Underlying Assumptions About God

I took a deep breath and clenched my fists in a tighter grip on my Bible. The verse I was reading clearly expressed that God shows kindness and loving care to His children… And yet, in the darkness of my grief after a miscarriage 2 years ago, I felt like God was standing up in heaven with his arms crossed, glaring down at me and saying, “Sure I could have saved your baby. But I didn’t. So get over it already.” How could I worship a God who acted like that?

Thankfully, God does not act like that. This view of God is a terribly tragic lie, and there are myriads of verses that express God’s character as tender and loving toward His children.

“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people,” Isaiah 65:2

But the question stabbing my heart each time I came across another verse about God’s love was: “if God is that caring towards me, how come He didn’t show it by miraculously saving the tiny life I cherished so deeply?”

Then, one day something happened that dramatically healed my heart’s view of God: I came across a description of Molech, one of the false gods the Israelites worshiped in the Old Testament. This idol was a statute with a fire burning inside. Mothers would place their precious infants in the hands of this idol to be burned to death, during which time the mothers stood by and were supposed to worship this terrible god.

What horrified my heart just as much as the gruesome depiction of children dying, was how strikingly similar that description was to my underlying view of God’s response to my loss. I had imagined God ignoring me with unfeeling aloofness as He ignored my pleas for Him to intervene. And then demanding that I worship Him, as I stood with searing pain tearing at my heart.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” John 11:33-35

I began to cry as I realized that I had been accusing God of being like something he says he detests- something that is the opposite of His character.

Multiple times God says that He detests the practice of worshiping Molech, and calls it an abomination. (Leviticus 18:21, Jeremiah 32:34-35) God even gave a law that anyone who offered their child to this idol should be put to death. (Leviticus 20:2) My heart had been deceived into imagining that the God of Love, Redemption and Life was instead someone full of hate, cruelty and death.

“Though he [the Lord] brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” Lamentations 3:32-33

All I could manage in response to this awful realization was “I’m so sorry God.”

I repented of my incorrect view of God, and cried out for help to understand Him correctly. And as I read my Bible, God showed me this verse:

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26 (ESV)

Jesus so clearly expresses in this prayer that the Love God has for me is the same as the eternal love that is within the Triune God, who is the Essence of Love. God is not cruel or distant or unfeeling towards me. He is loving me with an infinite love beyond comprehension through every pain and loss I walk through.

But I still had this question: I know God is in absolute control over our life and death. So how is He showing this amazing Love, when He allows His people to walk through such deep pain and loss?

There are many very good answers in the Bible to that question, and many sermons and articles written about it. (DesiringGod.org has many good resources that speak to this topic. And my husband has a 3 part sermon on this topic on youtube.) But as I prayed over that question, a particular parable that Jesus told came to mind:

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9

If that fig tree could talk, I bet it would say something like this: “Can’t you see I’m already struggling here? What in the world are you doing by digging up around my roots! That manure STINKS! This is horrible. You said you care about me, Gardener. But you must hate me and want to kill me! Why in the world would I EVER be grateful to you as you hack away at my roots and dump a bunch of awful poop on me!?”

Yep. Been there.

We will never know this side of heaven all that God is working in and through our pain. (2 Corinthians 4:17). In all of the disease, death and cruelty that result from living in this broken world, God is not far off. (Acts 17:27). He is wisely and tenderly weaving these painful experiences in our lives in the same way a skilled gardener prunes and fertilizes his sapling trees. (Romans 8:18-30, John 15:1-17).

If we are God’s child, then we can trust that in the pain and sorrow in our lives, whatever shape it may take, our God is a loving Father who cares about the pains of His children. He is a tender Gardener who is working to make us more fruitful and healthier. And one day we will see the full extent of goodness He is bringing from the deep scars that are a part of that process.

 

For more thoughts on this topic: When The Pain Doesn’t Make Sense

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When Bitterness Freezes Your Heart

Days like today I need this reminder…

It’s been almost a year since I wrote this post… in some ways not much has changed- it’s definitely frigid outside and I still haven’t successfully stayed pregnant beyond the first trimester. But in other ways a lot has changed- particularly steps forward in God healing my heart and rebuilding my faith.

