Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An incredible love

Someone once told me, in the midst of intense grief, that they will be praying for me as I endure God’s discipline.

God's discipline? Honestly, I had never put that much thought into it and it seemed like on of those mysterious qualities about God that was "too much" to try and figure out. But this I did know, discipline sounded a lot like punishment.

Ever since then, these thoughts have nagged in the back of my head.

If this is God’s discipline, then I must have really needed some straightening out….So this must be the result of something I  did or did not do…What did I do that needed such extreme punishment?...I know the bible speaks of discipline, is this really how God works?

And you can imagine the guilt.

Obviously, my mind could not separate the word discipline, from the word  punishment. I had been taught that the discipline talked about in Hebrews is not punishment, but rather training. The passage even tells you that God disciplines those He loves.

But the words discipline and punishment were just too closely linked in my mind, despite my knowledge of what was true, I could not separate them. God began to look like a God who frowns down upon me from heaven, punishing me for the wrongs I could not seem to get right. And I felt mounting guilt about my imperfectness. Especially when it seemed possible that my imperfections could require such an extreme punishment as losing a child. Could this really be how it worked? My knowledge of God was clouded over with hurt and pain. Having those unanswered questions about discipline rolling around inside of me left my heart feeling so unsettled.

And so, the questions remained, eating away at my soul for weeks; Did I lose Ezra as a consequence for my sins in the past?

But, thank the Lord, all of that confusion and hurt was washed away this last week, and I am so excited to tell you about it!

In talking with my amazing husband about all of these questions one night, i let my guard down, dug deep, and really went to the heart of my questions which i had not yet said out loud to myself. I believe it took me a while to verbalize these questions because I knew they sounded wrong, but my heart longed to work this through. Was losing Ezra a form of discipline for my past sin? And through my sweet husband who is so patient to always listen to me, Jesus opened my eyes to the answer to my question.

Are you ready?

This is exactly how I wrote it in my journal...

 There is NO consequence for my sin, because Christ took every possible punishment for my sin on the cross!

What freedom I felt in that moment that Jesus turned the light on in my heart!

It should have been obvious, but God graciously timed this answer just right.

God had me on this road of seeking the answer to painful questions for a reason.

 I now know that losing life with Ezra on this earth could not possibly be a consequence of my sin, because Christ already took that punishment a long time ago! Thank you Jesus!

 I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my sin is completely removed from my identity , as far as the east is from the west.

I know with all my heart that my sin is infinitely separated from me and I have complete freedom  from the punishments I deserve.

I know this truth now all the way down to my toes, and in a way I never have known it before.

Sweet freedom is mine in Christ and I can feel it! True freedom from all guilt and shame. And I see now with my identity securely in Christ, that God wants to bless me as much as He wants to bless His own son because that is who He sees when He looks at me.

At first, I must admit,  I did feel a little silly that I didn't understand the answer to my question was Jesus dying for me on the cross. That is the sunday school answer right? And I have been going to church all my life, shouldn't I have known that from the start? But now that I have processed these thoughts more, I am SO thankful that I didn't know the answer right away. This may sound harsh, but feeling, for a time, that the loss of Ezra could have been a consequence of my sin allowed me to fully and completely feel the freedom that I know I have because Jesus took every possible punishment for me on the cross. As I was talking with a dear friend of mine the other day, we identified that until we experienced grief in our lives we had no idea how much we needed the cross. It was a "basic" that we assumed we had already understood. And perhaps we did in our heads, but in these dark times of sadness, Jesus gave us the gift of understanding in our very souls.  I have experienced this gift now in a way I never could have before, and on such a deep level. What better doctrine to understand so deeply? I have a renewed sense of EVERYTHING Christ's sacrifice means for me. I know in the deep recesses of my soul now, that there is nothing I can do or add to Christ paying the penalty for my sin. Before I was acting as if Jesus, plus me really pursuing him, equaled everything that i needed. Now I know that Jesus, plus nothing, equals everything I will ever need. 
Thank you Jesus for such a gift!

Oh the deep deep love of Jesus
My defender
My mediator
You are God with us
Thank you for your love
Jesus, thank you for your love

I came across this verse that very day I was talking with my husband and I want to let it sink deeply into my heart.

“He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? "
Romans 8:32

As I meditated on this verse I realized that I now have new insights into this deep description of God's love, because I too know the pain of experiencing the death of a son. I can only imagine the deeper pains of having to consciously choose to give up your own son. To choose to crush him.

I can't even imagine choosing to give up Ezra, let alone, choose the most painful way in which he could experience death.

