Flashback Friday

Today is Friday, our day of worship since we moved to this part of the world. Our girls have both been sick this week. Ethan kindly offered to stay home with them so I could go and worship with our church this morning. What a gift from the Lord to join His people in praise!

When I got back, Ethan told me he and the girls had been listening to chapel songs from our Cedarville days, 14  years ago. We started comparing notes on which were our favorites. Music holds so many memories. As we stood there in the kitchen YouTubing those songs, we had so much fun remembering His work in our lives. It was a gift to praise again, this time joining Ethan, alongside whom I love to worship Jesus the most.

One of our favorites is The First Place. Do you remember these wonderful lyrics?

The First Place

Jesus, the perfect picture of the unseen God
Maker of things we cannot comprehend.
Wisdom, the earth displays Your strength and beauty.
Sovereign, yes, every throne knows You are God.

Chorus
Every inch of this universe belongs to You, O Christ.
For through You and for You it was made.
Your creation endures by the order of Your hand.
So You must have in all things the first place.

Victor, over sin and death You triumphed.
Firstborn, You’ve shown us life beyond the grave.
Bridegroom, we long for You in expectation.
Jesus, Your church rejoices to proclaim.
© 1999 Matthew Westerholm

Our Heart Our Desire.

Salvation Belongs to Our God

This one was not a chapel song but played often at events– Testify to Love

And of course–In Christ Alone, our class song!

And since it is Flashback Friday, here are two more pictures in honor of our college days…

Traditional Finger Food dinner before finals week

Encouragement Through Song

I am taking Dynamics of Biblical Change, an online counseling course via CCEF. I am only in week 2 so far, but I already am forever grateful for it. I have found my heart singing as I have delighted in all that God is showing me He is for me in Christ.

In both of the lectures so far we have started worshiping Christ in song. In today’s class I sang the song below with great joy. David Powlison added two stanzas (4 & 7) to this song which reflect how we, as new covenant believers, should sing this psalm. The psalm begins by asking, who can stand before you if you look at our sins? As the song dwells on the grace and mercy of Christ, it ends with the joy of a soul that can stand and does stand gladly before its Savior.

This song was so timely– reflecting the work the Lord has been deepening in my heart, even the last two weeks. As He turns my sight away from my sin and fills it with Himself, He is freeing my heart with overflowing joy and living hope.
Psalm 130–From the Depths of Woe (written by Martin Luther, “From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee,”–contemporary melody & arrangement by Christopher Miner. Stanzas 4 & 7 added by David Powlison).

From depths of woe I raise to thee a voice of lamentation.
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me and hear my supplication.
If thou iniquities dost mark, our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
[lead] O who shall stand before thee?
[echo] Who shall stand?
[lead] O who shall stand before thee?
[echo] Who shall stand?
[Together] Who shall stand before thee?

To wash away the crimson stain, grace, grace alone, availeth.
Our works, alas, are all in vain; in much the best life faileth.
No man can glory in thy sight, all must alike confess thy might
[lead] And live alone by mercy
[echo] Live alone
[lead] And live alone by mercy
[echo] Live alone
[Together] Live alone by mercy.

Therefore my trust is in the Lord and not in mine own merit.
On him my soul shall rest; his Word upholds my fainting spirit.
His promised mercy is my fort, my comfort, and my sweet support.
[lead] I wait for him with patience
[echo] Wait for him
[lead] I wait for him with patience
[echo] Wait for him
[Together] Wait for him with patience

And though my sorrows dark may be, Christ is my consolation.
He is my refuge day by day, high fortress of salvation.
He’ll take away my tears of pain, wash dust of death away with rain.
[lead] And now I sing before thee
[echo] Now I sing
[lead] And now I sing before thee
[echo] Now I sing
[Together] Now I sing before thee.

And though I wait the livelong night, until the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in his might; it doubteth not nor feareth.
Do thus, O you of Israel’s seed, you of the Spirit born indeed,
[lead] And wait till God appeareth
[echo] Wait till God
[lead] And wait till God appeareth
[echo] Wait till God
[Together] Wait till God appeareth.

Though great our sin and sore our woes, his grace much more aboundeth.
His helping love no limit knows, our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is he who will at last set Israel free
[lead] From all their sin and sorrow
[echo] All their sin
[lead] From all their sin and sorrow
[echo] All their sin
[Together] All their sin and sorrow.

