Hope Made Sight

When I was a little girl I marveled over the way sunbeams streak through the clouds at sunset. It looked heavenly, like a glorious staircase made for the Lord to return on. Riding in the car, I would gaze out the window, certain Jesus was coming back today! Well He didn’t come that particular day, but I still long for the actual Glorious Return. One thing I do know is today is closer to this reality than yesterday.

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Sometimes my faith wavers when I’m caught up in the weeds of this life so much. Doubt creeps in too, uncertain that the Bible will play out as God says it will. It all sounds too good to be true: an eternal life (my finite brain can’t even comprehend that); a sinless existence; a world without disappointment, hardship and suffering? And yet I still believe, no matter how small that belief is.

When fears fly in my soul, threatening to snuff out hope, I combat with remembering all the ways God has been faithful to me. Simply listing them, either mentally or on paper brings comfort that God always keeps His Promises. His character does not allow Him to contradict Himself. He is safe to trust. The times I question God’s plans are the moments I’m not fully trusting Him in the first place. Like Eve in the Garden, I began to lean my ear into Satan hissing, “Did God really say…?”

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We live between the already and the not yet portion of history. Christians today have a remarkable viewpoint to see how Christ has already fulfilled His promise of salvation. And yet I still struggle to picture how full redemption and justice unfolds.

This world is broken and heavy under the curse of sin. It’s easy to forget sometimes Who wins at the end of this Story. Believers and all of creation groan, waiting in eager expectation for Jesus Christ to return.

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One day redemption will be complete in glorified, sinless perfection.

One day God will restore everything as it should be, like returning back to the Garden of Eden.

One day we will gaze into the face of Christ, sit at His feet, see His scars that were meant for us.

Until that Glorious Day happens, we stay faithful and wait patiently in hope, that our faith will be made sight.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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A Support System for Special Needs Families

I can’t imagine what life must have been like 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, when autism was deeply misunderstood or virtually unknown. Did the parents feel isolated in communities simply because their child did not fit the mold? Some were accused of not loving their children enough, termed as Refrigerator Mother Theory, which has now been debunked as complete nonsense.

Temple Grandin, a well-known autism advocate and also on the autism spectrum, remembers this first hand. Her mother was told she must be too cold toward Temple, to explain her irrational behavior. This was the conclusion of a medical professional in the 1950s! Other parents who felt hopeless sent their children to mental institutions where they lived out the rest of their days. I don’t think it was because they didn’t love their children, but many had few options and lacked community support.

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Today is vastly different from a time not too long ago, and for that I am grateful. Unfortunately it can still be a struggle for parents with special needs children to relate or share with those living outside their world. Things get lost in translation. It can sometimes feel like an alternate universe filled with IEP meetings, therapy appointments, medicine, natural supplements, working with educators and doctors to make sure your child receives exactly what he needs. I get excited when Jesse sleeps through the night. We celebrate little milestone achievements, like putting two words together, where some might take that for granted especially at age 6.

The “special needs” jargon sounds foreign to someone not in your shoes. Not to mention the emotional developmental delay for most on the autism spectrum. An outsider might conclude your child is “behaving badly” and “lacks necessary discipline”. It’s true they may act differently than their typical peers with public meltdowns, lack of social awareness, or stimming behaviors just to name a few. However, we work toward good manners and accomplishing life skills, but it may take our kids longer to get there.

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Even though family and friends rally around to offer support, a missing piece of the puzzle is found in support groups, organizations, or families on a similar journey. Our stories won’t look exactly the same because no two diagnoses are alike, but there will be an unspoken understanding. And thanks to the Internet, families who live in rural areas can still connect with others who feel isolated themselves.

You don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes we go through trials to comfort another weary heart on a path we’ve walked a little further down. I still can’t fully express my life to someone without a special needs child, and that’s okay. Can it be lonely and frustrating at times? Yes. But then I have a conversation with a mom in the same boat as me. We share a bond. I have met amazing parents who relentlessly advocate for their children. They remind me what we all should do- be a voice for the voiceless. This applies to so much more than the autism community.

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Most of us desire to be understood, to form a connection with someone we can identify with – to be seen and known. When we go through difficult times, isolation typically follows close behind. Extending kindness in the form of a hug, a smile, a prayer or simply your presence can do wonders for a hurting soul. The one thing we can offer each other is grace; Grace to practice patience and compassion. May we live each day with hearts open to the needs of others and may we receive the same kindness.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Christian Chameleon

I don’t remember the play, but I do remember that not even halfway through the 1st Act that I wasn’t going to stay. It was crude and filled with sexual innuendo, mocking sin. I sat contemplating how I was going to make my exit, since my seat was right in the middle of a row, there would be a whole lot of climbing over theatre-goers and “excuse me’s” as I tried not to step on toes, literally. I couldn’t slink out the back door without making a bit of a scene. For this girl who DOES NOT want to draw attention and is more comfortable observing as a wallflower than a participant, this was not an easy move. On top of that, I was with a group of college friends and it crossed my mind that I might be the only one to leave before the curtain came down.

