On November 5, 2018, our son David was taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital. I accompanied him, thinking this was simply one of many hospitalizations for our profoundly retarded, medically fragile son. But when we arrived at the hospital, I quickly learned this wasn’t just another ER visit or admission to the hospital. David was taken to a room, and his home care nurse, aide and I were taken to a different room to wait while he was examined. As I was waiting for a report from the ER doctor, I had one of the most distinct visitations from the Lord I’ve ever experienced. The Lord spoke clearly to my heart that it was time, He was taking our son to be with Him.
As we waited beside David’s ICU bed, our family and some of David’s private duty nurses stood at his bedside. We knew David would not be going back home with us this time, so there was a deep grieving in our hearts. Yet from the moment God spoke to my heart, a sustaining peace remained with me. As my husband and David’s other home care nurses joined us, that peace was obvious to all.
My husband Mitch left David’s bedside at one point and went out to talk with the ICU nurse. She told him she had seen family members at the bedside of a loved one who was dying many times. But, she said, the atmosphere in David’s hospital room was different than anything she had ever experienced. I don’t know if this nurse was a Christian or not, but I do know all in that room felt the presence of the God of all Comfort.
The name God of all Comfort is not a direct quote from the Old Testament. But 2 Corinthians 1:3 clearly gives this as one of the names of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
Comfort is the Greek word paraklēsis. It means a calling to one’s side, and it combines encouragement with alleviation of grief.
Father of mercies means our heavenly Father has a heart of compassion toward those who are suffering. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines compassion as “suffering with another.” In love and sorrow, God comes by our side to share in our suffering. His comfort strengthens us, as we walk through loss or other painful circumstances. Romans 15:4 tells us that one of the ways God comforts us is through His Word.
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
Romans 15:4 NKJV
One of the most familiar uses of the word comfort in the Old Testament is in Psalm 23. The Lord is our Shepherd, and His rod and staff are reminders that He is with us. The Greek word for comfort used in verse 4 is nāḥam. It comes from a root word meaning to sigh. It means to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:4 NKJV
2 Corinthians 1:4 tells us the response God asks from us when we have experienced God’s comfort. Experiencing the comfort of the Lord enables us to comfort others who are suffering. The God of all comfort enables us to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
I want to close this post by sharing a song that God used to comfort me as I grieved the loss of our son David. Losing a child causes a deep grief, one that doesn’t go away quickly, but I found that the comfort and peace of God sustained me through those difficult months.
“If we were to script our own lives, it’s doubtful we’d include times of struggle and heartache, times where nothing makes sense. I’m sure they felt the same. And yet for them, those times that felt most out-of-control were when God showed up the most and taught them who He was. He helped them understand that freedom has nothing to do with the state of our circumstances and everything to do with the state of our hearts.”
As I read an email from a recent Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study, these words from Stacy Lowe stood out to me. If I had been the one to script my own life, it would be completely different that the script God had planned for me. Yet as I look back over the last fifty years of walking with God, I can see that His script for my life has taught me who He is. It has helped me to understand that true freedom has nothing to do with my circumstances and everything to do with the state of my heart.
When I first came to Christ, I was teaching kindergarten, a job I really enjoyed. I had my life all planned out, but the first change of my plans was turning in a resignation notice to my school and leaving Maryland for Oklahoma City, where I went through a one-year Bible college. While there, I met my husband Mitch and we began ministering together at a nursing home. It wasn’t long before Mitch and I realized that the Lord was putting us together for more than this monthly time of ministry. At the end of our year at the Bible college, Mitch and I were married.
Recently, Mitch and I celebrated our forty-seventh anniversary, so it’s clear that the Lord really put us together. But the path He has had us walk definitely wasn’t the one we would have chosen. It’s included an auto accident that took the life of our young daughter Teresa and left me with twenty-seven fractures. The doctor who treated me told my husband that he didn’t expect me to be able to walk, but God gave me many years of walking without an assistive device. I now use a walker most of the time, with a wheelchair for any trips that involve more than ten minutes of walking. This wasn’t our plan, but God was with us each step of the way.
If I were to write the script of my own life, it would not have included the loss of our daughter Teresa or my own injuries from the accident that took her life. At that time, I felt my life was out of control. But in truth, it was a time when God was at work in my life and when I grew in my knowledge of His goodness and faithfulness.
The next event in my life that I definitely would not have included was the loss of our second child by miscarriage. After losing our firstborn Teresa only a couple years earlier, I felt numb when a trip to the hospital confirmed that Mitch and I were losing our second child, this one that we had no time with on this earth. No, this would not have been a part of my chosen script for my life.
