Seventy Times Seven: How Abuse Changes Forgiveness

“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”
Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries: A Memoir

I’ve always wondered about the idea of “forgive and forget.” About how you can obliterate yesterday’s pain with forgiveness. Mailhot’s story of abuse and its aftermath strangely mirrored my own: the depression, the anxiety, the suicidal ideations. It also presented the idea that it’s okay to carry your pain, that it may even be necessary to healing.

Our culture, and often our churches, fight this idea. Forgive and forget, seventy times seven. The wrong and its consequences vanish with a tearful embrace and we miraculously move forward, healed by love and determined forgetfulness.

But what if sometimes the pain is too large, too heavy to throw off with a heartfelt apology. What if the pain is burned into you like acid, forever marring your mind. What if the sinful treatment of another has poisoned your body to react viscerally to places, people, and situations.

Sometimes, you cannot forgive and forget.

My Christian friends will here remind me of the parable in Matthew 18, where Jesus teaches how to forgive. It reminds us how great our sin is before a holy God, and that we are all forgiven. So what right have we, then, to hold a fellow sinner’s sins against him? Jesus even ends with a terrible warning: that if you withhold forgiveness from others, God will withhold forgiveness from you.

Jesus teaches we must forgive as our heavenly Father forgives. How does God forgive?

“I, yes I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and remembers your sins no more.”
– Isaiah 43:25, NIV

Forgive and forget, right? But what does it mean to “remember no more?” The “remembering” is a figure of speech and can be understood similar to other biblical instances of God’s “remembering.” For example:

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
Exodus 2:23-25 (emphasis mine)

This does not mean that one sunny day in heaven God heard something discordant from beneath his feet and cried, “Oh no! I left my people enslaved in Egypt.” It can’t. Even in verse 25, it says he “saw” and “knew.”

God does not practice selective amnesia. “Remember” means to bring up in relationship. Just like he made a choice to act for his people in bondage, he is choosing not to act on our forgiven sins.

Once we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, our sins are covered by his sacrifice. God doesn’t hold our past failings over our heads. God “forgets” when he forgives in an eternal, relational sense, but the sin is committed, its consequences remain.

God doesn’t always choose to miraculously heal our problems. People survive cancer with treatment instead of their tumors disappearing before surgery. People have to go to rehab instead of losing their cravings overnight. People spend their whole lives suffering from autoimmune diseases that eventually take their life.

Some things bleed out slowly for a lifetime.

[Forgiveness is when] we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.

~ Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity

I believe the chief issue here is the preaching of forgiveness and reconciliation as synonymous. They aren’t. They’re more like salt and pepper. At a dinner party, if someone asks you to “please pass the salt” manners dictate that you pass the pepper along with it. They can reject the pepper if they so choose, but you’re to offer it just the same. We are to do all that is possible to live at peace with one another (Romans 12:8).

Forgiveness means we put a stop to gossip and refuse to do anything to personally vindicate the wrong done us; leave vengeance to the Lord. We pray for those who broke us. We don’t rejoice in their pain. Reconciliation means relationship is renewed, friendship rekindled, trust rebuilt. This is not always possible. Sometimes literally impossible (in the case of death) and other times it’s just healthier not to.

Abuse changes things.

I find within the Christian community a lack of good advice for people who want to love and forgive like Christ but know it negatively affects their ability to function when forced back into relationship with certain people. The abusive spouse. The toxic family member. The manipulative pastor. People who have raped your mind, heart, or body, leaving trauma behind that you cannot wish away. Scars that the Lord allowed in your life for his own purposes (2 Corinthians 12:1-10, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7) It’s almost as if Christians fear giving someone leave to free themselves from a dangerous relationship is the same as saying it’s okay to hate.

Reconciliation requires painful and tedious work from both parties. It requires humility and honesty to rebuild broken trust. I must seek to be at peace with others as much as I am able (2 Corinthians 13:11). But that ability is often limited when it comes to victims of abuse. The depth of trauma caused by the abuser can limit future relationship to nothing. That is a consequence of their sin. The victim limits relationship because of the depth of trauma caused by the abuser.

For those of us who struggle navigating abuse and its aftermath, the answers to our questions aren’t always so black and white. Our pain runs deep. It’s a part of us, part of our story. It is impossible to forget. The battle to forgive is a daily fight that can be won but does not require us to pretend that trauma does not exist or to dwell inside ongoing toxic relationships.

You can forgive without forgetting. You can love without fellowship.

