Sunday, December 23, 2012

When I feel weak

I cannot do it alone; 
  The waves surge fast and high,
And the fogs close all around,
  The light goes out in the sky;
But I know that we two 
  Will win in the end, 
    Jesus and I.

Cowardly, wayward, and weak,
  I change with the changing sky;
Today so eager and bright,
  Tomorrow too weak to try;
But He never gives in,
  So we two will win,
    Jesus and I.

I could not guide it myself,
  My boat on life's wild sea;
There's One who sits by my side,
  Who pulls and steers with me.
And I know that we two
  Will safe enter port,
    Jesus and I.

-from "Streams in the Desert"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When it costs to believe

One of the hidden snares of waiting on God is the temptation to be resentful when he delivers other people quickly.

Like a rabbit pulled up by a well-laid trap and dangling by one foot, I have wriggled around in futility, pulling this way and that, demanding to know why, grumbling and complaining, comparing and envying.

Why does another person experience resolve, healing, instant understanding, freedom, and restoration, all while I continue to go through circumstances that are isolating, confusing, unpleasant, and unresolved?  Where is God in all this?

I think from a human perspective, it's natural to measure our success by tangible outcomes. How good is she at baking? Well, her cake sure tasted good! Is he a good musician? His concert was excellent! Conditioned to measure success based our our senses, we are left at a disadvantage when it comes to spiritual matters.

If someone were to ask how much faith a person has, we can't simply look at whether they suffer or prosper. The famous passage about faith in Hebrews 11 says that people of faith both "escaped the edge of the sword" (v. 34) and "were killed with the sword." (v. 37)

If there is no guaranteed earthly outcome for people of faith, how can we remain steady?  How do we cope when God allows us to hurt for a long time rather than instantly deliver?

We can gain insight by looking at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the Jewish exiles living in Nebuchadnezzar's court in Babylon. Trying hard to hold on to their Jewish identity and committed to worshiping the true God, they refused to bow down to worship a giant golden statue. When their behavior was brought to Nebuchadnezzar's attention, they were about to face certain death. Before being bound and tossed into the fire, they acknowledged two potential outcomes of their faith:

"If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we shall not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Daniel 3:17-18

It's this attitude that we can adopt as our own when we face what appear to be certain consequences for choosing the path of faith.  When others mistreat us or when we suffer difficulty and setbacks for obeying God, He is deserving of our complete devotion, no matter the cost. Yet regardless of the repercussions, we have this assurance: he is present with us in the trial.

Once the men were thrown into the fire at the order of the enraged king, something extraordinary happened. The king asked:

"Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" (v. 24)

His men affirmed that this was true. And the astonished king responded:

"But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." (v. 25)

It was God's presence in the furnace with them that brought tears of joy to my eyes this morning. Likewise, Jesus is in the furnace with me and with you through faith. We "consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart" when we suffer quietly yet see others quickly rescued.

So where is God when he allows the outcomes we sometimes see as failures? He is the fourth man in the furnace with us, sent to rescue us sinners who are thrown into the fires of this world. Through faith like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we will arrive one day in heaven, not even smelling of smoke.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
(Isaiah 43:2-3)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When all I can do is "not do."

Though I haven't written as often this year, God is teaching me during my inactivity. He's calling me to live in trust and reminding me, when I accuse him of not caring, that he gave his life for me. This act of supreme sacrifice means that he is involved in every detail of my pain, that he could not be more present or involved in my struggles. Though he appears to be sleeping in the stern while the storm is swamping my life, he is in total control of even the most powerful forces.

During a dangerous storm that threatened their boat, the disciples woke Jesus and asked "Don't you care if we drown?" and I have asked the same question in similar words. He responded to them (and to me) like a father wounded by his child's lack of trust: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

In Him I must trust. On Him I must wait.

If you feel today like God has hemmed you in, isolated you, or prevented you from serving him in the ways you had planned, remember the "service of waiting" as George Matheson did when he considered God's restrictions and limitations on Paul's missionary journey:

Sometimes I have been interrupted in what seemed to be quite productive work. And at times, opposition came and forced me to go back, or sickness came and forced me to rest in some isolated place.