Then, the most life-changing happening we’re ever experienced as a family began in 1984, when our son David was born. By this time we had another little girl, Amy, who was the joy of our lives. So we were excited about the birth of our son. But that joyful expectation didn’t last very long. When David was three months old, he was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development.
For thirty-four years, David was the center of our schedule since he was completely dependent upon others for every aspect of his care. We had a loving team of home care nurses and a very special assistant that did much to lighten our load as the parents of a medically fragile and mentally disabled son. In addition to seizures, David had a paralyzed diaphragm, fragile bones that resulted in many fractures, and a long list of other medical diagnoses.
The Lord took David to his heavenly home in November 2018. Though his home going was softened by a clear word from the Lord to me that He was taking David home, followed by an amazing peace that sustained us during our heart breaking loss of David, it was the most difficult thing we have faced in our forty-seven years of marriage. Yes, I accepted that David was now in heaven and we will see him again, yet my script for David’s life would have been very different than the script I would have written. Healing would have come in the first months of his life, as the elders of our church came to the hospital to pray for David’s healing, not thirty-four years later in heaven.
I don’t know the struggles and challenges your life as a Christian has included. They may seem insignificant in comparison to what our family has faced, but I’m sure there have been times of heart break and pain which definitely didn’t seem insignificant at the time. The script God has written for your life likely included events and circumstances you would not have included if you were writing the script for your life. Yet, as we walk the path God has planned for us, our hearts are shaped by His presence so that we are continually becoming a clearer reflection of the image of His Son.
As Stacy Lowe wrote in her email for a Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study, those times that felt most out-of-control were when God showed up the most and taught us who He was. As we walk the path of life God has laid before us, we learn that true freedom is a result of God’s work in and through our circumstances to mold our hearts to look more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As Stacy Lowe said, “Freedom has nothing to do with the state of our circumstances and everything to do with the state of our hearts.”
Freedom is the result of our heart surrender to God’s script for our lives, trusting that His plan for us is good because the One who wrote it is good. Even when we don’t understand our circumstances, we can always trust the One who rules over them, believing He will use them for our good and for His glory!
I was reading an article this week, written by Jay Lowder, an evangelist who has spoken several times in our church. The subject of his article was overcoming fear so that we can walk in faith during this uncertain time. He wrote:
“The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of fear for many, even me. I’m a full-time evangelist whose work has come to a halt, and I have a daughter with an incurable disease that is highly susceptible to illness. Even as a person of faith, it’s hard not to have fear about these things which are completely out of my control.”
It’s easy to see that the circumstances we are living through are beyond our control. The good news is they are not beyond God’s control. We may not understand all of God’s purposes in this season, but we can choose to walk in faith in the God who wasn’t surprised by this pandemic.
In her book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore wrote, “Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.“
To walk in faith during seasons when everything in us is trembling and quaking requires something or someone unshakable that we can hold onto. Faith isn’t positive thinking. It is rooted in knowing and trusting the One who cannot be shaken. Faith is believing that God will do what He has promised to do and then acting on that belief.
Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker speaker and writer during the late 19th century, said of walking in faith,
“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honor faith... Faith, like sight is nothing apart from God. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.“
In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith said the biggest obstacle to walking in faith is a life filled with supposes.
As we move forward in this season of uncertainty, let’s remember that the Lord Himself is our strong tower. Let’s make this cry of David our prayer when we feel our faith being shaken.
“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-3
“Those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as unmovable as mighty Mount Zion!” Psalms 125:1 The Passion Translation
Instead of living in the supposes, let’s run to our place of safety and rest. Let’s run to the Lord, our dwelling place. When we do, we will be held up by His everlasting arms.
“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ” Deuteronomy 33:27a
For many years before we lost our 34 year old special-needs son David last November, I battled worry about the time the Lord would take him home to heaven. Early in his life, we had been told David probably would not live into his teens, so once he passed this milestone my anxiety just kept growing. Each time he was hospitalized, especially when he had pneumonia, I was filled with anxiety that this might be the time. And when he was well, other worries consumed my thoughts, often keeping me awake at night.
When this event I had dreaded for years actually came, one of the things that stood out to me above everything else was the peace I experienced, truly a peace that passed all understanding. As my husband and I sat at David’s bedside, releasing him to the Lord, while we were sorrowful we also were at peace. This was so obvious that the nurses in charge of our son’s care in those final hours commented to my husband that the atmosphere in David’s room was totally different from what they usually see when a family member passes away.
