Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Whistle While You Wait?

"Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord."  Psalm 31:24

Waiting for the Lord.  Oh how we hate to wait!  Isn't it so true?  I don't know anyone who truly enjoys waiting.  And here I find myself as one who waits for the Lord.  I don't think the Psalmist would say "be strong and let your heart take courage" if waiting for the Lord was easy and comfortable.  It's not a walk in the park, but waiting for the Lord may have an up side.  It's like waiting for Christmas morning.  The child is bursting with anticipation, eager, expectant, curious, ready to receive.  This could be a good spiritual attitude to have--expectant, eager, receptive to the Lord's Word, work and purpose.  On the down side, Christmas can also bring out the greed in a child's heart.  "How many presents do I get?  It's mine!  Gimme, gimme!"  Likewise, I can sometimes fall into seeing God as the cosmic Santa Claus who gives gifts to good little children and  buckets of coal to bad children.  "Okay God, I've been good!  What's in it for me?  Bless me!  Where's the good stuff?"  The challenge is to be expectant and receptive but also patient and trusting because what we receive may not be our idea of a good gift.  We have to trust that what God gives us, good or bad, is part of his perfect plan for our lives, and that is why we are told to be strong and take courage.

So, while I'm courageously and patiently waiting for the Lord, what should I be doing?  Twiddling my thumbs?!  I get the feeling that we are not called to be passive or sit idly by.  God calls us to actively participate in what he is already doing -the stuff we don't have to wait for because it's already happening.  This requires eyes that are open to see where God is moving.

All over Scripture and all throughout history there is a thematic dichotomy between the already and the not yet.  God is working and moving now, but there are also things yet to be revealed.  As I'm waiting for what's still to be revealed, I need to be joining in the work that God is already doing.  So I'm beginning to understand that waiting is a gift of time and space not only to rest, recover and hope but also to get to know Jesus more, to learn, study, pray, encourage others and engage in God's Kingdom work.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Odd Sort of Joy

I think my patience in waiting for God's "good purpose" has been wearing thin.  I need renewed joy in this trial!  My endurance in suffering is shabby.  I'm already out of breath!

Trial, we are told, is God's way of refining his children, making them more like Jesus, deepening the character and filing off the rough edges.  I think we are to "count it all joy" because the trial is ultimately for a good purpose.  Pain has the ability to either make us calloused and bitter or to soften us further.

Several times, I've caught myself thinking that losing Cora is God's punishment for sin in my life.  Eek! It sounds ridiculous, but let me tell you, it's easy to believe when you're the one being "afflicted."  I seriously struggled with guilt thinking that this wouldn't have happened if I had only been holier.  I wrestled with this lie until I heard Pastor Mark Bates say this in a recent sermon:

"Punishment gives you the result of your sin.  Discipline, however, sets you on a course of correction."

He went on to elaborate that Jesus already paid the full consequence of sin.  Jesus' death on the cross is a finished work.  He paid it all.  He took all the punishment on himself, not just some of it.  So, I can safely say I am not being punished for my sin.

On the other hand, God disciplines us because he loves us too much to allow us to keep going the wrong way.  He corrects our course, our behavior and attitudes, because he loves us.  And, you guessed it, one way that God corrects us is through trial.  Divine discipline is often experienced as earthly suffering.  (Disclaimer...I'm not saying this is true in all cases.  Job's suffering, for example, was for an entirely different purpose.)  One thing that is for sure, trouble drives us to our knees before the Throne of Grace, and that is always for our good.

This Divine discipline has to be another good purpose for me because when I take the "long view," as my dad often encourages me to do, I see that the Lord's correction is just like a parent's correction of a child.  It's for the child's safety, growth and understanding.  But boy, it hurts!  He has redirected my works-oriented way of life to a grace-filled way of life.   He has exposed my hypocrisy:  "To obey is better than sacrifice."  He has revealed my idols and the objects of false hope and smashed them.  He has confirmed to me that he really is sovereign and in control.  And so much more!

