Thursday, May 6, 2010

April gathering - A Time to Fall

Amy blessed us this month with some of the lessons God has been teaching her lately.  She began by reading from Ecclesiastes 3 - the "time" chapter.  There is a time for everything.  She challenged us to think about there being a time to fall.  Falling is not the same as failing, even though most of us view them as one and the same.  We too often strive to push through and be strong.  People tell us to persevere, take heart, press on, keep going.  While there is certainly a time for that, there is also a time to accept that God is inviting us to fall - right into His arms.  We run out of ourselves, our strength, our will and determination, and fall into His waiting arms.

Amy always hated trust falls in group building activities.  She has found it hard at times to honestly sing "I Surrender All," knowing that in her heart part of her is not surrendered completely.  In a war setting, a soldier who has been captured by the enemy knows to surrender in order to save his life.  Yet he is immediately planning his escape. This is not true surrender (nor should it be in this example!).  Similarly, when Amy played kick the can with neighborhood kids while growing up, when she was captured she would be surveying her surroundings and planning exactly where she'd run next once a member of her team kicked the can, releasing the prisoners.  Again, not true surrender.  True surrender is like falling.

She read the children's book Billy's Attic Adventure to us.  Basically, Billy climbs the ladder into the attic and starts to fall.  His dad, on the ground below, tells Billy to let go and fall.  It takes awhile for Billy to trust and just let go, but once he does, he lands safely in the arms of his dad.

Amy's mom passed away a year and a half ago after a 6 month battle with cancer.  Six months after her death, her dad remarried.  Two months after the wedding, Amy found out she was pregnant.  With her long history of infertility and tubal pregnancies, conceiving had been about the last thing on their minds for quite some time.  While she was more than overjoyed (and in shock!), she wanted to tell her mom the news...but she couldn't.  She cried at all of her prenatal appointments, longing to share the news with her mom.  The first two weeks after her daughter was born, she found herself in a spiritual battle, feeling trapped.  She had a miracle baby, yet was almost in despair.  She felt as though she was falling.  Her heart was prepared for hardship and could not receive the blessing; she had not truly surrendered the loss of her mom, and she felt she was losing her heart to her baby.  She did not feel she could possibly bear another loss - what if something were to happen to the baby?  The easy answer would be to harden her heart, not allowing it to fully love or be loved.  But in God's grace, that wasn't working.

Deuteronomy 33:27 "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

In what areas of our lives are we captured, think we have surrendered, but are afraid to fall?  God sees you and promises to catch you.  What might falling look like in your life?

Psalm 139:5 "You hem me in behind and before - you have laid your hand upon me."  It is okay to unravel - God promises to sew you back together.  You don't have to hold it all together.  There is a time to fall.

There is a balance we must find between pressing on and letting go to fall.  They are actually compatible actions.  It's about our hearts, about trusting God instead of the decisions we make.  The decisions aren't His goal as much as the condition of our hearts.  If our hearts are honestly seeking Him but we make a "wrong" decision, He will still bless us for our motives and bring good out of our decision.  Sometimes we have to make decisions to move to the next step, but that doesn't limit what God will do next.  He can and often will override our decisions in order to fulfill His will and purposes in our lives.  For example, if a couple decides to stop fertility treatments or stop pursuing adoption, that does not mean that God will change His plan for their lives if it included a child.  We have to decide, and trust Him with the details and the results.

When I think about falling, I think of someone skydiving.  If you jump out of a plane and have full confidence in your parachute, you are likely to fall gracefully, perhaps even relaxing or playing around with your movements.  The fall will be enjoyable, exhilarating, peaceful even.  Contrast that with a person who is terrified about what will happen next - they will likely flail about the whole way down.  As Christians we can rest assured that when we are in a season that involves falling into God's arms we will be safe.  We can relax and even find ourselves enjoying the fall.  We know what waits for us at the end of the fall.  We can actually find good things about the journey instead of being filled with dread, despair, and fear.

Are you in a season of falling?  Trust the arms waiting to catch you.

March gathering

We were thrilled to have three special guests share with us in March.  Janet, Lynn, and Leslie founded Stepping Stones many years ago - a ministry that has since been picked up and expanded by Bethany House.  They have a wealth of experience and wisdom, and we just soaked it up!!  Janet began by sharing  that suffering is never in vain if we turn around and encourage those behind us.  That doesn't mean we are done with our journey, just that we look behind and help who we can see.  Deuteronomy 8 talks about the importance of looking back and remembering what God has done for us - especially in times we are grieving or have lost hope.  Janet's journey of infertility (7 surgeries) and failed adoptions (11) lasted 4.5 years - years she looks back upon and feels were at least in part wasted because she was angry and bitter about her circumstances.  She was seeking the gift instead of the Giver.  She went through a wilderness and eventually hungered for God more than she hungered for a child.  She believes that God, in His mercy, caused her to hunger.  After all, He is the only thing that will truly satisfy.  

Janet shared with us an excerpt from Catherine Marshall's Adventures in Prayer.  Here is a portion of the chapter on relinquishment:

 Prayer of Relinquishment

I Relinquish This To You:

            “Father, for such a long time I have pleaded before You this, the deep desire of my

heart: __________________________________________.   Yet the more I've clamored 

for Your help with this, the more remote You have seemed.

            I confess my demanding spirit in this matter.  I've tried suggesting to You ways

my prayer could be answered.  To my shame, I've even bargained with You.  Yet I know

that trying to manipulate the Lord of the Universe is utter foolishness.  No wonder my

spirit is so sore and weary!

