear vision. Then a normal diet and schedule. Now this.

So here I am, finally alone with God after the wearisome hospital discharge process and a long car ride home. (I made that worse by my refusal to respond with more than one word to any of Robert’s attempts to take my mind off of things.) I’ve been silently begging for a thread of hope, a light at the end of this tunnel–from the only One who can offer either.

A message from an angel would be nice. Or maybe the audible voice of God.

But now I remember the rope:  that life-saving offering, extended from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ.

——-

I became a born again Christian as a small child and have lived with the knowledge of the saving grace of the cross for nearly my whole life. I’ve experienced its power. But there is something very different about coming to the end of yourself–knowing not just the futility of trying to make amends for your own sin but also the absolute uselessness of attempting to fix anything at all apart from Jesus.

This is not me rambling about a second salvation experience. I’m just saying that in arriving at the place where there is literally NOTHING I can do, I am keenly aware that Jesus is the only answer. You can know that in principle with out applying it to your life. You can live a whole lifetime knowing the truth and believing it, yet constantly being swayed by lies.

I guess I’m writing about pride after all. God is the only one who has the right to control. For you and me, control basically equals pride, because it means we think our way is better than His.

What about when there is no “problem” to speak of, and life becomes all about what we can build and achieve? If the things we build are branded with the name of Jesus and labeled “for the good of others,” does that make them wholly His? What good are beautiful and noble buildings if they are patterned from plans splattered with the stains of self and constructed by hands that too often rush to orchestrate instead of being faithful to obey?

Human strength can erect some pretty amazing stuff. The tower of Babel comes to mind. My own hands have assembled some fairly tall structures, simply from the sheer determination to keep placing one brick on top of another. I have tried to maneuver my way up the ladder of success and to gain the admiration of people. I’ve strived and struggled to fix problems on my own. My fingers have fluttered busily about with little thought for either the Creator’s superior design or the possibility that His plans called for a work site across the street, a few months down the road, and with a different crew.

I built something alright! I built uneccessary obstacles to God’s perfect plan for my life, probably missing divine opportunities to love others, and likely hindering His efforts to transform me into the image of His Son.

Worse, how much glory did I steal from God when I took matters into my own hands? How much greater a thing could’ve been done if I had surrendered the process totally to Jesus?

It’s like this:

 “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.”– 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 (NLT)

Am I following God’s plan, or mine? Am I giving the orders or is He? Whose materials am I using? Yes, everything I have and am comes from God, but does my heart see it that way? Am I acting as if this is true? If my heart truly realizes that I can do nothing apart from Him, would I be jockeying for a position of prominence and control?

God builds with gold, silver, and jewels; a quick look at His plans for the tabernacle in the book of Exodus or John’s vision of heaven found in Revelation will tell you that. Precious stones and metals come from God’s storehouse. I can only work with those enduring materials if I am following His blueprint and acting as an extention of Jesus’ own body.

Sure, there are piles of sticks laying around everywhere, and I can use them to create some pretty elaborate stuff on my own! But when fire comes, I’ll be left with nothing but a pile of ash.

Then, there are times I try to build things out of a combination of both gold and straw. I start out with strong trust in God, an ear tuned to His every direction, and hands that work diligently for His glory alone. But somewhere along the way, fear prompts me to turn to myself as I listen to the arrogant voice of conceit, devising a back up plan in my search for a sure bet.

How sad that a thing with such potential for beauty–shining with pure gold and sparkling gems–could end up marred by the ugly appearance of charred wood and stubble? What right do I have to attempt God’s will in my own way? Or worse–to use God-given gifts to carry out my own will?

This “profound hearing loss” thing … I can’t fix it. And the selfish ambition that has too often crept up in my life? It’s been shoved out of the way by things that are far more critical. This has all made me realize that:

–I want to build with gold.

–When my hands go to work, I want them in the service of the Master Builder.

–I’d rather be upheld by God’s hand than by a contraption of my own making.

–I want to trust in Jesus and Him alone.