During such times, it was difficult for me to leave my work unfinished when I believed it was a service done in the power of His Spirit. But I finally remembered that the Spirit requires not only a service of work but also a service of waiting. I came to see that in the kingdom of Christ, there are not only times for action but times to refrain from action. And I also came to learn that a place of isolation is often the most useful place of all in this diverse world.  (...)

[Holy Spirit,] Help me to find, even in the area of service where you have closed a door, a new entrance into your service. Inspire me with the knowledge that that a person may sometimes be called to serve by doing nothing, by staying still, or by waiting.
-George Matheson (Streams in the Desert)

This waiting in faith requires me to slow down and determine to seek God's presence daily, not just go through motions while gritting my teeth.

Waiting upon God is vital in order to see Him and receive a vision from Him. And the amount of time spent before Him is also critical, for our hearts are like a photographer's film - the longer exposed, the deeper the impression. For God's vision to be impressed upon our hearts, we must sit in stillness at His feet for quite a long time. Remember, the troubled surface of a lake will not reflect an image.
- Dr. Pardington (Streams in the Desert)

In your walk with God, it's easy to get frustrated and angry at his delays and inaction. But his purposes are not always visible. He is doing a work in you that he promises to bring to completion. It's up to us to wait with trust.

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Song Therapy (and Warfare)

When emotions press down on me - fear, anxiety, sadness, and frustration - how do I fight back? When I am weak, how can I possibly endure the grip of dark thoughts closing in, threatening to pin me like a Greco-Roman wrestler?

King David reminded his downcast soul to hope in God in Psalm 42, and he reminded his soul to bless God in Psalm 103. He instructed himself to praise when his negative feelings became too much. But these psalms were more than just written reminders; these were lyrics to songs that washed over the singer. In times of overwhelming trouble, we heal and we fight by resolutely singing praise to the God who made us.

Is your soul downcast today? Do you need to go against every negative emotion you feel and decide to praise God for his infinite love, mercy, kindness, and power? Here is a song that might help:

10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 
Psalm 103:1

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lessons from Louie

Last night, I cried at Bible study. It's not something I prefer to do in public, but we watched a video called "The Anchor of Hope: When Life Hurts Most" by Louie Giglio. He described the pain that does not resolve by 9 AM the next morning, the soul-shaking trials that make us question God.

As he read an email from a young man genuinely struggling with why God did not answer his prayers to save his sister's life, I could hear the echo of my own words. I've felt those things, written those things so many times. I've read books and prayed and discussed, but sometimes my soul still cries out like a child asking where God is when I hurt.

Louie admitted he was left speechless by the painful email but that God reveals five things we can cling to when this hurricane of a spiritual storm assails us. Those five things are found in the cross of Jesus.

1) At the cross, we see God loves us. 

"How could God love me if he's letting this happen?" At the cross we find that we are loved deeply by God, enough to allow his Son to be tortured, rejected, and brutally murdered for us. Not only this, but he loved us first, while we were still rebellious against him. He paid what he knew we could never pay so we could have eternal life.

2) At the cross, we see God allows human freedom but maintains control.

God allowed soldiers and leaders and the crowd to crucify Jesus, but Pilate was reminded that the only power he had had come from above. God was in total control of the crucifixion, allowing men to freely make evil choices all for His ultimate purpose of salvation.

3) At the cross, we see God can use the worst circumstances for eternal good.

It doesn't get much worse, humanly speaking, than to see the Son of the eternal God hanging bloody and dead on a cross between two criminals. On Good Friday, it appeared as if God had allowed the worst to happen. If we were witnesses on that day, we would not see the salvation that God had planned. The Son of Man had been executed, but through that horrific event and the resurrection, everlasting life became available to all people, as well as the complete forgiveness of sin.

4) At the cross, we see God paints on a canvas bigger than we can understand.

