What a marvelous gift that technology can be to us. God uses it to bless me so often with such sweet support from so many of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your love and encouragement!
It's now a week later. I have been learning so much, just this week.
I've been listening to the song "Heaven is the Face" by Steven Curtis Chapman. He wrote the song after his youngest daughter was killed in a terrible accident.
Heaven is the face of a little girl
With dark brown eyes
That disappear when she smiles
Heaven is the place
Where she calls my name
Says, "Daddy please come play with me for awhile"
God, I know, it's all of this and so much more
But God, You know, that this is what I'm aching for
God, you know, I just can't see beyond the door
So right now
Heaven is the sound of her breathing deep
Lying on my chest, falling fast asleep while I sing
And Heaven is the weight of her in my arms
Being there to keep her safe from harm while she dreams
And God, I know, it's all of this and so much more
But God, You know, that this is what I'm longing for
God, you know, I just can't see beyond the door
But in my mind's eye I can see a place
Where Your glory fills every empty space
All the cancer is gone
Every mouth is fed
And there's no one left in the orphans' bed
Every lonely heart finds their one true love
And there's no more goodbye
And no more not enough
And there's no more enemy
Heaven is a sweet, maple syrup kiss
And a thousand other little things I miss with her gone
Heaven is the place where she takes my hand
And leads me to You
And we both run into Your arms
Oh God, I know, it's so much more than I can dream
It's far beyond anything I can conceive
So God, You know, I'm trusting You until I see
Heaven in the face of my little girl
Heaven in the face of my little girl
Our hearts broke so much for the Chapmans when Maria died. And though this song is hers, they've shared that this song is public to help others, too. And it has helped me, so much. I've had a lot of good tears over this song and it's challenged some thoughts.
In 1 way, it's been freeing. I spend so much time telling myself how to feel instead of just acknowledging what I AM feeling. And one thing I've really struggled with is being short-sighted in my grief and not appreciating the more eternal things, like Heaven, and God's glory and the "so much more" that SCC refers to. Right now, Heaven is the place where we'll finally get to meet our little girls. And I long so desperately for that. But I love the lines in the song that I bolded. I will get to meet them there, but they will be eager to bring me to Jesus. By taking them out of frozen storage, God used my body to bring them home to Jesus. One day they will lead *me* to Jesus. And that's beautiful and praiseworthy, even if it hurts.
The other thing that occurred to me tonight is that I usually think of my girls as dead. My grief overwhelms me at times and I often stop at the part in the story where they died. But by God's grace and mercy alone, they are more alive than they would have ever been here, than I have ever been even now. That is cause for jubilation, not weeping. I know it's ok to still miss them, but I need to remember the rest of the story. Don't get me wrong. I still miss them more than I can say. I wonder what they would have looked like. I wondered if they'd like country music and Packer Football. I wonder if they would have played sports or a musical instrument. I wonder what their hair would have smelled like and what their smiles would have looked like. But, though I'll never get the maple-syrup kisses from them, but they already have the "so much more" and that is a great gift to me. I am thankful for God's merciful compassion on them.
My biological father was physically abusive to my mother and emotionally and verbally abusive to me. The role of "father" is largely, not a positive association in my mind. I grew up an Arminian. Most of my family members (myself included) are hot-tempered. I'm a people pleaser and pretty naturally compliant to rules and expectations. Several significant relationships with various people in previous years ended in betrayal or abandonment. The end result (rather, the result up to now, for thank God, He is not finished with me yet!) is that I am a people pleaser to a fault, a compulsive rule-follower, and one who easily errs on the side of legalism.
And from that set of factors, most of my life has been spent living inside these "fence laws" that I have set up for myself, to make sure I stayed in a place that was pleasing to the heavy-handed, easily offended God I had conjured in my head. In my mind, good little Christian girls didn't express displeasure or anger or disappointment with God, never reached the end of their ropes with the trials dealt to them, and were always working to keep Him happy with them. They don't question, they just do. They are grateful for even the tiniest speck of attention and have no right to ask for more. I don't even like to sing songs about God loving me, because I've always felt that took attention away from God and put it on me. I have always felt in easy danger of doing something to become unloved by everyone in my life, including God.