–I DON’T want to reach heaven “barely escaping through a wall of flames” with nothing but “burned up” work to show for a life that was supposed to be lived for the glory of God (vs. 15).

If my heart must pass through fire, let there be something of value left standing on the other side. This is just not possible apart from Jesus.

————

I repeat myself often in this blog, because there is such confusion in our world about who God is:  God did not cause profound hearing loss in Olivia. He is Healer, and He is good.

I hate profound hearing loss. I hate the enemy of my faith, who wields sickness and disease as a weapon. Even now, my mind is bombarded with thoughts about deafness being a sign of the progression of the disorder–that it only gets worse from here.

I also hate that my pride has remained intact for so long and still continues to fight for preeiminence. But I love how God can commandere a situation that Satan meant for evil and use it for my good.

Make no mistake, the God who opens blind eyes and unlocks deaf ears is still on the throne! He humbles rebel hearts, recovers missed opportunities, redeems lost time, and–if we will choose to surrender them–reclaims condemned buildings.

Pride carries with it the heavy burden of sole responsibility, but there is so much freedom in being totally at the mercy of a sovereign God. He is overflowing with mercy!

When we recognize the extended rope for what it is–the ONLY hope, found in the  death and ressurection of Jesus Christ, who made himself a substitute by taking the punishment for our sinful pride–we are lifted high, not by a self-made ladder, but by His selfless love.

The Eternal Why

 

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Do you remember the first day of 2nd grade? Neither do I. In fact, I may remember one of the roughly 75,000 minutes I spent as a second grader. If I recall correctly, I was reading a Baby-Sitters Club book and had to ask my teacher to read a diary entry written in cursive at the beginning of one of the chapters.

Arbitrary Questions and Random Thoughts
The 2nd grade question has been floating around in my head for a few months, ever since Robert and I attended a conference and one of the speakers brought it up. We didn’t finish the conference. Robert’s dad passed away, and during that time I wrote a post that was meant to have two parts:  A Time to Die and a Time to be Born. I never wrote part II, because it has taken three months for everything that was flying around in my head to settle in my heart. Until that question collided with some others, it was all a cerebral Ping-Pong match. I’m still not sure I can put it to paper in with any coherence, but I’m ready to try.

Why?
It’s the mother of all questions:  the bane of the preschool-toting parents who hear it from morning ’til night, the food of philosophers, and the hammer that shatters the naïve world-view of a sheltered adolescent leaving the nest. Why?

  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why do the young die too early?
  • Why do the old die alone?

There are many variations, but the why never changes. When it was my turn to ask why, I never made it to the colossal question. Oh, I asked it in pieces and parts, beating around the bush–always leery of stepping over an invisible line that would leave me doubting the God I’ve loved since I gave my heart to Him as a little girl. I’ve tired of the never-ending doctors appointments and wondered as the milestones pass–first birthday, 2nd, now almost 3rd–when the miracle will come. But, I stayed clear of the big one, the question the world assumed I would ask:  “Why was my 2-year-old daughter born with a disorder that doctors expect to take her life sooner than later?”

Why not ask Why?
The first instinct of many is to blame God, but honestly, I didn’t. I still don’t. I know that God is the author of good, and that evil is not a created thing, but rather the absence of His goodness. Evil is the stuff that fills the chasm that disobedience made. The plainest revelation of the character of God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and Jesus only did good. He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him (Acts 10:38).” 

This verse couldn’t spell it out more clearly:  there are the good guys and there are the bad guys. In one corner of the ring we find Jesus–sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit; in the other we find Satan–the first to rebel against God’s good plan, striking the blow that opened the chasm.

