Growing-Up Grace

“We are puzzled and bewildered whenever we see suffering in this world….

Amazing grace is no longer amazing to us.”

— R.C. Sproul —

dark-sky

Is it growing up to suddenly carry the hurt? Growing pain to suddenly begin knowing the pain? Does being an adult mean that I lose the mercifully given dream-glaze of childhood?

And why does it feel like this growing-upness has settled down thick on my soul?

Why is it that never before has the burden been so suffocating?

My strong-enough, wide-enough capabilities are now like narrow, powerless shoulders under a crushing yoke.

And yet I breathe. Oxygen sucks in bitter-sweet. Why can I still breathe in this pain-smoke that is smothering those to whom my heart clings, every brother and sister of them? How can the pain reach and wrench without laying even one cold, numb talon on me?

Is it growing up to suddenly feel the travail, to sense the birth-pangs that writhe this world?

How can I rejoice in Life when darkness is all I see?

By all means, I should praise God for the sunshine.

What if there isn’t any?

“Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it…he is skillful who sings when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart…O Thou chief musician, let us not remain songless because affliction is upon us, but tune Thou our lips the melody of thanksgiving.”

– Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Oct. 19th, Evening –

And yet, my throat burns songless. How can I sing past the ache-knot?

Today a friend calls and says it is good new and bad news. My heart immediately stills, that heart drop-out that shoots up a prayer without words. O God, help me know what to say. Help her. Help us breathe.

She says it’s not her, it’s a friend. A tumor, she says. A word shapes in my head—cancer. I wish with a numb heart that it’s not so.

I lay on the couch, phone cradled to my chin, held close as I wish I could hold my friend. A wish to tell her its okay, it will all be fine.

She pours out the story, of all the pain she’s surrounded with. She’s drowning in it—the frustration of why. Why my friends? Why now? Why all at once?

God, why?

And then my sweet friend confesses she’s tired of praying? Is it, after all, doing any good?

So I push away my own sense of all the world-crumblings near and clench my heart around her words. She’s weary in the battle.

So I’ll go in for her. O God, hear me.

She’s panting, aching for friends’ pain that she can’t push prayers through.

Hold on, I want to say. He’s there. Just keep praying.

The line soon clicked empty and as I returned the phone to its charger I knew I couldn’t solve her pain.

But I could pray. I remembered lines that could keep me breathing in and out. Ann Voskamp, in her poetic, arresting voice, wrote about her hope, and now I mull over it again:

“I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

To see through to God.

That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave.”

– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 22 –

In her blog, this dear sister wrote,

“Grace is not soft or trite—Grace is what saves and grace is what transforms. Grace isn’t the weakness of a Christian—grace is the completeness of a Christian. Grace isn’t ever a paltry thing—Grace is always the very power of God….The power of God to save and to stand, to give and forgive, to breathe and believe, to laugh and love and wring the last little bit of living out of all the days under the sky. Grace is what we need more than the very air or water; grace is what is necessary for life: it’s His very grace that needs to be sufficient today, it is His very grace that makes today sustainable.”

We have our hands on something that can rock a moaning world. We have to believe it. We have to possess it. We have to live it.

And then, we give it away. Think this, sisters: We were not meant to hoard grace.

“All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful” (Psalm 25:10). I have pondered this verse lately and have found that it feeds my spirit. All does not mean “all—except the paths I am walking in now,” or “nearly all—except this especially difficult and painful path.” All must mean all. So your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers—and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery—they are His paths, on which he will show himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less.”

– Amy Carmichael –

I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before, in John 11. Martha, grieving, devoted Martha, trusts Jesus through that body and soul-tearing event called death that snatched her brother away. Can you hear her hoarse, trusting whisper?

“Even now I know that whatever you ask your Father he will give it to you.”

What I so often gloss over, miss in the pace of reading and living, is the glory of the next words.

Martha says, “I know he will be raised in the resurrection in the last day.”

But then, glorious consummation of thousands of years of hope and longing and death-cries—Jesus must have looked at her with a beautiful Kingliness in His eyes.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

My soul, why do you ever stop wondering? Not wallowing in the death, but wondering in the Life? Why do you ever tire of hearing and glorying in this?

My Savior IS Life. I don’t have to fear anything. I don’t have to  hesitate when He calls, wonder when He speaks.

In His Life, I have life.

