Thursday, December 29, 2011

The One Who Gives and Takes Away

For 2012 I decided that, instead of making New Year's resolutions that I never keep, I'm making a "Things I Want To Do This Year" list.  I will write a post just on that list next week. But as I started making the list I began to reflect on this past year and on the person I am becoming.  And let me tell you, this past year has been one heck of a year!  One I do not care to revisit anytime soon.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a live webcast of The Story.  I had honestly never heard of this but Max Lucado and Steven Curtis Chapman were a part of it, along with several of my other favorite Christian artists, so I knew it had to be good.  So for the next three hours I weeped, laughed, thought.  And God began doing something in me.  Now, I'm not one who believes in coincidence.  I'm one of those annoying people who believes there is a reason for everything and that nothing happens by chance.  Sometimes this can be a good thing.  But sometimes it does cause me to read into stuff way too much.  But I'm working on that.

Anyway, the music and videos used in the presentation were so powerful.  I immediately downloaded the CD and ordered the book (which is the Bible in story form).  And while I watched Steven Curtis perform, I remembered all his family had been through with the loss of his daughter and remembered that his wife, Mary Beth, had written a book about it.  So along with The Story I also ordered her book Choosing To See and his album Beauty Will Rise.  Little did I know how God would use that book and this music to touch my life, to bring healing, to increase my faith and strength, to speak to my heart like never before.

In my previous post I recapped the year and talked about all our family had been through during 2011 as well as some personal stuff I dealt with.  I won't rehash all that can read the previous post for details.  However, 2011 has left me hurt, raw, emotional, broken, confused, angry, questioning, doubting and wondering what in the world God was doing.  But it has also brought a deeper faith than I have ever known as well as comfort and peace and healing.

Along with losing three close family members within six months of each other, my dad having surgery and making a major life change with a move, new job and school, I also dealt with an issue in my personal life.  It wasn't anything earth shattering.  Nothing that doesn't happen to everyone else at one point or another.  But it rocked me to my core...more than I wanted it to and way more than I expected it would.

In the early moments of this heartache I kept thinking it was like God had given me exactly what I had been praying for, the desire of my heart and exactly what I wanted.  And then it was like He snatched it back and said, "nope I was only joking."  And I kept telling myself, "God doesn't work like that."  Surely, God, who loves me more than I can comprehend and who works all things out for my good wouldn't take away this precious gift.  God doesn't give you something and then take it away.  Or does He....

It took awhile for me to get the answer...not the one I wanted to hear...but the one I needed to hear.  The issue I faced reared it's ugly head at the end of October, hid for a few weeks and then came back with a vengeance at the end of November.  I felt as though I'd been the butt of a really cruel know the kind where everyone in the room knows what is going on except you?  Yeah, that was me.  However, exactly a week after that awful night, at about the exact same time, The Story live webcast aired.  Coincidence?  Not a chance!

About halfway through the webcast I was already in tears.  And then the song "Broken Praise" was sung.  It was the song that represents Job and his story.  I have never heard a song so raw and so real that fully expressed how I felt...not only after this bad moment but how I'd felt many times since my mom died in 2008 and certainly how I'd felt many times this past year.  But there was a line in the song that says, "You are the one who filled my cup and You are the one who let it spill so blessed be Your holy name if You never fill it up again."  And there was the answer.  Not what I WANTED to hear, mind you, but what I NEEDED to hear.

Last week I got Mary Beth's book and Steven's CD in the mail.  If you do not know, they lost their daughter in a tragic accident in 2008...a few weeks before my Momma passed away.  I remember reading some of Mary Beth's posts and comments and felt I really connected with her.  We were both going through a similar pain...a loss that was beyond words.  And she got it.  She felt what I was feeling.  I've started reading the book this week...and four chapters in, I'm already crying.  As I read, I feel in parts I am reading my own story.  I've also been listening to Steven's CD non stop.

On the CD all of the songs are songs that have to do with loss and healing and trusting God even in the dark moments when you don't want to.  There is one song called "Faithful" and it has a line that says, "You are faithful.  When You give and when You take away even then still Your name is faithful....and with everything inside of me I'm choosing to believe You are faithful."  And again, came a reminder of that answer I needed.