Random fact- this experience of seeing the morning sun rise above the horizon and transform the landscape around me was inspiration for starting this blog.

I hope this analogy can be an encouragement to you, whatever you’re walking through.

 

The world is draped in gothic ice daggers in the pre-dawn gloom. My car inches cautiously along the icy country roads, surrounded by the frozen landscape, unmistakably changed by last night’s ice storm. Nature around me expresses a cold that pervades into the soul, and every brittle tree stands like a dark sentinel in a mass of black forest.

But not for long…

As I crested a hill, …  continue reading here.”

Chisel & Stone

Stroke by stroke,
The chisel and hammer knock off more shards of the gem.
Soon, a shape begins to emerge.

Not all at once, mind you.
But in baby steps:
One loss at a time…
One month at a time…
One more doctor visit at a time.

“No, no! This sculpture looks all wrong.
She should have a pregnant belly…
She will be prettier and perfect that way.
This carving is just confusing and full of pain.”

I jump to the conclusion
That the end result of this chiseling
Will be a sculpture that speaks
Of sickness and sadness.

And then I hear my God whisper “No
He sees that the finished carving of this gem
Will be a woman who reflects
The Most Beautiful Person in all creation-
Jesus.

The Man of Sorrows, familiar with suffering.
He let go of more than I can fathom
To step down to be made in human likeness.
Jesus-
I want to be more like Him.

The next step I take,
The next doctor’s office I walk into,
The next strike of the chisel,
I’ll remember the ultimate goal of this carving.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

What Do You See?

Lightning was a rescue horse.

She had a stubborn streak that went deep and gave her fortitude to not budge an inch while standing on my toes … despite me pushing and heaving my shoulder into her side to get her to release my boot from under her hoof.

You see, her stubbornness was surpassed by her intelligence. She knew exactly what she was doing by nonchalantly blinking in the sunshine, pretending to ignore the fact that she was crushing my vulnerable feet. She was definitely the one in charge, and training the trainer… this whole ‘training a green horse’ thing was not off to a good start for me.

And then there was her fear, which surpassed all of her other great quality traits. The sight of anything flapping in the wind would cause her to jump and bolt as if being chased by a pack of wolves…

But the fading scars etched into her bony frame gave me pause to not get upset at her for her varying degrees of faults.

I had the joy of getting to know this memorable horse a few summers back, when I worked at a Christian dude ranch in Colorado.

herding horses... really
Yup, that’s me. =)

Needless to say, Lightning wasn’t allowed to have dude guests ride her, thanks to the above-mentioned safety concerns. But I occasionally got to clamber atop this tall and spirited horse, praying for dear life that nothing around me would flap, clank or sneeze!

But as fate would have it, along came a little boy who fell in love with Lightning at first sight. I questioned his choice of horse, considering we had many other fabulous and beautiful steeds, and I thought Lightning was a rather ugly horse. But he saw something in her that I could not.

So one afternoon we arranged for this boy to pet Lightning while she stood at a hitching post eating a bowl full of grain.

hitching posts.jpg
The hitching posts at Wind River Ranch

I watched amazed (and a tad jealous) as this horse that was so rude and careless toward me, turned into a gentle and sweet mare around this boy. She gave quiet nickers of thanks as she carefully nibbled grass from his hands, in between happily gulping down and drooling large mouthfuls of her grain.

And then I got choked up as I heard this boy whisper to Lightning, while gently stroking her scarred nose- “You are such a beautiful horse, Lightning. I love you so much. You’re my favorite horse in all the world.”

I hardly dared to breathe, not wanting to interrupt this pure joy and affection. It was in that moment I felt like I got a glimpse of what God’s love toward us is like.

At every turn, life lies to us that we are ugly because of our failures, or that there is something wrong with us because of the wounds that leave deep scars. And it’s easy for me to respond toward God and other people out of fear or pain or both.

eye of horse

And yet God sees us in all of these things and loves us deeply.  He whispers to His children with so much love in His voice-
“You are altogether beautiful, my love” (Song of Solomon 4:7).
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
“I will… transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope” (Hosea
2:15)


And even if you are rejecting God because of your pain, He still says- “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Which voice are we going to listen to today?

