Grace-Filled Thinking

I married a man who loves to garage sale. Maybe that sounds strange, but the fact of the matter is, my husband likes a good deal, and will often wait on purchases, knowing he will most likely find it used in one of the many front yards we find ourselves in during the warm months. 

Three of Winnipeg's community yard sales have become traditions for us, and I've grown rather addicted to them. We rise early in the morning, have our traditional coffee, sandwich and doughnut holes at Tim Horton's, and start furiously racing from house to house, at least 30 minutes before official opening time. We've got it down to a science. Shop our hearts out until 11:30 or so, do some needed errands while in the city, and go home and crash - usually with a vehicle full of treasures.

The last two events this year have been a much needed, long-anticipated get away for us as a family. They've also held the side benefit of providing many of the continuing clothing needs for our almost-two-year-old. They satisfy Joel's deal-hunting love, and provide our home with cheaply priced items we would not normally buy otherwise. As already mentioned, they are also the source of a fun family date. 

They've also held their painful moments for me this Spring. It's impossible to ignore the tables full of little baby boy clothing, the expectant mama's walking everyone, and the inevitable question of "how many children do you have?" Still sporting a bit of post-partum tummy, I was asked earlier this month if I had a boy or a girl. Upon telling this stranger a boy, she gushed out her congratulations, assured me how much fun I must be having, and wished me well. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I longed to be enjoying my son, but wasn't....

Walking through Costco later, my heart ached close to bursting, and tears were just beneath the surface. As I pondered the many comments made to me by unsuspecting people, my heart hurt. I did not blame them -  they didn't know, yet the pain was still there because of the close reality of my loss. As I observed the people swarming about me, it suddenly struck me that none of them knew how close I was to tears right then. They had no clue. All they saw was a rather sad looking woman, madly dashing around, perhaps even a bit rudely, trying so hard to keep myself busy just to keep from falling apart.

Then it hit me. I didn't know their stories either. Here we were, hundreds of people crammed into one store with one objective, but walking through a completely different set of circumstances. For the most part, our minds were consumed with ourselves and our priorities, and the other thoughts we gave others was most likely fleeting ones of assumptions, judgements, and perhaps even criticisms.

That mom with a 4-year old that's having a meltdown in the middle of the isle. We know what's wrong there, right? The old man in the wheelchair who looks like he's about to bite someone's head off. The moon-eyed teenage couple showing far too much affection for what's appropriate in public. The metal clad young man who's obviously had too much of the wrong experiences this world has to offer.

We humans are pretty good at assessing up mankind in a glance, and putting them in their rightful places in our minds.

In that moment, as I stopped to ponder what people's first assumption would be of me at that moment, I longed with all my heart to be shown grace. I wanted to stand up on a clothing rack, and shout, "Don't you all know that I just buried my son! Don't judge me now, just be gentle!" But of course I didn't. I continued my mad dash for the month's bulk groceries, while at the same time a yearning rose up within me to be a grace-filled person, responding by the Spirit to the unseen needs and hurts around me.

How could I know that the woman with the 4-year old acting up had just received her as a foster child after being rescued from an abusive situation?

How could I see inside the soul of that old man, and understand the current pain and rejection he was experiencing at that moment because of strained and torn family relationships?

That young couple? Had I stopped to ponder the fact that maybe both of them came from broken and unloving home situations, and that neither of them had ever felt full acceptance from another human being before?

And that young man? Could I grasp in my finite mind his soul hunger and thirst for something of more lasting meaning, but his failure as of yet to find truth, and the disinterest of all those he knew other than to use him for their own ends?

Of course I could not know these things, and never will. Perhaps in some of these situations, our assumptions are correct and their story doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. But the fact of the matter is, there is only One who has enough knowledge to make the judgments and labels we so quickly put on others. My current situation was a reminder to me that things are not always as they appear on the outside, and we can so easily and unknowingly inflict wounds by the careless words and assumptions we make.

In pondering the remedy for this, I've been reminded of the importance of being in tune with the Holy Spirit, letting Him guide my thoughts and attitudes, and then trusting that the words that come out of my mouth are the correct ones for the situation. He is the only One that knows the complete story of each individual, and can guide us in our responses to others.

