Faith

Standing On The Promises

16 Comments 16 August 2011

I am your creator.  You were in my care even before you were born.  Isaiah 44:2

One of the interesting things about this blog that I have never mentioned is that oftentimes, more often than not actually, I have no idea what I am going to write about when I sit down and begin to peck away.  Sure, there are the obvious updates that I have done since this all began that more or less wrote themselves and had to be done to keep everyone up to date on the ups and downs of bringing five little lives into the world.  But to be perfectly honest, the update posts are pretty mundane and are sort of boring for me to write.  The ones that I really enjoy writing, though they are also the most challenging, are the ones that center around our faith in Christ and whatever difficulty he is helping our family to unpack at that very moment.

Such is the case with this post.  I have no idea what I am about to write, but I know that the keyboard is calling out to me.  Life has been less than easy lately and it is usually during those times that the Lord leads me to this place, sitting at my desk, staring at the screen on my laptop, and asking him what is on tap for today’s discussion.  It starts with a prayer – “Lord, allow your light to shine through me and give me the words to fill the page.  This is your blog, these are your words – help me to reflect your light in all that is written here.” – and it ends with whatever flows from that prayer…

Now I do not tell you this to say that I have some sort of special connection with Christ – no hotline to Jehovah exists that I am aware of and I do not hear the voice of God in my ear telling me that that sentence is too wordy or that I need to explain myself a little better in the last paragraph.  It’s nothing like that, at least as far as I know. All I know is that I pray and then I write and it seems to work out pretty well when I do it that way.

Maybe that is the way God works with me, but then again maybe the prayer I say is nothing more than a mental trick to get me focused on the task at hand.  Or maybe that is how it works when you are doing something you’ve been called to do.  But then again, I do not have any publishers beating down my door to offer me a book deal so how could I possibly be called to a life of writing?  I really don’t know why it works that way, I just know it does.

Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

I do not claim to know exactly how God works and what his methods are other than to say that I know better than to expect him to interact with us in a tidy and predictable pattern…no, life is way too messy (even for Christ-followers) for that to be the case.  And isn’t that the case with all of us?  Isn’t life too messy for each and every one of us to fully understand  how God can possibly be in control of any of it (or maybe believe is a better word than understand?)?  That is kind of how I have felt lately – it has been a rough month…messy, uncomfortable, confusing…messy.  I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but messy is putting it lightly.  I’ve found myself in a fight I did not see coming, I’ve watched a marriage and family reach the breaking point and begin the crumbling that in spite of our best efforts, we’ve all known has been a long time coming (not ours!), and I’ve watched a little girl face the harshness of life’s realities long before any of us could have seen it coming.  Like I said, it’s been a rough one…

It is tough when things come at you one right after the other as they have for us these last few weeks.  I know you know how it feels – the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” wasn’t created and copyrighted by the Jones family – we’ve all been the pinball in the arcade of life, unfortunately.  We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there again someday though hopefully not any day soon.  So what is that all about?  Why does that happen?  Is it just bad luck or is someone really out to get us?  Is it karma – do we all just get back what we’ve dished out at some point along the way?  If there is a God who loves us and protects us and only wants what’s best for us, shouldn’t he throw up some sort of bad-luck-road-block once one or two bad things happen to us?  Shouldn’t he be sending in fresh troops to ward off future attacks from the evil one after the first few dominoes fall?

In church on Sundays we are often taught to think of Christ as our father – no, more than that – we’re taught to think of him as our perfect father – loving, patient, kind, peaceful, forgiving, protecting, etc, etc.  So as a parent, when things go wrong in my life I try to think of how I would handle the situation if I were my father, my perfect father.  I’ve got to be honest – I would handle things very differently if I were Him…….

