what the dark develops

Spring weather has been in Arkansas for a while now, as our winter was extremely mild and I’ve been wearing short sleeves since February. However, it’s been in the past few weeks that the world has turned lush and green. Trees branches blow slow motion in the wind, heavy with their leaves, and grass is demanding that it be mowed once a week or it threatens to take over the house.

We’ve also seen a lot of rain. And not just rain, but downpours. Flash flood warnings and constantly muddy dog paws and mulch-washing-away type of rain. And while this means that many days are dark skies and puddle-soaked feet, it has also resulted in that abundance of growth and new life.

The contrast of the water-heavy clouds and the verdant fields has been a poignant spiritual picture as I have considered what it means to live in this broken and beautiful world. God uses those clouds hiding the sun to bring up new life, and he has been reminding my heart that he uses the darker seasons to develop new life in my soul.

There’s always a contrasting shade present in our sunny world, a dark shadow to remind us that sin taints it all. And I believe that, when we recognize the disappointments and unmet desires instead of hiding or trying to “get over” them, we become more aware of our spiritual reality. In this way, infertility has been a sanctifying grace in my life.

Infertility has helped me more fully understand the Christian life, here on this earth and the hope we have for the future.

Romans 8:18-25 dives into a comparison of present sufferings and future glory–or, rather, it says they aren’t even worth being compared. Paul acknowledges the frustration that creation experiences, and even more so ourselves, in the waiting for the coming redemption. The relief from bondage is not something that can be achieved by us; it’s based on the coming of Christ.

As Paul personifies creation as being subjected to futility, commentators Sanday and Headlam note that this description “is appropriately used of the disappointing character of present existence, which nowhere reaches the perfection of which it is capable.” Commentator Everett F. Harrison says that the creation is “being pictured as not willingly enduring the subjection yet having hope for something better, i.e., liberation from its ‘bondage to decay.’”

The fact that we experience grief and loss is an affirmation of this idea that life is not “reaching the perfection of which it is capable.” There’s something in us that seems to say, This just doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t there be something better? With infertility specifically, I see that my body isn’t working the way it was designed to. For friends in the wait for adoption, it doesn’t make sense that something so needed, something good, something that paints such a unique picture of our relationship with God, can be a heart-breaking, difficult, unending process. Any who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss understand that something is terribly, terribly wrong with the way things unfolded.

Suffering affects us all in different ways, none worth comparing with another to see which is worse. Pain is pain, no matter your circumstances, and for each person, it’s an evidence that we live in a fallen world.

In this passage, Paul personifies this suffering, this futility in our world, as a woman in labor, which evokes a depth to the suffering. The beauty of this metaphor is that the pain and the groaning are producing something that will be worth it. The pain is inescapable, but the expectation of what’s coming is the motivation for the woman in labor to not give up–and this then produces hope in the midst of despair.

“For in this hope we were saved. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

“As [Paul] sees the dark tunnel of death ahead of him, he is confident that beyond it the road leads on to his destination, though it remains unseen.” –Everett F. Harrison

This passage in Romans connects to Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which also echoes that the present sufferings are not able to be compared to an “eternal weight of glory.”

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In regard to this passage, commentator Murray J. Harris states, “Matching the progressive weakening of [Paul’s] physical powers was the daily renewal of his spiritual powers. It was as though the more he expended himself for the gospel’s sake, the greater his spiritual resilience.”

Infertility has brought a new dimension to my relationship with God. The longer I walk through it, the deeper my dependence on God. Intimacy has formed when things are hard, and my need for hope is even more evident when things feel like they are falling apart.

This ongoing struggle has become a “normal” in my life. Some days this means that it’s hard to think about hope, and it seems like it will never end. But other days, it means that I have settled into a rest despite uncertainty, a confidence that this broken world is not all there is. My eyes are more quick to fix on a coming redemption, a hope for a Savior who will make all things right.

Because we have struggled to start a family, I have a deeper understanding of the tension we all live in, of expectation, of the already and the not yet, of God’s presence with us but not in its fullest form. I am continually reminded of my need for God in a situation I can’t control and must trust to his hand. And I am forced to set my hope in him as I wait with patience for the fulfillment not just of my desires, but of the whole world’s groaning.

