Losing Hope

“I loathe my life. I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me.  Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again?  You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.  You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.  I am filled with disgrace.”  Job 10:1, 9, 11, 12, 15

I had gotten to that point.  I felt suspended somewhere between what I was FEELING about my body and chronic disease state… and what I KNOW about who God is and how He administers our existence.  I felt distraught.  I was distressed and utterly discouraged in the unending barrage of medical complications and manifestations of disease.  The thick rope that anchored me steadily with knowledge of God’s goodness and care seemed to be thinning as the weeks passed into months without reprieve.  There was no end in sight.  Every corner I turned presented another serious complication.  I was losing hope.

Disgrace was the theme that wove through multiple domains of my life.  My body had been segmented into parts, routinely examined and explored, studied and surveyed.  Though the medical professionals treated me with utmost dignity, there was no dignity in what needed to be discussed and dissected.  Invasive examinations had become routine.  Disgrace describes as well what had become of my vocation.  At one time, working in a profession that I loved, using my graduate degree to its fullest potential, my career had finally reached the point I had dreamed of fifteen years earlier when starting out at a small junior college.  I had served in leadership roles, administered programs, managed teams of staff.  Due to the compromises of my health, I stepped away from my chosen vocation and settled into a position of part-time secretary, for which I was desperately not qualified.  I felt grateful for the job but disgraced by what had become of my life’s work.  My timeline for post-op healing was written on a “Return to Work” form; yet the reality was that I struggled with the idea of returning to a work that was a symbol of my failure and frailty, a daily reminder of my loss and limitations.

In moments of contemplative truth, I reached out to my closest loved ones to confide my feelings that seemed to close on top of me like a cave-in.  Besides compassion and a commitment to pray for me, there was little that could be done.  They heard my hopelessness, but with no end was in sight, there was no hope to offer. The circumstances were terrible; no words of insight or wisdom could take the terribleness away.

For family devotions, my husband decided to read “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom.  When he chose this book, he had no idea the depths of discouragement and pain that I would be enduring as he daily read page after page of this incredible true life story.

Corrie and her sister Betsie were Dutch underground resistance workers rescuing Jews during Germany’s occupation of Holland in World War II.  The sisters had been arrested and sent to prison camp; their arrival at Ravensbruck in Germany was their third place of imprisonment, far worse than the previous locations had been.  Upon arrival at their overcrowded, flea infested sleeping quarters, Corrie was feeling distraught by the situation.  There was no end to their suffering in sight.  The circumstances were terrible.  Corrie was distressed and uncertain of what to do.  Betsie reminded her that the answer had been given to them that morning through their Bible reading:

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Betsie insisted that they immediately turn to the Lord in prayer and give Him thanks.  Corrie’s resistance to this idea was almost humorously described in her account.  With Betsie’s prodding, she and Corrie took turns naming things they were grateful for in the midst of their terrible and hopeless circumstances.  After identifying thanks that their smuggled Bible had safely passed through inspection and thanks for the overcrowding of women who would be able to hear the word of God read each day, Betsie gave thanks for the fleas!  Corrie’s reaction was the same as mine would have been.  FLEAS?!?!  How can we thank God for fleas???  But Betsie’s faith spoke with resolve, reminding Corrie that God’s Word tells us to give thanks in ALL circumstances.

That night, as I laid still, too afraid of the pain to move, I listened to the words of Betsie.  My body had become my prison; pain and disease were its evil captors.  Beside me lay my Bible.  Betsie was right; all the answers I needed to all the questions and longings of my heart would be found in those pages.

I started in the Psalms.  David’s passionate cries and emotional outbursts expressed with words the groaning of my own heart and mind.  I continued in the book of Job.  Without explanation, his livelihood, his family, and his health were all stripped away.  The contempt and despair of life became words with which I could identify.  I kept reading.  Day after day.  Day after day.  I kept flooding my mind with these words.  And this is when hope finally returned.

Hope came because I know the end of the story.  After being tormented by the reigning king, David became king.  After losing all he had and despairing of life itself, Job was blessed far more than he had previously known.  After weeks of suffering from flea bites, Corrie and Betsie realized that it was the fleas who kept the guards out of the sleeping quarters, thus enabling the Word of God to be freely shared every day in their overcrowded barracks.  God’s Word became light in that dark prison camp.   God’s Word became hope in the midst of their terrible circumstances.

