When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want

I have this journal I’ve been using for about two years that I write sermon notes in. It started out as a prayer journal for a few days until my last sermon notes journal literally started falling apart. You can imagine after two years of use, this current journal has long since begun to do the same.

My need for another new journal becomes evident on occasion as I’m taking notes on a Sunday morning and a chunk of pages slides out onto the floor of the worship center. This past Sunday was no different – other than the fact that I’ve come to expect these pages slipping out and my hands have gotten a bit quicker at catching them before they hit the ground.

As I slapped my hand down to shove the pages back into my journal, I caught a glimpse of something that instantly brought a lump to my throat. On this particular runaway page was a pair of lungs drawn in pink and purple marker, and under it circled and in all caps was FEBRUARY.

As tears welled up in my eyes, I remembered the day I drew those lungs two years ago. I had been praying at that time for Mom to receive a double lung transplant. Specifically, for her to receive it in February. And I was instantly reminded of what God hadn’t done. He hadn’t provided new lungs. Instead, he let her die six months later. It felt like a gut punch.

As someone who fully believes that God hears and answers our prayers, this is a tough one for me. How do I begin to process the fact that God didn’t give me what I felt our family so desperately needed? What I wanted more than anything?

In my perfect world, Mom would be here. She would be texting me pictures she found on Pinterest to give me ideas for decorating our house. She would be completely gushing over our new puppy and begging Dad to drive her up to Tennessee to meet him. She would be here. With me.

But the fact is, we live in a broken world with broken people who just get sick. And sometimes when broken people get sick, they die. Maybe this makes you uncomfortable. Quite honestly it makes me a little uncomfortable, too. But for better or worse, it’s the truth.

I think this truth is hard for us to swallow sometimes because we have this urgent need for things to make sense and to have purpose. I also feel like we live in a culture that desperately wants to believe God answers all of our prayers exactly the way we’d like for him to if only we just pray hard enough and have enough faith (as if he were some magic genie in a lamp granting our every wish).

A pastor I work with recently said, “We are always expecting God to show up according to our expectations.” While he wasn’t speaking specifically about prayer, I believe it applies here, too. You see, the problem isn’t that God didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted. The problem is that I expected him to move according to my will and in the way I thought best. But that’s just not how God works.

For sure he hears and answers our prayers. I’ve seen him do it. But he answers them in his own, omniscient way, with a bigger picture in mind that only he can see. And I guess that’s just what we have to trust in – knowing that he is in fact all-knowing and he loves us too much to always give us what we want.

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Contentment

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13

Part of this scripture popped up in my Facebook memories this morning, and it couldn’t have resurfaced at a better time. It’s funny how God knew that 27 year old Sabrina would need this reminder from 22 year old Sabrina. She would need to be reminded that contentment can be found in all of life’s circumstances, because in all of life’s circumstances there is Christ. And because of him who strengthens us, we can be content.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself always looking forward to the next season of life, thinking “that’s when I’ll be happy” or “that’s when life will feel complete”. Instead of being fully present in this season, I wait in great anticipation of seasons to come. With my focus often on the future, I struggle to be content where I am.

I think we can learn a lot from Paul and the wisdom he’s sharing here with the Philippians. In verse 11 he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Let’s all just pause for a second to remember that Paul is thought to have been writing this from prison. Anyone else find that at least a little ironic?

Paul goes on to reveal his “secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” – and it’s Jesus. In his very literal suffering, he points to Jesus as his source of contentment. (Here I am failing, at times, to be content with our new house because it’s not completely furnished yet, and Paul is like “I’m content in my prison cell because JESUS.” Y’all. )

I think it’s safe to assume your suffering doesn’t quite look like Paul’s. But maybe you’re like me, struggling to balance the excitement and anticipation of things to come with living fully present in whatever season of life you find yourself. Or maybe you’re in a really hard and trying season, and it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel has yet to even become a faint flicker of hope.

Wherever you find yourself, let’s take a moment to reflect on where we see Christ at work.

Where do we see him comforting us?

Where do we see him stretching and growing our faith?

Where do we see him bringing joy into our lives?

May we find contentment here. In this place of searching for God and finding that he is always faithfully at work in us, no matter our season of life.

