Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hello, my name is Meredith and I am suffering.

About a week after Christmas, I learned that a BSF sister of mine had gone to be with Jesus. LaTanya suffered from a congenital disease that left her with severe physical handicaps. She got around in a motorized wheelchair, and relied on Austin's public transport system to bring her to class on Monday nights. When she was in my small group, I sat beside her during lecture and took notes for her, as she was not easily able to write in her own hand. LaTanya was not always easy to understand because her disorder made it hard for her to form words the way that you or I would. I remember praying while listening to her speak in small group, relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the heart of what she said, even if the actual words jumbled in my ear.

The day I learned of LaTanya's death, I started to study Romans 8: 17-27- a passage of scripture that is all about suffering. Nothing could have been more appropriate for that moment, as LaTanya suffered as much as anyone I've ever met.

When we remember someone, or even when we speak about their difficulties in the present, it's rare to openly talk about their suffering. It is equally as unusual to admit our own sufferings. It's true that you'll bump into the odd individual who enjoys telling others all about their personal pain. But I find that most folks don't like talking about their suffering. 

I know that I don't like talking about my suffering a whole lot with others because I fear that it will annoy them. I also feel like my suffering, which is emotional and spiritual, is so much less than the suffering I see in some of my closest friends. 

I know people who are suffering physically from illnesses that might not get better. I have friends who are suffering in singleness (I know that some people count singleness as a gift, but for some of my sweet friends, it is most definitely a source of suffering) and watching the years slip away. There are those dear to my heart who have had their hearts shattered by broken promises. Some face unfair situations in their places of work or ministry. Others are encountering the vacuum left in the universe after someone precious has passed, and finding it an ugly and frightening space. 

So I'm writing this, not because I consider my suffering comparable to theirs, but because, as I have learned this week, when it comes to suffering, there is no remedy save hope and fellowship. 

My particular suffering comes from deep disappointment and a heart that grieves over sin. Brokenness has won the day in one part of my life. And despite years of fervent prayer, the broken pieces lay shattered. For so long, I have put my hope in the idea that God will put those pieces back together. Certainly sin shouldn't win. Everyone involved in this cursed mess claims to believe... 

But, what LaTanya and Paul have helped me discover is that that kind of hope- though it is right and good- is not the hope that I've been promised in God's Word. There is no promise that it will get better here. There is nothing in God's Word that says that He will heal our illnesses or our broken hearts, or our stubborn, wrecked relationships while we are here on this Earth. LaTanya got that. One of the ladies from my Austin BSF class reminded me how LaTanya loved to talk about  how she could not wait to dance with Jesus in her new body. She knew that body was going to be birthed in another place, one promised to her, but one she did not know outside of God's word. All her hope was in that place. And mine should be too. 

Paul writes in Romans 8 that suffering in this world is like going through labor pains. We groan, as does the rest of creation, under the weight of the brokenness of sin, the ravages of injustice, the wretchedness of death, the ache of longings unfulfilled. But as we groan, we do so in expectation- not for something that will happen here- but for something that is guaranteed to happen on another Day. The Day of the Lord. When He rights all wrong. When He fills every desire. When He MAKES ALL THINGS NEW. 

I often wake up in the night in grief over my particular suffering. Maybe you do too. Sometimes I try to distract myself from it by reading or looking at my phone. Sometimes I let it fester into something that leaves me feeling despondent. But last night, as I put my face into my pillow, and I groaned inwardly, I didn't have the same outlook as I have had. Studying Romans 8 has encouraged me to groan and grieve and suffer the way that God desires- with an outlook that I WILL BE DELIVERED from this painful place. I just have to wait the rest of my lifetime. And in light of eternal glory, Paul says... that's actually not asking that much. 

When I went into labor with Grey, it was really rough. He was turned the wrong way and we ended up needing forceps to get him out. I remember that pain. I remember how I thought that I might die. But when I sit and hold his healthy little body in my arms now, I don't care about that pain. I don't care that I thought it might kill me. I have fullness of joy. 

LaTanya feels that kind of joy now, only in greater measure than I could ever convey in words. Because from her stead at my Savior's side, she can remember every moment of suffering and for her, now, it all feels light and momentary. 