Often I find myself saying, "Okay, God, I'm ready to be done with this now.  Thanks for the stuff you're doing through Cora's death, but I'm ready to be done with this hurting.  I've learned enough lessons.  Can I get my badge and go home now?  I mean, really, how long is this going to take?"

And I imagine others silently asking the same thing..."how long will she continue to grieve, be sad, awkward or whatever?"  Again, I imagine this.  No one I know has actually made me feel this way.   "But seriously, can't she be over it by now?"  Ah, pesky, little voice in my head, no, I can't.  Believe me, I would if I could.

So, I must be patient and bear up, knowing that the Lord is doing something far greater through my pain.  He has saved me, and now he is sanctifying me in the Refiner's Fire.  And even now, I feel an odd sort of joy at this realization.  Indeed, it is a very odd sort.

(If you are reading this, and you are going through the Fire right now too, I pray that the God of all comfort will guard your heart, hold you up and give you the strength to find his good purpose in the midst of your pain.  You are not alone, and you have my prayers.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Cora Lane

For the past six weeks or so, Evan and I have been attending a grief workshop at First Pres Church which has been a really positive experience for both of us.  We have gained some great tools for working through the loss of our daughter, and we've learned a good deal about ourselves and each other.  One of the recent activities of the workshop was to write a letter to the person who died.  Here is my letter to Cora.

Dear Cora Lane, my baby girl,

At this moment I am a bit sore, both body and soul.  I've been working on the back yard, and I feel I'm doing it for you.  Every bit of effort I put forth feels like grief seeping from my body.

You should be here.  Everything about life now feels incomplete because you're not in it.  I wish you could have heard me say "I love you," face to face.  I wish I could have heard your voice and cry.  You have given me the gift of becoming a mother.  You are my first, and so I thank you for ushering me into motherhood, although I am not the kind of mother I would have liked to be.

Cora, I believe you are not worried about me, but I want you to know that I love you very much.  Your daddy and I miss you, and we can't wait to see you again in Heaven.  I can't even describe the ache I have now to hold you in my arms, to rock and feed you; to give you all my love.  Daddy aches too.

I'm angry that I didn't get to experience you, and I'm sad that God took you from me.  I feel deprived (robbed, even) of your cry, your laugh, your eyes, your crawling, walking, running, singing and playing, your thinking, first day of school, first loose tooth, first boyfriend, your wedding day, your children.  I can only imagine the life you are living now in Glory.  How amazing that must be!

Some days I feel guilty for taking advantage of having our "child-free"days extended.  Honestly, it's nice at times, and that feels selfish.  Most days I don't care about being "free."  All I want is you.

I have had to ask the Lord's forgiveness for hating him so much the day we found out you were gone.  I felt totally abandoned by him.  Nowadays, I know God is with us, carrying us through.  He has loved us well through this, and I'm learning more about him because of our experience.  (I love the fact that you know Jesus intimately now, much better than I!)  But, we don't dream like we used to.  When you were still here, we would take walks and talk about your future, what color eyes you'd have, if you'd be musical, athletic or both.  I miss the dreaming.  Now our walks are just quiet.

I think I have accepted that you are really gone.  Somedays it still doesn't seem real, more like a nightmare from which we have yet to awaken.  Most usually, however, I feel your loss acutely -physically, spiritually, emotionally.  Now I have to face moving forward and all that comes with it:  possibly getting pregnant again, feeling joy and hope again, trusting God (even though at times that seems the most difficult).  I want to find ways to take you with me into the future.  I'm afraid of my next pregnancy even though I want it.  I'm afraid of losing you further through it.  I'm afraid of the next baby dying.  But, I'm more afraid of not moving forward in life.  I love you, Cora, but I don't want to get stuck here.

It was so hard to make the adjustment from expecting joy at becoming your mother to accepting the confusion and pain at your death.  There are more adjustments to come as we journey on.  Through it all, I do want to hold on to that sweet, motherly pride I felt when I saw you for the first time.  I suppose I will never let go of that.  I need to keep remembering you, to keep writing and praying and throwing myself on the mercy of God.  It is there that we all must fall.  I thank God that you always were and always will be there with Him.

