Monday, December 26, 2011

Brokenness and Blessedness

My sister sent us the movie “Soul Surfer” for Christmas, about teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack. What an inspiring story!

At the beginning of the movie, Bethany attends a beachside worship service with her family, and joins in with the singing, “You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be your name.’” At that point, Bethany didn’t know what was soon to be taken away and the responding choice she would need to make. The “sun was shining down on her,” and her life was full of potential and surfing competitions.

In a personal interview included in the special features of the DVD, Bethany shared how at 13, she and her Mom had started praying about her future and about the plans God had for her. Losing her arm in the shark attack, soon after those prayers, was God’s answer.

Her influential youth group leader shared with her Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She said she believed that somehow God would use Bethany’s loss for His glory. And how He has! As Bethany has made the heart choice to continue to sing, “Lord, blessed be your name,” her life has been an inspiration to many. My six year old niece Molly dressed up as Bethany for Halloween this year.

Through the incredible support of her family and community, Bethany learns how to surf again with only one arm. She considers giving up competition as she faces difficulties in her first attempt, but then realizes how much her life has impacted others with an outpouring of letters from around the world. The movie ends with Bethany successfully competing against the world’s best surfers. Questioned by reporters afterward, Bethany declared that she can embrace the world better with one arm than she could with two. Wow.

I loved seeing the joy in Bethany’s face as she surfs (most of the surfing footage in the movie is actually her, while the acting was done by AnnaSophia Robb). Clearly, surfing is at the very core of who she is, and when she is surfing, she feels most alive. Her joy reminded me of Eric Lidell in the movie “Chariots of Fire” when he tells his sister Jenny that God made him fast, and when he runs he feels God’s pleasure. Bethany said she is happy because she can still surf and compete, and because of her accident she has many opportunities to tell others about God’s love.

Henri Nouwen said that our brokenness is an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us. We have the choice to befriend our brokenness and put it under the blessing, lifting it away from the shadow of the curse. Then in the light of God’s blessing, “What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge. What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification. What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning. What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion.” (Life of the Beloved, p. 98)

“When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant.” (ibid, p. 62) Bethany is truly a living example of this kind of radiance.

Her life is not focused on herself and what she can’t do, but on how God will enable her to overcome her challenges and be a blessing to others. “In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed, and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its significance in its being lived for others.” (ibid, p. 105)

Her attitude and example inspire me and echo Mary’s response to the angel who brought her the shocking news that she would be the one to birth the Savior of the world. The angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Mary believed and replied, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.” (Luke 1:38)

Today, Bethany’s life sings along with Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant…He has performed mighty deeds with his arm…” (Luke 1: 46, 51)

Blessed Be Your Name  (words by Beth Redman and Matt Redman)

Blessed be Your name in the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
And blessed be Your name when I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll
Turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s “all as it should be”
Blessed be Your name
And blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

For Jesus said, “The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies, it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

He went on to say, “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead’? But that is the very reason why I came! Father, bring glory to your name.” (v. 27-28a)

Blessedness through brokenness. Jesus showed us how.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trust Deeply

On Tuesday, we will have a visit by our social worker to update to our adoption home study, because we have moved to a new location and our paperwork has to be reprocessed every 18 months. Our original home study was done in the spring of 2007, and these past 4 ½ years of our adoption journey have been some of the most stretching and challenging years we’ve ever had.

God has remained faithful throughout and has been gracious to teach me a lot through this painful process about Welcoming Unmet Expectations and Experiencing God's Goodness. At the point where we stand today, we still don’t know what the future holds for us. But God is reminding me again as we face our paperwork renewal that He wants me to trust deeply in Him.

Henri Nouwen has become one of my favorite authors. I borrowed several of his books from some friends recently and have been greatly blessed by them. The following quotes from Here and Now: Living in the Spirit have spoken to my heart about our adoption journey.

“There is an intimate relationship between joy and hope. While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will go better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart.

Joy in this perspective is the fruit of hope. When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps, I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month of next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within and around me

When we trust profoundly that today is the day of the Lord and that tomorrow is safely hidden in God’s love, our faces can relax, and we can smile back at the One who smiles at us.” (p. 41-42)

“We have to keep asking ourselves: ‘What does it all mean? What is God trying to tell us? How are we called to live in the midst of all this? Without such questions our lives become numb and flat.

But are there any answers? There are, but we will never find them unless we are willing to live the questions first and trust that, as Rilke says, we will, without even noticing it, grow into the answer.” (p. 98)

“Why is it so difficult to be still and quiet and let God speak to me about the meaning of my life? Is it because I don’t trust God? Is it because I don’t know God? Is it because I wonder if God is really there for me? Is it because I am afraid of God? Is it because everything else is more real for me than God? Is it because, deep down, I do not believe that God cares what happens…” (p. 101)

“True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments. From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God’s guidance. That does not mean that all that happened in the past was good, but it does mean that even the bad didn’t happen outside the loving presence of God.” (p. 108)

Children are gifts from God. They are given to us so that we can offer them a safe, loving place to grow to inner and outer freedom. They are like strangers who ask for hospitality, become good friends, and then leave again to continue their journey. They bring immense joy and immense sorrow precisely because they are gifts. And a good gift, as a proverb says, is “twice given.” The gift we receive, we have to give again… “our” child isn’t really “ours” but given to us to become a true gift for others….They do not belong to us. They belong to God…” (p. 166-167)

I believe that God wants me to know that my three precious children are gifts from Him, and that any future children (while not guaranteed to come) would also be gifts from Him.

God, may my hands be opened to allow You to do as You determine best.

Not my will, but Yours be done.


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