It's impossible for us to have the eternal perspective on our circumstances that God does. When he orders events, it's not just for immediate satisfaction but for eternal sanctification. He is more concerned about eternal matters, and that can sometimes be the reason our finite minds can't comprehend why the pain lasts and lasts.

5) At the cross, God proves he understands our pain.

Jesus was fully man and fully God at the same time. As hard as it is to grasp, Jesus suffering on this earth and dying the way he did enabled him to experientially relate to us in a completely sympathetic way. He was tested and tempted beyond what we've ever faced and knew the agony of pain. He is the only one who can perfectly understand what you're going through right now, and that is of the utmost importance when we feel lonely and misunderstood in trial.

To me, the points of this message boiled down to God saying these 5 things:

"I love you."

"I'm in control."

"I'm working this all for good."

"I can see the bigger picture you can't yet see."

"I understand."

Like a trace of unearthed gold catching the sun, I can sometimes see glimmers of pain's hidden purposes - to better sympathize with others, to grow more dependent upon and more in love with Jesus, to develop the patience and endurance God desires in me. But for those times I can't see any purpose, when the suffering is real and overwhelming, I can rest in the sure hope of the cross and my Savior who suffered there for me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"God, can I have a sign?"

How many times have I asked God for a sign?  Countless.

Looking back in an old journal, it was almost a daily thing. Will God give me a good parking space? Will I do well on this test or project? Will this deadline get pushed back? Will this person give me approval? Will I get the scholarship? Each "yes" was interpreted as a sign of answered prayer. Looking back, it all revolved around me.

But when I got sick, some of those "signs of favor" on my path with God started to fade. I didn't feel comfortable walking this trail without reassuring arrows and guideposts every few steps, without getting what I thought I needed. In fact, I started flailing, trying to make my own alternative (dead end) routes. Panic set in upon seeing and feeling nothing but more trouble ahead. Instead of signs, the forest got darker, the overgrowth got thicker, and at times I could barely discern my way at all - only weeds, thorny bushes, and a silence that made me question if all I had felt before was really even God.

Making the decision to keep going was extraordinarily difficult. I felt disappointed, hurt, lost, and confused. Deep down, I suffered from a prideful sense of entitlement: "I have done my part, and God is not doing his part." After prayer and reading, I realized that I was not the first person to feel that way. Many people expected Jesus to act differently as the Messiah - to turn things around for Israel and make earthly circumstances better immediately. However, God's complete physical renewing of this world is to come later. First, the spiritual transformation must come. And that starts with repentance and trust in God, not based on what I feel or see but based on who He is.

Who is God? He declared to Moses:

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"  ~Exodus 34:6

This is echoed by many of the painful cries in the Psalms. It's clear from God's word that when we are in crisis, we must return back to the unchanging character of God and decide to trust Him - over and over again.

In my devotion time recently, I read that there are 3 levels of faith:

"While the first level of faith believes when our emotions are favorable, the second believes when all feelings are absent. And the third level transcends the other two, for it is faith that believes God and His Word when circumstances, emotions, appearances, people, and human reason all seem to urge something to the contrary." ~Streams in the Desert

I've been thinking over these three levels. Though my old, simple path with signs every couple feet felt comfortable, it was inherently unstable. I had to feel secure and see clearly before I could trust, or at least not be thwarted from moving forward. Meeting strong resistance required me to choose: either harden my heart or turn from my selfish pride and rely on unchanging God himself, not the variable signs I wanted.

Although this period of heartache has brought me deep into dark and unsafe woods, I now have faith that is based on something solid, resting on a firm foundation. My hope for the future is sure, not based on worldly successes but on saving up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) and an inheritance that will not perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:4).

This inheritance is made possible through Jesus. Even when I still act selfishly and feel entitled and weaken in faith, his righteousness and forgiveness are given to me by grace. In this dark, lonely, thicket, I have found the cornerstone of my life - my love for Jesus Christ. He is the gift of eternal salvation for those who believe, and this is by far the greatest sign of all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


 On the news the other night, I heard a story about an ex-con who had turned his life around and established a vineyard in an unlikely place - the middle of the inner-city. For three years, he has been waiting patiently for the grapes to mature in the midst of adverse circumstances.