As certain as I am that genetic disorders are not the work of God, I also know that He is fully able to speak one word and send them to oblivion. God could’ve thwarted Satan’s plan before Olivia was born, leaving us blissfully unaware of the attack on her life. He could have healed her the first time I prayed, or the tenth, or the fiftieth–shortening our struggle and easing our pain. Therein is the inevitable question:  not “Why did God do this?” but “Why hasn’t He stopped it?” I never asked the question–for some reasons that I can identify and others that I can’t:

  • I love God. Asking that question seemed equivalent to a slap in the face of a benevolent Father.
  • Posing a question like this is as dangerous as being 30 feet in the air in a blinding snowstorm and stepping onto a 4-inch beam. You better know which way is forward.
  • Philosophical questions got pushed to the side by a steady stream of practical, how-do-I-move-forward questions.
  • My faith was just a thread. It was only holding because God kept graciously reinforcing it with reminders of His faithfulness. I wasn’t going to go after the thread with a pair of scissors.

Why ask Why Now?
Almost two years into this journey, I can ask the question, because I have an answer. The question no longer holds any power over me. Struggle gave way to need, then dependence softened the soil of my heart so that it would accept the seeds faithfully planted by my Father. One day, I woke up to field of flowers where thorns once grew wild.

Before Olivia’s diagnosis, I frequently found myself as the soil full of thorns in Matthew 13’s parable of the sower. (Sometimes, I still do.) I heard the Word of God in abundance, and even allowed it to grow roots. Too often, though, I let superficial worries and cares (about money, relationships, the future) to choke the Word before it could flower. I’m thankful for the grace of God that helped me to lean on God when trouble came, so that He could till the stone-filled dirt into good ground.

Inside the picture of a blooming field is one part of the answer to the why question. At times, God allows trouble so that we will look to Him and find the grace to grow in the light of His countenance. And His countenance is full of peace, hope, and joy.

Here is the honest truth:  I’ve experienced more peace, hope, and joy in the two hardest years of my life than in the 25 easier ones before. It’s an anomaly, but its real.

Another part of the answer to the why question is found in the glory that God has gotten and will get, the people who have seen God’s goodness on Olivia, and those who will be impacted by it in the future.

I don’t know the full answer to why and probably couldn’t articulate it if I did. But my heart is at peace. Here’s why:

“He has planted eternity in the human heart.”–Ecclesiastes 3:11

This from the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived–the man who also said:

“I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven … I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless–like chasing the wind.”–Ecclesiastes 1:13-14

King Solomon had the world at his fingertips, literally. Yet, he found it all meaningless. And it is meaningless in the same way that a line of dialogue means nothing without the context of the play. Apart from the greater story, our lives are but a breath. We are born with nothing, and live a life full of stuff that we can’t take with us when we die.

The answers to big questions and to the meaning behind our lives can only be found in their connection to the big story–God’s story. While it is not for us to understand everything (Ecclesiastes 3:11 continues with ” … but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”), we still understand that there is something bigger than ourselves–a purpose higher than our own comfort.

He has set eternity in our hearts.
So, the first day of 2nd grade is forgotten amidst the 30,000 days we may have on earth. The problems we face fade in the light of eternity. And our God–who is Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End, really does send genetic disorders into oblivion.

Click here to read Olivia’s Story.

I want to write part III of this series:  how the days of our lives count for something, even though they are but a second against eternity. (If we’re lucky, it won’t take me another three months.) But for now, here’s a song. This is my first attempt at playing piano, recording and mixing on my own, so please don’t judge too harshly. :) The lyrics are below.

Oasis
by Holly Chapman

Jesus, Jesus
You will remain, You’re still the same in every season.
Jesus, Jesus
Your Word endures, it’s ever sure throughout the ages.

Are you Alpha or Omega?
You are both, and You are present with me now
this moment and forever.
Liberator, are You Master?
You are both, and I’m the slave been set free
this life, I will surrender.

You have set eternity in my heart.
You have made everything so beautiful
… in it’s time.

Like the sky,
Your love goes on beyond the storm.
Endless horizon,
You never change, I can’t contain
the wonder of Your power,
nor explain it

Like a flood,
Your goodness rolls through desert land.
The water rises,
and from the sand blooms mercy’s plan
the wonder of Your grace,
it’s an oasis.

That Ugly D Word and the Story that Saved Me

 

shutterstock_118570552_20150102143738665 Aspirations for the future have propelled me forward in life for as long as I can remember. What would I become? Who would I marry? What kind of home would I create? At 27, I am beyond many of life’s most exciting decisions. I have chosen a career, a husband, and the name of our first daughter. I planned our wedding and decorated our first house.

