Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sailing into the storm (part 4)

"I am a man who has experienced affliction..." Lamentations 3:1 It had been seven years since his lips and mine had met for the first time in front of a couple hundred witnesses--our wedding day. Some people call it the seven year itch, but when you are right in the middle of it with toddling baby boys nipping at your ankles while you stare into each other's eyes and confess that you don't really know if you want to be married anymore, it feels very different from an itch. Neither of us had changed really, but somehow everything was different. As we sat their disappointed, disillusioned and tired, so tired of trying, we both knew we had run aground. I think the passengers aboard the sinking ship with Paul knew those feelings well when Paul tells them to keep up their courage because God told him he would make it out alive. Paul ended his encouragement with a sentence that has refreshed itself in mind day after day since I first read it. "Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island." These sailors had foolishly ignored Paul's good advice and now they find themselves suffocating under the dark swells of a storm, literally driven across first the Mediterranean and now the Adriatic Sea. Paul says to them, 'Look you screwed up big time. But hold onto your courage because my God, the one true God is delivering me to Caesar and you get to arrive with me, but...But! We're going to experience some turbulence along the way. We have to run aground." Paul was well qualified to write the words "And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) God always moves and works in our lives, but most of the time He does not remove the natural consequences of our decisions. That is critical because if we miss it we will end up disappointed with God and wondering why He didn't move amidst our storm. Those sailors chose to sail on the open sea late in the season and they bore the result of that risky decision. Run aground they did. Literally. They were caught probably on what would have been a sandbar in some cross currents. In the end the stern of their ship was splintered by the waves like fire logs by an ax. This is so significant to me because God told them they'd make it to shore and yet they watched helplessly as their ship--the only mode they had for getting to the shore--was pummeled by wave after wave like a wrecking ball to a high rise. I have watched as the vehicles I planned to use to get to shore were torn apart more than once in my life. Have you? A mom who planned to spend her children's lives running and playing with them is plagued with chronic illness. A marriage we thought was the happily ever after story ends in divorce and with it a family once involved in church no longer feels worthy to darken the door. A precious person I know was blindsided when her husband lost their family business. Another watched as their million dollar investment portfolio dropped like an arctic barometer in a matter of days after Enron. Another couldn't have a biological child. Another had five and each one walked away from God. And yet another sat in horror as her husband revealed his pornography and prostitute addiction. Real people. Real human lives that I know and love. Run aground. Their lives literally beaten to tiny pieces. And you tell me God is good? We say He works everything out for our good,but when you are in the middle of the wreckage it does not feel good. When we are left with fragments of the lives we build, it is then we have a choice to believe as Paul did that "it will be just as we have been told." (Acts 27:25) It is in the moment when the sterns have been broken and darkness chants "all hope is gone" that we decide whether we will believe the promises of God are true and real. You know how those sailors made it to land? It's incredible to me. Some of them just swam. Those who were strong enough and able, swam to land. The others followed either on planks for pieces from the ship. That's it. No incarnate Jesus walking on water to carry them to shore, no big flapping fish offering it's fins to bring them ashore. Just some pieces of broken boards and their own arms and legs. So often we miss God because we don't give Him credit for the strength He has given us--the ability to swim in an ocean of doubt and fear, for example. And I wonder if any of them stopped and praised Him for the splintered wreckage of that ship. So often I have everything figured out for God, the mode, the means and the method of getting me to shore. But more often than not, God takes those preconceived ideas of Himself and explodes them into a thousand fragments. His ways are just plain higher. It's so beautiful to me that God didn't remove the consequence of their choice, but from that wreckage he gave them just enough to float to shore. Just enough. When Jeff and I looked into each other's eyes that day we knew we had a decision to make--would we trust God and obey His plan or give into the storm? We chose God. And he literally gave us just enough. Just enough to make a choice to get some counselling. That was all. I remember driving to our first counselling session, lips pressed firmly together in relative silence thinking to myself, 'the fact that we are in this car driving in the direction of this counselor is a miracle because I do not want to be here and neither does he.' But we were and that was just enough. Six months later it was just enough to start falling in love again. There was never a moment when we trusted Him that He didn't provide that plank of hope--just enough to bring us to shore. And now we are a testimony not to the strength of our marriage, but to the strength of our God. There are seasons in our lives when we've just run aground. Ships were meant for water just as we were meant for hope. If you've run aground I pray you can hear my heart. Hold on. Your Father will not let you drown amidst the circumstances of your life. He will NOT. You have to know that as long as there is a God (and that's forever) you have hope. He does not abandon. He does not quit. He does not give up. He does not leave you in the consequences of your choices. He carries you through them, gives you just enough strength to stay afloat until you are safely to shore. That is the God whom I love, and that, my friends is the God who loves you. Do you believe it will be to you "just as He said?" Pray with me: Jesus, the God of hope--You came to earth to show that You will supply our greatest need for relationship with You. For that, I praise and thank you. When our lives are aground teach us to trust You. Teach us to swim with expectant hearts knowing that when our strength fails You are stronger still. Teach us that all life is in you and that our lives do not consist of the wreckage of the physical but in the peace of knowing who You are. Help us to see that we don't need a ship to get to shore--teach us to release all the 'ships' in our lives to you. Show us the planks, God. Help us to embrace the ways YOU want to work in our lives and the lives of those we love and to surrender all our preconceived ideas into Your capable hands. Help us to hold on, Father. Amen. Read with me: Lamentations 3 (especially 22-24, 55-58)

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