Conviction is a funny thing though. It doesn’t leave room for much negotiation. I knew I couldn’t stay solely on the purpose that God’s values were mocked; HE was mocked. Fumbling in the dark to the nearest door I walked out despite what my friends thought. I can’t remember if all of them followed, but a few did. Driving home I considered how even believers today learn to compromise personal holiness just for the sake of fitting in. I have had my share of compromising as well, but this was one moment where I didn’t. It makes me wonder how the world views Christians. Do we look any different or do we try to blend in?

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Jewish men wear a kippah on their head as a sign of recognition. Muslim women cover themselves from head to toe in a burka. Mormon young men evangelize usually wearing black suits and riding bicycles all across the land. So how does the world spot a Christian? Jesus told the Pharisees they were like “whitewashed tombs”, beautifully religious on the outside but like dead bones on the inside. The Jewish leaders were zealous for their laws, traditions, and customs, but missed Perfect Holiness standing right in front of them. Christ pointed out that the people had lost zeal for His Glory.

Not too long ago legalism in the modern Church ruled the day as well. In recent years the pendulum has shifted with the aide of millennials to the opposite end. Christians are more relaxed in dress for church and worship preferences. These changes aren’t necessarily wrong as long as the preaching stands firm and the church is true. But I see the Church cowering to the culture and the consequence is that our Biblical convictions are watered down. Grace is abused and personal holiness neglected. We trade in reverence for Christ wanting to be entertained on Sundays instead.

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When the Church follows the trend of tolerance that the world has constructed, apathy for God’s righteousness ensues. Shallowness and compromise seep into our pews because of the belief that to evangelize the world you have to look like it. When believers lack discernment on what movies to watch, music to listen to, plays to attend, and just in general how we spend our time, we lose our privilege to be seen as God’s set apart. Jesus also says in another passage, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). The product of our desires and what we genuinely value will come out in our everyday speech, actions and thoughts. This is what the world will see. Ask and trust God to move your heart to be zealous for Him, not lukewarm. Let the world know that you are not ashamed to stand up, or stand out, for Jesus’ Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Examples to Follow

The waiting room at the doctor’s office wasn’t much bigger than a shipping container. We were packed in like sardines except for maybe two empty chairs. An elderly man eagerly talked to whoever would listen. He spoke with another couple near his age sitting across from him, right beside me. I sat amused and slightly horrified as he conversed openly and joyfully about the Bible and attending church. He asked the man and woman where they went to church as well. “This isn’t normal,” I thought, especially in public with complete strangers! A twinge of embarrassment and shame came over me as I saw this man doing something I should be too.

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Jesse and I stepped out of the waiting room to find a restroom. I needed a moment to regroup anyway. What in the world had I just seen and heard? Why was I ashamed? I asked God to forgive my initial reaction and help me to be like this man, who was bold and unashamed for what he stood for. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. Loving the stranger, a soul, was more important because he clearly loved the Lord.

As we re-entered the waiting room two women came out of the doctor’s office to sit as well. In one of the last available seats a Bible sat on it. When the older gentleman realized his Bible needed to be moved he cheerfully offered the Book for one of the women to read before he picked it up. He exclaimed that there was no better Book and that it was full of wisdom. I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open like a fish, dumbfounded at his confidence and sincerity. You could feel the tension mounting in this confined space. In a politically correct society this was a major taboo. “Doesn’t he know the social norms?” the thought flickered somewhere in the back of my mind. His actions seemed ludicrous but I wonder if Paul, Peter, or John the Baptist would have been tight-lipped.

 

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Over the past year I attended a Bible study going through the book of John. God began placing on my heart a desire and conviction to intertwine boldness with humility when speaking about my faith. I wondered what this would look like and saw wonderful examples starting with John the Baptist. Now I was seeing a modern-day John the Baptist of sorts. He was plain, simple, and straightforward, even in how he dressed, clad in an Alabama t-shirt and ball cap with jeans. This man simply started conversations and spoke truth. I saw a faith that was bold, yet humble and cheerful.

I kept thinking we need more believers like this. I wanted a backbone like that too, made from a place of love for people. Why is it that I can stand for God inside the walls of my own home, or at church, in places we deem “acceptable” but not in a doctor’s office, or the grocery store, or my neighborhood? I thought about what persecution for Christians in America would look like. What if I was arrested or worse for speaking about Christ in public? Who would still stand? Would I?

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I needed this man’s reminder to set my perspective on things of eternal worth. It wasn’t just what he stood for, but how he did it. Boldness with humility makes the Christian faith attractive, if not curious, for others to witness. Sometimes it is hard to “practice what you preach”, but the only way I know to do this is when I rely on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. It starts with one small step of obedience after another. This older believer taught me more than he’ll ever know, and I didn’t get his name, but he left a lasting example to follow.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Need to Belong

The other day The Andy Griffith Show came on T.V. as I was eating lunch. I grew up watching this family show on recorded VHS tapes in the early 90’s. My dad is a huge fan and by default, my sister and I were also. It’s something I look back on with fond memories, watching television together as a family, not worried about anything offensive or awkward popping up.