Job 1:21 says, "...the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."  Now I have not experienced tragedy and loss of Job's proportion.  But I have experienced a lot of it lately.  And I know I'm not alone.

See, God has used all of these situations and circumstances and songs and books and webcasts to speak a real truth to me.  One I don't always accept willingly.  God is God.  He is sovereign.  And He DOES give and He DOES take away.  So my flawed belief...the one that told me that surely He wouldn't bring this seemingly wonderful thing into my life  and then take them away just as quickly in such a hurtful way....that belief didn't hold water anymore.  God does what He knows is best.  That doesn't mean I have to like it.  It doesn't mean I have to understand.  It doesn't even mean I have to agree it's right at the time.  But God knows what He is doing and He is in control.

And not only in this seemingly (in light of everything else that has happened) insignificant event.  But also in the sudden and unexpected loss of loved ones.  Or whatever we face in this life.  God has shown me that I have a part in His story.  And so do you.  And so has everyone who has gone before us and everyone who will come after us.  We are all running this race together.  II Corinthians  1:4 says, "(the God of all comforts) who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."  It is these common things of life...the pain, the joy, the loss, the crazy, that bind us together as human beings.  And that point us back to the One who holds it all in His hands.

I want so many things in this life, but up until here recently I have been afraid.  Afraid to really live.  Always seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full.  Afraid of what could happen.  Always waiting on the other shoe to drop.  Afraid to be happy because of what could go wrong.  I question why God hasn't given me the desires of my heart yet.  I get angry and sometimes jealous when I see friends who seem to be getting the very things I long for and wonder when it will be my turn.

But that is not living in faith.  Living in faith means trusting the God who gives and who takes away...and praising His name regardless of what He chooses to do.  Living in faith means knowing He has our best interests at heart and that He IS working all things out for our good.  And sometimes it means He may have to take away...maybe to teach a lesson, maybe to draw us to Him, maybe to show us what we truly want and need versus what we thought we wanted and needed.  But He gives so much more abundantly than we could ever imagine.

I'm still trying to figure out what the purposes of the trials of this life are.  I may never know this side of heaven.  But I know God is faithful.  And I choose to say, "Whether the Lord gives or takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  It's not easy.  It doesn't come without struggle and tears.  It doesn't come without questions and doubt.  But He is faithful.

In the song "Beauty Will Rise" are these lyrics:  "This is our hope.  This is the promise that it would take our breath away to see the beauty that's been made out of the ashes...Out of these ashes, beauty will rise. We will dance among the ruins.  We will see with our own eyes."  Another song "I Will Trust You" says, "and I know Your plans for me are much better than my own."

If we could only see as God sees.  If we could see the bigger picture.  If we could see what awaits us in Heaven one day and see how all these loose ends tie together, how He's weaving it all into a great tapestry.  If we could see all the dreams He is dreaming in us and for us and through us.  If we could just see that His plans blow ours out of the water.  But we can't yet see, so we have to trust and hope and praise His name...especially when He gives...and even when He takes away.

(If you have suffered loss or are currently going through a difficult time, I would suggest you listen to Steven Curtis Chapman's Beauty Will Rise CD.  It has been a great help in beginning the healing process...even of hurts I have stuffed down for a long time.)

Here are some songs that God has used greatly in my life in the past month...some are from The Story and some are from Beauty Will Rise.  I know I posted a bunch...but they are all worth listening to.  I pray they will bless you as they have me.


Broken Praise

I Will Trust You

Our God Is In Control

Who But You

Beauty Will Rise

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What A Year!

The title of this post says it all...what a year!  In all my almost 38 years, I don't think I've ever experienced so many ups and downs, so much joy and pain all in one year.  I normally wait to post my "end of the year" blog closer to the end of December.  But today has found me in a reflective mood and so I felt like writing.

I have not blogged as much this year, and for that I apologize.  I really do love posting here but life has gotten in the way a little.  One of my goals for next year is to get back to this blog.  I'm not sure if it blesses anyone or if anyone gets anything from it, but it serves as my own personal journal of reflection.  And I pray with each post it will touch someone somewhere...I figure if God has shown me something, He expects me to share it to possibly pass it along to someone else.