On heights of joy I’ll raise to thee a voice of exultation.
Lord, turn thy glorious face to me; receive my adoration.
Thy mercies triumph full and free through Jesus Christ who rescued me.
[lead] I gladly stand before thee
[echo] Gladly stand
[lead] I gladly stand before thee
[echo] Gladly stand
[Together] Gladly stand before thee

 

The God Who Serves Us

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis describes a horrific place where all dreams come true and characters find themselves living in their own nightmares. As darkness engulfs them, Lucy cries, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now!” At first nothing changes, but soon a huge bird flies towards them, encircling them and then flies away. As it circles around them the bird whispers to Lucy, “Courage, dear heart.” She is certain she has heard Aslan’s voice. The captain of the ship follows the bird’s guidance and they find themselves in the light again.

Serving others is not necessarily living our own nightmare. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive. But sometimes in the laying down of our lives, we find ourselves anxious about God’s love for us. The hours and days ahead of us seem dark and hopelessness threatens us. We may experience weariness and deep discouragement as we nurture life in others: in parenting, mentoring another woman, or nurturing a relative with disabilities. Lucy’s words resonate with my own heart, “God, if ever you loved me at all…”

As we start a new week of serving and dying to self, where do we find fresh endurance to love others beyond our own strength?

The Son of Man, Our Servant

Over the past months I have discovered comfort in an astonishing truth found in Mark 10:43-45:

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Just before these verses, the disciples James and John had come to Jesus and requested they wanted to sit at his right and left hand when He was in glory. They wanted to be great in Jesus’ kingdom. The Lord used this opportunity to explain to them who is truly great in His kingdom.  

In this passage, Jesus used striking language to refer to Himself. In calling Himself the Son of Man, He was alluding to the prophetic vision in Daniel 7: 13-14. In this passage, Daniel saw one “like a son of man” to whom the Ancient of Days gave all dominion and glory and a kingdom from all peoples and nations “who would serve Him.”

And yet in Mark we find something unexpected. The Son of Man said he didn’t come to be served but to serve those for whom He would give his life. Jesus is the Servant Isaiah talks about who would be “a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42: 6-7).

There is great joy in the Son of Man’s revelation of Himself as our Servant.  He knows we are utterly unable and unwilling to count others as more important than ourselves. So He both served us and enabled our service. He did that by living a perfect life, giving us His righteousness and taking our condemnation. By dying and rising again, he gave us a new heart and set us free from our sin so that it no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6: 14).

Christ became a servant until death. God then highly exalted him and gave Him a name that is above every other name (Phil. 2: 8-9). Christ served us with his life, death and resurrection. But his service to us did not end there!

Now at God’s right hand, He ministers to us daily as our merciful and faithful High Priest (Heb. 8: 1-2). It blows my mind to think that our highly exalted King Jesus is still that Son of Man who serves. As our priest forever:

  •         He always lives to pray for us as He sits at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8: 34; Heb. 7: 25).
  •         He is able to completely save those who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7: 25-26).
  •         He provides emergency help by giving us a way of escape when we are being tempted (Heb. 2:16-18).
  •         He is our helper who can never forget or abandon us (Heb. 13: 5-6).

We find power as we entrust ourselves to the Son of Man’s ongoing service. Through His Spirit in us we have a Helper who enables us to be helpers! He is intimately involved in our lives, equipping us daily to do God’s will (1 Peter 4: 10-11).

As we experience the difficulties and sorrows that nurturing others can bring, our hearts may cry out with worry or bitterness, “Who cares for me?! Who sees my needs?!” Believe that our Risen Lord does. Comfort food, close friends, Instagram and Netflix will never hold a candle to what Jesus does for us at the right hand of God. When we are desperate for comfort and respite, let’s run to the Throne of grace! Promised grace and mercy await us there (Heb. 4: 16). His help and provision may come in the form of His people serving us or in the removal of the hardship. But it may also come by the way He strengthens our soul (Psalm 138: 3).

And, can you believe this? At the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the Son of Man, who served us with his life, death, resurrection and intercessory work, will dress Himself, have us recline at the table and serve us (Lk. 12: 32). His service to us will continue into Eternity! Such is our Savior! O for faith, then, to trust His voice whispering to us today: “Courage, dear heart.

Screenshot_2016-01-19-14-41-27

 

The art included in this post is by Ruth from GraceLaced Shoppe. Click on the image if you are interested in purchasing it. 

Guest Interview–Rebekah Kline: Loving The God Who Takes Your Child

Rebekah and I met many years ago, shortly after I first moved to the US to go to university there. Neither of us could have imagined how the Lord would, over time, bind our hearts together in our love for His kingdom nor how He would use our friendship to deepen each other’s faith in Him. Seeing Rebekah and Justin worship Jesus even as their hearts were broken, was an amazing testimony to me that Jesus is truly enough. I am so humbled that she would be willing to share the story of their son’s brief life and death here on the blog today. I needed to read this interview today as I experience afresh the brokenness of this world in my life and in the life of people I deeply love. I pray the Lord uses this to strengthen your faith as well, whatever your suffering is today. 

