Category Archives: Faith

Always Good

There is a heartbreaking story of a man named Nathan Johnson, a Christian musician whose wife unexpectedly died last year just hours after the birth of their firstborn child.  The story goes that as he went into the room to see her body before they took it away, he cried out in agony, “Always good! Always good! God is always good.”

Reflecting on the tragedies I’ve experienced in my life, I realize that in order to be able to utter  these words in the midst of such pain, one has to have an immeasurably intimate relationship with the Father.  One has to grasp with deep conviction that death is not the result of God’s punishment, His sense of apathy, or necessarily even His plan.  Such conviction is profound, and dare I say, extraordinary.

Death is generally incomprehensible to us.  We rarely expect its coming.  And when it does come, especially if it’s borne out of tragedy, we often feel the need to blame someone.  It’s human nature.  Unfortunately for Him, our all-knowing, all-powerful God tends to be the most obvious scapegoat.  I’ve done it.  I know from past history that I’m good at praising the God who gives, but I’m more inclined to curse at the God who takes away.  In times of deep sorrow I’ve retreated from the One who can bring me comfort, rather than run toward Him.

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote a song about the introductory story, as his sons were among the ones who witnessed Johnson’s lament for his wife.  In it he says,

My God, my God, be near me.
There’s nowhere else to go.
And Lord, if you can hear me,
Please help your child to know
That you’re always good, always good.

This song and this story have been heavy on my heart this past week.  My daughter’s former classmate, just nine years old, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and has maybe a year to live.  As I have been processing this news and praying for this precious boy and his family, I find myself repeatedly saying those words in my mind – “There’s nowhere else to go.  You’re always good.  There’s nowhere else to go.  Please help me to trust that You’re always good, because there’s nowhere else to go.”  I’m praying these words not only on behalf of my own heart, but also for this little boy’s parents.  Because today I have the strength to.  Because it’s not my child who’s dying.

What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband?  Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good”?  I honestly don’t know.  But I know that I am vowing now to set my heart toward that goal.  It requires the same faith that Job had, to be able to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  It requires the same faith that Abraham had, to be able to lay his only son on a sacrificial altar before the Lord and trust Him beyond what his eyes could see.  I believe it requires setting our hearts on fully trusting in His goodness long before we are in a position to have to prove it.

What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband?  Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good!”?  I honestly don’t know.

The best news of all, though, is this: regardless of how we react to unspeakable pain, we serve a God who is gentle, kind, and understanding.  Even when we come at Him with our worst, He responds to our grief, however it may look, as only a loving Father would.  He doesn’t punish our emotional attacks.  He lets us cry, lets us scream, lets us wave our fists in the air, lets us ask the hard questions, lets us even curse at Him.  He knows how dark this world can be, and He sympathizes with our pain.  But He always, always welcomes us back into His loving arms with grace and tenderness when we’re ready.  He always longs to draw near to us and wipe away our tears, or even weep with us.  He is always there to comfort us and restore our hearts back to a place of peace once more.  He always brings forth beauty from the ashes.  Because He is always good.

The Gospel According to Natalie

An old Facebook story, but one of my favorites:

Natalie is my independent soul. At age three, she’s big on doing things herself. Lately, her biggest obstacle to overcome is opening packages of string cheese. As she pulls it out of the fridge I ask her, for the sixty-seventh time, if she would like me to help her with it.

“No,” she says.  “I can do it.”


She can’t do it.  As proven by yesterday.  And the day before that.  But she’s determined.  So she tries it again.

She wrestles with the package, knowing that, if she just tries a little harder, or pulls it this way instead of that way, she’ll succeed in her endeavor. She tries, just as every day before, to be strong enough, independent enough, to prove to the world that she doesn’t need anybody. She can do it herself.

Eventually, after much tiresome struggle, she realizes.  She can’t do it, not by her own will.  No matter how independent she is, her strength is not sufficient.  She needs help.  So she comes to me.

“Mom, will you open dis for me?”

Essentially, she says, “Help! I’m in need! Who will save me from this wretched package of cellophane so that I may eat and be filled?” And I respond, not with shouts of “I told you you couldn’t do it! I told you you were too weak!” I don’t tell her she’s not good enough. Or strong enough. I don’t tell her to try harder. Instead, I quietly open the package for her and say, “Here you go, my love.” She is saved from the evils of the child-proof processed food container! In essence, I rescue her from what she’s incapable of doing on her own. And I do it, not with guilt or put-downs, but with grace and love. And I will do it again tomorrow. Because she is my child, and I love her more than anything in this world.

In other words, it’s the Gospel.  According to Natalie.