Try it today. Think again of that person down the street with the overgrown yard, the paint-peeled house, and the snotty-nosed dirty kids. Consider the fact that their story and upbringing is different than yours, and ask God how you can be a beacon of light and love in their life. That attitude of compassion vs. judgment will open more doors than you ever dreamed possible... 

God's Goodness in a Hurting World

My breath caught as I drove into the hospital's parking lot. Again through those same doors, and into that ER waiting room. Memories came flooding back. That same drive just a few weeks before. The same receptionist. The same examination room. The same table where I heard my little boy's heartbeat for one of the very last times. This time, though, I was there for my daughter. Watching her sick little body deal with the ravages of a nasty virus that left her feverish and with a mouth full of bleeding ulcers for a week, made my heart ache with the desire to take her suffering from her.

During those hours I sat in that waiting room for her to be seen, the plethoric crowds of people in and out overwhelmed me. It struck me anew that each one of them had a story. They were there because they were suffering, or to see or accompany a loved one that was suffering. So much hurt, so much pain.... Tears lurked beneath the surface as I pondered my own aching heart, magnified by the labour and delivery room doors that were in my line of sight. Those doors that were supposed to be the pathway to joy a few weeks before, but instead left me with empty, aching arms, and memories I sometimes wish I could erase completely.

As I sat there my heart grappled with the whole concept of human suffering and the inevitable question of why? If we serve a loving, omnipotent God, why does life have to hurt so much for so many people? It's the age-old quandary that everybody faces at some time in their life.

One thing that I've realized in pondering this subject, is that if you aren't currently experiencing suffering in your own life right now, you don't have to look very far at all to find it. Whether it's from our North American sheltered perspective of observing starving children in Africa; the horrific religious and cultural oppression in Sudan;  or in that very moment when grief and pain comes knocking on your very doorstep, it's a reality that we all will wrestle with at some point. One well-known Christian speaker said correctly that in this life we are either just recovering from a trial, in the middle of one, or about to head into one. As much as that isn't what we want to hear, it pretty much sums up the experience of most.

I don't claim to have a very clear grasp on all of this, and through the last six weeks, I've had to make a conscious choice to cling to who God is, rather than of the circumstances I don't like and don't understand. Yet, though the times of painful questioning, God has been gently leading and teaching. I am so grateful that He is patient with me as I learn, cry, and try to wrap my mind around what His goodness and love really looks like and means during this time when life hurts so much.

I find it very providential that I had started a book series just a few weeks before Hudson's passing that had been recommended to me. Through it's four thick books, it deals intimately with this very subject. The foundation of God's goodness in the face of human suffering is a central theme, and in looking back, I see the providence of God in the timing of my reading. The week before Hudson's death, I was already being drawn by a sense of the author's grasp on the truths of God's character. Through the last weeks as I have found moments to read, I've been encouraged again and again to look to WHO God is rather than the why's of the circumstances I don't understand. 

So, instead of trying to write about my thus-far very limited experience in this subject matter, I will let Michael Phillips speak. In this particular section, a woman is describing her journey of faith in embracing God's goodness after the double loss of her husband and child on the mission field....

"What if, I thought, God's goodness and God's love don't necessarily remove the cruelty and suffering and injustice and pain from the world?
"What if they were never intended to?
"What if goodness still exists even though life is hard and cruel, and even though people suffer? What if God's goodness was never meant to take away the world's suffering, but was rather to provide a refuge in the midst of it?
"It was such a shocking idea. It made me realize that I had been expecting life to be good and pleasant and happy because I was a Christian. Now I began to wonder if I had been wrong.
"If these realizations were true, then the only thing that God's goodness would eliminate...was hopelessness.  Because if God is good, there can always be hope..though there may continue to be pain and suffering and injustice and cruelty and heartbreak. 
"I believe the Gospels teach nothing else than this truth....that God is good. Only that, and nothing more - God is good.
"It does not mean that things in my life will always be good...but that God is good. It does not mean that my prayers will always be answered in the way I would like...but that God is good. It does not mean that tragedy may not visit me... but that God is good. It does not mean that the human struggle is not difficult...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not always be suffering in the world...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not be times when I am so overcome by sadness at memories in my life that I must go outside and find a place to be alone and just cry for an hour...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not continue to be many who will deny His very existence because of the pain and seeming unfairness of life they see all around them..but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not always be many questions for which we have no answers..but that God is good.
We cannot see to the bottom of such things. So we foolish creatures look at the world's suffering and say God must not exist, or if he does he must not care, or must be a cruel God. Yet I suspect that when we are one day able to see all the way into it, we will see that Goodness and Love lie at the root even of all the suffering that was ever borne by this fallen humanity of which we are part. The devil is presently having his brief illusion of triumph, but God's goodness will reign in the end.
In short, the circumstances of life do not always seem to be good, but God Himself is always good. Thus, though there may not always be happiness, there is always hope. That must be the basis for our faith - not that God gives us a happy life.'
Michael Phillips - Heathersleigh Homecoming pp 141-143

