The Sovereign Dream


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?


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


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.


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.

Fresh Flowers_2
Ampersand Poet