Well, hello! It has been a while since we have gathered over the word like we are today, and I am so glad we are here! Now, normally when I get up here, as I have confessed before, I tend towards the academic side of bible study. I like to share with you the results of my research, meanings of words, and throw some application on top. So, this week is going to be a bit of a departure for me. What I am going to share with you this morning is not a testimony of how and when I met Jesus, but show you some specific ways He shaped me after I met him that have helped me gain a better understanding of joy and contentment.
Keri Folmar, the author of our study, does such a spectacular job guiding us to find the truth in scripture. As I was going through day 3 of our study, I was reminded over and over of things I have learned over the last 20 years. In 1994, I came to Portland to attend bible college. At the age of 18, I knew I wanted to major in Youth Ministry, and I was going to join Malachi Ministries as a missionary to military youth overseas. I figured I was uniquely qualified to minister to them because I was one of them! While I was at school, I met my husband, and we were married at the ripe old age of 20! For various reasons, we both decided not to complete our degrees at the bible college, and my husband transferred to a state school to finish his Math degree with the intention of becoming a high school teacher, and I went to work full time. After a while, I experienced a time of great depression and our marriage suffered. We tried to start a couple of business, both of which failed. Then my husband lost his job, and we stopped going to church. I eventually got pregnant, and 10 days after our son was born, my husband started grad school. We were struggling financially due to the failure of the businesses, the period of unemployment, and the hospital bills. A year later, before my husband had even graduated with his Masters, he was hired on at the school where he now teaches.
Fast forward a bit, and you’ll see that I started to attend church again, but this time without my husband. He had no interest in attending church. He was angry at the things that had happened and was not ready to deal with them. So, my son and I went by ourselves. I got tired of waiting for my husband to take me. It was hard. It was hard when I wanted to talk to him about what I was learning and he didn’t want to hear it. It was hard when people at the church who knew him would ask me where he was. It was hard to see how sorry they felt for me, but even harder that no one was reaching out to either of us outside of church. Then I started coming to MOPS, and eventually bible study.
What you see here is a stack of almost every bible study I have attended here at Hinson. I am missing a few – Genesis and Isaiah, and possibly one more. My journey of learning about joy and contentment really kicked up a notch in 2008, when we did a Beth Moore study on the Life of Paul, followed by a John McArthur study of Philippians. (I even looked through the McArthur study this week, and it is indeed a testament to the power of God to change a person to see the difference in my answers then and now). I began learning about struggle, and hardship, and how they are to be expected. But also how we are to take joy in that. To a former military child, a child of divorce and blended family, I had a really hard time understanding how God could want me to fake happiness in the midst of hard stuff. After all, that was one of my biggest complaints during my time at bible college– that there was this impression given that encouraged the girls to put on a happy face and if you were struggling with something then you weren’t truly a godly woman.
The following year, in 2009, we did another Beth Moore study on Daniel. It was during the lessons on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that I started to get this nagging feeling. It was like something was telling me I needed to be paying extra attention. Here was the third bible study in a row that dealt with trusting God in the midst of suffering. I still remember what Beth Moore said during her lesson on the fiery furnace, that God will deliver you, no matter what. But he will do it one of three ways – He will either deliver you FROM the fire, so you’ll never experience the suffering and pain, He will deliver you THROUGH the fire, and you will be refined and strengthened by your experience of the suffering and pain, or he will deliver you BY the fire, and you will be taken home to be with him. It was at this point, I can remember telling my friend that I thought maybe God was preparing me for something. I began to fear what was coming. I began to wonder when the other shoe was going to drop. Was my husband going to leave me? Was I going to get sick? Would something happen to one of my children? By this time, our son had already been diagnosed with Autism, and our daughter had already had three food allergies and asthma diagnosed, and I was still essentially spiritually single. I had walked through all of these things already, but looking back I was trying to do this mostly in my own strength, with an occasional call on God to strengthen me.
So imagine how that fear increased when the following year, we studied James, like we will in a couple of weeks! It starts off, “Consider it joy when you face many trials”. I really thought something was going to happen now. I wish I could say I was able to miraculously call on God’s strength to not be afraid, and to maturely handle all that life was throwing at me. But I still needed to stop trying to face whatever might be coming on my own. I needed to realize the joy that Paul is talking about is not the happy go lucky, sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows I thought it was. See, the dictionary has multiple definitions of joy. One of them is something you value. You know, like “he is our pride and joy”. I had to decide what I valued, and I needed to see that there was and is value in my trials and sufferings. I also needed to recognize the sovereignty of God, and that he knows more than I ever will about what is necessary and what is not. I started to choose to put on joy just as deliberately as I put on my clothes in the morning. I started to remind myself that I am not in control, and how glad am I that I’m not because I would so mess things up.
