A Prayer for Refugees

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Lord, you are no stranger to the suffering of wandering people. Your written story is all about those who are lost, those who are impoverished, those who are hopeless. Your own son was born in a borrowed bed in a foreign, inhospitable land, open to attacks and dangers from those who hated you.

You know the struggles of the persecuted; You understand the pain of the displaced. Please open our hearts to see refugees the way you see them, not through the lens of fear, but through the lens of compassion and grace.

Forgive our nation when we close our borders. Forgive us individually when we love our comfort more than we love people. Break us, Lord. Help us to feel their pain. Move the heart of our president to be wise in the way he leads this country to protect its citizens, while continuing our long lasting tradition of welcoming the tired, the poor, and those yearning to be free.

Protect and provide for the many who are in need of finding a place to call home, access to safety, shelter, food, water, medical care. We cry to you, Abba Father. Use us, somehow, to bring healing and health to the wanderers of this world.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus

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Is the Lord’s arm too short?

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” (Numbers 11:23)

There are days when you feel encouraged by the reminder that God is on your side.

There are other days when you are jolted back into reality as you remember His goodness and mercy.

Then there are those days when you feel you won’t be able to take one more breath unless God gives you the strength.

I just had some of those days. The latter ones. The ones that cause you to feel like you will drown unless someone rescues you.

The ones that cause you to fall flat on your face because it’s the only thing you can do.

There are verses in the Bible that lift your spirit and give you direction.

There are verses that teach you truth and correct your thinking.

And there are times when certain verses become your life line.

“Is the Lord’s arm too short?” He tells me… Is He not powerful, not willing, not able, not near, not good, not faithful?

On days when I cannot take one more step or breathe one more breath, the Spirit reminds me that He is with me, no matter what I’m facing or what I’m fearing.

Can there possibly be any better God than one who cares deeply?

Can there possibly be any better God than one who is strong and in full control of all things?

He says “You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

Can there possibly be any better God than one who fulfills all his promises, for his own name’s sake?

I pity them who go through the hardships of life and do not have this comfort. I wish everyone did.

I thank you, God, for your presence, your promises, and your power.

May you be glorified.

For my friends who have recently lost loved ones…

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray for those (especially my friends) who have lost loved ones this year. For those sitting at the table without their father or spouse, for the first time. For those unable to bear the pain of not having their son with them any longer, I lift up my eyes to the Lord. He is good, and his strength is powerful enough to sustain the hurting, even when it feels impossible. Death is part of this broken world of ours, but just because it is normal, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when we seem to think it happens prematurely. But the truth is that there is no premature timing in God’s eyes. He holds all our days in his hands. He is bigger than our bad choices. He is bigger than fate or destiny. In his miraculous foreknowledge and his compassionate sovereignty, He uses the bad for good and redeems all circumstances.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray that the hurting children of God will be able to thank him even in their pain. Jesus knows pain. Jesus understands death. He went through both in order to give us life. May He overwhelm my friends with life and hope, even as they sit together and dine with a missing loved one. His mercies are new every morning.

Suffering with Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”  – Proverbs 13:12

I suffer. You suffer. We suffer. Pain is a common ailment, affecting 100% of the world’s population. Sure, there are people who go through more anguish than others. Not all pain is equal in degree or in longevity. But at the end of the day, we can all say that we have either suffered or are continually suffering one way or another. So let’s change the saying to a new an improved version: Three things are certain, suffering, death, and taxes.

The question is not if we suffer, but how we suffer.

As I see it, there are two ways of enduring the hardships this world has to offer: With hope or without it.

Suffering with no hope feels like darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to make us get up in the morning, and nothing to motivate us to keep trying, breathing, moving forward. Suffering without a living, present hope, as the proverb says, makes the heart sick. A sick heart will see no light nor will it desire to live. A sick heart wants to succumb to the pain instead of fighting against it. It will desire to give up and will seek a way out. Suffering without hope is desperate.

Suffering with hope feels altogether different. The object of our hope strengthens our minds to do battle against our pain. We endure when we hope. We find strength when we hope. We can embrace our suffering and see the good in it, when we hope. In fact, we can even have joy in spite of the pain, when we hope. A cancer patient can endure radiation because she has hope it can heal her. The unemployed father gets up every morning and endures the hardship by applying to jobs because he hopes he will find one soon. A child suffers through relocation and changes of school when he hopes he will make new friends. Hope helps us to keep trying.

But the problem with hope is that it is not always real nor attainable. What happens when chemo doesn’t work and the cancer does not go away? Or the job search lasts not for a few weeks, but for a year? What if a student hopes to recover from his failing grades but can’t and loses his scholarship? We can hope for a new boyfriend, a better car, a marriage, a child, and that hope can help us through a season. But what if the object of our hope never materializes? What if fertility treatments don’t work? What if we are evicted from our home? What is our hope then? How can we endure then? Do we succumb and give up?