Thankfulness

I’m learning to practice thankfulness. To take notice of things God has done in my life and things he’s given me in hopes that this thankfulness will bring about a new sense of joy. This idea that practicing thankfulness instills joy is intriguing to me. Giving thanks is such a simple thing. And realizing that this simple act gives great joy, the kind that only comes from God, why has it taken me so long to grasp this seemingly simple concept?

In Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, she urges the reader to cultivate a habit of thankfulness towards God so that, no matter the season of life, our instinctual response is to look for ways in which God is working. To seek out where praise is due to Him.  Voskamp writes, “Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it. ” PREACH sister. I so hunger for this joy. The joy that pulls us through the trenches and over the mountain tops.

In a recent interview on Sadie Robertson’s Whoa That’s Good Podcast, Annie F. Downs asks the question, “Even on your darkest day, can you find one thing?” Her challenge here was to dig deep in your moment of sorrow to find at least one thing that is joyful, one thing you can be thankful for. Now I don’t think what Downs is saying here is for us to completely ignore and not process through our sorrow, but maybe that while we are working through it, finding joy and seeking God in the little things might just help pull us out of the rut we’re in.

Paul, who continually suffered and endured persecution for the cause of Christ, tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Practicing thankfulness not only brings us joy as Voskamp and Downs suggest, but it’s also an act of obedience to our Father. (Side note – isn’t it kind of interesting how obedience to God happens to bring us the truest sense of joy? Kind of like He’s always got our best interest in mind?)

Since reading Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts last January, I’ve been journaling a list of things that I’m thankful for. To be honest, it’s not near as full as it could or should be. But when I sit down to write, even on tough days, I can always find at least one thing. And it’s so simple. There’s nothing fancy about this journal. I don’t even write in complete sentences – I just list things out as they come to mind. I initially tried to not be repetitive with what I wrote down, but that eventually got thrown out the window because sometimes I’m just really thankful for my dog and my husband on really bad day and I think God gets that.

And what I’ve noticed since starting this thankfulness journal, is that the more often I write in it, the more I see God in the day-to-day.

I see Him sunrises and sunsets that I know He knows I love so much.

I see Him in kind words people speak to me when I’ve prayed for encouragement.

I see Him in the built in bookshelves we have in our new home that I’ve dreamed of having since watching the library scene in Beauty and the Beast as a little girl. (This one may sound silly, but y’all. I told no one about wanting these bookshelves when we were house hunting. My husband didn’t even know until I started unpacking my books. And then he listened to me gush about how I know God loves me because he gave me bookshelves I didn’t even ask for.)

You see, the more I practice thankfulness, the more I see God at work, and the more I realize all I have to be thankful for. It’s this beautiful habit that maybe doesn’t change my situation or the season of life I’m in, but man it helps alter my perspective. Friend, will you join me on this journey of learning to be more thankful and working to see God in all the little things? There is such joy to be found here.

Pulmonary Fibrosis Is

Pulmonary Fibrosis is a surprise caught on a scan at the doctor’s office. It’s hearing the phone ring and watching your mom cry on the front porch for a while after hanging up the phone.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is kids in the back seat of a suburban parked on a dirt road being told their mom is sick and will need a transplant to survive. It’s confusion and worry. It’s growing up scared of germs and of giving your mom the cold that everyone is passing around at school.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is hours and miles up and down I-45 for doctor’s appointments and hospital stays. It’s copays and deductibles. It’s countless prescriptions to slow disease progression and alleviate symptoms.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is a mom praying she sees her kids graduate high school. It’s a mom that masks her exhaustion with makeup and a smile so that she can take care of her family and serve her church so faithfully. It’s attending football games, marching band competitions, and county fairs. It’s teaching Sunday school, serving at youth retreats and mission trips until your need for supplemental oxygen becomes too great to leave the house for extended periods of time.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is becoming homebound and losing your independence. It’s being told your chances of being matched for a lung transplant are slim, and your chances of surviving that transplant are even slimmer. It’s realizing and being wrapped up in the love and support of the amazing community you live in.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is hanging on long enough to see your daughter get married, and being admitted into the hospital on her wedding night because the pain has become too much to bear. It’s a newlywed curled up in her dad’s lap watching her mom sleep, whispering “I’m not ready for this.” It’s everyone taking turns snuggling up to mom and soaking up every hand hold. Every kiss. Every hug.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is being released from the hospital only to return a few weeks later. It’s pulling out of the driveway with the love of your life for the last time as she takes one last look around the farm. It’s being admitted to the ICU and learning the names of all the nurses on the floor. It’s making friends with other families in the waiting room and knowing what cookies to grab at the cafeteria.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is saying goodbye to the strongest woman I’ll ever know as hospital staff prepare to intubate. It’s waiting seven days in hopes that new lungs would come, but they don’t. It’s family and the best of friends waiting in a room down the hall telling stories and reminiscing as we, my dad, my brother, and I, surround Mom’s hospital bed with tears and love and

“You can go home now, Momma”.