What was the difference in my imaginations and in the actual event? In simple terms, God promises grace in our time of need. But when the “need” is simply in our minds, no grace is promised.
This week’s Teach Me Tuesday post focused on the importance of living in the “right now,” especially during times when it seems like someone has pushed the “pause” button in our lives. Warren Wiersbe said of the danger of not living in the present moment, “Most Christians are being crucified on a cross between two thieves: Yesterday’s regret and tomorrow’s worries.” Yesterday’s regrets cripple us because they leave us in the past, which we can do nothing to change. But living with anxiety or worry is equally damaging to our ability to live today in the way God intends.
Worry is a result of turning our attention on the future. It is the result of anticipating negative future events that may never happen. Even if the things we are worrying about actually will happen sometime in the future, worrying about them will do nothing to change that.Worry about tomorrow accomplishes nothing, and it keeps us from living today to the fullest.It does nothing to improve tomorrow, but it empties us of the strength to live the way God is calling us to today.
Elisabeth Elliot said, “Worry is the antithesis of trust. You simply cannot do both. They are mutually exclusive.” Worry is rooted in thinking God is not big enough to take care of us. It is an indication we are putting trust in our limited resources and understanding instead of in the God who loved us enough to send His Son to the Cross so that we could be forgiven and restored to relationship with Him.
On this Thankful Thursday, let’s renew our commitment to live in the present, walking through life one day at a time as Jesus says we should do. When we’re tempted to give place to anxious thoughts, let’s remember the instruction God has given in this area. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
Let’s also thank God for His invitation to bring the burdens on our hearts to His throne of grace. In our pain He offers help. He just wants us to learn to handle our times of need in the way His Word teaches us. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)
Last Thursday, I shared an important lesson God reminded me of as I was reading the book I Still Believe, an autobiography written by Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp. Before I put this book aside, I wanted to share another truth that I learned while reading this book. It has to do with the purpose of trials in our lives.
“The Word of God never promises that we won’t go through trials. Actually, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we will go through them. In fact, James exhorts us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ We aren’t guaranteed a perfect life. We’re going to struggle and endure hardships.”
But that’s not the end of the message. Jeremy continues:
“And yet God does promise that in our trials, He will stand right next to us and be there every moment. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us, to breathe life into us and heal our hearts.”
But honestly, the statement that touched the deepest place in my heart from this book was the following one. Frankly, it opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t seen before, the difference between being refined by our trials and being defined by the difficult circumstances God allows to touch our lives. One is a part of the plan of God in allowing suffering in our lives on this earth, the other was never meant to be.
“What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me – this is not who I am, ‘the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because if that’- but it has refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.”
As many of you know, we lost our thirty-four year old special needs son David last November. And after his death, one of my biggest struggles was feeling like I’d lost a major part of who I was. Suddenly, I was no longer the mother of a child with special needs. For thirty-four years, my life (and my husband’s as well) had centered around meeting David’s extensive medical needs. When that was no longer my responsibility, I felt lost.
Until I read the above quote, I really didn’t understand I had been allowing the suffering in my life to define me, to determine how I saw myself. Trials that don’t just come for a short time and then go away can do that if we aren’t careful. But I was not primarily the mother of a child with special needs. My identity is found in Christ and my relationship with Him.
Yes, trials are a part of life on this earth. Yes, they refine us, changing us from within. But, no, the difficult circumstances we walk through are not meant to define who we are. Unfortunately, when trials drag on and on and on, they have the potential of doing just that. What we are walking through becomes so much a part of who we are that it can become how we see outselves, our identity.
Ladies who are reading this on our GLG page, remember your chronic illnesses do not define who you are. You are a child of God, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), who happens to have one or more chronic illness. If you are reading this on my personal blog, perhaps your prolonged trial is of a different kind, but the same lesson applies. Life on this earth and trials go together but the suffering we go through does not determine who we are.
On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember our trials do refine us, but they don’t define us. We are God’s beloved children who will one day be whole, when we see Him face-to-face. Allow your trials to remind you of this truth, and look forward to that day when we will leave behind these broken bodies and live in the future God has promised us, when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
It’s been a long time since I wrote a post for Five Minute Friday. But this week’s writing prompt: GOAL, was too fitting for me to pass up. Recently, God has given me a new goal that has become my new purpose in life.
During May, I led a group of ladies in God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness through a mini-Bible study entitled Verse by Verse, Growing Closer to God. The study we used was written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries, and I had already planned to do the study so I volunteered to lead it in our group.