So back to this year.  Today I woke up with such a feeling of peace, contentment, excitement about the future and true joy.  Which is odd considering the year I've had.  But for the first time in my whole life I think I am finally truly learning to be content in all circumstances.  (Philippians 4:11-13)  Truly content.  Wholly trusting in God no matter what is going on.

This year began much like any year but quickly hit hard, fast and furious.  I made the decision to leave my job of nine years, my family and friends and move four hours away to start a new job and begin grad school.  It was a tough decision that was made after many hours of prayer and tears and thought.  But I knew God was leading me to make a change, make a move and to step out in faith like never before.  So I listened and followed...terrified I would fall flat on my face.  So I began making plans to give my notice and make the move.

In the process, I began looking for a job.  Dr. Cotten and I put in for a grant that would allow me to do contract music therapy in the Hattiesburg area.  This way I could work my own schedule and go to class at night.  I prayed a lot about this...I mean, I wanted to be able to eat and have a place to live so money was a necessity.  And then we received word.  We didn't get the grant.  So on to plan B.  I was getting down to the wire...not wanting to turn in my notice at Baddour until I had a job secured and I was nearing the deadline to apply for grad school.  I needed a job and needed it now!  At seemingly the last moment, Dr. Cotten called with a job possibility.  I came down here and interviewed and was offered the job.  God knew all along what His plan was...but I believe this was the beginning of this test of faith that this year has turned out to be.

My new job has turned out to be a challenge but to be so rewarding.  And it has brought some wonderful new friends into my life.  Friends who have been exactly what I needed over these last few months.  Friends who have accepted me as I am.  I truly love the people I work with and know they are there if I ever need anything.

I had the on to get accepted to grad school.  Which meant I had to take a test!  I do not like tests...especially standardized tests on computers.  I consider myself of average intelligence, but these tests freak me out.  So again, I prayed.  A lot.  And again God was faithful.  I passed with flying colors and got the score I needed to get into school.  So I was on my way.  My family was healthy and doing I didn't have hesitation about leaving and moving away.

See, I had stayed close to home all these years to be close to my parents.  My mom was sick for so many years...the result of the horrible affects of diabetes on her body.  Heart surgeries, congestive heart failure, depression/anxiety, her body just getting tired and giving out.  And I wasn't going anywhere.  I wanted to be close to be there for her and my dad and help however I could.  Which is what you do for your family.  So after she passed away, after I began to heal from that loss, I began to think about my own life and my own dreams and what I wanted to do.  And so plans were made.  My dad was in good health, my granny was doing well and the rest of my family appeared to be doing well, too.  

And then once again, life hit.  In April, my granny was admitted to the hospital with an apparent heart attack and had to have a stint put in.  We were worried but she pulled through and was back to her old self in no time.  The very next day, as Granny was in ICU, my aunt came to the ER.  She had been having major pain in her knee for awhile and had gotten to the point she had to use a wheel chair to get around.  They had run tests and done x-rays and thought it was gout.  However, on this day, our world began to cave in even more.  They did an x-ray on her knee.  I remember sitting in the waiting room and my cousin, Kimmie, coming out grabbing me and telling me to call her sister and then collapsing outside.  Cancer.  Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.  It was everywhere. 

Over the next couple of months, God used my Aunt Brenda to witness and share His love with everyone who came to visit.  But she was very sick and the prognosis wasn't good.  Such devastation.  Such pain.  During this time, Granny came home and was getting back to normal but of course I worried.  I began to doubt my decision to move...wondering if I needed to stay put to be there for my family.  I knew the pain of losing a mother...a pain like no other...and I wanted to be there for Adrianne and Kimmie.  And I knew Daddy would probably need help taking care of Granny.  And the doubt crept in.  So again...lots of prayer and tears and thinking.  But I knew God was still leading me to move.  So I trusted in spite of the doubts.

By June, my aunt had gotten much worse.  She passed away at the end of the June.  In two short months, we had lost another member of our family.  And life got harder.  Much harder.  But, as we would come to find out, it was only the beginning.

