a well of hope

Darkness overwhelms my car as I drive the boys to preschool.  The worry is weighing heavy on my shoulders.  I keep trying to shake it off.  I keep trying to look to Him through my fear-filled lens.  But the surgery is just seven days away and the uncertainty of the events is taking over.  This is the heaviest day I have felt in a long time.  Out of desperation, I call my friend and confess the sorry state I am in.  She shares a beautiful analogy I have never heard before…

“You need to build yourself a well of hope.  Take the promises of God and imagine each one a brick.  Build a wall that surrounds you with His bricks of truth shielding you and protecting you from anything that tries to take you down.  And before you know it, all you will see is the hope from His Light shining above.”

Yes.  This is what I need to do.  Nothing is left in my pocket but the idea of this wall and I hurry home with only this one thing on my mind.  Everything around quiets and His promises take center stage. Each time a scripture penetrates my heart, I write it down and start building bricks on my kitchen wall…

Brick #1:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Brick#2: The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Exodus 14:14

Brick#3:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7

Brick #4:  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Psalm 32:7

Brick #5:  My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.  Psalm 25:15

Brick #6:  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying—pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  Philippians 4:6,7

Each time I write down a promise; I pray through it to God, and place it onto my wall.  I can literally feel the darkness fading and the True Light starting to shine in.  I have such focus on the truth each promise brings that I’m shocked when I start writing the next brick, and out of nowhere, I feel God prompt me with a distinct thought, “you are writing on a neon post-it.”  Friends, I know this is not my thought.  It is totally out of left field and I don’t even know the point of it.  I cry and tears roll because even though I’m not sure what He means, I know the Almighty God of Heaven is reaching down to touch my little broken self.   He goes on to remind me that I have written about neon post-its before.  So I quickly pull out my laptop, and through tears, I scan this writing.   In it, I had written about the first time I distinctly remember testing God.  As a young girl, I wrote Him a letter on a neon pink post-it and sent it off into the wind, asking Him if He was real to send it back beneath my pillow. He didn’t. 

After reading this, I ask Him again, “What are you trying to tell me?” And then, as clear as day, there’s the answer…

“Test me on these neon post-its.  And every single time, I’ll come through for you.” 

Yes! My heart sings.

My heart sings not only because He chose to give me this divine encounter, but because when I can’t count on anything else—I can always count on Him. 

Yes—the well of hope.   I’m in it now--His light shining down and His promises hemming me in; protecting me from what surrounds.  And Psalm 27:1-3 comes to mind: 

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who stumble and fall.  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. 

ready. aim. fire.

“We’re going to have to refer you to the oncologist.”

The words explode right there in the doctor’s office.  In a stunned fog, my mind swirls with emotions.  One word quickly rises out of the ashes….NO!

Even though my world has just been turned upside down, the doctor doesn’t let up.  He continues to fire off the bad news…

“…the ultrasound showed that you have a vascular cyst surrounding over 90% of your ovary.” He draws a picture on a piece of paper showing a normal size ovary on the right and an ovary about three times the normal size on the left.

“…the size of the cyst hasn’t changed since you received your CT scan three months ago.”  Good, right?  No, he says that this is concerning.

“…this could be a malignant tumor.” Because it’s a blood-filled cyst it means it could either be an endometrioma or a type of cancer.  No other choices.

I ask further questions to find reassurance.  He ends with…

“…I doubt this is going to be cancer but you will need to ask all of these questions to your oncologist.  I’m just not sure.”

Your oncologist?  Since when did I have an oncologist??   

I try to swallow down this moment.  I try to take His Truth and coax it down.   But sometimes fear can come snatch away the ease of swallowing.  And I find it’s one of those bitter bites in life that chokes the breath right out of me.  The feeling triggers that day.

That day when my world changed forever.  Everyone kept reassuring me everything was going to be okay; that I was just being a worrier.  People kept telling me how safe the water survival course was and reminding me of the crazy low percentage that anything bad could ever happen.  When you’re told that, and then the news of death comes literally to your doorstep, you don’t forget that.  Your world is forever changed.  You realize percentages and words don’t control a thing.  You lose faith in people telling you that, “everything is going to be alright.”  As well-intentioned as they may be, you realize you just can’t take them seriously because no one really knows everything’s going to be alright.

Here I am inside my house and the doorbell is ringing again.  I don’t know what is waiting on the other side.  Is it the news of death looming near?  I am paralyzed in fear that I am going to experience the worst case scenario again.  As a single mother, every bone in my body wants to be here with my boys to take care of them.  So I wrestle with God for days…

Wait God!  You didn’t really mean to allow this, did you?  How could you right now??   Don’t you know I am still trying to cope with my loss?  I am taken out by this news and I find myself completely paralyzed in fear of the worst.  I struggle to even read God’s promises.  I just can’t fully surrender the unknown into His hands (although I know I have no control anyways). 

