April McGowan

Thankfulness In Shadow and Light

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If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that thankfulness is a manner of being. It’s something you either shroud yourself in, or something you try and pull on like a tight pair of jeans straight out of the dryer. I find the former much easier!

All around me are posts about thankfulness—because at this time of year in the US, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving. I could list a thousand things I’m thankful for—but someone else might not have one of those, and I’d leave them feeling less. And confusing monetary and health advantages with being blessed by God is fraught with issues. So instead of being thankful for singular things, I’m going to encompass them. No…that’s not cheating!

The other day, outside of my bible study class (Bible Study Fellowship—if you’ve never attended, you need to!), I was waiting for my friend to pull her car up for our ride home. The sun, having been in hiding for well over a week, blazed down, blinding us all.

As I waited, enjoying the musky smell of fall leaves and wet bark dust heating in the sun, a grandmother walked by, holding the hand of her sweet toddler grandson. As soon as they left the shade of the building, the little one grabbed his face, covering his eyes from the blinding light. She gently pulled away one of his hands and led him from the building, across the parking lot.

His free pudgy hand still clumsily covered his clenched eyes, and she smiled down lovingly at him, encouraging him on with her kind tones, leading him. He didn’t peek in between those fingers. He didn’t pull back and ask what she thought she was doing leading him into traffic without his being able to see. He didn’t panic. He just toddled along, his hand in hers, completely trusting grandma to take him wherever he needed to be.

I was immediately reminded of the lesson I’ve been learning in Bible study (on my own and this class): God is completely trustworthy. Not only when I can see where I’m going. Not only when I’ve got an inkling of the future—but always. Even when I’m blinded by my circumstances. Especially then, I’d say.

So that’s what I’m thankful for most of all. My Father’s hand leading me and drawing me, with love in His eyes, compassion in His touch, and gentleness in His voice. He never lets me go.

The happiest of Thanksgivings to you and yours!

Psalm 139:9-12 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (complete passage here)

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Living Well with Suffering

Suffering and prayer

Can you live well with suffering?

Suffering can mean many things to people. Instead of trying to come up with a universal definition we’ll all agree on, I’ll tell you what suffering is to me, within my own illness, CVID.

Suffering for me is near constant body aches like the flu, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fevers and severe, life-altering fatigue. It’s the inability to comfort my kids when they are sick with hugs or kisses because I could get their illness (this one bothers me a lot). Medications which keep me alive, but make me feel lousy for two days every week. It’s having to plan my life around my illness.

No. It’s not______ (insert whatever horrible disease/injury you can think of). But it’s life-altering and (in some cases) life-threatening. If I let it, it can be joy-stealing.

So how do I go about living well with suffering? It’s tricky. I often fail. I will be rolling along with my illness only to get slammed by a new symptom, or event, and tailspin into depression and oftentimes self-pity. Although, these tailspins get shorter every time. In fact I had one last week that only lasted six hours. A new record!

Saturday, I went out to prove that I was still the woman I thought I was and tried to change the headlight on my husband’s car as a surprise. My parents raised me independent and with a working knowledge of tools. I enjoy working with my hands. But you know what? I couldn’t do it. I spent over an hour trying. My back went into spasms. I broke out in cold chills. My hands ended up bruised. I pulled just about every muscle I had trying to prove something to myself, my husband, and maybe even God. I failed. Miserably. I tail spun. I slammed into the house, disgusted with myself and everyone else, but especially the evil car company who made it so ridiculously hard.

I was angry at them, at my husband who said, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” (but…he was right) at myself and at God—couldn’t He have given me super strength to get the job done? I couldn’t change this stupid ten dollar bulb. Then that became the only thing I wanted to do. I obsessed of ways to do it. But I’d ruined the bulb, and I didn’t have the energy to drive and get a new one, let alone try again. Plus, my husband said, “Stop it.” You can imagine how well that went over. Defeated, I tumbled into a mess. I wasn’t who I wanted to be. Not even a shadow of who I once was.

I’ll tell you a secret. I’d known five minutes in that it wasn’t going to work. I knew I had no business being out there leaning over the engine. But my inner voice screamed that if I just wanted it bad enough, I could. Uh…No.

I had to repent of lots of things on Saturday.

I was in over my head because I’d skipped a step I learned years ago: Pray first for guidance. That one hour of independent stubbornness ruined my day. It stole Sunday from me, too.

Light bulb.

So, how do I live well with suffering? I pray. I ask for wisdom, strength, grace, comfort and mercy. I pray for help to persevere. I stay mindful of the Holy Spirit and His hand in my life. Where I might lead myself astray, He never does.

Does that mean I get to do whatever I want? Hardly. But the Lord grants me the peace to get through. And if not to be totally okay with it, to at least learn to live with it. He’s not done with me yet.

James 1: 2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

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Chipping Away

Tall TreesWhile growing up I thought once I was in my forties (or old, as I considered it) that I’d have life all figured out. Okay, quit chuckling at me, that’s not nice. Anyway… as I was saying…life all figured out. Easy sailing on smooth seas. (Seriously?…Stop laughing!)

God’s word doesn’t promise smooth sailing, through. It does promise He will never leave us nor forsake us. I’ve begun to wonder if that verse has a double meaning. In His not leaving us, He’s also not leaving us to our own devices, or leaving us unchanged. Rather, once we accept Jesus as our savior, we are being made over.

We’re like trees standing in a grove, growing, waiting, watching the seasons pass, one to the next. The summer, the fall, the winter… But rather suddenlyfile2911254930140 and often without warning, trials come. We are cut down. Our limbs trimmed with each challenge, each hardship, each prayer for mercy until our bark is stripped and we are laid bare and tossed away seemingly forgotten in a stack. It’s tempting to despair in that wood pile. There seems no point. If we are walking alone in our faith, it can be devastating. But never fear, the Father is busy not leaving us to our own. He’s making us over, chipping away at us, for our own good and His ultimate Glory, making us into something useful. We have to be careful though, because the temptation to focus on the shavings pooling around our feet instead of the Master Carpenter is great.