At the end of June I was also preparing to say goodbye to the Baddour residents I had come to love so dearly.  It was tough to leave them...they had become part of my family.  So it was like I was going to be leaving two families behind.  I moved in mid-July and began my new job.

Even though there was pain with the loss of my aunt and leaving the residents behind, I was excited about this new chapter in my life.  I started my new job. I began making new friends and reconnecting with some old friends.  My dad, Kimmie and my friend, Beth all helped with moving me in my apartment, and I was able to make it my own cozy little space.  

Then one night at the end of July, 2 weeks after I moved, my phone rang.  It was my Daddy.  My granny had just died.  And again, more pain and devastation.  Yes, she was 91 and had lived a long good life.  But after the scare in April, she appeared to be doing well.  And here I was four hours away...wasn't there when it happened, wasn't able to be there with my dad.  But again, God was there.  And He provided what was needed.  Our family was able to be there with him that night and help out.  I left first thing the next morning and headed home.  The next week we spent going to Texas to bury her and to take care of things there.  It was hard to leave to come back to Hattiesburg.  I hated leaving my dad there alone.  Again, more prayer, more tears...and again, God was faithful.  

But life wasn't through throwing us curve balls.  In August, I received a call from a friend from Baddour.  My favorite resident's mom had just passed away unexpectedly.  And I couldn't be there.  Then later that same week, I got a call from home again.  Cancer.  Again.  My Aunt Diana was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, and again, the prognosis was not good.  So here we were again.  Less than six months after my Aunt Brenda had passed away.  And I know I began to question God like never before.  What was going on?!  So again, prayers, tears and seeking God.

The next couple of months were difficult but life seemed to get back to some sense of normalcy.  There were trivial trials interspersed here and there but it seemed calm for a bit. 

Then in November, my friend Beth came to visit.  And God's timing was perfect.  Because while she was here, my phone rang one Saturday morning.  It was my Aunt Nancy.  My dad was in the ER with severe pain and they weren't sure what was wrong.  Here we go again!  Of course I was scared.  So I loaded up and headed back home.  By the time I got there we found out it was his gall bladder.   So he was scheduled for surgery.  They came and took him to surgery that Monday morning.  And there I sat alone...worrying.  See the last time I had been at the hospital with one of my parents was with my mom...they took her down for a procedure and she never came back.  So I just prayed and cried some more and did my best to trust God.  Thankfully, Daddy did great and was home later that night.

During this time at home, I got to go see my Aunt Diana.  We had a good visit, and she gave me an angel from her collection.  That angel sits on top of my Christmas tree this year.  And again, God's timing was perfect.  Because two weeks later, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, she went home to be with Jesus.  And again, we lost a part of our family.  And my heart ached for my uncle and cousin.  Again, losing your mom is like no other pain.  And I knew it was going to be tough for them.  When I got home, they asked if I would sing for the service.  I was honored to do so.  The song they chose was "I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy."  As our family came together yet one more time to say goodbye, I stood there and realized that we had lost almost half of our family in the past few years.  And as I sang the line "my loved ones all met me there" I couldn't help but think of them all up there waiting on all of us to get there.  And while there is pain because they are no longer here, there is peace in knowing we will see them again.  

This year has also brought smaller, seemingly less significant challenges...but things that have affected me to my core nonetheless.  I've also been hurt by people who I trusted and thought were friends...a situation that could have been averted had communication  and consideration of others been a priority.  I am sure I have hurt people along the way, and for that I am truly sorry.  I have made missteps, taking wrong turns and sought my own way.  I have had days where I felt worthless and ugly.  I have had days where I've felt so alone.  I have had my share of bad days, have had my doubts and questions.  I also started grad school and been stressed beyond my point.  But I've also had some good days.  I've met some wonderful people.  I've been reminded how great the friends I have are.  I've grown to love my family more than I ever thought possible.  I've had days where I have believed I am worth more than I could comprehend and days where I actually felt I was a beautiful person...because of who I am on the inside.   And my faith has deepened beyond what I ever thought it could.   And God has been Lord over all those days.  Mandisa has two songs on her latest album that have ministered to me so much over these last months.  One is called "The Truth About Me" and talks of how much better we would be if we would only learn to see ourselves as He sees us...beautiful, worth more than diamonds and loved.  The other is called "These Days" and talks about God being God of our joy and pain.  And He truly is there in every one of these moments...good and bad, joy and pain, tears and laughter.

