Omniscient One

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A few years ago, on an average November day, I sat for my DANB exam. That’s a fancy way of saying that I attempted to get qualified to assist a dentist with your root canal. It’s a long, hard test, and I had never done anything like it. Furthermore, I had basically no one to go to for help. I was the only dental assistant I knew, and all my classmates were too far away to meet for study groups. I was scared, and I was nervous, but I used my study helps and practice tests to the max. I also prayed.

See, I believe that God wanted me to pursue dental assisting. And I went through school trying to honor His will by working hard and getting my best grades. The DANB was the next to the last step, and I was smart enough to realize I wouldn’t pass on my own. In my prayer time that morning, I prayed a deeply profound prayer that went like this: “Well, God, here we are. I’ve done everything I can to prepare, so it’s all on You now. If this is really what You want me to do, You are gonna have to help me.” And once I started the test, I prayed basically the entire time. Unfortunately, several of the questions were different than I had anticipated, and I did not feel good coming out of that test. When I finished, the proctor handed me my unofficial results. As soon as I got to my car, I looked at the three papers, and I bawled for about 5 minutes.

I had passed. All 3 parts.

So before I started calling people, I took a minute to pray and thank God. Which is when I made one of the less intelligent statements of my life.

“Lord, You just don’t know. You don’t understand. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

The minute the words came out, I laughed, and I felt a little ashamed. Because seriously? He’s God Almighty. Of course He knows how I feel! I just got ahead of myself trying to express how relieved and overjoyed I was.

But…have you ever really thought about it? We know the Father sees and knows everything, but sometimes, when life gets really dark and lonely, it’s easy to feel like He’s a tad disconnected from us human beings and our human lives.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. Because Jesus was 100% man, He knows exactly what we go through from day to day. Even though He was 100% God, I’m pretty sure He dreaded Mondays, had to bite His tongue over a snarky comment, and maybe even fought depression.

But sometimes we think that because Jesus didn’t experience the exact same situations we have, we feel like He can’t truly relate to our feelings. Or maybe that’s just me.

My family went through a horrific experience a few years ago that shattered me and destroyed everything I knew as my world. And because the situation was unique, I felt so terribly alone. My friends were so wonderfully caring, but it isn’t the same when you know no one else who’s been in your shoes. So for many months, I felt isolated inside. I felt like a experimental freak for having feelings that nobody else could relate to. And honestly, I started to look at Jesus the same way. I knew He loved me and I knew He was by my side every minute. But Jesus wasn’t a girl. Jesus’ Father hadn’t done what my father had done. I felt Jesus, but I didn’t feel like Jesus felt me.

Until the day He made things clear to me. I don’t remember the service or the sermon, but I remember where I was praying, and I remember the “light bulb from God” moment. There was no audible voice, but I suddenly realized that there really were similarities between mine and Jesus’ trials. So I wrote them down:

I’ve been rejected.
Jesus was rejected.
My father turned his back on me.
Jesus’ Father turned His back on Him.
I’ve been lied to.
Jesus was lied to.
I’ve been lied about.
Jesus was lied about.
Nobody believed me.
Nobody believed Jesus.
I’ve been betrayed by the ones I love.
Jesus was betrayed by people He loved.
People wasted my gifts and efforts and love.
People threw away everything Jesus did.
People downplay my hurt and pain.
People laughed at Jesus’ pain.
It feels like someone ripped out my heart, turned it inside out, laughed at the way it looked, left it on the ground and then left me to bleed.
Jesus was ripped to shreds, left naked, and everyone laughed, and left Him for dead.
I feel alone. I am so scared of being alone. Having to face something by myself. Being left alone.
Jesus was almost always alone.

When I saw all that together on paper, it felt like Jesus had literally reached down and hugged me. He really did know how badly I was hurting. He truly sympathized with me. He felt me. Jesus suffered heartache and betrayal thousands of years before I was even born, so that I wouldn’t have to feel alone–and neither would you. I don’t remember where I found this quote, but I love it:

“Christ leads us through no darker rooms than He has walked before.”
Richard Baxter

 

It doesn’t matter how terrible your situation is, or how unique your pain is: Jesus knows.

