Friday, October 23, 2020

What does it mean to be #Blessed?


 “Blessed” is a big buzz word in the Christian community. It’s commonly printed across t-shirts, swapped with the word “good” in response to “How are you?”, and used in email signatures and hashtags. I often hear phrases like “I’m so blessed to have a loving husband and healthy children” or “I was so blessed to get this promotion”.


When Ethan died, these phrases began to grate on me. I was once brought to tears when a proud new grandfather shared that God had “honored his daughter’s faithfulness by blessing with pregnancy” because I felt as if I had been excluded from some sort of special club--the "blessed". It wasn’t that I found these declarations of God’s blessings to be untrue or inappropriate, but something wasn’t settling well with me. Some of the most faithful believers I knew were living under extreme difficulty and, though there was no denying it, I had never heard anyone describe them as “blessed”. I thought of a close friend who had been abandoned by a spouse, a young man I met in college who had lost his entire family during the Rwandan genocide, and mothers who had lost children. Flip on the news for five minutes and it quickly becomes clear that pain is real and rampant. Believers are starving. Dying. I couldn’t deny that these suffering believers were included in God’s blessing. 


So what does it truly mean to be blessed? I consulted a basic English dictionary and saw that the literal definition of “blessed” is “made holy; consecrated”. It also lists God’s favor and our well being as alternate descriptions. Even by worldly definitions, blessings have a much broader scope than an easy life. I typically think of well being as comfort and ease, but scripture and even my own personal experiences challenge this assumption. Think on the experiences in your life that have brought you toward holiness and made you more like Jesus. I’d love to say that my spiritual growth has been most strengthened during seasons of ease, but the opposite is true. It has been in the depths of suffering that I have been transformed the most and have felt a desperation for Christ more than ever before. 


Jesus unpacks what it means to be “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-11. While teaching his disciples, Jesus says:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek (or gentle/submissive), those who hunger for Christ and pursue holiness, and those who are mistreated probably don’t seem “blessed” based on our western redefinition of the word. It could be tempting for us to look at those in these situations and assume that they are somehow being robbed of God’s blessing and provision, but Jesus shatters that assumption and asserts that these are those that are blessed. The greatest blessing we can receive is Jesus Christ. We could lose every single thing we have on this earth, but if we have him, we have everything. In my flesh I would never choose suffering, but I’m continually amazed and grateful to see how God uses these experiences to draw us closer to us and to sanctify us (you could also say “to consecrate us and make us holy”), which is literally the definition of a “blessing”. 


Somewhere down the line I had made the false assumption that blessings were something I could earn by being “good enough” and, while there are plenty of examples in scripture of God rewarding his children for their faithfulness, the greatest gift of Jesus cannot be earned. I’ll never be “good enough”, yet Jesus made a way for us to have the opportunity to believe and receive Him. We have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ. We have been adopted as sons and daughters. We have been marked with the Holy Spirit. 


When I scroll through social media and am met with the hashtag #blessed on photos of smiling families and celebratory events, I am reminded that the hashtag is not overused as I once thought. I now believe that we don’t use it enough. 


Yes, the smiling faces we see are blessed. We should praise God for the good gifts He lavishes on His children, whether physical or spiritual and whether He gives or takes away. The new baby, the job offer, the remission from cancer, and the answered prayer are blessings that we should certainly praise God for. Let us continue to declare His goodness in our victories. But let us not stop there. May we praise God for His blessings when we lose our house, the cancer returns, a friend turns their back on us, or we stand beside the grave of someone we love. May we cling to Christ, knowing that we are blessed even in our deepest suffering. May we exhale knowing He works all things together for good for those who love him. May we continue to encourage one another to remember these truths when we feel hurt and forgotten, and let’s lean into Christ when it is tempting to run the other way. 


Extra resources:

Holly and I chat about this at length in Through the Lens Ep. 10: #Blessed

Scriptures for further study- 

Ephesians 1:3-14

James 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

Luke 11:28 “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”


Friday, October 16, 2020

Because of His Great Love



“Why do you love your baby?”
It had only been a few hours since our son, Andrew, was born and I was weary, yet completely enamored by the tiny blue bundle I held in my arms. As I considered the question the kindhearted nurse posed, I stared at his delicate face and savored his fresh newborn scent. Holding this boy—our boy—felt like holding my heart outside of my body. The immense love inside me was intoxicating in the very sweetest way and I never wanted to stop studying his features—features that uncannily resembled ours. We had only known each other face-to-face for mere hours and I already knew I would die for him without hesitation if it ever came to it. Describing my love for him came easy, but articulating the reason I loved him was more challenging. 

If I asked you why you love your spouse, your best friend, or one of your siblings, you would likely be able to recite a list of reasons: They possess a variety of admirable qualities, they have been there for you in good times and bad, they challenge you to love Christ more, they make you laugh, etc. But if you were asked why you love your newborn child, you’d likely have a harder time putting it into words. If you really think about it, you could say that babies are “inconvenient” and have very little to offer. They are completely dependent on their parents for their most basic needs and demand our time, attention, and even our finances. Yet our love for our children is not based on what they can do for us, but rather on who they. The overwhelming love I felt was apparent, yet I could not name a single reason other than the purest truth. I love my son simply because he is my child and nothing he could do would ever change his identity. 