Worthy Hope–Share about you and your family:

Rebekah Kline: In 2005, a girl from Kentucky (me :), Rebekah) met a guy from Nebraska (Justin) in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. It was love at first sight…”and the rest is history!” It has been a rich life together from the very beginning. By just our 4th year of marriage, Justin and I had moved to the hood of our city to become missionaries, had three children, and buried one.

God blessed us with two awesome little girls, Eliza Jobi and Jersie Cruz, and in 2012 we werrebekahjustinbabye overflowing with joy to welcome our first son to the family, Ezra Blaize. When the nurse first handed him to me, he was so beautiful that it literally knocked the b
reath out of me for a second! When Ezra was 2 months old, I was home alone with all the children while Justin was in Nebraska for the death of his grandpa. On a Sunday evening, when I went to wake up Ezra from his nap, I found that he had stopped breathing and had passed away in his sleep. No cause was ever found for his death – he was a perfectly healthy and very strong baby boy – and so it fell under the category of SIDS.

WH: Did you have a theological framework for suffering when little Ezra went Home to be with the Lord?
RK: When Ezra died, it was like the earth cracked open and darkness swallowed me up. It was the most intense sorrow I have ever known…but it was also the most intense grace I have ever known! As I’ve reflected on the darkest of those days when the pain was the most raw, I have said many times that it was THEOLOGY that kept me from drowning. I am so grateful for my rich Christian heritage which so well prepared me for this trial. (And many, many other things I could point to throughout the course of my whole life that God was using to train and prepare me for such a time as this! He is so mindful, isn’t He?!) Even in those earliest days of deep sadness, what held me up was what I knew to be true about

1. the CHARACTER of God and
2. the PROMISES of God.

My faith remained intact and unwavering, simply because I knew that He is good and He has done right by me. Somehow He was going to make this serve our great good and His great glory. During those times when I was certain that I was going under and was going to drown, I leaned hard on the truth that God in His perfect wisdom has chosen suffering to be the irreplaceable pathway to be close to Him. I had been taught that it is through the hottest fires and the deepest waters that we learn the richest things about God…and now I know it’s all true!

WH: How did your theology of suffering grow through this trial?

RK: In the ER while we waited for the outstanding team of doctors and nurses who worked so hard to revive Ezra, my dad and my brother were by my side in place of Justin who was still in Nebraska. (They also happen to be two of my pastors!) They were talking with me about heaven and eternity and the good and perfect character of God; my head was spinning. I clearly remember my thought process in that room: “Is this stuff all true?!?! I’ve been a believer for over 20 years and now I’m actually wondering if this is all real?! What I’m going to do is lean real hard on it, and if it’s not real, then it’s not going to hold me up and I’ll fall. But if it’s real, then it will hold me up.” I found out that all the things I’d been taught about God and His Word, all the things I had ever read or heard…it’s all true! I have learned that God Himself calls us to these deep waters, He is WITH US as we go through them, and He is always actively at work to bring good. We began to enter into more precious depths of who God is for us as He showed us these things.

WH: How have Jesus and the Gospel become more precious?
RK: Because of Jesus, all of God’s righteous anger toward my sin is gone, so there is nothing left in God’s heart toward me except goodness! Even THIS.

WH: How have you seen God advancing His kingdom?
RK: God has done great things through the brief life and death of Ezra Blaize. “Ezra” means “helper.” God has used him to help several see their need for Jesus and place their trust in Him! He has used Ezra to build up our faith in His grace that is sufficient for us and made perfect in weakness and to help us hold the things of this life more loosely.

“If Thou shouldst call me to resign what most I prize, it ne’er was mine; I only yield to Thee what was Thine.” (Charlotte Elliott, 1834)

To lose a child is to lose your most precious possession on this earth. But suffering cuts the cords that tie us to earth! When the Lord took Ezra, there was one less cord to fasten me to this world and another band to draw me toward heaven. I love what Charles Spurgeon said,

“Trials drive us from earth. Happy is the trouble that drives us from earth.”

