Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What If Your Wounds Help Set Others Free?

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What if your scars point to a greater glory? — Jennie Allen
Again, Jacob/Israel was foolish — this time he sent Joseph out to brothers who despised him.
When you look back on the landscape of your life, how much of the suffering you’ve endured can be directly traced to foolishness (yours or someone else’s)?
In Genesis 37:18 we learn that Joseph’s brothers’ rage of jealousy (because he was the favorite and because he bragged to them about his dreams from God) led them to murderous intent. His big brother, Reuben, was the only one with a conscience. “Come on, guys. Let’s not kill him. Let’s just throw him in this water tank.”
Imagine them sitting there eating dinner listening to him call out to be released.
What kind of hard-hearted hatred does it take to listen to your brother cry out from the bottom of a cistern and keep on casually eating fish and matzah?
Then Judah suggested they sell him instead of kill him because “after all he is our brother”. (How very menschy of him!). So, they killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s famous multi-colored robe in the blood and took it to their dad, Israel, who grieved so deeply he thought he might die.
Have you ever grieved so passionately that you thought you might actually die from the weight of anguish?.. I have.
(We are skipping the story of Judah and Tamar but it isn’t because this part isn’t important. It’s actually because a key to understanding how God changed Judah between the time Joseph was sold and when they finally meet again years later and the tables have radically turned {Check out Genesis 42}. For more in-depth study, Max Lucado has a fabulous teaching on Judah and Tamar.)
Joseph was sold to Potiphar who “happened” to be one of Pharaoh’s head honchos (Genesis 39). God positioned him exactly where He wanted him. There Joseph served faithfully and God blessed the entire household because of him. He was a righteous man. He was also a handsome, well-built man. The problem? Potiphar’s wife was a cougar. After harassing him repeatedly with seductive advances, she finally grabbed him by his robe and insisted he go to bed with her and Joseph literally ran right out of that coat away from temptation and sin! Way to go, Joe!
After being rebuffed so severely by him, the woman scorned accused him of attempted rape and Joseph went to prison.
Prison!
But the Lord was with him! Even wrongfully jailed, Joseph was faithful to God and gained favor until, other than the warden, he was in charge of everything.

What are your favorite stories?

The richest, most powerful stories are ones of redemption in the face of severe trial, aren’t they? The Count of Monte Cristo, The Joy Luck Club, The Kite Runner, Shawshank Redemption, Cinderella Man, Life Is Beautiful just to name a few… There’s an endless list of stories, both ancient and modern, about inexplicable beauty, surprising grace, leadership, victory, redemption, and gorgeous service of others born out of the worst of possible, most suffering-laden circumstances.
God is in the business of redemption. 
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. — Helen Keller
We all suffer. We all have painful stories. There’s no way to escape being terribly wounded on this shattered planet. But, the worst kind of suffering is the kind that isn’t allowed to be used by God for good. It’s hidden. Buried. Wasted. Purposeless suffering breeds hopelessness.
I don’t want to life to end without every single scrippy-scrap of pain in my life fully redeemed, totally submitted to God to use in whatever ways He sees fit. I don’t want to keep any of it in my own hands, covered up in shame, or grief, or bitterness. Lord, please use every bit of my pain for Your purposes. 
… And the grossest stuff becomes the richest, most fertile soil. — Jennie Allen 

What if your scars point to a greater glory?