 

This particular one was the only Christmas episode in the entire eight-year series, and is one of my favorites. But something occurred to me this time while watching. The character Ben Weaver is a local storeowner in Mayberry, and also a grouch. He keeps purposely breaking the law to land himself in jail. Sheriff Andy Taylor lets him go because “it’s Christmas” and his Season One pharmacist girlfriend Ellie, begs him to do so.

 

Andy, his family, Ellie, and a local family in jail for moonshining celebrate Christmas together at the jailhouse. The scene then pans to Ben, miserable and alone, standing on a trashcan outside the jail looking in at the joyful party. At that moment, the audience can’t help but feel sorry for him as he secretly joins with the others, sorrowfully singing “Away in a Manger”. We get a glimpse that his tough exterior isn’t all that it appears to be. Ben is in fact, lonely. He’s especially reminded of this at Christmastime.

 

Ben takes a tumble on the not so sturdy trashcan in the alley behind the jailhouse. When Andy goes to check on the commotion he finds Ben sprawled out, hitting rock bottom. Exasperated and dumbfounded, Andy at first begins to lecture Ben until it occurs to him that he would do this on purpose. Could the town grouch really want to join in celebrating Christmas with others? Andy is filled with compassion and the episode ends with Ben “arrested” but not before he generously hands out presents to the other guests at the party. Like the audience, Andy finally understands what Ben wanted all along- to belong.

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The universal message of needing to belong is what struck me. We all have a desire to be understood and accepted. God did not create us to live on our own tiny islands, but as a community, a family even. Every created person has a soul, and if nothing else we all have this in common. God enjoys fellowship within the Trinity, so why wouldn’t He fashion us to crave connection too?

 

Similar backgrounds, experiences, and interests are ways we connect to each other, but the one way that goes deeper than all the rest is a shared love and faith in Jesus. The Spirit knits are hearts together. I love getting to talk with another believer about the One we love most. It’s refreshing and encouraging knowing that I’m not alone. You don’t have to be alone either. Those who know the Lord as Savior belong in the same family. No matter what we look like on the outside or to the rest of the world- black or white, single mom or married, varying economic statuses- none of it matters when we are folded into the family of God.

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We are not on the outside looking in; we are guests at the Christmas party! And when we see someone like the character Ben, on the outside longing to join, we can share the joy and hope we have with him or her. Jesus came as a baby so that you and I would never have to be alone. Jesus accepted us even after looking at our resume. Believers have the assurance of belonging – we get to celebrate Christmas all year round. We belong to a family that will never cast us out and will never end.

Insta-faith

I like Instagram. It’s my favorite form of social media because it gets to the point, along with posting a visual that ranges from inspiring, funny, or cute. We are wired in our culture to hustle, no time to waste, even in recreational things. Our society has transformed into an instantaneous one.

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The reason I know this goes no further than my own lack of patience. Whether it be corralling my son each morning, getting him ready for school, or waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, or impatiently tapping my foot for the Internet to load faster. I hate to wait. I’ve been trained for instant gratification. But this doesn’t follow the model for deep faith in the Christian life. On some level I know this, but I also want the fast track for spiritual maturity. There must be some corners to cut, right?

Last summer I decided to find an older woman in the faith to soak up all her Biblical knowledge like a sponge. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be mentored; in fact it’s a very good thing! I was just going about it the wrong way. Instead, it became a works based attitude (the more I know, the more I’m validated as a Christian) and a source of pride.

It seems that most of my sanctification does not happen mainly by acquiring facts about the Bible but through daily decisions, responses, thoughts, and people. People and situations are real sticklers for personal growth or failure. Honestly, sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back. Although new life in Christ IS instantaneous the moment we trust Him for our salvation, spiritual maturity takes an entire lifetime.

             For those of us who like to “get to the point” this is not great news, but it is gracious news. We learn to abide in His strength and remember once again that God is the Only One who makes things grow. So we wait. He reminds us to do this, as we trust in His limitless power.

We are limited beings and it isn’t until we realize this that humility can nourish faith. In Hannah Anderson’s book ‘Humble Roots’ she uncovers this wisdom with each chapter. She says,

“In God’s wisdom the very process of learning binds us to Him in a way that simply knowing the answers cannot. And so He asks you to trust Him. He asks you to live in dependence. He asks you to humble yourself to wait for Him.” (p. 130)

There isn’t an “Insta-faith” for deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is what makes it so beautiful and organic, something worth being patient for! Over time and trials, when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, our character is transformed to look more like Christ.

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It’s a little ironic that the more I seek communion with God, I see how deeply underground and twisted the vines of pride around my heart are. If we take Anderson’s analogy of gardening, the uprooting and pruning of our hearts is tedious and painful. But we also know that it is needed for spiritual health and abundant fruit one day. Weeds of pride, disease of instant gratification have to be dug up, pulled out and treated if we want to persevere in this life.

You and I don’t have to become discouraged and give up either. God is faithful to finish all He does, and that includes the good work He is doing in you and me. The Bible says we can be confident in knowing this (Philippians 1:6). And that is gracious news.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April