On Wrestling: An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Aiden,

Do you know what one of my favorite things to watch you do is?  I love to watch you wrestle with your Daddy.  I love how the two of you like to try to beat each other to a pulp and laugh together as you’re doing so.  I love how, even though he’s nearly twice your height and three times your weight, you come at him as though you truly believe you can conquer him.  And what’s funny is that the more he proves to you that he is the mightier opponent, the more you seem to enjoy it.  But sometimes, in his mercy, he offers you the illusion that you have the upper hand.  It’s what gives you the adrenaline to keep coming back for more, I think.

I get it.  

Okay, I don’t.

This male bonding experience that you two share – it’s odd to me.  We girls don’t typically do such barbaric things.  We would much rather bond over tea and cookies and Jane Austen movies.  But even though I don’t understand your masculine inclination to fight each other like wild savages, I do understand the value of such behavior.  The joy you both seem to share when embracing each other in headlocks and trying to throw each other to the ground seems to create a strange connection that only men and boys can truly comprehend.  It’s a special love language you share; and even though it looks as though it’s causing you both great pain, I can see in your faces that it’s joining your hearts together in some secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.

Last night I was watching you wrestle with the most important man in your life – you in your robot pajamas and him with the smell of an evening brushfire ruminating from his thermal shirt and blue jeans.  I hated to bring it to an end, but bedtime was beckoning, ruining your fun as it does every evening.

This morning as I sat down with a cup of coffee for a few minutes of uninterrupted reading before the day called me to action, I read something that brought to mind the story of Jacob in the Bible, and it made me think of you.  Jacob was a man whose life wasn’t going the way he had hoped because of some bad decisions he had made.  He had cheated his brother out of his birthright and ran away from home.  His relationship with his father-in-law was built on dishonesty and deceit.  The women in his life were chock full of drama.  His life was a mess.  Eventually God told him to return home to his family, where the brother he had wronged so many years earlier still lived.

On his return journey he found himself awake in the middle of the night, alone with his fears, not knowing whether his brother would forgive him or try to kill him.  Out of nowhere he came face-to-face with the God of the universe.  With Jacob’s heart burdened by the series of unfortunate events in his life, God came to him – not to talk, not to lecture, not to criticize – but to wrestle.  Man to man.  All night they scuffled like wolves until Jacob eventually had the upper hand.  When daybreak arrived the Lord asked Jacob to let him go.  “Not until you bless me,” Jacob demanded.  The scriptures don’t offer us any insight into God’s body language in this scene, but I imagine He smiled a little at Jacob’s audacity.  It was this request that changed history as we know it.  It was here where God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which is thought to mean “he struggles with God,” and Jacob’s life was forever transformed.

God could have chosen numerous ways to communicate to Jacob in this scenario.  Why do you think He wrestled with him?  Was it because He was angry with Jacob? I don’t think so.  Was it because He wanted to hurt him?  Not exactly.  Did Jacob have the upper hand in the match because he was stronger than God?  No one’s stronger than God.  Did God know that Jacob was going to ask for a blessing?  God knows everything.  Was it part of His plan all along?  Undoubtedly.  I don’t know exactly why God chose a wrestling match to touch Jacob’s heart, but I do know that it was exactly what Jacob needed, and God showed Himself faithful to this scared, angry man in the midst of a tumultuous time in his young life.

Aiden, the point I want to make to you is this: you don’t know it now, but there will be many times in your life where you will question God.  You will question His reasons, His faithfulness, His wisdom, perhaps even His very existence.  Like Jacob, you will be angry, scared, alone.  When those times come, don’t be afraid to wrestle with God.  Fight with Him.  Ask the hard questions.  Come at Him with every ounce of force you can muster.  Yell, scream if you have to.  Don’t be afraid of Him.  He welcomes and delights in the audacity of your fortitude.  But whatever you do, son, don’t let Him go.  Hold tight with all of your might until He gives you the answers you seek.

God knows your thoughts before you even speak them.  As He did with Jacob, your heavenly Father knows the struggles you will have, the lies you will have told, the pain you have felt, the fears you are building up the courage to face.  He knows your questions, and He has the answers.  He’s big enough to hear your accusations and He’s wise and gentle enough to give you a tender answer.  “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking,” and He will give you what you need, for He withholds no good thing from us.

Just like with Daddy, be bold enough to wrestle with a God who can’t be beaten.  Bond with him in that secret manly ritual of love and intimacy.  And refuse to let go until you receive your blessing.

Broken Dishes

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in April, 2014.