Still, the dreams keep me awake at night. Where will I travel? Whose lives will intersect with mine? What impact can we make? What legacy can be built?

I’m not talking about the flimsy, lottery-winning, 15-ninutes of fame dreams nor the frenzied, mind-spinning thoughts that anxiously steal away sleep for fear that the coming years might fall short of hope’s painted picture.

I’m speaking of the “what if” tales, spun when my heart is the only audience. I am cast as the brave adventurer, daring to reach farther and jump higher–caught up in that bashful place where wild and meaningful impossibilities are for a moment entertained.

I lost sight of “what if” once, a few months after giving birth to my beautiful baby girl.

The wave of love that overwhelms a first-time mother cannot be understood until the instant that it arrives, horns trumpeting and floodgates thrown open by the cry of new life.

What comes later for some moms–whether in hours, days, or months–is no easier to explain than that first exhilarating moment.

Female horomones, in a frenetic and lawless onslought, seem to force passage through unruly loops, dips and cork-screw turns. The roller-coaster’s path wanders, independent from what is sensible. It brings tears when none are warranted, and desolate thoughts clash with one of life’s most joyous seasons.

I’m not sure if the baby blues stole my hope or if I invited them to ravage my life by caving in to the formidable combination of chemical imbalance and Satan’s well-timed lies.

Maybe I should have sought companionship instead of isolation and let go of my stubborn pride long enough to ask for help, medical or otherwise. (Eventually, I did both, and each brought some relief.) Certainly, I should’ve looked upward instead of inward.

Pungent in my memory now is the sight of me at the bottom of my barrel. One afternoon, in an irrational effort to climb out of the vortex I was spinning in, I pushed every button that I knew would bring my husband to the edge.

His sanity prompted him to cool off with a walk, but I could not stand the thought of being alone with myself, even for a minute, and my words stopped him cold in the doorway.

“If you leave, I’ll take a knife and cut myself.”

The deranged statement represents one of the lowest points of my life–a pit I never thought I could fall into. From a higher vantage point, I can see this:

Although many factors contributed to the depression that gripped me for a time, the crux of the problem was that I had forgotten my role in the story.

Not just any fairytale or beloved fable, but THE story–the one from which all worthy plots are derived.

This story predates Pride and Prejudice and surpasses Braveheart in glory. It is the reason our hearts thrill at Darcy’s passionate words to Elizabeth and race with anxiety over William Wallace’s fate. These celebrated movies–portrayals of love and courage that triumph over every obstacle–point to a greater drama, giving reason to believe that there is more to life than mindlessly wading through an endless stream of monotonous daily tasks.

I had stumbled over uncertainty and landed in the unfamiliar world of new motherhood. Gone were academic goals and career productivity–comfortable landmarks that marked the first 25 years of my life. I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. I lost my identity. No, I forgot about the story.

Once upon a time God created,
and unfathomable beauty appeared on the heels of His every word.
At the climax of creation, He introduced men and women,
you and me, into a grand narrative.
As with every story that holds any meaning, there is an antagonist
–one who would have it end in tragedy.
 Powerless to touch God himself, Satan aimed for the Father’s heart.
D
eceiving, he stole the devotion of God’s children,
planting distrust in the goodness of the One who made them.

The price of free will, their betrayal ripped a gaping hole into God’s perfect covering.
Evil raged through–led by the father of lies,
and we were assaulted by sickness, peril, and every vile thing.

Creation was taught to serve itself,
to dedicate all to the pursuit of knowledge, wealth–anything but the truth.

But when it seemed all hope was lost, a Hero stepped onto the scene.
The Father’s heart was revealed when He sent His only Son
to wage war against the darkness.

Leaving heaven behind, Jesus came to exchange His life for mine.
 Then He rose, alive, and the Hero won.
Jesus won life for me, and not just life
but purpose.