As Mother’s Day approaches, for those with a similar story, or as you consider any holiday or mark in time that reminds you of your own loss, I pray that you will find rest in his sovereignty and comfort in his presence, even in the midst of suffering–trusting that your suffering is producing a hope toward eternity. May you more deeply understand the spiritual reality we live in as you walk through a beautifully broken world.

Last year, I wrote a piece entitled “When Mother’s Day Is Painful,” and I would love for you to share it with anyone you know who might be anticipating next Sunday with a little bit of hesitation or hurt. 

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the head and the heart of reading the Bible

I’ve been a Christian for the majority of my life. I was the kid who “prayed the prayer” at six, was baptized at seven, participated in every VBS and summer camp, memorized Scripture through Awanas, and devoured her Bible classes at her Christian school.

I love to learn, so studying the Bible comes somewhat easily for me. If I am not careful, though, the academic side of my faith overshadows the personal relationship. I can spend an hour in the morning drawing conclusions as I connect different passages and recognize God’s consistent character throughout Scripture. I can even conclude what these words should look like lived out in real life, and I can communicate that to someone else. However, when it comes to my heart, there is at times a disconnect. My head might be full, but my heart is in pain, and for some reason, knowing the truth has not always brought healing and joy when I know that it should.

I want to be satisfied in the Lord. I want his Word to be my delight, my refuge, my joy–not simply another textbook that I can quote and discuss. I want the perspective that David has in Psalm 119. And trials have been the unorthodox classroom in which I have learned how to change this academic perspective on the Bible into a personal one.

While there have been many moments I have told God that I wouldn’t have chosen to be where he has me, the past few weeks have perhaps been the most difficult, at least in a long time. Nothing particularly new or devastating––it’s simply the weight of everything catching up with me. Yet as I process through what’s in front of me, I keep coming back Scripture as my only sure footing when all else feels shaky.

There are three things I have specifically learned to help me not just know the truth of the Bible in my head, but absorb it into my life and my circumstances, and I have seen that I need these truths not only when I am walking through a trial, but every day as I open this Book.

  1. The Word sustains you when you read it for yourself, not for teaching it to others.

I typically find myself with this ulterior reading motive when I want to have some truth about my current struggle. If someone asks me how I am doing, I want to be able to say something spiritual and profound. While I will encounter truth as I read the Bible, because every word is God-breathed, I don’t necessarily encounter the truth the Spirit is wanting to speak to me, the truth that he knows I need to hear and understand. I shut the book once I find something, anything, and maybe miss out on something deeper and richer.

Apart from trials, this can also be an ongoing challenge when you work in ministry or lead small groups or mentor younger believers. I certainly experience this working in college ministry. I want to be prepared to pour out as well as to share personal stories of what God is teaching me, but sometimes I get caught up in trying to figure out what I can share, and I miss out on the personal relationship and the prayer as I reduce my reading to some sort of spiritual lesson.

You can’t read the Bible simply for what it will allow you to share with someone else. Your perspective when you sit down to read the Word should begin with asking the Holy Spirit to remove distractions and premeditations so that you can come in with a humble and willing heart to hear what he has to say to you.

  1. The Word satisfies you when you aren’t looking for answers or yourself, but when you are looking for God.

We too often look for what Scripture says about us–who we are, how we should live, what decision we should make (or how we should go about making the decision). We open our Bibles almost selfishly: Okay, God, what do you have to teach me now?

This is easily one of the major reasons people stop reading the Word­­–they say that it doesn’t seem to help. As if its purpose is to give us that perfect quote so that all of life makes sense and we can live happily ever after.

The Bible is about God, from start to finish. When he talks about us, he is talking about the people he created to fulfill his purpose of his glory. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but he is the Creator who made us fearfully and wonderfully.

I have this tendency to go to the Word looking for a quick fix. I want that perfect verse that makes me feel better or takes away all of my doubts. I open my Bible looking for what it has to offer me, and very rarely is there this magical moment where a verse is leaping off the page telling me that everything is going to be alright.

If we approach Scripture just looking to find ourselves and find what it means for our lives, without spending time to first identify who God is, we are never going to be satisfied. Our satisfaction is found in who he is, his constant character, no matter what is going on in our circumstances. If you can recognize what’s true about his character in the pages of the Bible, you can know who he is in the daily moments of your life.

  1. The Word nourishes you when you allow it to occupy more than just that first little bit of your day.

Eugene Petersen talks about how we should “Eat this book. Not merely Read your Bible but Eat this book.” Think on it, absorb it, meditate, memorize, keep bringing it back to your focus. Many of us are prone to just snack on it in the morning and hope it keeps us going throughout the day.

