Week 39: God Who Wants All of Us

Monday: Genesis 40

Tuesday: Mark 12

Wednesday: Psalm 7

Thursday: Romans 11

Friday: Genesis 40, Mark 12, Psalm 7, Romans 11

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 40

Joseph’s total confidence in hearing from the Lord to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker can indicate one thing for sure – through years of waiting, terrible trials and hardships, persecution and false accusation, Joseph has remained in communication with His Father. He knows exactly where interpretations come from – God – and he is certain that God will give him the interpretations. 

His hardship and waiting have not diminished His trust in God, but increased it.

Do hardships, trials and waiting cause you to press further into God and seek Him more, or do they tempt you to doubt God’s goodness and love for you?

How can you remain steadfast in your trust of God even in the midst of life’s hard seasons?

(Hint: stay in His Word. Stay in communication with Him. Remember His promises. He is trustworthy! And He wants all of you, even in the difficult, in-between seasons.)

Tuesday, Mark 12

True significance doesn’t lie in what we can give to God, what we can do for Him, but in how we come to Him. He doesn’t need our pretense, our showy works or our lengthy monologues. He wants our hearts. He wants what He received from the widow, everything she had.

What would it look like to truly give Jesus everything you have this week?  

Wednesday, Psalm 7

David’s song to the Lord as he is persecuted might help us answer the question we asked ourselves on Monday. In the midst of great hurt, great confusion, and long waiting for salvation, David cries out to God, His refuge.

And after he tells God how he honestly feels, after he laments all the things that seem to be coming against him, he gives thanks. Due to his circumstances? Nope. Due to God’s righteousness. 

Couldn’t you just rest there a while?

No matter the trial, no matter the suffering, no matter the waiting, His righteousness doesn’t change. When things go as planned and when they really, really don’t, His righteousness doesn’t change.

And remembering His righteousness, David sings praise to the Lord Most High. Can we?

Commit this to memory this week:

“I will give the Lord thanks due to His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” Psalm 7:17

Rejoice in the Lord, our refuge!

Thursday, Romans 11

I was reading Revelation this week and marveling at all that I imagine Heaven will be (and of course, it will be far better than anything I can possibly imagine). Every kind of people, every color of people, every language, every culture, all mixed up together with none of the angst or awkwardness that sometimes comes from interacting cross culturally. I can’t wait.

How gracious of Jesus to graft us in, to add to His family those who were outside it. God’s word has not failed and He has not rejected His people. He is kind and merciful and working all things for good, even when this doesn’t appear to be immediately true. We can trust in His good plans and His good promises.

In celebration of being grafted into God’s family, is there someone you can invite into your home or your life this week?

Friday Reflections

“How did Joseph know what the dreams meant?” asked our youngest daughter over her plate heaped with spaghetti. “That’s so cool.” 

I waited on Benji to answer, and he wisely went back to the text. “Well, let’s look at what it says.”

“Do not interpretations belong to God?” Joseph says, “Tell me your dreams.” 

Joseph is so confident in his connection to the Father, so confident in his communication with God, that he knows God will reveal to him what the dreams mean. I long for this kind of connection with God. To most of us, the interpretation of dreams sounds so foreign, almost magical, but Joseph is so connected to His Father that it comes almost second nature. Yes, this is a gift that God has specifically given to Joseph, but it stems from Joseph’s communication and closeness with God.

I long for this, but as I examine my own life, I am convicted that even as I pray for God to speak to me, I am often not making space for Him to do so. We are so distracted. Probably the most distracted generation of all time. We wake up in the morning and reach for our phones. We pause at a stoplight and check just in case. We mindlessly scroll through other people’s lives as a way to escape from our own.

We are letting the world speak to us far more than we are letting God speak to us. 

I know I am. Holy God who created us and adores us wants to speak with us like He spoke to Joseph. He wants to reveal Himself to us the way He did to Paul. He wants to give us wisdom for these crazy days, whisper encouragement to calm our anxious hearts, rejoice over us, His beloved. He wants to give us words of love and life to share with the hurting world around us.

Are we giving Him our ears, our attention, long enough that He can?