Purpose in knowing that I have been chosen and pursued,
fought for and rescued.
Noble purpose in action–taking up arms for a cause that matters.

The battles that I fight are not senseless.
I stand against the enemy of all that is good, and I am not alone.

There is a happily ever after,
and unimaginable adventure is found around every bend.

There is a story. It is real, and I have a signigicant role. My identity is not found in an age, a title, or a season of life. I have value, because Jesus considered me worth storming the gates of hell to ransom. What greater purpose could I have than to follow in the path He forged, laying down my own life for a child, a husband, and as many others as God will send to me? The calling transcends time and place.

This world I live in is both seen and unseen. So, when the temporal half’s veil blinds me to the truth that what I can’t see matters more–my Father never fails to whisper the story again. His anecdotes are vibrant, filled with exploits, romance, and “what ifs.” Sewn into the larger tale by a thread of redemption, the pages of my life are made noteworthy by virtue of the Author who holds the pen.

Long ago the lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.– Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.– Leviticus 26:12 (NLT)

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.–  Colossians 1:13-14 (NLT)

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.– 2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

This song is one of my favorites, because God used it to remind me of His story, my part in it, and why it all matters. Thank you Crystal Mott for playing on the recording.

Rhapsody
by Holly Chapman

Where is the passage, purpose to find?
Significance tucked away, hidden in time past
Meaning behind closed doors, the key locked away
Search for the missing, uncover the way

Surfacing, memories
It was You

You were the whisper that spoke in the quiet place,
stirring the air with your prose
Voice of the narrative, weaving a story so infinite
never been told
You were the melody echoing over me,
writing your song on my heart
Composer of beautiful dissonance,
complex in all that You are

Path to the future, purpose revealed
Relevance found again, a reason to feel now
Destiny’s door swings wide, portal of healing
Seeking no longer, the Way has appeared

Breathtaking, rhapsody
It is You

You are the whisper that speaks in the quiet place,
stirring the air with your prose
Voice of the narrative, weaving a story so infinite
never been told
You are the melody echoing over me,
writing your song on my heart
Composer of beautiful dissonance,
complex in all that You are

It was You all along, You were there
patiently waiting
Leading me into your arms, You were there
I couldn’t see it, but
It was You all along, You were there
patiently waiting
Leading me into your arms, You were there
And I see it now

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Warrior’s Song

Warrior’s Song

 

 

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I am sitting in a hospital room with Olivia for the third time since she was born. She caught a virus–again–and couldn’t keep enough fluid in her little 20 pound body to avoid getting dehydrated. So, they inserted an IV, admitted her, and here we are.

As I listen to the constant cries of the patient next door, I am thankful that Olivia is sleeping peacefully and that for now, the needle-sticking, poking and prodding are over. I am also glad that this situation is not a life-threatening one, and that the doctor says we may get to go home tomorrow.

Next to all of my grateful thoughts, the less noble ones seem out of place. Still, they are there–fighting for a place in my mind and a grip on my life:

“Why do we have to be here when we should be enjoying Christmas time with family?”

“This is the way its going to be. Every time she catches a bug it will mean another hospital stay.”

Worst are the memories of the time we spent in this same hospital two months ago, when Robert’s dad passed away. I remember sitting in a room in another wing, hurting for my husband as we watched his father die, all the while fighting thoughts sent straight from hell that said, “This will be Olivia someday, and you’ll be watching her die.”

I’ve learned that having faith doesn’t make the fight disappear, it just means that I am battling from a position of victory and am guaranteed peace while the punches are being thrown.

If Jesus can win the battle of my mind in one hospital room, I know He can do it here too.

The day before we brought Olivia to the emergency room, I downloaded a book called, “Piercing the Darkness,” by Frank Peretti. I had read “This Present Darkness” but didn’t realize there was a sequel until my aunt and uncle told me about it. The books are fictional but draw from biblical truth. The stories create a picture of the spiritual warfare–the literal fight between God and Satan, angels and demons–that goes on behind the scenes of our lives.

There was nothing new to me in the books, nothing I didn’t already believe in, but reading it from the vantage point of a hospital room made me realize the very real role that human beings play in the outcome of the struggles that life brings.