My suffering friends, I grieve and groan with you. I wait with you for the eternal weight of glory that will surpass all of this. May that glory be beautifully heavy in our hearts and our hands and outweigh the suffering God has called us to share with Him here. But may our feet be light on that Day... we're going to need to dance with LaTanya. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December 26

The anticipation of this shimmering season reached its zenith 24 hours ago. Christmas morning came with its wrapping paper and wide-toothed smiles, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole and sugar-coated calories. It was wonderful, and now it's over.

I used to sort of dread December 26. When I was a lot younger, I almost immediately dreaded returning to school. Come to think of it... that part hasn't really changed. ;) The best part of the break always seemed to be before Christmas Day. There always was an abundance of purpose and joy in those days, and then the days afterward seemed dark and aimless- some people would consider that relaxing, but I've never been much good at that task.

This year, I'm tempted to feel the same way. I enjoyed the Christmas season so much. I loved preparing my home and talking about the menu. I loved visiting friends in Austin and then returning home to my babies. And the joy of Christmas morning with a toddler has to be one of life's best gifts. But, I'm not feeling down this morning, and I'm hoping that won't set in.  Here's why...

At the beginning of the Christmas season, I was listening to a sermon series on idolatry. In the last message of that series, the pastor pointed out that when we set our hearts on something that God could do for us, then, when that thing doesn't come to pass, we can begin to ask God, "What good are you?" I confess, I have felt this way for years. And each Christmas, as I've considered this thing that I want God to do for me, I have asked Him for a miracle. But as those Christmas days have faded into nights, and my life looks the same on December 26th, I've felt depressed, frustrated, and angry with God. I've thought, "What good are you? Isn't Christmas a time for miracles? Isn't this miracle according to your will? Why don't you come through for me on this?" This year I realized that I needed to just worship the Newborn King. That He is the miracle, and that I did not need to ask for more.

While I was in Austin, I got to sit down to lunch with three dear friends. They are my burden-bearers. Those who rejoice when I rejoice, and mourn when I mourn. We all agreed that as we grow in Christ and learn to walk in His ways (some of us, through some serious sufferings) we are amazed at how slowly He works. My friend said that she is realizing that what happens is that she will learn one new truth about God, and then look around at her life and realize that everything else is exactly the same- but she just sees it all through the lens of that one truth. I almost fell off my seat laughing because nothing could be more true. His ways are not our ways. He is not as fast as I'd like Him to be. In fact, sometimes He doesn't do what I want Him to do at all. And yet, He is still the best Gift, the only Gift that will really satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.

After the shepherds saw the baby Jesus lying in the manger, they returned to their fields rejoicing and praising God. I think most Christmases, I've been so caught up in the angels and the baby and the star (not to even mention Santa and traditions and presents and parties) that I have ignored the "returned to their fields" part. The shepherds weren't upgraded to a better lifestyle, they weren't regarded with more esteem, they weren't better rested or more healthy because they laid eyes on the Christ child. They went back to their fields, looked at their flocks, and everything was the same...except for one truth that they had learned about God.

On this December 26th, I feel the same way. Praise God for His Son Jesus, who was born to Mary & Joseph, was laid down in a manger, lived a perfect life, died the death I should die, was buried and rose again- that I might be restored to my Father and my King. Hallelujah! And Merry December 26th.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Grateful #26- Oh, come, oh come, Emmanuel

This is the last gratitude post, and I have saved it on purpose. This exercise in writing about what I'm thankful for has been wonderful. Writing has long been my preferred act of worship, and reflecting on what I'm grateful for before writing about it has stirred up many thoughts and emotions this month. But there's one thing that ties each post here together- one Person, really, and it's that Person for whom I give thanks today.

A few years ago, the Hill Country Christian School faculty was encouraged to read a book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. The message of that book is pretty well explained by its title. When we try to add something to Jesus (Jesus + good works, Jesus + a strong marriage, Jesus + happy children, Jesus + acceptance, Jesus + a beautiful body, etc.) we miss out on the everything that Jesus offers.

I struggle with that message all.the.time. It's probably why I'm also enjoying Tim Hawks' series on idolatry and listening to Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods on Audible. Because I am so prone to want to throw a + in there with Jesus.

It's a wonderful thing to be the recipient of so many blessings from the Lord. Each of the things I've written about this month is something that I am deeply grateful for. But many of the things also can become idols for me- things that distract me from truly worshiping the One True King.

