Christ came for this {How Christmas changes everything for the broken}

Christ came for this {How Christmas changes everything for the broken}

Where are you as choruses of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” ring out again and again?

Where’s your heart? Doubled over in pain? A little cynical? Hardened or resistant?

I don’t blame you.

If you’re hurting, songs of snow and mistletoe won’t do much to ease the ache.

But if you’re broken, you’re in position to celebrate Christmas like never before.

This thing

This burden and pain…

This is why Christ came… and why He’s still with us.

More hope at The Better Mom

It's for this that Christ came

Praying the comfort of Emmanuel in your life today,

Jennifer

A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

I’m delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as a guest blogger today!

Whether your life has been touched by a child with special needs or whether you’re simply struggling to accept the gift of brokenness God has given you, you will be blessed and moved by Gillian’s memoir.

Enter to win a copy of Sun Shine Down, the story of Gillian’s daughter Polly, by doing any of the following, then leaving a comment to let me know what you did:

  1. Like Gillian’s facebook page.
  2. Subscribe to Gillian’s blog.
  3. Like my facebook page.
  4. Subscribe to my blog (click “follow” to the right).
  5. Leave a word of encouragement for Gillian below.
  6. (Less conventional, more helpful) Stop for a second and pray for Gillian and her family as she has three speaking engagements this week, including the National MOPS convention this weekend.

The winner’s name will be randomly drawn and announced tomorrow morning.

Now join me as Gillian remembers the importance of brokenness in her life…

 

It’s supposed to rain later today.

My left arm aches.

I broke it in two places, two different times in my childhood, and now sometimes when the weather changes it aches, either up near my shoulder or in my wrist; the places it broke.

The aches remind me of those times; the agony and pain, the fear of being in an emergency room as a child, spending the night for the first time in a hospital, getting attention from classmates and extended family, people signing my cast, ‘Get well soon!’. Me trying to itch the inside of my cast with a hanger, not being able to swim for half of a summer because I couldn’t get my arm wet. Being a bit doped up on the medication to ease the hurt.

My broken arm became my whole world. How could it not be when the pain was great, instant, and overwhelming?

At the time there was no way of knowing that the pain wasn’t going to be my new normal.

For all I knew I could be in that kind of fear and pain for the rest of my life.

I went to the hospital and got help. The excruciating pain eventually turned into a dull ache and then only, a flimsy itch.

Life went back to normal. I was found splashing around in the kiddie pool within eight weeks.

But a dull ache returns now and then.

And I am reminded that at times in my life, I’ve been broken.

Recently I went to four parent-teacher conferences for my kids in two different schools.

I was prepared to discuss each kid, I thought. But when I sat down with Polly’s teacher (who has Down syndrome and stars in my recently published memoir, Sun Shine Down), I was surprised to read that she hadn’t met her goals. After a whole year at school Polly still couldn’t figure out classroom procedures. She struggled with transitions every day.

Polly was cute and everyone loved her, but basically she was still just walking around making messes in class.

And the dull ache, the fact that I had a child with a disability started up again.

Polly’s birth shattered me. I teamed up with Jesus and my husband Sergei to put myself back together, but much like that pesky jigsaw puzzle you’ve almost completed, a few pieces were lost in the mix, and now I walk around with empty spaces.

Most of the time the spaces are used for good.

I have more compassion for others.

I understand grace better.

I relate to others through my brokenness.

And sometimes it feels right.

But there are other times when it still breaks my heart that Polly is behind her peers.

I am OK with Down syndrome.

But there will always be days in my life where the rain will come.

And because I’ve been broken, I will ache sometimes.

It doesn’t mean I love my kids less or that I wish my life was different.

It just aches.

And that’s OK, I think.

Gillian Marchenko is an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her book, Sun Shine Down, a memoir, published with T. S. Poetry Press in the fall of 2013. She writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Literary Mama, Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense Magazine, Charlottesville Family, EFCA Today, and the Tri-City Record. Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Buy Sun Shine Down on Amazon, Kindle, or Nook

Follow Gillian and her family at www.gillianmarchenko.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

“I was the lion” — When God doesn’t show up

“I was the lion” — When God doesn’t show up

If only God would show up…

… when we’re scared to death.
… when sickness hits.
… when our hearts are breaking.
… when ends won’t meet.
… when we’re alone.

… when everything is as wrong as it could possibly be.

DCF 1.0

From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis:

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrifying idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.