If the burden of fighting was on my shoulders, I would have lost long ago. Jesus won enduring victory when He submitted to the cross and then rose from the dead. But God has created us in His own image. Like Him, we are able to feel the pain of parting with someone we love, and like Him we experience the joy of being reunited. He has given us the ability and freedom to choose for ourselves which way we will go.

As the human race, we chose disobedience and caused the onslaught of evil and pain that continues to rack the earth today. Jesus provided the only solution, and only by embracing that solution can we experience the triumph that He purchased.

I’ve never liked sitting on the sidelines, and so I appreciate the fact that my God-given role is not to watch the war from afar but to engage in hand-to-hand combat:

“A final word:  Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will be standing firm.”–Ephesians 6:10-13 (NLT)

Not only have I been called to fight, I have nothing to fear. It is easy to fight fearless when your General has never lost. In fact, He has already won, and there is no end to the resources at the disposal of His soldiers. It is as if we have been sent on a conquest that has been decided; the path to triumph is paved, and we’ve only to obey.

The Bible recognizes God as the “devouring fire” that goes before us and the “rear guard,” sheltering us from behind; “the battle is the Lord’s” and we are “more than conquerors” in Him (Duet. 9:3, Is. 52:12, I Sam.17:47, Rom 8:37).

Knowing where my help comes from, I choose to fight. Like the characters in the book I read this week, my battle doesn’t look like clashing swords or flying bullets. Instead, it looks like obedience. My most valuable weapon is prayer, and I will conquer in this way:

“And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.”–Revelation 12:11 (NLT)

That verse could easily read “they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid for their loved ones to die.” I am not afraid when I remember that if Olivia were to be absent from my arms she would be present with Jesus. Still, I will fight for her life and for His Kingdom, because of the Word that fills my heart with faith:

“Yet I am confident I will see the LORD’S goodness while I am here in the land of living. Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.”–Psalms 27:13-14 (NLT) 

That verse is one of many that God has spoken to my heart over the months since Olivia’s diagnosis. In so many ways, He has reassured me again and again that He has a plan and will bring it to completion.

Even though I realize that many of the things I have to say below will not be easily received by some people, Christian or not, I am choosing to share them here because they are part of our testimony. When viewed in light of the goodness of God, the strength of the work of the cross, and the power of the name of Jesus, I can’t help but be filled with faith by the countless encouraging words and pictures of hope that God has delivered to me through others, through His Word, or straight to my heart. This is part of the “reason for the hope that I have” (I Peter 3:15):

  • When I was pregnant with Olivia, way before any thought of a genetic disorder plagued my mind, a pastor prophesied this about the future of the baby growing in my womb:  “There will be warfare, but don’t be afraid. God has taken care of it … She will be a prophet to the nations.”
  • God gave me a scripture (Jeremiah 17:7-8) while I was pregnant with Olivia, and a friend put it up on a wall in her old room:

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  • Three people that I love and trust have had dreams about Olivia–one where she was running and kicking a soccer ball, another where she was walking circles around Gammy (she currently doesn’t walk at all), and a third that brought me to tears:

Dreaming, a friend of mine saw a row of houses all alike–each with a window box full of flowers. There were varying numbers of flowers at each of the different houses, and ours had only one. While all of the other flowers were strong and healthy, ours was withered and drooping. People came knocking at our door to offer condolences. Some wanted to press our flower or put it in a glass box. We were becoming frustrated at the well-meaning visitors when the street emptied–all except for one woman carrying two pots of flowers on a pole over her shoulders. She came to our door, saw our flower and said, “Oh, that’s easy! I can fix that!” Then the pollen from her flowers blew onto ours and caused it to bloom tall and beautiful.