As I watched the video of him walking through the rows of well-kept vines, I noticed just how much his attention was on each bud. He even stopped mid-stride and mid-sentence while he was on camera with the reporter to adjust an errant branch and make it lie down on the guide wire.

Despite their sparse appearance, all the rows of neatly laid out vines will produce 3,000 bottles of wine at the proper time. They were much taller the previous year but not ready to harvest. In wisdom, the man had cut them back. "Pruning strengthens the grape for the longer run," the reporter said.

I sometimes wonder why God planted me here in the midst of illness, crime, loss, and sorrow. I wonder why year after year goes by and I feel like I grow in faith, but the pruning shears come out again. He bends down, examines me in love, his tender gaze on my little shoot, and then he snaps it right off. This is love. This is love that I can't quite grasp emotionally when I'm in pain.

But to see this parable brought to life on TV, I can start to understand that God's pruning is the best kind of love. The online news report described the reformed man who expertly cuts back his plants: "He quietly surveys the buds on the vines, deftly fingering the growth, looking for whatever strength there is in the buds." How much more will holy God show this patient love toward us, the ones he plants and prunes for glory?

If there had been a story about a vineyard in the rolling hills of one of the rural counties nearby, no one would have raised an eyebrow. But when a reporter hears of a vineyard in the inner-city that once burned with riots, that's newsworthy. I think God likes those kinds of stories too - the unexpected planting of a weak vessel in a bad place to show the kind of power He can enact when true faith perseveres.

Though we may be planted in the midst of adversity, pruned painfully, and endure long years of nothing outwardly changing, our Gardener has a good purpose in mind, and he's willing to wait. When we act out, he will lay us down again to follow his guide wire. And when the years have passed and the spiritual fruit of abiding in Christ is finally ripe, we will overflow with a harvest for God - a harvest all the more sweet and powerful because of the wait and because of the darkness from which we came.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."
John 15:1-2

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Hope

My future in heaven, my eventual healing, the complete forgiveness of my sins, and my soul's peace all came at an extraordinary cost to Jesus. I'm so thankful to Him today for the brutal torture he endured, the humiliating death he died, and most of all for his victorious resurrection. Because of his triumph over death and the evil in this world, I can persevere with sure hope until he returns to take me home.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed."
Isaiah 53:5

Friday, March 23, 2012

Take Me Into The Beautiful

In this broken life, I often long for my home in heaven. Little tastes of heaven are all around, though flawed and masked by sin and decay. This song reminds me that though trials and disappointments may seem to last forever, my faith in Jesus will soon "take me into the Beautiful."

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 7:37-38

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You hem me in

My morning reading offered encouragement for those who feel stuck in situations beyond their control:

"O restless heart - beating against the prison bars of your circumstances and longing for a wider realm of usefulness - allow God to direct all your days. Patience and trust, even in the midst of the monotony of your daily routine, will be the best preparation to courageously handle the stress and strain of a greater opportunity, which God may someday send."
(excerpt from: Streams in the Desert)

And how do we trust when we have no clear answers to the pain and frustration we must endure?

"What does a child do whose mother or father allows something to be done which it cannot understand? There is only one way of peace. It is the child's way. The loving child trusts.
  I believe that we who know our God, and have proved Him good past telling, will find rest there. The faith of the child rests on the character it knows. So may ours; so shall ours.
"There is only one place where we can receive not an answer to our question, but peace - that place is Calvary. An hour at the foot of the Cross steadies the soul as nothing else can. 'O Christ beloved, Thy Calvary stills all our questions.' Love that loves like that can be trusted about this." 
(excerpt from: Rose From Brier)

Friday, March 16, 2012


Jupiter (left) and Venus (right) came very close together in the sky this week. When I looked up, I couldn't miss the two vivid points of light piercing through the night. It reminded me of the song "Shine" by Salvador:

"Lord let me shine, shine like the moon,
A reflection of You in all that I do.
Lord let me be a light for Your truth;
Light of the world, I wanna be used to shine for You."