I know sometimes it’s hard to believe, when you’re in the darkest midnight of your problem, or when it feels like your test has gone on for an eternity. But I promise you, and God promised you, too, that He would not let you go through life’s battles without giving you His strength to survive. Hebrews explains it better than I can.

“Therefore, in all things He [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”
Hebrews 2:17,18

 

“He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Jesus will help you when you are tested. Because He was made to be like us, His brethren, He can hold us and comfort us when we’re frustrated, or overwhelmed, or completely broken down.

He knows.

I promise you.

He knows.

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The Sovereign Dream

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I was born with an imagination not unlike Willy Wonka. From almost the day I was born, I could dream up a complete world in a couple of minutes. I blame part of this on the fact that I had no sisters, and you can only force your brothers to play your games for so long. (And anyways, they will eventually outgrow your ball gowns.)

I wasn’t a typical dreamer though. Rarely did I dream up a fantastic adventure or pretend I was an animal, or something like that. No, I dreamed up families. Alter egos for myself where I was married (with or without children) or, at the least, happily dating a nice guy. The details differed from story to story, but for the most part, my characters lived happy lives where everything magically worked out for them.

And, to a point, I grew up assuming my life would also work out exactly as God and I had planned. I knew it wouldn’t be a bed of roses, but I expected that it would be pretty “normal”, because that’s how things worked for Christians and their families.

Then I grew up, and I found myself in the middle of a life that I could never have imagined even in the farthest corners of my 7-year-old mental chocolate factory.

I know God is sovereign. I know His original plan was for every family to get along. I know He intends for moms and dads to stay together and for all the kids to love and obey Him. But see, sin showed up and decided to smudge God’s plan in every way possible. And people are susceptible to sin, and some people quit relying on God’s strength to resist sin, so the end result is that sometimes families get messed up.

How does that fit into God’s sovereignty? Let me give you a deep, mind-blowing theological answer.

I have no idea.

My family had no reason to be anything but a healthy, “normal” Christian family. Both of my parents followed paths that should have essentially guaranteed normal Christian lives. My brothers and I were raised by the “formula” for responsible, Christian adults. We had everything we needed. We didn’t know what a “dysfunctional” family was. We barely knew what it looked like. In fact, we were rather boring.

Yet not everything ended up as it “should have”, based on the “formula”. My parents’ marriage turned out differently than anyone could have predicted. My brothers grew up to be real live soap opera characters. Even Yours Truly has made mistakes she never saw coming.

In the last 5 years, I’ve watched metaphorical bomb after bomb drop in my world, and I’m exhausted. Many days, it feels like the drama is never going to end. I wonder why we can’t go back to being “boring”. I’ve prayed multiple times that God would fix my family, but everything is still as messed up as it was before I prayed. Why hasn’t God solved the problems? Why has He answered with what sounds like “no”?

I recently watched a live musical about Moses. Of course with any interpretation of a Bible story, the writers try to fill in the gaps where the Bible is vague, like the individual discussions between people. Well, in this particular show, one scene showed Moses talking to Miriam after another unsuccessful day of reasoning with the Pharaoh. Miriam shows Moses that, for all these years, she has kept the infamous bulrush basket because “it is proof that God can use foolish, broken things to fulfill His plans.” Moses responds to this with a pained “well, how broken do I have to become?!?”

I’ve felt like Moses pretty often lately. I’m sure that God wants to teach me something through all my family problems. But it seems like He is taking the long way around to get to the point.

At one point in the discussion, Moses bitterly points out that “God told me He would lead us out and I believed Him and look where we are.” And who could blame him? God promised Moses He would come through, and He had done several miracles, but the Israelites were still in the same shape they’d been for hundreds of years. For me, I can take you to the exact place where God told me “your family will not always be this broken”. Granted, He’s done some pretty great things, and I have a dated list to prove it. But here I am, almost 3 years later, watching yet another stupid situation go down.

So my eyes stung as I heard Miriam answer Moses:

“Who changed? You, or God?”