I saw myself so clearly in the widow who offered her two small coins. These last years have been hard on my family, and the world as a hole. We have been taught by our culture to isolate, to build up walls, to become angry any time we disagree. We are tired. We are anxious. So often I come to the Lord feeling that I have nothing left to give, nothing to offer. That’s the thing though – God doesn’t need me to show up with anything to offer other than myself. He doesn’t want my performance or my stuff as much as He just wants me.

The widow put in everything she had.

I might not have much to offer Him today, but I can offer myself, I can offer my time. Instead of reaching for my phone, I can reach for His word. Instead of fixing my eyes on everything I don’t have, daily brought to me by television and my Instagram feed, I can fix my eyes on Jesus, I can steady my heart on Him. I can whisper to Him about the longings of my heart.

In a season of weariness, we have all sorts of options for reprieve – we have screens and distractions, things to do and people to call. We want God to speak to us, to reveal His plans to us, to give us words of encouragement for our hurting neighbors. But are we making space for Him to do so?

What if my offering is a mere two minutes of whispered prayer as I wait for the pasta water to boil, what if my offering is a few minutes of sitting in the quiet to listen for His voice in the carpool line, what if my offering is to reach for His Word and remind myself of His opinion instead of reaching for my phone and the opinion of a loud world.

We can hear from God like Joseph did. We can speak the things of God to others. We can be so confident in our relationship with Him, our communication with Him, that we can share truth to this often dark and hurting world. But first, we have to come like the widow. We have to bring Him our minutes. Our whispered cries for help in the pauses of our day, our laments for the things that hurt, our desires for control over the things that make us anxious, our rejoicing when we succeed.

The tiny, quiet prayer, the call for help, the scripture you repeat to yourself in the middle of the night. These may feel insignificant, as trivial as two copper coins. But these are the things that shift our hearts toward a Father who is singing over us in love. These are the things that tune our hearts to hear from Him even as the world around us seems increasingly chaotic.

I feel I can say this with certainty – it isn’t going to get any easier. The distractions are increasing, not decreasing. We have to make space for Him now. We have to make it our habit to cry out to Him, to look for Him in the pauses of the day, to hear Him in the still, quiet moments. 

We want to fill the silence throughout our days with distractions. What if instead, we make the silence our offering to Him? An offering of prayer, of worship, of listening, of seeking. 

What if we filled up all our middle minutes with seeking Him, talking to Him, listening to Him that we started to look more like Him? That we could be so confident in our ability to hear from Him that we could reach out and encourage and speak life over those around us? This is what the world needs. This is what our hearts need. Jesus came for us because He wants all of us.

My challenge to you is my challenge to myself this week – what if we practice giving God our best, not our leftovers? What if we praise Him for His righteousness (not our circumstances) in the middle minutes of our days? What if each time we reach for the phone to scroll or the remote to check on world events, we spend a few minutes talking to Him instead? It might sound negligible on paper, but I believe it has the power to change our hearts.

Week 38: God Who Doesn’t Let Go

Monday: Genesis 39

Tuesday: Mark 11

Wednesday: Psalm 6

Thursday: Romans 10

Friday: Genesis 39, Mark 11, Psalm 6, Romans 10

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 39

Even in the midst of all sorts of trials and temptations, God remains faithful to Joseph and Joseph remains devoted to God. The Lord was with Joseph. As I think of Joseph, I think that my own temptation in similar circumstances would be to complain to God, even to question Him. “Lord, how could you allow this to happen?” or even, “Ok, God. I’ve been faithful and devout. I have done my best to flee temptation, and as if being a slave wasn’t enough, now I am in prison?” I recognize the foolishness even as I type it, but I know my own heart enough to know these thoughts might sneak in. “I learned how to persevere in trial already, God. Can we be done with trial now?”

But Joseph isn’t so foolish. Joseph’s trust in the Lord and His devotion to Him doesn’t waver in slavery, doesn’t waver in temptation, and won’t waver now, even in prison. And the Lord was with Joseph as a slave in Potiphar’s house (v. 2) and everyone could see that the Lord was with him. The Lord is with Joseph in the midst of false accusations from Potiphar’s wife, for though he is thrown in prison, he could have easily been put to death. The Lord is with Joseph even in prison (v. 21). The Lord is with Joseph everywhere He goes, in every hardship, showing him mercy and granting him favor. It’s clear that the secret to Joseph’s perseverance in trial is God with him. And in Christ, the same is true for us! No matter what depth of hardship we find ourselves in, the Lord is with us and wants to show us mercy and give us favor. Can we have eyes open to see Him at work?