What I didn’t know at the time was that God was going to use this study to speak a very clear word to me personally, a word that has given me a new purpose in life.
As I went with our group of ladies through this study, I kept hearing one message over and over and over again. It was simply this: Your focus needs to be on finishing the work I have called you to do.
After losing our special needs and medically fragile son David last November, my husband and I had been sensing one long season of our lives was over and it was time for a new focus. For thirty-four years, meeting David’s needs had been the center of our lives around which everything else revolved. So both of us had been praying for God’s direction for the future. And during this mini-study, I found the direction I was seeking.
Writing has been a love of my life for several years, and it’s time to move forward with God’s plan in this area. In prayer, I’ve sensed two specific focuses for my writing, and I’m now in the process of taking my new Goal and turning it into a plan to make it more than just a wish. And it was time to put that decision down on paper.
I’m currently working on doing more articles for God-Living Girls and my blog, as well as in the planning stage of writing my first Bible study. Since I celebrated my seventy-first birthday earlier this year, I don’t know how many years I have to finish the work that God created me to do. But in this past month, doing that has become my burning desire.
Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.
The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.
Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.
I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.
We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.
Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.
“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB
Tomorrow will be the five-month anniversary of the day the Lord took our son David to his heavenly home. When David was born, my husband and I entered an unknown world of being the parents of a child with extensive medical needs that our lives centered around meeting his needs.
During David’s short lifetime, we’ve faced a long list of diagnoses with diseases we had never even heard of before, fragile bones which resulted is numerous fractures, evaluations by doctors that put David’s life-expectancy at twelve years or less, dozens of hospitalizations which could have ended in death, and even a legal battle to not lose all his essential nursing care when he turned twenty-one. In the midst of all of this, the Lord graciously gave us thirty-four years with David.
On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the work God has done in my husband’s and my life over the last thirty-four plus years to bring us to the place where the attributes of God’s character have moved from being words in a book to being truths we now know by personal experience. Trials are rich soil in which our knowledge of God has the opportunity to grow.
I now know our God is a loving and compassionate Father, because I’ve seen His love and compassion in innumerable situations in our lives.
I now know God is faithful to keep His promises, because in one circumstance after another God has given us promises and then done exactly what He promised.
I now know God has the power to do what looks impossible in my eyes, because I’ve seen Him turn around several situations that looked impossible.
The one situation that stands out to me above all others was what God did when David aged out of the children’s services program that provided him with sixteen hours a day of private duty nursing care. When David’s twenty-first birthday was approaching, the state offered us only two options. We could choose to keep David at home and meet his extensive medical needs without any nursing care, or we could institutionalize him in a state school. We went to visit the nearest state school for the disabled, and they told us they really hoped we would not enroll him there, because they were not able to meet his extensive medical needs. We’ve never faced a situation that looked more impossible!
God gave us a promise: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 ESV) As I was praying, the Lord brought to mind the name of a legal assistance program, Advocacy, Inc. (now known as Disability Rights Texas). I made a call to the local legal office, but this was such a major case that we ended up being represented at the Federal District Court by the top legal team for disability rights in the state of Texas, at no cost to us.
Through a legal settlement, God made a way for us to continue to meet David’s needs in our home, with no reduction in the level of services he received as a child, until the day the Lord took him home. And He provided the added benefit of setting a legal precedent through our case that has helped numerous other families who have faced the same situation when their son or daughter turned twenty-one.
Now that our son is safely in God’s presence, no longer suffering but whole for the first time, our family is walking in a season of transition. The past is behind us, the future uncertain. In this situation, a quote I heard many years ago has come to mind. While I don’t have a clear picture of what lies ahead, I do know the One who does. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Today, I want to encourage you to look at your current circumstances through the lens of God’s attributes. How has He shown Himself to you through the struggles you’ve walked through? What characteristics of God have moved from simply being something you’ve read about in the Word of God to something you now know by personal experience? Let’s encourage one another today by sharing how your battles with chronic illnesses and whatever other difficulties have been a part of your life have helped you grow in your knowledge of God.
The final chapter in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is about change. When we are facing difficult circumstances, change sounds inviting. But this chapter isn’t talking about a change of circumstances. The change referred to in this chapter is a change in our attitude toward our circumstances.
An attitude is a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular subject, situation, person or group of people. Attitudes are often the result of our experiences or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over our behavior. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change. Attitudes are a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way, and since they are learned they can also be unlearned.
