Category Archives: evidences of grace

a look back

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thanks for your patience with me as i’ve been noticeably absent the last month or so.  i hate that my blog has taken a back seat so drastically, because if for no other reason, it is always encouraging for me to go back and look over what God has done in my life.  I was especially encouraged a few weeks ago to look back and see an overview of what God did in the past few years.

So, keeping up with the tradition, here is a brief overview of 2009…

The year started off on a very low note – with me working through some very difficult issues from my past and having to face some personal heartache that I would have much rather left buried.  Thanks to the help of Matt and Julie and many others from my church, I continued to learn what forgiveness looked like, but not without many tears.

That struggle began several months of discouragement and at times hopelessness.  Looking back now, I am so grateful for my friends who stuck with me, upheld me, and encouraged me each step of the way… and at times, did everything necessary to turn my gaze off myself and back to the hope found in the cross.

I learned through that time, that my safety and comfort must be found in Jesus alone.  That though others disappoint, and at times cause severe hurt and pain, that Jesus never fails.  I learned that like Eustace, in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that at times God strips away ourselves, but it is always done with a hand of love and mercy.

2009 also was a year in which I started to see my health improve.  This year brought for the first time in years the first consistent season of sleeping normally and the first period of weeks with no migraines.  I’m grateful to God for the help of the doctors and others, but ultimately, for His hand guiding my health and my life.

then began a season of questions… should i remain at my job? where should I live? should I pursue moving to another state?  if so, where?  i began pursuing a long-standing desire… to move to the Washington DC area… for months, I investigated, prayed and talked with people.  By late spring, I felt a peace about pursuing it and by mid summer I was convinced I was moving… as soon as God provided a job.  I spent 10 days in the DC area on a fact finding mission, found a place to live, spent hours driving in traffic and was excited about the pending change.  Then God closed the door.  It was clear to me that the door was closed tight and that I was not to pursue any further.  Yet it was also abundantly clear that this change was for my good and was given to me by a God who knows what is best for me.  So, my roots are in Greenville.  But my hope in God grew through that time, and though the “move” was unsuccessful, the lessons learned were well worth the months of questioning.

This fall brought changes once again to my life.  September 13th was my first date with Ted Riley, a man whom I have since grown to love.  We met in August via e-harmony and i am grateful for how God (not merely 29 dimensions of compatibility) brought the two of us together.  I could not imagine a better fit for me and look forward to seeing what God does with our relationship.

The past 4 months have been times of continuing improved health (despite the doctors telling me in August that they thought I could have pancreatic cancer) and new areas of learning to trust God.  Contentment looks different in this season (not “is there even possibly a good guy out there who would like me?” but “when will I get married / when will I have kids / when does the next “season” start?”) but the struggle remains the same… so I keep learning that no matter the circumstance, that my confidence and hope must be in the only One who remains unchanging.

In October, I began writing weekly online devotionals for Devotional Christian.  It has been an encouraging and challenging step for me… in learning to be more thoughful about what I write and growing in being more theologically informed.

I’ve seen reconciliation in relationships this year.  I’ve seen improvement in health.  I’ve seen new changes.  But through it all, I’ve learned more of the faithfulness of our God.  Through every change, He has remained true to me.  And through every time I haven’t remained true to Him, He lovingly corrects and draws me back.

What a God we serve.  I look forward to the challenges and blessings of 2010, confident that through every step, He will be by my side.

learning to walk with a limp

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There is something strangely beautiful and wondrous about scars. If you’ve ever studied the body’s healing process, you can’t help but marvel at the mystery of it all. Scars are reminders of a hurt that took place, but scars are also reminders of healing that followed. God could have easily designed it so that wounds would heal leaving absolutely no trace of the pain, but the more you read the Bible, the more you realize that God doesn’t work that way. God is pretty big on creating “mile markers” along the pathways of life…

It’s a shame, really, that our modern society doesn’t have any similar practice of leaving visible markers along our paths to serve as reminders of an encounter with God. But we do have scars — spiritual scars that each has a story to tell of a time when God touched us and left His mark on us. And the truth is, no one in history has ever had a genuine encounter with the God of heaven and walked away unchanged… unmarked… un-scarred.

