Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Days of Amazing Grace: Lent

We didn't observe Lent in the church that I grew up in. In fact, I remember being in a meeting in Wright Place on ECU's campus with my InterVarsity Staff leader and (I'm a little embarrassed to admit this) commenting that someone had a smudge on their forehead on Ash Wednesday... I was very unfamiliar with traditions surrounding Lent and Easter. All I knew was that my church, in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, did a sunrise service every year on Easter Sunday.

I think once in college I gave up sodas or something for Lent but I really had no concept of why I was giving something up or what was the point of the tradition. To be honest with you I'm still largely unfamiliar with church traditions and the history of Lent. Last year our family observed the Daniel Fast during the last three weeks of Lent, on invitation from our church. The leadership of the church invited the whole church family to participate in the fast and petition The Lord for an answer, breakthrough, or miracle. I personally entered the fast wanting to submit to The Lord my need to justify myself to others. I often seek to justify my actions, motives, and abilities to others and my hope during the fast, was that I would be able to submit to The Lord and allow him to justify me.

My hopes and expectations for the fast would not come to fruition. I got pregnant the day before the fast started and miscarried our baby four days before the fast was meant to be broken. In the last year I have come face to face with the emptiness of my faith and how dependent I was on the miracle at the eleventh hour to prove that the God I serve is good, powerful, and loves me.

I recently read a book, One Thousand Gifts, it was a gift from a close friend who knew that I was unlikely to purchase the book myself but, having read the book, she also knew how helpful it would be for me to read. On the third page of text she says,
Really, when you bury a child--or when you just simply get up every day and live life raw-- you murmur the question soundlessly. No one hears. Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through long nights, and bugs burrow through coffins? Where is God, really? How can he be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? . . . Where hides this joy of The Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out?
Ann Voskamp, the author, was asking all of the questions that have been burning in my heart. The rest of the book details her journey of joy. Her friend challenged her to record one thousand gifts, one thousand gifts from The Lord. This book of gratitude has been so restorative for me.

You see in the midst of the deepest, sharpest pain that I've ever experienced, I'm the kind of person who cannot believe that there is a "why?" behind it all. I refuse to believe that there was some good that came out of this pain that made the loss of two babies worth it. I believe that bad things happen to good people. Eventually, bad things happen to just about all people. I know that The Lord is so great a redeemer that he can take even the worst thing I've ever experienced and transform it into something beautiful but I'm unwilling to believe that he would cause that pain for the sake of that good. For the past year, I've felt stuck in that place, unwilling to acknowledge any good that might have come from my pain for fear that others would look, triumphant, exclaiming, "well look at that, there's your answer, Michal, that's why you lost two babies in miscarriage." And if someone actually said something to that effect, it would be very difficult for me to respond kindly.

But Voskamp makes a point. "Who deserves any grace? . . . Why doesn't anyone ask that question? Why are we allowed two [grace days]? Why lavished with three? A whole string of grace days?" And so, my perspective has changed. Now I can say that I am thankful for the marks that Samuel and Cora left on my heart. I am thankful for the time I had with each of them, for the blob-like ultrasound picture I have of Cora that only means anything to Nathan and me. I'm thankful that The Lord allowed my house-of-cards faith to be knocked over so that it could be re-built on a truer foundation. I'm thankful that he has been at work in my heart even as I have remained in pain and bitterness and anger. I'm thankful that he has been patient with me in the midst of my stubbornness.

Lent begins tomorrow and my family will be entering into a time of pain and memory. It has been one year since we lost Samuel and March 18th would've been Cora's due date. There's no way that we'll be able to escape the reminders of the past year. So I felt like this year required a less traditional approach to Lent for me; as our church begins to talk about Lent and Easter, I will choose to engage in a different way. Instead of giving something up for forty days, I'm planning to give thanks for forty days. Each day I'm going to deliberately look for 10-15 gifts and record them in my journal. They can be small and repeatable, like Liam's giggles or sweet-fort-making-moments with James. The point is that I'm looking to the gift-giver and thanking him, everyday for the blessings he gives because they are so many. One day of grace is a blessing. Two? Amazing.

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