Not What I Was Planning

1:45 a.m.

If you are wondering why I am up this late (or early), on a school night, in the wee hours before my 8 a.m. exam, I will explain why.

A couple of months ago, I was told I have insomnia. I could go into all the detail about my struggles with this frustrating and discouraging diagnosis, but that will come in another post. 

Just know this- a lot of prayer has been surrounding this problem. I have asked God that if He chose not to heal me now, that He would at least reveal things to me in the restless late hours or to open my eyes to something that would only be revealed to me in my fatigue. 

1:53 a.m.

This past summer changed my life in obvious ways. If you don’t really know much about my family’s story, you can read about it here.

After my mom suffered her heart attack and the word cancer became deafening, I quickly changed what my life was supposed to look like in those months to come. All of a sudden, school work became unimportant. My involvement became unimportant. My social life became unimportant. Not in a way where “unimportant” meant neglected, either. Unimportant in a way where something finally clicked and I realized that these activities in my life were completely habitual. I realized that I was about to step out of normalcy and routine and into the unknown. 

So what matter’s most in the “unknown?”

Love. Patience. Soul. 

2:06 a.m.

Sitting in a hospital room teaches a person a lot about time- or the lack there of. Morning becomes dinner time and the evening is constantly interrupted by beeps and clanks. Tangibly, all my family had was each other to hold onto. We no longer had our busy schedules to keep us distracted. We were forced to face the reality of being present.

Being present with someone who is terminally ill is extremely emotionally demanding. It can feel isolating and draining. Sometimes we crave the normalcy in those times.  Sometimes, we forget to place value on the present. 

There is so much value in stillness.

In love.

In quality time.

In detachment. 

These things are important for our souls… and for the souls of others. 

In the fast-paced moments, remember to take the time to step out of normalcy.

Take the time to be present with others. Each moment we have with them is a special gift.

2:20 a.m.

I’m not going to pretend to understand why God allows certain things to happen. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not angry that my mom was not healed on earth or that night after night it feels like my prayers for sleep are not answered. But Jesus laid this on my heart… and from one insomniac to another… I hope you grasp the real and raw concept of presence like I was able to tonight. 

Unspoken Broken

Unspoken broken.

What does that look like?

What does it look like to try and live with a shattered heart.

Let me tell you what it feels like from over here. It’s people saying “I’m so proud of you- you are handling this so well.” “You are going to come out stronger.” “You are taking the right path in this journey.” 

Reality: The more I pray, the more I have felt completely abandoned by my Savior. Where is He in the darkest depths of the night when my body is numb? Where is He in the middle of the crowd when I feel like I might actually lose it “this time.” How long, Lord, must I keep praying and you keep ignoring me. Christ… why do I feel hollow and weak and unable to keep up with everyone else. 

Then I was honest with God. I did not tidy my prayers, put them in a pretty box with a bow on top. I ugly prayed. And cried. And screamed. 

My conviction was rooted in my honesty. To God, myself, and others. 

And today.

Today I accepted the imperfection of my grievance process. I have built so much pressure to walk this journey completely perfectly; to model the way for a good, clean Christian grievance.  It’s not a clean break. And I have cracked. And I have fallen. And I’ve broken.

Now, I am allowing myself to be the spoken broken I’ve been afraid to speak.

I am not afraid of broken things.

When You Just Can’t Get Out of Bed

“Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” James 1:12

Last year, I went through a break-up that brought me closer to God than I could have ever imagined. After the healing process, I ran to my mentor and friend Katie Bulmer and said “I need God to break my heart again. That’s when I felt closest to Him. I need that again.” And I prayed for it. I literally prayed to God to break my heart. Little did I know that my heart would break in a way that feels completely unreal and unwelcomed.

Two weeks ago, I lost my best friend- my mom. Although I have a joy and peace that she is dancing in the gates of heaven, my heart feels like it is being crushed every second of every day. I have been stretched emotionally, mentally, and spiritually these past six months far more than I could have ever asked for. Trying to live life normally does not exist, because life is not normal anymore. This time, being close to God has not come so easily. It has been something I have had to fight for. Quite frankly, the cracks in my heart have been filled with anything but Jesus. They have been filled with bitterness and guilt. 

Grieving is authentically hard. Jumping right back into school after such a life-change is very tough to endure. Mourning makes you feel like a ghost of yourself.  