“There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and – ”

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

_____

We are so confident in our judgments. We find it so easy to declare “good” and “bad,” “fortunate” and “unfortunate.” Yet we have no idea the painstaking precision with which our steps are guided.

Though all is dark, though we don’t feel His presence, He is here. He writes every word in the story of our lives — beautifully, sovereignly working good through all that our enemy intends for evil.

Romans828

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35, 37-39

What if the “lions” we cower from are all “One Lion”… One who is working for our good?

Will we trust Him?

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Though it’s hard to recognize, He is showing up. He is working… for our good.

**In what “unfortunate” events have you seen God work in your life?

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

TwoAreBetterThanOne

I’ve experienced both.
There was a season of fear, confusion, hurt, and danger. My friends were out of reach, and I felt parched.

Years later, in the midst of new trials, friends were there, pouring life into my thirsty spirit. They were the hands and feet of Christ, bringing healing and sanity.

The apostle Paul has been there too:
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7a).

Because our world is so horribly broken, we have all heard pain in a friend’s voice:

“He’s leaving me.”

“It’s cancer.”

“I lost the baby.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s an addiction.”

What do we say when our friend’s world is crumbling?

When we can’t fathom their pain?

It’s hard to enter in. We feel inadequate. The awkwardness immobilizes us.

But, we are the Body of Christ. Our friends need us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve walked through a few shadowy valleys, but some of my friends have been in places I can only imagine.

As I dialogued with six women about their seasons of darkness,

I gleaned eight insights on “friendship in the valley” from their comments.

Here’s what they want you to know…

1) Your emotional involvement makes all the difference.
We need a good listener more than anything. We know you have many other important things to do, but when you put them on hold to hear us out, we notice and are deeply grateful.

We are touched by the tears you shed with us; the way you feel and live the pain along with us.

We appreciate your sensitivity to what we need at a particular moment — your prayer for wisdom before you open your mouth to speak.

We want to talk about our troubles with you, but we also want you to feel free to talk about other things.

While judgmental and self-righteous words kill our spirits, we do welcome loving biblical counsel.

ComfortOneAnother

2) We will never forget the ways you help us.
Years after our crisis, we will remember that you helped us pack our bags, that you cleaned our house, that you cared for our kids, that you put away the baby clothes, that you helped us get out of bed.

We may resist your efforts to help at first, but we need you to be persistent.

3) Comparisons usually aren’t helpful.
It can be good for us to remember that we are not the only ones in the world suffering, but please be careful of unequal comparisons. A spouse who is perpetually sloppy is not the same thing as a spouse who is morally unfaithful. A child with the stomach flu is not on the same level as a child suffering the effects of chemo. Think twice before saying, “I know how you feel.”

4) We appreciate confidentiality.
We understand that you need the freedom to talk openly with your spouse, but beyond that, we hope you understand that our stories are private. If you want to share details with others, please check with us first. We need to be able to trust you.

5) We desperately need your prayers.
We want to be told that you’re praying for us, and we need that to be true. In our darkest moments, we long to know that someone is lifting us up before Heaven’s throne.

6) We are not “normal” right now.
We are grateful for “no-strings-attached” friendship. We’re not in a position to reciprocate every thoughtful thing you do for us. You may wonder why we forget to return calls, send thank you notes, or ask questions about your life. Sometimes we just can’t think straight and are in dire need of patience and grace.

7) It can be hard to ask for help.
Most of the time, we feel awkward asking you to give even more of yourself. We realize you have your own life and can’t always be there, but we appreciate every offer of help — each time you reach out.

8) We are learning that our hope is in the Lord.
As much as we love and appreciate you, we have to learn that you cannot be God. You have limitations.  At times, we may lean heavily on you, but we both need to learn that you can’t meet our every need. We are in the process of learning that His grace is sufficient.

Comfort

For another fascinating perspective on the healing that community brings, check out Mary DeMuth’s recent blog:
CommunityHealsStress

***Is there anything you would add to this list of insights? What have your friends done that have held you up during your stormy season? Please leave a comment below.

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

TwoAreBetterThanOne

I’ve experienced both.
There was a season of fear, confusion, hurt, and danger. My friends were out of reach, and I felt parched.

Years later, in the midst of new trials, friends were there, pouring life into my thirsty spirit. They were the hands and feet of Christ, bringing healing and sanity.

The apostle Paul has been there too:
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7a).

Because our world is so horribly broken, we have all heard pain in a friend’s voice:

“He’s leaving me.”

“It’s cancer.”

“I lost the baby.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s an addiction.”

What do we say when our friend’s world is crumbling?