One long (and I mean long) week passes and I finally meet with my oncologist.  He starts off with a positive…

“Well, I don’t think you have cancer given your age and family history.” 

As I feel some relief rush over me, I quickly remind myself...there we go again, people telling me the percentages are good.  And then the firing begins again…

“…because there is a risk that this cyst is malignant, I can’t just test it.  If it is cancer, it could spread.  The safest thing to do is to remove your left ovary, fallopian tube, and the cyst and then test it.”

“…it’ll probably be about five small incisions.”

“…If it is malignant, we will stage the cancer while you are under and then we will need to discuss the likely outcome of a hysterectomy.” 

He ends with some reassurance that he doesn’t feel like that will be the outcome and I try to take it in and think “glass-full” type scenarios.  But because he can’t promise me anything, fear still takes hold.

Surgery gets scheduled for just 10 days later.

My mind transforms into an absolute battlefield as the days pass.   I can’t let go of the what ifs.

I vent to my mother-in-law, “I wish at this point I could convince myself to just trust all the promises and let go but I’m struggling.  Life can be hard.  I believe God is here and all powerful; I believe He is sovereign over everything.  I know sin and these hard places are not His perfect plan but I also believe He controls everything and can stop anything He wants.  So I’m struggling with why He’s allowing me to face this right now.  I know there’s a bigger plan but it’s just hard being in the thick of it.”

She replies with some great wisdom, “Maybe when we ask God why He is making us suffer, we are asking the wrong question.  Maybe He wants us to ask, what am I supposed to do with this mess I am in?  Or what do You want to do through me with this mess?”

In the midst of the battlefield of the mind, I try to heed her advice.  I ponder the questions and when I can step outside of myself and the fear that surrounds me, I ask God, “What do You want to do through me with this?”

I sort and sift through the wisdom and truth I receive and battle it against the unknown future ahead.  I try to cling to the truths as I feel the fear trying to knock me down.  But God is about to drive the fear out with His perfect love.  He is about to rock my world as I process through this journey.

God just IS

Remember how I told you in my last post that I have quite a bit of unfinished writings floating in my documents folder?  Well, this is one of those that I wrote in the fall of 2013 after a lot of wrestling with God.  The boys and I had a few rounds of sickness that landed us in the ER. After pointing fingers at God, He taught me the following lesson.  Little did I know that this would be preparation; just the tip of the iceberg on this lesson, and God would lead me back to this writing in a beautiful way.  I’m excited to share that story in one of my following posts.

“If you are real, then send this letter back beneath my pillow,” I scribbled on a neon pink post-it.  Grabbing it tightly, I ventured out into the wind which blew vigorously through my blonde hair. Rule-abiding ran thick through my bones and I started to hesitate in executing this plan.  But then I took a deep breath, and with hope welling up inside, I let go.  In awe, I watched that post-it soar with the wind and pirouette aimlessly down my street.   With fervor, I prayed, “God, when I wake in the morning, please, oh pretty please, put that post-it under my pillow.  Then I’ll believe in you with all my heart, and know you’re real.” 

There, in that moment, I gave God my first test...If you do this, this little thing I ask, then I’ll believe in you.

Well, morning came.  My heart sank as I lifted the pillow to see that there was no neon pink hiding there.  I even checked under my other pillow to be sure God hadn’t confused the memo.  I couldn’t understand why He didn’t follow through with His side of the deal.  It seemed perfectly logical to me. 

As I’ve thought back to this childhood memory, I’ve chuckled to myself thinking what a silly girl I was to test God in this way.  But…it hit me recently that I still do this with God.  I find myself continuing to bargain with Him; throwing “post-its” in the air and expecting God to tuck them neatly beneath my pillow.  I sometimes try to put Him into a box or make one-way deals that I think would make perfect sense.  Otherwise, I contemplate; maybe I shouldn’t trust Him anymore.  Maybe He’s not even real.

I bet you might be able to relate.  Have you ever played a bargaining game with God?  God, IF you do this…

IF you save my daughter from her drug habit, IF you cure my cancer, IF you remove the thorn, IF you keep my family safe, IF you get me this job, IF you save my marriage, IF the answer is yes, IF you keep my life comfortable, IF you take the pain away, IF you bring me a spouse…

 THEN…then what?

Then you are worthy of my trust, my belief, and my praise?