WH: How did the Lord use community to sustain you?
RK: One of the sweetest ways that Jesus showed Himself to us was through His body. We were overwhelmed by the love and prayers and compassion of the body of Christ, and we knew that it was God Himself caring for us! In many ways, I understood the Incarnation more deeply than ever. Through the loss of Ezra, we experienced Jesus putting on flesh and coming to us in our need. How could we doubt the goodness of God when we saw it so clearly in His people?! Justin and I were convicted to the core by the example set for us.
I still cry to this day when I think about one of the many stories I could share about my dear friend Aylin who was given a special gift to enter into our sorrow with us and carry the heavy weight of the burden with us. The first few nights after Ezra’s death were stifling. The enemy would whisper in my ear all night long, “It’s your fault. You killed your son.” I’m not sure if Aylin was aware of this dark spiritual warfare, but I’ll never forget her text message late at night that said, “I want to keep watch with you.”

Here is a brief clip from Ezra’s funeral where Justin and I share more about God’s grace and how He is a very present help in time of need.

“My heart is broken – never to be mended – but God is enough.” (Amy Carmichael)

Encouragement Through Song

Sovereign Grace Music recently released this album, Sooner Count the Stars: Worshipping the Triune God. I discovered it last week and have been so blessed by it. Two songs have met me where I am right now.

Cling to Christ reminds me so much of the truths I have been writing about here on the blog, especially these lyrics:

Father, all my earthly aims in time will turn to dust
Let me learn that loss is gain for those who know Your love
All the treasures of this world will never satisfy
You alone are endless joy, so, I cling to Christ

Blessed Assurance is the deepest prayer of my heart.

Come, Holy Spirit, my soul assure
Relieve my fears that I no more
May doubt the love of Christ for me
That my debt is paid, that I’ve been made free
O Comforter, in me reside
When the tempter speaks be my faithful Guide
Show Your promise is for me secured
For the battle be my heavenly sword

May the Spirit minister to you today through these songs, exactly how you need it.

Much love to you, my friend.

Guest Interview–Aurelia Smith and Perseverance in Chronic Pain

When I first met Aurelia, an instant bond was created. She is wise, loves people and loves to laugh. Most of all she loves her Savior. He has made her beautiful through suffering. Aurelia is a biblical counselor and I am SO thankful she was able to answer these questions about what the Lord has taught her through chronic pain.

Worthy Hope: Can you share a little about you? What are some of your trials in motherhood especially regarding your health?

Aureliaureliaa Smith: Although an autoimmune condition surfaced in my childhood, it did not keep me from leading a normal, active life. I have served in our nation’s military and am a graduate of one of our military institutions. However, when I started to carry and bear children, my body took a turn for the worse and my life has never been the same physically.

Because of this, many of my physical trials are directly related to motherhood! There have been multiple times when I thought the Lord was going to take me home or I have been unable to care for myself or my children. I have two beautiful sons and over the years I have come to realize just how miraculous their births were. They also have some health struggles that impact their daily lives as well, but they are manageable (allergies & asthma).

Another incident that God used in the area of hardships was when I thought my oldest son was going to die. His umbilical hernia was strangulated and required emergency surgery. He almost did not recover from this surgery and we almost lost him. This all occurred during my very difficult second pregnancy.

WH: Did you have a theological framework when you first started experiencing these trials? What was it?

AS: God in his grace began to prepare me in amazing ways before my health took a turn for the worst and my child suffered this near-death experience. I was pursuing my masters degree in biblical counseling at the time. I was also doing projects and papers that dealt with the practical application of the sovereignty of God. In God’s perfect design, I had already consumed helpful resources like, “Trusting God,” by Jerry Bridges. This book specifically talks about how important it is to understand and know that God is loving, wise and all powerful before suffering occurs so that we can honor him in the midst of it.

WH: How has the Lord grown your perspective on Him, you and your circumstances through this situation?

AS: In order to answer this question completely I would need pages!!! However, here is a short summary statement in answer your question. God has helped me to savor, thrill and delight in his Son alone. He continues to show me how good he is, and that regardless of the circumstance, I can honor and please him. Health or no health. Pain or no pain. By his enabling power, he is helping me to fix my eyes on the eternal rather than the temporal, and that has made all the difference!!

WH: How has he sharpened your theology of suffering?

AS: Here are some bullet statements:

-All suffering, my personal experiences included, is directly related to The Fall and all the terrible after-effects of The Curse

-Suffering is not a surprise to God & is one of the primary means by which he conforms me to the image of his Son

-Suffering should not be a surprise to us! It is promised!

-I am to view all suffering and hardship as discipline from the hand of a loving Father. Not because I’ve done something wrong per se, but because he is working a harvest of righteousness and peace that can come no other way (Heb 12)

-Suffering is a gift. Suffering is a stewardship. Suffering is given for the edification of not just the individual, but for the entire community of faith

WH: What are some ways you see the Lord advancing His kingdom through your suffering?