Sometimes the scars God leaves on us come from a wound in our heart that He healed with a gentle touch. Other times the scars are more severe, and cause us to walk with a limp for the rest of our lives, because God — as our loving Shepherd — had to break our leg in order to keep us from wandering away from the flock. I have both…

No one encounters God and walks away unchanged… and Jacob was certainly no exception. During that strange wrestling match, God put His mark on Jacob — scarred him, if you will. God touched Jacob’s hip and caused him to walk with a limp. At the conclusion of that story, the Bible says that Jacob had seen God face to face and lived, and then it says, “The sun rose above Jacob, and he was limping because of his hip.”

Wow, what an amazing scene! Jacob, the deceiver, goes into an encounter with God — arrogant, cocky, walking just fine on his own two feet… and he comes out with a new name, a new purpose, and a limp that will serve as a reminder to him every day for the rest of his life. I imagine there were many mornings from then on that Jacob got out of bed and started to walk across the room, and when he took that first step and felt his hip give way… his mind went back to that life-changing meeting with God… and he remembered!

Don’t underestimate the power of scars. Don’t underestimate the importance of learning to walk with a limp. They are blessings in disguise. The fact is that no one — not a single one of us — will ever truly understand what it means to walk with God and see our lives make an impact for Him until we have learned to walk with a limp. It’s proof, you see — proof that we’ve been with God, that we’ve wrestled with Him, and that we have not walked away unchanged. Every time you see one of your scars… every time you are reminded of your limp… take a moment to remember. Number yourself among the blessed ones who carry the marks of God, and rejoice in knowing that those scars are proof that He knows you by name, and that He has come close enough to touch you.

read the entire post at Phil Pike’s blog: The Journey.

God’s work of grace in the soul

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(Letters of John Newton)

“The soil produces grain–
  first the blade,
  then the stalk, and
  then the ripe grain on the stalk.”
    Mark 4:28

The Lord compares the usual method of growth in grace–to the growth of grain, which is perfected by a slow and almost imperceptible progress.

The seed is hidden for a time in the soil; and, when it appears, it passes through a succession of changes–the blade, the stalk, and lastly the ripe grain.

And it is brought forward amidst a variety of weather: the dew, the frost, the wind, the rain, the sun–all concur to advance its maturity, though some of these agents are contrary to each other; and some of them, perhaps, seem to threaten the life of the plant! Yet, when the season of harvest returns–the grain is found ready for the sickle!

Just so is God’s work of grace in the soul. Its beginnings are small, its growth for the most part slow, and, to our apprehensions, imperceptible and often precarious.

But there is this difference in the comparison: frosts and blights, drought or floods, may possibly disappoint the gardener’s hopes. But the great Gardener of the soul–will not, and cannot be disappointed. What He sows–shall flourish in defiance of all opposition! And, if at times it seems to wither–He can and He will revive it!

For the most part, God’s people are exercised with sharp trials and temptations; for it is necessary they should learn not only what He can do for them–but how little they can do without Him! Therefore He teaches them not all at once–but by degrees, as they are able to bear it.

“The soil produces grain–
  first the blade,
  then the stalk, and
  then the ripe grain on the stalk.”
    Mark 4:28

 

the clouds you dread

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You fearful saints, new courage take,
The clouds which you now dread
Are big with mercy, and will break
In blessings on your head.

William Cowper has continually been such an encouragement to me.  He suffered during his life from extreme depression and despair and wrote much poetry describing that feeling, such as…

I hear, but seem to hear in vain,
Insensible as steel;
If ought is felt, ’tis only pain,
To find I cannot feel.

Yet I find great comfort in knowing God faithfully sustained him.  I spent several hours on Sunday reading through each of the poems he wrote for Olney Hymns, a collaborative hymnwriting effort with John Newton, his dear friend.

How encouraged I am by this man’s faith, and even more by his faithful God.  Though his emotions were often clouded by his circumstances and feelings, it is obvious by his poetry, that his heart and mind were ultimately controlled by his desire to know his God, the One who controlled the waves and storms. 

