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Spiritual Journey

When I Live in the Bondage of Fear and Not in the Freedom of Hope

As I sit down to write this post, in the quiet of my home, my heart is calling out “Abba, Father, help me! Govern my thoughts, incline my heart to your truth, and write hope into my words. I need you.” Friends, let me be honest with you. I am broken. And right now I am clinging for dear life to every bit of grace My Jesus is supplying.

When we adopted Hope nearly 2 years ago, we were over-the-moon in love with her. We had stars in our eyes and butterflies in our tummies, and everything was just about as perfect as it could be. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t.

Nothing could have prepared us for the immense darkness we were about to enter. Within a month of signing adoption papers, we found ourselves in the middle of a messy legal battle with Hope’s birth father. It just about ruined me. I lived in fear, every minute of every day. Nightmares and hallucinations plagued me at night, and my waking thoughts were occupied with fear that Hope would be taken away. That she would be handed over to the man whose only interest lie in how he could financially profit from her disabilities, and not in actual love for her. That injustice would win out and that God wouldn’t move mountains for her good. I was consumed.

After over a year of pleading with Him to act in our favor, God saw fit to bring our battle to an end on what seemed to us to be a random day in June (though nothing is random with God), and He placed Hope in our home forever. Our circumstances changed that day, and I still thank Him for that.

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Photo by Jessica Lee Portraits

 

What didn’t change, though, was the fear that was holding my heart captive.

All along I thought that once Hope became legally ours, everything I was afraid of would simply vanish. That I would no longer be a slave to fear and would instead happily move on with life. Oh, I wish that’s what happened! But it isn’t.

Why? Because my fears were more deeply rooted than the fear that we would lose her. I was desperately afraid to hope and trust in God. In the midst of the legal injustice of our situation, I stopped believing that God is just. When all things pointed toward an unfavorable outcome for Hope’s future, I struggled to believe that He is good.

Does this sound familiar to you? If you have read about the Israelites’ captivity in and escape from Egypt, and their years of wandering in the desert, it should! After being enslaved under merciless rule, God miraculously delivered them from their harsh circumstances in Egypt. His plan was to lead them straight from deliverance into the Promised Land, a journey that was to take just a few weeks. But in their rebellion, the Israelites forfeited a life of freedom in the land flowing with milk and honey for a 40-year death march in the desert. They were afraid to move forward for fear of being overtaken by their enemies and instead disobediently tried to go back. God’s people chose to forget that their Father delivered them, and they failed to believe that He would work things out for their good, just as He promised.

You see, the Israelites were living in fear of what could happen, not in the hope of what would happen.

Friend, are you in this place today? If so, you are not alone! Just like the Israelites, I am afraid of the circumstances that might lie ahead, for fear that when trouble comes, I will stop believing in God’s goodness and justice. Living in this fear is keeping me from having hope in what actually will happen- God will remain good, and His justice will prevail, no matter what.

And because I am not living in the freedom of hope, my heart continues to be in the bondage of fear.

My dear Father, despite my unbelief, is still faithfully holding my hand as I wade through the waters of fear and despair, confusion and mistrust, questioning and doubting. I might not have faith today that He is good, but this one thing I am assured of- I am loved by Him.

And for this moment, that’s enough.

 

~Part 1 of a series on fear and faith~

 

Photo by BarbaraWilli

Photo by BarbaraWilli

The Dance

 

You hear it said often, “Life is a dance.” If you’re from the South and love country music as much as I do, you could probably recite from memory the lyrics of John Michael Montgomery’s song titled just that. We are all waltzing through life, and this week I am more keenly aware of the dance happening in my heart.  It is a beautiful dance, really.  For it is the outworking of the paradox between fear and trust. It is a dance between anger and acceptance.

And it is a sacred dance that let’s me see my heart for what it is- broken; and let’s me experience God for who He is- Love.

Lately I’ve been two-stepping around the dance floor of my mind. Sometimes I allow my anger about Hope’s disabilities to lead while my reluctant acceptance follows, but other times I willingly oblige to God’s path for her, and acceptance takes the lead. In one step I struggle to make sense of how God could permit an innocent child to be ruled by an uncooperative, disabled body. The next, be fully assured that He knows what He is doing.

Do you ever feel this way about your life’s circumstances? Perhaps you are a single woman, longing in the deepest places of your heart for your knight in shining armor to sweep you off your feet. You have read Jeremiah 29:11 a thousand times over and know you should believe that God has a plan for your future, and yet you can’t seem to find contentment in your singleness.

I’m there. I get it. Somewhere in my heart I have this elusive desire to follow God’s perfect will for my life, but when it gets messy, or it doesn’t look like all I had hoped and dreamed it would, I rethink just how much good He actually has for me. And really, just how much good He has for my daughter. At playtime, it takes strong determination and recurring effort for Hope just to grab a cookie cutter from the inside of an open Ziploc bag. She isn’t sitting or crawling or walking yet, which impedes her ability to find the toys she wants so she can play on her own. Her communication skills are behind, so she has learned to gag herself in order to get my attention. Need I go on? This beloved child of mine works with all her strength to be able to physically function at her age level and cognitive ability. It is painful to watch. And I struggle to not be angry.

But when I sit with the LORD, and pour my heart out to Him, He so graciously shows me His love for my daughter. After all, she is His daughter too. He reminds me to look not at what she can’t do, but at who she is. Hope’s spirit is more beautiful than any I have ever known. Her will, courage, and perseverance are a match for no one. She radiates light and life to everyone she meets. And her soul is a wellspring of joy.

