Sunday, August 17, 2014

When God shows up in a bright orange rubber bracelet

Friday morning as I snuck in a few moments with God before jumping into my day, I prayed circles around many long-time prayers.  Brayden's complete healing from CVS was one of them.  That morning I hadn't even an inkling of an idea that our son would wind up in the ER with another CVS attack later that very day.  But he did.

There are many verses in the Bible that I am familiar with but have wanted to commit to heart.  This week I focused on just that...memorizing all nine verses of the Ephesians "Full Armor of God"(Ephesians 6:10-18) passage, along with the Philippians instruction to think about "Whatever is true, noble and right," (Philippians 4:8) as well as "learning to be content in all circumstances" (Philippians 4:11-13) and being reminded that "my God will meet all of my needs" (Philippians 4:19). 14 verses committed to memory.  14 verses ready to draw from when the battle reached my doorstep.  Little did I know that the enemy was just about to knock on my front door.

I find no coincidence that God brought these passages to mind to commit to memory at this time.  I think He was preparing my heart and spiritually gearing me up for what was to come in the days ahead.  He knew I needed them deeply engraved on my heart as I entered the familiar battlefield of hospitalization.  He was armoring me up for the fight.

Though my natural default may not lend me to lean on these truths initially, but rather on my own understanding, a heart that's engraved with His truth is better able to rebound and put up a fight.  I long to be more prepared and better equipped.

On Friday evening, our family of five was en route to see my family in Tecumseh for a fun "Cousins Carnival" weekend.  My kids could hardly contain their excitement as they have been counting down the days till this event.  My mom, sisters, and I have spent weeks preparing for this too.  So, you can imagine the disappointment that came seeping into our car when Brayden started feeling ill.  We pulled over on the side of the road to let Brayden calm down and get some fresh air, but it wasn't long before we realized we were about to hit "full attack mode." Minutes later we loaded back up in the car, turned around, and headed straight to the ER.

On our drive to the hospital, I began silently talking to God.  Asking Him to reveal Himself to me and show me what was to "gain" in this hospitalization...thanking Him for the ways He would show up and make Himself known like He has done each time before.  I vowed not to focus on the loss, but to gain more of Him in the midst of it all.

Hours in the ER with a very sick boy writhing in pain screaming that he "gives up," 4 needle pricks, 4 nurses, and 4 failed attempts to administer an IV into dehydrated collapsed veins didn't leave me feeling all armored up and content.  My thoughts and emotions were all over the place.  But slow and steady, as the 5th IV attempt succeeded, and the medicine began to kick in, I was able to reign in my thoughts and readjust my perspective.

I would have liked to have marinated on my disappointment over our changed weekend plans and the nagging reoccurring questions of "why?" but a little verse kept popping into my head each time my thoughts began to drift.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right.  Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.  If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."
Philippians 4:8

I found myself thankful for the fact that we were already all packed up and had everything we needed in the car for overnight hospitalization.  As Brayden found relief in his medicine, I found myself thankful for excellent medical care and our access to it.  I had posted a prayer request on facebook, and found myself thankful that I have the freedom to plaster these pleas and our faith in God all over cyber space without the fear of persecution, unlike others who are being murdered right now in far away lands because of their Christian faith.  And I found myself reflecting on God's faithfulness to meet all of our needs in the past, and how He wouldn't fail us now.

"And my God will meet all of your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19

The next day my gratitude continued as I encountered parents and their children fighting battles I would never want to fight: cancer, confinement to wheelchairs, horrific accidents that leave innocent children mamed and scarred.  My heart felt such compassion for these families and I was thankful when God opened doors of opportunity to hear some of their stories and share pieces of our faith.  God was very much present...yet, I was still hoping to experience Him in a more personal and tangible way.  And just as I had prayed on the way to the hospital that Friday evening, I continued to pray that He would.

Afterall, He had shown up before in a rose of sharon and in a clear starry night when darkness had threatened to silence my soul.  He had shown up in a rock  in the middle of the street when I needed to be reminded that He was my Rock, always with me, going before me.  He had shown up in a swoosh of grace, and even in a straggly hair during previous hospitalizations too.  So, my eyes were opened and peeled to catch a piece of Him revealing Himself to me this time around.

And He did.

I sat bedside my son in his dimly lit hospital room.  Thoughts of Paul finding contentment in the confinement of his prison cell encouraged me to find contentment in the confinement of that hospital room. Verses replayed in my heart once again.

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty.  I know the secret to being content in any and every situation.  Whether well-fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want..."
Philippians 4:11-12

A heart that is discontent lacks peace.  And just verses prior, Paul gives us a prescription for worry and tells us where we can find that peace.  These verses have been engraved on my heart for some time.

"Do not be anxious about anything.  But in everything, with prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7

Did you know that this works?  It is indeed true.  I know because I've tried it.  And it's worked time and time again.  When we take our concerns, worries, and struggles to God, and find reasons to thank Him in the process, His peace washes over us in inexplicable ways.  Ways that transcend understanding.  And in those moments, we can taste contentment, regardless of our circumstances.  I found myself swallowing it up.

So, I bet your wondering when I am going to get to the part about God showing up in a real and tangible way.  After a full day in the hospital, I was beginning to wonder if I'd be blessed with this myself.  If you read this blog post title, you probably already know the answer.  But let me provide the details surrounding it, if you're willing to stick around a little longer.

As I was sitting bedside with Brayden, the nurse called me outside his room to listen to the change of duty report.  I quickly stepped out of his room and began to listen and answer questions.  As the nurse who was leaving was filling in our new nurse, I glanced down at the leaving nurse's wrist and saw an orange rubber bracelet marked "PHILIPPIANS 4:13."