Maybe I’m too young to understand how it all works…maybe I’m too naive, who knows?  Maybe my children have not matured to the point at which I could stand by and watch as bad things and bad people hit them one after the other from every different angle and do nothing to stop it from continuing.  Maybe, maybe not…again, I don’t know.  I just know what I know now and that is that I would not sit on the sidelines and allow Eliot or any of my other kids to get hammered over and over again…I would do whatever it took to stop it and stop it immediately.  And listen to me, bellyaching over a bad month!  Are you kidding me?  There are millions of people out there who have had a thousand bad months!  Bad years, bad decades, bad lifetimes…there are plenty among us who can put their names down on those lists……

So why doesn’t God stop it?

Well, again, I don’t know.  But I do have some thoughts on the subject…

You know how steel is forged, right?  For those who don’t, here is a quick summary:  first, take a piece of steel and heat it until it glows orange and red hot.  Second, beat on it, hard, repeatedly, and with a very heavy hammer.  Third, repeat steps 1 and 2 until the steel has taken the shape you wold like it to be.  Fourth, put it in water to cool it off quickly.

Alright, sounds familiar…I can relate.  If you’ve been around long enough, you know that our lives are forged in a very similar way as that piece of steel.  God wants us to be as strong as steel so he forges us like a blacksmith forges a sword – with beatings and heat and pressure and sometimes sudden relief.  I can buy that.

But wait, didn’t the Lord say that he would take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh?  Doesn’t he run the risk of turning our heart of flesh into a heart of steel with all of the beatings that come with the molding?  So if the steel analogy can be true it can only be one part of the story, right?

I’ve heard it said that the eyes are a window to the soul and I believe that to be true.  So if that really is the case then what are our eyes really designed for if not to see the world around us, to reach out to others, to recognize the need in another, and to respond when we see things that reach us on a soul level?  I believe that God gave us eyes not only to see our feet step out in front of us and to keep us from crashing into everything in our path, but he also gave us eyes so that we could see into each others’ souls, to share each others’ hurts and strengths, to feed off of each others’ spirits, and to share each others’ longings for a better place and a better time and to help each other to get to that place and time without losing our own souls along the way.

But things just get messy when you dig into other peoples’ lives, don’t they?  It’s hard to look into someone’s soul, to feel their hurt, and carry that burden as if it were your own…I know, I’ve been there and I avoid it as much as possible in my daily interactions with others…don’t we all?  That actually isn’t entirely true what I just said about how I avoid it as much as possible.  Truth be told, that’s the old me speaking…that’s how I used to be. Back before I fully committed to Christ it was me, me, me and more me all the time and I avoided other people’s hurts like politicians avoid the truth.  And what I found when the inevitable crash came in my life is that I had no one to fall on and no one was there to pick me back up, tend to the wounds, and help me pick up the pieces and put them back together.

Things are different with me now, at least I try to be different…I don’t always succeed.  Nonetheless, I learned things from the crash(es) that I carry with me today and help me to avoid a similar story from shaping my future just as it has scarred my past.  I learned that in order to truly know people, to love them, and to be truly loved in return, that I had to allow things to get messy from time to time.  I had to allow them to see the mess I had created and I had to take the time to look inside their world and help them clean up messes of their own making, if the need should arise.  It is clear to me now after learning these things, and hopefully it is just as clear to you, that we were designed for community, for interaction, for love, and for getting messy, real messy if necessary, with those that we know and love.

For God has said, “I will never leave you, I will never abandon you.”  Hebrews 13:5

But there is still something missing here.  We’ve got the strength of steel, the eyes that peer into another’s soul, and the heart to feel the hurt, but there is still something that I’m leaving out here….Ah, yes, the obvious one that is always so easy to overlook.  Aren’t we supposed to “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding”?  And doesn’t God “in all things work for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”?  And my personal favorite, doesn’t the Lord “give perfect peace to those who put their trust in him and keep their purpose firm”?