I wanted to continue to enter into the pain that our Father experienced, and I found a vast love. I looked up the word crush and it's meaning. To crush means to break, pound, or grind into small fragments, to put down, subdue, to overwhelm or oppress severely, to extract or obtain by squeezing or pressing.

What caught me off guard in these definitions was to extract or obtain by squeezing or pressing. What i felt God make clear to me after that still gives me goosebumps;Our Father obtained freedom from punishment for us by pressing the weight of His wrath on His son, to the point of death. And Jesus loved us so deeply that He was willing to endure this crushing that extracted our life and freedom from sin and death. Think of the love that are found in those words. A love that is personal, and specifically for you. The love of Jesus.

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus!
How great, how vast, how incredibly wide is His love for us!
For it was not the nails that keep him on the that tree, it was love.
It was incredible love.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The road to Emmaus

A dear friend of mine recommended a devotional book to me called “Mended” by Angie Smith. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Angie, she is a woman of faith who has also lost a baby and wrote a book about her journey through loss called “I Will Carry You”.  I read it shortly after Ezra was born and would highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to a mama who has just lost a precious little life.  I absolutely love her writing and was more than ready to dive into this new book, and much to my delight the Lord had something waiting for me to discover within the pages of this book.

In one of the very first chapters, she shares the story of Jesus and the two men on the road to Emmaus. The entire story can be found in Luke 24:13-32, but here is a brief summary.

Two believers were walking on the road to Emmaus. They were dismayed discussing the crucifixion of Christ, and were struggling to believe whether the rumors they had heard about Jesus having risen were true or not. Then suddenly, a man (Jesus) “catches up” to them. The Greek word used to describe this is eggizo, which means “to draw near, approach.”

As they shared with this man what they had been discussing, they had no idea they were in the presence of the living Christ. They continued to walk right next to him for miles while Jesus reminded them of what the prophets had said, speaking the very word of God, but they did not know him.

When they finally reached their destination Jesus acted as if he was going to journey on, but they begged him to stay for dinner. Sitting around the table together, they watched Jesus break the bread and scripture says that then “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Just as quickly as they had recognized him, he disappeared from their sight. They turned and asked each other, “Did our hearts not burn within us while he walked with us on the road, while he opened us to the scriptures?” Their journey with him that day made sense now. It had been Christ all along. Even when they were too focused on their doubts to see him, he was there. Even while their hearts burned with longing for him and they did not yet know who he was, Jesus had not changed. He was still right beside them, preparing to reveal himself.

I love this story. I first realized I would love this story when I read in the book that Angie had looked up the meaning of the word Emmaus, and found that it meant “warm springs, frequently used for healing.” This story, to me, is a symbolic journey of walking with Jesus on a road toward healing, and I know that is exactly where I am in this moment. It is meaningful to me that in the passage the two believers are not always aware that Jesus is with them, but their eyes were indeed opened to him at the end, after they had pushed through their questions and doubts. And even more meaningful to me is that even while the believers are doubting and questioning, Jesus never leaves their side, even though they do not recognize him.

I have felt this imagery played out in my life many times. Wanting to believe, working through my doubts, and not always feeling as if Jesus is beside me.  But this passage gives me great assurance that he is with me.  He could have left the two men while they continued to doubt. Jesus had even revealed the truth of the scriptures to them. It would make sense to us for Jesus eventually give up and leave to their own doubts, but he didn’t. 

He stayed.

I also see in this passage that the believers knew they yearned for him, even though their eyes had not yet been opened to seeing him. It gives me validation of the yearning I have for Christ. Even though I may have been operating under a tainted view of who God is, my eyes not fully opened, my longing for Jesus presence is still very real. The longing was not something I created, it was something God created.

So where am I on the “road to Emmaus”?  

I think I may be at the point where I am begging Jesus to stay, but my eyes have not yet been fully opened to who he is. In the aftermath of losing Ezra, I know I still have some doubts and questions that are holding me back from my eyes being completely opened to the love Jesus has for me.

Knowing my tendencies, it is important to tell myself that letting go of the doubts to embrace all that Christ has for me may not happen in one glorious moment. It will take time. Some of these wounds run deep, and my newly revealed inaccurate views of who God is have been part of my spiritual walk for a long time, and they are deep within me. ( If some of you have not yet read the previous post, I realized that based on a lot of imprinting and experiences from my past,  I feel I need to ”perform” for God by seeking him consistently to receive his approval and love.) I must remember that It takes careful time to thoroughly dig out a root so deep.