The nurse knew exactly what she was doing when she posed the question. “Isn’t it amazing to think that this unconditional love is a small, imperfect glimpse into God’s love for his children?” she asked. 

There is a lot to be said about God’s love. Like his character, it is personal, never-ending, faithful, and just. But today, let’s hone in on the unconditional nature of God’s love–a love that is not based on our love for him nor the things we have done but rather on who we are as chosen sons and daughters adopted into His family.  1 John 3:1a says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” This is good news for the believer–God loves us and has predestined us to be grafted into his family (Ephesians 1:11). He looks upon us—his little children–with the overwhelming, sacrificial love of a parent holding their incapable, yet precious, newborn child.  

Many of us have subconsciously bought the lie that God’s love is something to be earned; Perhaps if we do the right things, serve the right way, and commit our lives to purity, God will love us more. While God certainly calls His children to holiness, the love we receive is not contingent on this. God loved us with a sacrificial love when we had nothing to offer, still in our sin (Romans 5:8). When we were chosen by God, we were covered by the atoning sacrifice of Christ–when God looks at us, he does not see our sin and our shame, but rather he sees perfection because he sees Jesus. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” His love is not something to be earned, but rather something you and I already have. 

My son will never be asked to earn my love by being a “good kid”. In his humanness, he will likely do something to grieve me one day—but nothing would cause me to stop loving him. Nothing will cause him to stop being my son. 

Just as I love my infant son because he is my child–an essential part of his identity, rather than a feat he accomplished–God loves you because you are already His. May we delight and take comfort in the depth of the Father’s love for us. 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2: 4-8
Photo by: Lauren Guilford Photography
 [Originally posted on redeemerstories.com/]

Monday, August 10, 2020

Lies of comfort, Words of hope


It wasn't until we first learned of Ethan's critical health issues that I began to realize how much we lie to one another in an attempt to lend some comfort. 

"Oh honey, don't cry," one person said, as they patted me on the back. "He's going to be just fine!"

"He's going to pull through this. I just know it."

"He's going to be okay. I just have a really good feeling about it."

"Doctors can be wrong. I read something online about a mom who got the same diagnosis as you and the baby was born just fine..."

It did not matter what I said in response. No matter how many times that I explained that my doctors had never shied away from the possibility of death. I continued to swallow trite sayings and accept pats on the head. It was as if no one would believe me that it was serious.

Suffering is kind of taboo, isn't it? We consciously make decisions and spin our words to avoid discomfort and pain. We put up walls to protect ourselves and we avert our eyes from hurt, even if only subconsciously. It's easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep. Raising my hand high here and admitting I love comfort a lot more than pain. 

I've been pretty quiet over here, but the memories of five years ago have been especially vivid to me this year. I've been thinking a lot about Ethan's diagnosis and the responses to it--my own reactions and the words from our caring community. It may seem as if the most comforting responses would be similar to those listed above. Words that assured us that everything would "be just fine" or words that reminded us that "doctors can be wrong" (I'll save my reactions to that one for another day...but YES, God is sovereign over medicine and the science that He created. He can do miracles. He is bigger than any sickness. Doctors can be wrong. But God also created order and equipped our incredible medical team so well. He created science. Also, our world is broken.) 

But the most comforting responses were the ones that acknowledged the severity of Ethan's condition and the sting that death brings. The former responses often made me feel like people didn't believe me or that my pain was overreactive. The most helpful words didn't try to put a well-meaning bandaid on a bullet wound, but grieved over such deep suffering on such a tiny child. Responses that YES YES YES pointed us to the truth of the gospel and the hope we have in Jesus, while also sitting with us in our lament and acknowledging the Holy Saturday-ness of it all. 

I think most of us are living in some sort of "Holy Saturday" season. I look around and see so many people I love walk through this pandemic, racial injustice, financial difficulties, relational strain, and the loneliness of division. How are we responding? Is it with trite sayings and temporary bandaids? We feel sorrow and long for all that is broken to be mended. We yearn for the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes. As believers in Jesus, we know that Resurrection Sunday has already happened and we rejoice in this. We know that this miracle means that we too will have resurrection of our earthly bodies one day. We have an assurance that Christ will return again to make all things new. We can shout for joy and praise God for our redemption through Christ and the assurance of eternity with Him. AND as we do this, we can make space to recognize death as a horrible curse that Jesus came to destroy. We can rest in his goodness toward all of His people. We can acknowledge that some things are worth grieving and lamenting over, as we keep our eyes focused on a Hope worth clinging to. 

We certainly grieve, serve, and love our neighbors differently in Holy Saturday because we know Sunday is coming. We can both rejoice and lament. We can view death as a horrendous curse Jesus came to defeat, while simultaneously rejoicing in an unshakeable Hope.