“What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul
And from his scars poured mercy that would plead for me
That I might live and in his name be known

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me
Beneath his wings my wakened soul may soar
All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart, take up my cross and follow Him.”

– “What Grace Is Mine,” by Keith and Kristyn Getty –

Let us press on in the dark, because the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. The Light has arisen in our hearts.

We aren’t meant to be the victims of cruel fate. We are meant to shine in darkness, to keep emitting the light of grace.

Because His Grace is ours for living.

“Shouldn’t we suppose that many of our most painful ordeals will look quite different a million years from now, as we recall them on the New Earth? What if one day we discover that God has wasted nothing in our life on Earth? What if we see that every agony was part of giving birth to an eternal joy?”

— Randy Alcorn —

With always-love, Shelbie

Every Birth, Every Leaf

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime.

– Martin Luther-

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With spring comes new birth.

Yesterday I watched three wet goat kids birthed into a cold, pain-raged world.

And we are like them.

We were unborn, safe, heedless of the agony and despair just outside the barricading womb.

Then the birth throes came and our mothers panted and cried with pain and we appeared.

Like those kids, slick and wet. Like them, bloody and gasping for air and scared to be pushed out of the safety and closed-in comfort. The ground is unyielding beneath our quivering legs. The prickly straw jabs.

We long to go back in to the dark tightness where our mothers’ breath heaved right above our huddled bodies. We grow to hate the cold but yet draw back against the warmth washing away our birth sac, stripping away the cold membrane that was so comfortable and now chills us.

And one day we begin to understand the depth of the significance of the first cry.

On some days, we wonder if there is anything in all this broken world but crying.

Even with the budding out of spring, do you ever wonder what is the point, when so much of death’s stench seeps into our moments? Do you ever wonder why the flowers still smile when the frost will bite them off in only a few short months?

Where is the spring in that?

More importantly, if even the most hopeful time of year is tainted, what hope is there for me?

A few weeks ago, Easter morning broke all over the world again, the anniversary of a death. Yes, on Friday the God of this Broken world died to redeem it. But on Sunday, another death occurred.

Death died that Sunday morning.

And unlike all the other deaths of this world, in direct opposition to the struggle and misery—the death of Death snapped chains and broke cords and singing was unleashed.

All the Springtimes before that year of Resurrection had been foretelling. Each revolution around the yellow sun, the flowers had budded out and the deer had birthed their fawns. All of creation gathered and cried out to man that the end of Death’s Winter was coming. That Spring would come and our Ransom-Payer would arise, with healing in His wings. Every year, they kept repeating the promise to come:

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
 The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

~ Isaiah 60:1-3, NKJV ~

And with the world-shaking rising of that Ransom-Payer, Death was crushed, Despair was led away captive, Pain lost it’s sting.

Maybe you marvel at a God of Love who can allow us to hurt and sin.

I marvel at a God of Love who Took our hurt and Became our sin.

So when the pain keeps coming and the ache crushes all of your breath away, there is a higher place you can go than just looking at the Springtime.  All the new life in the world won’t help you if your heart keeps dwelling in the death.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

~ 2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV ~

You can go to the one that is the Spring rising in our hearts, that is the Light after the Winter’s dark.

 “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

~ Hebrews 6:17-20, ESV ~

Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow.

Fearless, Faithful, Knowing, Confident. Standing in His Love, by His Power, through His blood.

Because we have been redeemed, Spring is our daily reality.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

~1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB ~

Amen.

A Light That Cannot Hide

Candle

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

If there’s one thing I want people to remember about me, it is the fact that I found joy in my Jesus.

I want them to hardly be able to picture me without a smile.

I want them to remember me when my dreams seem to be crushed to pieces and I can still smile through the tears and say that He lives, the first and last hope of my soul.

Sisters, I have to stop this rolling on and on of my self-pursuit. My own schedule, my own dreams, my own agenda.

You have to stop it too.

Many of you girls know me. You know that I’m not very shy, and those of you that really know me have seen me with tears in my eyes as I share a passion of my soul.

If I could invite you over right now and sit on my bed with you, we’d both wrap up in quilts and you could tell me about the hurt and I could tell you how I’ve been there too. I could tell you that Jesus was there.

He’s the reason I can breathe and say that it’s okay. He’s the source of strength for the next smile that hard to come by or the next tongue-biting when I really want to stab back.