AS: Opportunities to share the gospel with those who might have not had ears to hear had I not experienced these forms of suffering. Opportunities to comfort, encourage and cheer my sisters on in the race that God uniquely ordered for them to run. Churches who have grown because of the tangible ways they sought to serve my family and I in practical ways (loving in action and in truth). Growth in compassion because of experiences in suffering. Sharing about his sufficient power and grace to see his people through any and all circumstances until he safely brings us home. Opportunities to speak frankly to my young children about suffering, God’s sovereignty and death so that they are biblically prepared for whatever comes.

WH: What were/are some of the temptations that you faced? What truth (s) reorient your heart when you were tempted?

AS: The temptations attached to chronic pain and medical issues probably have some similarities from person to person. But for me, anger is one of the largest temptations that I face. My temptation towards unrighteous anger is a result of being upset with my family members for not understanding how hard each day can be. Being a wife and mother in the midst of daily pain, exhaustion and baffling symptoms is one tall order. Doing so with joy is a taller order still. When I am tempted to unrighteous anger at not being understood or identified with, I turn to Jesus who perfectly understands what it is like to be in this body and who calls me to faithfulness nonetheless. Absolutely no one can understand what my daily existence is outside of my faithful Savior.

I would say the second big temptation for me is pride. Prolonged physical, life-altering trials make it obvious that we need others! What I used to be able to accomplish is no longer a reality. Learning how to ask for help, and receive it with grace has been a large part of my growth.

WH: What role has community played in your suffering?

AS: Community is an intimate part of this more than decade long journey for me. The churches of which we have been members have been the faithful hands and feet of Jesus in our lives. From caring for my children when I could not, stepping in when my husband was deployed, shopping for our groceries when I could not, and weeping when I wept, we have experienced the great joy and support to be found in the body of Christ. There is so much more to be said here but this is a start!

That I May Know Him–part 2

Two months ago we moved to another country. Even though people here have been very kind to us, we are still in the process of developing close friendships. I am at times battling loneliness and am desirous of deep connections. Recently, I was excited for several coffee/playdates lined up that week. I was really looking forward to spend time with other ladies. In God’s providence  four out of five of these times were cancelled, most of them because of illness in either mine or their kids. The morning I found out about the fourth cancellation, I was sorely disappointed. That day also brought painful joints from chronic inflammation and sick little girls who were needy and butting heads. As I looked ahead at the next eight hours, I really wanted to give into self-pity. I missed home in Ohio, was lonely for friends and longed for help. To be honest, I cried as my husband left for work.

It is for weeks like these that I need a theology of suffering. I am quickly tempted to self-pity, anger and impatience when certain things are taken away. How does glorying in Christ and treasuring Him speak into the disappointments, loneliness and physical suffering I experienced that week?

In the last post I wrote about how the main way to know God is to know the crucified Christ and to be like Him in His death and resurrection. Philippians 3 shows that we rejoice in Christ as we put our trust in His righteousness and despair of our own. Putting our confidence in the flesh is both a threat to our joy and the enemy of knowing God. The more we trust ourselves, the less we experience Christ’s power.

These truths give me perspective as a mom. I want to know God but I often don’t want to know Him by the means that He has designed. I have prayed, like Moses, “Show me your glory,” and what I really mean is “I want to see your glory as I go from triumph to triumph, from victory to victory, from success to success.” It may be just a moment of quiet, or a room I picked up to stay that way, feeling like I measure up to others, or simply wanting to be noticed. I don’t want to find myself easily tempted and failing, so vulnerable, so needy.

Our Daily Little Deaths–The Ground to See His Glory

Our lives as Christian moms are such a mercy! Our daily little deaths are the ground in which we can see the glory of God. We see His glory as we experience His power. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God. It is with His resurrection power that He is now enabling us to serve! He gives us His Spirit so we may serve our families by His strength (Phil. 3: 3). We can go ahead in faith in spite of our felt weakness because He is serving us so we can serve others.

Our tendency in the flesh is to find joy and put our confidence in that which is tangible and visible, but temporary—feeling loved and that we belong; our past successes at work or in ministry; being respected and admired for our gifts and skills; managing our homes efficiently; laying down routines; in our credentials as moms; thinking we are better than other moms. Every time we lose these tangible goals is a mini joy-producing death where we get to see His glory in the things which are not seen.