Will we let our hurt and loss define us and motivate our actions and responses?

Or will we be defined by God’s healing Love that flows into the deepest part of our pain and promises to never leave us?

“Surely he [Jesus] took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:4-6

 

When the Pain Doesn’t Make Sense

In trying to process my 4th miscarriage, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the topic of my first blog post. I’ve copied it here for you…

Have you ever felt like a small shade plant left out in the glaring sun on the hottest day of summer? It dries up. Wilts. Loses its strength and structure as it droops, crying out for any drop of water.

I told a friend once that I felt like I was being dried up and withered by everything going on in my life. The drain of my emotions, and the lies that I listened to in the aftermath of another miscarriage, were sapping my strength. I had no energy left to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

But as soon as the words left my mouth, I remembered the story that Jesus told about the different kinds of seeds and how they represent different experiences that keep us from being fruitful in God. Here is the part of the story that I relate to:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. … Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. …

 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message [about the Kingdom] and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.” Matthew 13:4-6, 20-21

This seed has a major problem. It doesn’t have a strong enough root system to outlast the drought or reach through the rock to pull up enough water to survive.

I know God doesn’t promise to make this life free from pain. Instead, He promises to help us in our need. But I still couldn’t understand why He wasn’t stepping in to fix my problems and help me like I expected… (Read: give me babies and I’ll be happy again and this problem will be solved.)

Obviously, my biggest problem is that I want to have babies and instead I keep getting miscarriages… right? Don’t get me wrong, that is a major problem. But what if I have a deeper problem going on? One that God always is helping me with, and not even the deepest pain in my life can stop Him from helping me with it?

What if the deeper problem is that my roots are shallow, and I don’t have a way to find hope in God in the midst of difficulty?

It’s a problem of not being able to get water, refreshment, sustenance in the dry seasons of the soul.  I have plenty of excuses for why I crumple to the ground and want to give up as soon as another struggle or fear comes across my path. But how often do I recognize that it’s because I’m dry and wilted?

The troubles of life absolutely do sap all the water, hope, and energy from us. I’m not minimizing the problems in life that we face. But what if the deeper problem really is that my roots are shallow, and I don’t have a way to find hope in God in the midst of difficulty? Then the question is: Am I being refilled with the life-giving water from Jesus that can heal and nourish my broken spirit?

Since I’d rather not answer that question right now, it’s easier to just blame my emptiness on the rock that’s underneath my roots. No plant should be expected to put down roots through rock this hard, right?IMG_3596.

Actually, I think it depends on the type of plant. Today, I’m going to look for a plant that’s growing through rock. Or cement. And then thank God that He’s given me these analogies in the world.

” Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7

When I just don’t have the energy or strength to deal emotionally with this next hurdle coming up, that’s when I pray and plead for God to grow my roots deeper into His Love. I don’t know how He does it. And I don’t always see what He’s doing. But I know it involves me being obedient. And then, as God keeps me from the things in this life that I thought would satisfy me, I realize that my refreshment and strength is found in God alone, and not dependent on my circumstances or emotions.

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” Ephesians 3:17

Do I still want babies? Of course! But I know that my deeper need is to be satisfied in God so that no matter what earthquakes come my way in life, my hope is rooted in something deeper- that will not fail, die, or be destroyed. (1 Peter 1:4-7)

When the pain doesn’t make sense, I wonder if I’m looking at the wrong problem and the wrong ultimate goal. God is using everything in my life for my good. (Including those things that are not good.) If my ultimate goal is to have children, then it doesn’t make sense why God hasn’t given me a baby yet. But if my ultimate goal is to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength… then even this loss and grief becomes a tool in the hand of my Gardener, to hack away at the rock that’s stopping me from finding my all-sufficient satisfaction in Jesus.

How Can I Survive the Fire?

The crackling fire sweeping through dried grass may burn out quickly, but the smoke and ashes linger much longer. And the scarred landscape tells the tale of the fire’s destruction long after the fire has died.