Petersen goes on to write, “Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of our lives. Readers become what they read. If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized.”

I need to be memorizing and meditating. We don’t eat one small meal at the beginning of the day and expect it to last us 24 hours. And when we exercise, we actually need to eat more. Trials are like exercising–we need to take in more fuel than usual.

 

Going back to walking through trials–my heart is beginning to agree along with my head that he is enough. He satisfies me. He is my joy.

As I eat this book, I see this more and more. David found satisfaction in God, even in pain or loneliness or confusion. Paul saw God as worth more than all of the hardship and surrender he was facing. Prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea were willing to face continual rejection as they faithfully followed God’s call. Habakkuk found himself rejoicing even when all else in life was uncertain and falling apart.

The process of accepting and absorbing this is ongoing, but my personal prayers are beginning to align with Psalm 119:28, 37, 50: “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” May we find life in God’s words, even when (especially when) our day to day feels like it is draining life from us.

what love looks like for us these days

The first time I said, “I love you,” the words felt foreign on my lips.

Eric had just asked me to marry him while we were standing on the overlook of Yellow Rock Trail at sunset. Candles flickered in Mason jars and my shirt clung to my skin in the sticky July air as I clung to the man putting a ring on my finger.

Even as I said those words, the moment felt surreal. While I had known for several months that I loved Eric, we had decided to wait to say that phrase until we were engaged. Of course, he had come up with other sneaky ways of expressing his affection for me. We must have watched the Princess Bride together (I don’t quite remember), but at some point he started responding to me with the phrase As you wish.

As we started planning a wedding and saying those words more often, it almost felt like some sort of made-up language. I knew that love was more than a strong attraction or a sexual desire. I was pretty sure part of love was the promise to stick by each other no matter what, but for as often as I said it, I didn’t fully grasp what it meant.

After five years of marriage–which has included job losses, single income seasons, support raising, two house purchases, rotten jobs, moving to a new city, and infertility–I now more confidently know what love is.

I might venture to say that even after just the past year, my understanding of love has deepened. We know that love is patient, kind, and unselfish. It is not proud or rude or a competitive scorekeeper. But what does that look like played out in everyday life?

As I looked across the table at Eric last night over dinner, my heart melted. It’s been seven years since we first met, and I still find him so handsome and attractive. However, the sensation under my skin was prompted by more than just his appearance. I had this rare instant of a flooding back of all that we have been through together over the past year. The test results, the interviews, the decision to move, the house selling and house hunting and house buying, the new friends, the doctor appointments, the financial uncertainty, the adjusting to newness–it all combined into this deep exhale in recognition of the life we have made together.

And, in that moment, I knew that our love for each other is stronger than it has ever been, because we now know how to love not just in a mental and emotional state, but as a way of life.

Love is choosing to listen and encourage, even when the complaining words coming out of someone’s mouth are the exact same words they have been saying for the past three weeks–or months.

Love is allowing yourself to be a mess in front of someone else, finding that they, too, are a mess; there’s no pressure to get it together and get over it.

Love is the ability to simply know what someone is thinking in a moment, because you have walked through pain together often enough to know each others’ triggers and hurts and needs.

Love is choosing to ask the questions that you know will be answered with what you don’t want to hear, but asking them anyway because the other person needs to feel known.

Love is holding hands and not phones, making the conscious decision to take a break from the influence of the world and focus on the person in front of you.

Love is being willing to walk away from something you treasure because you treasure that person more than your own personal gain.

Love is recognizing that despite the uncertainty of the future, you are certain about who you want by your side.

I’m not going to lie, the past year has been difficult for Eric and I individually. It has been exhausting for our marriage. But it has also been sweet as we have continued to grow together; trials and challenges have been the glue that cements us together. And as much as my understanding of love has grown in these early years of marriage, I am confident I will know it even more deeply in another five years.

disappointment as an act of love

It was 2004, just a couple of weeks after my sixteenth birthday. I had been playing in a volleyball tournament out of town, and a teammate’s mom was dropping me off at home. We pulled into the driveway and saw my grandpa’s car parked to the side. Grandpa Cecil lived in a rural town a little over an hour away, and he would often stop by unplanned. He drove a couple of different vehicles, but this was the 1985 silvery-blue Ford Thunderbird that was my grandmother’s primary driver before she passed away. I walked in the front door, dropped my gear bag on the floor, and greeted my mom.

