Category Archives: Trust

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

So Much Grace to Share: Why We Never Have to Be Afraid Again

Welcome to the conclusion of the Facing Fear of People series! For earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Part 5: What If We Are Still Afraid?

“I wanna do it!” The two-year-old jerked away as her mom tried to steer the miniature shopping cart. The cart bumped into the freezer display.

Kelsie sighed before answering. “You can do it, Sara, but I am here to help you sometimes.” She held the cart still.

“No!” Sara yelled.

“I’m waiting for you to listen. When you’re ready to listen, you can do it by yourself.”

Sara stood quietly, but still glaring a little. Close enough. Kelsie let go of the cart. “Okay. Let’s go find the apple juice.”

She rolled her eyes as she followed her toddler down the next aisle. April’s offer of keeping both children for a couple of hours had been tempting, but Kelsie eventually decided to take Sara with her in the hopes that this one-on-one time would be helpful long-term.

Sara got to the end of the aisle and Kelsie reached out to stop the cart. “Watch out, honey—there are other carts here.” They waited a minute, then a woman smiled at them and waited for them to go first. “Thanks,” Kelsie smiled. She realized as they walked on that she was still holding onto the little cart—and Sara hadn’t yelled at her once. Small victories. I’ll take it, she thought.

“Mommy, look! We had those at Gigi’s house!” Sara pointed to the blueberry waffles in the frozen section.

“Those were yummy,” Kelsie agreed. “Look, they have strawberry waffles, too. Do you want to take some blueberry waffles home, or try the strawberry ones?” Sara looked hard at the waffle display as she tried to decide.

“Why, hello there—it’s nice to see you!”

Kelsie turned to see Rebecca Peters walking up. For a minute she froze. She thought about the chocolate-chocolate pie from the bakery now sitting conspicuously in the cart, and about the mismatched outfit Sara had insisted on wearing. She remembered Noah’s loud screaming in church the day before, and how she had forgotten to bring back the book she was going to return to Rebecca. The book she hadn’t read.

But in the next instant she remembered what she had been able to catch of yesterday’s sermon. We aren’t sitting here today because we earned our seats, Pastor Wilkes had said. We can only walk into the presence of God because Jesus bled and died to make us His. And if God has welcomed us, we will never be unwelcome.

Kelsie turned with a smile to Rebecca Peters. “Hi, Rebecca! It’s good to see you, too.”

Never Afraid Again

We don’t have to be afraid of each other. Not anymore. When Jesus paid our eternal debt and bought our freedom, He forever broke the hold anyone or anything else can ever have on us. Only He can call us His, and only in His love and grace and power and forgiveness will we ever find our worth and meaning for our lives.

Over the last few weeks, we have explored several different areas of fear of people and how it can sneakily hide out in the crevices of our lives. For me, it has been an exercise of looking deeper into my own life and finding new and deeper areas that need change, and I so hope that you have been encouraged and strengthened through thinking through this topic.

As we live in light of our eternal freedom and the security that comes with that, we may find that people don’t think as lowly of us as we expected. Or we may find that they do. Whichever the case may be, it doesn’t matter anymore: we have the assurance that our standing hasn’t changed because of our latest faux pas and will never be based on our popularity or current social standing.

Eventually, we will probably find others who are still trapped in fear of people. They may not know it. They may not even really show it. In fact, they might act so confident and callous to others that the real insecurities are almost too deep to see. Some of them might try—unintentionally, perhaps—to disguise their fear of not measuring up by pointing out to us how we have missed the mark.

But we don’t have to play like that anymore.

We know we have missed the mark. We know we still fail to measure up every day. But we also know that our lives are based on Jesus’ perfection, not ours, and we can rest in His grace and love and joy even in the most imperfect of days.

When we meet someone who still has that same fear we know so well, we can show them how free they can be. We can extend that same grace we have so undeservedly been given and welcome them, despite the reasons they may give us not to. They are invited and welcomed into this grace, too—into freedom forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Four minutes was a long time for Sara to wait as the adults talked. She tried to open the freezer door to reach the waffles herself, but she was too short.

She looked up at Kelsie. “Mommy?” she said quietly. No answer. Sara looked back at her cart, then back up at the door handle. She pulled the crackers out and put them on the floor. When there was enough room, she swung her leg into the cart and began to climb in. She balanced carefully and stood up. She had almost reached the handle—

“Sara!” Kelsie barely had time to catch her daughter as the cart dropped to its side under Sara’s weight. Chicken nugget packages fell on top of each other, Noah’s baby food jars—thankfully unbroken—rolled all over the aisle, and the chocolate-chocolate cake was smashed upside down in its container.

Kelsie hugged her daughter while a stranger righted the cart and another one set the chicken nuggets back in and a teenage boy started collecting the baby food jars. She smiled her thanks and laughed when someone handed her the smeared chocolate-chocolate pie. She set Sara down. “Okay, girlie,” she said. “I’m glad you’re okay. Next time let’s wait for Mommy’s help, okay? We’ll get the waffles in just a minute.” She held Sara’s hand as she turned back to Rebecca. “Sorry about that. Where were we?”

Rebecca paused. “That was neat, Kelsie,” she said quietly.