I do not have much to offer in this season of life right now. I do, however, intend to finish this race with my eyes set on the cross. I choose to stick it out. The Bible instructs us to not let our hearts wander off. I will find more comfort and strength in Him than I will ever find in the world. I have my faith and a secure foundation. Jesus will not fail me, leave me hanging, or forget about me. He cares about my heart so much and will not let it be hardened if I stay close to him. Scripture provides a guide for a time such as this: 

“When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to God, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. God, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin.” Deuteronomy 4: 29-31

Seek Him with your whole heart, in the good times and in the hard times. 

 

 

The Goodness of God in Suffering

Just a few months ago, my and my family’s life was radically turned upside down. If you read my blog post Life, Interrupted, you know exactly what I am talking about.

But if you are not sure, let me catch you up. Five months ago, I was walking in late to a meeting about an upcoming mission trip I was about to embark on with some of my best friends. As I was walking into the door, my mom called me. The only words I vividly remember hearing were “collapsed” “tumors” and “emergency room.” I ran to the bathroom (“straight out of a movie” type scene), called my best friend and we sat on the church bathroom floor and cried together. 

Later that week, I would drive home from college to spend a week in the hospital with my family. It was then confirmed that my mom had stage four colon cancer. 

Fast forward to June 2017. My mom had been in alternative treatments for her cancer, rotating between chemotherapy and natural remedies for the past four months. Right when things were under control, we found out she had blood clots all over her body. This would create a spiral of unwanted and unwelcomed hurdles for her body and the doctors to overcome.

We took a family road trip to Wyoming in the midst of all of this. A week after we got back, my mom landed in the hospital again- only this time she would suffer a heart attack and a stroke. However, there was nothing we could do for either because of her blood clots. With lots of pain medicine and prayers, we sat with her through a 14-hour heart attack. A week later, she was put into hospice care.

A lot of pain, sleepless nights, anxiety, and a cloud of sadness has swept over us, no doubt. This is by far the most difficult season of life we have ever gone through. The Bible shares a similar story of human suffering in the book of Job. The majority of the 42 chapters are about human suffering, but God’s sovereignty prevails in the end. Let me give you the rundown of Job’s life.

Written like a narrative, we have an inside look on a heavenly court debate between God and Satan. Satan approaches the Lord after roaming about on the Earth and the Lord speaks to him.

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on Earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)

Satan debates with God, saying that if He took everything away from his faithful servant, Job would curse his name. God knew that Job was totally devoted to Him. He told Satan he could take everything from him, but not lay a finger on him.

Satan did just that. Job’s cattle were stolen. His servants were murdered. His sons and daughters died because of a collapsed house. He suffered from misery. He had agonizing sores all over his body, unending pain, and a total loss of dignity. He even longed for death. 

He questions the same thing we tend to question a lot —why do bad things happen to good people? Job was inherently good. He had riches but still put God first. Like us, Job can only see our small, earthly view of suffering- he had no idea of God’s greater intention.

“Why does God bother giving light to the miserable, why bother keeping bitter people alive, those who want in the worst way to die, and can’t, who can’t imagine anything better than death, who count the day of their death and burial the happiest day of their life? What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning?” Job 3:20-23 MSG

Much like Job, I have cried out to God asking what we have done to deserve this. I have begged to see tangible miracles, yet He stays quiet. I prayed in the Father’s name to have my mom completely healed. I have pleaded with God asking for her to be healthy enough to watch my little sister graduate high school, help me pick out my wedding dress one day, or buy an RV with my dad and hit the road when they retire like they had always planned.

“But he stands alone (singular and sovereign), and who can oppose him? He does whatever He pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans He still has in store. That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.” Job 23:12-17 NIV

Job did not feel silenced because of the dark times he was walking through. He communicated his distress and misery to God. He had a fervent fear for the Lord, like we are called to have. We are able to see the bigger picture that Job was never able to see. The truth is this: we see a tiny crack compared to the things God sees. He sees from the very beginning to the very end. If we knew all of the facts, we would always choose God’s way. Sometimes God ordains innocent suffering. He does this for many reasons:

  1. Our own strengthening: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV 
  2. Patient endurance to help others“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV
  3. To bring God glory“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:1-3 NIV

Job was prepared to DIE trusting in the name of God. It is true that sometimes we cannot trust God with our whole heart until our circumstances lead us into painful places. This is when we learn to lean not on our own understanding. THIS is how we obtain spiritual endurance much like Job did. Suffering also reveals the weakness of the things we usually lean on (friends, Netflix, food, alcohol, isolation).