“I guess Grandpa Cecil is here?” I asked.
“Actually, he’s not,” Mom replied.
“Then why is his car parked outside?”
“Well, he dropped it off and asked if you would wash it for him.”
A look of confusion came across my face. “Uh… why?”
“He said, after you wash it, it’s your car.”

My parents were both standing there, grinning, holding out the keys to me. And, if I were a respectful, grateful daughter, I would have started jumping up and down excitedly.

But I didn’t. I tried to fake some excitement, though apparently I wasn’t very good at hiding my disappointment, as my parents knew the truth right away.

Just like any other teenager who is about to turn sixteen, I had daydreamed about the type of car I wanted. I researched vehicles online and daily checked the classifieds in the newspaper. I knew we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on a vehicle, and to be honest I don’t think I knew what an appropriate amount of money might be for them to spend. But I was hopeful for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Honda CR-V, or a Chevy Silverado, even if it were several years older.

So the twenty year old metallic blue granny car in the driveway was not what I expected and not what I wanted. It had over 200,000 miles on it and the A/C didn’t work. I learned how to check my oil level and transmission fluid right away, because both would often leak and need to be filled up weekly. Even if you floored the gas pedal, it took a good 10-Mississippi-seconds to get from 20mph to 40 mph.

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. Our expectations aren’t always met. And if we aren’t careful, disappointment can jade us and break us and cause us to live a life resigned to just getting by.

I’ve struggled to understand what it means to have hope in discouraging circumstances. The job that didn’t work out the way I thought, the loneliness I can’t shake, the health situation that results in more questions than answers.

One definition of hope reads: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” I always want hope to feel like that thrill in the anticipation leading up to something big: the slow, intense moments just before a first kiss, the silence before a major announcement, the pretty presents wrapped under a Christmas tree. But when I walk through a discouraging season–the times I need hope more than ever­–resulting disappointment changes my perspective, and deciding to hope can feel like allowing someone to beat me in the shins with a baseball bat over and over. Hope can hurt.

I tend to assume I have done something wrong in the area of hope when it results in disappointment. Does disappointment mean my hope was misplaced? I know my hope should be in the Lord, which Romans 5:5 promises will never put us to shame or disappoint us. Then how do I hope that the Lord will work and answer prayer without risking that disappointment, if he chooses to act differently than I am asking him to?

I typically associate a sense of desperation with hope: I am hoping because I want something to change­­. That desperation combined with disappointment then leads to despair, an all-consuming, self-centered, miserable place to land. The fatalistic thoughts of what if this never gets better or I can’t imagine continuing to walk through life this way can distort my view of God and his sovereign hand in my life. And despair is the indicator that my hope is in actually in the gift (new job, pregnancy, friendships, healing, etc.) rather than the Giver.

Hope is hard. I want to see it as “worth it,” but in all honesty it is simpler at times to let go and not get my hopes up.

And in this thinking, my options are either devastation or apathy: I could hope for that change and risk it falling through, or I could stop hoping for things and thus stop trusting the Lord to work at all.

But I don’t want to settle for one of those options. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And a few verses later, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” If hope describes God’s character, and if it’s something Paul prayed that the Romans would abound in, then I want it, too!

How can I abound in hope, not worrying about what happens if it falls through? How can I recognize that that even if I am disappointed, God’s love doesn’t change or fail?

Here’s what I have begun to see: perhaps accepting disappointment is the key to understanding hope.

It’s not a lack of God’s love or care for me. Rather, it’s a sign of his care for me. He allows for my disappointment in order to make way for his (better) plans.

With this realization, I am beginning to change the way I hope. I am feeling the depth of my need for God to work, but I am also recognizing the security I have in him, even if the result is disappointment. I am recognizing what it means that he is good with the whole picture in mind, not simply “good in my limited perspective” or “good in relation to my list of wants and wishes.”

While God is a God of hope, he’s not a genie, nor is he Santa Claus. He’s not telling me to hope in him so that I can have my best life now. God is able, and God is loving, but he is also omniscient. He knows what I don’t, so the things I am hoping for may not be for my big-picture good.

I want to know God’s love through disappointment, not equate disappointment with a lack of love.