A refuge in the midst of trouble.... We won't be able to escape pain in this life, but we be able to find a deeper place of experiencing God through it. That is the hope I find myself clinging to...

Not a waste

One thing I struggled with initially upon learning of Hudson's passing, was the feeling of being used by God, and that those eight months of carrying my son were a waste.

Though my pregnancies are nothing to complain about compared to some, there are still multitudes of sacrifices. 

Those first three months of sickness, utter exhaustion, and the emotional ups and downs make anything extra in life seem overwhelming. 

The second trimester's joys of feeling the baby move, coupled with a greater awkwardness, stretching, growing, and learning to accept the multitude of bodily changes that you have no control over - not all of them completely desirable! 

Then that third trimester of returning exhaustion, the inability to bend over without great effort, the perpetual waddle, the back pain, the swelling, the carpal tunnel, the sleepless nights, the bathroom stops every 10 minutes, and the impossibility of doing much of anything without great huffing and puffing...

It all takes a toll. It takes a toll on me, on my daughter, and on Joel. We all have to learn to give "me" up in a multitude of ways....

And then there's the feelings of joys wasted. Joy brings anticipation, that anticipation births dreams, and when those dreams root and plant itself so deeply into our hearts, having it ripped away feels like a partial death.

How much easier it would be if we had never hoped. Never dreamed. Never planned. Never loved.

If there was no love involved, there would be no pain in saying goodbye.

If there were no dreams nurtured, it wouldn't hurt so much to go and visit that flower-laden mound of dirt just a mile outside of town.

If there was no hope of another little person gracing our household, that empty corner in our room where a crib should have stood with a new little boy in it right now would not taunt us with it's painful absence every night.

As hard as it has been for me to accept at times, I am learning to rest in the truth that Hudson's short 8-month life was part of God's plan, and that somehow, none of His plans are a waste.

This truth hit me in a new way the other day as I was reading Psalm 139 - providentially placed by God in the middle of my daily Bible reading plan.

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb...My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (Excerpts of vs. 13-16 ESV)

Here again is where truth makes it's stand against my fluctuating emotions. Before Hudson was conceived, God's purposes for his life were numbered, planned, and written out. Though my heart at times questions the "why" of those hopes being ripped away from us, I cannot deny the truth of God's word, and call those eight months a waste.

I think only eternity will reveal God's entire purpose for those precious months I got to carry my son close to my heart. It's then we'll understand fully that there is another soul there that would not have been had we not loved and sacrificed. We'll see with our eyes the full purpose God had for his short little life. While much of that purpose is still veiled to my heart, God's word declares emphatically that there is no waste in His plans, and in that promise I'm choosing to place my faith. 

Hope and the Passing of Time

Feelings and emotions are a very real, yet a very fickle thing. They often fluctuate more frequently than the tide of the ocean, and can range from peaceful, sunset serenity, to the cruelest fury that a storm can ravage on the wide open seas. When those emotions are raging strong, truth can sometimes be blurred. Sometimes the waves of a seemingly hopeless and endless tear-filled future can feel overwhelming, and that I'm drowning under the pain and fears that taunt relentlessly, day after day.

It's during those times that God's faithfulness is the most clearly shown. Whether it's through the timely call of a friend, a note in my e-mail inbox, a truth filled text, or simply time alone in the Word, God brings faith back to my heart. And did I mention hope?