I don’t know if the terribleness of my circumstances will resolve here on earth, but I do know that the end of my story here is a place of no more pain, no disease, no suffering.  I do know that the end of my story here means eternity with Jesus in heaven.  I don’t know how long the journey will be between now and then, but I will say with Job,

“Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 2:10, 1:21





Lord of all pots and pans…

Ephesians 1:12, “… so that we… might live for the praise of His glory.”

Why do we do “good works” as Christians?

This question about motivation came up in my women’s Bible study class this week as we work our way through the book of Ephesians.  Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus declaring who they are as a result of our Father’s gracious plan (chapter 1, verses 3 – 6), the Son who carried out the plan (chapter 1, verses 7-12), and the “seal” of the Father’s plan in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (chapter 1, verses 13-14).  This beautiful doxology of praise in verses 3 through 14 remind us not only of what He accomplished for us, but also of who we are because of His completed work.

It was the plan of our Heavenly Father to bless us in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  We are not an after thought.  Before the creation of the world, He had a plan for us (Ephesians 1:4).  We are forgiven and redeemed (Ephesians 1:7), and our inheritance is secure (Ephesians 1:11) as adopted children of God (Ephesians 1:5).  All of this was according to God’s will (Ephesians 1:11) so that we might live for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).

Salvation does not depend on me.  Christ’s completed work on the cross is not dependent on my decision to believe He did it or on my good works to accomplish.  Redemption and forgiveness of sins was in accordance with God’s plan and design.  It is Christ’s work that secures my place in heaven for eternity.  The good I do, therefore, is not to ensure my salvation.  The good I do, then, is “for the praise of His glory.”

The message of Brother Lawrence in the little book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God” has been foundational in my thinking about motivation.  I first read this book as a teen, and I have read it at least once each decade since.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century Christian from France who lived a simple life, working in the kitchen of a French monastery.  He is said to have been a large, clumsy man who was unlearned, yet the simplicity of his faith and the message of his life reveals that he understood deep communion with God.

Brother Lawrence wrote of his motivation: “I engaged in a religious life only for the love of God, and I have endeavored to act only for Him…”  He worked from the perspective that “set times of prayer were not different from other times; that he retired to pray according to the directions of his superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God.”

Brother Lawrence did not have a fanciful life of walking around in elaborate robes, constantly studying Scripture, and continually engaging in great theological debates with rulers of church and state.  His duties were to cook and clean the kitchen.  “…in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions, [asking] for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy…”

His prayer became, “Lord of all pots and pans and things… Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!”  It was with this motivation to do all things for the love of God and as an action only for Him, that Brother Lawrence was able to “turn even the most commonplace and menial task into a living hymn to the glory of God.” *

So it is true for us as well.  Justification, the forgiveness of our sins and redemption through Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 1:7), has been accomplished.  It is completed.  It is finished (John 19:30).  Sanctification, the process of renewal, is an on-going work of God in our lives.

I think Brother Lawrence had it right.  My Saturday morning chores of changing bedding, cleaning the floors, and tending to a week’s worth of laundry, can become a hymn of praise when I do my work for the love of God, endeavoring to  do all things only for the His glory.  Likewise, when I sing a special song in church, send a card of encouragement to a friend, or bring coffee in for my co-worker, it is for the love of God and for His glory.  Whether in my home or in my community, my “good works” are not about me.

My prayer today will be: Lord of all pots and pans and things, may I faithfully complete my tasks, motivated by my love for You.  I cannot do this unless you enable me.  I will only fail if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.*  May I live for the praise of Your glory.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.  

* Quotes from “The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, a Classic of Practical Christian Devotion with Brother Lawrence, pp. 18 – 20 and introduction.  Revell, Fleming H. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Spire Books, 1958.



Say Something… Anything!

I’ve known Jean for just shy of 2 decades, yet in the last 6 months, our relationship has transformed despite the 200 miles that now separate us.  Several years ago, Jean suffered a devastating and unexpected loss, and the woman who remains on this side of widowhood is very different from the married woman I met at church all those years ago.  These days, I can describe Jean with one word: Encourager.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Throughout the long months of my recovery, through various complications and an endless stream of medical disappointments, my friend Jean has sprinkled little words of hope, encouragement, and inspiration.

Recently I thanked her for the way she has ministered to my heart through her words, and she confessed that sometimes she doesn’t “know what to say or how it will come across.”  Yet she never fails to say something… anything… as a way of communicating, “I see you, friend; I hear you.  You are not alone.”

Jean shared with me that it is because of her own suffering that she has learned to be present with others through her words.  These are the things she “learned from grief.”