IMG_1304These attributes, I know, were birthed out of pain and hardship. Who am I to question God, then? Is not the spirit more valuable than the body? This dance of anger and acceptance is actively moving in my heart, but it isn’t the only one. There’s yet another.

Nestled against my chest lies my little blessing, sleeping the afternoon away as her body fights a wicked infection. Hope suffers from chronic lung disease, making her prone to quickly going into respiratory distress. I wish I could say that is the only ailment plaguing her tiny frame, but I would be fooling myself. By the time Hope turned one year old, she had spent over half her life in the hospital, leading us to consider it our second home. We had our favorite nurses, knew just what to order off the room service menu, and probably could have navigated the halls with our eyes closed. Not only was the hospital familiar territory, the emotional state we were in during that season was too. We were broken, and we knew it.

But where our weakness was growing, God’s grace was abounding all the more.

I still marvel at how He took our once-petrified hearts and filled them so full with His assurance that we no longer live in fear. Fear that something will happen to Hope. Fear that we can’t handle the road before us. Fear that we will stop believing in His goodness to win out in her life. As I’ve said before, we don’t live in fear, but we do live in the reality that our precious child’s days are numbered. The number of those days may be ten, but it also may be 10,000.

We are in a dance between fear and trust, though. And while fear is not the resounding theme of our lives, it is certainly present- both in the difficult seasons and in the least-expected places. I love to cradle Hope as she drifts back to sleep after having woken from a nightmare. In those moments, I find myself fretting that our sweet times together are limited and God will take her home too soon. The struggle is palpable. It is real. It is hard. So, so hard.

But it is passing.

Because trust wins. Because I know the One who is holding us secure. Because His word says that I am hidden in the shadow of His wings

and that He is my portion

and that He is mighty to save, takes great delight in me, quiets me with His love, and rejoices over me with singing.

And I know, at least for now, that I can take Him at His word. Blessed assurance.

 

Once Barren, Now Filled

As I plopped onto the couch after having put my daughter down for a nap, pulled out my laptop, and stretched my legs on the chaise, the view in front of me immediately grabbed my attention. How could it not, considering all that I have been meditating on this morning? I may not be looking out over the great expanse of the Atlantic ocean, or gazing at the millions of stars in the African sky (which is, by the way, absolutely indescribable), but from my vantage point today, the view could not be any better. To the right of my legs sits Hope’s knock-off American Girl doll, complete with a feeding tube and ileostomy bag to match hers. And scattered all over the living room floor are toys and books, beckoning me to clean the house before our afternoon guest arrives. This mess I’m encircled in is a beautiful mess, though, for it is the evidence of a full heart and home. Sweet, sweet peace.

After a week of poring over just what to write next on the blog, I awoke this morning to find my answer- a little but significant word in a verse sent from one of my dearest friends. Let me tell you, this precious sister of mine is the most faithful woman I know, putting even my most faith-filled commitment to shame. When the Spirit prompts her to share Scripture or a word from Him, I listen. And today, I’m thankful I did.

Barren.

What do you feel when you hear this word? For most people, hearing it spoken conjures up nothing but the vision of a bare desert of sand and maybe a few cacti peppered about. But if it describes your childbearing state, my guess is that its sound causes your heart to drop and sends your stomach into a pit of knots. Reading through the rest of this post may even feel unbearable to you, but will you continue on? I wonder if the LORD has something for you today.

Let me be honest and say that I’m not going to artfully work up to the pinnacle of what I want to share, because sometimes we just need to get straight to the meat of the conversation.

It hit me like a brick one day. Hope was about 3 months old at the time but had been home from the NICU for only a few weeks. In a rare moment of quietness, I hopped into the shower for a quick rinse, unaware of the profound enlightenment that was about to overcome me. Our loving Father used my short 5 minutes of peace and spoke the most tender words into my soul. It was as though He was audibly speaking. What resounded deep down was this: the womb of a woman is her heart.

Photo by Native Heart Photography

Photo by Native Heart Photography

My spirit understood this with assurance, for I was daily walking in its truth. Hope was not woven together in my uterus; her life not brought forth from my body. But our great Maker, in His kindness, did knit her together in my heart. She is my child, the one hand-picked for me. The one I love with every thread of my being. I was not barren then, and I am not barren now.

You see, while my physical body may be wrought with barrenness, my heart is brimming with fullness. My Jesus came to this earth to offer life, and to offer it to the full. I experience that life when I joyfully accept the path for which He has laid before me. Lest you think my days are full of chocolate covered cherries and perfectly-arranged bouquets of roses, I invite you to come back for a visit and a read of what life is like parenting a daughter with special needs. And to have a look into what my spiritual journey was during, and continues to be after, our legal fight with Hope’s birth father. It is painfully messy, but it is beautiful. So beautiful.

If you are a childless woman who is longing with complete desperation to bear children, the LORD is ready to remove the barrenness in your heart and replace it with joy that only He can give. He is ready to pave the path before you. Maybe you are part of His plan to care for orphaned children, and it is time you obediently respond to the tugging on your heart. Or maybe God’s will for you is something else, and He is drawing you now to willingly walk forward, even though it looks so much different than you would have ever dreamed. If you are a woman whose quiver is full and overflowing, but your heart is empty, His fullness is for you too.

Oh, Barren Woman, God longs to wipe away your tears, crown you with splendor, and bestow on you a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Will you let Him?