The same is often true in our lives.

But to stop my musings there is only the first part of the story. Too often, I’m so consumed by the pain of the fire of difficulty going on, that I forget to look at what happens  after the fire.

Earlier this spring, I found myself scowling as I drove past a picturesque farmhouse. The graceful hill that gently sloped toward the road was scarred by 4 huge ugly squares of burned grass. Those patches of black stubble stood out like an eye-sore, where the previous summer had grown a lush flower garden.

It reminded me of seeing burnt fields after my first miscarriage. And realizing that God has woven a “life out of death” theme throughout nature.  In John 12:24, Jesus speaks about a seed that falls to the ground and dies before it can produce a harvest of new life. The beautiful flowers on a tree give way to fruit as those delicate flowers wilt and drop to the ground. The microscopic flakes of skin we shed are replaced by new healthier cells. The grass that is burned turns into nutrients for the new grass that will grow there. Even in a rotting old tree that falls to the ground, life blossoms in the form of opportunistic mushrooms, algae, and even smaller plants. It is almost as if all of creation is weeping as it says, “Everything dies. Nothing lives forever…” But then declares triumphantly through its tears, “But God has ordained that life will spring anew! Take hope. Even though death is the law of this world, new life is also a pattern in this world.”

I believe God has given us this theme in creation as a vibrant echo of Jesus and the way His death on the cross opened the opportunity for us to have eternal life Life through Him. It also reminds me that the death and loss we experience in this world is not the end. For those who trust Christ, in heaven we will get a new body- a glorified one, much better and without the pain and sickness we endure here.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:27-28

Just the other day I drove past that same farmhouse, and it was a healing balm to my soul to see what had become of those burned out patches of dry grass. The squares that had experienced the fire still stood out, but now it was because they were covered in lush grass far greener than the surrounding hillside. Edge of grass cropped darkened no mirror

As I look back, I see times that felt like a burning down of everything I held dear. This current season feels also like more burning, as my health recently took a turn for the worse with a severe flare of my food allergies.

I don’t see how this will end. But I do see what happened to those humble patches of grass.

Lines cropped

So my prayer is for God to bring me out of this season that feels like my heart is choking on smoldering ashes, and teach me to dance for joy again. But until He does, my plea to Him is that this experience would not be wasted. I want to be able to look back and see that I have grown more and been nourished more by God because of this current trial. I want to be that patch of grass that is greener for having gone through the burning fire.

That’s what the Bible speaks about, but it’s easy for me to forget. It’s easier for me to cling to the good things I want and say with Rachel, “give me children or else I’ll die.” Genesis 30:1  Oh Lord, let my prayer instead be, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” Job 13:15

God allows these things into our life, knowing the pain and also knowing the outcome. He’s the Perfect Gardener and He does not make mistakes. May we wait to see what He will do, instead of refusing to look beyond the ashes left by the fire.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

Put Down the Cookie Dough…

My dilemma was a major one. With one hand on the freezer door, the other slowly reached forward toward the cookie-dough… To consume or not to consume?

My hesitation was from remembering a conversation I had earlier that day about how I might actually be pregnant. And while that potential thought filled me with delight, it also made me nervous, because I really hadn’t been taking care of my health or eating healthy these last few weeks.

In the middle of that conversation about potentially being pregnant, I found myself thinking, “If only I had known there was a possibility that I’d end up pregnant this month, then I would have done things differently. The only reason I ate all that junk food was because I wasn’t aware this would happen!”

The trouble is, I was just lying to myself. If you asked me without any bias or cookie dough involved, I would have admitted that I did understand that I could end up pregnant this month. The difference is that I just didn’t think it would actually happen…

Fast forward 5 hours and I find myself standing at the freezer door, looking at that cookie dough. I know that I could be pregnant. I know that eating sugar affects my health and immune system. But somehow I still managed to convince myself that I wasn’t pregnant, and that even if I was, I would be fine and the cookie dough would not affect me in any way whatsoever. So I went ahead and consumed.

But as I stood there munching, I was struck by how much my actions are a picture of what we do with God’s words about our eternity.