When we can’t fathom their pain?

It’s hard to enter in. We feel inadequate. The awkwardness immobilizes us.

But, we are the Body of Christ. Our friends need us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve walked through a few shadowy valleys, but some of my friends have been in places I can only imagine.

As I dialogued with six women about their seasons of darkness,

I gleaned eight insights on “friendship in the valley” from their comments.

Here’s what they want you to know…

1) Your emotional involvement makes all the difference.
We need a good listener more than anything. We know you have many other important things to do, but when you put them on hold to hear us out, we notice and are deeply grateful.

We are touched by the tears you shed with us; the way you feel and live the pain along with us.

We appreciate your sensitivity to what we need at a particular moment — your prayer for wisdom before you open your mouth to speak.

We want to talk about our troubles with you, but we also want you to feel free to talk about other things.

While judgmental and self-righteous words kill our spirits, we do welcome loving biblical counsel.

ComfortOneAnother

2) We will never forget the ways you help us.
Years after our crisis, we will remember that you helped us pack our bags, that you cleaned our house, that you cared for our kids, that you put away the baby clothes, that you helped us get out of bed.

We may resist your efforts to help at first, but we need you to be persistent.

3) Comparisons usually aren’t helpful.
It can be good for us to remember that we are not the only ones in the world suffering, but please be careful of unequal comparisons. A spouse who is perpetually sloppy is not the same thing as a spouse who is morally unfaithful. A child with the stomach flu is not on the same level as a child suffering the effects of chemo. Think twice before saying, “I know how you feel.”

4) We appreciate confidentiality.
We understand that you need the freedom to talk openly with your spouse, but beyond that, we hope you understand that our stories are private. If you want to share details with others, please check with us first. We need to be able to trust you.

5) We desperately need your prayers.
We want to be told that you’re praying for us, and we need that to be true. In our darkest moments, we long to know that someone is lifting us up before Heaven’s throne.

6) We are not “normal” right now.
We are grateful for “no-strings-attached” friendship. We’re not in a position to reciprocate every thoughtful thing you do for us. You may wonder why we forget to return calls, send thank you notes, or ask questions about your life. Sometimes we just can’t think straight and are in dire need of patience and grace.

7) It can be hard to ask for help.
Most of the time, we feel awkward asking you to give even more of yourself. We realize you have your own life and can’t always be there, but we appreciate every offer of help — each time you reach out.

8) We are learning that our hope is in the Lord.
As much as we love and appreciate you, we have to learn that you cannot be God. You have limitations.  At times, we may lean heavily on you, but we both need to learn that you can’t meet our every need. We are in the process of learning that His grace is sufficient.

Comfort

For another fascinating perspective on the healing that community brings, check out Mary DeMuth’s recent blog:
CommunityHealsStress

***Is there anything you would add to this list of insights? What have your friends done that have held you up during your stormy season? Please leave a comment below.

How can we help our hurting friends?

How can we help our hurting friends?

Prov17-17

We all know someone who is going through a hard time.

What are we going to do about it?

The answer probably depends on how well we know the person:

  • Close friends — We consider peering into the darkness with them.
  • Casual friends — We might pray for them, but decide someone else is better equipped to encourage them.
  • Acquaintances — We aren’t sure if they know that we know their troubles, so we try to ignore the “elephant” in the room.

Of course, those are generalizations, but we’ve got to admit we don’t always know how to relate to people who are struggling with serious, heavy issues.

Unfortunately, there really are a few wrong ways to relate to them. Ask Job about his friends.

In my next few blogs, I’ll share comments from my friends who have been in some deep, dark valleys. We’ll look at God’s Word as well as their experiences with friends to gain wisdom in our relationships.

As we talk about those closest to us, our casual friends, and even the people-from-church-that-we’ve-only-ever-said-hello-to, it’s my prayer that we’ll all be better equipped to bless and encourage all three categories of hurting friends.

In what ways have your friends blessed you during hard times? Leave a comment below — I’d love more input for the upcoming blogs!

If you liked this post, you may be interested in Do You Need A Listening Ear?, What You Need to Know About Trauma, and When You’re Hurting.

Seeing the gifts in special needs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow has a special needs child or adult

come into your life?

For most of us, it’s not by choice.

For some it’s the prenatal discovery of an extra chromosome, for others the shocking diagnosis of a child’s autism.

A few have watched a tragic accident transform their loved one, while others have encountered unexpected issues after adopting.

Some are simply trying to relate to the non-verbal child in Sunday school or the wheel-chair-bound neighbor next-door.