So why do I forget?

Why do you forget?

I know you, my sisters. You struggle and cry and forget. Every moment, you forget.

But it has to be different, because we are the light of the world.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

God just may have to clear away all our underbrush of forgetting and self-seeking before the world says, “I want what she has.”

Do you know what? I’m sitting here pecking the keyboard and I don’t know how to finish. Because I am so scared to wake up again tomorrow with another day of forgetfulness.

Sisters, let us draw near to the throne of grace. It is only there that we will find the strength for that other-worldly smile when the day is slamming against our nerves.

What does He say? He promises that He is faithful and will not give us more than we can bear—with His strength, that is.

As I write you now, I plead with myself. Shelbie, don’t forget. Shelbie, cling to Him.

I can’t do it on my own. And neither can you. Haven’t I tried—haven’t we all?

I type more slowly, glance at the clock, see that I have only one minute to finish and crawl into bed. But the soul-intensity is there and I wonder if it will be gone when I wake up tomorrow.

I’m praying for you, sisters. Pray for me. Pray that God’s grace would fill me and His joy would flow from my smile.

Because I’m broken tonight on my own.

One of my favorite hymns is this:

“Take my life, and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days. Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

“Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

And the light will not be able to hide.

Amen.

When Clouds Hide the Mountain

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I stepped out of the airport shuttle, laughing with a group of eight other developing leaders. Drifting snowflakes dropped on our heads, piling in our hair and scattering across the now-moist hoods of our coats. Only two hours earlier, we had flown into Denver from across the country, converging to join a group of over thirty young Christians with one thing in common.

A Savior who gives glorious visions.

The Signature Leadership Courses, offered by College Plus, were designed to help people like me understand and achieve their dreams. But on this day, so far away from home and normalcy, clouds obscured my vision, and my dreams seemed as hazy and unattainable as the shrouded mountains surrounding the retreat center. I was not nervous per se, but rather suffering under a vague discomfort—the feeling that I was walking in the company of giants.

And, in that moment of insecurity, I wasn’t sure if I measured up. I sensed uncertainty starting to crust over my fledgling hopes and dreams.

Something had to change.

And it did, on the last day of the Capstone. Most of the snow outside had melted, flowing away between the mountains. At the same time, any lingering uneasiness that I felt around the few classmates I hadn’t yet met melted away as well. We were all letting our true selves show, and becoming comfortable with each other’s truth was a freeing thing.

That last day, we divided into groups of six, with instructions to focus on one group member’s business plan or ministry idea. In every group, five people stepped out of themselves to focus on building up one. Much of my uneasiness was fading, and I was excited to help a team member develop their dream.

But then my world shifted again, because as we settled into a circle of chairs, my team turned to me.

“Let’s work on your idea.”

I do not think there is a more powerful thing in all the world than a group of people who tell you that your dream is exciting and they want to be a part of it.

And so, for an hour, life worked upon life. And at the end, I had so much more than a dream. I had a plan and a team willing to help me.

As a writer, I had always wanted to write something that changes lives. And they told me I could.

Maybe the best day in the life of a writer begins with the realization, “I have a story.” Then, the stories cease being only events that happen to fictional characters inside my head. Suddenly, the art of story merges with the art of living and my writing compulsion becomes much more than the thrill of stringing words together.

There were over thirty of us at the close of the Capstone, almost breathless with awe and on the verge of tears as we stood one by one, voicing the overwhelming impact of this part of the course.

We expected Dr. Myers’ lectures to be life-changing. They certainly were, each of them containing a remarkable nugget of truth that shattered some of the paradigms we had previously accepted without question.

And we expected the real-life practice of coaching and planning to be challenging, yet empowering. Again, we received more than we imagined.

But, towering above every other outcome of the course was the sense of each of us writing a story, engaging in God’s big picture narrative.

We were ready now to change the world.

“Most great moves of God begin in humble rooms with hungry people who believe they are to steward this moment in history.”

-Author Unknown-

~Shelbie

Love Never Fails

At the feet of the mother of a young cancer survivor, I marveled. I was amazed by the peace and trust in her testimony, touched by the faith of a sixteen-year-old boy who lost his leg to bone cancer, and absolutely awed by the God who made it possible.

