Friday, May 19, 2017

When God Changes the Narrative...

     I've been living within the tension of asking God why, and giving Him thanks for the past few days. In one breath I can't help but ask why He allows such suffering, and in the next I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way He orchestrated the events. It's crazy, but I believe this is what happens when God changes the narrative.

     On Sunday, I sat with my husband and kids enjoying Mother's Day service at the small church my dad pastors. The ladies had been showered with small gifts, and just finished listening to some of the men share how much they appreciated them. It was time for the sermon. About five minutes into the sermon, my mom felt light-headed and told my husband that she thought she needed to go home. While he went to get her a glass of water, she started to sway a bit in her seat. I knelt beside her and listened as she explained how she felt and then all of the sudden, she passed out. We had been sitting in the back of the church and by now everyone had noticed something was wrong. My dad stopped mid-sermon and tried to wake her. She was breathing but not responding so we called an ambulance. I knelt in front of her, wrapped my arms around her, and prayed. Then the seizure came and fear interrupted my prayers...would this be my last Mother's Day with her?  Fear had stolen my words, but I knew I had to keep praying. I silently pleaded with God for help. He gave me the twenty third Psalm to pray and sent three other women  who came alongside of us. They laid hands on both of us and stayed there interceding until the ambulance arrived. This certainly was one of the longest twenty minutes of my life!

    This could have been my narrative. The story could have ended there and this could have gone down in history as the worst Mother's Day ever!  But something happened that changed the narrative...and of course God used my mother to set the new narrative in motion. When she woke up on the stretcher she was very upset because she thought she had ruined Mother's Day. In an effort to comfort her I said, "No you didn't, we had our Mother's Day yesterday, remember?" This was when the narrative changed for me. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and all I could see was God's mercy.

   The day before, I had planned to help my mom get some cleaning done. There was so much to get done that I asked God to show me what was most important. He replied, "Just enjoy your Mom today."  We had spent that afternoon catching up with each other, laughing, and eating take out...just the two of us. Saturday was a gift before Sunday's suffering. When I realized this, it opened my eyes to other parts of the narrative that God had changed. I started counting His gifts in the midst of suffering: 1. My mom hadn't slept in the few days leading up to Sunday and normally would have stayed home from church. She came because she didn't want to miss the Mother's Day festivities that my dad and the other men had planned. If she had been home, she would have passed out and had a seizure all alone. Hours would have passed. 2. She was sitting in a chair when she passed out, this too was a gift! Had she been standing, she would have fallen and broken bones because of her osteoporosis!  3. Our whole family was there when it happened. Dad did not have to go through this with her alone. 4. God given words to pray when fear stole mine. 5. The three intercessors who came alongside of us and prayed us through. 6. The Body of Christ in action at this sweet little church.

    The last thing I remember hearing as they wheeled my mom out on the stretcher was one of the men saying, "Let's all get in a circle and pray."  The last thing I saw as I left the building with my mom, were my brothers and sisters in Christ holding hands praying for her. I pray I never lose sight of this beautiful image as time passes. It is a reminder to me that the physical and the spiritual are not separate, they are connected and housed in one body. Through the power of Christ we can change the narrative of the physical, when we come together in the spiritual realm as one in prayer.

   The definition of a narrative is " a spoken or written account of connected events; a story".  I've been thinking about this a lot within the context of the events this weekend and within the context of suffering. I don't think I would have seen it as clearly as I do now, without the help of my dad. When we went to the emergency room we had to retell the sequence of events over and over again for the doctors and nurses. I saw that this retelling became a weight of sorts. There is something about sharing your pain out loud that makes it feel like it's happening all over again- right at that moment. I discussed this with my dad while my mom was out for tests. I mentioned to him that in the days to come, mom might need his help reminding her of the many ways God had changed the narrative. At first, he didn't seem to think that reminding her would help. It wasn't until a day later when I overheard him talking to a neighbor, that I realized it truly did help! I walked in the hospital room, just as he was repeating word for word the gifts God had given us in the middle of this trial. He was stringing them together in sequence...much like you would a narrative. God had changed the narrative for my dad too and instead of only retelling the suffering...he was sharing God's mercy gifts that had been distributed within the trial.

    So what is the narrative for this past Mother's Day? The narrative is this: God is always there in the midst of our greatest trials, our biggest fears, and our helplessness. We just need Him to open our eyes so we can see the true narrative or we miss His gifts! This is the tension between "Why" and "Thank you".  God's narrative is woven throughout each day of our lives and engages our suffering with moments of mercy in between. Yes, I still wonder why He allows the suffering, but I am so thankful...because without it I would miss Him. If I were to only focus on the darkness of the suffering, I would miss the light of His love. If I were to only focus on the medical events that happened on Mother's Day...I would miss the great lengths that God went to in protecting my mom and loving all of us through this. The enemy of our souls wants us to look long and often at the darkness and despair that is suffering, so much so that we are consumed with asking why and being upset with God for allowing it. Don't let it happen! Ask God to show you the true narrative, the light in the darkness of suffering, the mercy gifts He's woven throughout, and the many ways He's loving you through it. Don't let your heart forget that the Light shines brightest in the darkness!

   I spoke to my mom a few minutes ago. She wanted to know how I am doing...considering all that we've been through this past weekend. Do you know what I told her? I am doing fine, because I choose to focus on the Light!


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Journey in Worship...

     The weeks were long and she spent much of her time tired. By the time the weekends rolled around, the last thing she wanted to do was to go to church...especially with her bed beckoning her to sleep in. She went anyway. There's more than one kind of tired. There's soul tired...and she knew full well that the only cure for that was to go.

     It's hard to focus when you're spent...when even short conversations on the way into the sanctuary feel like you are giving away what little you have left. Worship quickly turned into a time of asking rather than praising. She often spent the first few songs asking God to lift her above her circumstances so that she could focus on Him...worship Him. It didn't happen all at once, but eventually she began to notice a change. The lyrics were no longer just words that she sang. They leapt off the screen and pierced her heart in all of the already sore places. While everyone else sang she wrestled with tear filled eyes, determined not to let go until faith became sight...until she was certain she really believed what she was singing to be true of the God that she sang the words to. Only once the wrestling was through, did she feel herself being lifted above her circumstances and into the presence of God...caught up in worship. So caught up, that prayer at the altar became a place of peaceful surrender. God's presence so sweet, so soothing, that she couldn't help but kneel with hands open to release the long weeks, the burdens- and receive whatever He wanted to give.

    This was her experience week after week. Each Sunday she struggled to go but returned home feeling a little more rested and a bit more whole. She marveled at this in part, because she had never experienced worship like this before. God was using worship as a hydrogen peroxide of sorts for her soul.  Much like hydrogen peroxide stings while it works to make the dirt and infection ooze up to the surface cleaning the wound, worship brought to the surface all that needed to ooze out of her soul. As she wrestled with the words she sang during worship...the hurts, frustrations, and questions oozed up to the surface and spilled out. Each moment at the altar was a bandaging up of sorts on the road to healing. Before she knew it, she was able to sing without wrestling and worship without tears. That's when she realized that true worship is far more than singing songs of praise...or lip service. (See Matthew 15:8)  True worship is an intimate interaction of the heart with God. True worship has a way of bringing things to the surface and laying a heart bare, before the only One who can stand to look at the ugly brokenness and make it beautifully whole again.