Whatever your situation, it’s not easy. It’s a whole new world.

Like most people, I did not walk into this world on purpose. I would never have picked myself as the right mom for a child with special needs. But God knew I needed to be that mom.

When we chose to adopt our twins from Haiti, the only knowledge we had was second-hand. We saw our normal-looking boys pictured online, learned as much as we could about them, and after bathing the decision in prayer, decided to make them a part of our family. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It was adoption and we had a choice once we knew — yes, but even when we technically could have backed out, God confirmed in our hearts that it was in reality His choice for us.

In the dark heat, only hours after entering the country that first time in 2001, we were introduced to our sons. Justin seemed mortified to meet us. In a photo of that incredible moment, I was the picture of joy and he of abject misery. But his only issue was shyness. As for Jaden, well, Jaden gave the phrase “out of control” deep new meaning. We had known he had a lazy eye, but we hadn’t known about his crippled left arm, nor — slightly more significantly — his special needs. After he’d been in Jarod’s arms for an entire two seconds, we knew we were destined for exhaustion. If I’d ever met a child whose behavior could accurately be compared to the infamous “Taz” of the Looney Tunes world, this was he.

(From Chapter 1 of In a Sun-Scorched Land, my memoir-in-progress)

Jaden, now 14, has a degree of autism, cerebral palsy, regular seizures, and severe developmental delays, due to brain damage from a traumatic birth.

Jarod and I have had to answer a lot of questions from the rest of our kids about why God allowed Jaden to be born with all of these problems.

I don’t know why.

I do know that because of sin, our world is broken. Life isn’t what it was originally meant to be.

When I see another seizure start — when Jaden topples like a tree, scrapes his head and elbows yet again, and then returns to “normal,” to utter the same phrase he’s repeated all week, “Wagon pretty!,” my heart hurts for him.

I long for the day on the other side of eternity that his pain and limitations will be shaken off for good.Jaden

But…

But, I also am deeply grateful for the beauty that God brings out of brokenness in special needs children and friends.

I love dropping Jaden off at his middle school and being greeted by the other kids that belong in his “Exceptional Students” class.

One girl hugs me as if I’m her long-lost mother.

A tall, handsome boy, to whom I’ve never been introduced, waves and smiles like we’ve been best friends forever.

And the dark-haired boy with peach fuzz on his upper lip lights up and bellows, “Hi Jaden’s mom!”

When I leave them, I walk past all the “normal” students far too absorbed in their iPhones and friends to give me a second glance or a smile.

It is the ESE kids that leave me full of joy and life.

Their exuberance and love are gifts from God, reflections of His own nature.

They bring my attention back to what’s real; what truly matters.

Jaden forces us to slow down and enjoy the little things.

When dirty dishes line the kitchen counter and there are about thirty-seven things left on my to-do list in the two hours before bedtime, Jaden asks me to ride bike with him. Watching the sunset as we pedal along reminds me that a quality life is not defined by a completed list.

When he gleefully hands his plastic piggy bank to the cashier at Walgreens to pay for his baby toy, I see her heart melt a little, and I know the people standing in line behind us are forced to think about life a little differently.

Of course one of the most beautiful things Jaden does is help the rest of us to become less selfish, more Christ-like.

We’re called on countless times each day to pause our “important task” and give Jaden yet another high-five or fist pound. We are learning to build him up by cheering him on each night when he sings his bedtime song. We let him pull us by the hand to see the prized toy displayed on his unmade bed and act like it’s the most incredible thing we ever saw, even though he showed it to us five minutes ago.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve rolled our eyes, groaned, and giggled plenty over the years at his obsessions and demands. How deeply I regret my frustrated sighs that he has taken to mimicking!

But as Jaden himself has matured, and become quite a bit less chaotic than the “Taz” he used to be, we too have been shaped and refined by him.

Jaden is a gift.

Boys

Special needs are not easy to deal with. But they are a gift.

Receive God’s gift to you, in whatever form, with an open heart and be ready for the blessings to pour out.

_____

I’d like to dedicate this blog to my precious neighbors who are raising their three autistic children with the grace and joy of Jesus. You are a blessing to all who know you.

_____

*If you are on the sidelines, watching a friend raise a special needs child, here is a great article by Gillian Marchenko: 10 Special Needs of Special Needs Parents
For further encouragement, visit Gillian Marchenko’s website: gillianmarchenko.com

 

When you’re hurting

I Peter 5:10

My dear friend,

I know I can’t possibly understand exactly what you’re going through, but I’ve tasted enough pain to feel at least a little of your heartache. Even that taste is overwhelming.

