God is ALWAYS better than we think He is

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

This is a famous quote from the Hiding Place, a true story written by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her sister Betsy had defied the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home.  When their house was raided, the Jews were never discovered in the expertly designed hiding place, but Corrie and Betsy were taken into custody and eventually put into a concentration camp.  Corrie experienced the horrors of a hell on earth.  She witnessed the death of many, including her beloved sister.  Yet she learned that in the darkest pit, God was there…and He was good…so incredibly good.

She came out of that experience more in love with Jesus, more devoted to following Him.  She spent the rest of her life encouraging other people to love Jesus.  That is a testimony that no one can deny.  No imaginary God, no fairy tale God, no boring or religious God could work a miracle like that; placing a life into the crucible of suffering and making it a joyous offering.

I have often pondered Corrie’s life and wondered what I would have done in her place.  It is unlikely that any of us will have to make the choices she had to make.  Yet each one of us will have our own personal hell on earth that we will have to navigate through.

On Thursday night, I heard the stories of five women from my church; each I knew well; each had faced their own crucible.

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Kristi is a wonderful deejay on the local Christian radio station.  She lives in my neighborhood and I sometimes see her pass my house, taking a walk with her little boy in a stroller.  She told how just months after their marriage, her husband was diagnosed with cancer.  Years later cancer was found in her body as well.  In addition, the doctors told them it would be impossible for them to have children.  Her story wasn’t about the seven long years of treatment and tests, sorrow and disappointments.  Her story was about the goodness of God, His healing power, and their miracle baby!

Bobbie is the mother of one of my first youth leaders, and one of the hardest working, sweetest ladies you will ever meet.  She faced breast cancer and multiple cancer scares after that. Does she live in fear?  No!  Her life is full of joy because of her amazing God!

Tiffany was just a junior higher when I met her.  I was in senior high and would sing on stage with the youth worship band.  She wrote me a sweet little note at one of the youth retreats that said something like this, “I see you on stage with such grace and confidence, and I know that God does that.”  Well, my singing voice is not what it used to be, and I have faded into the background.  Now I watch Tiffany on stage worshipping with a clear and powerful voice, singing songs that she has written and recorded, and I am looking up to her in admiration!

Tiffany told the story of suffering a blood clot in her lungs, dying twice, and surviving a surgery that would have killed 499,999 people out of 500,000.  Her story wasn’t about the pain and suffering she had to enduring during the recovery process.  She didn’t complain about the interruption in their lives with two little girls and a newborn baby boy.  She told of how God’s goodness was there every step of the way.  She said, “You can NEVER exaggerate the goodness of God.  He is ALWAYS better that we think he is!”

Sharon was a leader in youth group when I was in high school.  A few years later, I actually saw myself in her wedding album.  She and her husband were honeymooning in Boston.  I just happened to be there on a missions trip with YWAM, and we randomly ran into each other on the street and snapped a picture!  I admired both her and her husband, and when I heard the news that he had left her for another woman while she was pregnant with their second child, I was heartbroken for them.  She was devastated and was a single parent for almost 15 years.  Yet her story is not one of loss and betrayal.  It is a story of learning to love herself, learning to forgive, and learning how much God loved her.  Now she sees restoration in all the broken relationships and just married a man who is better than the very best she had ever imagined for herself.  God gave her more that she had asked for!

Sue is a powerful woman of God at our church.  I first met her when I volunteered to help out with vacation Bible school when I was in high school.  I was assigned to help in her room which was the dancing room.  Each day, four different groups of children would rotate through our room.  Sue led them with a microphone (which she really didn’t need) and tireless energy. I had never had so much fun at vacation Bible school before!

Sue told of her battle with cancer.  She was in so much pain that she wished for death.  She survived the surgery that took out her entire stomach, part of her esophagus, part of her intestines, and her gallbladder.  Her doctors were so surprised, they hadn’t developed a follow-up plan.  Cancer free six years later, she doesn’t moan about how unlucky she was.  She sings and shouts and passionately tells of her beloved Jesus!  She looks like she would explode if she didn’t proclaim her love.

How can this be?  Shouldn’t all these women be bitter and cynical, wondering why a loving God would lead them through the valley of the shadow of death?  All of these women have a real relationship with a real God who never left them for a moment.  In fact He was always right there with them, carrying them, listening to them, speaking to them, and healing them.  He was sending answers, giving provision, working miracles and loving on them until they were filled to overflowing with that love.

