Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A miracle of grace

I've experienced God's grace in numerous amazing ways in my life. Tomorrow, my  husband and I celebrate an extended season of grace beyond anything we could ask or deserve.

On November 20, 1994 my husband and I said "I do" in a little church in Fort Smith that we "borrowed" because at the time we were unchurched. I can't even begin to tell you how much grace has been poured out on our lives. Even before I began walking with the Lord, I saw His hand on our marriage.

For over 7300 days of my life, I have woken up next to a man [ok, technically most days I've woken up after him by a couple of hours, but still ... ] ... next to a man whom I have never doubted, for a single moment, loves me deeply and would willingly "take a bullet" (his words) for me.  Even more significant, he does lay down his life for me in countless demonstrations of sacrificial love all the time.

For over 7300 days of my life, I have heard "I love you." More days than not, I've also heard, "You're beautiful."  

For over 7300 days of my life, I've experienced extended grace, and I am oh so grateful.

As a married couple we have experienced grace together for 20 years now. On paper, we shouldn't have made it. We both made mistakes and came to our marriage broken individuals. But over the last 20 years I have learned that grace flows best when it has some nooks and crannies to seep into ... when there are cracks to seal and chipped edges to mend. I'm not perfect, he's not perfect. But we're perfect for each other. And I am inordinately grateful for the partner God has given me. Our marriage, like any, is unique to us. It might look kooky to the outside, but it works. And the main reason is simply ... grace. Unmerited favor. We got it wrong before we got it right, and we still mess up. But we've learned that God's grace is bigger than that and we've learned to let that grace flow to each other. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

20 years in, we could tell you some things about making a marriage work. Tidbits like carving out date time, being kind to each other, being open and honest, making decisions together, trusting each other's strong points -- all are true and important. But none would get anywhere without the grace of God - and without us extending that grace to each other.

Because of grace, we can love beyond our human ability. We can enter into 1 Corinthians 13 love that is not about emotion or response but about actively seeking each others' good. Because of grace we can choose to forgive. Because of grace we can serve God together and focus on a purpose beyond ourselves. Marriage can have meaning and significance beyond our happiness.

But in God's grace, He has also given us SO much joy. He has given us the emotions that go with love and marriage that is not only significant, but fun!

I do love the husband God has given me. I love that he happily prepares breakfast every morning and gets truly excited when I ask him to fix  "Bob-let" (a special cheesy omelet that takes extra time). I love that he seems to spontaneously know the practical outworking of Scripture while I hash it out with my word study books. I love that his gift of faith overflows to every aspect of life. I love that after 20 years of marriage he still thinks of me as his princess. I love that every. single. day. of our marriage I have felt loved and treasured. I love knowing that he will always be the one to check out the weird noises and that he reminds me constantly to be more security conscious.

I love that as much as he treasures and protects me, he doesn't have me in a "doll house". Just as much as he takes care of me, he also respects and supports my dreams and interests. In fact, he encourages me to pursue things beyond what I would even consider knowing that God has bigger things for me than I would envision for myself ... because I am not a risk-taker and have trouble dreaming big!

I love that he enjoys hearing my many opinions on just about everything, that as much as he teases me about being opinionated he wouldn't have it any other way. I love that he makes sure the newspaper is on the table at breakfast and asks me to tell him things from it. I love that he looks forward to the "Bob list" I keep throughout the day and is disappointed when the busy-ness of life keeps me from jotting things down to share later.

I love that he enjoys hearing the details of my work day and sharing the details of his. I love our traditions and our reading together and our constant interaction in each other's lives. I love that he gets excited to talk to his kids and grandkids and sends me emails with multiple exclamation points about the conversations. I love watching him call around and tell grandkid stories after every visit. I love his pride in the technical skills of his youngest daughter, the servant's heart his son has, and the multitasking talents of his oldest, including her ability to bend people in two at their request (aka personal training).

I love that he never lets "conventional wisdom" hold him back and that he started training for marathons at age 62. I love the look he gets on his face when he talks to someone about Jesus and when he is fundraising for St. Jude. I love his prayers for divine appointments and his unbelievable gift of faith.

I love that he always has my best interests at heart. I love that he had as much fun on our "Little House" vacation this summer as I did. I love that he drove most of the trip and I got to enjoy watching the prairie out the window.

Most of all, I love that this man gets up every morning to spend time with God before he spends time with me. That spiritual leadership has helped me in so many ways.

Our marriage is still a miracle of grace, and I treasure every second.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Job, Assisted Suicide, and Words Meant For the Wind

"Do you intend to reprove my words, 
when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?" 
(Job 6:26 NASB)

Sometimes, out of deep suffering, people say things they don't mean. Job - the poster child for righteous suffering - was no exception. Among the words he uttered out of his pain were these tragic pleas:

"Let the day perish on which I was to be born, and the night which said, 'A boy is conceived.' 
Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?" 
(Job 3:3, 11 NASB)

"Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, 
Who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures," 
(Job 3:20-21 NASB)

In the darkness of his pain and suffering, Job wishes that he'd never been born and longs for death, even thinking it wrong that he has to go on living. In ways I cannot grasp, Job could relate to those whose suffering leads them to ask for the pain to end, for the blessed relief of death. He knew what it meant to lose the will to live. 