Then, at nineteen years old, I realized that I didn’t know pain. Struggles had come and gone in nearly two decades, but I had only brushed the fringes of pain. Sitting at that mother’s feet, listening to her story, I was awed by a God who appoints pain. But I was not disillusioned by the classic question of “How could a God of love do this?” Instead, I saw His love. In the words of a woman who has been wrapped tightly in the Lord’s hands, I saw the beauty of Christ’s love.

It was a beauty magnified by pain.

Birth is beautiful because the pain brings forth life. Salvation is precious because it is only possible, only efficacious, through agony. My Savior’s horrific, gruesome, awesome, life-giving sacrifice permanently defeated death and hell. With it, pain loses its sting.

There is still pain and suffering so ugly, so heart wrenching that we despair of victory. In the unheard cry of every aborted baby, in the silent tears of abused children, in the empty eyes and hopeless hearts left in the wake of war’s devastation, death, sorrow, and pain seem to conquer.

But I know that my Redeemer lives. Not only that, but after hearing the testimony of a mother, of a courageous son, a faithful God, I see more of the canvas of human history. The bloody red of suffering, the crystal blue of tears, the shadows of despair mixed by the Artist of history—all point to the Light.

The Light of the world delights to transform darkness into radiance. He revels in bringing the sweetness of beauty out of the bitterness of pain.

For, you see, Love never fails.

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” –Ephesians 5:1-2

~Shelbie

On the Days I Just Can’t

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I huddle in the dark, the red numbers of the clock scrolling higher. I take a breath–deepest in a while–shuddering, almost a gasp in the nighttime. I close my eyes, rolling around bitter words in my head.

Why can’t I ever finish well?

Can it ever be a good sign to keep returning to “here I am again”?

Biting the dust…again.

Running out of drive…again.

Falling to my knees seeing that when I started feeling like I was good enough–strong enough–that’s when I began to slip back.

I recall the promise–He who has begun a good work in you will complete it, will perform it (Philippians 1:6). Paul was so confident of it.

Am I?

It’s so hard to cling to a filmy reality when the doubts are as hard as a physical wall. I keep plowing into that wall again and again.

Over and over I have tried and it just won’t stick. Many things I know to be right–it’s all furious flame and glory comes down. And then the dull rhythm that makes up a life sets in and I just stop trying after a while. Maybe I stop remembering all the efforts of the past. Any way I see it, I fail again.

My inconsistencies and failures chink into stony piles, judgment rocks that did get thrown. Thrown into a condemnation heap.

Why do those good intentions shimmer away like summer-time bubbles? What about hard-edged reality is stronger than my idealism?

Most importantly, why do I keep thinking I can handle my problems on my own?

Why do I persist in the living-out of a belief that says the “cross that saved me is not enough to solve me”? (The words of John Lynch, one of the authors of the book TrueFaced. Watch his minute and a half video here).

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians 12, Matthew Henry wrote:

“Though God accepts the prayer of faith, yet he does not always give what is asked for: as he sometimes grants in wrath, so he sometimes denies in love. When God does not take away our troubles and temptations, yet, if he gives grace enough for us, we have no reason to complain. Grace signifies the good-will of God towards us, and that is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort in all afflictions and distresses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we feel that we are weak in ourselves, then we go to Christ, receive strength from him, and enjoy most the supplies of Divine strength and grace.” [emphasis mine]

S0–the reason that I fail? The reason that I just can’t get anything right?

It’s because I really can’t.

But, sisters–that glorious but–my Jesus can. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10, NKJV).

Do you hear that? I am complete in Him. You are complete in Him. Because in him dwells all the fullness of God.

All the power, all the glory–all.

What does that mean, really? In the words of Francis Schaeffer, “How now should we live?”

It means when we get up in the morning, we “fall” the first chance we get–to our knees and tell him we can’t, but He can. (For more on “falling,” see Jennifer Rothschild’s book Lessons I Learned in the Dark.)

It means our hearts “fall” every time we get overwhelmed, and every time we start to think that maybe we can do it on our own after all. Trust me, you can’t. Only He can.

And it means that when we have problems, the grace is already there to see us through.

We just have to ask.

Charles Spurgeon said:

“God will have no strength used in His battles but the strength which He Himself imparts. Are you mourning over your own weakness? Taken courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give thee victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up (Morning and Evening, November 4 Morning).

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

John 16:24b, NKJV

~Shelbie