Yes, any kind of hope can help us in our suffering, even if for a little while. But there is only one kind of hope that will sustain us all the time and in all circumstances. There is only one hope that does not disappoint.  Even when there is no earthly hope that can possibly pick us up, there is an eternal, supernatural hope that will. A man named Job, written about in the Old Testament, lost everything: His children died, his processions were burned away, his wife left him, and then the icing on the cake, he got so sick that he was in constant pain and unable to care for himself. He fought hard against suffering. He said: “Though he (God) slay me, I will hope in him”.  He understood two things: 1. God allowed suffering in his life, and 2. He could trust God with his pain because God obviously understood why he would do such a thing to Job, even when Job could not understand it. Yes, the whole book of Job shows us a tremendous struggle of belief and unbelief. But in the end, we see that these words really reflected where Job put his trust. He obviously would never see his children again. Humanly speaking, there was no hope! Yet, he hoped. He hoped, not in a physical restoration or restitution, but in God himself.

Suffering may find us. But we can find hope, but deciding to trust God. He, himself, is our hope. It is not what he can give us or what he can do for us, that should give us hope, but who he is: his character, his presence, his comfort, his wisdom, his knowledge, and everything that makes him God and huge and good. We can put our trust in him so that He becomes our hope.

When we desire him more than what he can give us, we will then breathe life into our pain. “…. A desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. Yes! Let us make him the object of our desire:

  • By reading Scripture that reminds us of who he is and how much we need him
  • By talking to him, acknowledging his presence and power in our lives
  • By listening to him (spending time in silence, hearing God’s Word preached, talking with others who trust in him also)
  • By refusing to allow our emotions to win over our will to trust. Persevere and fight!

I have endured suffering with no hope, the dark kind. I have also suffered with great hope in Christ. I wish for myself, for my children, my family, and my friends, and even for you, dear reader, to never suffer in darkness.

“Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” -Psalm 43:5

 

Book Review: A Place of Healing

I just finished reading A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Joni was paralyzed in a diving accident more than 40 years ago. Now, in her 60s, she’s writes this book while going through a new trial: constant, unshakable pain. What I like most about this book is Joni’s high view of God. Every page oozes with his character, calling, and work, putting all things, especially suffering, into perspective.

If you are struggling with the idea of being a Christian yet not delivered from suffering and pain, buy this book today. If you are dealing with physical illness or disability, this book is for you! Even if you are not presently suffering, this book will minister to you and equip you to be a good friend to those who do suffer. It will encourage you greatly. For me, it has renewed my sense of gratitude and contentment, knowing that my hope in the Lord is unwavering and true.

In the Cave I Find Mercy

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam.
When he had fled from Saul into the cave.
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
(Psalm 57)

 

Lord, to be in a cave, as David found himself, with nothing but you. To be surrounded by danger and peril and pain and loneliness, but to have you. To know that in that cave, in that moment, you are fulfilling your purposes for my life, and that my life is really not about me at all, but about your will, and glory, and way. To be confident that I am not alone. You are my protective cover and in you I am completely safe. May your glory fill the earth and inundate my life! May I desire it and seek it! May I overflow with thanksgiving in the midst of suffering, knowing full well that you are good and your will is good. In the cave, may I find mercy, and sing loudly and joyfully.

 

 

Letting Go

We give birth to them, enduring discomfort and suffering after months of pregnancy and the pains of labor. We lose sleep and rise up early, cry when they cry, pray for them like we’ve never prayed before, and our entire lives change: priorities, schedules, activities, choices. Children redirect our thinking and cause us to learn how to love passionately and live for others. As we lay ourselves down and sacrifice our own wants and needs, we grow in affection and appreciation of these little people who come to mean the world to us. The more they grow, the heavier our trunk of memories and mementos.  We crave their well-being and happiness; we strive to raise them well and teach them the lessons we ourselves have learned. Our hearts latch on to theirs. We would do anything for them.

I believe it pleases God to give us children. The Bible says they are God’s gift to us. If He, God, has shown us unconditional love and care for us, his children, then it also brings him much joy and honor when we learn to love by having children. God transforms us more and more into his image as we learn repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and grace through relating to our kids.

So here is the conundrum: These people whom we love and die for, need also to be let go of, and often times I find myself feeling like I can never be whole again.

I remember the first time I left Gabriel, my autistic son, in preschool. He was three. We knew he needed to be in that program. But we also knew he had no ability to communicate with us and that if anything happened to him, there were good chances we would never find out. I could not protect him if he needed me. What fear I felt. What heart-wrenching pain. I watched him through the classroom door for a good 40 minutes before I was able to peel myself out of there. I sobbed all the way home.