“…when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition and confession and conversion (turning from sin to righteousness), he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can still lay down our ill will; we can hand over our anger to God; we can seek to do him good; but we cannot carry through reconciliation or intimacy.”
~ John Piper

Our Father…Why?

I used to question the way David approached God in the Psalms. He sounds almost accusatory.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:1
Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me, test my heart and my mind.
Psalm 26: 1-2

It sounds like he’s daring the LORD to find fault with him. David the sinner. The murderer, adulterer, and neglectful parent.

How can he speak thus to the Holy One of Israel?

The lives recorded in the Bible do not always reflect actions worth imitating. The polygamy, the broken homes, the rape, and murder, are given because they’re facts in the ultimate story of God’s redemption. They show that God redeems us from the dregs of loss, war, famine, disease, and trauma. So how can I be certain that David’s audacity in prayer is something that I ought to imitate?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1

I have long struggled with my health. This struggle and suffering is part of my daily existence, yet I never stopped to ask God for something different. I found myself vacillating between despair and a shrug. God is sovereign. I don’t know why I am allowed to be ill, but why do some people have cancer or find themselves living in refugee camps? It’s not our choice. God will heal me if he wants or I’ll always be like this if he wants.

But in the Psalms, I see David, suffering, despairing, confused. He turns to God and says, “Look! Do you see this? Why are you doing this? How does this bring Glory to your name? Do something!” When I read that, my breath catches. Compare that with the lesson of Job, who dared to question God and the result was a deluge of questions that mocked his frailty and infinite smallness.

So is David wrong too? Is the tag of praise and thanksgiving you find at the end of a psalm just David’s way of repenting in dust and ashes?

Or does the heart of prayer encourage a communion built both in awe and suffering?

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The disciples once begged Jesus to show them how to pray. They longed to imitate the intimacy and strength of Christ’s communion with the Father. Christ responded by giving them “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6, Luke 11). And in the garden, hours before his death, he modeled it.

John 17 shows Christ in emotional agony, knowing the physical torture and spiritual weight that awaits him. He prays for the Father’s will in all things, prays for the kingdom to come at whatever cost, prays for God’s glory to be manifested on earth as it is in heaven. But he also prays for the very thing that he knows is not the Father’s will: that he may not have to suffer.

The prophets foretold his death on a cross. This was the will of God before the foundations of the earth. Yet, Luke records him praying repeatedly against it, falling on the ground, sweating blood, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you, Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

In Christ, the perfect God-Man, we need not question the right and wrongs of following his example. He approached God boldly, asking him to turn from his plans, to find another way, to change his mind, while submissively knowing that God’s will is best, even if it meant suffering. But he still asked, nay begged, for something other.

On the other side of the empty tomb, we received, not just salvation, but adoption into the family of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Christ stands before God and invites us to pray likewise. To search the scriptures and see that we too can have the audacity to question, to beg, and remind God of his promises to us. We have the ability to pray, “Daddy, this hurts too much. Make it go away. There are so many ways I desire to serve you if only I had a little more strength, a little more time. Must it be this way?”

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19-20 (emphasis added)

Instead of finding a God who wrinkles his nose at our presumption, our prayers are filtered through our high priest and brother, Jesus. Covered in his righteousness, we not only stand boldly before God with our humble pleas but our audacious questions as well. Even our “but God”s don’t fail to reach the almighty ear, to elicit compassion, even if the ultimate answer is “my kingdom, my glory, and my will, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This was the basis of David’s audacity, for we see in Romans that his faith was covered by the same blood of Christ that we find ourselves resting upon in hope. (Romans 3:25)

So pray with boldness. Pray your whys and your tears and your wordless aches. Pray your praise and your awe. Hand it all over through the Spirit to the Son who will bring it before the Father who delights to hear his child’s voice. And if the pain persists, if the trial tightens its grip, then rest in the sovereign will of the one who loves you. The one to whom belongs the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

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A Pastor’s Wife, A Millstone, and A Cup of Tea

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-31

One Sunday of my childhood, my mother pointed out a married couple and said with a shake of her head, “He could be so useful to the Lord if it wasn’t for his wife.” After that, whenever I heard him preach or pray, I would pity him. Just imagine what he could be if his wife wasn’t such a weight.

When my husband told me that he felt the Lord calling him into full-time ministry, I didn’t doubt for a minute that this was what the Lord wanted from his life. It was weeks later that I realized if the Lord was calling my husband, he was also calling me.

The church we attended at the time had a long list of requirements for pastor’s wives, including a demanding homemaker skill set that I still utterly fail to meet. I’ll never forget the disapproval they showed me after my husband announced he was going into seminary. One person cornered me to ask how I thought my nose ring would affect my husband’s ministry. They were upfront about how they felt, nearly telling me outright as my husband and I shuffled our way out the door on our last Sunday there.

