Reflections – Beauty from Pain

Day Two

In the 1930’s the St. Louis Cardinals had a star pitcher who played with youthful personality and passion. His name was Dizzy Dean.

Dizzy Dean led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title in 1934 when his pitching won them thirty games in one season. He was at the peak of his career and seemingly unstoppable until the 1937 All-Star game when a line drive struck him on the foot, fracturing his big toe.

Not one to sit on the sidelines, Dizzy found a way to adjust his pitching motion to avoid landing hard on his injured toe. But in the process, he hurt his shoulder, losing his great fastball.

Dizzy Dean’s career ended, not because of his injured toe, but because of the shoulder injury he received while compensating for his injured toe.

Many of us, perhaps you today, have learned to compensate for injuries to our identity. These injuries are lodged so deep in your heart and over the years, they’ve shaped the way you live.

You’ve learned to compensate.

Conceal.

Adjust.

Adapt.

And something deep inside just feels off.

It affects the way you see yourself, your relationship with God, your relationships with others, how you live and how you act.

Whether it’s due to shameful words, shattered dreams or painful experiences, these injuries are so deep we often don’t even know they’re there. We’ve just become really good at compensating for them.

Somehow we have to find a way to move beyond the discomfort and pain to embrace something far greater. God didn’t create us to limp around, masking and covering up our pain. He created us to live differently – with wholeness, vitality and purpose.

The path to experiencing this begins by allowing his loving presence to change and transform our lives. He’s an expert at taking the brokenness of our life and building something beautiful.

In fact, it’s what He does best.

Paul says it this way in Romans 8:17-18,

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

The brokenness, the suffering and the injustice that we see and experience here on earth, pale in comparison to the glory that we will experience when we meet Jesus face to face. As his children, we can live with a confident hope that rises above all of our present pain, fear, struggles and insecurities because someday, we will share with Jesus in experiencing the complete freedom and wholeness of his eternal Kingdom!

The Greek word for glory in the above verse is dóxa, which means a most glorious condition. The glory spoken of in this verse relates to us, his children, and refers to the ideal condition in which God created and intended his children to live.1  

God wants you to become and do everything He originally meant for you to be. He wants you to embrace your True Selfie! In fact, that’s why He created you!

Even better news: his glory can begin to be revealed through your life, right here, right now. Even through challenges, even through suffering, you can live in a way that glorifies God by pointing others to the eternal hope that you have in Christ.

The past failures and the present difficulties don’t determine our future and can’t hinder God’s purpose from being accomplished in our lives. Nothing even compares to the glory that God will someday reveal in us—the fullness and completeness of total wholeness, restoration and freedom.

Amidst great seasons of joy and success, our lives will be checkered with moments of heartache, disappointment, failure and unfulfilled dreams. God wants to use those seasons of suffering to mold, change and transform us. Ironically, it’s often during the most challenging seasons in my life, when I’ve seen God do his greatest work.

If you continue reading the rest of Romans 8, you’ll find Paul build on this truth as he writes about an unshakable hope we can have as Christ followers. One of my favorite verses is found here in verse 28,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

All things . . . that includes the financial things, the bad relationship things, the family things, the school things, the depressing things, the past things, the job-related things . . .

You get the idea?

Your number one hurt, your number one problem, God can use to help mold and shape you so you will more accurately reflect the image of his Son and bring glory to him through your life.

Often, we limit “the good” we’re hoping to see in our life to temporal, material things. Much of the time, God wants so much more for us. He looks beyond our circumstances, his perspective extends into eternity and “his good work” usually involves doing something of far greater eternal worth and glory as He works in our heart.

Whatever you’ve endured or experienced, it’s my prayer you would know God is good, He is faithful and He can be trusted. He desperately loves you and wants the best for your life. You’re beautiful and precious in his sight, and He wants to use your current mess to make something beautiful.

This doesn’t mean He’s a fairy godmother-type who alleviates all of our problems and pain. In fact, it’s often quite the contrary. Difficult circumstances are a pathway to growth and maturity. God loves you so much that He desires to work deep in your heart if you’ll let him. Some of the innermost places of character are forged through pain and suffering.

Even the most ugly, horrible experiences can be an opportunity for God to make something beautiful, something good, in your life.

Don’t compensate. Don’t cover-up. Don’t conceal any longer. Allow God to do his even greater work of healing in your soul.

