Friday, June 05, 2009

Stealing Home and Saints in Limbo

Did you ever have one of those times where God smucks you up alongside your head? I had one of those yesterday, and my ears are still ringing! Wednesday night as I was getting ready to read my Bible, I realized that I hadn't written a devotional yet for my Pastoral Care meeting the next day. I wasn't too worried, because He has always provided me with just the right words at just the right time. I fired off a quick prayer for guidance and settled into my reading. My nightly plan currently goes like this: I read three chapters in whichever book I'm in (which was Joshua), then a Psalm. Then I read a chapter from John & Stasi Eldridge's Captivating, one in Lenya Heitzig & Penny Roses's Live Deeply, and one in Catherine Martin's Passionate Prayer study guide. The three devotional books cover a wide range of subjects of faith, I like a bit of variety in my faith diet.

The Spirit nudged me toward the idea of writing a devotional about the value of asking for help when you need it. I would be speaking to hospital staff and pastors who are givers by nature, and I know that it can be incredibly hard to stop being a giver and receive sometimes. The idea took root in my mind, and I started writing it in my mind. But then I had to stop, because I realized that while the message would be of value to my group, it was really about me. That hit home first with this quote I found in Captivating: To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do - to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst - is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. That trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. -Frederick Buechner.

I felt as though my entire life had been captured in that single quote. I have always been fiercely independent, ask my poor parents. I want to do things in my own way ON MY OWN! I can see this going back to every heartbreak I've ever experienced. When something bad happened, instead of turning to my parents (and God) for help, I would grit my teeth and muscle my way through leaving devastation in my wake. The Lord had softened my heart earlier in the week when I read Angela Hunt's She's in a Better Place. A main character was described as wanting her father and God's love and acceptance, but only on her own terms, not by making any changes to bring her into accordance with their expectations. That thought stuck with me, so when I read the Buechner quote, more pieces began falling into place.

My chapter in Passionate Prayer was about turning to God in times of wilderness/desert/valley, and I found 2 Corinthians 4:17 For our present troubles are small and won't last long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever. I finished reading thinking that I had some great stuff to write the next day, and I brought my prayer journal along to work with me so I could go through my notes and write it up. However, when I opened up my journal to the previous night's writing, I could only find the above two messages to include, and I just knew that I had come across more, so I started flipping through pages from the previous days. Going back just a week, here's some of what I found:
Psalm 50:15 Call to me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.
Psalm 77:2 In the day of my trouble, I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted.
Psalm 34:5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their face.

And here are some thoughts I had written in my journal in the last week as well: Those who trust in the Lord will be blessed and healthy, have hope, confidence, and deep roots, and will produce fruit. God is always with me providing for all of my needs, even the ones I may not know about. He is my healer, physically, mentally, and emotionally. He has saved me from death. Because God is willing to do so much for me, I would be a fool not to ask for His help.

Those are scattered writings from over several days. It wasn't until I was putting together the devotional that all of these came together, and I recognized His message for what it was: I need to stop trying to get God to let me live life on my own terms and insisting on my own way! (I know many of you are going DUH!, but for me this is a huge breakthrough) One of the biggest battles with my rheumatoid arthritis is that it has robbed me of so much of my independence. I hate having to ask for help from my family. I hate having to ask for strength every night in my prayers just to make it through the next day. I want to make it through each day on my own power, but that's obviously not God's will for me.

Last night I was explaining this breakthrough to Jesse, and I think for the first time he was able to understand just why when the pain hits I can be so hard to live with sometimes. When I have to ask for help, I feel weak and indebted, and I don't want to feel like I owe anyone anything. I know, ouch, huh? A lot of times, I won't ask for help around the house hoping that the rest of the family will read my mind and know what needs to be done so I don't have to actually speak the words, and when they don't, I become angry and resentful. And when I do have to muster up the courage to ask for help, I'm snippy and miserable because of the loss of pride. God was definitely not sparing my feelings with this revelation; I felt horrible, awful! I don't sound much fun to live with at all!

This morning when I woke up, the pain was awful, and immediately I was cranky. Tomorrow is Doogie's graduation party, and we're expecting around 200 people. There is so much that needs to be done before the party, and I'm not feeling well enough to do any of it. I prayed to God before getting out of bed, and He reminded me to let go of my independence to trust Him. I realized the reason I was so cranky was because I would have to give up control of getting things ready because of the pain. It brought me all the way to the root of the problem, and I was brought to my knees. I could suddenly see the cycle of frustration and pain that I was experiencing and then passing on to my family. I talked to Jesse about it and consciously turned control over to him. I did make a list of chores for the kids to do, but in the end, I have to sit back, ask them to do it, and swallow the pride that threatens to drown me in guilt.

Here's another line I wrote in my journal: He humbles and tests, bringing reliance on him for all things and testing obedience. When I wrote it, I was just paraphrasing a Psalm and didn't apply it to my heart. Last night Jesse and I were reading in Judges, and he wondered why God didn't help the Israelites drive all of the Canaanites out of the land. We read the study Bible's answer (the Israelites didn't do it for a variety of reasons including laziness) and moved on, but when we came to Judges 2: 1-2 These are the nations that the Lord left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan. He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle. We both kind of laughed because God had answered our question, and I made a comment about God allowing temptations in our lives for the same reason. DONG! Did you hear that? That was God smucking me up alongside the head again!

Humbled, check. Tested, check. Learning to trust, check. Hopefully I'll be able to add blessed, healthy, hopeful, confident, deep roots, and producing good fruit to that list soon.

Stealing Home by Allison Pittman is a stunner of a historical novel. Ellie Jane Voyant has lived her life in 1905 Picksville, Mississippi as an eccentric outcast. Ned Clovis has loved her since he was 12 years old, but his life of silence since he lost his hearing has made him an outcast as well. Morris, a 12 year old Negro boy has a life very different in Picksville from Ned and Ellie, but he's trying to make something of himself, with a future and an education. Their lives are all irrevokably changed by the appearance of Duke Dennison, a high-priced baseball player drying out from alcohol abuse in their small town. Pittman captures perfectly the atmosphere of an insular small town with its petty abuses and crimes, along with the joy of a game of baseball. Baseball becomes the unifier of these four disparate characters giving Ellie a place of her own, Ned a voice, and Morris a presence. Duke's struggle to be more of a man is its own beautiful story. I don't want to give anything about this beautifully written story away, so please get a copy and read it!

I haven't finished reading Saints in Limbo by River Jordan yet, but I am thoroughly intrigued by what I've read so far! Hope this catches your interest too!

Ever since her husband Joe died, Velma True’s world has been limited to what she can see while clinging to one of the multicolored threads tied to the porch railing of her home outside Echo, Florida.

When a mysterious stranger appears at her door on her birthday and presents Velma with a special gift, she is rattled by the object’s ability to take her into her memories–a place where Joe still lives, her son Rudy is still young, unaffected by the world’s hardness, and the beginning is closer than the end. As secrets old and new come to light, Velma wonders if it’s possible to be unmoored from the past’s deep roots and find a reason to hope again.

The winner of a copy of Saints in Limbo is Lori Schaden! I will be starting a new book contest on Monday. I'm not sure if I'll have time to blog over the weekend, but I'll try to post pictures from the party on Sunday. Enjoy your weekend!