Oh yeah, that…that whole promise-of-God-Bible thing.  Dangit!  Gets me every time.  And this is the point where I feel like a kid again, hopelessly crushed by my inability to see the logic and the beauty of the story that God is unfolding right there in front of me.  Once again I have allowed daily circumstances to shape my vision of God instead of allowing God to shape my vision of daily circumstances…why is it so hard to break that habit?!  It has to be this way, it simply has to be.  We have to be strong for others, we have to help them grow, and we have to be tough when others cannot be.  But we can’t do that unless we know the other inside and out and unless they know us in that way as well.  And we need others to be strong for us and they have to help us grow and they have to be tough for us when we cannot be so.  Yes, we have to be tough and strong for others, but we also have to allow ourselves to be weak for others to truly know us, inside and out.  We have to go through the mess and the muck, not in isolation, but with a crowd.  We have to do this if we want to get to the sweet stuff on the other side of life.  We have to witness the hurt and experience the pain/joy/frustration/elation  with others so that our hearts can be opened to the world of suffering/triumph/hopelessness/victories around us.  We have to feel, firsthand, the isolation that is the result of building up walls around us and shutting others out.  And we have to be still for once and know that He is God.

There is no other way.  If one word of these Bible verses I’ve put on this page is true then there simply is no other way.  For “in everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of GodWe patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.”  And thankfully, “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  God gave us his Word and by doing so, he gave us his word, his promise, that he would never abandon us, that he was with us, that he had plans to prosper us, that he loves us.  If you believe as I do, then these words have to be true, they have to be strong enough for me to stand on when times are tough, they have to be there when the pinball plunger strikes and sends us careening into a world of chaos and frustration and pain…God’s word has to be there to restore peace and prosperity to our lives in the midst of the storm, not after it passes!  God gave us the promise so it has to be true.  There is simply…no…other…way…

God bless,

Ethan

*Post script in response to some of the questions and comments we have received since posting this blog entry:

We appreciate everyone’s prayers and support and would like you to know that our stress level has slowly begun to settle into a more normal level for our family.  The marriage/family that I referred to in the post which is crumbling as we speak is absolutely, unequivocally not ours!!  Casey and I have honestly never been in a better place than we are right now and our family is as strong as ever!  (And even if we were in a rough spot with our marriage, there is no quit in this family!)  There is nothing more that I “want you to know” (as ABE commented below) – I simply can’t give more details than I have because it would not be appropriate to the other people involved in the situations I mentioned.  I hinted at those issues because those are the issues that we are working through and, as always with this blog and everything else in our lives, we are as open and honest with the people who support our family as we can possibly be.

I also mentioned those issues because it helped me to bring up something that I and others have often found difficult to face through a Christian faith perspective.  It’s not so much why bad things happen to good people – I think I’ve wrestled with that one enough and am fairly at peace with the answers I’ve come up with.  Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.

For me, simply talking it out over the blog is a huge help in coming to grips with these types of questions as they arise.  Hopefully for you, simply reading about someone else’s experience and knowing that someone is struggling with something similar as you is a huge help as well.

As always, thank you all for your support, prayers, and love!!  God bless!

Your Comments

16 Comments so far

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Prayers for your family!

  2. rebecca says:

    Ethan and Casey, I am praying for you and your family right now.

  3. Stacey says:

    Like most people, I wonder about the whole…why does God allow horrible things to happen to His children, and a sermon on Lazarus helped me out. In verse 45 it says, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…” God can and does use bad situations to bring others to Him. So while Mary and Martha had to lose their brother and go through that, God still had a plan and a purpose to not only care for them, but a multitude of others as well. I don’t explain it as well as the person from whom I heard it, but it does help sometimes. God knows what He is doing. Period.

  4. If you are a kid now, I guess your gonna be a preacher/teacher when you grow up.

    Well written, so full of truth, thank you

    Beverley

  5. Emily says:

    so thankful for your family and your words of encouragement in the Lord. I really PRAY your show comes back!! my husband and i miss it so much.