The saints should never be dismayed,
Nor sink in hopeless fear;
For when they least expect his aid,
The Savior will appear.

I made a horrible mistake at work this week.  It happened on Monday and the actual effect of it is only beginning to be understood today.   Hundreds of processes are affected, shipping schedules are having to be changed, vessels are having to be brought into port earlier than planned, production may end up stopped due to a lack of parts… its a worst case scenario.  And my name’s all over it.  My error in calculation caused it.  And my lack of a clear understanding of how my calculation affected other processes only made it worse.  And now everyone else is having to scramble to fix it.   As I was talking with my boss this morning we were trying to find a “silver lining” in the cloud…  we quickly realized that the silver lining (if its there) is so tarnished its black. 

Immediately my mind went to this song by William Cowper… the clouds I dread.  I dread the cloud of making a mistake so big it could cost me my job.  I dread the cloud of knowing others have to fix my mistakes and suffer the consequences of it and there’s nothing I can do now to fix it.  I dread the meetings that are coming to discuss how to not have this happen again. 

but as I was dreading all of those, God reminded me that the clouds I dread, these big black silver lined clouds, even those are dripping with mercy.  When they break it will be a flood of mercy for me.  it might also be a flood I don’t like… a flood of losing my job or at best having someone look over my shoulder for months to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  but its a flood from a God who can redeem my mistakes…

Fierce passions discompose the mind,
As tempests vex the sea;
But calm content and peace we find,
When, LORD, we turn to thee
.…

’Tis I appoint thy daily lot,
And I do all things well:
Thou soon shalt leave this wretched spot,
And rise with me to dwell.

 In life my grace shall strength supply,
Proportioned to thy day;
At death thou still shalt find me nigh,
To wipe thy tears away.”

the last 18 months… and a very faithful God

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I just want to take a second and look back to remember what God has done, specifically over the last 15 months of my life. All too often, I get discouraged by an apparent lack of growth or what I perceive as changing too slowly. But God in His faithfulness is training me and keeping me at this marathon pace, though my heart would rather be zooming along at a sprinters pace.

February ‘08 – on Sunday, February 24th, during worship rehearsal, Katie Britt came up to me with a little piece of paper. On the paper were these words… “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” Little did I know how those words would define the next season of my life. I woke up the next day with a splitting pain in my head. Imagine a migraine. Then make it exponentially worse. That day was the start of many long and painful months ahead… months of confusion, months of crying out to God, and months of things just seeming to only get worse. This month also was when I began writing poems.

March ’08 – On March 7th, I had my first MRI of my brain. I was terrified and in so much pain that I didn’t know how I would stay still throughout the procedure. And since the doctors were running ahead of schedule there was no time for sedation. God brought to mind the passage of 1st Peter 1 that I had just memorized. He reminded me that He was working… that He had a plan for me (an inheritance that is sure) and that even in my current trial, that His goal is that my faith and hope would rest in God… my loving Father. It was a sweet time, yet I was overwhelmed and confused as to what God was doing.

April ’08 – I had to stop teaching German. The migraines continued. I lost count of the doctors I visited and the tests that were run. There seemed to be no answers.  And though my body was exhausted, sleep wouldn’t come.  Matt preached a sermon that when God brings us into the waves, He is always behind us, holding us secure. He won’t let us drown. He is doing this because He cares for us and wants us to know the freedom found in trusting Him.

May ’08 – May was a month of answered prayers.     I got a new position at work, which was an answer to several years of praying.  I was diagnosed with and treated for a bacterial infection in my brain (similar to meningitis), which had been one cause of the migraines.  I think God was just reminding me here of His faithfulness… and that He hadn’t forgotten me.  However, May was also a month of new trials.  I became very sick with what I thought was the stomach flu.  New Attitude (singles conference) was a struggle.  I had gone expecting great things from God.  I left disappointed that there was no “thunder and lightning” simply a “I’m faithful… trust Me.”

June ’08 – I found out in June, shortly after my 27th birthday that I am allergic to dairy, wheat, oats, food dye and several other things.  Unfortunately I found this out the hard way, after weeks of not being able to keep food down.  On June 26th, my good friends Dave and Melissa lost their baby.  Melissa was 6 ½ months pregnant and went into labor.  I will never forget singing “blessed be your name” while standing in front of a casket not more than 1’x2’.  Their steadfast faith through that unthinkable trial encouraged me to keep looking to our loving Father, no matter what.