When the Lord allows me to experience pain and weakness while still having to care for my girls, His resurrection power is mine by faith as I put my hope to endure in His strength. In serving my two littles every day, I am walking in the footsteps of the One who made Himself nothing and took the form of a servant (Phil. 2: 7-8). We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4: 10).

When I see ways in which I am weak as a mom–not as creative or imaginative or efficient as I would like to be–I need to set my eyes on what I can not see: He is the One that does the work. He will take care of my kids and be all they need. He alone will get the glory for anything good that comes out of my parenting. If his name and glory are really “the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26: 8),  then we find much joy in knowing our parenting is for the glory of His praise and not ours.

So if the way we will truly know God and His glory is as we die and the risen Jesus lives His life in us, we then gladly die.

Christ, Our Treasure

When Christ takes away the things that bring us joy, or those relationships that serve as an strengthening influence, we don’t have to despair because He is our hope. Christ the greatest Good of all, was not withheld from me, even if rest, health, and deep, intimate friendship were, on the week I mentioned earlier. And He never will.

So friend– next time you and I find ourselves thinking:

“Lord, this is not how I want to spend this day\

[driving kids around, comforting a sick child after a sleepless night, dealing with this child’s hormones, doing conflict resolution all.day.long, doing this parenting thing with a husband who is working late again, or throwing up with morning sickness]”,

Let us, with faith, pray instead:

“Lord, I want to know you right here in the unexpected places.

Give me eyes to see your resurrection power enabling me to serve.

Show me your glory as I die to my comfort, my desires, my interests.

I want to experience You living your life in me.

I am dead to sin so I don’t need to give into it.

You are my treasure.

Show me what it means that you are enough.”

And, dear sister, rest assured—at the last day the repeatedly tested genuineness of our faith, borne out through many kinds of trials, will result in praise and honor and glory to Christ (1 Peter 1:7). Nothing will be lost. Christ will get the glory and we will enjoy Him forever.

Encouragement Through Song

I discovered the song Shoulders from “For King and Country” a few months ago, right as we were getting ready to move overseas. My favorite part is actually at the beginning, before the song even begins:

“I look up to the mountains. Does my strength come from the mountains? No. My strength comes from God who made heaven, and earth…and the mountains.”

I have listened to those words over and over again. What a joy that my eyes have been opened to love and worship the God who made heaven and earth and the mountains. I need his help. All the time. Praise God that His help is certain. He is the God who rides “the heavens to [my] help, And through the skies in His majesty” (Deuteronomy 33: 26). 

Guest Interview–Michelle Cooper, part 2

Yesterday I introduced you to my friend, Michelle. So thankful for her willingness to pull back the curtain a bit and let us have glimpses into their home, and most especially to God’s work in their lives. Here is the second part of the interview!

Worthy Hope: What were/are some of the temptations that you face? What sustains/feeds your joy in the midst of the daily grind?

Michelle Cooper: It’s easy to feel like no one understands what you’re going through. Could this be true? Certainly. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t speak truth into my world. And the only thing I need to know is that Christ does know me and understand my temptations.

~I am always tempted toward pride, as though having a child with special needs makes me more worthy of the Kingdom.

~I am tempted to be discouraged and give up disciplining a child who we are constantly wondering, “does he understand what we’re asking of him?”

~I am tempted to compare my situation with friends who have typical kids who are 5 years old, thinking how simple it must be to have a kid who talks, is potty trained,
easily interacts with others, can be trusted to go play at a park w/out kicking someone off a playset!

~I am tempted to wonder if I would have had a fifth kid had we not had a child with special needs; meaning, life might feel simpler so we might have had one or two more.

~I am tempted to envy my husband who has a life outside of this home 🙂

WH: What truths reorient your heart when you are tempted?

MC: God has had my days and life marked out from the beginning. He knew hemichelle1 was going to save me. He knew He was going to give me this child with special needs. He knew he would give the resources we have, and when not, He would provide through His people. He knew this was GOOD for me and for my husband and our family. Our church. Our parents. Our neighbors. There was NO mistake. Psalm 139:13-18, right? There were absolutely, 100% no surprises for God. He allowed Myles to be born with Down syndrome. He knew it was good for us. I cannot argue with this. I simply cannot. I remind myself of this when I start being tempted to want OUT… to be FREE… to be INDEPENDENT. He has marked our path. And I can be confident in this even on the days when my mental, emotional, and physical body is screaming for something else and I feel my spirit poised to run the other direction. He gently pulls me back and this can be painful, but oh so good when I submit.