Are you facing a trial or temptation today that feels too big to overcome?

Make a list today of the ways that you have seen God with you, even in the midst of hardship or trouble. Rejoice that He is with us always! His constant presence is the secret to our endurance.

Take heart, the Lord is with you even in the midst of hardship! He is reaching out to show you mercy and favor. We can trust Him for that.

Tuesday, Mark 11

Riding into the city on a colt, Jesus comes as a man of peace, as a servant. Jesus is celebrated as a victor, and rightly so, for soon, He will be triumphant over death. The people however have a different expectation of what triumph should look like. Often, we do, too. We think that victory will look a certain way, that God will be good if and when we experience a certain outcome that matches up with what we think is best.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree, a tree with the appearance of fruit but no actual fruit, to teach his disciples a few lessons. Even in the midst of destruction – the fig tree that produces no fruit and is cursed, and the temple that has been abused by thieves – Jesus encourages His disciples to remain faithful. “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’…it will be done for them.” This is an assurance that God can overcome any obstacle, any trial, any problem. And it warrants the kind of faith Joseph had in Genesis to believe that God was with him in every dire circumstance. The kind of faith Jesus wants His disciples to have as they enter into a season where their faith will be tried and tested, where they might not get the outcome or resolution they were hoping for. This is the type of faith He wants us to have today, to believe that no matter our mountain, our obstacle, our hardship, He can overcome. He can triumph because He has already triumphed over sin and death!

What are the “mountains” that need to be moved in your life?

How can you trust Him even when the resolution you thought was best isn’t in plain sight?

Do you truly trust that God can overcome any obstacle? Can you pray in faith that He will meet all of your needs, show you mercy and favor in times of hardship, and move your mountains? Can you believe that God can use even times of destruction to bring about His perfect plan?

Wednesday, Psalm 6

Psalm 6 affirms what we have already read and studied both in Genesis and Mark – the Lord has mercy on His children, and He hears our cries of help in times of trouble. He is with us through all situations and He answers our prayers in His unfailing love.

Even in deep grief, David turns toward the Lord. We, too, can allow our grief and sorrow to drive us into the loving arms of our Savior and not away from Him. David leans into God’s steadfast love, and the Lord hears him and welcomes him home to rest in His loving arms.

Repeat it to yourself this week – “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Thursday, Romans 10

When we seek to establish our own righteousness, we are just like the Pharisees Jesus speaks against in Mark. We are like the people who worship Him as He enters the city, but crucify Him just days later. Just like the fig tree in Mark, it is possible to be zealous on the outside, to appear to bear fruit, but lack true faith. 

This faith isn’t something we muster up. We cannot rely on our own strength but only on the finished work of Jesus, the work that tore the temple curtain into and the only way we have access to our loving Father. We believe He can do the impossible, believe He can move any mountain and overcome every obstacle – He can redeem us, He can raise the dead, He can give us new life – and that is our righteousness. 

Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.

Who can you share the good news of the Gospel with today?

Friday Reflections

“Levi! Levi!” Our 5-year-old son Noah is calling out to his brother from the middle of the biggest puddle in our yard. Levi is standing at the edge, soaked by the rain, but uncertain if he wants to venture into the puddle.

“Hey Levi!,” it’s really deep here. Grab my hand!” Noah makes his way toward the end of the puddle and reaches out for his little brother. Trusting, Levi grabs on and follows Noah into the puddle that almost reaches his waist in the deepest part. I watch them walk away from me, hand in hand, and all I can think of is Jesus’s hand reaching out to me in the midst of the waves.

“It’s deep here, love. Grab my hand.”

The waves have pummeled us in the last season; the water has felt deep as we have navigated all sorts of big life transitions and unexpected grief. So much so, that I don’t feel I have much to offer in the way of teaching. But I will share with you what I know to be true, what the Savior has proven to me again in the recent months:

In the deepest waves, in the darkest night, in the hardest season, Jesus reaches out His hand to us. And He doesn’t let go.

