Well, it’s been years since my last post on this blog. I have had this written for months now, but haven’t had the will or courage to click on “publish”. Maybe some days my faith is just not as strong as others. Quite honestly, I wasn’t even sure I would post here again. I wasn’t sure what else there would be to tell.
But our God is always at work, so here I am again. A lot has happened….
I was sitting in a café on the other side of the world – literally. I had not planned on this trip, yet somehow the Lord quickly orchestrated the details before I had time to think my way out of it. So, there I was in Cambodia. Our small team had visited poverty-stricken widows and orphans in a spiritually dark, primarily Buddhist country. Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about a message my friend back home had sent the day before. It simply said “there is beauty there if you look for it”.
She was right. There was beauty there, even among the darkest of places. When I read this verse from Isaiah 61, I knew this was the right one for our devotion I was leading that day. It became a theme verse of sorts for the rest of our trip:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
A few years before my Cambodia trip, I spent some time in despair. It’s a horrible place. I heard despair described as a place much darker than sadness because there is NO HOPE. So true.
We can’t do much without hope. If you have read the classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, you may remember that Bunyan writes about Christian being trapped in Doubting-Castle as a prisoner of Giant Despair.
Despair (n.): the complete loss or absence of hope
How did he get out of the dungeon? He suddenly realized that he had the key to get out all along, and it was called “Promise”.
Those of us who have faith in Christ do have hope and have been promised some things. So what are God’s promises?
I can’t tell you they usually involve getting back what you lost,physical healing, material wealth, job success, or personal contentment. His promises don’t always mean getting prayer answered the way we wish. In our culture, even if we don’t subscribe to the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel, we still often believe those things subconsciously. Unfortunately, those false “promises” don’t really hold up in the face of trials. All they do is cause disappointment and bitterness towards God. I wonder if we have a harder time grasping this than those widows and orphans in Cambodia who hold tightly to the promises of Jesus and nothing else.
Another passage from Isaiah outlines the core of what I think is His strongest promise to us:
Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Notice that this text doesn’t promise that He will keep us from the waters, from the rivers, or from the fire. He could of course, but that’s not His greatest desire for us. This verse speaks of His presence and His protection in the midst of difficulty. I believe that’s His biggest promise to us.
I wish I could say that I have stronger faith over these past 3+ years, but the fact is I still struggle. I have maybe more questions instead of less. Even last fall, there was a paradox of emotions fighting within my heart. Tuesday, October 4th, was my birthday, but it was also the 4th anniversary of what was unarguably the worst day of my life – the day we had the doctor’s appointment where we got the bad news about Lael’s grim diagnosis. I fight with God on this one a lot. After all, did He really have to let that fall on my birthday of all days? Then there was Wednesday, which was the 7th anniversary of what was probably the happiest (at least the top 2) day of my life – the birth of my daughter Madisyn. My emotions can be schizophrenic at best.
But yet, there is still beauty He is weaving throughout those ashes and the oil of gladness He is using to restore. It hit me that while I still don’t understand things, Jesus loves to “build up ancient ruins” and “repair ruined cities”, so maybe I was looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps long ago, knowing how horrific October 4th, 2012 would be, He set out on a path to redeem the day by cradling it on either side by gracious life and love. His loving plan included orchestrating events so that Madisyn would arrive 8 days late on the day after my birthday, exactly 3 years prior to that horrific day. Then this past year, exactly 4 years later, on October 3rd, He orchestrated another new life to come into the Shoemaker family about 5 days early, yet right on time.
Welcome to the family, Nora Lael Shoemaker!
Josh and Brittany have shown us a great honor by carrying on Lael’s name and therefore ensuring that her story will not be forgotten. Our Father uses His people to carry out His promises, to restore, to bring beauty. And although there is still a long journey to go in the healing, and it may never be complete here on earth, it is comforting to know that for us He has lovingly punctuated both sides of October 4th with beautiful life and the signature of His presence.
If you are a follower of Jesus, keep looking for His presence. He is there, working to restore all things in His time.
That’s His greatest promise.