This is a God that we just cannot deny.  I pray that you and I will be encouraged to trust more in His great love for us and have the courage to say in our own trials…

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

 

A Kitchen Remodel and the Unreasonable Goodness of God

Sometimes we are expecting to see the favor of God.  We have prayed very specific prayers and fully expect them to be answered in marvelous ways.  The answers don’t come right away, so we strain our eyes to the horizon, looking for his goodness.  Yet the rain of his blessing doesn’t come.  Instead, a nasty storm blows in.  We are knocked down by one thunderclap after another.

We believed for goodness, yet found ourselves soaked to the bone and laying in a muddy heap on the ground.  After all of this, we conclude that our expectations were just too high.  We should be content with the mud puddle and avoid all this needless disappointment.  This is when his unexpected goodness takes us by surprise, like a lovely flower blooming in the mire!

Chris and I had to close our business, Signarama.  We lost a lot of money and our good name; but what was worse, we had lost our dreams. We had lost our confidence in God’s voice and his goodness.  Our bills had increased, yet our income had significantly decreased.  Here we were in the place we had strived so hard to avoid: utterly absorbed each day in the excruciating work of survival.

To top it all off, our dishwasher started leaking; a slow, steady leak under the floor.  Pretty soon we had water seeping out from all the floor tiles.  The tiles were old, ugly PVC stick tiles and now they were wet, coming up, and probably growing mold.  It took a week to get the dishwasher fixed.

“Oh well,” I thought.  “It doesn’t make much difference.  Our kitchen is so awful anyway.

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The cabinets keep falling apart and are so dirty; we just can’t get them clean.

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The sink is stained and scratched.  The floor is just gross.

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We trip over ourselves in this tiny space.

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But there is nothing we can do about it.”

Enter the Unreasonable Goodness of God!

Chris decided to make an insurance claim, and they gave us a good chunk of money!!  We gave the money to a friend who is a contractor, and he got us an amazing deal on new cabinets, a new countertop, and a new sink!  Chris organized his hardworking boys and his skilled and generous friends. They ripped out the old cabinets and the old floor.  After tearing out the PVC tiles, vinyl linoleum, a very old layer of real linoleum, plus a layer of paper and glue…beautiful original hardwood was revealed.  I had always dreamed about having this type of hardwood in my kitchen; thick, dark wood that reminded me of an old farmhouse. Chris worked hard to make my dream a reality.  He and the boys pulled out several hundred screws and nails.  He sanded 6 times to get rid of all the old glue and water stains.  He tried a couple times before he found the stain color that reflected what I had imagined.

Chris rearranged the entire kitchen and created a pass-through so that the kitchen became more spacious and open.

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I could finally cook in the kitchen while being able to see and hear what was happening in the dining room, sitting room, and living room.  This completely unreasonable goodness of God came at a time when we didn’t know how we were going to pay our bills! Why didn’t God cause our business to flourish, or give Chris a new job that paid all our bills, or miraculously pay off all our debts?  Why a new kitchen?  God’s goodness is unpredictable and unreasonable! We just have to enjoy it.

God’s great goodness always comes to us in the midst of a mess.  The perfect God works out his perfect plan with flawed people in a messed up world with imperfect conditions all around.  How and why does he do this?  It is a mystery, but I think it has something to do with the building and purifying of our faith.  Faith can see that imperfections are just part of this life and recognize the goodness of God anyway.

It is easy to lose sight of the goodness.  This kitchen remodel was no exception.  I almost lost my faith in the midst of the junk.  It is easy to look at the end product and see the goodness of God, but in the process, it is so challenging!  Here is a list of everything that went wrong.

  1. It took months to even be able to start the remodeling because the countertop I had chosen took so long to arrive.
  2. As the demolition started, I found myself in panic mode. The dust found its way into every crack and crevice of the first floor.  The mess was almost too much for me to handle.  (The boys loved it and thought it was the best!)  I was losing faith that my house would ever be clean and functional again!

photo 2 photo 33. We had to block off the kitchen, so we set up a temporary kitchen in the basement.

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The only way to get to the basement was to walk out the front door, go around the outside of the house and enter again at the back door.  Once the food was prepared, we had to walk it outside around the house again.  Once the meal was finished, we had to carry all the dirty dishes outside and around the house again…you get the idea.  All this work was to allow Chris to demo and then finish those hardwood floors.  Sometimes when I was cooking on the electric skillet in the dark basement, I would notice a little face looking down at me from the top of the basement stairs.  I realized that a little person had gotten through the barricade, and I felt like it was all for nothing and those floors were forever ruined!