He didn’t let go of Joseph as he endured slavery and then prison. He didn’t let Joseph stop believing in Him, hoping in Him, and no trial could thwart God’s good plan for Joseph.

He didn’t let go of Israel, though they were fickle, worshiping one day and blaspheming the next, defiling the temple and appearing full of fruit though they were not. He died for them anyway, longing, always longing to draw them to Himself.

He didn’t let go of David, though the world was against him, though he would hide in caves and run for his life from his own son, though he cries out in anguish and floods his bed with weeping. The Lord hears His cry and uses his life regardless of his doubt or despair.

Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.

Do the waves feel big, dear one? Does the water feel too deep? Jesus reaches out His hand and says, “Grab on! Trust me.”

Even when we can’t see Him, even when we can’t feel Him, even when things don’t seem to be going our way, He is with us and we can trust Him.

When the waves are too high and the night is too dark, we can trust the one who gave it all to draw us to Himself. He will never let go.

Week 37: God, Our Constant

Monday: Genesis 38

Tuesday: Mark 10

Wednesday: Psalm 5

Thursday: Romans 9

Friday: Genesis 38, Mark 10, Psalm 5, Romans 9

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 38

There is nothing, nothing, that our God will not forgive, nothing that he cannot use for good. Even in Judah’s atrocious sin, God has planned to bring the lineage of Jesus through him. This doesn’t excuse Judah’s sin but rather reminds us that no one, not one of us, is too far gone for God to use us. In Matthew 1:3, Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. This is our God – He can take even the worst of sinners, even the most terrible sin, and turn it around, even using it for His own glory. Nothing is outside of His reach.

It’s easy for me, even after I have repented of my sin, to believe that I have made such a mess of things, that I have messed everything up, that God could never use or fix or redeem this. Do you ever feel this way? But when I believe this, I am limiting who God is, limiting His power and sovereignty and ability to use anything. God can, and does, use anything He chooses to, even our very worst mess ups. Our God takes the very worst sinners and says, “You are mine. I can use even you.”

Where have you messed up recently?

Is there a certain sin or mistake that haunts you, that causes you to feel like a failure?

Spend some time asking the Lord’s forgiveness for that and then leave it with Him. You are not too far gone for forgiveness. You are not too far gone for redemption. You cannot mess everything up because we serve a God who can use even our mistakes. Rest in that.

Tuesday, Mark 10

In thinking through our passage yesterday and God’s ability to use anyone, even people who have messed up tremendously, verse 27 jumped right out at me – “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Remember that when you feel like you may have fallen too far.

There is so much in this chapter – an encouragement to receive the Kingdom with childlike faith – looking for God to provide everything we need without doubt the way a toddler looks to a loving parent.

And then, my favorite part, verse 21 – “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

Jesus looks at us and loves us.

Jesus knew this man was going to walk away. He knows when and how we are going to make mistakes. But He looks at us and He loves us!

Yes, it can feel impossible to throw off the things of the world, to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel, but Jesus can make it possible. We can trust with childlike faith that He gives us all we need. And all we lose, anything we give up to follow Him, will be restored to us in eternity. What an amazing promise! Look closely – persecutions are part of this promise. Persecutions in the midst of a list of good rewards? Yes, because even our suffering and hardship can be used by a good God to draw us to Himself. Again, what is impossible in this world, maybe even impossible for us to comprehend, is possible for God.

Like blind Bartimaeus, we need Jesus to give us eyes to see!

What feels impossible to you right now?

Spend some time in prayer, believing that what is impossible with man is possible for God. Spend some time telling God that you believe He will give you all you need (sometimes I have to say it until I believe it).

Let’s ask God to give us eyes to see His impossible work, here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Wednesday, Psalm 5

We can rest deeply knowing the King of the universe hears our voices. We can wait expectantly because He will always answer. He is our shield and our refuge. Hallelujah! 

Commit verses 11 and 12 to memory this week and repeat them to yourself when you are in need of encouragement. Let all those who love His name rejoice!

Thursday, Romans 9

It’s not as though the word of God has failed. This passage is so full of the Gospel and God’s mercy. When we feel weak and defeated, we can rest in knowing God holds us, forgives us, saves us, and nothing can separate us from His love.