Well, I did, of course. Or more specifically, my perspective. See, when my life is uneventful, it’s super easy to trust God and put 100% of my small faith in knowing He will make all of my life work out for my ultimate good. But then if life goes smoothly long enough, it’s easy to start to feel like I have things under control. So then when things start to get interesting, I think I need to control things. I want to fix everything that is going wrong. I forget Who is really in charge.

I used to get super annoyed with Christians who could look at a crazy problem and calmly say, “well, God is sovereign”. First, what in the frick-frack did “sovereign” even mean, and second, how could they be so chill with it?!

But today, I understand. When they said “God is sovereign”, they meant “God is in control”. And they could be calm because they truly believed it.

The concept of sovereignty is hard to explain, but two of my favorite descriptions come from people who have experienced God’s sovereignty even in the middle of horrible situations.

“Sovereignty means knowing that everything that has happened in my life has been filtered through God’s loving hands.” –Laura Story

“Sovereignty is God using what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” –Joni Eareckson Tada

I know why God hasn’t fixed my family. I know why He hasn’t solved the problems. I know why He has answered with what sounds like “no”. Because He’s using all of this mess to accomplish something good. I don’t know what that good thing will be. I don’t know how long “will not always” is. I don’t know what “be this broken” will look like.

But I know this: God may choose to do something great with my life, and He can use anything to accomplish that.

Even if it hurts me, even if my life turns out differently than I dreamed, even if situations are too complicated for me to manage, God is still in control. No, it doesn’t make sense. Yes, it hurts. But I have to trust Him because He can manage more than I ever could, and He can create something more beautiful than I could ever dream.

Why Zarephath?

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If you grew up in or around church (like I did), you might associate the word Zarephath with a certain widow. If, however, you’re wondering if Zarephath was a place discovered by the starship Enterprise, let me briefly enlighten you.

Chapter 17 of 1 Kings tells us the story of an unnamed widow who lived with her son in a town in Israel called Zarephath. The only other things we know about this woman is that she was poor, she had no one else to care for her, and she was living in a pretty desperate situation. The town of Zarephath was experiencing a drought, and it had been going on for a decent length of time: a few years, to be exact. At this point, the poor widow and her son had nothing left in the pantry but small amounts of oil and flour, which was just enough to make a “cake” for them to eat as their last meal, and then they planned to simply die.

Well, God had other plans for this widow and her son. What they didn’t know is that they were about to have some company. See, the prophet Elijah had also been having a difficult time finding grub, and God had told him that a widow in Zarephath would provide for him. When Elijah arrived, he asked the widow to give him the cake that she had planned for her last meal, and said that if she would do so, God had promised to provide for her and her son until He ended the drought. Our unnamed friend bravely decided to exercise a little faith, and she fixed the cake for Elijah. And God made good on His promise by never letting her run out of oil or flour, until the day the rain returned.

Now I have grown up my entire life hearing this story in Sunday School lessons and church camp sermons, but it didn’t really hit home to me until recently.

A few weeks ago, my pastor preached from this story, and while he emphasized what kinds of miracles God could do for us, I was inspired a little differently. I decided to Google the name “Zarephath” to see what it meant, and I discovered that in Hebrew, it means “smelting place”.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God performed this particular miracle in a place named for a process that, while known for being extremely harsh, is also known for creating beautiful materials.

Gold ore itself isn’t anything spectacular. If not for smelting, we would never have the pure gold we value so highly. The widow of Zarephath could have starved to death and we would never know about her. But God used a strange, very uncomfortable process—giving up her very last bit of food—to bring about a better thing—providing her food every day until the drought ended. He used something that required a good deal of trust to prove that, even though life was hard, He would take care of her. And that wasn’t the only miracle God did for her. Shortly after this story (but still during the drought), her son died. She questioned why God would seem to go back on His promise, when He specifically said that He would take care of them. But God proved Himself yet again by bringing the boy back to life.

While the miracles of the oil and flour and the resurrected son amaze me, I’m encouraged by the not-so-obvious miracle. God didn’t immediately stop the drought. He didn’t really change her uncomfortable situation. God took care of her in the drought. He was faithful in spite of the circumstances.