We are brought to the end of ourselves through suffering.

God finally confronts Job in chapter 38, saying “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?” Job 38:4 NIV. 

After waiting 37 chapters for this moment, Job responded much how I would have.

“I’m speechless, in awe- words fail me. I should never have opened my mouth! I’ve talked too much, way too much. I’m ready to shut up and listen.” Job 40:3-5 MSG

Through it all, Job did not curse God’s name ONCE. While he was on Earth, he never had an idea about the conversation between God and Satan. This is where we are given a true example of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

Our human reasoning is inadequate! I can not think of a single reason for God putting my family through the trials we have been through these past five months and the much harder times to come. Much like Job, I have sleeplessness, a broken spirit, lack of peace (Job 3:26), and fractured plans (Job 17:11).

I believe with my whole heart that Jesus can and will heal my mom. My eyes have been shifted, however, to ask God to do whatever brings Him the most glory. I cannot see His intentions, but I will trust Him today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life. This requires giving Him my everything, literally- my life, my worries, my time, my attitude, and the hardest- my family. 

He has a reasoning for your suffering. Most of the time, you will never get to see the bigger picture. But rest assured that in the midst of your anguish, His goodness will prevail.

Life, Interrupted

“Every time I look down and see you’re calling or have called, my heart does a happy dance. Sweet dreams to my wonderful daughter and love forever!”

This was the last text I received from my mom before my sister called me the next morning to tell me she had driven herself to the emergency room (yes, you read that correctly). Going in for what she thought was either a severe case of pneumonia or a broken rib, the nurse saw something else in the X-Rays.

A suspicious shadow.

Cancer is not something that happens to OUR family. Cancer is seen from afar. I have watched  other families go through this. I have prayed for other families going through this. My mom and I have fund-raised and walked hundreds of miles for OTHER people. Not her. Not OUR family.

Initially, I was breathless. Suffocating. The words “cancer” and “more than we thought” are words that tend to do that to you. The phone call from my sweet daddy left me speechless and sobbing. This was NOT my mom’s life. This was NOT our family’s life.

Take a step back. Gain perspective. Pray.

There is boundless uncertainty because I am human.

But GOD.

With God, there is boundless certainty. He is not confused. He is not surprised. Let me tell you what He IS. Caring. Loving. Unconditionally sovereign. Healing. Powerful. Faithful. Invincible. Greater. 

Isaiah 54:4-5 (NIV) “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by His wounds we are healed.

My faith has not been tampered with. My faith is unwavering. My faith is zealous. My faith gives me peace that surpasses all understanding. My faith gives me no room for Satan’s lies and schemes. My faith gives me a boldness to pray BIG prayers. My faith makes me confident that my prayers will be answered. My faith convicts me that this trial will be used for a greater good (Romans 8:28). My faith gives me hope that my family will glorify the King’s name through it all. My faith gives me belief that miracles are modern.

Dear Mom: I want you to know that you are tenacious and unyielding. Your faith surpasses any mountain that could be placed in front of you. We are in the valley, but your heart is still dancing with joy. I have watched you give the glory to God in the most minuscule victories, such as walking to the door or eating a bite of grits. Your sociable persona makes you want to visit with every friend that walks through the hospital door, even though your body is weak and tired. Answering nearly 100 texts daily for you is a testament to the kind of woman you are. The influence you have had in your community and beyond is unmatched. My favorite part of this journey is listening to people tell me how much you mean to them. How you have touched their lives. How you have been their light in the dark. Whole congregations and small groups and offices have prayed for you. People who have met you once or twice have fasted meal after meal for you. Your importance in this world and to this family is matchless. You live life with spunk, newness, and adventure every chance you get. You put your family first. You love the people you work with and your clients so well. The phone calls and video chats we have mean so much to me because you have become my best friend, the one I confide in, and the one I seek prayer  and encouragement from. I hope you know that you have loved me best. You have loved this family unceasingly. You have never given up. You are a fighter for what you are passionate about. You have raised strong and confident women through your example. We are strong through this because of you. I love you to the stars and back, Mom.

Genesis 50:20 (NIV) “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

This is just a small detour, not the destination.