Think about it…

  • What injuries to your identity might you be compensating for?
  • How have you seen the eternal hope offered to us through Jesus sustain you during dark seasons?
  • Why do you think God uses suffering and pain to mold and shape us? Have you seen this true in your life? If so, how?
  • What aspect of your life are you trusting that God would to work to bring something good? What step can you take to grow in your trust of him?

 

1 Spiros Zodhaites, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992) p. 478 & Strong’s Concordance

Advertisements

Your True Selfie – The Relentless Pursuit of Who God Created You to Be

Day One

Our family had just completed our cross-country move from Los Angeles, California to Nashville, Tennessee, driving through rain, sleet and snow with five children under ten years old, a packed minivan and pet bunny. Whew!

After one month on the road, eating way too much fast food and living out of various hotels, everyone in the family (including the bunny) had frazzled nerves, testy tempers and fragile emotions.

To escape the cramped quarters of our hotel room (yes, ALL seven of us were staying in ONE room), one night we thought we’d head out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. Why we dared to venture to a semi-nice restaurant at this point of the trip, I have no idea – we were clearly borderline delirious.

Your family has probably never had this kind of experience, but at the risk of being vulnerable – my pain will now become your pain.

Our three boys conveniently chose to expend an entire month’s worth of energy during this one-hour restaurant break, making LOTS of noise, bouncing up and down in the restaurant booth, wrestling, arguing… you get the picture. As I was getting the “stink eye” from the other restaurant patrons, our one-year-old daughter conveniently chose to this moment to produce her own “stink” in the form of a toxic poopy diaper.

Yes, we were THAT family.

On the verge of tears, I ventured out to the bitter cold to scrounge the floor of our minivan hoping to find a diaper hidden amidst piles of toys, luggage, and fast-food trash. My husband, Gregg, in an exasperated tone, handed me the keys told me,

“If you don’t come back, I understand.”

We laugh about it now, but at the moment, we were second-guessing our decision to uproot our family from a comfortable house, stable job and close friends to venture into this unknown territory of big belt buckles and country music.

This wasn’t what we had signed up for. The picture didn’t look as glamorous as we thought it would. In fact, it didn’t look appealing at all.

It would have been easy to give up, turn around and go back to what was familiar.

This was difficult.

Tiring.

Painful.

Lonely.

Uncomfortable.

As a little girl, I remember having lofty aspirations and dreams of what I would someday become. I had big plans to change the world and high hopes for what God would someday use me to accomplish.

Yet, that stormy night, I unexpectedly found myself in the middle of a snowy parking lot in an unfamiliar town, searching through my incredibly messy minivan for a clean diaper while my other four kids wreaked havoc in a neighborhood restaurant.

Did God forget that I have a college education?

What happened to my plans to be different, my aspirations to make a difference? Where did the passion and determination that I could do or become anything go?” What happened to this wonderful plan God had for my life?

Perhaps you can relate. Have you ever felt sidelined, left out or overlooked by God, wondering what you have to contribute? Feeling stuck? Thinking maybe you missed your opportunity to make a difference? Or perhaps you feel your mistakes disqualified God from using you?

You’re not alone in your thoughts. In fact, throughout scriptures, we see many sincere God-followers ask the same questions. Read the love and tenderness God expresses to his children through the prophet Isaiah…

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” 15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49:14-16

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands... Isaiah 49_16

As God tenderly reassures the nation of Israel, God persistently affirms his love towards us, gently, continually reminding us of his care and faithfulness. Prodding us to look to him.

God has not forgotten you. He created you, knows you intimately and has a great plan for your life – one that will bring glory to his name. As you seek him and allow your life to be shaped by him in an increasingly greater way, He will lead you.

Things may not always turn out the way you expected, and you may find yourself trapped in a restaurant during a winter storm with energetic toddlers, but you can trust that He is good and He hasn’t forgotten you.

Take a moment…

  • When have you experienced a season when you felt a little empty on the inside? Feeling that you were made for more than you’re currently experiencing?
  • What does this verse say about God and your incredible value to Him? How can knowing and meditating on the fact that God loves you and never forgets you breathe hope into your weary soul?

When God Messes Up My Plans

I’m not a big fan of waiting for things. Whether it’s the line at Costco, traffic on the highway, or the crowded doctor’s office, there’s something about sitting idly while time floats away that reeeaaaallly frustrates me. I’m wired to produce, to maximize my time, get things done and keep things moving. When someone or something interferes with that, well, let’s just say… it’s not pleasant. In those moments, I’m not the happiest person to be around.

But sometimes it’s God who messes up my plans.

How do I deal with that?