One day, we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. If we are saved, we will not be punished for our sins, because Jesus has already paid the death penalty for us. (Hebrews 9:27-28) But I still cannot ignore the many verses in the Bible that tell me it really does make a difference how I live my life in this world. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, Romans 6:1-15, Romans 14:10-12.)

“But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

If you ask me without any bias or personal sacrifice involved, I’ll admit that I know I need to live my life in a way that shows I’m looking forward to heaven and have my treasures laid up there instead of here…

But does that transfer over to the day to day decisions of selfishness versus giving, or choosing to speak truth over complaining and grumbling against God? I know I am far better at justifying my actions instead of truly evaluating my heart attitude and surrendering to God.

My desperate prayer is that myself and you reading this will not stand before the Judgement Seat one day and think to ourselves, “if only I had known that it would make a difference how I acted on earth, I would have done things differently.”

Because we do know. I’ve seen those times that God answers prayers. Yes, He doesn’t always answer the way I want. But that shouldn’t stop me from praying more for the precious people in my life. I’ve also seen those times when I step up to help others and it makes a huge difference in their life. So why don’t I serve more?

Is it because I convince myself that it’ll be fine and not really have an impact on my world around me or my eternity?

In case you’re curious, I found out the following day that I was not pregnant. I felt like I had another chance to try to do things the right way with my health. And the same is true of each moment of life we’re given- if we haven’t stepped into eternity yet, we still have a chance to choose to follow God.

There are many hurting people around us who are silently crying for someone to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I’ve been there- crying for help, but too broken to actually say anything out loud. And I am thankful beyond words for friends who have gone out of their way to show me love and support when I’m struggling.

We need to stop convincing ourselves that it doesn’t matter how we live, and that even if it did matter in this life, it surely won’t make a difference in eternity… May we, by God’s grace, put down the cookie dough and align our actions with what we do know to be true.

 

 

2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”

Romans 6:1-2 “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Romans 14:12 “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

When Bitterness Freezes Your Heart…

The world is draped in gothic ice daggers in the pre-dawn gloom. My car inches cautiously along the icy country roads, surrounded by the frozen landscape, unmistakably changed by last night’s ice storm. Nature around me expresses a cold that pervades into the soul, and every brittle tree stands like a dark sentinel in a mass of black forest.

But not for long…

As I crested a hill, I saw the first rays of sunlight streaking over the horizon. As these rays of light glanced off crystals of ice, the dark forest turned into a breathtaking grandeur of shining beauty. The sun rose higher and more light poured over the trees, reflecting off myriads of ice crystals. The bottom half of the trees were still shrouded in darkness. But everywhere touched by the sun’s light was turned into radiant beauty. With the rising of the sun, my foreboding world of danger and harshness just turned into something elegant and delicate.BEST fence and trees

I started to cry. That’s what my life feels like. Dark, cold, brittle. Covered in layers of frozen ice that grips my heart. But then, when the rays of light slowly rise, what used to be dark and bitter is transformed into something so incredibly beautiful.

Not just any light. The light of healing that only God can bring.There’s a lot of different ways we try to deal with our pain. But I know deep down that what I really need is for God to touch my heart.

Like the first light of dawn touched those trees.

My circumstances have not changed. The ice still drapes over everything. My loss still pervades every aspect of my life. But my perspective on my loss has changed. This pain is no longer the enemy to drive me farther away from God. Instead it is the  paintbrush that is being used by God to artistically sculpt a landscape so breathtaking that I wonder in awe at my God who transforms our pain and sorrow into something beautiful. In this place, I can find worship instead of despair.

It draws me to remember Jesus. My savior. Who walked in this broken world, never did anything wrong, and ended up being betrayed and dying a cruel death. The layers of frigid ice wrap around His story far more than around mine. Viewing that landscape seems sure to end only in darkness. But no. He IS the light. And in the most tragic moment of history when God DIED for us, that is also the most beautiful moment in history when God brought justice and redemption together to make a way for people to be completely forgiven of our rebellion against God.

