It was late 2001. Jason and I had been living in India for more than a year. We were approaching our second anniversary and I was desperate for children. Desperate.
At this point, we had already lost three children to miscarriage. My heart was broken into many pieces and I grieved for the children I had lost and the motherhood that might never be mine.
My older sister, Sally, was expecting her second child. The envy was thick. I wanted to be happy for her, and in many ways I was, but I wanted so much to know if and when it would be my turn. I wasn't concerned for the Lord's timing or for His work in my life. I simply wanted my own way.
Because we have a good God, one Who has began a good work in us an is carrying it out to completion, He didn't give me my own way. Instead, He brought me through trial and heartache and to Himself. He surrounded me with His love even when I couldn't feel it. But just because we can't feel God doesn't negate the truth: He is always with us.
In those years, God was doing a mighty work in my heart. He was wooing me into the wilderness where He would minister to me. He taught me lessons which would be needed then, but much more, needed later.
He taught me how to praise Him, even in the valley. He taught me to praise Him, even in the pain. He taught me to praise Him, even when I didn't want to.
The thing is, it isn't about me. It's about God. And he wanted me to learn that our circumstances don't get to dictate our praise. Our praise is dictated by the One to Whom it is due. Our feelings and desires and sickness and emotional pain have no influence on our call to praise God in all things. None.In my pain and longing to be a mother, I was working through these truths. And in many ways, I still am. God is still completing His good work in me, one that won't be completed in full until He calls me home.
I have carried this tattered piece of paper with me everywhere our lives have taken us. Living in India in the early '00s, internet and email were sparse. The school had one computer capable of sending and receiving emails. We would write an email, save it to the computer, and once a day the school would batch send all the letters and then download all the incoming mail. These would then be printed and put in our "pigeon holes" (mail boxes).
As my sister was approaching the time to find out the gender of her baby and I was grieving the latest miscarriage, she asked me how I was doing. This was my response (please excuse punctuation and grammatical errors...I was still learning to write (as I am now!)
Hmmm...How I am REALLY doing...I guess that's hard to say. I have been filled with a lot of emotion the past week — everything from deep despair to quiet assurance. But, I am learning a lot...
For the first time, I think I really know what it means to offer a SACRIFICE OF PRAISE. Usually, when I am hurt or upset, I don't praise God because frankly, I don't really mean it, or feel it, so I don't think that I should do it. After all, I don't like people telling me things when they are not sincere.
But, God is different. He wants our praise, whether we "feel" it or not. His love and devotion to use is not conditional upon emotions, so why should ours be? But the praise I have been able to offer up is a SACRIFICE. A sacrifice is to give when it HURTS! Someone donating thousands of dollars isn't sacrificing if they are millionaires. Sacrifice is giving when you are giving all you have — and then some. And praising God during this time, for me, is a sacrifice. I don't have a lot to give. I don't always feel like it, and sometimes I want to REFUSE. I want to yell and scream at God and ask Him why? Ask Him why He lets me get pregnant if He isn't going to allow me to keep it. To ask Him why I have to wait. To ask Him why He lets thousands of young girls get pregnant every day when they only plan to abort the baby.
I let self-pit reside in my home. I want to let it be my best friend. In doing so, I let Satan twist truth. Satan is good at that — even with Eve. He didn't outright lie to her at first. Instead, he questioned God (Did God really say...) and then Satan pointed out truths to Eve — that the tree was good to eat and that it would make one wise. That was true—he wasn't lying—but he left our part of the story—that God said NO because God knew what the result would be.
And so it is with me—Satan points out truths to me—that I don't have any kids, that I don't have any close friends, that I don't have any talents, etc., etc. But then he leaves me to wallow in self-pity, leaving out the fact that God still loves me and He still cares about me, that He has plans for my life that I don't know about. When I let Satan just point out bad things in my life—true or not—and don't run to God with my sacrifice of praise, my depression kicks in high gear and I cry and wonder how to end my life.
But, when I look to God, tears streaming down my face, and tell Him that I love Him and that I need Him, He comes. Maybe not in the way I would like, but He comes to me nonetheless and comforts me in a way that only He can do. And when I (still crying) crawl up into His lap and call Him Abba, He tells me that He loves me and that He sees the end of the story. And while He can't tell me what it is (that would ruin the surprise), He tells me that I will like it. It won't be what I imagined (good stories never are) but it will be His best for me.
Of course, Sally, I want answers. I want to know why. I want to know how much longer. I want to say, "That's not fair!" (And I admit, I do all those things.) But the question comes down to...as all things come down to this question, where our faith is put on the line...
IS GOD STILL GOD?
Is He still sovereign? Is He still in control? Or does my human pain nullify the character of God? HOW ABSURD! (For some reading on this I recommend Elisabeth Elliot's THESE STRANGE ASHES, and NO GRAVEN IMAGE.)
Bad things happen to everyone. In times of trial, God builds us up. We all want a life free of pain (or at least we would like to choose our pains!) We want what we want when we want it. But perseverance isn't built that way. And through perseverance character is built. And on character, hope. And on hope, love. I will come through all of this, no matter what the result, a stronger and better person, if I continue to bring my sacrifice of praise.
All this isn't to say I don't still cry myself to sleep at night.
With Much Love,
p.s. Let me know how the ultrasound goes!
For almost 16 years, God has been teaching me this lesson of what it means to bring a sacrifice of praise. He is faithful and He is long-suffering. He will wait as I learn to offer a pitiful sacrifice. The praise and glory is due Him and when I offer it sacrificially, He is honored. In our pain, the praise of our lips is the fruit of our hearts.