“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.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (emphasis added)

It is an interesting reality that through suffering, people draw closer or people fade away.  I learned this lesson at the age of ten.  My mother died of breast cancer when I was in the 5th grade.  Ten-year-olds don’t know how to manage the big work of grief, and some adults don’t know how either.  My best friend, with whose heart my own seemed to share a beat, suddenly disappeared after my mother’s funeral.  Her mother didn’t know how to cope with grief and didn’t know how to teach her daughter to be a friend in the midst of grief.  In the passing of my mother, I also lost my best friend.  Days of silence turned into weeks, weeks into months.  More than 30 years have now passed but not a word between us.  I was the same little girl who loved to roller skate, giggle, swim, and have sleep overs.  I was the same but different.

Nine years ago, I suffered another devastating loss of a loved one.  In the same way as the loss of my mother all those years earlier, I experienced people drawing close and people fading away.  There were two women in my life, at that time, who called me nearly every day.  They understood life and loss enough to realize that I was the same person, but for that season, I was different, and the care they provided could impact the way I managed my grief work.  They understood that I needed intense love and support so that I could work through the complications of loss and come out the other side, the same person but changed.

This season of recovering from medical trauma and the resulting complications, has been similar.  Friends and family have drawn close or faded away.  I am the same person, but I am different.

I still need the women in my life to encourage and inspire my walk with God and my roles as wife, mother, and employee.

I still need my pastor to be my wise counsel and challenge my framework around how God’s word is alive and active in my life (Hebrews 4:12).

I need my siblings to check in and ask the tough personal questions about details that are delicate regarding my health.

I need my co-worker who asks me at least once a week, “How are you really doing today?”

I need the dear grandmotherly woman from church who regularly sends me cards in the mail with Scriptures.

This season has been another reminder to me that my words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).  One of the many redemptive purposes of suffering is so that I can comfort others with the comfort I have received from Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4).

My words need not be eloquent; if I fret about what to say, I may say nothing at all.  My words need not be my own; I can share an inspirational quote or a verse from God’s word.  My words can be in a text, over the phone, or as I pass someone in the hall.  I just need to say something…. anything!

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24



The wound was about him; the forgiveness was about me.

     The words we hear… It has so much less to do with the words themselves and so much more to do with the relationship between speaker and listener.
     In the early days of my surgery recovery, a man I have known my whole life remarked to me that “Ostomies are gross!”  The words stung, like some sort of parental rejection.  I stiffened at these words.  It felt as though porcupine quills had emerged at the startling threat to my acceptance of this life change.
     The ostomy was not my choice.  The surgical amputation of a third of my colon was the last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  I was left a semicolon.  This is the hand I was dealt.
     Each time his words floated into my awareness, I dismissed them with logic.  I reasoned that he is an inconsiderate extrovert.  I reminded myself that the colectomy was an emergency action taken to restrain the infection assaulting my body.  I comforted myself with the truth that my illness does not define me; who I am is defined in God’s Word.
     I told myself many times that I forgave him for the thoughtless comment.
     Yesterday I learned that he was hospitalized, a portion of his foot was amputated as a last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  My initial thought was one of concern and compassion.  The following thought was snide: “Perhaps I should inform him that four-toed feet are gross!”
     In that moment, I knew that I needed to forgive him.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

     Just as in Christ, God forgave me…
How does God forgive me?

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression…? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19

     So, I understood the course I needed to take.  Pardon of his thoughtlessness.  Forgiveness for his offense.  Mercy in the face of rudeness.  Compassion in the place of impertinence.
     He, the one who caused the wound, is completely unaware of how his words impacted my heart.  He is utterly ignorant of how is words shook my then fragile acceptance of a life-changing medical trauma.
     It was less about the words, and more about who he is in my life.  If the same words were spoken by one of my teenage sons, I would have unpacked their thoughts and feelings with them.  If the same words were spoken by a customer, I would have dismissed it entirely.  It was less about the words, and more about him.
     I forgive you.
Forgiveness: the work of God that has long brought me freedom from emotional wounds.
      I forgive you.
The wound was about him.
     Forgiveness is about me.
Forgiveness is setting my heart aright after it has taken a blow.
Forgiveness is walking the narrow road as a Christ-follower.
Forgiveness is about loosing the bonds that shackle me to the offense.
     I forgive you.
And now my heart feels only sadness that he is facing a life-changing medical trauma of his own.  I wish him courage.  I pray for his healing.  He is forgiven.