I’ve been in my own Zarephath a few times, and God has done some miracles for me there. That’s why I chose zarephath for my blog name. Because if I’ve learned anything about God in my short life, it’s that He will always, and I do mean always, be faithful. He may not always change my situation, and I may get really, really uncomfortable. But He will never leave me, and He will never stop taking care of me. My pastor put it this way:

“When our need is the greatest, God is the nearest.”

I don’t need God to keep my refrigerator perpetually full, or to bring a dead family member back to life. I do need Him to put some things in order, though, and I may have to pray about them for a few years. But in the meantime, I can rest, because I know this:

He will take care of me, no matter how long the drought lasts.

Once Upon a Scar

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I have a reputation for telling long stories. Not bedtime stories. It’s more like I start to tell you about my latest good deal from Payless, and the next thing you know, I’ve told you where and how and when I bought all 50 pairs of shoes I own. (Not an exaggeration, and true story.) And don’t come visit me, or I will give you a full genealogy report as we tour my house.

Some of my favorite stories to tell, though, are about scars. See, I have a scar on almost every finger, and a few on each hand. And there’s a good story behind each one, because A) I’m a klutz, B) I’m a blonde, and C) I’m a blonde klutz. I clash with things like heating elements and giving dogs haircuts with scissors.

It’s fun to tell stories about scars like that, but there are certain scars and stories that I don’t share as easily. Like how I don’t trust people quickly, or why it’s difficult for me to talk to certain people, or how I’ve had anxiety attacks that leave me useless for an hour or two. I would much rather laugh off those scars and tell you instead about the $350 kitten heels that I bought for $3.50.

I assume it’s the same for most everyone else. We’d probably rather cover up our scars and bruises and stuff down the stories behind those ugly marks. Personally, I’m mostly ashamed of mine. They make me look weak and messed up, and goodness knows I want people to think I’m perfect, or, at the very least, that I’ve got my life together. I’m a Christian. I’ve been raised in a stable, Christian environment my whole life. God forbid that that image be tainted by blemishes that would suggest otherwise.

…but, no, actually. No, God would actually forbid that I have that attitude. For one thing, who am I kidding? We all know none of the rest of us have perfect lives, so why even try to propagate THAT myth?? Furthermore, our scars, our stains, our bruises, our ugliness: they glorify God. No, really. My pastor’s wife, Sis. Jeannie, once stated that “scars show that you’ve healed.” Such a simple statement, yet so profound.

Life is going to throw stuff at you and it’s going to hurt you. And there are two ways you can react.

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You can choose to let those hurts fester and ache and never heal, and then, for the rest of your life, wear your wounds proudly to show everyone how damaged you are. You can make them into a lovely little chip on your shoulder and then become super sensitive to everything.

Or you can choose to let those hurts hurt as you find ways to heal. You can choose to be open with God and let Him fix you where sin broke you. You can choose to seek out honest, trustworthy people who will listen to you, pray for you, and walk with you as you heal. And before long, you will have a beautiful scar to show what God has done.

Yeah, I said a beautiful scar. Sure, the marks themselves look weird and they feel weird. For me, it hurts to try to function when you have anxiety screaming in your ears that you’re a complete and total failure and that everyone you love and respect will never be proud of you. But that’s when I can say what Paul said:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Even though the scar itself may be ugly, the story behind it can be a beautiful testimony of how God loves us and how He cares for us and how faithful and patient He is when we are hurting and broken.

And not only does our story glorify God, it also serves to show the love of Jesus to others. Two years ago, I wrote some words to a friend of mine going through a horrible trial. I truly believe God gave me the words at the time, but I had no idea that I would need those same words myself today.

“Those cracks are painful, and messy, but He will smooth them and gradually ease their pain. Those holes are ugly, and they ache, but He will fill them with His presence, and He will slowly shrink them, over time…God has never needed perfect people or perfect families to spread His witness. Perfect people, if they exist, don’t need God. Hurting people, broken people, flawed people need God. And He wants these imperfect people. So it makes sense that He can best show His love to broken people through broken people. There is our purpose.”

So don’t be ashamed of your scars. Don’t use your wounds as an excuse for bad behavior, or a crutch to gain people’s sympathy. But don’t be afraid to tell the story of your scars, and don’t be afraid to share what God has done.

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Ampersand Poet