A THORN PRIED

Those were the dark days. After I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I desperately researched the internet seeking answers and solace. I visited several online support groups, only to leave miserably discouraged and afraid. Every website and discussion group revealed one thing: a grim future. I couldn’t bear to read people’s heart-wrenching stories, because it was my reality at home too.

But, sometime in those early days, the Lord grabbed hold of my heart and instilled a glimmer of hope. No, I wasn’t miraculously healed, nor could I walk. Constant pain filled my days. Nothing changed–except my soul.

Through prayer and Bible study, God opened my eyes to His perspective: He was carefully shaping me to be more Christ-like.

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

That was the secret.

That’s what it is in your life, too. Absolutely nothing escapes the Lord’s sovereign will. If you’re experiencing hardship, then you may have absolute assurance it’s for your good:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2

With the veil of pain removed, we see clearly. The eternal goal is holiness, and that comes through God’s pruning. He isn’t haphazard, but tender and careful, gently imparting Jesus’ righteousness.

Of course, it doesn’t seem gentle when our world has been turned upside down. But, like prying a thorn out of a child’s finger, so the Lord removes sin from our hearts. It hurts. We fight it. We stomp our feet and scream at the top of our lungs. Thankfully, He isn’t deterred by tantrums. He presses on, making us ever more like His Son.

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO GOD’S PRUNING?

PRAY: Complaining and worrying accomplishes nothing, however, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

THINK: Focus thoughts on eternity, not on today. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above,” Colossians 3:1

TRUST: God loves you and promises to take care of you. “This is what the Lord says—He who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid…” Isaiah 44:2

HOPE: Our hope isn’t in the problem disappearing, but in the power of the Lord to safely deliver us in it. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” 2 Timothy 4:17

As the Lord pries thorns from our sinful hearts, we can take comfort that He is the master gardener. Perfect love guides His pruning shears.

Carrie Cooper @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

FIRED UP!

Angry. So angry. Not at anyone in particular, or even at God. I was just furious at life and how it was turning out.

My childhood dreams didn’t include gut-wrenching endless pain. I never set out to be crippled. My bucket list never came close to this.

Few people seemed to grasp the severity of my illness. Everyone seemed so carefree and happy. While my peers shopped for adorable Easter outfits for their children, I was at home gasping for my next breath.

Offense came easily. Patronizing comments bothered me the most: “Do you have good days and bad days?” No, every second of every minute is hell. Or, even worse, the benign noncommittal, “I’ll pray for you.” Please don’t tell me that. I need your HELP. I need my house cleaned. I need dinner on the table. I need my laundry folded and put away. I need someone to play with my kids.

Like I said, I was angry.

My only escape was in the Lord. He knows me. The mess in my heart wasn’t a secret to Him.

Countless times I cried out for relief. Lord, I HATE this! Please help me. Give me one hour without pain. I’m begging you for mercy.

Other days, when I was able, I drank in Scripture:

“O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.”
Jeremiah 8:18

Or,

For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin…
O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.
Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.”
Psalm 38:17-22
And,
I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Psalm 40:1-2

His words were like an old friend, who spoke what I felt but couldn’t quite say. God continues to strip my heart of rage. Layer by layer, bit by bit, He pulls back hurt feelings, displaced dreams, and wounded pride. Occasionally a temper tantrum rears its ugly head, which the Lord patiently excises while reminding me I’m a work in progress.

Has anger got a grip on you, too?
    CRITICISM                  bitterness           FrUStrAtIOn              RAGE        disappointment

When anger takes center stage, life becomes miserable after awhile. If you’re like me, it’s exhausting carrying such a heavy load. I can only take so much.

Although I can’t offer a magic pill to make everything perfect,  I can point you to the One who is perfect:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Weary one, have you come to the Lord lately?
I’m not so angry anymore. Certainly, it’s not self-effort that got me here, just a day-by-day working of Christ.
He has given me rest.
Would you like rest for your soul, too?
Carrie Cooper @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

Again, Lord?

A few weeks ago my health took a momentary downward turn—fatigue and pain reared their ugly heads again. Even though I know the disease will wax and wane, I was most surprised by the fear that accompanied it.

Didn’t I already deal with this, God? Haven’t I already faced my fears of living with a chronic illness?

