Friday, March 18, 2011

March 2011 - Beauty FOR Ashes

We were incredibly blessed by one of our gals, Tanya, who shared with us.  She gave us some background, including a recent adoption that fell through at the very last minute.  Something in her heart knew it wasn't going to end up how they'd hoped, yet she had been so sure they were following God's lead.  Perhaps even more than the loss of the baby, losing confidence in her ability to discern and follow God's voice rocked her world.  Had she just heard her own longing for a child?  Had God really led them across the country only to send them home with empty arms?  It just didn't make sense.  And where to go from there, when nothing seemed certain?  It felt so out of control, in a panic-inducing kind of way!

As time has gone on, Tanya once again feels confident that they did, indeed, hear God leading them regarding the adoption.  The ending, surprising to them, was not one bit surprising to God.  So what was the purpose of that pain?  Was it somehow for the birthmom?  Or for some greater purpose they'll understand down the road?  Or will they not know until heaven? 

Tanya shared a portion of an online devotional she read one morning.  It talked about a book that the author had read for several weeks, continually vacillating betweeen wanting to quit reading and wanting to know how it all would end.  If she quit part way through, she'd be left with the hopelessness found in the middle of the book.  She had to read the whole thing, every page, to discover the whole story and to figure out the author's point/purpose in writing.  Every page had value in the grand scheme of the book, even if that particular page included hard things.  At the end of the devotional, two questions were posed: If your life was a story, what would the title be?  What chapter are you on? 

Assuming God does not call us to heaven in the immediate future, we are not at the end of our book.  We are somewhere in the middle.  Chapters have come and gone, more are in the future.  Our current chapter may be filled with loss, pain, confusion, anger, doubt, etc., but it is not the end of the story. It plays an important part in the overall story, but it is not the end. 

Isaiah 61:1-3
 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.

This section of Isaiah 61 is called The Year of the LORD's Favor.  In verse three, it talks about God giving beauty for ashes.  Tanya explained how she had first thought the verse said "beauty FROM ashes," but it's actually "beauty FOR ashes."  FROM ashes seems to indicate that God will use the ashes to create something beautiful - kind of a recycling idea.  FOR ashes, however, indicates that God will exchange beauty for our ashes.  We won't have our ashes after we've been given the beauty.  How many times do we want to hang on to our ashes?  We hesitate handing them over to God, because they seem to be all we have left of our dreams, hopes, and goals.  We don't know what God will give us, how He'll give it, or when, so we want to cling to the ashes.  We'd rather hold brokenness than risk being emptied out by God.  Yet it is in the emptying and the subsequent filling - however long it takes to happen - that we are healed. 

It reminded me of the image of a person holding a single deflated balloon by a string, being offered a bunch of large, brightly colored balloons.  In order to accept the bunch, first the person must let go of the deflated balloon.  Until that hand is empty, it cannot grasp the new gift - the beautiful.  We are not guaranteed what God will give or when He will give it or how long we'll remain emptied out.  But we ARE guaranteed that he will give beauty for ashes and He will be with us every step of the way.

Tanya recently read Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey.  She is coming to terms with the fact that God is not unfair - life is unfair.  Even though listening to His voice is what seemed to take them through intense pain, what alternative is there, really?  She is seeing some positive changes God is making in her life, which is very encouraging.  She is not afraid to ask the "why" questions of God - sometimes in the asking we are able to grow nearer to God.  As another gal pointed out, there is a difference between asking with a humble and open heart, and asking angrily, expecting a certain answer.

Psalm 139:16 says that all of our days are written by God in our life book.  So we do actually have a book!  He alone knows the exact title and the arrangement of the chapters.  But as the author, He also knows the way the story ends.  He knows how He will bring justice, how He will renew our strength, and just how long each chapter should be.

Lamentations 3:20-24
20 I well remember them,
   and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:
 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

The Message version says it like this:
19-21I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
   the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
   the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember,
   and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
 22-24God's loyal love couldn't have run out,
   his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
   He's all I've got left.

Tanya shared with us the words to Laura Story's song "Blessings" 

YouTube - Laura Story "Blessings"

Laura Story - "Blessings" Lyrics

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
But long that we'd have the faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home,

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
Another gal, whose precious son died less than two hours after he was born, has learned so much about God in the year since her son's death.  She encouraged us to just soak in the now.  Take what God gives and love it.  Don't try to fix the pain or run from it.  Embrace it - for it is in the very midst of great suffering that you will learn life-changing truths about God and about yourself.  Fighting your way through the journey of grief may get you at least temporarily to the other side, but you will miss out on the richness of relationship that God is offering along the way.

So - what chapter are you on?  Let us encourage you to keep walking one day at a time.  God knows the end to your story, and it is amazing.  He also knows the trials contained within the book - and He promises to walk with us every step of the way.

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