 

I Hope This Makes You Feel Less Lonely

I visit Mom’s facebook page late at night, when I really miss her. Sometimes I half expect there to be new pictures, and then quickly realize that there won’t be. There aren’t new memories to make and new pictures to post. She has no more life left to live. Pulmonary Fibrosis took that from our family.

So there I am in bed, scrolling through the same pictures I’ve scrolled through countless nights before, hoping to see something I haven’t yet. And I always find myself disappointed.

I’ve had conversations with God that go something like “I miss her so much. I just want you to give her back to me.” I said those words last night, actually. But I also realized last night – how cruel would that be? And not because Mom was sick, but because I realized how heartbreaking it would be to reach heaven, to be in the sweet presence of our Savior, only to be sent back here.

I picked up a new book at Barnes & Noble the other day called The Dead Moms Club. It recounts the author’s experience of losing her mom to pancreatic cancer. What I’ve really appreciated about this book is that the author, Kate Spencer, lays it all out on the table. The real, raw emotions that losing your mother to a horrible disease brings out. It’s made me feel like a human being actually understands my story. And it’s made me feel less lonely.

And maybe that’s why I’m writing this rambly, gloomy post – so that maybe someone else could feel just a little less lonely, too. Grief is isolating. But friend, you are not alone. You are not alone in your sorrow. You are not alone in what feels like irrational/crazy/dumb/whatever-you-call-them thoughts.

You are not alone. Because I am here, ready to listen to you gush about how amazing your mom/dad/brother/sister/child/best friend ever was, your favorite memories with them, the words you wish you would’ve said, how much you wish God could just give them back. But more importantly, you are not alone because God is with you. In the middle of your grief. Ready to listen to your questions, your angry words, your deep sorrow. He is near to the brokenhearted, and he saves the crushed in spirit.

An Honest Conversation

Dear, Church.

Let’s chat real quick about grief. I’ve noticed over the past several months how poorly equipped we can sometimes be in dealing with this. And I don’t know that it’s really anyone’s fault. Grief and death are tricky, and not everyone handles them in the same way. So what do we do when someone we know loses a loved one? How do we respond? How do we support our bereaved friends and family?

We can listen.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But here’s the catch – try to just listen. As Christians, it can be so easy to want to slap a bandaid on with our words. We mean well,  but what we don’t always realize is that these statements can sometimes come from a place of our own discomfort. Just listening to someone and sitting with them in their grief can be awkward, and we don’t always know the right words to say. But friend, want to know the magic secret here? We don’t have to have words to say in these moments. Your grieving friend will so appreciate you quietly listening to them as they share how much they miss their loved one.

We can remind them of truth.

“But Sabrina, you just told me to listen?” Yeah, I know. I also told you grief was tricky, remember? While your friend desperately needs you to listen as they process their grief, they also need to be gently reminded of truth. Whether they’re angry, sad, anxious, or just a little numb, remind them that these feelings are normal. Grief can make you feel a little crazy, and it helps to have a friend validate your feelings and remind you that you’re not.

Along with feeling a little bit crazy, grief can also bring up feelings of guilt. In my personal experience with grief, my feelings of guilt have been where I’ve needed the most truth spoken into my life. My husband actually handled this really well. Each time I found myself broken over thoughts of “I could have given Mom one of my lungs. We had the same blood type. We were the same height. I probably would have been a match.” He lovingly reminded me that even if I had been the perfect match, Mom never would have agreed to it. And her doctors wouldn’t have either. This truth is just what my brain needed in that moment – to be reminded of the irrationality of it all, while still acknowledging that the pain is real.

Most importantly, you can remind your friend of truth found in Scripture. Please hear me out for a second- this is not the time to share your “everything happens for a reason” statements. They just don’t hold water here. (Sickness and death happen because we live in a broken world. Amen. The end.) However, this IS the time to share scripture like Psalm 34:18, which says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Another that I’ve continually reminded myself is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” Your grieving friend needs to hear Scripture that comforts and gives hope.