July ’08 – on Sunday July 13th, I was baptized.  July was a month of trying to figure out what I could eat and what makes me sick.  My grandparents celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary.  Doctors visits continued.  Migraines started coming back as I was testing food options.  July was a month of learning that blessing and suffering go hand in hand.

August ’08 – August was the month of diagnoses.  The doctors found out that what I thought was a stomach flu back in May, was actually salmonella food poisoning from a puffed wheat cereal.  This was a mixed blessing because though it threw my body into overload, the doctors were able to also diagnose that I have Celiacs disease, something that has gone undiagnosed for about 10 years.  This month was another month of physical weakness.  I had no energy and constant migraines.  The Worship God conference was encouraging and this month began my study of the Psalms.  The Psalms CD quickly became one of my favorites.  At the worship conference, I was able to see God miraculously heal my friend Dave Johnson, after suffering for many years with kidney stones.  Still to this day, he has not had one!

September ’08 – Migraines began getting worse.  Due to the fact that you can’t take migraine medicine every day, the doctor put me on an anti-seizure med that is effective for treating migraines.  After a few increases in the doseage, the migraines began subsiding.  This was a month of ups and downs, along with very little sleep.  September was also the month I decided to move from living with a family in the church to getting an apartment with two friends.  Emotionally, there were many struggles, as I was working through where God was leading me to.

October ’08 – I started having some severe reactions to the medicine and the doctors had to quickly take me off, depsite the risk of seizures.  This was one of the scariest times I have ever faced, not sure what was happening, if I was dying or what to do.  Thankfully, my pastors were extremely helpful in reminding me of my hope in God, the God who knows all, is in control of all and who loves me.  The doctors changed my medicine and I only got worse.  I met with my pastors one afternoon and they prayed that God would heal me.  Sleep was unknown at this point now.  Oh, and on top of that there was the physical and emotional stress of moving, yet again…for the 7th time in 5 years.

November ’08 – November was a hard month with relationships.  And with dealing through issues from my past.  I found a new doctor who diagnosed me with sleep apnea, and a severe vitamin B deficiency.  We were able to take me off all the migraine meds, except to treat the occasional migraine.  I am grateful to have found this new doctor.  I am grateful because slowly, it seems that God began healing my weak and dying body.  I didn’t know He was just beginning to work on the heart and emotions.

December ’08 – if i had to summarize December it would be “face your fears.”  December was a difficult month as I continued working through some pains from my past, thanks to the help of Matt and Julie.  My body continued to improve.  I started having more energy, but still wasn’t sleeping.  In December, the doctor did a second sleep test. Oh, and during my Christmas break from work, I almost died of carbon monoxide poisoning and an allergic reaction to wheat.  Both in the same week.  It was a draining week.

January ’09 – As the new year began, I was continually reminded of the word “peace.”  I was reminded that God is the One who brings peace and that this was His goal for me in the coming months… to learn peace, not because there are no storms, but because I am held by the God who controls those storms.  “the flame shall not hurt you I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.”  God seemed to be saying that the coming months would be a clear picture of God’s care and a refining of my dross.

February ’09 – in February I took a trip to Charlotte NC to visit a friend.  I was encouraged to realize that some of my sin struggles are the same things she struggles with.  I felt God say that this weekend would be pivotal in freeing me from certain sins and strongholds in my life.  I returned home, only to fail.  As I saw those waves of condemnation crashing down, I again became very discouraged with my lack of trust and faith in God.  And the emotional scars continued and in some ways only seemed to increase.

March ’09 – God continued to remind me that He brings beauty from pain.  And that my life, which has involved a good deal of pain, is meant to bring Him glory.  Each step I’ve taken and each tear I’ve cried was not lost to His care and love.  As my hours kept getting cut at work due to the economy, I found trusting in that love a struggle.  But I remembered where I was a year ago, in the tube for the MRI, and was refreshed to remember that my God is providing for me.  Since I still wasn’t sleeping, the doctor put me on a sleep med, for the next 3 months to try to train my body to sleep again.