I long to solve your problems, to ease the pain, to un-do what has been done.

And I, like you, ask God why He would allow these things to happen in the first place.

When trivial things happen, like a flat tire right before an important meeting, I’m not happy, but I rationalize that perhaps God is sparing me from an accident. “Everything happens for a reason.” When I question annoying inconveniences, I don’t struggle for long to put things back into God’s sovereign hand. It’s easier to trust Him when the stakes aren’t so high.

There are some things though, that make no sense at all… things that, to me, could not possibly work out for the best.

Why are people imprisoned and tortured for their faith?
Why do moms of young children have to die?
How does an unfaithful spouse fit into God’s sovereign plan?
Why the debilitating disease after faithful service to the Lord?
Couldn’t the baby have lived?
Did the abuse have to happen?
Why suicide?

If I wish I could fix all that’s so ugly, horrible, and gut-wrenching, doesn’t God?

Even as I ask, I am reminded that God hates it all more than I do.

I am forced to look back and remember that it is the sin of all mankind, including me, that brought pain and suffering to our world.

And God does want to fix it.

Jesus, fully God and fully man, came to earth and suffered among us, dying an excruciating death with the weight of all our sins upon him.

Because he took our punishment upon himself, died, was buried, and rose again,

we are now offered forgiveness of sin and eternal life…

if we simply place our complete trust in Him.

The truth is, no matter how unbearable our lives are in the here and now,

we have the hope — the confident expectation — of eternity with Christ

where there will be no more tears, pain or sorrow.

How I long for that day… for myself, for you, for all who have trusted Jesus as Savior.

And so we wait…

I am familiar with waiting.

When we waited for our children to be adopted, we expected results in about six months. Six months turned into eighteen months. Then it was a year. Then two. Then five. By the time eight years had passed, and our dossier had been passed off to five different lawyers to no affect, I was utterly convinced nothing would ever change.

But then it did. Just when all hope was lost, everything changed. Heaven and earth moved — literally, and the wait ended.

I don’t know if your situation is going to change here on earth. I pray that it does.

And because God is a God of miracles, goodness, and love, your impossible situation can be transformed into a thing of great beauty. After all, that is the hope of Christ’s resurrection: miraculous life emerging from the bitterness of death.

Of course, complete healing cannot come until Heaven — the final resurrection.

I’ve been tempted at times to feel that Heaven is just too far away to bring any immediate comfort, but, our adoption journey and eight-year stay in Haiti was a powerful parable to me about the brevity of our time here on earth:

It may feel that nothing will ever change, that we are stuck in our misery forever.

But one of these days, we are going to be shocked to find ourselves on the other side of eternity.
We WILL finally get there.
Jesus WILL finally say, “Enough!” and we will be done with sin, Satan, and suffering.

How I love and cling to the promise of I Peter 5:10:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

It is for “a little while.” We will be restored.

Know this: As you suffer, you bless the heart of God, and you inspire me and others around you. We look at you and marvel at what God is doing in you.

Thank you for all the moments and days that you press on and stay faithful to the Lord in spite of the temptation to run away from your problems, seeking relief in any form.

Thank you for trusting God with your life and your yet-to-be-resolved story.

Thank you for your testimony of faith before “a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) both on earth and in heaven.

Watching you persevere increases our faith in Christ. We are seeing that His grace is indeed sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Also, know that the grace that has carried you to this point will not run out on you.

Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge… (Psalm 141:8)

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way… (Psalm 142:3)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him… (2 Chronicles 16:9)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you… (Isaiah 51:10)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

My Brokenness: A Billboard of His Grace — Part 3

Healing

Ebenhack Family-126 edited

It’s been exactly three years since the day Haiti was turned upside down.

I wish that I could look at Port-au-Prince today and see healing. Millions of dollars were sent to mend and rebuild the broken city, and yet it is ravaged still.

Has there been healing that we cannot see? Healing of souls and minds? I pray so. I know from experience that it does not happen overnight. But I know from experience, that by God’s grace, it can happen.

While there are always fresh sorrows, and while there are seasons of unbearable grief or misery, there is still always the goodness of our God. “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…” (Psalm 103:17).

Over the past three years, the Lord poured out His steadfast love on this broken vessel through various means, and brought healing through each of them. Healing did not come in a sudden, miraculous form, as did our exodus from Haiti. It came slowly and painfully.

But healing came…

… through listeners: my husband, my mom, my dear friends.