They walked for miles on this road toward healing, and I wonder if when they arrived they felt tired and worn. I tend to have idealistic views about what it will look like when I finally arrive at a place where I begin to feel healing, but it is good for me to remember that perhaps I will feel tired and worn as well. I may not be supernaturally invigorated to continue to move my heart toward healing, I may have to push on and persevere, with a weary and worn soul.

The reward, however, is that it was then in their weariness and at the comfort of a meal that the believers saw Jesus for who he really was. I know that will not disappoint and I am so excited to get there.

Lord, when I find myself weary, let it be not a hindrance, but a clear reminder of my need for you. Let it be a reminder that I cannot “perform” my way out of this and gain any lasting results. I need you to get me through. I need you to be transforming my heart and my mind, conforming it to the views of your character that you desire me to have.
In Jesus name,

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Inner turmoil

My life has felt like a bit of a mess lately.
I feel like I am just swimming in the aftermath of losing Ezra.
I feel as if I have moved on from the insanely intense grief into that strange place I wrote about in my last post, where grief, and joy, and fear are all mixed together. Based on these past few weeks, I would also add doubts and confused anger to that mix. It's not a full out wanting-to-punch-holes-in-the-wall type of anger, but a confused, hurt type of anger that leaves me asking God the hard questions.
"Was this something I did?"
"Why did it have to be this?"
"If I had been more faithful to you before Ezra was born, would that have changed things?"
"How is it that you can really love me and let something like this happen?"
They are really hard questions, but I am determined not to run away from them. Left unanswered or not thoroughly worked through, I believe theses questions could be so damaging to me in the future. But don't worry, I am not going this alone. I have some amazing people helping me through these questions.

But let me pause from the drama for a moment to say that my life is not a complete mess. I am still really loving it, and loving Levi. He is so fun right now! For instance, as I write this He is currently laying on the floor at my feet, playing with dinosaurs, and making really lame roaring noises for them since he is only two. They are the cutest little "roars" I have ever heard! I love it! I have just been intentionally soaking up these moments. He now has decided he wants to watch Dora, and after I suggested that we wait a little while on that, he starting having two year old conversation with his dinosaur.
Levi- "Dinosaur watch Dora?"
Dinosaur- "Yes sir!"
And this went on for quite a while. I love to just stop and watch. Sadly, It takes a little more discipline than I think it should, but it is so, so worth it. I have the most fun just watching Levi play.

But now back to my inner turmoil, I have also realized that I have some imprinting from my past that has affected my view of God and who He is. For example, I often picture God looking down upon me from heaven, and I rarely picture Him right next to me, literally with me. When I dig deep, I realize that I believe that God is either pleased or displeased with me based on my performance before Him. I don't doubt my salvation, but I act as if what I do can change his love toward me. For me, the "performance" mostly looks the time I spend with Him. (ie: including Him in my life, reading the bible, praying, "quite times".) When I know I haven't been doing these things, i sense that God is disappointed in me. Looking down from heaven, and frowning. My eyes have been opened to see that these images not true, they are created and derived from imperfect people and hurt from my past. I believe He has grace and perfect love for others, but if I am honest I do not always believe that He really has grace and perfect love for me. These are hard things to work through, but I feel as if i can share them here. I want to share these things here because if any of you have been hiding some of these feelings in the dark, feeling too afraid to bring them into the light, I want you to know that you are not alone. In fact, I think everyone has had their view of God tainted in some way. We live in an imperfect world, surrounded by imperfect people and left to our own means a perfect God makes no sense to us. We try and reason with our earthly minds and what we know of earthly love, which is why we can get so misconstrued. But, as I have learned deeply this past year, the only way we can truly begin to understand God's perfectness is by His transforming and renewing of our minds.

"Nothing in my hands I bring,
simply to the cross I cling"

And as I have beat myself up, feeling so much like a disappointment to God, He gave me this verse. I came across it when reading "Jesus Calling", moments after I had just poured my heart out to the Lord, telling him how much of a disappointment I can feel like before Him. Fearing His answer, this was the very first verse that I read in my devotional;

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered in shame."
Psalm 34:4&5

He gently tells me;
 My Child, I see you as radiant before me. Because i live in you, your desires are for me, and with that I am very pleased. You will not be perfect. You will stumble, and sometimes you will fall, but I will always be there to pick you up again. You need never cling to your shame, but in exchange, cling to me and I will take your shame,  for I see you in the perfect light of my perfect son. My Child, you are not a disappointment, you are radiant. 

More to come soon on this road to healing...