I follow a page that lists Christian e-books that are free and discounted. A book came across that list this morning called The Hardest Peace. The description intrigued me and the price was less than $4 so I bought it. That was before 6:00 this morning, when I was struggling with exhaustion and annoyance after having my sleep interrupted for the umpteenth night in a row by a determined little boy who has decided sleep is his mortal enemy. I started reading and read until little boy got up "for real" and then again at his nap time, and again when he turned in to bed. I just finished the book, even whilst sleep-hating little boy is awake at nearly 10:00pm, snuggling with his daddy, as said super-man desperately tries to get him to wind down.
I read a blog from a missionary friend recently, who shared a sweet story of a package of paper dolls her family received in the mail and how that package reassured her little girl of God's love for her. The family are missionaries in a war-torn country and had to evacuate quickly, leaving all their belongings behind. The little girl missed her dolls, and the night after her grieving, a package showed up in their new country, with a new package of the same dolls. The box had been mailed weeks or months earlier, by a party who knew nothing of the abandoned dolls. The little recipient of the package declared how much she knew God loved her because he met a desire even like paper dolls. I remember reading the entry and thinking to myself, "I wish God loved me like that, too."
As I've walked through this years-long season of loss, I've doubted God's love for me. Not his global, eternal, saving, redeeming love. But his personal, individual, Jennifer love. The love that cared about my tears and and my longing and my dead babies and my son who wants a sibling of his own and my sweet husband who is such a good Daddy that he empirically SHOULD have more children. Doubting this love has made me hopeless, reclusive, and even a tad cynical.
The struggle of my life, and I think of any Christian's life, is to align your feelings and your heart with the Truth and with reason. I've recognized the magnitude of this charge so fiercely that most of the time I don't even acknowledge that these are my feelings because I know how desperately inaccurate they are. The God of the Universe loves me even when I don't feel like he does. I am so grateful that God is not capricious. He doesn't give or withhold His love based on if I think He's doing a good enough job of showing it or if I have earned it (I haven't! and never will!) God declared His love in a great, big, Jesus way when He created this earth, when he created each of us, when He sent his Son to die for us, when He left His Word for us. When I find myself doubting, I simply remind myself of these things in an effort to will my feelings into submission. It doesn't usually work, but I trust that God knows my heart and knows I'm trying to believe even in darkness. I know one day He will redeem even my feelings, too.
Back to the book. It's the writing of a young mom dying of cancer. You may have actually seen an article by her this week in response to the Oregon woman choosing to end her life on November 1 in response to her own cancer.
I don't think it's productive to compare pain. Each person's pain is tremendously impactful for that person. While it can be a useful exercise in perspective, it's also an easy way to discount the very legitimate suffering of another, even if the impetus of that suffering feels smaller than yours. I appreciate that Kara never ever says, "I'm dying of cancer at age 36. Whatever problem you have has to be less, so suck it up!" She simply tells her story and the things she has learned while going through life's "Big Hards."
One of the things she shared that instructed me was naming her graces. I think I'm fairly responsive to thanking God for His blessings. But the way that Kara referred to them as graces was challenging. I think that it's easy to sort of subconsciously think that a lot of our blessings are deserved. If we eat right, drive safely, use our money wisely, shepherd our kids, remain faithful to our spouse, live frugally, love well, attend church, etc, it's easy to think, even ever so subconsciously, that we helped earn the blessings of health, family, friendship, church fellowship, a good marriage, financial security, etc. We can thank the One Who gave them to us and sort of mentally pat ourselves on the back for setting ourselves up for success and blessing. I think that's one reason we struggle so much when whatever challenge we're faced with is NOT a natural, logical outpouring of the circumstances preceding it.
But the very definition of grace is unmerited favor. Each and every single little thing, big or small, that is anything other than eternal damnation, is completely, wholly unmerited. I think I had forgotten that, without realizing it.
So I'm naming my graces. The big ones are easy to spot-my Jesus, my husband, my son, my children in Heaven, my family, my friends are all God's grace to me. A good marriage full of love to a good man full of love is God's grace to me. It is God's grace that He granted me my heart's desire to stay home with Matthew and be the kind of mom I want to be (or at least try to be her). We spent the day making pancakes and driving cars and reading books and talking, and feeding his love for tractors. It is God's grace to our family that 5 years into our business, we are still growing enough that we can support our family, and we have trustworthy, loyal, hardworking men of integrity on our staff whose families we can also help support. It is God's grace to us that while our roof continues to leak, we are still safe and the roofer continues to show up each time and try to fix it. It is God's grace to us that another couple chose us and that we have the opportunity for another transfer. If the purpose this time is to be another delivery to Heaven, that is God's grace, too. It's God's grace to me that today, Matthew craved touch so much that by the end of the day, I lovingly called him my little barnacle. It is God's grace to us that Matthew gets to see his grandparents so often. It is God's grace to me that the first response of my best friend when finding out that our transfer is a week before her due date was, "Yay, we get to be pregnant together," showing me her faith FOR us even when I fear. It is God's grace to me that our family was just able to enjoy a modest but lovely vacation. It is God's grace to me that we have food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, the medications we need, gas in our vehicles, and lots of wants, too. It is God's grace to me that I could read this book I needed to read today, even when not feeling well. It is God's grace to me that I have His Word available to me any time I want it. My education and my hobbies are His grace to me. Even this blog and the freedom to be honest are His grace to me. My warm coffee every morning, the rain that has drenched our valley, and the toy cars that litter my floor are all His graces. Matthew's giggles and my husband's loving glances and the nearby snores of my big fat dog are all God's graces to me. All of these things completely unmerited, unearned gifts.
Seeing these things as true GRACE, rather than "just" gifts, makes it easier to see and feel God's Jennifer love. Each and every little moment that makes my day more special is His Jennifer Lovesong. And today I believe a little more earnestly and heartfully than yesterday that if that song has another chorus of sorrow, it will still be a love song.