These planets (and the moon) emit no light by themselves. But being in the presence of the sun transforms them into reflectors of its magnificent glory - even in especially in deep darkness.

When I'm enduring trials, I sometimes feel like the solitary moon, full of craters and imperfections, unable to provide any light on my own. However, these planets remind me that Jesus, the light of the world, is glorified when He is reflected, even by an isolated orb going about its daily path. Size and strength are of no importance, as "tiny" Venus shines brighter than giant Jupiter. Proximity is all that matters. The closer we come to Him, the brighter He will shine to those near us.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
2 Corinthians 3:18

Monday, March 5, 2012

Scrap Yarn

When I crochet, I have a pile of scrap yarn that I keep near my full skeins. It looks like a complete mess, mixed with various colors and lengths, all thrown in there together. Any person unfamiliar with my work would likely think it should be thrown out. But as the maker of my project, I see the usefulness of those little pieces. I probe the pile until I find just the right one and designate it for a few special stitches that are isolated and stand out against the background.

As I was crocheting with one of those short strands last month, I continued on too far and neglected to switch to the long yarn for the background. Realizing my mistake, I saw how the poor little piece had been used up, struggling to do more than its allotted task. It was trying to do a job meant for a much longer piece of yarn, a job it was never cut out to do. Suddenly, I felt a strange affinity for that tired little scrap.

In early February, a medical specialist confirmed what another physician had told me 8-9 years ago - that I likely have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which the medical community considers a "throw-away diagnosis." Doctors have said that they literally don't know what causes it or how to treat the syndrome, and so CFS is a label for the unknown. It's not even worth bothering to put it in my medical chart, they say, because it cannot help me get well. Due to this poorly understood condition and my significant limitations, I used to wonder what God could possibly do with me and my short supply of energy.

On days when I watched TV, I'd think to myself: "How am I serving God? I can't travel to foreign lands as a missionary. I can't even interact with people at a workplace." However, in spite of my isolation and throw-away diagnosis, the Bible assures me that I, myself, am never discarded as useless by God. My allotted jobs for the day, though not demanding, still have much value: an email sent to encourage a friend, a smile and hug for my mom or grandma, praying for someone going through troubled times, even resting in God's presence, worshiping him, and thinking about his Word rather than dwelling on fear and worry. These are good and pleasing tasks in the Lord's sight.

When my energy runs out quickly and I end up curling into a ball out of sheer fatigue, I have to remember that the short strands are ones the Maker saves with a tender heart to use for important tasks - ones that are vital to His end result. We who feel discouraged and useless need only submit to the Father's wise weaving. If we continue to offer our lives, determining to endure in faith, we will surely rejoice when we see His glorious work completed in and through us.

Paul the apostle wrote:
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:18

To the casual observer, Paul’s ministry appeared to be over. After all, he was getting older and for the second time in his life, he was stuck in a Roman jail, unable to do what he’d done before. But God doesn’t count the value of our days as man does. In His eyes, a bedridden believer in a nursing home still has a purpose and a calling from Him. You can be sure that if you are breathing, the Lord still has plans for you. ~Dr. Charles Stanley
 From: Courage in the Lonely Hour

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stay the Course

About a week ago, The Patriot was on TV. For you ladies, that's the movie with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. If you're a guy, that's the bloody 2000 film about revenge, the Revolutionary War, and the role of the colonial militia's guerrilla tactics.

Anyway, since I had seen it before, my mind was wandering a bit after a series of tragedies in the movie, one of which was the final blow for the main character (Benjamin Martin). He lost his son. His friend, Colonel Burwell, came to talk to him about how much he was needed to fight the next battle, but Martin was engulfed in grief.