While it is completely opposite of the way anything works in this world, God’s grace and our salvation isn’t something we can earn, isn’t something we can be good enough for. It’s uncomfortable to say, but I know that if left to my own devices, I would not choose God or the things of God. It is a humbling realization, but it is also one that moves me to praise Him for His completely undeserved and unmerited favor. This is great news for all of us who fall short, who mess up again and again. God’s love for us isn’t dependent on us. His mercy and grace are who He is regardless of who we are.

It’s not as if the Word of God has failed. How often do I approach my day, my life, or my current situation as if God’s word may not hold up, may not be enough, may not be true. And how would I live differently if I truly believed His Word hasn’t failed and will never fail? He is always trustworthy, always gracious, always good. We can rest in His kindness and grace.

Friday Reflections

A familiar worship song plays in an unfamiliar church and I let the tears fall. I may not know anyone here yet, but I know all the words and for a few minutes, though we are all different, we are united in singing the same words to the same God. The same words that I sing in my kitchen in Uganda. The same words I sing along on the way to drop off kids at school. The same words I repeat over and over to myself in the middle of the night when my anxious thoughts won’t allow me to sleep.

The Pastor is reading from Romans and I know the words. God’s Word. Words I have memorized for years and prayed to Him in agony and in rejoicing.

And when everything around me is so different, I take great comfort in the realization that My Father is exactly the same. I may not know much about how things work around here and I may not know many people, but I know Him and He hasn’t changed one bit. He never will.

I find myself often longing for a “normal” day, to settle into some sort of familiar rhythm that feels easy and predictable. But if I am honest, I am not just missing our normal rhythm because we have been traveling. As I look back over the last year and a half I am astounded at just how many times our rhythm has been disrupted – whether it be COVID quarantine or online school or hybrid school, a medical emergency or friends moving away or trying to redirect ministry while still keeping everyone safe in a pandemic. “Normal” days have eluded me for quite some time, and I think it is safe to say that I am not alone in this.

The whole world has experienced some amount of upheaval in the recent season. Most of us, probably even all of us, are staring out at an unpredictable future wondering what might come next, how we will have to pivot and change directions. I don’t know about you, but I can get so stuck feeling anxious about everything that is changing that I forget that we have a constant, the best constant, our unchanging Father.

And even when I can’t see it, He can. And even when I don’t know what is next, He does. Even as everything is changing, He isn’t.

We watch as He holds Judah, even as he makes a terrible mess of things. We watch as He teaches His disciples, warning them of suffering even when they don’t fully understand. It’s easy for me to remember as I read that God has their best in mind, that He will keep them safe. Maybe because I have read it before and I already know the ending.

Maybe you need to hear it as much as I do, so let me pull you in close and speak it over you – 

He holds you and will carry you through whatever comes next. Even when you don’t know what’s next. Especially when you don’t know what’s next. He holds you, even when you have made a terrible mess of things. He can use even our mistakes, He can put us back on the right path. He looks at us and loves us. He holds you, even as you face suffering and hardship. Even when you don’t understand. Especially when you don’t understand.

I don’t have many answers. I don’t know when life might go back to “normal” or even if it will. But I know our unchanging God who is my constant even now. I pray in the midst of uncertainty, when you cannot see what is next, you would know His constant, unchanging love and feel Him holding you close.

Week 36: God Who Purposes Our Suffering

Monday: Genesis 37

Tuesday: Mark 9

Wednesday: Psalm 4

Thursday: Romans 8

Friday: Genesis 37, Mark 9, Psalm 4, Romans 8

Reflections

Monday, Genesis 37

Joseph – hated by his brothers, sold into slavery as a “good alternative” to being murdered. I can’t help but think of how easy it would have been for him to despair. Joseph has heard from the Lord in two different dreams that seem to suggest that his family will one day bow to him, but I would be willing to bet that it is pretty hard to  hold onto that promise as Joseph is chained and led away by slave traders to a foreign land. And Joseph may not have known it at the time, but as readers we know that it only gets worse. He will be chained, enslaved, and later even imprisoned long before what the Lord has spoken to him comes to pass.

It is clear that only God in His providence could use such terrible circumstances to bring about His good purposes and plan. But He will. Time and time again this is who God is, this is what He does. He will bring good, rich blessing to Joseph and eventually save his whole family (and thus the lineage of Jesus), out of Joseph’s suffering. God is active and working, even in our hardship and distress, even when the plan doesn’t look good. Even when we can’t see what He is doing.