Woodrow Kroll, evangelical preacher and radio host of Back to the Bible has said concerning our attitude about difficult circumstances, “Nothing is so sour that it can’t be sweetened by a good attitude.”
Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell wrote in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”
While changing circumstances is a great goal, sometimes we are powerless to do this. For example, I can do nothing to change the fact that our special needs son David suffered for thirty-four years with profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia CP, seizures and fragile bones prone to fracture and then graduated from this world to heaven last November. I also can do little to change my personal pain and limitations from the chronic illness and disability I live with daily as a result of an auto accident in 1975 that also took the life of our first born daughter Teresa. But in both of these situations, I do have the power to change my attitude. I can choose to have a God-honoring attitude in whatever circumstances I’m currently walking through.
New attitudes start with new mind-sets and result in new behavior. Let’s take the two circumstances I shared above. In dealing with the challenging life and recent loss of our precious son, I could focus on how hard life was for David and the pain of our recent loss, or I could shift my focus to the truth that David is now in the presence of the Lord and whole after a lifetime in a broken body. In my chronic illness and physical disability, I could turn my mind on all the things I’m unable to do, or I could thank the Lord for the blessings in my life and all the things I am able to do. As Nancy says, “The pathway to personal transformation requires a change in perspective.”
She says, “I’d like to coin a new word for those who may be deficient in the gratitude department (which includes all of us from time to time).” Instead of speaking of “attitudinal change,” Nancy calls us to “gratitudinal change.”
Gratitudinal change comes from choosing “to live in the fullness of your relationship with God, not hindered and hamstrung and holding Him at arm’s length, but experiencing Him richly. Feeling at home in His presence.”
It results in rewriting our story “into a tale of God’s grace, one that He uses to help you be an effective minister of His hope and healing to those who are walking the same kind of path” He has helped us to walk. It’s being “so availableto His Spirit’s leading, so aware of others’ needs, and so willing to be open and genuine, that God takes the things Satan meant for evil and transforms them into things of value.”
It’s living as God’s Word instructs us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
The author gives several specific recommendations to get us headed in the direction of “gratitudinal change.”
Surrender your rights to God. “If we are to bloom and flourish as children of God in this harsh and suffocating culture – shining like ‘lights in the world’ – we must pour ourselves out as a drink offering before the Lord.”
Commit to a set season of gratitude. “Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s Spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. And that takes time, effort, and focused attention.”
Take stock of your gratitude accounts. “Who deserves (or needs) a word of thanks from you? Who in your life could use a bit of encouragement today?”
Write thank you notes. Remember, “the act of expressing gratitude breeds joy. In the sender and in the recipient… Don’t get hung up on the ‘technique.’ Do resolve to have a thankful heart and to take time to express your gratitude as frequently as possible, by whatever means possible, to as many people as possible.”
Do it together, as a Body-building exercise. As we bring this nine-week study of Choosing Gratitude to a close, I encourage you to share with the other members of our group how you plan to put these principles we’ve studied into practice.
Understanding the place of suffering in the Christian life is a key to walking through whatever God permits to touch our lives with a Gratitudinal attitude.
Joni Eareckson Tada became well acquainted with suffering when at age eighteen she suffered a cervical fracture when diving into some shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has identified suffering as “God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us... the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” She adds, “God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”
Elizabeth Elliot was plunged into the world of suffering when her husband Jim was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. She said, “This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us… The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth brings this study to a close with these words, “Some of the holy work we need to have done in us and through us can only come through the valley of shadow and suffering. Are you going to be resistant to that? Or are you going to be clay in His hands, knowing that He is intent on shaping you into the image of Christ and wants to use your life for something far bigger than you own comfort, convenience, and pleasure? He wants your life to be part of a grand, eternal redemptive picture that portrays the wonder of His saving grace.”
I encourage you to meditate on these quotes concerning the benefits we gain through suffering. And allow them to cause a change in your perspective concerning the difficult circumstances in your life.
Do you want your life to reflect the character of Christ? Do you agree that God is more interested in inward qualities than in outward circumstances? Do you want to know the depths of God’s love? Do you want to “go forward in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways that place us in the center of His great will and plan”? Then, make the decision to begin looking at your world through “gratitude-colored glasses.”
I want to close today with a song by Joni Eareckson Tada that perfectly expresses the attitude God desires us to have toward the suffering He has allowed in our lives.
My devotional reading this morning in BreakingFree Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.
“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”
This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.
For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.
Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:
“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”
Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.
As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.