So, let me end with this proclamation. I am crazy about Jesus. I love Jesus. I love Him more than anything or anyone. I love Him because He is the only Person who will never let me down. I know His character, I know He is true, I know He is endlessly patient, long-suffering, gentle and loving. I know He always wants my best. I know He is capable of all things. He is my hope.

But this is also true- I want to add more to my experience of Jesus. I fall into the + something camp so much of the time. I want Jesus to make my life work, make things make sense, make the hurt I've endured go away. I want Him to make things right. I want Him to teach the people who have hurt me and who refuse to acknowledge that hurt a lesson. I want justice... for me... and then maybe for other people too. I am a shallow and selfish worshiper. But, that's exactly why I love him.

Because what I know about Jesus is this- that no matter where I am, no matter what shape my heart is in or what my life looks like, He is worthy of my worship, and it is worshiping Him that will set me free.

Jesus, we are settling in to celebrate your birth. You came here with a mission. You accomplished that mission. You completed the work that set us free. Jesus, it's hard to understand why you allow certain circumstances to exist in our lives, and in the world. But we know that you understand our pain and temptations and sufferings. You have endured more than I can imagine. Please help me to place all these other blessings that I've given thanks for in right order. And please help my heart to worship You alone- whether I am suffering or happy, in turmoil or peace, have plenty or nothing. You are my King. You will never leave me or forsake me. You are the place I go to when life makes no sense. You are good. And I am thankful for You.

Grateful #25- Story Lamm

Today is the last day of November, so it's the last day that I'll write a daily gratitude. I didn't make it to 30, but that's okay. I didn't want it to become a chore. I also didn't write these in order of magnitude. Some days I just wrote what was on my mind. But there are two that I've been saving up for the end. So here we go...

Today, I am grateful for a blonde-headed little person named Story Lamm Wermel. Lately I've observed that when someone who loves Story sees her or talks about her, they can't help but smile. As Story's momma, I am 100% biased, but I think the reason for that is because Story is delightful. She is a sweet and funny and caring little person. And she happens to be ours.

There's something about this little human that makes other people well. Being around Story is like a salve for the soul. After I had Grey, something weird happened to me physiologically. My hormones crashed out and anxiety consumed my mind. I had friends and family praying for me everywhere, but one of the things that helped me the most was stroking Story's long, golden hair while we watched Thomas the Train. In that moment, I felt almost normal.

Like all people, Story was born into sin. She has her moments where sin manifests itself in selfishness, ridiculous toddler tantrums, disobedience. We are trying everyday to point Story to her need for Jesus to be her Savior from that sinful nature.

Even so, I can see how God created this person in His image, and she teaches me what it means to just rejoice in what He has made. One day, Story and I were driving in the car with my dad. As we passed the courthouse and law enforcement buildings in downtown Fayetteville, we pointed the buildings out to her and told her that was where Granddaddy works. Granddaddy, more tongue in cheek than anything, asked her "Story, where do you work?" She responded immediately. "Helper." We both thought that answer was perfect. She is indeed a helper. She helps me all the time around the house, and helps Granddaddy pick up sticks on the farm. How beautiful that she sees herself as a helper. What a profound lesson there is in that for me.

Oh, my Story girl, there aren't enough words to write how much I love you. I love each minute of the day with you, even when I am tired and you are whiny. You challenge me and delight me each and every day. I am so proud of you, and watching you grow is my JOY. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are the perfect gift. I pray that you know Jesus and learn to obey Him so He can make you into the true you He desires you to be. I love you, my Munchie Munch. And I am so grateful I get to be your momma.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Grateful #24- Second Chances

Andrew Grey Wermel is a fantastic night time sleeper. He falls asleep around 8PM and snoozes in his crib until sometime between 3-5AM.  Then, he makes tiny noises that are only loud to my momma ears. I bee line to the nursery to feed him and then he falls back asleep until 7:30AM.

But Grey's days are never as predictable. Some days, he's drowsy all day. Most days, he can snooze a little  in the morning, but he is  awake all afternoon. And others, like yesterday, he is awake ALL DAY long.

I struggle on days like yesterday. My desire to control things and achieve goals is greater than my desire to be patient and nurturing. I saw this come into full view yesterday, and it was pretty ugly. By late afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted. My house was a shambles of baby feeding accouterments, Christmas decorations and the ingredients for yellow curry. All day, I'd wanted to get those decorations sorted and get that curry started, but Grey wanted to be held.