We can be a friend.

This one sounds obvious, but it’s equally as important to note here. We have to be careful to not only see our friend for their grief. Sure, they want you to ask how they’ve been doing since so-and-so passed away, but they don’t want every conversation to find itself there. Go have lunch with them. Talk to them about a book you just read and are LOVING. Take them to get a pedicure. Just be their friend and love them like you’ve always done, but maybe with just a little extra grace, okay?

Church, I know that death makes us uncomfortable. And I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert in the matter. But I really think these three actions – listening, reminding of truth, and being a friend – are at least really great steps in the right direction. Let’s work on this together, shall we?

 

The Promise of Redemption

So many of God’s promises were fulfilled in Jesus – promises made long ago in Old Testament. I have no idea how many were made by God to his people about the work that Jesus would do on this earth (I know it was A LOT), but Jesus fulfilled them all. The most important promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus death and resurrection – the promise of redemption.

Before Jesus, sacrifices were required to be made by the high priest in the temple on ones behalf. No one but the high priest was allowed behind the curtain into the holy of holies where God was said to dwell and sacrifices were made. But the book of Hebrews tell us that when Jesus’ blood was spilled, he became our high priest, giving himself as a permanent sacrifice so that we can be eternally redeemed.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can now “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy” (ESV). Because of what was done on the cross and in the tomb (that tomb is empty by the way, y’all!), we have complete freedom to come before God to request and receive the sweet forgiveness given through Jesus Christ. No longer do we need anyone to make sacrifices over and over again for our mistakes and request God’s forgiveness on our behalf. God made a way for us to approach him directly, be eternally redeemed, and dwell with him.

Our God – what a promise keeper. Hallelujah.

This is our gospel truth, the story of Easter. The story of a precious baby, born to a virgin, who lived a perfect, sinless life, only to be crucified on a  cross at a place called Golgotha. He was betrayed by one of his best friends, arrested, mocked, beaten, and murdered for you and me. Rising from the grave after three days, our Savior. Sweet redemption.

We did nothing to deserve this, yet Jesus gave himself anyway. I think that’s the beauty of this story. What great love God showed to us. What great desire he has to be in relationship with us that he would sacrifice himself. It’s crazy and wild and so humbling. Wherever you find yourself this Easter, take some time to really dwell on this beautiful gift of salvation and redemption we’ve been given. Happy Resurrection Day, y’all.

 

 

 

 

Failed Bullet Journaling and My Prayer for 2018

I wandered the aisles of Target last November, bored. Jonathan must have been on a work trip because I wandered alone. We usually make Target trips together after dinner. I eventually made my way over to the journals, digging to find a bullet journal that met my “cute journal” standards, and found none. So I did what any good millennial would do and ordered one on Amazon instead.

I could NOT wait for this journal to come in the mail. This bullet journal was going to be the stuff Pinterest dreams are made of and would solve all of my productivity (read procrastination) problems. I managed to create a really great list of what I should be doing to keep our apartment clean, complete with a few different bullet point styles to designate how often each task on this list was to be done. Spoiler alert: I think the last time I looked at that list was the night I wrote it using my favorite purple and green Paper Mate Flair pens. Welp. At least I tried, right? *insert shoulder shrug emoji*

Fast forward about two months and a few dust bunnies later, I pulled out that bullet journal and my Paper Mate Flairs, and wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12.”

Steadfast. That word. It kept finding a way to grab my attention last year. Steadfastness became such a reoccurring theme in Sunday sermons and summer Bible studies, so it didn’t surprise me at all when the verse I found to doodle in my journal was James 1:12. And there it was, staring me in the face. In my own handwriting. STEADFAST.

God is calling me to this James 1:12 kind of steadfastness. I know he is. He’s only been doing it for about a year, and I’m finally listening.

So my prayer for 2018 is that God would make me steadfast.

I want to be steadfast in my pursuit of him. Quite honestly, I struggle with this. My prayer life and Bible reading can be pretty inconsistent. I’m praying that God would deepen my desire to know him and love him more. That he would help me to develop habits that grow my faith and lead to the kind of steadfastness that James 1:12 talks about.

I want to be steadfast in my marriage. Marriage is hard, y’all. And marriage is so worth the effort. In this season of figuring out married life and how to do it well, I want my heart to always be fully invested, even when grieving makes it hard. My prayer is that God will teach me and help me to love my husband well.