I began to question what I brought to the table. “Nothing,” was my only answer.

I’m not a good teacher or public speaker. I’m insecure and easily overwhelmed. I’ve been suicidal and have issues with panic disorder and depression. People I loved emotionally abused me, so I’m wary of close relationships. I am an ugly sinner and a recovering Pharisee.

They were right. Even without a nose ring, I am not “Pastor’s Wife” material. I would be the weight that prevented my husband from being used by God. People were already shaking their heads at me.

I considered scrubbing myself up, but I’d spent the first 25 years of my life living an outward spiritual lie. I didn’t want to go back there. So I decided I’d just continue to read my Bible and quietly worry about how my insufficiencies might weigh down my husband.

We started attending Milford Bible Church during a turbulent period of my life. My messy pregnancy rolled into a slew of postpartum health issues that left me virtually bedridden. My husband fought to keep our family together while I watched from bed, more and more convinced that I dragged him down.

A millstone round his neck.

With the return of my health came opportunities for me to get involved at church, but more importantly, opportunities for me to help my husband. Once again, I cooked the meals, kept house, and cared for our baby. I hoped rhythm would return to life.

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My new equilibrium tottered when God led us to settle in PA. Leaving New Jersey wasn’t in my plan. I love it there. It’s less rural, there’s less snow, and my family is there. But God lit the path that led us to buy our first home in the Poconos. I comforted myself that he would continue to show me the same care he showed during the previous two years of struggle.

The week before Tim’s first Sunday morning sermon at Milford was a disaster. The house was in chaos from ongoing unpacking. The holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving to New Years holds multiple emotional triggers that make me tense and depressed. Monday I had a meltdown, sobbing myself into hyperventilation. I fell asleep, huddled and trembling beside my husband and got up the next morning already broken and tired. I prepped myself to blast through our overscheduled week, only to discover on Tuesday evening that the week would tax my physical health as well.

Saturday night, I’m sitting with my friend Debbie, swallowing my new antibiotics, and wishing I had a river I could skate away on. Her hand touched mine. She gave it a little squeeze and told me it was a blessing to be in my home.

Her laundry was in my dryer. I’d fed her pancakes for supper on paper plates. My sofa was covered in unfolded laundry, my counter with Thursday’s dirty dishes. Her only real company was a semi-comatose me, but still, she was thankful to be in my home.

I nearly cried as I confided to her my dream of having the kind of home people would feel comfortable stopping by on a whim. A safe place to run to when they’re hurting or lost. A place of comfort and joy and a warm cup of tea.

She told me it was those things to her.

Sunday came. I was so nervous for my husband that I nearly vomited. He took several deep breaths before he started, just enough to make me worry he’d never start at all. Then he opened his mouth. The Lord spoke to me through him, not for the first time, but for the first time from behind a pulpit.

He became a Pastor to me while I cried my way through his sermon. Debbie’s words fed back into my mind. Quietly in the pew, I felt the Lord confirm his calling to my husband and to me.

A young lady stopped me in the foyer and asked me what I thought it meant to one day be a Pastor’s wife. I blinked at her while memories of nose rings and suicide notes rolled through my mind, then said, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Even with the confirmation of God’s call, I still don’t know what it means to “be a pastor’s wife.” Maybe it’s nothing more than being a support to my husband. But more and more, I think that something I add to our ministry is my brokenness.

I am so messed up. So sinful and slimy and God, please I need your grace! So when people come to me with mess, I get it, because of all the mess I’ve been through. I can show others the same patience I hope they use when dealing with me. And sure, someday I’ll probably get that tattoo, but the hurting people who need a hug or a cup of tea don’t care about the permanent semicolon on my wrist.

I’m not a millstone. I’m the shattered bits an artistic God can use in a mosaic. God uses broken things. It magnifies how awesome he truly is.

Now Im just a beggar in the presence of a King I wish I could bring so much more But if its true You use broken things Then here I am Lord Im all Yours - Matthew West

The Storm

The winds raged. I won’t say the volume of the storm didn’t shock me. It was a lot more than I expected when I set out with only light grey skies above me. Just a little rain, I thought, no more than a drizzle. Besides, the sea is small and I’ll be safe on the other side before anything can go wrong. Now I was grumbling curses at myself as I took down what was left of my shredded sail. My only option was to hit the oars. There was little light left, save the occasional flashes of distant lightning, and I was too absorbed in steadying my boat in the swell to worry about where I was headed.