I love you, Cora,

Monday, October 8, 2012

Like a Tree

Psalm 113:7-9
"He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the mother of children.
Praise the Lord!"

Oh to be the mother of children!  This desire has not waned since Cora's death.  No, it has intensified.  Last night I dreamt I had a son.  This morning I woke with hopes for a quiver full of children!  Waking up like that after weeks and weeks of sadness is a pretty big victory in the Nelson home.  I know my next pregnancy, should the Lord bless us with one someday, could easily be filled with fear and anxiety.  It will be hard to go through nine months knowing that again all could be lost in a moment.  Yet, that too would be in God's hands.  It will be scary and hard, but I do want to enter in to that battlefield.  I call it a battlefield because my heart and mind will be warring to fight off fear and anxiety.

As we talk and pray about trying again, I've had to ask myself the question if I'm really ready to go there.  Remembering Cora, it is difficult to imagine facing that sort of devastating pain again.  But her little life, however short, was worth every tear shed upon her death.  The same would be true for any sweet baby that God creates through us.  My job is to be the Lord's vessel, broken as I am.
So, as I continue to daily ask myself what life would be like if we were to get pregnant again, I've projected that I will probably be faced with choosing between two attitudes:

1.  "God does what he wills, and such is life...." -Grumble, grumble, hands thrown up in the air and eyes rolling...cynical and resentful.
2. "God does what he wills, but he is good...." -Prayer, prayer...trusting and peaceful.

I want to trust the Lord and rest in his peace, but I confess that cynicism and resentment are very tempting (and maybe even understandable) modes of operating.  Which one honors God and holds out faith in the goodness of his character?  That is the one I will choose because like all attitudes, it is most certainly a choice.

Jeremiah 17:7-8
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit."

Psalm 107:9
"For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things."

When the time comes -and I pray it does in God's time- I will still trust in the Lord.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Living Hope

"...We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Romans 5:(2), 3-5

Hope does not put us to shame.

"...That you may not grieve as those who have no hope."  1 Thessalonians 4:13

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be fervent in prayer."  Romans 12:12

And this is my favorite:

"He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in Heaven for you.  In this [hope] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials SO THAT the tested genuineness of your faith (more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire) may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:3-9

Oh my goodness, I love these passages!  Almost every time I see the word "hope" in Scripture it is associated with suffering, trials or grief.  Or should I say, almost every time I read about suffering in Scripture, hope is there, right on the heels of trial.  Hope is the desired character trait, and it seems like it is best obtained through suffering.  We hope for salvation.  We hope for healing from this sin-sick and hurting human body.  We hope for God to win the final battle on the last day.  We hope to be reunited with those we love.  We hope for Satan to be crushed and for death to be defeated.  Hope gives us an eternal perspective.

Through losing Cora Lane, God has been redirecting my hope.  Until she died, I had never really been all that jazzed about Heaven.  All those old gospel songs about Saint Peter and the pearly gates never made sense to me.  I didn't get it.  But now, Heaven is so much more real to me.  It's not just a place with fat, baby cherubs and gold everywhere (honestly, I don't think the fat, baby cherubs exist at all--I could be wrong! ;), but you get the point.   Heaven is the place where all is made right and new, where God's perfect will for his beloved children is fulfilled.  It is where our "inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading" is kept for us, according to Romans.  And it is in that hope that we rejoice.

It's interesting that Peter goes on to say, "though for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials."  Apparently, God deemed it necessary for us.  But this necessity means our trial and grief is not pointless.  It's necessary, Peter goes on, "SO THAT the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  He is the point.  It all comes back to him, always.  Faith is knowing that our hope in Jesus will not disappoint, our hope in Him will be fulfilled.  That is why hope does not put us to shame.  When we hope in the right thing, in Christ, we can rejoice in our suffering because Christ will return and be revealed.  He will make all things new, and Cora and I together will sing his praises on that day.  (And to quote Psalty, the singing songbook -in honor of Leli- "Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.  I wanna see my Savior's face, cause Heaven is a wonderful place.  I wanna go there!")