How do I respond when God interrupts by schedule, re-orders my steps and re-directs my life?

This is a lesson I learned, and continue to learn – sometimes the hard way.

Ever since Gregg and I married, we felt God calling us to plant a church. Over the years, we assisted with several church plants and sensed that someday we would lead a church planting team.

Years passed.

Our close friends busily pursued their career dreams with great success – some in ministry and some in the marketplace. But for us, our dream seemed distant, never quite within our reach.

There would be times when I would get discouraged and plea with God asking,

“When, God, will you say ‘yes’ to us? Have you forgotten about our dream?”

Ten years ago during a season of transition, Gregg and I were presented with several good ministry opportunities. There was an option to plant a church, an opportunity to pastor a pre-existing church and another option to serve in a new ministry role with our national ministry team.

“Finally, it’s our turn!” I thought to myself. But after much prayer and discussion with Gregg, we both felt the best decision for us in that season was the ministry role with our national office, a role which required us to move our family from Los Angeles across the country to Nashville.

Why, after years of waiting and other good opportunities available, would God’s best for us in this season clearly be to move our family to this foreign land of country music and cowboy boots?

Knowing that just a couple of years later, most likely, we’d turn around and move back?

It didn’t make sense.

It would be hard.

It would be stressful.

We had a lot of stuff. And a lot of kids. And pets. Just the thought of moving again was overwhelming.

Yet, we both were convinced of our need to put our church planting desire on hold – again – and embrace this season as God’s best choice for us.

In Acts 7, Stephen recounts Israel’s history, reminding them of their heritage and God’s faithfulness to His people. When Stephen gets to the point of Israel’s history where he’s telling them about Moses, he emphasizes the call of God on Moses’ life from an early age –  the wisdom, stature and leadership gift Moses possessed. Yet, Stephen reminds them that when Moses stepped out and exerted his leadership amongst the Jewish people, they didn’t receive him.

Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t. Acts 7:25

There’s so much in this little passage that we could delve into, but here’s where we’ll stay for now. Moses knew what God had called him to do, yet when he stepped out and initiated, God said, “Not yet.” His people didn’t receive him and he was forced to flee to Midian for forty years.

How discouraging for Moses! Did he “miss God”? Why would God call him to something and then make him wait for a really long time, with no promise or security of it ever happening?

Why does God do this to us? Why does He birth great dreams in our heart and then make us wait, while we watch the years pine away? Has he forgotten us?

While God’s reasons and ways vary depending on the person and the situation, God has not forgotten you; He is preparing you.

God has not forgotten you; He is preparing you.

God spent forty years developing Moses into the leader the Israel people needed – a leader they respected, a leader they could follow. Instead of a moody, temperamental, impulsive man with anger issues, Moses matured into a leader whose faith had been tested and proven, whose heart had been humbled and refined and who was equipped to lead God’s people with God’s strength and confidence.

“So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years. Acts 7:35-36

 Looking back, two years in Nashville was exactly what we needed. We experienced a different culture and learned new words like, “y’all” and “fixin’”. Most importantly, we grew as people and were equipped and prepared for our current ministry season in ways we never imagined. Many of the relationships we made there developed into lifelong friendships and continue to be sources of mentorship and encouragement to us.

Bypassing our experience in Nashville and taking one of our other options would have been good, but what God did in us during that season was even better. It’s hard to see clearly on the front end because it doesn’t always make sense and look the way we thought it would.

What should you do during those seasons where you find your picture perfect dream messed up and you’re left waiting to see what God will do?

  • Your dream of getting married?
  • Your dream of having a family?
  • When you find yourself waiting for the job you desire?
  • Hoping for God to heal you?

Here are some things I’m learning to do when God messes up my neatly organized plan…

  1. Embrace your present season.

I love how Stephen reminds us in Acts 7:29 that in Midian, Moses was married and had two sons. Sometimes we get so discouraged and disheartened by God’s delay and we fail to see the beauty, blessing and provision of God in our current season.

  1. Continue to learn and grow.

Lean in and learn all that God has for you, wherever He has you. Allow him to shape you and prepare you. It took Moses forty years to be ready, I can only hope I won’t have to wait that long.

  1. Trust God with your dreams.

Psalm 21:2 reads, “You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips.” This isn’t a magic prayer that manipulates God into doing everything we ask. Rather as we truly seek to know God and honor God with our lives, He changes us, making his desires, our desires.

And his plans are always amazing.

What helps you navigate through seasons when God messes up your plans? What are some things you have learned in the waiting?