Building a beautiful, loving, life-long marriage partnership and raising a family has always been the most important thing to me. My husband and I had a girl first and then a boy and decided to stop at two because I was seriously terrible at being pregnant. I had hyper-emesis from about 20 minutes after sex until just after the baby popped out which means I have vomited everywhere. In my car. The kitchen. Parking lots. Nordstrom. Costco. At the movies. In the ocean. On the side of the road. Restaurants. The grocery store. All over Southern California. Maui. Arizona. Into Ziplock baggies. Onto my own lap. You name the place, and I’ve probably barfed there. Oh, I’ve even thrown up at the Sistine Chapel!.. Holy hurl.
After that God said “adopt” which led us to Gwennie & Gabbie. Very long, painful story for another day, their adoption got interrupted by a law suit and we lost them after 3 ½ months. I was beyond devastated. But, out of that pain came great joy. A young woman in church watched all of this unfold, and when she discovered she was pregnant and unable to care for the baby, she decided she wanted me to be the mother of her precious little one. That’s beauty from ashes!
Several years (and many, many chunks blown) later, we had another daughter by birth and then adopted our youngest from Ethiopia.
Being a wife and mama has been my entire life. My whole heart. My full purpose. Homeschooling. Field trips. Family days. Studying the Bible together. There were years of envisioning five graduations, five weddings, oodles of grandbabies, Christmases, vacations, good years and bad years, growing old and gray together, and ministering together. Even though our marriage was hard. Really, really hard.
I thought, Maybe we’ll write a book about a difficult marriage made gorgeous by God? Maybe we’ll write about raising kids in a difficult marriage, through challenging and lonely years, but finding that the Lord got us through?
But, years ago, I’ve not really been able to pinpoint when exactly, my marriage started unraveling faster than I could hold the ragged ends together. (I’m skipping huge blocks of ugly details here. Because, really, it’s just gross, and awful, and sad, and messy, and scary, and it’s stomach-squeezing to talk about especially since I’m still in the thick of it.)
Suffice it to say, finally it became hostile and dangerous and our marriage and family broke. Specifically, I broke it.
I remember after we lost the girls wondering, “Why is everyone just driving their cars, going out to lunch, and picking up the dry cleaning? What are they doing?! Why are they all acting normal?!”
This kind of world-rocking grief feels like everything should come to a screeching halt… but it doesn’t. Life continues and it feels like an additional assault upon a heart that’s already cracked wide open.
I couldn’t see straight, or think straight, or know what to do with myself. I was both numb and on fire, both in shock and collapsing from the weight of grief. Walking into walls unable to cope. I needed babysitters, people who would be with me and tell me what to do. I needed Post-It notes that said things like:
  • Get out of bed.
  • Get in the Word.
  • Take a shower.
  • Eat real food.
  • Exercise.
  • Do something for someone else.
  • Laugh.
  • Go to bed at a decent hour.
What’s additionally painful is that I can look back and see the potential redemption that was right there in it. It could have been healed! It just wasn’t.
People who are separated or divorced may joke (or bitterly comment) that they just married badly. I don’t feel like that. I think I married very well. We just did marriage very badly. There were more unresolved arguments than peace and that didn’t have to be the case. More lies and hiding than truth. More fear than trust. More shaky seasons than secure ones. More bitter loneliness than lovemaking. And more sheer agony than the growing-in-togetherness-glory that marriage is supposed to be. I wifed poorly. He husbanded poorly. There were years that I just begged God to show me how to wife him because I couldn’t find a way that worked. Either that or let me die, God, because this is shredding me.
At some point, we crossed the invisible threshold from “difficult” marriage to “destructive” marriage.
I cried oceans.  Many, many hours were spent prostrate in an empty chapel just thrashed, shell-shocked, grieving, unrecognizable even to myself.
But, I have no doubt that my husband and I were supposed to be married until death parted us. Simply put — the enemy won.
Something about losing everything you love pushes us right up into the Face of God. — Jennie Allen
God changes us through the suffering He allows or even ordains in our lives. He met me in the ashes of the destruction of my marriage and family. The Lord showed me my black-heartedness and He spoke words of love and forgiveness over me. He chased me and He changed me.
He is changing me.
Trials, hardship, pain, suffering — They shape us and mold our character. Out in that painful wilderness we come face to Face with God Almighty. And we are brought to our knees. Shown our wickedness. Called to repentance. Forgiven. Anointed. Given a vision for the future. Given direction. Changed from the inside out. Breathed into. And our stories get repurposed for His glory!
God redeems. It’s part of His character. — Jennie Allen
I want God to use it ALL — every moment, every story, every teardrop. Only He knows what that looks like yet, but I do know God has luscious, gorgeous, redemption built right into the desert, the wasteland of suffering, for the purposes of bringing Himself glory and setting other broken hearts free… both in my life and in yours!
He will redeem your wounds, your saddest stories, your brokenness and sin and bring glory out of all of it. He will!

Prayer

Oh, Holy Spirit, help us. Help us courageously face our stories of suffering. Meet us in the wilderness of our pain and change us from the inside out. Let our stories be redeemed into something beautiful for Your glory and for the purpose of helping others. Give us compassionate hearts for the hurting around us and the strength and courage to share our stories with those who need to hear that You are the Redeemer! We love you with everything that is in us! We are so grateful for Your presence, Your forgiveness, and Your hand of grace on our lives. Thank You, Abba, for loving us so dearly that You never forsake or abandon us. You chase us. You seek us out. You love us. We are so grateful. Amen.

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