April ’09 – Migraines are more an occasional occurance now instead of a daily trial.  Physically the changes in my body have been phenomenal since last October when my pastors prayed for God’s merciful healing hand to touch me.  I’m even training for a half marathon at the end of this summer!  Lord willing, I’ll have the physical strength to make that goal a reality.  The struggles to trust God to provide financially became greater as I saw to greater depths the mess I’ve created.  I was confronted about a relationship issue that I had left unresolved.  God used that to show me grace in a new and special way.  I was surprised to see such grace to me… a clearly undeserving sinner.  God overwhelmed me with that grace.

May ’09 – Again, God has overwhelmed me with His grace.  I’ve had many nights of restful sleep.  He has provided for me financially in some spectacular ways and has again and again proven Himself to be my faithful Provider.  I’m also amazed at what a gift my friends are and how God has used them to show me His care.  They have sacrificed so much just to simply show me God’s love.  I’m grateful… and overwhelmed.

So, that’s the last 18 months.  I don’t know what the next ones will contain.  But I know that the faithful God who has carried me through many physical, emotional and financial pains time after time, will continue to carry me through every storm He has ordained for me.  I continue to struggle with fear… fear of the unknown, fear of future pain.  But God is faithful in comforting me with the truth that no matter what trials come, He is with me.

free in Christ

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So often in my life
I’m tempted to despair
I see the sin in my heart
And the wickedness in there

I can feel like I’m unworthy
Unfit to bear His name
Like I am not His child
Weighed down by all my shame

But then I remember
That the source of my faith
Does not lie within me
But in His amazing grace

Jesus saved me from myself
And all my wickedness
He rescued me from God’s wrath
And gave me His righteousness

Now I am forgiven
I No longer stand condemned
I’ve been cleansed in His blood
Washed clean and free from my sin

So now I am worthy
Because I bear His name
I am His chosen child
He has taken all my blame

Now I’m free in Christ
My hope in Him secure
I’m free to live for Him
My inheritance is sure

Copyright Matthew Rawlings, March 27, 2009

one year ago today…

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one year ago today i was scheduling an MRI because the doctors feared I had a brain tumor.  one year ago today was day 10 of the worst migraine pain, numbness and other physical problems that I ever thought my body could endure.  one year ago today, I was staying at a coworkers house dog and cat sitting and my allergies were going haywire. one year ago today i was working in a job that i hated.  one year ago today i was afraid that the previous 10 days would kill me. 

but now, 365 days later, i am rejoicing in God’s faithfulness.

sure, in the last year, i had more days with migraines than without.  and in the last year, I was diagnosed with countless severe food allergies.  this last year has been physically, emotionally, financially, mentally and spiritually very very difficult for me.  but God in His kindness, has graciously not allowed me to stay where I was one year ago today. 

i remember my fears about the MRI.  i remember thinking that i might have a brain tumor and that it might kill me.  i remember thinking that it would kill me.  i remember that roller coaster.  it was scary.  i cried a lot.  i questioned God a lot.  i was consumed by fear.

in many ways, i’m still on a roller coaster.  just a different one now.  its still scary.  i still cry a lot.  but looking back, I don’t think i question God as much.  i don’t think i’m quite as consumed by fear.  i think my love for God is deeper.  and i know my desire to live for Him is stronger (though I still fail and fall every day).   and in God’s mercy, I do not have migraines every day like I did one year ago. 

one year ago today, God knew I’d be here now.  I didn’t.  Had He told me, I would have asked for another path.  many days, i did ask for another path.  but by His strength, I survived the last year.  well, not merely survived, but i think He has brought me through and has made me stronger.  not stronger in myself or stronger in my abilities, but stronger in my trust in Him to be the sovereign Guide for all my steps. 

i have no clue where i’ll be one year from today.  i dont’ know whats in store for the next 365 days any more than i could have anticipated the prior ones.  but I do know that my God, my Father, my Shepherd, and my Comfortor will be my Guide every single step of the way.

click here to read my post from one year ago today