Some of us (me included) will race to the store for wood glue and desperately try to stick those useless shavings back on, or put them in a box to save for later. In our memories, those shavings can become so important we forget that the Lord isn’t interested in them, but He’s got a better plan in mind. It’s not until we brush the shavings off and step away, looking at ourselves through His eyes we are able to see a new, useful creation. The old has been chipped away.

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Are you stuck in winter? Are you being chipped away at? Do not fear, nor despair–spring is coming. It’s nearly here.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

 

 

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Another Brand New Year

579297_3776472893353_1699285100_nWe’re wrapping up the old year and bringing in another brand new year. Goodbye 2014. You were a challenge to me. I had some of my greatest writing achievements (a second book published, up for some awards, won an honorary award) this year. I also faced a long bout of multiple illnesses–it was a very hard spring and summer.

People I’m close to faced some pretty unimaginable trials last year–many are carrying on into the new year. I’d like to say tomorrow is a brand new day with no problems in it–that it really is altogether new and spotless, that being a new year carried some guarantees of wellness and will be trouble free. But I can’t. This new year will have high points and low for everyone I know. But I take comfort we can face anything if we’re trusting in the Lord.

In my prayer time recently, I began to feel uneasy. Some of the things I’ve been praying for a very long time. Was I praying right? Did I have the right words, the right faith, the right posture? Was my heart right, my intentions good enough? At that point I was reminded that I could never pray right enough to convince God of anything. You see, I’m imperfect. I sometimes have selfish motives. I can’t see the big picture like God does (who planned our Lord’s birth over thousands of years down to the last detail). I don’t know if removing a trial from a loved one’s life will, in the end, be a detriment instead of what God intended using it for (drawing them closer to Him usually figures in that equation). In fact, when it came down to it, I didn’t know anything at all. Well, except one thing–these circumstances I prayed for, they all needed God’s hand of strength, of peace, of patience, of healing. The details were not up to me, they were up to Him.

Jesus said to pray. I pray. Jesus said to ask for whatever I need in His name. I do. He also prayed the night before his arrest and conviction: “Not my will but Yours be done. *

That removes a lot of pressure, doesn’t it? At the end of us and our ideas of how things should be, it’s enough to pray, “Not my will but Yours be done.” I know I can pray that with all confidence because I trust Him. I know His attributes: He is the God of love, of mercy, of strength, of peace, of comfort, of provision.

Trust comes in every relationship as intimacy deepens. You share, they share; you listen, they listen; you’re there for them, and they are there for you.

Do you trust in the One who hears our prayers? If you’ve never given your life to Jesus, if you’ve never admitted your sin and need of Him and asked Him into your heart, then that first step of intimacy is missing from your life. You’ll never learn to trust Him if you’ve never met Him. Relationship with Him begins with that simple prayer.

But then it goes on. It has to or you’ll never get to know Him the way He’d like you to. Think of it this way: It’d be as if I met you on the street, we had an amazing bonding experience, and then you never spoke to me again.

I pray this new year will be full of blessings, but especially full of intimacy with our Lord. I pray for Him to work out His full, perfect will in your life.

* Verses used Luke 22:42 John 15:7 Luke 11

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Games People Play

Walk with MeI’ve been thinking about vulnerability lately. Our society doesn’t like being vulnerable. We admire strong people, go-getters. We don’t gravitate toward the weak, to exposed underbellies or chinks in armor.

As babies, we come into the world trusting and ready to learn. Unfortunately, for many including myself, some of the first hard lessons we learn are that people let you down, betray you, hurt you, and you’d better face the world as a boxer–your guard up, ducking and weaving for cover.

There are all kinds of games people play to keep themselves safe. They build barriers, hiding behind forced smiles and platitudes. How are you? You’re fine. Even if you’re not. Then they go on to act one way with one person, and differently with another. They become evasive and non-committal. They only let a few in past the walls…and secretly they’re pretty certain those folks are going to let them down any minute. In fact, a lot of people are subconsciously waiting to be let down, and might even orchestrate events to prove it. In doing so, they get the result they were so worried about getting.

But being vulnerable doesn’t have to mean we’re weak. If you think about it, being vulnerable goes against our grain. It’s hard work to keep those barriers down. Now, I’m not talking about exposing yourself to people who have hurt you in the past, tossing your pearls before swine. On the contrary, I’m talking about going deeper, trusting more, sharing more honestly with those closest to us, and then branching out.

Does that make you edgy? Do lots of reasons not to let your guard down race through your mind? What about that last time you counted on someone and they let you down? But what about that last time someone didn’t?

That’s where the Lord has been taking me these past few weeks, and it made me plenty edgy. He’s been revealing this weakness in me, turning it to a strength through my submitting it to Him. It’s been hard, but very good, too. God’s pretty amazing that way, using all our brokenness to reveal His love and His glory. His amazing strength.

Jesus knew what it meant to be vulnerable. He made himself available to people of all walks, made himself approachable, and knew what it was like to have those closest to him forget him, deny him, even betray him unto death. But those he was vulnerable with, those he loved freely were changed forever. Imagine for a moment your Savior was unapproachable, closed off, unsympathetic–would you be be drawn to him for any length of time?

Thankfully we have a High Priest who has experienced every part of this life right along with us. Hebrews 4: 15-16 says:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Is there someone in your life you need to let down your walls for, reach out to, walk closer with? I encourage you to do so. Our journey is much too short to spend it alone.

 

 

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