And here we are...almost at the end of the year that seems it will never end.  Yet God has proven faithful.  It has been a year of loss and great pain.  It has been a year of change and some joy.  It has been a year where my faith has been tested beyond what I ever thought it could.  And here I sit tonight, at peace and completely trusting God for every moment.  When you go through such devastation, you realize that, with God by your side, you can make it through and come out on the other side OK.

People have made the comment that our family has been through more than our fair share.  And maybe we have.  But what exactly is a fair share?  Even though it's been tough and there were days I was ready to give it all up, I'm blessed beyond measure.  And there are those who have it so much worse than I do.  I have a family that loves me.  I have friends who love me and have encouraged me and supported me and talked me through the rough days.  I have been blessed with a Christian heritage of people who have lived their lives as an example for me...those who have now joined that great cloud of witnesses who cheer me on each day as I travel on this journey toward Home.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)  I have a roof over my head, food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in.  And I have a Savior who came to earth, lived this life and died to save me.  He loves me with a love beyond my comprehension.  And He calls me, and each of us who are His, to share that love with a hurting world.

So when life hits...when we lose our loved ones to ugly things like diabetes and cancer...when people let us down...when life throws those curve balls...God is still there.  He is faithful.  And nothing is a surprise to Him.  Nothing has come to my life that hasn't first passed through His hands.  Yes, I've doubted.  I've yelled at and fought with Him.  I've had people tell me I can't get mad at God...well, yes I can.  And have.  And before it's all said and done, probably will again.  But He's God.  And He can handle it.  And I know this because it's been after these struggles with Him that I've come out on the other side with a deep abiding peace.  He wants our honesty, He wants our hearts, He wants us just as we are.  

I'm not sure what next year will bring.  Or if we are even done with our trials for this year.  I know God has big plans for my He does for yours.  I know I have dreams and plans and desires of my heart yet to be fulfilled.  I dream of marriage and children.  I dream of starting a foundation here locally that will provide services for families who struggle with poverty, addiction, HIV/AIDS and other things that rob their peace and joy.  I dream of finishing my Master's degree and being able to help more people.  I dream of so much more and know that God will provide what I need, when I need it to accomplish HIS will for my life.  The hard part is the waiting and trusting even when I don't see.  But this year has been a big lesson in that waiting and trusting.

So through all the trials of this year, God has remained the one constant in my life.  After a year of so much loss and pain, you begin to really know what is important in life and what truly matters in this life.  I posted this quote on my Facebook page earlier this week...I was sitting looking at my little Christmas tree and was just overwhelmed with emotion.  So I thought I'd close this post with it.  I also have included a couple of is a song that my friend Ruth posted earlier today...a new song to me but a powerful one that explains nothing is wasted in the hands of the Redeemer...He works all things for our good.  One that is dedicated to my family, friends and precious Savior this Christmas and a last one that explains how we've made it through this year.

Listening to Christmas music, enjoying my tree and Nativity sets and feeling so blessed and thankful and at peace. It's been a crazy, hard, chaotic year...but God has been faithful through it all. Don't waste your energy hurting others or worrying or seeking your own gain or focusing on things that don't matter. Spend it wisely in love and compassion and selflessness and serving others. Life is fragile. People are fragile. Please remember that this Christmas and share HIS love with everyone you meet...even when it may not be easy or convenient. Make things right with those in your life that you have never know when that moment might be their last or how deeply they have been affected by that hurt. Speak peace and love to those you come in contact with. Be thankful for each breath you are blessed to take. Make sure to tell those you love just how much you love them...before it's too late. And remember God is always there. And He will always love you more than you can fathom and treasure you more than you could ever comprehend. Always.

Nothing Is Wasted


Bring the Rain