In the daily grind– coffee sustains my heart. As well as chocolate bark with salted almonds 🙂 Of course, God’s Word is always encouragement to my soul–I Peter 1:3-9. I know the trials they were going through were perhaps of much more gravity than a child with special needs. But, I still think we can cling to this truth today– He is holding us securely till the end and we can have inexpressible joy even in the midst of hardship because we know what He has done and is still doing on our behalf. This life is NOT all there is!!

James 1 always encourages me, knowing that the testing of my faith produces perseverance. This kind of goes back to the above question about how my perspective has changed. God does build our endurance for the trials of life through suffering. We question His goodness, His plan. The question rings, “How can this be good for me??” I have asked myself that question over and over again. But He gently helps me see the spectrum of where I was when He saved me to where I am now– growing in faith.

We can’t always see the contrast when we’re in the midst of trials. Many times, in the heat of situations, I seriously think I’m digressing! And there are times when I probably am! But in the courage the Spirit gives, we move forward in faith, disciplining ourselves to remember what is true. Eventually He will show us where we are at now and how He has grown us. And that builds more endurance for the next trial. At least this is how it has worked out in my life

WH: In what ways do you see the Lord advancing His kingdom because of Myles?

MC: Having any outward physical identifier allows people in public to connect with you. So Myles has bright red hair, freckles, blue glasses, and Down syndrome. There is a lot to talk about 🙂 We have many opportunities to speak with others ANYWHERE we are at because many times people are trying to make connections. It’s not as though we are giving the Gospel at each of these interactions, but we certainly are able to speak truth and demonstrate joy even in the midst of what can be awkward situations (i.e. him yelling in a store, or running away from us, or hitting a kid at the park).

Our neighbors have basically grown up with Myles. We live on a cul-de-sac and all of us lived here before Myles was born. So when we brought him home, of course everyone was excited to meet the new baby. I think they were shocked by our response. I mean, of course, we were still processing 3 days later what just happened. But we were still filled with joy and able to share our confidence in what God had given us in Myles.

At our church, it has definitely been an opportunity for growth. I think many believers love the idea of special needs having a place in the church family. But when faced with it up close and personal, you are forced to question your philosophy and belief about what that really looks like when practically played out. Many times, it is easier said than done. And it takes hard work to be able to meet the world of special needs when it comes to breaking down barriers that make it hard for the Gospel to get through.

My husband works in public education. He has had more opportunities than I have had to share the Gospel clearly with co-workers. God has used the conversation piece of Myles’ to make easy segues into spiritual matters, whether it’s about the sin nature of a child even with special needs or everyone being created in God’s image or the idea of suffering and trials being ongoing.

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And God is working in our family day by day. It has been really interesting to see how God has used Myles right here in our own family! Watching our older boys make sense of disability in their school setting, and having Myles as an anchor in their lives, has really opened their minds to other kids who are not like them. It’s amazing and their love for Myles despite his behavior is enormous. We are confident the Lord will use it long into their adult lives. ~~

Guest Interview–Michelle Cooper, part 1

One of my favorite things is to sit down with a friend, ask them questions and learn from their experiences. Today I want to introduce you to a dear friend I’ve known for 5 years,  Michelle Cooper. She has been a consistent blessing and encouragement in my life. I love her honesty in this interview and how she testifies to God’s goodness in her life. I am sure reading her story today will encourage you as you read about God’s faithfulness in her parenting. 

Worthy Hope: Can you share a little bit about who you are, how far apart your kids are and what are your circumstances in parenting?
Michellmichelle3e Cooper: My name is Michelle. My husband and I have four children: Henry (9), Wyatt (7), Myles (5), and Tessa (3) – three boys and a girl. I am very thankful that I have been able to stay at home with my kids. My kids attend a local public school, and
my husband works in public education. He has a very demanding job, and we have learned to embrace his work as a family. We try to attend as many events as we can with him, but there are many evenings when we do life without him home. We have always talked to our older boys about this so they understand where Dad is and what he is doing. They love when we get to join him at work! But this also means that I tend to family life a lot as a wife on my own. Our third child has Down syndrome. He is five years old. We did not know he had Down syndrome until he was born. We didn’t even realize it when he was born as he didn’t have a lot of strong physical markers; however, by time we were released, our pediatrician was certain. Three days later, it was confirmed through bloodwork. This definitely changes our family picture in how we ‘do life’ together. There are a lot of unique challenges and opportunities that having an individual with special needs in a family brings.