This gives me hope. It means that God can transform even my pain to bring about something good. This in no way negates the pain of loss, or erases emotions. Rather, it validates and gives that pain a purpose that transforms the way we view our loss.

So when the icy winter wraps its unending cold around my heart and the jagged ice crystals scream to penetrate bitterness like daggers into my heart, I CHOOSE to remember this ice storm and this sunrise. I choose to remember what happened to the trees caught in the glorious sunlight. And I pray for God to transform the bitterness in my heart into something that reflects the stunning beauty of my God.

My prayer for you, fellow traveler, is that you also will see ways that God is bringing His light into your heart and transforming your loss into something that reflects His beauty. You may not be there right now, and that’s ok. I may have days in the future where I don’t want to remember this, and that’s part of walking a broken road. But may we always look for Him to show up in our lives, even in the darkest ice storm.

When I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore

A lot of things in life can shake you so that you think you don’t know what is true.

When I found myself in a dark time of not knowing what to believe anymore, God gave me the grace of the Acacia tree. I share it with you, so that you can also have this tangible proof of God’s Love to hold onto when life comes crashing down.

A while back as I was reading through the book of Exodus, I kept coming across verses that describe the type of wood used to build the tabernacle, ark of the covenant, and the altar.

“For the framework of the Tabernacle, construct frames of acacia wood.” Exodus 26:15

“They shall construct an ark of acacia wood…” Exodus 25:10

“Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood,” Exodus 38:1

Each of those things described represent Jesus Christ in some way. The tabernacle was the tent of God’s presence while the Israelites wandered through the desert, and they would approach God by coming to that tabernacle. Inside were the altar and ark of the covenant, each representing the need for a sacrifice to pay the debt of sin and God’s desire to show mercy and restore people to follow Him wholeheartedly.

So I asked God why He wanted the Israelites to use acacia wood. Was it particularly abundant in that part of the desert? Or perhaps an elegant and straight type of wood, useful for making long tent poles?

I don’t often get obvious answers from God… but I love it when I do!

A few weeks later I was walking through a conservatory, and came across a real life acacia tree…

Acacia Tree at Wisconsin Conservatory
The Acacia Tree at the conservatory in Madison, Wisconsin

It was all I could do to keep from weeping openly as I looked and marveled at God’s design in the Acacia tree.

Acacia Tree With Whiplash Scars On Trunk

The trunk of the Acacia tree is covered in lines that look almost like whiplashes. I tried to scratch the trunk to see if it was just kids coming by and making those lines. But the bark was hard and my fingernail did not leave a trace. (Looking it up later, I found that there’s a beetle larvae in most acacia species that leave those lines as they burrow through. But that was just from google-wisdom, so if someone else knows what causes those scratches, please let us know!) I stared at the trunk of this tree, wondering what the whiplashes on Jesus’ back looked like, when He was flogged before being crucified?

And then the thorns. Lots of sharp thorns stuffed on each branch, almost as if they were protecting the top of the tree like a crown… And those thorns were nasty looking. I stood there wondering what the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head looked like.

Thorns On Acacia Branches Like a Crown of Thorns

I closed my eyes and took a breath. And thanked God for creating such a clear picture of Jesus on the cross, with a whiplashed back and a crown of thorns. And that the Tabernacle tent by which the Jewish people would approach God, the altar on which the sacrifices were made, and the symbol of God’s covenant that held the Mercy Seat… all of these things had a picture of the sufferings of Christ woven into their structure and frame.

Centuries before Jesus ever walked this earth, God put a picture of His death on a cross literally into the very structure of the Israelites’ way to approach God.

Fast forward a few years as I’m driving through the city after one of my miscarriages. The tears streaming down my face, blurring my vision, were the outward expression of my heart that was filled with questions and pain.

And then, like a whisper of a breeze on a hot still day, I remembered the acacia tree.