“Can I help now?”

I started at the sound of His voice. I entirely forgot He was sitting there. I bit my lip stubbornly and shook my head. “Nope,” I said. “I’ve totally got this. You just relax okay?” I think my voice sounded convincing but just in case it didn’t, I averted my eyes from his face. The last thing I needed was criticism. I started up my mental recording of self help mantras and dug the oars beneath the waves with each one: I am brave. I am strong. I am capable. I know with time and effort I can achieve.

The waves were growing, it’s the natural outcome of the storm, but what I really wanted to know was why on earth my boat was shrinking. It definitely looked smaller. I thought I set out on a yacht. Where had this rickety old rowboat come from? Perhaps I had just been too arrogant to realize how unprepared I was for the journey ahead.

A heavy wave crashed over the side and snapped the rowlock off the frame. The force sucked my oar with it. I reached for it with two desperate hands, thereby dropping my remaining oar into the dark churning waters. They were both out of my reach before I could decide which to go for first. I watched them dip and bob, as though waving goodbye, while bucketloads of water rolled into my splintering wreck of a boat.

“Now can I help?”

I just flat out ignored Him this time. I hadn’t invited Him anyway, He just seems to show up everywhere I go. Besides, if I didn’t concentrate we would sink. I bailed with my hands, hoping against hope that there was an extra oar hidden at the bottom of the boat. The next wave knocked me off my seat almost out into the sea. Why wasn’t I wearing a lifejacket? What possessed me, a lousy swimmer on a good day, to drop themselves in the middle of a large body of water sans life jacket?

I struggled in vain for as long as I could. Perhaps those desperate hours were all packed into five minutes or maybe my floundering lasted as long as it felt. It wasn’t until the splintered wood around me had cut my hands and I was half drowned and choking that I finally dropped to my knees. The water came up to my chest. I wrapped my arms around His legs and buried my face in His knees.

“Okay,” I whimpered. “Okay please, help me. Please I give up. I can’t do this alone anymore.”

He was on his feet before the words came from my mouth. He didn’t need my words. He was only waiting for my heart to relent. He raised a hand over the sea.

“Peace be still.”

Instantaneous silence. The wind purred like a kitten as it ruffled the still waters, rippling reflections of bright sunlight across the glassy surface.

I cried and shook. My salty tears mingled with the water that dripped from my drenched hair down my wet face. He lifted me to my feet and took my face in his hands. I had to look in his eyes then. I always expected to see bitterness, anger, or rebuke when we came to this point, but I never did. The same tender expression he always wore when he looked at me calmed my trembling heart. The only change was the hurt I could see in his eyes, but the love that flowed from them made it almost invisible in comparison.

“Oh my little child,” He whispered. “Your faith is so small.”

“Forgive me,” I said then added with a soft choke of bitter irony, “again.” We’d been here before, same scene different setting.

He smiled and pulled me into his arms. I cried against his chest while the wreckage of my boat sank beneath our feet.

“Daddy, will you grow my faith?” I asked.

His gentle voice hummed against my ear. “That’s what I’m doing now. Walk with me.”

My tiny fingers locked securely in his strong hand, we walked across the still, peaceful waters to the other side of the sea.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father God who art in heav’n above,
Hallowed be Thy holy glorious name.
Thy kingdom come. On earth Thy will be done,
Both here with men as in the heav’ns the same.

Please God provide us with our daily bread.
We ask no more than this lest we grow proud.
Our trespasses we beg you to forgive,
As we in turn forgive hurts from the crowd.

O lead us not into temptation’s way,
But Lord deliver us from evil’s snare.
For thine the kingdom, power, glory, be,
Forever, both in heav’n and everywhere.

Amen.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

“My Sin” on a Wooden Cross

I’m a front-row-pew kind of Christian. Not that it matters where you sit. The truth is, I can’t read the powerpoint slides when I sit back further than the third row. I opened my vision corrected eyes and lifted my head when the prayer finished. My husband and I slid out of the row towards the centre aisle. Tonight we were doing something a little different for the Lord’s Supper.

In my hand I held a little card. The words “my sin” were written on it. A wooden cross stood just below the platform. I raised my hand. The head of the nail fixed in the cross, slid inside the hole on my card. I made my way back to my seat.

My eyes were already stinging with tears. There I sat. Once Christ’s enemy, now given the gift of nearness through his sacrifice. “My sin” hung on the cross. The only thing keeping me from God, completely covered. I know my heart. I know who I am: my motives, my thoughts, my desires. I know the depth of the sin he’s covered. I couldn’t help but wonder at the awesome beauty of this gift poured out willingly into my frail trembling hands. Someone died for me.

