Is it possible that snow in April, stupid lung diseases, and other atrocities could be good for us?

IMG_3843.jpgWe lived in the most glorious, sunny, mountainous and palm-treed locations both times that we lived abroad. Aix-en-Provence, France and Casablanca, Morocco are two dreamy places to have once been called “home”.

While living abroad, we met people from all over the states, as well as from around the world. Then we all moved on and returned to our “homeland” which means we now have friends scattered around the globe.

Visiting some of our friends in Southern California for the first time changed everything for me and my “Best Places In the World to Live” list. To be honest, my first thought when I encountered the beauty of southern California was not that I wished to live there, but one of feeling sorry for my Californian friends. Let me explain:

To me, the south of France and Morocco were these magical, breathtakingly beautiful holy sites where God revealed Himself to me. I cried the first time I saw the French Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, the palm-tree lined streets of Casablanca, and the Sahara Desert (to be fair, I do cry a lot…) Every time I encountered new beauty my Michigan-eyes had never known, I was left speechless, breathless, and entered a holy state of worship for a God who could (and would) create such beauty. My Michigan-eyes had beheld a LOT of glorious things in our mitten state, but just nothing like mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, oh – and that elusive SUNSHINE!!! (Today, on April 11, it snowed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Need I say more???)

So when on my inaugural trip to California I discovered identical beauty – mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, sunshine (which can all be seen AT THE SAME TIME, for heavens sake!) – I realized that there was NO WAY my Californian friends could have felt the same depth, love, and appreciation that I did while we all lived in France and Morocco. There is no way that they woke up every day and said, “Lord have mercy! Another sunny day!” (as I did). There is no way they took endless pictures of palm trees (as I did). There is no way they walked the beaches every day and said, “God in heaven, help me to carry this moment with me forever – even into the polar vortex that is bound to hit in the middle of my future Michigan winters” (as I did).

I was CAPTIVATED by the weather and the landscape of those two countries – but only because I come from a backdrop of cold, snowy, and relatively flat Michigan. My California friends who also lived in France and Morocco with us must have greeted each new day with “Just another day in paradise.”

And that difference in our two experiences is such a CRUCIAL thing for us to remember when life gets hard, ugly, disappointing or blizzard-y.

A light shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

Comfort is only as comfortable to the degree of discomfort it relieves.

Joy is only as joyful as the sorrow from which it rescues.

Pain relief is only helpful to the degree of suffering it relieves.

God is only as good as to the depth of which we recognize our sin and need of a Savior.

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When we meet people who (seem) to come from a very “charmed” life – who basically seem to escape all suffering in this life (they are smart, rich, thin, never struggled with teenage acne, their kids all make good choices, no cancer, disease, or disorders, no bad hair days, and their dog never poops on the living room rug… Kind of like the sun is always shining in their lives. You know the type…) well, it is tempting for us to wish we were them. It seems like THAT would be the life we all want and should strive (pray) for.

But I wonder…. I wonder if we’d be missing out on some very important things God wants to show us if our lives were void of the pain, the messy, the heartache (the snow?) I wonder if there are actually parts of GOD we would not know if we never knew pain, suffering, hurt and loss.

Why are we given so many different names for God if we’d never need them? If we all pursued and achieved the “charmed” life without any pain and suffering, certainly there are attributes of God we would never know.

 

How can we know God as our DELIVERER if we’re never in a horrible place from which we need delivering?

How can we know God as our COMFORTER if we’ve never been uncomfortable?

How can we know God as our HEALER and GREAT PHYSICIAN if we’ve never known illness or disease or suffered emotional/spiritual brokenness?

How can we know God as our PROVIDER if we’ve never ached for provision?

How can we know our God, the PRINCE OF PEACE if we’ve spent our whole lives avoiding conflict, running from adversity, never challenged?

How can we know our God, the SANCTUARY, if we’ve never been in a place of needing protection?

How can we know God as a REFUGE FROM THE STORM if our lives are always “sunny”?

How can we know God as the BREATH OF LIFE if we never recognize our desperate need for Him in ALL things?

How can we know God as our SHEPHERD if we never see ourselves as lowly sheep?

 

I’m not in any way suggesting we shouldn’t live in California! Nor am I saying God gives suffering – I believe HE IS PERFECT and would never author pain, loss, and suffering. But I do believe, with all my heart, that through the suffering we discover a God we hadn’t previously known – and we come to experience Him and love Him more fully, deeper and truer.