4. We were getting close to the end. Chris had stayed up until 1am to put polyurethane on the newly sanded wood floors.  I got up at 5am with my nursing baby.  As I sat in the living room, I heard an unusual sound.  I finally identified the sound of water dripping.  But from where?  I found water falling from the ceiling onto the loveseat.  I went upstairs to discover that a radiator was leaking.  A few hours later I entered the basement to make breakfast and found three streams of water all running into the drain in the center of the floor.  Pipes were leaking everywhere!  This turned out to be an unrelated problem with our heating system that was resolved within a few days.  Yet, we were wondering what new damages and expenses were being incurred!

5. The new countertop had been made incorrectly so the cabinets had to all be changed and moved around. The result was an awkward corner cabinet, a drawer that could only open while scraping against the dishwasher, and a dishwasher door that could just barely squeak past the refrigerator.

6. A friend got our new-to-us gas stove hooked up on Thanksgiving morning so I didn’t have to cook the festive meal in a crockpot. Glorious!  However, I kept smelling gas for the next two weeks until that same gracious friend went through the process of hooking it all up again just so I wouldn’t freak out.  No more gas smell!

7. The ceiling in our dining room is so sloped that the brand new pass-through that was beautiful and perfectly level, looked completely crooked!

8. After we finally moved our refrigerator back in, it started dripping water all over the lovely, new floors. A month later, the pipes under new sink started leaking on the new cabinets and floors, threatening to begin this process all over again.  What was it with all the water leaks!!!???

Chris and I thought we had ruined our new floors about 5 times in the process, because we had never refinished wood floors before and didn’t know what we were doing.  It was so discouraging to get my dream floors only to sand them unevenly, sand too much, sand to little, put on the wrong stain, do the patching wrong, and so on.  Finally we just decided that this was a RUSTIC kitchen, and that all the imperfections just added charm.

photo 5Our lives are not as messed up as we think.

They are just works in progress, rustic and full of character, and always being invaded by God’s great goodness.

 

 

The Golden Days of Summer

Ah, those glorious days of summer, kissed by the golden sun!

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I was sitting on the back steps under the sunflowers.  My children were running barefoot in the green grass.  I wanted to drink it all in and not miss a thing.  Summer won’t be around much longer.  The sunflowers only last for a few weeks.

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We will never be exactly the same as we are right now.  My children are growing taller and getting smarter every minute.  Soon the toddler will be a little boy and the little boy will be a young man.  As I watch my children playing in the summer twilight, I think back to the summers gone by, memories now faded and misty with time.

The absolute glory of the end of school.  The days suddenly full of free time, balancing between excitement and boredom.

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Discovering new things.

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Riding bikes.

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Playing in the cool creek water.  Catching fireflies that turn the dark into a magical fairy land.

Picnics outside.

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 Birthday Parties.

picnic  Fun and laughter.

Kraley and CalvinGet-together with friends.

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Now I am grown, and my friends are grown, and we have children of our own.

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We still feel like we are teenagers.  Full of fun and adventure.  Youthful and energetic (at least during the first half of the day)!  Still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.

Yet we see that some of our babies have become teenagers.

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Mature and responsible.  Standing on tiptoe to peak out over the horizon to catch glimpses of adulthood.  We realize that we are teenagers no longer.  We are adults barreling down the road of life to middle age.

And look at the fruit our lives have produced!

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Nineteen children who play in the golden days of summer.

Soon these days, now crisp and sharp, will fade into memories.  School will start again.  The air will become cool.  The leaves will change.

But God’s goodness is unchanging, unwavering.  We can savor every drop of summer while we look forward to the glories of autumn.

The radiators turning on for the first time.  The nippy air, permeated with the smell of wood smoke.  Children romping in the leaves.  We can treasure the past, revel in the present, and joyfully anticipate the future. We are pursuing God and dwelling in His love, day in and day out.  We are going from glory to glory, going from good times to even better times.  We are confident in the promise that these golden days of summer will come around again.

Before we know it, a summer will come when children will go off to college.  Someday some of them will get married in the summer…perhaps to each other!  We may be gathering as childhood friends turned into family, watching our grandchildren playing barefoot in the grass.  And we will be different too.  Our hearts will be stretched and expanded to contain more love…more of the goodness of God…more golden days of summer.