I want to be steadfast in my friendships. I want to have more intentional conversations with my friends that will lead to forming the kind of community that my mom had with her Bunco Ladies. My prayer is that I would make time for these conversations and that I would listen well.

I also want to be steadfast in my blogging. Blogging is such an opportunity for ministry. So much can be gained from sharing and listening to others’ stories. We are all called to share stories of how God has and is working in our lives. These stories can give life, wisdom, encouragement, and hopefully a laugh or two along the way. There is no limit to how God can use a story to impact someone’s life. My prayer is that God would shine through the life stories I share with you. That you will see his faithfulness in my life, even when I’m not consistently faithful to him.

What are you praying for this year? I would love to join you in that. Leave a comment or feel free to contact me via the contact page of my blog. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thoughts on Advent

Sitting in the quiet glow of Christmas lights and an Edison bulb lamp, I wonder how Mary must have felt while riding on the back of a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Her husband, Joseph, at her side. Was she scared? Overwhelmed with anticipation? Or was she at peace knowing that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, would soon be born from her virgin womb?

I’ve never thought much about Advent until recently. Maybe my Baptist roots are to blame. I never noticed much emphasis given to Advent in church growing up. Or maybe the problem was exactly that. I never noticed.

This Advent season, I’m taking the time to notice. I’m taking the time to meditate on this promised Prince of Peace, and I’m clinging tightly to the promises he’s made. Promises like the ones made to David that a king would be born of his lineage who would one day save the world. Promises like the ones made to shepherds out in a field about a baby who would bring great joy to all people.

Theses promises give me hope and peace. They give me hope in seeing how God was faithful to his word a couple thousand years ago, and knowing that he is still faithful to do so today. They give me peace in knowing that I have a heavenly father who desires to have a relationship with me and cares about my well-being. He is near to me, and he will comfort me in my grief.

After losing my mom in August, I find myself needing a little extra comfort this Advent season. And maybe you’re feeling the same way for reasons all your own. My prayer and my challenge to you, dear friend, is this: that your need for comfort causes you to lean into the Lord and receive the love the he so freely gives, that you may cling a little harder to the promises of God, and in these promises, may you find hope and peace.

Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas.

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God is in the Grief

I recently read a blogpost that asked the question, “Where do you feel God?”. I sat for a minute and jotted down a few places and ways in which I most often feel God’s presence – sunsets, stars, hiking, music, quiet time spent with him. And then I thought, where do I feel God in my grief? I know that he is there. Right in the middle of it. But it took a little more digging to figure out specific ways in which I have felt God while grieving the loss of my sweet Momma.

I felt his Spirit in the hospital room with my dad and brother as my mom struggled to take her last breath. There was such a deep sorrow shared between the three of us as we held her hands and brushed her hair away from her face. But I also felt a calm stillness that I knew was the presence of my Jesus. I felt a peace in the midst of our sadness.

I have felt God through people. I felt his thoughtfulness in the meals that people brought to our family’s home when we left the hospital.  I felt his joy as I watched a video of mom’s friends releasing balloons to celebrate her birthday. I felt his love in the sympathy cards, notes, and encouraging texts sent by family and friends. I continue to feel his love in the hugs and forehead kisses my husband gives me on days when I really miss my mom. I’m so thankful that God uses ordinary people to make his presence known in such tangible ways. He knows how much I need this, and he’s faithful to provide it.

I continue to feel God in prayer and Scripture. Prayer is not easy in grief. Sometimes I’m irrationally angry, and sometimes my prayers are not more than a few words long. But I know that he is close. And I know that he is listening. I can feel his nearness. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and he saves the crushed in Spirit.” I cling to this verse because it reminds me of the nearness I feel in prayer. It reminds me that even in the loneliness that grief can bring, God is there, and he’s walking through this alongside of me.

Nothing quite prepares you for this kind of loss. The kind that hurts so deeply it can become all-consuming. I sometimes think about  about all the things that my mom won’t get to experience – growing old with my dad, skydiving with my brother, holding and helping to raise her grandchildren – and my heart is broken. But I am thankful that in the middle of my grief, I am able to feel God’s presence in so many ways, and that in his presence I find peace. I am thankful that he comforts me through his Holy Spirit, through his people, and through his word. And I am thankful that my sweet Momma is experiencing his presence in the most real way.