  6. Michelle from Australia says:

    Dear Ethan and Casey. I will pray that whatever is causing you stress is only temporary. Prayers for your beautiful family coming from the other side of the planet. God Bless you all.

  7. Tori says:

    Great post… as usual. I’m sorry that y’all have hit some hard times. I will keep y’all in my prayers. (((hugs)))

  8. Linda M. says:

    Ethan,

    I will not jump to the conclusion that others may have that it is you and Casey splitting up and Eliot who has to face life’s “harsh realities” because it is my fervent hope that yours is not that marriage.

    I will say that no matter the battle you are in, no matter the messiness of life today and no matter how tough it is, do life as GOD would have you do it — the instruction manual is the Bible — and follow that to the “T” and you will come through it fine. It’s not just the victory of coming through the fight, it’s the battle itself and how you rest in the Lord during the battle.

    If you do it right, it is not you going through this. It is the Lord going through it with you resting on His shoulders. Just do what the Bible tells you to do, and never try to do it yourself. Rest on the Lord’s shoulders and trust Him to carry you. Messy and painful are His specialties: He’s been there, done that, got the nail scars to prove it.

    It’s not the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it’s best to just take our hands off of the situation and say, “I surrender it, Lord. You do this because I can’t.” Then truly let it go. Otherwise it’s like getting a three-year-old to give you back the lollipop he wishes to finish: he’ll hold it out to you, but he won’t let it go!

    Messy = us trying to control what GOD is trying to do via the situation. Trust Him. Trust His goodness and His desire to bless you and prosper you and that His burden is light and He will give you rest.

    I don’t know what battle you are in, what blindsided you, but I do know that GOD knows what it is and that He is better able to cope with it than you or anyone else. He is in control of it. He is capable of fixing the problem. He knows the motives of the person/group/company who blindsided you and He is able to make them just go away, decide not to pursue whatever, to apologize even. Trust GOD with it.

    Yes, all the scriptures you quoted are true and are all applicable. Remember this one, too, though: “Jesus wept.” Cry out to Him and don’t hide your feelings, frustrations, hurt from GOD. He can heal you as He deals with this whole thing. Sometimes I think that’s why He allows us to go through the things we do: to open up to Him and to draw closer to Him. Sometimes GOD knows we need to be closer to Him, He wants to spend that time with us, and He knows that there is where we grow the best.

    Don’t forget that when you are going through a tough time it’s probably because GOD TRUSTS YOU to go through it and to totally rely on Him to get through, and to handle it the way He has already instructed. Ethan, GOD trusts you to handle this with His help. No matter what it is, GOD is there with you, for you, in your stead (as on the cross). He has you in the palm of His hand and He will not let you fall. Rest in that. Sit back, close your eyes and rest in the loving arms of GOD who loves you so much.

    Messy is tough. GOD is tougher and He’s got you.

  9. Donna says:

    I will be praying for your family, immediate and extended family. Turn these things over to the Lord. When you pick it up again out of habit, turn it over again….and again. He will never forsake you. God Bless.

  10. Jon from Alabama says:

    I remember going through some tough times myself. I remember asking “why am I going through this” and “when will this ever end?” To be honest, it didn’t end after falling down on my knees in prayer, and it didn’t end after I gave up hope. No–it just ended one day, and I was left to pick up the pieces. This moment, I believe, was what really defined me. Rather than continuing to blame God or to hide what had happened, I trusted in him fully and moved on with God’s direction. What does that give me?–I can tell people “I’ve been there.” And because I can say that, they know it will end one day for them too. Sometimes, I think this is why we go through some things…to help others.

  11. Tamyra says:

    Ethan and Casey,
    I am so sorry you are having such a hard time. I will keep all of you in my prayers and just keep your faith strong. I know sometimes it’s hard, but God is the only one who can get us through the hard times. Take care and God Bless all of you.

