Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gift of Gratitude

“I believe the Serpent’s hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn’t good. It’s the cornerstone of his movement. That God withholds good from his children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us.   Doubting God’s goodness, distrusting His intent, discontented with what He’s given, we desire… more. The fullest life” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 14).

Sunday night before last, I attended a women’s event at a local church featuring Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts and   I don’t think it is an overstatement to say her book changed my life.  Needless to say, I was quite excited to be in the same room with her (and 1,700 other women!).  We can all look back upon moments, people, books, or experiences that came along at just the right time to speak the exact right word from the Lord into our desperate, lonely, or burdened hearts.  Ann’s book was just that for me several years back.  A gift from a precious friend (thanks Lindsey!) that turned into soothing balm from Jesus Himself for this mother’s broken, angry, and just plain confused heart. 

I was fortunate to be given a foundation in faith at an early age from my family, church and elementary school.  Thus, when tragedy struck as an adult, I couldn’t turn my back on God even when I wanted to at times.  My heart was shattered, and I beat my fists against His chest like a petulant child.  The faith anchor held, yet, on the flip side of tragedy, my searching mind and disappointed heart now required more than the “Sunday School answers” or neatly packaged theology that had carried me for most of my life.

I was hurt… deep, deep down.  Taking my child in what felt like a very cruel and untimely way did not line up with my view of a good God.  Watching John continue to suffer only made matters worse.  It wasn’t that I questioned my belief in God, it was more that I felt our trust had been severed… that the tenderness between a Daddy and his beloved daughter had vanished.  God was still sovereign Creator but was He Abba Father? 

In the early years, I simply could NOT handle Bible verses such as Romans 8:28 (God works everything together for the good for those who love Him), the explanation that our days are numbered and that I’m supposed to somehow find it comforting that my son’s days were set at 19, or the anecdote that God won’t give you more than you can handle (which is actually from a verse about overcoming temptation and not about being given more than you can handle in terms of pain and suffering in this life… see 1 Cor. 10: 13).  This wasn’t my season for the cheery or seemingly explanatory Bible verses.  (As an aside, we are blessed in that we don’t need to look far to find the many verses that take pain seriously and grapple with all the questions we may face.)  They felt like additional salt in my gaping wounds.

“Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency” (p. 16).

So along comes a woman, a book, and a story of real pain… deep loss.  A weeping mother and sister, a family left to pick up the pieces.  A faith sojourner asking the very questions weighing down my heart.  And yet Ann Voskamp came out on the other side with gratitude, encouraging others to also count blessings.  Not in a cheesy, trite way.  But in a way that stands as a bold confession, a stringent testimony against the darkness – proclaiming the Light.  This I could handle. 

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God… prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.  At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours” (p. 40).

This woman, through her pain, had earned the right to speak into this season of my life – shepherding me through the pain and leading me to recognize genuine flickers of renewed joy welling up in my heart.  Not an acceptance of the evil in this world, but a restored desire to take God’s hand again and trust Him to walk down the path of healing our relationship. This was a powerful turning point. 

“The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, ‘I know.  I know.’” (p. 87).

Then, that one Sunday night, I found myself in a warm, tear-filled embrace with this dear woman, the woman God used as His love instrument to begin stitching up my heart and mending my faith.  Tears fill my eyes as I type these words, never having dreamed I would be able to thank her in person.  And yet, we somehow managed to have a quiet moment during the evening’s intermission.  A moment of shared knowing. Compassionate eyes that simply communicated, “I get it,” as I briefly summarized our story and how her journey had so profoundly impacted my own healing journey.  

The gift of gratitude this night was mine… the tremendous honor of being able to express simple but sincere thanks to a woman for allowing herself to be utilized. For finding Jesus in her pain so that He could in turn meet me in mine. 

“As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible” (p. 33).

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living” (p. 84). 

“The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace” (p. 99).

Merry Christmas to all!! 

Such a gift to get mail addressed to all my boys!  Thanks, Ann!

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