  • God gave me a mental picture of Olivia as a young woman, with long blond waves flowing over her shoulders as she spoke to and audience of people. He also spoke to my heart saying, “Her healing will be gradual.”
  • Once, when I was having an especially hard time, my aunt reminded me of the legacy of healing that God has woven into my family already. My mom’s lungs collapsed several times as a child, and she stopped breathing completely. Today, she is healthy with no lung problems to speak of. I was born three months early, and doctors gave me a 50 percent chance to live; they later found a hole in my heart. The hole closed up miraculously, and I am alive to write this blog.
  • Another time, I asked God specifically for confirmation of his promise concerning Olivia’s healing. Five minutes later, a woman I’d never met and who knew nothing about my request, told me to read Romans 4:20:

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was also able to perform.”–Romans 4:20-21 (KJV)

This verse has double the meaning for me, because it is about Abraham–someone I have related to in learning to surrender my only child to God while still holding on to His promise. (Read more about this here.)

The telling of these moments when God has steadied my faith could go on, but for now I only want to say that God has proven to me over and over again that He is big enough, and good enough–that He CARES enough that I can trust Him with Olivia’s future.

Though I pray this post encourages someone to stand firm in believing for victory in their own battle, I am writing it for myself. It is my obedience, the word of my testimony, and my prayer of faith. Even as I write this, I can feel the courage of a warrior rising in my heart–something only God can give.

Half of me is laughing, because before we ever suspected that Olivia might be sick, I wrote and recorded something called “Warrior’s Song.” Robert played it the other day and chuckled because it has a line in it that says, “burn the white flag of surrender.” He thought that was funny, considering the title of this blog.

I thought about the irony–both in the fact that I didn’t realize the meaning of the song while I was writing it, and in using that phrase on a site called Free to Surrender.

I decided that while surrender is the key to everything that God is doing in my life right now, it means nothing if I am surrendering to the wrong side. So I will surrender to the only One who is worthy of it:  Jesus, who gave His life to give me everything. And, I will stand and fight in Jesus’ name and in His strength against the enemy of my soul–the one who would take it all if I let him.

Father,

Thank You for allowing me to be Olivia’s mother. I put her in Your hands–only You can save her. I believe that You are Healer and that You are good. Your Word says that You are both able and willing to heal her, and I place my faith in Your Word, which doesn’t return empty. I will not stagger in unbelief. I trust that You are able to perform Your promise. Olivia’s future is Yours, and I will trust You with it no matter what happens. I resist Satan’s plan for Olivia and rebuke the powers of darkness that would destroy her. Though the thief comes to kill, Jesus brings abundant life, and we receive it in His name. Thank You for Your awesome plan for Olivia’s life and for the assurance that You will complete what you have started in her.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

Thanks to Robert Chapman, Chris Gilliam, Crystal Mott, Brandon Pelton and Katy Skogberg for playing on the recording of this song.

Click here to read Olivia’s Story.

 

Light: This is Christmas

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Formless darkness
Empty void
And God said, “Let there be
LIGHT”

Gracious Father
Endless love
Countenance brimming with
LIGHT
Chosen enslaved
Shadowed land
Upon them shines a great
LIGHT

Only Savior
Tiny babe
The world receiving its
LIGHT
Heaven’s answer
Promised Son
The Word made flesh bringing
LIGHT

Selfish, blinded
blackest heart,
Truth pierces through giving
LIGHT
Freely offered
Gift of sight
Jesus the source of all
LIGHT
Glaring purpose
Perfect peace
My eyes are alive with
LIGHT

Painful chaos
Broken world
What better place for a
LIGHT?
Hopeless hurting
Dark despair
Desperate, they’re searching for
LIGHT
Countless hurting
Dying now
How can I cover the
LIGHT?

This is Christmas
Christ revealed
I am a mirror for
LIGHT
Gleaming lampstand
Hope unveiled
Beacon of love, beaming
LIGHT

Morning Star
Coming soon
Carry the message of
LIGHT
Life reflected
Dusk dispelled
Rise up and stand in the
LIGHT!

You just read the final post in a series called 7 Days of Focus on Jesus. May all of our hearts be turned toward Him this Christmas. If you missed a post, you can find it below:

Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping
‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling
5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus
The Gifts I leave Wrapped
An Invitation to Christmas Dinner
4 More Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus