Monday, August 19, 2013

Facing Trials

It's been almost twenty years since I embarked upon entering college.  I only vaguely remember placement tests and financial aid applications. I have blurry memories of roaming the school bookstore looking for just the right texts -- and having my jaws hit the floor at the price of those textbooks.  I have slightly more vivid memories of the expectation of a new year (and that could be because I've had the same expectations with both teaching in public school and home schooling).

This past week... I returned to a college campus.  Not as a student this time but on a mission to help someone else become a student.  An incredibly bright, bubbly girl has come into my life and family this summer.  She is a recent high school graduate and has found herself in need of a little help in her endeavor to be a college student.  Her hope was to begin school in January at our local community college.

So last Monday, we loaded up and headed to campus to see what it would take to get her enrolled  for the winter semester.  But while we were there, God started opening doors that we didn't expect to get opened.  Within about 10 minutes of being on campus, she had a student I.D. number.  Then we went to financial aid and found out that we could easily get her the financial aid that she needed.  We realized that her dream of becoming a college student didn't have to wait until January.  She could do it NOW! Within a couple of hours, we drove off of the campus with her printed class schedule, textbooks, and the coveted student I.D. -- which got posted to Facebook before we even made it out of the parking lot.

During our adventure, (and it was an adventure for we drove on campus not knowing where any of the buildings were, any of the people we needed to see, and without much direction or planning) we stopped for lunch where we started talking about the whirlwind of a day that we had had.  We were just amazed at how quickly things fell in place. We were amazed at how easy it was to accomplish each item on the official registration checklist.  We were amazed that we were amazed because we knew, of course, who had directed each step of our way.

Life has not been easy for my sweet friend.  She has learned the meaning and the importance of having God as her refuge and her strength.  As we ate lunch, we talked of her plans to become a social worker and her hope and desire to be able to help children who have endured bad situations.  It occurred to me as we talked that perhaps all of the travails that she has endured are because God has an incredible plan for her.  In years to come as she sits with children who come from who knows what kind of situations, she will have an empathy and understanding of their feelings.  She will be able to help them because she has not lived a life eating out of the proverbial silver spoon.  And I told her that there are babies who haven't even been born yet who will have the opportunity for a better life because of what she will be able to offer them.

I have often heard people ask, "How can a loving God let bad things happen?"  I've talked with people who have lost a child or are homeless or have an addiction or are alone who don't see how there can possibly be a God who loves them because they have been dealt a bad hand.  I've been asked, "What's the purpose of suffering?"

There's the old saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" (which I detest by the way because, really, sometimes I just don't think I need to be any stronger) that many people cling to as their buoy during life's storms.  And that's fine.  But there's a deeper truth to our struggles on earth as well.  First, we must remember that there is no Scripture in the Bible that says, 'Thou shalt have an easy life." or "everything will be a bed of roses."  As as a matter of fact, we are told that we will face difficulty in this life.  That's one reason why so many Christians anxiously await the day that Jesus will come back for His people.

Secondly, if life were indeed a bed of roses, when would we find a need to have God be our refuge and strength?  He would just be this really cool Creator sitting in heaven waiting for a day that He could bring us up to live with Him.  But would we ever turn to Him if we didn't need Him? Would we ever stop to see how His plan makes everything fit together in the end?  Would we ever realize how much we need His wisdom which He has gifted to us through the Bible?  Or would we just float through life thinking that we can handle life on our own?

I think what I've grasped anew this week is that the struggles we go through in this life can do one of two things for us.  We can let them tear us down and beat us up or we can use our ordeals as an opportunity to praise God for allowing us to rely on Him and as a stepping stone to reach out and help others in similar situations.

What are you going to let your next struggle do for you?

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."   James 1:2-3

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


One of my favorite songs right now is Forgiveness by Matthew West.  I originally was attracted to the song because of its rousing chorus, but since I've listened to the song more regularly, I've become even more drawn to the words of the verses.

The first two stanzas contain these words of wisdom:
                         "It's the hardest thing to give away,
                         And the last thing on your mind today
                         It always goes to those that don't deserve"

                          "It's the opposite of how you feel
                          When the pain they caused is just too real
                           It takes everything you have just to say the word

That's pretty heavy stuff.

You see, lately I've been awash in several different situations from several different fronts where some people have made me pretty angry, where some people have outright lied to me and hurt my feelings, and where some people have betrayed my trust.  Satan's hand has been moving mightily.  As my husband and I have been hashing our way through some of these experiences, forgiveness has been a frequent topic of conversation.  And it's pretty human, I think, to cling to the opposite of the lyrics above to justify NOT giving forgiveness away.

The things that have hurt and angered me lately have not been met with remorse by the offenders, in some cases have not been acknowledged, and in some cases have adamantly been avoided.  So really (the human in me says), if you can't admit that you've done wrong to me, and you can't face me and say you are sorry... why should I have to forgive you? Wouldn't it do us all just fine if we walk the other way and ignore each other?  Aren't I justified in staying angry if you can't seem to care that you have been offensive?  If all you can do is make excuses for your behavior, do you deserve my forgiveness?

Well, the Bible says that they do.  When Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive people who had sinned against him, Jesus answered in Matthew 18:22 by saying, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times."  Wow! That's a lot.

And so therefore, I have chosen to forgive those who have wronged me.  It doesn't matter if they have asked for my forgiveness.  It doesn't matter if they are avoiding me. It doesn't matter if they are denying their offense has even occurred.  I have forgiven.

The beauty of forgiveness is that, in reality, it's not just for the wrongdoer.  It's also for me. West's lyrics continue with the lines,
                              "It'll clear the bitterness away.
                               There is no end to what it's power can do."
Being the forgiver is liberating.  Since I've made the choice to forgive these certain people, I no longer lay awake at night stewing.  I no longer run their offenses over and over in my mind.  I no longer feel anger (some disappointment and hurt, yes, but no anger) when I think of these people or the situations that have occurred.  I feel peace.

There's an even bigger idea to grasp here than the forgiveness that I have extended.  One final line from the song says, "Help me now to give what You gave me."

Colossians 3:13 tells us, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgives you."

If we were to take an intimate look at all the sins of my life (which I think we won't), we could say on a human level that I'm not that terrible of a person. But I assure you, I have done plenty for which  I have needed to ask for forgiveness. And I am assured by the blood that Jesus spilled from the cross that all of my indiscretions have been forgiven.  Colossians 1: 13 - 14 collaborates this by saying, "For he has rescued us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Even as Jesus was in the throes of his crucifixion, his plea was "Father, forgive them, for they do not know know what they do."  (Luke 23:34).  And surely no one has ever wronged me in such a way.  I have not been beaten, I have not been spat upon, I have not been hung on a cross.  If Jesus, even in His life-ending misery can look at the very men who were crucifying Him and extend His forgiveness, how can I do any less for the petty, non-life-ending occurrences that face me?