            I want to trust You, Father.  My spirit knows that these verities are forever

trustworthy even when I feel nothing...That you are there.  (You said, “Lo, I am with you

always.” Matthew 28:20)  That you love me. (You said, “I have loved you with an

everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3)  That You alone know what is best for me. (For in

You, Lord, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:3)

            Perhaps all along, You have been waiting for me to give up self-effort.  At last I

want You in my life even more than I want _________________________________.

So now, by an act of my will, I relinquish this to You.  I will accept Your will, whatever

that may be.  Thank You for counting this act of my will as the decision of the real

person even when my emotions protest.  I ask You to hold me true to this decision.  To

You, Lord God, who alone are worthy of worship, I bend the knee with thanksgiving 

that this too will “work together for good.”  Amen


She shared that we will never win a battle against God.  Matthew 6:33 says to seek first His kingdom, meaning His ways and His plans...and all will be added to you.  That "all" is His all, not our all.  But again, His is better.  His is best.  We must focus on the blessings He has given, not the ones He has not given.  In all things, He is faithful to carry us through.

Leslie shared some of the history of Stepping Stones.  Woven throughout the ministry was a focus on looking for the hand of God in the little things.  Each of the three ladies can tell their stories - and each story is God filled.  This is our goal, to get to a place where we see our stories as God filled.  It certainly requires having a God perspective.  

Leslie, Lynn, and Janet began talking years ago as an informal Christian support network.  They asked Focus on the Family for resources on infertility and miscarriage, but were given the suggestion to start their own ministry, as there was very little available at the time.  In time the ministry took off.  They began to receive a multitude of letters from around the country and eventually around the world, from Christians dealing with similar issues.  They created a newsletter that was sent out containing articles they either found or wrote, dealing with infertility and miscarriage from a Christian perspective.  In time, readers began sending articles about their own stories about healing, growing, and walking the journey with God.  They saw how readers began supporting one another.  They ended up on Dr. Dobson's radio show, which took the ministry to a whole new level.  They learned firsthand that in God's season/time/way He will meet our needs and desires.  Leslie said "looking back, I wouldn't want to do it all over again, but it was good."  

Lynn remembers the year that on Mother's Day the pastor acknowledged infertility and infant loss for the first time.  She finally felt like a normal segment of the church population, not an awkward outsider.  She shared with us that God gives grace as the need comes along - look back at His provision rather than wondering what trial is coming next.  We can't get stuck in the past, wishing to have changed something, nor should we be paralyzed by the potential difficulties of the future.  Rather, remember the blessings of the past, live now to the fullest, and look to the future with hope and anticipation.

For Lynn, she had to hold on to four pillars of faith.
1. God loves me unconditionally. I can't increase or decrease His love.
2. Because I'm in Christ, God sees me as totally clean. This circumstance is not a punishment.
3. God can do everything - just look at the virgin Mary and 90 yr old Sarah.
4. If God says no to this, He must have something better, and that is exciting.

Lynn chose to live with great anticipation and turn her circumstances and hopes over to God.  Three years later she conceived, and lost the baby.  Through that loss she learned that God cannot be reduced to a formula.  Giving our hopes to God does not guarantee He will turn around and give us the original desires of our hearts.  In time they had a daughter.  Three years after that, she conceived again and had a high risk pregnancy.  After many complications, she had a c-section.  Her baby, Sarah, had a very poor prognosis, and died at 3 months of age.  When they left the hospital, and later at the funeral, they saw how their testimony had affected others.  For this they can be thankful and can now view that part of their life story as good - good because of what God did through it.

Janet was still in the middle of her most difficult season when Leslie became pregnant.  She remembers not going to Leslie's baby shower because she had to set a boundary that she wouldn't go places where she would leave questioning God's love for her.  This was a personal boundary, reflecting her walk with the Lord, not her friendship with Leslie.  Too often, as Christians, we expect ourselves to handle everything perfectly, including going places we know will trip us up, saying that we "should" be able to handle it.  Sometimes not going is the best option as God continues to work on our hearts.  

Janet shared that God never works the way we think He will.  She brought out the verses from Isaiah 28 that teach us that God does not thresh all grain the same way.  Some is crushed and broken and used for finer things.  God knows how much pressure to put on the grain (us) in order to produce what He wants to produce in us.  We can trust His hand.

February gathering

Our special guest in February shared her story of infertility, failed adoptions, a successful but difficult adoption process, and the ongoing journey of trusting God through life's trials.  Here are some of the ideas/concepts she gave us to ponder.

- Men just deal with infertility and disappointment differently than women.  There's no getting around this.  They may go back to work, looking as though they don't care about a loss or dashed hope, but this is part of how God made them.  They compartmentalize.  In vitro is difficult for husbands as well as (obviously) for the wives, largely due to the hormonal changes that occur in the wife's body and the man's inability to fix the situation.

- God is in the process of character building.
         - Jeremiah 17:7-8  "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, 
       whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water 
       that sends out its roots by the stream.
       It does not fear when heat comes;
       its leaves are always green.
       It has no worries in a year of drought
       and never fails to bear fruit."
         - 1 Peter 5:7-11  "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."         - Philippians 4:11-12  "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

- She encouraged us to make good use of our present circumstances, reminding us that sometimes our plans are put on hold and we have to choose to grow in our present circumstances.  The Biblical character Hannah, from 1 Samuel, was referenced as an example.

What are your present circumstances?  Are you letting your life be on hold while you cling to the hope of what you long for?  Or are you living to the fullest with whatever God has chosen and/or allowed into your life?  Do you trust Him fully - do you trust that His plan for your life is better than your own plan?  It is certainly a choice we make with our heads first, praying that our hearts will catch up and truly believe that His way is the best way.