When my parents gave me that Thunderbird (which I and my friends named Stella), I was disappointed, but I didn’t doubt their love for me. I knew it wasn’t a limitation of their love that kept them from giving me the car I wanted. While it was related to a limitation of finances (they paid my grandpa ten bucks for that car, simply to have an amount to put on the bill of sale), it was, in fact, a demonstration of their love that they didn’t go into debt or spend all of their savings on a vehicle for me. They were providing for the cumulative needs of our family. They had a long-term picture of how long I would drive my first car. They wanted to make me happy, but they were also practical. And, in the end, I got a job the next summer and bought my dad’s 1987 Ford Bronco, a much cooler vehicle in my opinion, and passed Stella on to my sister.

Hope does not disappoint or put us to shame when it’s in the right thing–Christ alone. When our hope is in him, we see him as the one who satisfies our desires. When our hope is in him, we also understand that not all satisfaction will be experienced this side of heaven.

It takes faith to repeatedly believe that God could do “it” (whatever that “it” may be). It takes faith to believe that God even wants to answer my prayer. But if we never allow ourselves to hope in him, we will never experience the joy of dependence on him or the security of entrusting our desires to an all-powerful and always-loving God.

And when I find myself disappointed, I want to bring the disappointment to him, recognizing that I will experience his love in greater ways as I surrender my hopes to his sovereign hand.

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” –Psalm 145:16

God is not just a coworker.

Here’s my Saturday confession: I have been treating God like a coworker.

For the past several months, our conversations have been focused on questions like:
“God, what do you want me to do?”
“Father, what’s the purpose of this season?”
“How do I bring you glory with what’s in front of me?”
“God, please help me as I keep moving forward!”

These are not bad questions and concerns to bring to God. I want to live in an attitude of surrender, and these questions lean me toward his purposes instead of my own.

But I think I have been using them in my desire to prove my dedication to Lord, both to him and to others. I’ve been trying to lead my relationship with God and direct our conversations in the ways I want them to go, ignoring anything from him that didn’t line up with my meeting agenda. I’ve been striving, attempting to grasp at something tangible, looking for measures of “success” in a season of uncertainty.

I’ve been focused on the doing, but not the being.

It’s the classic issue of being a Mary vs. a Martha–but the focus is not limited to my lifestyle. Rather, it’s affecting the tone of my relationship with God.

Eric and I have what I consider a healthy marriage. We feel very blessed that, though we have encountered struggles, the majority exist outside of our marriage; we must make a decision about how struggles will affect us in our marriage, but the root of the problem has not been from within our relationship.

However, there are times when life has become busy or even just presented decisions for us to discuss, such as buying a new car or accepting a job offer and a relocation. And in these times, Eric and I have a tendency to stray from being husband and wife to being roommates and coworkers.

We still live together and share a bed. We sit down at the dinner table every night. We even go on a weekly date night. But all of our conversations revolve around resolving our finances or the pros and cons of the imminent decisions. Little triggers of stress start to widen the gap, and if we aren’t careful, deeper patterns begin.

Individually, we are too distracted to have quality time with the Lord. Together, we are too mentally tired to have intentional conversation, so we sit and watch Netflix instead. Then we fall asleep on the couch and have to force ourselves to turn off the TV, brush our teeth, and pull back the covers in our own bed. As a result, our moments of intimacy are fewer and further between.

It is important for us to communicate, making plans for the future and working through decisions (and I emphasize working through because Eric and I make decisions in very different ways and it’s a lot of work for us to do that together). We need to discuss who is paying the bills and whether or not we can afford a car payment.

But if our marriage is reduced to these issues, it’s not much of a marriage–at least, not a healthy one. There’s a balancing act in getting all of the to-do boxes checked off to be responsible in life but also in spending time together because we enjoy being with each other. Romance and intimacy and friendship and spiritual growth all play significant roles in the strengthening of our unity, and we aren’t going to last very long if we ignore those things.

Some aspects of the relationship might take precedence in different seasons, but in the big picture Eric and I have learned to keep a gauge on how we are doing as friends, financial managers, forward thinkers, lovers, and Christians.

Yet I often forget that my relationship with God can fall into lopsided patterns, as well. And that is where I have been.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why my Bible reading and morning journaling no longer stirred my heart or moved me into the presence of God. I was praying, but even those prayers seemed to be trying to bridge this great gap between God and myself. I know he is near and always with us, but he felt so far.