15 years ago I was given a complete set of hand-me-down dishes from my dear friends, Alf and Margaret Beth.  They were a sweet gesture, one I was truly appreciative of.  But honestly, the dishes themselves weren’t really all that fantastic.  They weren’t exactly my style.  Some of them were even already chipped.  But I took them with much gratitude, thinking, “These will come in handy when I have kids, so that we can teach them to eat from “real” dishes instead of plastic ones, and we won’t have to worry about them breaking our nice dishes.”  (Jeremy and I were engaged at the time.)  Plus, I loved my friends and I appreciated their offer to a young couple just starting out.

We held onto them for nine years before we even had kids, then another five before we started actually using them.  They’ve been moved to seven different homes in three different cities across Tennessee.  Each time I see them I think of my friends and how much I love and miss them.  It wasn’t until sometime early last year that we finally pulled them out of the storage closet for our kids to use.

When I first took them, I had no idea how much they would come to mean to me.  I haven’t seen my friends in…I don’t know…ten years?  But for 15 years, a part of them has lived somewhere in my home, and I’ve carried their memories with me all this time.  And because I love my friends, I’ve come to love those dishes as well.

Early this afternoon one of the plates broke.  The second from the set to meet its demise, actually.  Natalie came from the dining room table into the laundry room where I was, bottom lip quivering, trying not to cry.  But it had frightened her, and after a few seconds of trying hard, she could no longer hold it in.  As anyone who knows my daughter well will tell you, there’s nothing more powerful than fear and embarrassment to make her sob deep, heaving sobs.  Knowing this, I did my best to comfort her quickly.

As I sat and held her and reassured her, I didn’t get upset that one of the dishes I loved was broken.  Instead, I remembered its purpose.  I was thankful that we had chosen to tote around cheap, fragile dishes for 15 years.  I was thankful my little girl wasn’t hurt.  As I cleaned up the mess, I was thankful for my friends, and I was compelled to pray for them.  I was also thankful for the reminder that such is the Body of Christ.
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We are weak and fragile.  Easily broken.  We’re all chipped in places.  Some of us aren’t as fancy or as well-known as others.  But we have so much value to Him who loves us, who has carried us and called us His own since before the beginning of time.

And He made us, each and every one of us, for a unique purpose.  It may be simple.  It may be mundane.  It may be unworthy of worldly recognition.  We may spend our entire lives sitting in a dark drawer while others get the privilege of being displayed proudly in a glass cabinet.  But to the One who knows our names, our life is meaningful.  Our worth is invaluable.  His love for us is deep and profoundly significant.  Not because of who we are or what we do.  Not because of any value the world has placed on us.  But because of Him and what He has done for us.  Even to those of us who, like my dishes, are made to do nothing more than to provide a loaf of bread or a cup of cold water to a small child, we have been bought with a price.  And the value of that cannot be measured in human terms.

I love those dishes.  Perhaps now even moreso.

Lessons From the Ziploc Bag

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in February, 2014.

Today inadvertently presented itself with a great object lesson in faith. It was a beautiful day, so after Aiden got his book work done for school, we went outside armed with baking soda, vinegar and a plastic sandwich bag. It was a good day to blow stuff up. I told the kids to stand in a particular spot in the driveway while I daringly loaded the ammunition. They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

They had run up to the top of the hill behind our house, as far away as they could get from the perilous Ziploc bag. Fortunately, the experiment went awry. Not enough vinegar (or baking soda, I’m not sure which). So I tried again, this time adding more of both. I told the kids, “Don’t run away this time! Stand HERE. Trust. Me.” They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

I halted the experiment and had them come down from hiding. We chatted (I’m hormonal today, so I may have chatted loudly. On second thought, firmly sounds better. Let’s say firmly). “Guys! This is a really cool experiment, and you’re missing it because you’re not trusting that where I have you is safe! You’re trusting in your fear and you’re running away from something that’s meant to be fun! Your fear of what might happen is stronger than your trust in me!”

Lightbulb.

I got quieter.

“Hey, kids, you know what? It’s exactly the same with us and God. He has great plans for us! Really, really cool things in store for our lives! And He promises us that if we just trust in Him, He will be with us, and He will care for us. But too often, instead of trusting in Him, we get afraid of what might happen. We worry that maybe He doesn’t know as much as we do or that He doesn’t really have everything under control. And so, we run away from the good things He has for us because our fear is stronger than our faith. And we end up missing out on some amazing things in life!”

I don’t know if they got it or not. But man, I sure did.

We tried again. The kids didn’t run away this time. Well, Natalie still backed up quite a bit (nobody asked her opinion about this gig in the first place).

The experiment worked. The bag exploded. Aiden was ecstatic.

And my heart was full.