I think I hit my rock bottom last week. And I might still be there. But there's a shift that's happened in my heart. And honestly, I don't think that shift could have happened before in my old paradigm. The problem is, that I didn't even really realize the barriers I had put up between myself and God. So in an attempt to hide these feelings from Him, (which is foolish for He already knew them) and instead put on the feelings I thought I "should" be feeling, all I did was create distance and dishonesty. Last week, I was so exhausted, I couldn't even play those games with myself. It all came out. The guttural, aching, longing, shameless feelings--every last one of them--came up from all the places I had buried them in the name of Christian duty. I couldn't have stopped the tears and the admissions and the desperation, even if I wanted to. But what came was a never-before experienced honesty with myself, and with God. And to my surprise, He was not offended, exasperated, impatient, disappointed or even surprised. He gathered me in His arms, and ministered to my heart. That's just so, so different, than everything I've ever known. And I'm overwhelmed by it.
I've experienced the personal love of Christ this week in a way that I've not ever felt before. I wish I could explain it. It's as if He's been saying "now that we've cut through all of that, the work and the love can really begin!" Because of this journey, I now understand the image portrayed in the song of running into His arms, and not just the one bowing distantly and reverently at His feet (which is also appropriate, but just a different face of God).
So, while hitting rock bottom was a lousy, exhausting feeling, it resulted in the beginning of great healing and new-found trust and love. And I am so grateful for His patience in tenderly bringing me here.
You know how when you're paying attention in love, you notice all the little gestures? You notice that your sweetie pie does the dishes or takes out the trash or gets ready quietly in the morning so you can sleep or lets you have the last of the milk with your cereal or always kisses you goodnight? They're not the grand Hollywood-style gestures, but they're what make you love the person all over again every morning? I've been noticing a lot of those "little" gestures from God.
About a month ago, DH and I started on the envelope system of budgeting. And let me tell you, it's been a tough adjustment. We always had enough money to go around, but we just weren't as careful or as disciplined as we should have been with the discretionary part of the budget. Every time we wanted or thought we "needed" something, we'd just buy it. By the end of the month, we'd spent a huge chunk of money on convenience and excess. So now, I'm counting every penny. I have a modest amount in my envelope each month for things around the house-printer paper, home repair items, air conditioning filters, etc--pretty much anything for inside the home that isn't found at the grocery store. Well, when the amount is as modest as ours is, it's hard to want to spend it on anything. We both needed new pillows because we woke up several mornings in a row with sore necks. Well, we got creative and found an old gift card we hadn't used, a coupon and a sale and marched on over and walked out for 2 new pillows for about $2 out of the envelope. Then, the printer ran out of paper. I really didn't want to go and spend my envelope on printer paper. The next day, DH brought home a ream of office paper that he literally found in a car he was working on. (By the time he gets the car, he also gets anything still left in it. That's resulted in some...err...um, interesting finds over the years).
We have a store here where you can buy and sell used books, video games, music and electronic devices. We had trade-in credit and we really wanted to find the two books by Dave Ramsey, whose model we're trying to follow as we infuse more financial discipline into our lives. The waiting lists at the library for his books are dozens of people long. I called every one of this particular chain of used stores and the story was the same in all of them: his books rarely come in and when they do, they fly right off the shelves. But, over the course of some phone calls and 4 visits to the store, I was able to find both books. With the first one, I literally called right after someone turned it in. With the second one, we happened in the store on a lark (and it was a location we'd never been to!) and in the entire section on personal finance, the only book written by anyone in the R section of the alphabet was, you guessed it-the other book. And it had just been put out on the floor within the previous couple of days or so.
My Pastor has me transcribing a sermon series he did on Gideon. He gave it to me to transcribe just before the end of the year but it was at a time when my finger was still really bad and typing was painful. Then when Mike got sick, I wasn't keeping office hours and the office is where the tapes and transcription machine are. So, between those two things, I didn't get to start transcribing it until last week. I'm half way through it and the messages I've typed this week just "happen" to be about God's patience, fatherly love, and forbearing character.
And in it, he refers to this wonderful passage by AW Tozer:
SATAN'S FIRST ATTACK upon the human race was his sly effort to destroy Eve's confidence in the kindness of God. Unfortunately for her and for us, he succeeded too well. From that day, men have had a false conception of God, and it is exactly this that has cut out from under them the ground of righteousness and driven them to reckless and destructive living.