Then I met with a wonderfully wise woman who helped me identify that, just as to develop a healthy marriage Eric and I have to talk about more than decisions and bills and our day at work, God and I need to talk about more than just what I should do and how I wanted to plan.

God is more than a coworker or a career counselor.

While he does have plans and purposes for my life, living the Christian life is not centered on the doing alone. The doing must first begin with the being. There’s rest involved as we fix our eyes on his character and his heart for us. As we deeply know and experience his love for us, a desire to surrender the doing parts of our life will follow.

I was challenged to stop asking What do you want me to do? and start asking Who do you want me to be?

Who does God want me to be–as I walk through infertility and its next steps, as I navigate friendships, as I learn to support my husband, as I consider my own job aspirations, and so on? What character traits should I be reflecting no matter my circumstances and no matter the decisions he leads me to down the road?

And when I spent some concentrated time asking God to show me who he is and who he wants me to be, my soul began to quiet.

The noise and the tension of not knowing what to do slowly faded, even as I had to intentionally redirect my thoughts to stop asking So what do you want me to do with all of this? The doing is rooted down deep in my responses, and it requires an active decision to continually redirect my thoughts away from this autopilot of purpose and planning and preparation.

I am learning the value of being with God and resting in who I am when I am with him. He’s not looking for progress reports or strategic plans or completed task lists. He isn’t asking me to prove my spiritual maturity to him before he will answer my prayers.

I am sitting in his presence, asking him to fill me with his love so that I can be patient, joyful, and satisfied. Those are the answers I heard from him as I asked who he wants me to be, and I realized that I have been none of those things, at least not lately.

Instead of the self-absorption that comes with a focus on my plans and my decisions, a focus on his character allows me to let go of my get-it-done patterns. And in this shift, I can rest in the being, trusting that the doing will happen as I follow his leadership and not my own.

grace in the wilderness

The sun rose purple this morning, though I was certainly awake before it made its appearance. One of the most difficult parts of winter for me is the sleepiness of the sun – its delay in rising and its early departure in the evenings. Even during the day, it seems to burrow itself under blankets of clouds, as if it, too, is waiting for winter to end.

I’ve been asking the Lord what he wants from me, how he wants to use me in this season of life. Two years ago, I thought my season was about to change, so I tried to soak up everything I could to make the most of where I was, even if was only for a few more months.

I can’t believe it’s been two years. I can’t believe every single other thing in my life has changed – yet the one thing I thought would change, hasn’t. In the past two years – well, really, the past six months – my job, my husband’s job, our city, our friends, our church, our house all became new. But the wilderness of infertility in our life has remained the same. Despite recent tests, even our findings have not changed; everything is normal.

I know that I am always grateful for trials in hindsight. It’s encouraging to see the growth the Lord worked in me and how he uses those struggles for his purposes. I have experienced the truth of Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4, and I am not doubting that suffering produces perseverance and maturity and character.

But in the middle of the desert, we all despair; none of us would choose to camp there for too long.

We tend to think that the wilderness would be easier to walk through if we had a timeline on it. If I just knew how much longer it would be before we got pregnant, or if you knew that you would not have to endure your miserable job in another six months, or if singleness had a cap – maybe then, you could be content with your present, knowing that it won’t last for forever.

However, God told the Israelites exactly how long they would be wandering in the desert, and that didn’t cheer them up or prevent them from doubting God. They still complained. They were still afraid.

So if knowing the length of time of our wandering is not the answer, what does it look like to endure the wilderness? How can we find purpose in each season of life, whether or not it’s been made clear to us? How do we trust God’s goodness when it seems removed from our line of vision?

In the middle of pain and confusion, the only thing I know to do is to continue going back to the Word, looking for answers, for encouragement, for anything that provides clarity of God’s character while I walk in the wilderness.

And I can’t get this verse out of my mind:

Thus says the Lord, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:2-3

“Grace in the wilderness” is one of the most beautiful phrases to me.

It often seems like the wilderness is a time when God is distant, when for one reason or another I am confused by how I ended up here and why God isn’t more present to bring change.

Jeremiah was prophesying about the coming defeat and exile that Judah would face. Because they worshipped pagan gods and failed to keep God’s covenant, the Babylonians would soon conquer Jerusalem and take captives away. However, because of God’s love for his people, Jeremiah also promised that Jerusalem, along with His people, would be restored in time. And, in the middle of it, Jeremiah promises that God will be with them.