See, I had to realize that joy is not an emotion to be swayed by the circumstances of the day, but a choice, just like faith. I had to CHOOSE to value what God was having me walk through, even thought it was and is hard. I had to CHOOSE to value my husband and my marriage even though I felt alone many times. I had to CHOOSE to see Autism in its best light, not its worst. I had to CHOOSE to make sacrifices for food allergies, and to deal with medications. I had to CHOOSE to no longer be afraid of what was coming, and be content with where I was.
And I am glad I learned that then, because what was coming would have been much harder to bear if I had been trying to do it on my own like before.
My daughter, precious as she is, has been given a burden of her own. In 2009, she was on antibiotics, and developed c-difficele colitis, which is Latin for “the antibiotics that made the ear infection go away have now made your daughter poop so much she is bleeding and has stopped growing.” This was not the first time she had developed this type of colitis, and the even-stronger medication she had to take was near impossible to administer. After months of this-and-that, her stool tests came back showing the infection was gone, but the diarrhea wasn’t. We were sent to a Gastroenterologist who did a colonoscopy. Let me tell you, if you have never watched it happen, when they sedated her it was hard to watch. Not because she cried, but because one second she was there, and the next she was gone. It worked so fast, I got a little choked up. After the test was done, the verdict was handed down. Ulcerative colitis. This was not something that we could treat with antibiotics. In fact, it will stay with her forever. She will always have to deal with this disease in one way or another. But that was not the end.
Two days later, she was droopy and complaining of abdominal pain. I was afraid they had perforated something, so I took her to the ER. After all the tests came back, there was no perforation, but she had developed pancreatitis! The only treatment for pancreatitis is to not eat or drink anything until your pancreas resumes normal function. So, with the IV needle still in her hand, we drove from the hospital in Vancouver to the hospital in Portland to check in for the next 10 days. 10 days of blood draws, pain medication (sometimes needing even morphine the pain was so bad) and eventually. . . the hardest day for me.
And can I just say now, if God had not been in that room with me, I don’t know that I could have stayed.
Because after 4 days she still was not improving, they needed to start giving her nutrition. Now, my 5 year old had not eaten or drank anything for 4 days. She was still rushing to the bathroom way too much to count with uncontrollable diarrhea. So, she needed a PICC line. If you don’t know what that is, it is a large catheter that they run from the crook of your elbow, up your arm, and over into one of your arteries. They needed that so that they could feed her since nothing was allowed to go through her digestive system. The only benefit to this whole thing was that the daily blood draws would get a whole lot easier because this catheter was large enough that they could just hook the syringe up to that and not have to stick her with a needle. If I had known then what I know now, I would have insisted they wait another day for Monday so that the entire IV team would be in the hospital. As it was, they were not able to completely knock her out because the necessary team members were not there on Sunday. This nurse gave her something to help calm her, but it didn’t really work. Sure, it made her more compliant, and she held still, but she still felt it going in, and was screaming at me that she didn’t like it and “What are you doing to me?”, looking at me with eyes that expressed betrayal and fear.
The only thing I could do was whisper over and over to myself, “Lord, come near and rescue me, come near and rescue me, come near and rescue me.” I also prayed that she would not remember any of this somehow. The sedative finally worked, (after the procedure was done), and she slept in my arms for the rest of the day, all the while I was pinned in the chair unable to reach the remote control, and was forced to watch the Disney Channel all day(which wouldn’t have been so bad if they had not been running a marathon of their new show Shake it Up all day!)
But God was there.
He was there, keeping my feet planted where they were, keeping my hands on her body, helping to hold her down, and he was there when my friend showed up later that day to not only bring me dinner, but to also change the channel for me!
I know he was there, also, because Jenny only remembers what she has heard me talk about when it comes to the PICC line. She remembers it coming out. She remembers the alarms on the IV machine because the solution they were feeding here would get lots of tiny bubbles, and we would have to open it up and flick the tubing to get the bubbles out. But she does not remember me holding her down, or the pain of the procedure. Praise Jesus!
There are so many other ways I could show you God’s faithfulness to strengthen me through that time. But one of the blessings of all this, one of the fruits of the suffering, is my husband started to soften to rejoining the fellowship of the church. He started to want to discuss the bible with me, and he started to desire to walk with me again.
Things aren’t perfect. They never will be. But we are not alone, and our suffering is not in vain. All of these things that have happened in my life have served not only to show me who God is, but to hopefully bring glory to his name when people hear my story. I hope you can see in just these few instances how faithful God was to prepare me through my study of his Word to be shaped by him.
You know, we compare God to a potter sometimes. Have you ever thrown clay on a potter’s wheel before? The very first thing you have to do is SMACK that clay down on the wheel, sometimes more than once, to get it in the right place. Then with a firm hand you have to shape it, you have to make it do what you want it to do, so that it comes out like you want it. We should expect to be smushed, and molded, and shaped. It’s how the end result is achieved. Being smushed by God, it has become something I treasure, it has been something I choose to see as joy. Because my joy is not found in the circumstances of the day, but in the confidence I have that my Savior has born the ultimate burden in my stead.