And yet he lived on, honestly working through his struggling and pain, remaining blameless before God. That's why Job's words in Job 6:26 are so instructive about how we react to the words of those in deep suffering. Job says these sorts of words "belong to the wind". In other words, they should just be carried away like the wind carries away debris. 

In an exceptional blog post on this verse, John Piper explains:
There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by the pain, the despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real within where they come from. But it is temporary—like a passing infection—real, painful, but not the true person.
What Piper writes of individuals who lash out at us out of pain is also true of those whose words of despair take them in the direction of assisted suicide. Sure, some might truly want to die. Others might be speaking out of the pain and suffering, or out of a desire to not "be a burden".

That's why the church (and our society) should strongly oppose assisted suicide. Will there always be people whose pain makes them want to end their own lives? Of course. We cannot always stop that -- but we should not step in and make it easier, either. When we take it upon ourselves to determine the genuineness of someone's professed wish to die, we step into the realm of the spiritual. We take a great risk at saying that we know "the deepest thing within". We put ourselves in God's place.

It's important to remember that when God finally speaks into Job's situation (started in Chapter 38), He affirms what Job has said about God -- but still reveals to Job areas where he was speaking out of turn. When Job responds, he repents:

Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' 
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." 
(Job 42:1-6 NASB)

We know from Job 42:7 that Job spoke rightly about God - so he is not repenting of anything false against God, like his friends would have to do. Instead, Job repents of talking about things he couldn't understand. Things like the meaninglessness of his suffering. Things like how it would be better to die.

Job never knew why he suffered. We see the spiritual battle behind the scenes in Job 1-2, but there is no indication that Job knew about that. Much is made of Job's restored fortunes, but the real victory for Job came not in understanding his suffering or in being restored. Instead, the real victory came in growing to know God more personally - not just hearing, but seeing. Job uttered words that were meant for the wind -- but on the other side of his pain, he found a deeper relationship with God. As people of God, we should weep with those whose pain makes them weep, and then walk alongside them into a deeper understanding of their Creator. What we should never do is promote actions based on words meant for the wind.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Death with Dignity

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (ESV)

Death is an enemy.

Before we can grasp the joys of heaven and the promise of eternal life, we have to see death for the enemy that it is. We were not created to die. As I wrote in my last post, death, destruction, pain, and toil are aberrations from the good, perfect, life-filled world that God created - aberrations caused by sin.

In our heart of hearts we know this to be true. We feel the tearing away when we lose a loved one. We mourn when we someone "too young to die" loses a life. Even our biological "fight or flight" mechanism hard-wires us to run from death and toward life.

Yes, Jesus has defeated death - but let's not forget that death is not "normal". Phrases like "circle of life" and "death as a part of life" may comfort, but apart from the hope of the resurrection in Christ, they are deceptive and meaningless. We pass from life to life only by holding Jesus' hand.

What breaks my heart the most about the decision of a young woman with cancer to publically advocate for the right of people to "die with dignity" - and then yesterday, to move forward with that decision and choose death - is that the story of this young, beautiful face for the "right-to-die" proponents just edged the culture of death in this country further off the cliff. I don't pretend to know how bad her symptoms were or how much suffering she was enduring. I leave to others who are choosing to walk through pain until a natural end of life to discuss the issue of suffering.

What I know is that "death with dignity" is not defined as "choosing when and where I die". That's not a choice we get to make. We were created for life, and until the day God, who breathes life into our bodies, determines that we've breathed our last, we should walk in the direction of life. That doesn't mean we choose every treatment, but at the very least it means we don't hasten the process. "Death with dignity" means we don't fear death because we  are holding Jesus' hand walking through those final days.

I've witnessed death with dignity up close. My mother-in-law went to be with the Lord 7 1/2 years ago. My husband and I were blessed to be in the room with her. After all the measures to bring healing to her body failed, it became clear that her time to go was near. My husband and I stayed in her room for the final hour and a half, talking, telling stories, and singing praise songs. Lucid until the end, she fixed her eyes on us and transitioned from worshipping in this life, to worshipping in the next. Peace filled the room - peace that was a witness to the nurse outside the door. She lived a ministry to her very last moment on earth.

Don't be fooled by the deceptively beautiful language surrounding assisted suicide. Death is still an enemy, no matter how we dress it up. Assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition as some European countries are learning. Death with dignity isn't about choices. It's about relationship.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil —
- Hebrews 2:14 (HCSB)