… through professional Christian counseling: working through The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms by Mary Beth Williams, and Crisis & Trauma Counseling by Dr. N. Norman Wright.

… through books: The Hidden Link Between Stress and Adrenaline  by Dr. Archbald Hart, Who Switched Off My Brain? by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear by Max Lucado, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

… through giving thanks — lying in bed, fighting panic, listing things both large and small for which I was grateful.

… through the renewing and retraining of my mind through Scripture and intentional new patterns of thought. (Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 4:6-7, Romans 8:6, Isaiah 26:3, principles found in Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Beth Moore’s Esther Bible Study)

… through both fitness and relaxation exercise.

… through the profound help of a holistic doctor who diagnosed my condition as adrenal fatigue.

… and finally, through time. Broken bones aren’t mended overnight. Nor can we recover from traumas overnight — even when we are walking in faith. (How much deeper even our faith can grow, when given time.)

Amongst my dear friends around the world, I know there are many who long for healing or resolution. So many who are asking if God still sees… still cares. I have spent the better part of the last dozen years asking the same thing. And because of the painful journey, I can answer with absolute certainty that He does.

Today, I remember the horrific suffering experienced by a nation already too accustomed to despair. I also feel the sadness of those in different, but equally dark circumstances.

Yet at the same time, I give glory to my God, who is sovereign, whose loving-kindness endures forever, and who promises to one day wipe every tear from the eyes of those who are His own.

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;[a]
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Road to Limbe

My Brokenness: A Billboard of His Grace – Part 2

Part 2

My sense of independence, strength, and ability had been completely rattled.

And then the ground of Haiti shook.

I felt the Port-au-Prince earthquake and aftershocks from over one hundred miles away.

My trauma was nothing compared to those in the epicenter. Why were they dealing with life and death, and I was dealing only with fear?

And yet… it was one more thing.

One more thing on top of past events and on top of my recent anxiety.

One more thing rendering me helpless — completely dependent on God’s grace.

And the shaking of the earth that left me — and Haiti — even more fragile…

…was the parting of the seas.

Just like the Hebrews, I trembled in both fear and awe as miracles happened

in the face of disaster:

Our three Haitian children and hundreds of other orphans,

held “captive” by years of paperwork, were

released

by the Haitian government to their American families.

That’s grace.

In the face of all that’s horrible, unfathomable, and terrifying, there was beauty.

That’s our God.

It was the “fullness of time” for our family. I brought the kids to the U.S., while Jarod worked to bring relief to Port-au-Prince.

I had just recently been reduced to nothing. And yet God enabled me to travel through Haiti under conditions I would never have agreed to on my best day. Literally every breath was a prayer. And every prayer was answered. God was there, correcting every anxious thought, showing me His grace.

He was present in every dramatic moment.

And then?

The drama finally ended.

But the anxiety did not.

For over two years I looked normal. Most everyone believed I was fine. I kept expecting my fears to subside, but they only grew.

I refused to drive. I managed to manipulate schedules and plans to avoid being the driver.

I hated confining spaces. In church or public places I made sure I had an exit strategy or sat by a window.

I hated being alone. I was afraid I’d go completely crazy if there wasn’t someone else around to interact with.

I was certain we were on the verge of another catastrophe – I kept waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”

I hated the way my heart thudded, even hurt, as I drifted off to sleep and as I awoke. I hated the wave of panic that hit me every time I braved Wal-mart or a restaurant.

But the derealization was the worst. The sense of detachment — of feeling dissociated from my own self and my own life completely terrified me. And that caused my heart to pound and hurt and a new wave of panic to wash over me.

I slept to temporarily escape from fear, from the weird dream-quality my life had taken on.

I took vitamins to build myself back up from the stress of the past years.

More significantly, I reached for my Bible again, again, again, and again.

I could perform Martha’s duties no more.

I sat, like Mary, hungry for hope, for encouragement, for truth.

I questioned.

I knew my pain was so small compared to the millions still suffering in Haiti. I knew millions more suffered around the globe. I hated sin and evil and their consequences. I found myself wishing along with Job that I had never been born. After all, “…man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). If I was miserable in the comforts of the U.S., how did anyone in the face of true suffering find the hope to continue on?

But I haven’t been the first one to ask those questions.

“… the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Ps. 103:13-14)

“I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.” (Ps. 118:17)

“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (Ps. 46:1-3)

On a plane one day — nearly overcome by panic, I found Psalm 34.

I prayed that it would eventually be my testimony.

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.