And, after all, isn’t that what He wants most from us???

 

 

Wiser Why’s

I am told that when life just doesn’t make sense at all it’s okay to ask God, “Why?”   When maybe a single phone call, lab results, a fire, or a funeral, leave you suddenly questioning who is God, really, and if He’s truly good and concerned about what’s going on down here or if He’s just hanging out with the angels playing Settlers of Catan and watching Downton Abbey.

There are a few things that I know to be true but they don’t necessarily help:  I know God can handle our questioning – people love to remind me of that.  I also know that I don’t necessarily need an answer to the “Why?” in order to find peace and joy.  And I know that God will meet us where we’re at, which, sometimes, is in the middle of the unknown.  Those statements are all true, but presently feel so cliché and have not been all that comforting lately.  But I’ve also learned something in this season of asking a whole lot of “Why?” questions:  when I come up with some Wiser Why’s, I just feel better.  That’s it.  Asking a different, wiser set of “Why’s?” just seems to be carrying me these days – better than any cliché reminders.

  • When I want to ask of God: Why am I only 47 and have to start thinking about death because of this stupid lung disease?  My wiser Why is this:  Why is it that I have been given a disease that gives me years to live instead of one that gives me only weeks or months?
  • Why did my sweet friend Jill have to die at 44 yrs. old, in the prime of her life, leaving behind a loving husban
    Wd and 4 amazing kids?  My wiser why is this:  Why, Oh God, why, would you give insignificant little me the gift of 15 years of a beautiful friendship with someone as spectacularly special as Jill?
  • Why is it so freaking cold in Michigan?  I should be asking: Why is it that we have a heated home and yet I know full well just 20 minutes up the road there are people who have no home at all?
  • Why is every stinkin’ day a blizzardy-day in Michigan this year?  I could be asking: Why did God choose to make snow white?  He could have chosen to make it black, you know.
  • Why does it feel like this winter will never end?  A better Why would be:  Why, out of all the ugly- brown-70’s-ranch houses in West Michigan, did we choose this particular ugly brown house for our down-size – which just so happens to have a miracle bush by the front door which just so happens to attract chirping birds ALL WINTER LONG providing us with the sounds of Spring – ALL WINTER LONG?
  • Why can’t we take a trip to Hawaii like my sister?  A much wiser Why would be:  Why don’t I run to the bathroom, stick my head in the toilet and give myself a swirly?  We like to tell our kids:  ask a junior-high question and you’ll get a junior-high answer.
  • Why do some people do and say hurtful things yet seem oblivious to the hurt they leave in their wake?  A wiser Why would be:  Why am I so stuck on the hurt that has been done to me instead of looking to where I may have been the hurt-er?
                                                                                                                                                  
  • Why can’t my husband or children ever replace the empty toilet roll with a new one?  A wiser why would be:  Why, Lord, did you choose to give me a husband who loves me and four (fairly normal) children?  Why do some people pray for those things forever yet not receive them?
  • Why can’t I lose 20 pounds and have a figure like my co-worker Hillary?  A much wiser why would be:  Why is it that I have never known true hunger?
  • Why can some people eat like crap, smoke cigarettes, and drink their liver silly yet still live into their late 90’s – but even though I DIDN’T live like that, I might get robbed of a few decades?  Perhaps a wiser Why would be:  Why is Josiah so ridiculously funny that we can sit around the dinner table and laugh with (at) him for hours – helping us to realize we can know bliss without the aid of substances?
  • Why did my cousin Zac, who was more like a nephew and one of Andy’s best friends, have to die last summer at the age of 23 in a tragic, senseless car accident?  My wiser why is this:  Why, heavenly Father, did you pick bright eyed 5-yr.-old Anand out of all the millions of homeless and orphaned children in India, to be adopted by his family, to be brought home to America, to be renamed Zac, to touch and bless the lives of all who knew him, and to teach us all a little more about passion, love, and zest for life?  And this one:  Why, oh why, was he ALWAYS smiling?
  • Why do you allow pain and suffering, Almighty God, when I know darn well you could stop it all if you wanted to?  A wiser Why is this:  Why did it take me getting a diagnosis of a potentially terminal illness to stop the crazy-cycle life I was living and slow down enough to notice people, to notice need, to notice beauty, to noticequiet, and to notice God?