WH: Did you initially have a theological framework with which to think about Myles’ disability? What was it?
MC: I have seven older siblings, and disability joined my family much earlier than Myles. I have a niece who has Cerebral Palsy who is now 16. She is in a wheelchair and is nonverbal, but she is not cognitively delayed. I have another niece who is 12 and severely autistic. So I already had two siblings and their spouses walking the road of ‘special needs.’ At that point, my theological framework was definitely there. I had seen my parents struggle with how God could let things like this happen. And try to constantly ‘fix’ situations that are just earthly unfixable. Even as a teenager, I remember thinking — “Geesh, why can’t they just accept this?” I knew that God cared, and I also knew that God was sovereign. I believed this, and I knew that praying for healing was fine, but at some point, you have to accept the journey and stop trying to change the course. I was young, and not married, but I remember always thinking that someday I just might have a kid with special needs. I just wasn’t sure what my situation would look like. That may sound strange, but it’s true. In fact, on the way to the hospital to deliver Myles, I called a friend and she was encouraging me, and my parting words were, “You know my fear is that one day I’ll have a baby and find out something is not right…” So, a theological framework? I’m not sure how sound it was, but yes, I was confident in the Lord’s plan for all people and understood that nothing is a mistake.

WH: How has the Lord grown your perspective over the years? How has he sharpened your theology of suffering?

MC: It’s easy to become discouraged with the difficulties of life in general… even when nothing is going wrong. But when you are faced with a daily challenge that does not go away or get better, you are confronted with whether or not you trust in God’s goodness and kindness. Disability, or special needs, can tend to feel like a relentless gnawing at you. It doesn’t go away, and there’s no end in sight, and there’s no getting better, meaning there is no cure. Sure, there are therapies, etc., but there is no taking it away. And while there can be much reward and blessing, there can also be a lot of tiredness of spirit.

The first two years of Myles’ life were really pretty calm. He was healthy and did not need any heart surgeries like many other babies with DS do. He was very quiet and never made a squeak, was exceptionally sleepy, and didn’t walk until he was over two. Life was simple because I’d put him down and he wouldn’t go anywhere. When he was just two, our 4th child was born. She was practically walking and talking out of the womb, and by time she was one, she had caught up to him in all ways.

By that time, Myles was three and now could walk. He was not verbal, but had started yelling and grunting for everything he wanted or needed. We had been signing but it took so long for him to even pick up on a few signs, and he would just resign to yelling or grunting loudly for me to get my attention. It was wearing and between him and her, I felt tired not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. It was a different kind of tired than with my older two. It was a frustrated, impatient, discouraged, weary tiredness–the kind where you just wonder a lot what others are doing because surely no one else’s life is this challenging. I’d find myself thinking about what a ‘normal’ home would look like. I let myself wallow in pity and despair forgetting that God cares for me and sees me in my neediest moments.

Over these past five years, I have prayed more, asked for forgiveness more, and yearned more for heaven because I see the despair of my sin and how relentlessly I HOLD onto my earthly treasures–my time, my energy, my rest, my space, my everything.

Being a parent reveals your own heart the most. I know we have all read that over and over so it can sound trite. But it’s the hard core truth! Through all of this hardship in our home, God has blessed my husband and I both with an endurance that we didn’t have ten years ago.

Sometimes with special needs, you feel like you’re living in a twilight zone. And it can be very isolating at times because you can’t always do what it seems like a lot of other moms/families are doing. Before we had Myles, I felt very prideful in my parenting and physical strength/control I had over my kids. I took what God had blessed me with as though it was something I had accomplished on my own. When He allowed Myles into our lives, I began to see my weaknesses more clearly and my inability to make everything happen how I wanted, including my child’s behavior. The Lord revealed my judgmental spirit by humbling me over and over again. I see God’s goodness in this because I have grown in my heart to serve Him. I see that it has been in those many times of tears, anger, frustration, feelings of loneliness, feelings of ‘this is too much responsibility,’ that He has drawn near to me most.

A real tangible/practical way my perspective has grown is in the way I now deal with a long bout we have had with Myles pooping in his diaper and then smearing it everywhere. It always happens when we’re not around. I cannot tell you how ANGRY and UPSET I would be when I discovered his mess. On the carpet, on the chair, smeared down a wall… you name it, it’s happened. It was just awful, and gross, and discouraging, and frustrating. Especially when he would look at you like he had done nothing wrong. To see my faith grow even in times like these, wow, how does the Lord do that? The last time this happened, I had a really good cry. The despair doesn’t always go away. But I quickly wiped my tears away and got to work cleaning and disciplined my mind to focus on heaven– what it would be like, when He will come, and how this life is not forever!!! I yearn for my Savior more even through small sufferings like these. And I crave the day when He will come to make all things right. michelle2

Stay tuned tomorrow, friends, for part 2 of this interview!