Col. Harry Burwell: I'll help you bury him. [referring to Martin's recently killed son]

Benjamin Martin: I'll bury him.

Col. Harry Burwell: My wife in Alexandria is with child, my first. I fight for that child... Benjamin, nothing will replace your sons, but if you come with us, you can justify their sacrifice.

Benjamin Martin: Why?... Why do men feel they can justify death? Is it arrogance or... [voice trails off] I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me... and the cost is more than I can bear.

Col. Harry Burwell: Benjamin, we have a chance. Greene and Dan Morgan are down from Virginia. If we win this next battle, victory in the war is within our grasp.

Benjamin Martin: Go then, seek your victory. I'm a small issue to it.

Col. Harry Burwell: You're wrong Benjamin; you matter to your men, and to others as well. Your victories and... and your losses, are shared by more than you know. Stay with us. Stay the course!

Benjamin Martin: I have run my course.

When Burwell spoke those words in bold, I was almost startled at the force they took on for my situation. Pulled back into the movie by that dialogue alone, I watched closely to see how Martin would respond. I too felt beaten by a long battle that was fraught with loss and discouragement. I too felt pushed to the sidelines, isolated, unable to do anything of much value because of my illness and circumstances that keep me tied to the bed and couch.

But when I saw Martin unfurl the American flag his late son had patched with his own hands and ride up alongside the cheering militia - with tears, I realized the significance of rising above the pain God allows in our lives. Those who know us see the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. The victory is already his, and he shares it with us. We have reason to hold our heads high and ride proudly into each spiritual battle, knowing that our victories and losses matter to more than we know - especially to our Commander, Jesus Christ.

If you are feeling beaten physically, devastated emotionally, or crushed by doubt and despair spiritually, do not forget this image of victory. It's the power of our sins and losses redeemed as we ride under the banner of the Kingdom of the Son who died for us. This is what will carry believers into triumph.

The Patriot: "Stay the Course"

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

Hebrews 12:1-3

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Yesterday, I was struggling with a devotion that said I needed to believe God would answer my urgent prayers as if I had already received the answer of "yes."

"This is not realistic," my heart said.

Sometimes God answers our urgent prayers with, "no." But that should not diminish my faith. How can I pray with faith and yet still feel such discouragement, fear, and uncertainty about the future? This troubled me as I closed the book and skipped my prayer time.

I thought about this as I worked on a crochet project during the afternoon. The rhythmic movement of my fingers, hook, and yarn gave me plenty of time for thought.

What is it that I can be sure that God will do for me in this life?  What is something I can pray for and be sure that I will receive it, as sure as if it has already happened?

Suddenly, it hit me: God will redeem my suffering. None of this pain is wasted. It is all for His glory.

Some pain in life is considered valuable - labor that brings forth a new baby, hard training by an Olympic athlete, rehabilitation for a stroke victim. It is pain with a purpose. When we tend to lose heart is when we feel we are suffering pain without a purpose. Long years of struggle with no end in sight and only a miracle or death as the way out can feel endless and without use. How can God use this quiet, secret pain?  I am not on TV. I am not famous. No one will hear of my tragedy. My struggles are hidden and not well understood, even by me.

But by believing in Christ, I can be sure that all my grief will be turned to joy. My troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs the pain. Like a mother holding her newborn, the excruciating labor will have been worth it. Like a gold medalist on the podium, the intense struggle to overcome will make the victory all the more sweet.

When I wonder how this powerful reversal can possibly be true in my situation, I consider the altered book artist Guy Laramee. He took old, dusty books that appeared to be of no use or value and transformed them into the beautiful, valuable sculptures of landscapes pictured here. Sometimes, I think I spend so much time focused on how the book of my life is written and what will happen in the next chapter that I forget: God is in the business of transforming, like a skilled artist. He transforms sinners into saints. He transforms the pain of loss into ministries of comfort. And in Christ, he transforms death into life. My pain is not wasted in God's hands.

I believe we will be blown away by what God can do with our grief if we give it to him. He "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."