Nothing twists and deforms the soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God. Certain sects, such as Pharisees, while they held that God was stern and austere, managed to maintain a fairly high level of external morality; but their righteousness was only outward. Inwardly they were "white sepulchres," as our Lord Himself told them. Their wrong conception of God resulted in a wrong idea of worship. To a Pharisee, the service of God was a bondage which he did not love but from which he could not escape without a loss too great to bear. The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion.
Much Christianity since the days of Christ's flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same - an unworthy or an inadequate view of God. Instinctively we try to be like our God, and if He is conceived to be stern and exacting, so will we ourselves be.
From a failure to properly understand God comes a world of unhappiness among good Christians even today. The Christian life is thought to be a glum, unrelieved cross-carrying under the eye of a stern Father who expects much and excuses nothing. He is austere, peevish, highly temperamental, and extremely hard to please. The kind of life which springs out of such libelous notions must of necessity be but a parody on the true life in Christ.
It is most important to our spiritual welfare that we hold in our minds always a right conception of God. If we think of Him as cold and exacting, we shall find it impossible to love Him, and our lives will be ridden with servile fear. If, again, we hold Him to be kind and understanding our whole inner life will mirror that idea.
The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service is one of unspeakable pleasure. He is all love, and those who trust Him need never know anything but that love. He is just, indeed, and He will not condone sin; but through the blood of the everlasting covenant He is able to act toward us exactly as if we had never sinned. Toward the trusting sons of men His mercy will always triumph over justice.
Fellowship with God is delightful beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul. He is not sensitive nor selfish nor temperamental. What He is today we shall find Him tomorrow and the next day and the next year. He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied. He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him, and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will. He loves us for ourselves and values our love more than galaxies of newly created worlds.
Unfortunately, many Christians cannot get free from their perverted notions of God, and these notions poison their hearts and destroy their inward freedom. These friends serve God grimly, as the elder brother did, doing what is right without enthusiasm and without joy, and seem altogether unable to understand the buoyant, spirited celebration when the prodigal comes home. Their idea of God rules out the possibility of His being happy in His people, and they attribute the singing and shouting to sheer fanaticism. Unhappy souls, these, doomed to go heavily on their melancholy way, grimly determined to do right if the heavens fall and to be in the winning side in the day of judgment.
How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.
Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still.
How perfectly, God-timed it was for me to read that, and be challenged by it!
And then just this week, I wrote my meager little checks to all of our medical providers in the hopes of gaining their continued willingness to wait yet another month on payment from the insurance company. We had sent a letter to each provider, explaining the fraud, asking for patience as we made small payments and asking for consideration of a reduction in the cost. Our primary care doctor's office discounted the amount due for us, but we hadn't heard from any of the other providers. We just continued to make little payments each month. I mailed them all off on Monday. On Thursday afternoon, an envelope containing the payment I had made to the provider with one of the two highest balances (about $450 remaining) was returned to me with a note saying that they had received additional payment and that the account was now paid in full. I called when they opened on Friday to see if there was some mistake. She looked at my account and said that it was indeed paid in full, but she couldn't tell me why. There was no mention of anyone making payment. Both she and my insurance company confirmed that insurance didn't pay it. She said that if the company decided to write it off, they wouldn't have returned to me what little I did pay. Neither she nor I have no record or idea of how the "$0" balance came about. A $450 balance vanished into thin air, and the only explanation is God. How generous He is to us! How precious these "love notes" and gestures from God have been to me this week.
I claim no false piety. I am still scared and tired and overwhelmed and confused. I really still do feel like my heart has taken all the bad news it can handle on this journey. I still desperately hope God's answer will be yes next time and I still have a lot of fear. But I guess I no longer feel guilt and shame and fear and a desire to hide just because I HAVE those feelings. And know that God will manage them in His time so I no longer feel the self-imposed pressure to try to fix myself on out of them. I know that God knows my heart and my emotions and is not surprised by them. There's something so freeing in that. And in spite of all the feelings, I still KNOW the Truth. And in that Truth I rest my hope. My hope is not a feeling to come and go; it's a belief, a decision and I am able to make that choice by His grace, because of the One Who IS Hope. Praise the Lord!