Sometimes that very word has seemed to mock me. My heart wrestles with the painful question. "Hope in what?" A lifetime of remembered anniversaries; of memories that should of been; of aching arms; of the ever-present desire to watch my son grow up; all mixed with the terrifying fear of this continued, painful grieving process. What kind of hope is that? Death is not reversible. It snatches away what is most precious to you, and leaves you with a gaping hole that at times looks endless and incurable. It leaves you flat on your face so often, wondering what normal looks like, and how you're supposed to move forward.

I'm not trying to be morbid here - just real. It's what some of my days look like in my human weakness, and the reason I have to keep fleeing back to what God calls hope in His word. It's the rock I have to cling to when those emotions sweep away faith like the tide does the sand.

Hope says that God is a healer. People tell me that time helps too. It's the promise I have to cling to the most, because healing for the most part feels scary and undesirable right now. That may sound strange, but as much as I dislike the pain of life at this moment, it's what keep me feeling connected to my son. The passing of time pulls me farther and farther away from those eight months of carrying him close to my heart, of those last kicks, of those precious, but painful hours we had with him after his birth. It's the fear of forgetting.

Hope says that despite my conflicting and oftentimes contrasting emotions, there is a promise of renewed life, joy, peace, and ultimate healing. Healing in part here, and a finally joyous healing when that long-awaited for reunion with our Lord and all of our loved ones will happen

Hope looks toward eternity. It's the reminder that life is more than just the here and now. It's the heavenward pull of the heart when you have a treasure waiting there for you. It's one of the few reasons (right now) that I can honestly say thank-you to God for this trial. The things of this world do grow much dimmer in the face of losing something that really matters, and that is waiting for you in glory.

Hope finds rest, not in the understanding or enjoyment of circumstances, but in the acknowledgement and belief in the character of God. He's good, and He gives good gifts to His children. We don't like those gifts that hurt so much, but the reality is that they are part of life. God's Word promises that if we love Him and accept these trials as God intended, we will see the sweetness in them later.

Hope looks at that pile of dirt over Hudson's earthly resting place, and proclaims, "This is not the end." There is more than this temporary life of pain and suffering. I am living for something so much greater! It revels in that passing of time as one step closer to the eternity where we will finally get to know our little boy. 

These are truths I have to remind myself of on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. And honestly, sometimes others have to remind me of them when my faith is too weak. To point me back to the fact that it's the unseen things of eternity that matter, and that in all reality, the pain and trials of this life are a temporary thing, meant to change us into the image of Christ, and prepare us for an eternity with Him and a reuniting with those dear ones who have gone before...

My Personal Ray of Sunshine

I thought I knew what cold was before moving to Canada. While WI held it's fair share of snow storms, subzero temps, and slick roads, my true initiation to what Manitoba was capable of came last year. At that point, I couldn't see how a winter could get more miserable... Then along came 2014 to prove that it could get much worse. Much worse. It was the coldest winter recorded here in 116 years. To say that it was very, very long is a bit of an understatement. 

When the last of the snow finally melted behind our house on May 10th, I celebrated by swatting my first three mosquitos. I kid you not. Totally not impressive.

Notwithstanding, I was overjoyed at the warming rays of sunshine, and the elation at finally seeing Spring arrive was not limited just to myself. I think this cold weather that spans the course of 7-8 months up here is hardest on the children. How is the world do you keep an 18-month old entertained inside for that length of time? I still have yet to find a suitable answer to that question. 

Leana was completely enthralled with the idea that the ban of going outside other than quickly into a waiting and warmed up van had been lifted. Watching her discover the outdoors for the first time has been so fun. Her pink boots found their way into the puddles while the snow was still drifted high around. Funny how you never have to teach children to find water. ;-)

Spring pretty much missed us entirely, and already the days feel borderline Summerish. The gardens are planted, the last bits of school are being finished, and these mud puddle pictures are a thing of the past. 

Nevertheless, looking back on these pictures makes me smile and give thanks. Even in the middle of that longing to hold my newborn son, I am so profoundly thankful for my own personal ray of sunshine in the middle of a very stormy time. She keeps me busy, on my toes, and adds a sparkle to life that would be sadly missing now if it were not for her cheery presence. Little by little, I'm learning to cherish every moment that God gives.... 

Manitoba Musings Blog Design by Ipietoon