When things seem to not make sense this week, when you cannot see how He is going to use your hardship, remind yourself of His promises. He is working all things for your good. He always fulfills His promises. We can always trust Him.

Tuesday, Mark 9

Jesus has started speaking often about the cross, His death, and resurrection. I wonder if He allows Peter, James, and John to come up the mountain with Him because He knows they are anxious and fearful, or if He knows they will need to look back on this after His death to more fully understand. God is always revealing himself to us if we choose to see Him.

I resonate so deeply with the heart of the possessed little boy’s father who cries out to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” As I think of God purposing everything, even suffering, I so want to look at the hardships in my life and in the lives of my friends and fully believe God will use it for good, that God will bring about His good purposes and my own sanctification through it. I cry out with the Father, “Lord, help me believe!”

What truths about God are you struggling to believe today?

I encourage you to name those things, and search for Scripture that specifically addresses those promises.

I am so encouraged that we can serve a Living God who is not upset with us when we are anxious, afraid, or struggling to believe but instead invites us to pray, “Lord! Help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, Psalm 4

What a gracious Father, who answers us when we call, who has mercy on us and hears our prayers.

Spend time with God in prayer today and rest in knowing that He hears you.

Thursday, Romans 8

Romans 8 has to be one of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible (am I allowed to say that?) It is so full of rich promises that I have been sitting here staring at my screen, completely unable to summarize. Instead, I want to highlight some of these promises and invite us to memorize them, write them down, and pray them back to God this week. His word is so powerful, and I am so grateful for these truths –

  • There is no condemnation for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus
  • Jesus has set us free from sin and the eternal death that comes as a result!
  • Jesus took the sin we deserved, bore the punishment, and now we are free from punishment and inherit only eternal life with Him
  • The Spirit of God is living in us!
  • We are God’s children, and we are heirs of His Kingdom and eternal blessing!
  • Our present sufferings pale in comparison to the glory promised us in eternity
  • One day, this world will be completely liberated from suffering, completely redeemed
  • The Holy Spirit cries out to God for us, even when we don’t know what to pray
  • God works all things for our good
  • God predestined us – chose us in advance to do good work for His Kingdom
  • God justified us – made us righteous though on our own we are not
  • God will glorify us – we will live with Him forever in eternity
  • God gives us all that we need
  • NOTHING can separate us from the love of God! Hallelujah. 

Friday Reflections

As I sit here, my mind is wandering back to a morning a few years ago. Will you go back with me? 

It is the rainy season in Uganda. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between, and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each other’s homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God?”

It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.

We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend suddenly and unexpectedly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. As we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis, someone else’s daughter was assaulted, and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we all know the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. How do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. My friends’ hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.

I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me and in front of our Father. Her hurt is different from mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.

We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.

I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.

Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.

A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.

Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from burns, but it is clear she’s been drinking as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time, but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.

It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.

How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?

“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.

I remember the words of Romans 8 – we consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We hope for what we do not see. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose… We are more than conquerors because of all this sin? This death? This rampant addiction and disease and suffering? He conquered it for us, and He promises, He promises, that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us will also give us all things that we need.

Not all things that we want. Not the life free from suffering that I am thinking back to today. But all things that we need. All things that will draw us to Himself. All things that will glorify His name.

And in His grace, nothing will ever separate us from His love. Thank you Jesus.

I trudge back up the hill, my mind still mulling over questions. God where are you in all of this mess? How will you use this for glory? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course, I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”

My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it, but I know it is true. He is at work here. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – yes, indeed, He gives us all things we need and will use even messy, hard things to cause us to search harder for Him.

Maggie walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Maggie, who just months ago, I thought would die. Maggie who at 19-years-old held her 4-year-old and her dead newborn and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Maggie who moved into our guest room as frail and sick as other women who died there. Maggie who lived. She walks up the hill, her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”

Of course I do. I read the words again. I read that neither death or life or the angels or the demons or the present or the future or height or depth or anything in all creation would be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I read that all of it is purposeful. That we will conquer, because He has conquered.

For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.

What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy?

It is hard to believe sometimes, but we can know God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”

Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised to us, and eternal life awaits us!