Kelsie looked around. “What was neat? How far the baby food jars could roll?” She smiled.

“No, the way you responded.” Rebecca sighed. “When my kids were Sara’s age, I would have been really mad at them for that—especially the pie,” she smiled.

Kelsie looked at Sara. “Oh, I get mad sometimes, too,” she said. “And pie is kind of a big deal.”

“But you were so patient there, so—” Rebecca tried to find the right word. “So full of grace.” She looked away. “I don’t show my kids grace very well.”

Kelsie nodded. “It can be hard,” she agreed. “But then, I’ve been given so much grace, I guess I have a lot to share.”

 

The Love of a Father

I didn’t mean to think of Him like that. I didn’t realize how lacking my view of God was, how off-course it was.

Growing up, I had – unconsciously – always thought of God as more of a wishy-washy Someone who “asked” to be “let into” my heart, and who only intervened in human problems when we asked Him to.

But that’s different now. I have come to a deeper understanding of the grandeur and big-ness of God—the One who created the world with a word and who sustains it day after day, molecule by tiny atom, without ever becoming tired or changing His mind or dropping the ball, so to speak.

The “Sunday School God” ideas I remember have given way to an all-knowing, unstoppable God. But at the same time, I wonder…maybe there are some things from Sunday School I shouldn’t forget.

Strong Views

I am truly, honestly, deeply grateful for reformed theology. In the last few years as I have come to (slowly) understand more of these doctrines, it has grown in me a trust in God’s ability over a reliance on my own lack of ability. I have found assurance that He is able to do the work in me that I can’t produce on my own, and I have found rest in doctrines that are well-supported biblically. Salvation is through His work and not mine. There is great peace in that.

But I have also learned to be careful. In swinging from one extreme (wishy-washy Sunday School God) to the other side (sovereign, all-powerful God), I have to remember to follow Biblical truth and not just doctrines organized by man—however Scripturally supported they are. I have to remember that “[s]uch is the human tendency to overcorrect,” as one historian noted.

Reformed theology can have a somewhat negative reputation. Absolute sovereignty, if referenced out of proportion to other doctrines, begins to sound like a power-crazy king who rules without tenderness or any concern for others. We hear phrases (and sermons) like “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and remind ourselves constantly of the total depravity of man.

All of which are true, but they aren’t the whole story. Continue reading The Love of a Father

Thou Mine Inheritance

The Israelites pressed forward, spurred on in their quest to obtain their inheritance by conquering the enemies around them and claiming enemy land as their own. They were following the charge God gave to Joshua, courageously taking hold of the inheritance they had been promised. They faced enemies and danger and exhaustion.

They fought.

What is Our Inheritance?

The New Testament also has this idea of inheritance. Peter tells us that, as Christians, our inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). He compares this incredibly perfect inheritance with the pointless customs handed down to us as our earthly inheritance.

But just what do we inherit? What is it we are promised as children of God? Continue reading Thou Mine Inheritance

What the Clouds Will Tell Us

Ask someone the most awe-inspiring sight in the world, and they might mention the Grand Canyon. They might bring up that one time they went to Yellowstone or the Bahamas or Austria or Niagara Falls. Or they might tell you about the way the trees change color in the fall or their blossoms in the spring, or the flowers that bloom every May.

For me, it’s the clouds.

The daily glories of sunrise and sunset. The puffy, cottonball-like cumulus clouds on a warm spring day. The light and wispy cirrus clouds in the middle of the sky or the flat lines of stratus clouds on the horizon. The ominous and constantly-changing cumulonimbus of summer storms—punctuated by lightning that is gone before you even fully see it and the low rumbles of distant thunder.

In the Bible, we read of Job’s struggle with God’s presence in the midst of the darkest days of his life. Where was God when his children died, his flocks were stolen or burned with fire from heaven, and his body was afflicted with painful sores?

Job’s three friends provided him with their own theories on this. It seemed obvious, really, as far as they were concerned: Why would God do this to Job unless there was some kind of sin he hadn’t confessed? They insisted Job had done something wrong.

After countless arguments from his friends and rebuttals from Job, a mysterious fourth guest speaks up. Elihu isn’t buying anything Job or his friends are saying; in his mind, they’re approaching this from the wrong angle.

“‘Look at the heavens, and see,’” Elihu says, ‘“and behold the clouds, which are higher than you’” (Job 35:5).

The clouds which are higher than you.

Some clouds can hold millions of tons of water. They can form in a few minutes or an hour, and sometimes they change shape and size and color as you are watching.

They can be oppressive sheets that insulate us in darkness, hiding from sunlight, and also glorious twists and shapes that magnify a sunset. Light and airy and wispy or dark and heavy. Just water molecules that can dump floodwaters and launch spiraling tornados and ground airplanes.

“‘Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?

Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
the thunderings of his pavilion?
’” (Job 36:22-29)

When we question the way life is going or how the story has changed, look at the clouds. When we aren’t sure of the next step or darker days weigh heavy on us, we just look up.

Look at the clouds.

Watch them change before your eyes. Listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. Feel the winds swirl around you as they move miles-long clouds out of sight.

“‘Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?'” (Job 38:37-38).

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3).