  12. Diane says:

    Tough times are actually the most blessed of times for they force you to think and learn. That is what life is all about. If you had it easy you wouldn’t learn anything. I lost three family members and a beloved pet in a three and a half year span. I moved and lost touch with my foster child who also moved. Somehow I got through all that but I still mourn for those losses. What I learned? I don’t fear death or change anymore. They are just a part of life. Hang in there Ethan.

  13. ABE says:

    Ethan could you be anymore vague or mysterious in your post? Be brave and just say what is going on. How can we help you through prayer if we do not know what we are asking for? Be direct and clear instead of this mumbo-jumbo and hiding behind God and his purpose. For God sake Ethan save your self some typing time and just say what is on your mind. It is obvious there is something you want us to know

  14. JonesLife says:

    *Post script in response to some of the questions and comments we have received since posting this blog entry:

    We appreciate everyone’s prayers and support and would like you to know that our stress level has slowly begun to settle into a more normal level for our family. The marriage/family that I referred to in the post which is crumbling as we speak is absolutely, unequivocally not ours!! Casey and I have honestly never been in a better place than we are right now and our family is as strong as ever! (And even if we were in a rough spot with our marriage, there is no quit in this family!) There is nothing more that I “want you to know” (as ABE commented below) – I simply can’t give more details than I have because it would not be appropriate to the other people involved in the situations I mentioned. I hinted at those issues because those are the issues that we are working through and, as always with this blog and everything else in our lives, we are as open and honest with the people who support our family as we can possibly be.

    I also mentioned those issues because it helped me to bring up something that I and others have often found difficult to face through a Christian faith perspective. It’s not so much why bad things happen to good people – I think I’ve wrestled with that one enough and am fairly at peace with the answers I’ve come up with. Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.

    For me, simply talking it out over the blog is a huge help in coming to grips with these types of questions as they arise. Hopefully for you, simply reading about someone else’s experience and knowing that someone is struggling with something similar as you is a huge help as well.

    As always, thank you all for your support, prayers, and love!! God bless!

  15. Linda M. says:

    You say, “Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.”

    The “successively” part: think of Job. He lost his family, his cattle, his house, his everything. That’s “successively”. The reason GOD allowed it to happen is to prove his faithfulness. The question — if this family is a Christian family — then becomes, “How can this family be faithful to GOD through this difficult time?” How can they stay together? How can they prove that they will rely on Him to get them through? How can they teach their children that even though tough times come, it’s still better to stay together than to allow the tough times to tear the marriage apart, the family apart and, thus, teach the children that when the going gets tough, they should give up.

    I speak from some experience in “tough times”. Five years of tough times to get through and divorce seriously discussed (no infidelity on either part was committed, but it was still tough). But the reality is that we are Christians and we don’t believe in divorce so we stuck it out. Now, our marriage is better and we are truly so very glad we stuck it out. Our sons learned a valuable lesson and we learned to trust in GOD and to honor what we vowed before Him during our wedding.

    The “successively” also teaches us that although we are in a spiritual warfare battle with the enemy. Several attacks one after the other, after the other, after the other is usually a winning combination. That’s when the family should realize that it isn’t a battle of finances, or personalities, or desires, or differences they face: it is a battle of spiritual dimensions and they need to work together to defeat it. Claim the blood of Christ, get into the Word, learn who they are in Christ Jesus, claim that power — sons and daughters of the Most High GOD — and do the battle with Ephesians 6:13-14, the Full Armor of GOD. They can be victorious and they CAN get through this, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

    This is a spiritual battle and if they go in unprepared, without the full armor of GOD and without realizing that it’s a spiritual battle and not a physical one, they may still win, but they will have more scars than necessary.

    Help them through this via doing battle in the spirit for them, and teach them (especially if they are Christians) to see the enemy’s battle plan in this. If they have no ears to hear and eyes to see (as in Ezekiel 12:2), they will flail without knowing at what they are aiming, nor at whom to swing.