First row, first up, now I watched the others make their way to the cross. This sight was almost more beautiful than the sight of my sin leaving my fingers. A visual reminder of salvation’s scope unfolded before my blurred eyes. I watched others file past: men, women, children, young, old, a woman with a cane, a little girl with a missing front tooth, light skinned and dark, grey haired and blonde, nations, tribes, and tongues. These all came with their own stories, their own sins.

Woe to those who can’t see this beauty: deep, sweet, and endless. Whose sin blinded eyes would sooner cut off their own hand than relinquish the right to self and accept this gift from so loving a master. Can anything be more magnificent in purity or perfect in love?

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Body broken.
Blood shed.
I’m made white by his blood red.
Open my eyes lord.
Help me see,
To give up self and live for thee.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For?

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“I’ve heard it said, ‘Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.’”

My pastor’s voice came over the nursery loud-speaker. My arms were full of sleeping infant.  The woman beside me listened with closed eyes to the sermon overhead.

“Hmmm,” she grunted. “That is so true.”

My arms were asleep. I shuffled and looked down into the tiny face.  My mind ticked away. I failed to stop the words leaking from my mouth.

“No,” I said. “No, it isn’t.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times growing up. Most often when a preacher would stumble onto James 1:3. The passage says: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The preacher would look up from his Bible and say, “This is why we need to be careful when we pray for patience.”

People…we’re missing the point.

What is prayer? Prayer is our direct communication with God. Sometimes it feels like God is so far away. Prayer is our link, our chain to him. It’s the time when we stop to talk to him. Sometimes we cuddle in his lap, cup our hand around his ear and whisper to him. Other times, we weep and scream. Our Father delights in all these moments. He wants to share them with us: the hurt, the fear, the joy, the sorrow. Looking at the Psalms you see hundreds of prayers. Those saints too whispered, screamed, cried, and sung for joy. It was just as essential in their spiritual walk as it is to us today.  It moves us closer to abiding in the beautiful, unfathomable love of God.

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” God made us for more, and as we grow closer to him we find our true love and desires molding to his, giving us the fulfillment we’ve always craved. Our defective sinful natures keep us locked in the temporal, but closer abiding changes us.  It changes our prayers.  Our prayers morph from “God I want a new car” to “God please give me more patience.”  God wants us to seek patience.  Increased patience will give us increased joy.  Permanent joy.  New cars give us temporal happiness.

So, should I truly fear to ask anything of God? What’s the worst that will happen? Truly.  Is it the “no” I fear?  That saying would teach us it’s the fulfillment of such I should fear.  No. The answer comes in the verse just prior to James 1:3. It says, “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  Joy people!  Joy!  Not happiness.  Not a faint smile, but real, deep, abiding, joy.

Ironically, seconds prior to these words over the loudspeaker, my companion and I had been discussing my miscarriage.  This time last year I was pregnant.  God chose to take my child from my husband and me directly to him.  It would be a gross understatement to say this has been hard on us, we both desperately want a child, but the fact of the matter is, I have never once been angry at God for doing so.  I ask him “why”.  It’s a legitimate question.  I don’t know the answer.  What I do know is this.  I learned through my miscarriage that God loves my husband and me.  I learned that he is in ultimate control of everything.  I learned that I can fall into his arms when I’m hurt and frightened.

We have two thoughts before us.  One: we need to be careful to ask God for things or we’ll get them.  Two: I received desired spiritual lessons from my miscarriage.  If we believe thought one to be truth, than thought two is a direct result of thought one. Thus the only conclusion we can draw is that I would be holding my baby today if I had never asked God to teach me to love and trust him more.  I submit to you that this is heresy.  If not, then it’s safer for us to restrict our prayers to the weather.

God is not the divine author of agony.  He does not sit on his throne waiting to squash us with trials, death, and fun sucking.  He wants the best for us.  He wants us to have peace.  He wants us to have joy.  If we truly believe that, we will never fear to ask him for anything.  Our spiritual growth brings joy to us and God.  I found joy in my trial.  Yes, I found grief too, but the joy is pervasive.  One day I will see my baby again.  I believe this. Until then I find joy and love in the arms of a God who will fill the aching hole that my baby left with me.

I have not stopped praying for God to teach me to love him more.  I will not stop.  And, so far, the roof of my apartment hasn’t caved in and my refrigerator isn’t infested with genetically enhanced arthropods.