About a week or so ago I was talking to my friend whose son just left for college. She told me she’s been crying every day since his departure. When I asked her what the biggest source of grief was, she said that she feared he would forget her, very much the way she forgot about her parents when she left home. That fear rang true with me. We might not completely “forget” our parents when we grow into adulthood, but we certainly do not suffer their absence as much as they suffer ours. So here we are left with a heart full of love and commitment and a life given over to our children, just to have to let them go.

Of course, I think growing up is healthy and leaving your parents is natural and actually a good thing. But despite the reason, the age, or the manner and degree in which children leave their parents, it is still a heart-wrenching transition for us. Sometimes the “leaving” comes in the form of the joyous occasion of their marriage, but sometimes it comes in the fearful departure to the military, or in the moving overseas, or in a child who leaves home prematurely, when we fully know they are not ready for it, or losing a child in a custody battle.  And what about when a child dies? How does one go on? How does a shattered heart continue beating? Not all of us experience the tragedy of the death of a child, but most of us do have to live through the letting go, to one degree or another, more than once.

I’ve had to let go many times. Having four living children, most of them now adults, and three miscarriages, the letting go has felt extensive. And there is a lot more coming! So how  will I do this? How does any parent let go of years of recitals or afternoons at the playground, or driving kids to soccer practice? HOW? Where is the switch that turns off the yearning and desire to spend time, to physically touch, or to feel our love reciprocated?

I do not have any answers. I just feel empathy. I feel for my friend whose son has left for college and for another dear friend who is a single mother and recently gave both of her kids in marriage, the same year. While these are great circumstances and blessed events, they also feel heavy and hard on their hearts. I feel for a couple I know who left their son at rehab on the other side of the country and for the parents I know who will be driving their son to boot camp at the end of the summer. I empathize. I understand.

If I were to be fatalistic about this whole thing, I would come to the conclusion that having children is not recommended, or that allowing oneself to love so intensely will only lead to pain and suffering, so why do it? But I do not see having children and loving your children as bad or destructive. I see it as a gift from God, a good thing. Yes, the more we love, the more we will hurt. So if we don’t hurt much it means that we have not loved much. I’d rather love and suffer than not to know such love. Besides, love for children doesn’t only produce suffering, but it also produces great, unimaginable joy. When I understand such love and happiness, I get a glimpse at what God’s love for me must be like. This is good.

While I don’t have answers, I do have hope. All of us, in this world of parenting, CAN have hope. This I know: If we put our hope in the outcome of our parenting, we might come to be sorely disappointed and wounded. In order to make it in one piece, I have found that my hope needs to be elsewhere. So even though my life will be wrapped around the lives of my children for a period of time, my hope for love, fulfillment, even companionship should lie outside the confines of those relationships. If it’s not, then I will cling to my children for dear life, and create a mess in the process. The love I feel for my children must have no strings attached and it should be truly selfless (not that I come close to achieving this but I strive for it’s approximation).

For one, I know that if I am a married woman, the love for my children should never surpass (in essence or in form) the love for my spouse. Practically, this is hard to do, since children tend to be more needy than spouses. But it is important to remember that the relationship with my children will change over time, while the relationship with my spouse is meant to be until death parts us. I can have a close friend and lover always, even when my children are gone. I can expect and hope companionship and equal partnership in a spouse until the very end, therefore I must treat this marital union with the utmost of priority, always.

But we live in a broken world, a world where people fail us, where loved ones die, where we push others away. So there are no guarantees in life: no surety of a lasting marriage, no certainty of faithful friends or financial security. Everything in life is temporary and changing. So even if I focus on my marriage and foster good, lasting friendships, and raise my children well, my hope cannot possibly be firmly placed on those things, because by nature, they could shift or cease to exist altogether. Only one does not change or fade. Only GOD is a rock, which cannot be moved. Therefore I know that as I prioritize my relationship with him, above the one I have with any human being, then I can rest assured that I will be OK, in the end.

I honestly do not have a grasp on how to let go of my kids. So this hope I cling to: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – (1st Pet 5:10). Suffering “for a little while” might last my life time, which in the scope of eternity is definitely a short time. The strength the Lord gives me comes in pieces and waves. As I need it, He gives it, mercifully. But the suffering, in one way or another, will continue until the day I am fully restored in His presence. What a hope! I do not labor in vain. I do not love and give and cry and pray for momentary happiness. I live through the bad things and the good things, and the great things of this life, with a much bigger calling: To see him, to be trained by him, and to love him more and more. Peter also says in vs. 4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Yes! Yes, yes, yes! So even though the letting go of my children remains a daunting task and the loving of others will prove to be both a blessing and a source of pain in this life, there is an unfading hope of never ending happiness and steadfast fellowship with the one who knows me and loves me more intimately than any human being can possibly do. So maybe, just maybe, if I cling to this hope while going through this life, I can then not only “make it”, but rejoice in ALL my circumstances, even in the letting go.

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