Finally, around 4:30, I was determined to get something done. I put Grey on the sofa on a green Christmas blanket and marched into the kitchen to start the curry that I had wanted to simmer all afternoon. I pulled out my Ninja to blend the curry paste, and I knew that the noise would be loud for Grey, but I was determined to accomplish at least one goal. After the blending was complete, I peeked into the den but saw an empty green blanket where Grey should have been. Apparently the noise from the Ninja scared him so badly that he leapt off the sofa. He was face down on the rug and crying. He wasn't the only one. I burst into tears as I scooped him up and tried to console him.

I felt so awful about what happened that I went to bed at the same time as my kids last night. I wanted the day to be over, wanted that mom failure to be behind me. But my sleep was fitful. I regretted the anxiety that I allowed to build up in me throughout the afternoon. I felt guilty that I chose my own desire to accomplish something over Grey's comfort and safety.The reality that sin never affects only one person was heavy and painful.

I asked God (and Andy and Grey) to forgive me for letting my frustration call the shots yesterday. I asked my BSF group to pray for me to put aside my desires on those tough afternoons when Grey doesn't want to be put down. Andy was understanding and gracious. My group was supportive and offered words of encouragement. And Grey has been all smiles.

God is gracious, and He knows I am a work in progress. So I'm grateful today for the many chances that I receive from my God and from my friends and family. Yesterday, I didn't get it right, but today, there's a new chance to yield my will to God's desire for me to love sacrificially.

Grey's having an easier afternoon. He's enjoying the pack and play that I set up in the den to keep him safe just in case I have to pull that Ninja out again. And I'm grateful to have another chance to be a better mom.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Grateful #23- Coffee beans and Christmas trees

This morning, I walked down the stairs to the most glorious smell. Coffee and Christmas tree. We got our live tree yesterday- a seven footer that is taking a prominent space in our living room. I came down here this morning to finish up my BSF lesson, and have been drinking in that sweet scent of evergreen while studying Romans. Time to go literally drink some of the coffee that's been percolating since 5:30 this morning.

Today, I'm grateful for Christmas traditions like bringing sweet-scented evergreen trees into our living rooms. Praise God for the eternal life that tree is a symbol of.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Grateful #22- Happy Holidays

A couple of years ago, I wrote a few blog posts about finding joy in the midst of unhappiness. At the time, I was feeling really unhappy. I was weary of the distance between me and my extended family. My two best buddies I'd made while teaching in Austin had both moved overseas. I was struggling under the weight of four science preps (one of them AP). And Andy and I were trying to figure out how to be parents.

On the one hand, as a middle class, educated, employed, married American mother, it seems a little silly to feel unhappy. I have so much. But, on the other, happiness is an emotion. And, like all emotions, it is completely circumstantial.

I think Christians feel guilty or ashamed about feeling unhappy. Maybe there's some good sense in that. An inventory of God's blessings is a good place to start to chase away a superficial case of the blues. But, at the same time, Christians are not "above" feeling unhappy. I think sometimes we feel like we have to "fake it til we make it"to try to sell people on Jesus. But most people have enough Holden Caulfield in them to sniff out a case of the Christian phonies. And there's no need for false happiness. Jesus doesn't promise to bring us happiness, He guarantees our holiness. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves and for the world is to just be real about where we are.The point of writng about my unhappiness a couple of years ago was to work the truth about Jesus into my heart in that unhappy season. It might be a spoiled American white girl thing to be unhappy in the midst of a mountain of blessings, but it was true for me, and I needed to rejoice in Jesus in those circumstances... not so He could make me happy. So He could make me holy.

Things have changed a lot since those posts. And while there are still some troubling circumstances I wrestle with, I'm in a happier season of life. So today, I'm rejoicing in my happiness. My family is close and everyone is well. My children are small and snuggly and delightful. There is enough money to pay the bills. There is no stress of working outside the home. And as the holidays are upon us, I feel even happier. I hope these days of glad tidings are cold and long and filled with traditions and time with family and friends.

Happiness is not a guarantee. It's not something we can trap. It's not something we can work to achieve. But, when it's here, it's only right to give thanks for it. So today, I am grateful for this happiest start to the holiday season.