My mind went back to the verse.  Philippians 4:13.  What verse was that again and why was it on the tip of my tongue?  Slowly, my sleep-deprived brain remembered.  I might not have been wearing it on my wrist, but I was wearing it on my heart.  On a place where I could never lose it.  It's the tail end verse of the passage I had just committed to memory this past week.  The scriptures about finding contentment in any and every situation. That passage ends with verse 13:

"I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."
Philippians 4:13

When the moment allowed, I asked her about it and told her this was one of my favorite verses.  She shrugged it off as if she didn't want to take ownership of the message it spoke or actually talk about the verse itself that sat engraved on her wrist.  I'm not even certain she knew what verse it was that wrapped so boldly in orange around her.  She nonchalantly explained to me that another patient had given it to her.

She spoke favorably about this patient and her family..."They are the nicest family.  So nice."  She chuckled, "I wish they could share some of that niceness with me because I sure could use a little bit more of it in my life." (Silently, I agreed.  But that's another story.)  And the thought occurred to me, it's not the nice that she's drawn to, it's the Jesus behind it.  Though she may not have realized that's what had drawn her to this "nice" family, I had.  It was Jesus.

And just like that, through a bright orange rubber bracelet, God showed up once again in a personal and tangible way.  In perfect timing. With a powerful message.  Just for me.

We've spent over 40 days and nights in the hospital with our son since all this started.  In many ways it never gets easier.  But, I am finding that I am a bit more armored up for battle each time.  I believe with all my heart that He will heal Brayden completely of this disease.  Perhaps this past hospitalization will be our last one.  Even so, engraved on my heart in bright orange letters, I will remember:

All for His glory,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What is MORE

What is it that brings you to life?  Really think about it for a minute...Is there something that puts a little pep in your step?  Someone who colors your world in all kinds of wonderful?  There are many things in this world that fill us up.  But what if those things were taken away?  Would we have enough to sustain us?  Or would we be defined by our loss?

It hurts.
It strangles.
It can suck the life right out of us.
Leaving us feeling cold, deadened, dried up and alone.

Today I want to offer a new perspective on loss.  One that seems upside down and backwards to what the world lends us.  We need not look any further than the apostle Paul.

I've mentioned before that I began reading through the New Testament this year.  This summer I took a break and worked through a Bible Study on my own ("Namesake: When God Rewrites Your Story").  I recently finished the study and decided to go back to reading through the New Testament picking up where I had left off: Philippians.

Philippians is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Six years ago this very blog was inspired by chapter one, verse six of that book: "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  I write about the challenges and changes God is working out in and through me.  The wrestling through of my faith.  The good work He is carrying out day by day, month by month, year by year.

It's no surprise that these past four years have been riddled with hardship for our family.  I've written a lot about them.  We've faced loss on many levels of our journey: homes, businesses, finances, a baby, health, comforts, and even friendships.  There have been times I've been so discouraged and have cried out to God that the stripping and pruning is too much to bear and I've feared it would render me faithless if one more thing was taken away.

The good news is, it hasn't.  God has used these losses and hardships to deepen my faith, knowledge, and understanding of Him in ways that a smooth-sailing-living-the-American-dream-life could never have provided.

So, I ask myself, is this LOSS, or is this GAIN?  What is MORE?

Yesterday's reading of Philippians solidified my answer to these questions.  In Philippians 3:8-9, Paul writes:

"What is MORE, I consider everything a LOSS compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may GAIN Christ and be found in Him."

I can only imagine the loss Paul experienced once he became a follower of Jesus.  He gave up his career that offered him financial stability, power, status, and prestige in his community.  I am certain he lost family and friendships and even his home as he left all things to proclaim the truth about Jesus.

Yes, Paul is all too familiar with loss.  Yet, he looked to these losses and sought out what was outweighed in importance, what was MORE...
His GAIN in Christ.

I've vowed to do the same.  No longer will I look to this season as one of leanness, lacking and loss.  My heart has been awakened to the GAIN.  If you are going through a season of loss or hardship, I urge you to do the same.  Not to minimize loss.  For it is real.  And it cuts deep.  It impacts and shapes us.  But it doesn't need to define us.  Who we are in Christ defines GAIN is to be found in Him.

Loved ones, careers, homes, finances, health, and all the things that comfort and make us feel secure in this world can be taken away.  But our faith and knowledge in the Lord cannot.  Nor can our relationship with Jesus. He is unchanging, consistent, faithful, never-ending, as is His grace, mercy, love and power in our lives.  Eternity can't be taken away from us either.  We are all facing it.  And He gives us the opportunity to spend it with Him in glory if we accept His Son as our Savior and follow after Him.

I'm following.
I'm pressing on.
I'm taking hold.

"But I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:12-14

No longer will I look behind and keep my eyes on the loss.  I'm straining toward what is ahead.  And what lies ahead is filled with incomparable gain.  This is MORE.  He is MORE.

So, I ask you again, "What is it that brings you to life?"  If you want to learn more about the Giver of Life, what it means to follow Him, or need a safe place to air your heart and your struggles, please contact me or private message me using the facebook link on this blog.  You are not alone.  Despite any loss you have experienced, there is still much more to gain...Him.

LORD, thank You for awakening my soul and showing me what is MORE in this life.  You.  You are my gain.  You are my more than enough.  You are my true and lasting source of joy.  I thank You that nothing can separate me from Your love.  No loss.  No hardship.  No struggle.  Help me to press on and fix my eyes on You in moments of discouragement or despair.  You are my constant.  Each day help me to give up more of myself and take on more of You.  Thank You for continuing the good work  You are doing within me.  May each moment and each breath be found in You.  You are MORE.  In Jesus' name I pray.  Amen

All for His Glory,