I guess not, because panic and doubt wormed their way into my thoughts. What Ifs popped up repeatedly as I considered the possibility of the disease returning full force.

But, almost as suddenly as those anxious thoughts appeared, I remembered the work of Christ:
Through this illness, the very thing I fear, God has done an amazing work in my life. He stripped me of the things that distracted me from Christ—now trash in a landfill.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. Philippians 2:7-9

 

Why am I afraid of this pruning process?

Ultimately it only serves to enhance my dependence on Jesus Christ. I must admit I struggle to join the Apostle Paul in prayer:

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 2:10-11

Does anyone want to share in Christ’s sufferings?

Of course not, because that involves pain. But, it’s that very discomfort that reveals our desperate state. Without Christ, our troubles broadcast our need for a Savior. With Christ, our struggles confirm we can’t go at it alone.

I need Him. You need Him, too.

I guess there’s still a lot of rubbish that needs to be thrown out.

ARE YOU DEPRESSED?

I remember those dark, gloomy days, dreading to get out of bed. I knew the moment I put my foot on the floor pain would instantly consume my body.

I remember wearing the same clothes over and over, rationalizing that since I couldn’t leave my home, no one cared if I wore the same things twice.

I remember dreaming of dying just so I could escape the pain. I begged God to let be with Him and out of this rotten body.

I remember being DEPRESSED.

For me, depression was like a never ending PMS—I knew I was emotional and sad, but I just couldn’t pull myself out of it.

The reality was, I was in living hell and couldn’t escape.

Medication and counseling helped tremendously, but they weren’t the only solutions. I learned to lean on Christ. The Bible became life-giving food for me as I discovered what it means to feast on the Lord:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. John 6:57-58

It’s not just about food, or our daily provision for normal living. Jesus is saying that HE IS OUR LIFE. He is the reason we have breath. When we feed on the bread of Christ, we acknowledge our trust, love, and dependence on Him. Without Him we perish. With Him we have abundant life here, and eternal life hereafter.

Don’t misunderstand me. Simply reading Bible verses with an apathetic attitude won’t change your depression.

I’m talking about a new way of looking at Scripture. Rather than seeing it as a book of wise words, written by wise teachers, about a Wise Man, allow your eyes to be opened.

Many of us know the Lord’s Prayer by heart and have prayed it countless times:

Give us today our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

But, we mistakenly think that is merely a prayer about God’s physical provisions—food, clothing, and housing. In reality, when we look at Scripture in its entirety, Jesus is teaching us that HE IS THE BREAD. We are to feast on Him.

This means hungrily seeking the Lord with all of our hearts, souls and minds. We are to lay aside our fickle emotions and thirst for the Living God. Only He can satisfy. Only He can fill the desperate ache in our hearts.

Are you hungry for something real? Try the Bread of Life.

 
Carrie Cooper @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

GOODBYE, SUPERMOM!

God, my life is a mess. How are you ever going to use me again? I don’t understand why you’ve allowed this to happen. Lord, please help me.”

I prayed those words countless times over the past four years. In 2006, I was diagnosed with a crippling autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which causes hardening of the hips, spine, and major organs. Within months of the first symptoms, my life was transformed.

I was Super Mom. Maybe you know what I’m talking about: wife, mother, Kindergarten Room Mom, entrepreneur, Registered Dietitian, Bible teacher, crafter, family gourmet cook, and last, but not least, manager for my daughter’s modeling career.

ARE YOU TRYING TO BE SUPER MOM TOO?

I certainly tried, but God showed me I couldn’t do it. The illness crippled me. I spent three years as a prisoner in my own body, unable to move without excruciating pain.

My former Super Mom Super Powers were gone. I couldn’t stand up long enough to cook dinner, fold laundry, or sit on the floor to play with my children. All of those roles were delegated to someone else, while I took up residence on the living room sofa.

Those haunting prayers returned, “God, how are you ever going to use me like this? I’m more than broken—I’m shattered. You have stripped me of myself. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SO BROKEN THAT YOU THINK GOD CAN’T POSSIBLY USE YOU?

I was there right where you are. It took time—years, in fact—for the Lord to humble me and then build me back up in Himself. By pouring myself into the Bible

I DISCOVERED MY IDENTITY WASN’T SUPER MOM, IT WAS IN CHRIST.