Because I was handed such a devastating loss, I have struggled a lot with bargaining; even at times, feelings of entitlement.  I’ve had many “why are you allowing more pain?” and “how could you do this to me?” moments with God.  I’ve found myself both angry and confused with God not following through on my one-way bargains. 

Through this wrestling in prayer, I’ve come back to the truth that, even as much as I try, I will never be able to wrap a finite mind around an infinite God.  God is not bounded…not by the way we feel or think, not by our hopeless situations, and certainly not by “if and then” bargains.  He just IS. 

These tough moments have led me to this pivotal point in my faith….

IF you allow my life to be hard, IF you don’t answer any of my prayers, IF you allow me to get sick, IF life is a constant struggle, THEN….

THEN, You are still worthy.  Worthy of it all: my trust, my belief, my praise.  Because You are I AM. 

I can assure you that although I wholeheartedly believe this, at times, it can be hard to put it into practice.  I think it’s because I forget to remember that there is a bigger plan at work. In those moments I find myself desiring to be God and for Him to fit into my mold.  But I’m not God.  And He’s certainly not my genie in a bottle.  I don’t get to make up what He should do and He reacts to me. 

He is the almighty God…so He chooses what He wants to do and we can choose how we react to Him.  With His help, I’m learning how to drop to my knees and praise Him through the tears.  I’m learning not to bargain, but instead to trust.  And I’m learning that, despite what my circumstances are, He is good.

our tiny hands

Just a few pieces of fish and bread. Yep, that’s what it took to interrupt six months of excuses.  You see, God’s been urging me quietly, and loudly, to write for quite some time.  He’s been beckoning me to share what He has been teaching me.  But I’ve had so many reasons why I can’t.  Life just gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it?

IMG_7906.jpg

“Lord, I have so many other things to do today.  I’ll do that next week.”  And week after week, has turned into month after month…

“Lord, I really don’t have much to offer you.”

“I’m not good enough.”

Sure, I’ve tried to write.  I have about five half-finished writings.  I keep saying I need to finish them.  But there they sit, abandoned in my documents folder.  Actions sure speak louder than words, don’t they? 

All my excuses came to a halt this morning when I read this in Matthew 14:

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

This scripture leaped off the page and sucker-punched me in the gut; in a good, convicting sort of way, of course.  Sitting cross-legged in Sunday school class, I remember being amazed at what Jesus had done.  All these years, that’s what I had continued to see.  But this time I saw it in a whole new light and realized there’s much more to this story.  I focused on those meager portions; those tiny hands that held the few pieces of fish and bread.  And I thought about the disciples’ predicament and how Jesus said to the disciples, “You feed them,” fully knowing that they couldn’t…in their own strength.

It would be like realizing you forgot your credit card.  The cashier rings your total to $5000, and you look into your billfold to find only a few crumpled dollars and some change.

What you held in your hands would be totally insufficient.

But it was all you had to offer. 

Jesus could’ve laughed at the pitiful amount of food and made 5000 plus portions appear in a heartbeat.  But that’s not the way our Jesus works.

Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples, or us, hanging out on a limb to dry.  He doesn’t expect us to be able to carry out His work in our own power.  Full of grace, He says, “Bring them to me.”  He asks us, like the disciples, to give Him our meager portions.  He chooses to invite us…weak, little us…into His magnificent story.  He wants to take our insufficient efforts, whatever we can offer in our tiny human hands, and multiply them through His mighty power.  He actually welcomes our weaknesses.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, it says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Throughout this grief journey, I’ve had every layer of human strength stripped from me; where many times I have found myself lying helplessly, sometimes even paralyzed, before Him.  Many people have told me that I am strong.  But that is the furthest from the truth.

I am not strong….but my God is.

Any hint of strength that you have seen in my life is only because of Him.  People have told me things like, “I could never be as strong as you are if I were in your situation.”  But the same power that is available to me is readily available to anyone, so that’s simply not true.

Today God knew I needed a little (or big) kick in the pants; a reminder that He wants me to surrender my insufficient human efforts unto Him.  So here I write, and I pray that this sacrifice from my hands is used by God to provide for a need. 

Maybe it’s that someone needs to hear that He wants you exactly as you are.  You don’t have to have your act together.  He wants you to surrender yourself before Him…your broken bits, your failures, your life...and let Him work.

Or maybe it’s that He wants someone to know that you can trust Him with your weakness; that you can step out of your comfort zone and know He is there every step of the way. 

Or maybe, like me, you just needed a little kick in the pants today; a reminder to stop making excuses and let Him use you, in whatever capacity He chooses.