God will remain faithful to his people. The wilderness may seem like a backwards move away from God’s goodness and God’s care, but that’s because they don’t understand God’s ways and God’s glory. His plan reaches far past the seventy years of captivity. God’s faithfulness continues in the wilderness. I believe that, and I am grateful he does not leave us to wander on our own. I believe that he is present, even when I don’t “feel” him.

But what it’s not just about seeing his grace while I am in the wilderness – what if the wilderness is actually part of his faithfulness? What if he is showing me grace by allowing me to remain in the wilderness?

What needs to change in my perspective to see infertility not just as a struggle to get through, but as a provision from God? How would this affect my joy, my hopes, my day-to-day life?

How does it shake your desperation to consider this desert as a place of experiencing God’s favor?

We will unfortunately not fully understand God’s ways on this side of heaven. It won’t make sense to us why life turns out the ways it does and why some desires go unfulfilled. But God is ultimately the One who wants to be the fulfillment of those desires, and as we wrestle in the wilderness, may we see that God’s grace goes before us and with us. He is faithful.

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25

advent: hope in the darkness

This semester, I have been studying the book of Amos with the college girls I meet with at UCA. I really enjoy the Old Testament, so I was excited when they told me they wanted to pick one of the minor prophets for our discussions, since they were books they didn’t know much about.

I’m going to be honest, though. There were a couple of weeks where I was a little doubtful that this material was helpful for them. I mean, I 100% believe the entire Bible is inspired-by-God. I believe it is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that God’s Word does not return void – that it will accomplish His purposes for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).

But, all that to say, maybe Amos was just a little too far removed from our everyday lives. I mean, Amos is full of accusations of Israel’s sin and God’s impending judgment. The nation of Israel has continually rejected God’s attempts to get their attention, with famines, with droughts, with pestilence… in the midst of all of these devastations, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11). God’s sovereignty is made known, but so is His wrath, and that’s a little uncomfortable (and not to mention depressing).

Things are dark for the nation of Israel in the first 8 and a half chapters… but that last half of chapter 9, the last few verses of the book, is the turning point of redemption and promise.

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the group, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord… “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:8, 14-15 emphasis mine).

When we sat down to discuss this passage this week, we all excitedly said the word FINALLY!

This promise of hope, which was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned from exile and which will not fully be fulfilled until Jesus establishes His kingdom here on earth, snatches my breath away.

Hope shines most brightly in the darkness. By that, I mean that promises of coming redemption mean the most when you recognize your need for that redemption, when you have been waiting for something to change, when you need comfort that everything is going to be okay.

Hope is not something people generally talk about when everything in life is going fairly well – no one’s life is perfect, but in the seasons of calm, you can acknowledge that God has brought you to a place of rest; your hope feels fulfilled, and you aren’t looking towards what’s coming.

But when things are difficult, and you are tired of carrying your burdens, you need hope more than ever. You are desperate for the reassurance that God is still in control and God is still at work in your situation. You need something to cling to, a reminder that even if things are about to get darker, they will eventually get lighter again.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6)Version 2

Advent is upon us, and I am reminded not simply that Jesus came, but Jesus came as the fulfillment of a promise. He was the hope that the nation of Israel was clinging to, even if they didn’t know exactly Who or how that hope would be fulfilled. He told them in the beginning that Someone would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15), that there would be victory, and Israel had to cling to the fact that God had not forgotten to be faithful.

The above passage in Isaiah is surrounded by prophecy of a coming invasion and the reasons the nation of Israel is facing judgment. Not even all of chapter 9 is a feel-good passage. But woven in-between the messages of the struggles ahead, God gives His people promise that He is still in control, and He is sending relief.

Hope becomes more valuable as you are immersed in desperate situations, places where your only option is to cling to God.

If you are walking in darkness (literally), you unconsciously strain your eyes in hopes of finding light. And as I walk through season of darkness metaphorically, I find I do the same thing, continually looking for something, anything that shows that there is purpose, or there is hope, or there is a relief ahead. I am eager to find that light.

This Advent season, I am reminded that Jesus is that light.

Not a relief from daily struggles. Not an answer to the uncertainty ahead. Not a change from unmet expectations. But Jesus Himself – He is the light in the midst of the darkness, and the more willing I am to acknowledge my desperate need, the more beautiful it is that He is the answer to that need.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)