God doesn’t love me for everything I accomplish on a daily basis. He loves me because His Son died for me and on the third day came back to life, paying for my sins.

GOD LOVES YOU TOO, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DO FOR HIM.

Can we ever DO enough? Can we ever BE perfect enough?

Super Mom isn’t the answer. Jesus Christ is.

I HAD A CHOICE TO MAKE. I could either spend the rest of my life blaming God for ruining me with this horrible disease, or I can trust that even in the midst of the gut-wrenching pain, my life counts in Christ.

YOU HAVE A CHOICE, TOO.

If God has allowed you to be broken, maybe even shattered, you have a decision to make. Will you shake your fist at Him for destroying everything? Or, will you surrender to His plan, even though it’s NOT what you desire? Will you say Yes to His call on your life?

WILL YOU SURRENDER YOUR MESS TO HIM?

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him;

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:22-26

WILL YOU WAIT QUIETLY FOR THE LORD?

Carrie Cooper @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

A DEEP VACUUM

Those were the lonely days, the days when friends were scarce and I was unable to leave my home. Isolation built a wall around me. I didn’t think I could take one more blow.

But, it came anyway.

An acquaintance from church called to see how I was doing. I was honest—after all, she asked—and told her the truth: I needed help. My house is a wreck. The toilets haven’t been cleaned in ages. My carpets needed vacuumed. Laundry was piled up.

After a long pause she said, “I was thinking about meals. No one wants to clean somebody else’s toilets, much less their own.”

I fought hard not to become embittered by her remark, which revealed her true character. to this day, it brings tears to my eyes as I recall the sting of her words.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the friends that abandoned him during his imprisonment,

“At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.
May it not be held against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16

Paul was on trial for his very life, yet his friends failed him.

HAVE YOUR FRIENDS FAILED YOU, TOO?

Yet, the very next verse declares Paul’s victory:

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…” 2 Timothy 4:17-18

Even in our darkest hours, the children of God are not alone. The Lord stands by our sides and gives us strength. When all others have failed, we have certain confidence that the Lord is with us.

Just this morning I read the powerful words of Jeremiah 20:11,

“But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior. . .”

If everyone else has deserted you, remember you are guarded by the Lord, the mighty warrior, who promises never to leave you nor abandon you.

TAKE COURAGE IN THE LORD!

Carrie Cooper @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

Into His Presence

Who is the “you” that no one else sees? Who is the “you” that hides hurts deep inside?
There are just times in life where it feels like the winds of life are beating down on us and we are standing up by ourselves facing that wind on our own. It’s not that others don’t care or aren’t trying to understand what we are going through – it’s just that God has asked us to go through this particular challenge in life, with Him alone. These are the times where He draws us into His presence to teach us something, or show us something very personal. It feels like we will break at times – but we won’t. We will only bend. 🙂

I used to dread these times in my life. I would feel sorry for myself and wonder why only “I” could really feel or understand a certain situation or circumstance. Now I am learning to embrace them. It’s not that they are comfortable or that I have grown some newfound courage to endure hard times – it’s simply that I am gaining an inner understanding about what these challenges in my life are about.

They are about God drawing me closer to Him.

My mom and I were talking about how situations in life grow character in your heart. I used to tell her that I didn’t want more character – because it usually hurt to get it! 🙂 But as we were talking, remembering and smiling about this; I shared with her that although it hurts to get stretched by God at times, I have never once regretted a painful, hurtful, or challenging time in life that was designated by God. Not once. Because He has used each one in my heart and life to have a ministry and to help others. He has used each one to grow insight into my heart, to mature me as a believer, and to draw me closer to Him. And oh how I love to be closer to Him!

Wherever we are in life; if we are feeling all alone or that maybe God is “sifting” us and weeding things out of our lives — please consider the fact that He may just be calling you by name and asking you to personally come into His presence for a little while so that He may share some truths with you and you alone. It can be a very special and precious time that is shared by only you and the Lord, if you choose to look at it that way.

Right now, God may be trying to draw you into His presence. You may be going through things that no one else can go through with you. Let Him speak to you – let Him be with you. Draw the strength and courage you need from being in His presence.

~ Dionna Sanchez
Visit Dionna’s main blog at http://beautyinthestorm.blogspot.com

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