I don’t have all the answers. But I know that centuries before Jesus ever walked this earth, God put a picture of His death on a cross literally into the very structure of the Israelite’s way to approach God.
The Acacia Tree Shows a Picture of Jesus on the Cross

And now, in all of my uncertainty, I had something that I did know for certain: that Jesus is the right way to be reconciled to God. He proved it by fulfilling a symbol that was put in place hundreds of years prior. And I also knew that His suffering was not a mistake, but was announced long before Jesus walked this earth as a man. God willingly chose to suffer and die to redeem me. He does not stand aloof and tell me to deal with my pain by myself. No. Instead He holds out his nail-scarred hands and tells me that He has felt the deepest of pain and loss, and died in order to adopt me as His child. (Romans 5:8)

I love the acacia tree, because it whispers the love of God, who endured suffering and brokenness to show the extent of His Love for us. Announcing to those who pause to notice its humble form, that we do have physical evidences to remind us of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus, when all of our emotions refuse to cooperate.

When The Pain Doesn’t Make Sense

Have you ever felt like a small shade plant left out in the glaring sun on the hottest day of summer? It dries up. Wilts. Loses its strength and structure as it droops, crying out for any drop of water.

I told a friend once that I felt like I was being dried up and withered by everything going on in my life. The drain of my emotions, and the lies that I listened to in the aftermath of another miscarriage, were sapping my strength. I had no energy left to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

But as soon as the words left my mouth, I remembered the story that Jesus told about the different kinds of seeds and how they represent different experiences that keep us from being fruitful in God. Here is the part of the story that I relate to:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. … Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. …

 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message [about the Kingdom] and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.” Matthew 13:4-6, 20-21

This seed has a major problem. It doesn’t have a strong enough root system to outlast the drought or reach through the rock to pull up enough water to survive.

I know God doesn’t promise to make this life free from pain. Instead, He promises to help us in our need. But I still couldn’t understand why He wasn’t stepping in to fix my problems and help me like I expected… (Read: give me babies and I’ll be happy again and this problem will be solved.)

Obviously, my biggest problem is that I want to have babies and instead I keep getting miscarriages… right? Don’t get me wrong, that is a major problem. But what if I have a deeper problem going on? One that God always is helping me with, and not even the deepest pain in my life can stop Him from helping me with it?

What if the deeper problem is that my roots are shallow, and I don’t have a way to find hope in God in the midst of difficulty?

It’s a problem of not being able to get water, refreshment, sustenance in the dry seasons of the soul.  I have plenty of excuses for why I crumple to the ground and want to give up as soon as another struggle or fear comes across my path. But how often do I recognize that it’s because I’m dry and wilted?

The troubles of life absolutely do sap all the water, hope, and energy from us. I’m not minimizing the problems in life that we face. But what if the deeper problem really is that my roots are shallow, and I don’t have a way to find hope in God in the midst of difficulty? Then the question is: Am I being refilled with the life-giving water from Jesus that can heal and nourish my broken spirit?

Since I’d rather not answer that question right now, it’s easier to just blame my emptiness on the rock that’s underneath my roots. No plant should be expected to put down roots through rock this hard, right?IMG_3596.

Actually, I think it depends on the type of plant. Today, I’m going to look for a plant that’s growing through rock. Or cement. And then thank God that He’s given me these analogies in the world.

” Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7

When I just don’t have the energy or strength to deal emotionally with this next hurdle coming up, that’s when I pray and plead for God to grow my roots deeper into His Love. I don’t know how He does it. And I don’t always see what He’s doing. But I know it involves me being obedient. And then, as God keeps me from the things in this life that I thought would satisfy me, I realize that my refreshment and strength is found in God alone, and not dependent on my circumstances or emotions.

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” Ephesians 3:17

Do I still want babies? Of course! But I know that my deeper need is to be satisfied in God so that no matter what earthquakes come my way in life, my hope is rooted in something deeper- that will not fail, die, or be destroyed. (1 Peter 1:4-7)

When the pain doesn’t make sense, I wonder if I’m looking at the wrong problem and the wrong ultimate goal. God is using everything in my life for my good. (Including those things that are not good.) If my ultimate goal is to have children, then it doesn’t make sense why God hasn’t given me a baby yet. But if my ultimate goal is to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength… then even this loss and grief becomes a tool in the hand of my Gardener, to hack away at the rock that’s stopping me from finding my all-sufficient satisfaction in Jesus.