    I hope this helps, Ethan. If this couple is a Christian couple, get them together over dinner and talk to them about the truth of what GOD’s word says about their marriage, about the vows they made and about the impact the loss of their marriage will have. Tell them about the spiritual battle they are being engaged in (possibly without their realizing it) and encourage them to stand strong and firm. Tough times do pass. Tough people do win. Tough marriages do recover. It’s not too late if GOD is in the middle of it.

  16. Christy says:

    I was just looking to see when your show would be back on and remembered enjoying your blog in the past. I was pleased to see your show would be back on NEXT WEEK (!) and decided to read through the newer posts. This one struck me, especially, “Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.” I’m glad your update stated your family was getting back to normal – normal is nice!

    I’m sure it’s a questions we all struggle with at some point. Usually, I’m able to find the silver linings and life lessons in every situation, but we’re once again be knocked down and set back due to my health issues. This happened the first time after we were married 6 six years ago -about to start our family and bam, emergency surgery, near parilization, being told not to have kids, and almost a year to get close to normal, dealing with minor pain daily (managable and so minor when compared to what could have happened). Okay, we had originally planned to have one or two kids and foster/foster to adopt two more, so we’ll just foster/foster to adopt all. More kids we can help, right. Well, I can’t do a lot of lifting, so we’ll foster to adopt preschool and older kids – they’re usually overlooked for babies, right?

    But first, we needed to dig ourselves out of debt. Went from being newlyweds with two jobs, great plans, and lots of hope for the future, to me having to suddenly stop working, losing our home, drowning in medical debt and making no headway on hubby’s student loans. Worked through my year of physical therapy and decide to find a job where we can live onsite, as commuting twice daily would be difficult for me.

    We find one and shortly after, hubby is laid off from his job – he quickly finds another, thankfully, but in exchange for it being a more recession proof career, quite a major cut in pay. So our plan to dig out of debt will just take a little longer…we’ll get there. My job allowed me some flexibility and I taught myself to decorate cakes (my nieces and nephews are to blame for igniting this passion) and I was able to launch a local non-profit that makes free birthday cakes for children in shelters, foster care, and families going through difficult times and can’t afford or wouldn’t have cake otherwise. I figured it was my way to help kids in the meantime, donating both my decorating talent and time, along with handling the admin side to grow and manage the non-profit.

    And that’s the road we were on, until two months ago, major pain started again and we’re once again playing the waiting game, seeing doctors, specialists, pain management, etc, trying to find what exactly is going on and what can we do to fix it, while bracing to be told surgery is needed again. At this point, the only silver lining I can see is that we’re helping the family of one of our volunteers. She and her husband were recently laid off and just had to give up their apartment and move in with her parents. I can no longer work daily, but we can’t lose this income and the home that comes with this job, yet – so we hired her husband to run the office. We have to pay him from our pay, so with the medical bills coming in, things are getting tight and not much extra is able to be thrown at the car or student loans, but our apartment is still free, which is a great help. Plus, we took in my mom two years ago, when she was laid off, so it’s not just us that would be suddenly homeless if we had to quit. Our goal was to stay here until we’re debt free. This latest thing is scaring us that it’s going to be a lot longer, if we can even keep it. We don’t know if they’ll keep us on if they feel our site’s performance is down.

    We just don’t understand why, when what we want to do would help children who need loving homes, why we keep hitting such major roadblocks. Our friends and family members all have their families started and growing and we’re still stuck deep in the mud. I’m so thankful for a hubby who is so dedicated, loving, and once again taking on so much. I know he’ll be an amazing and patient dad, but just have no clue when we’ll finally get to that point. I can’t figure out this life lesson. The only thing I can come up with is the child/children that are meant to be ours just isn’t/aren’t ready, yet. Just feels like I’m really reaching for that silver lining…

    Okay, my reponse that was just going to be a paragraph or two turned into a rambling with tears streaming down my face. Guess this really did strike a cord with me and I’ll just stop and hit submit.


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