Giving Thanks Despite the Pain

psalm 9-1

It all started like this:

One can of those Pillsbury rolls, the kind where you have to pop the seal and you jump 2 feet in the air in surprise when you open them. .

Plus:

One bare foot.

Plus:

One sleepy mom on a Sunday morning.

Equals:

A can of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls slamming down onto that bare foot causing that sleepy mom a great deal of pain.

I limped around most of Sunday and finally eased my foot out of my shoe Sunday evening (after finally giving up on the pain just going away.)

My big toe was swollen and green (yes, green).

Nice.  I guess I broke my toe or something along those medical lines.

And, when you move around doing a lot of stuff (as a mom with four kids does), it turns out you kind of need your big toe not to be throbbing with excruciating pain.

Who knew?

I’ve been celebrating the tiny stages of recovery this week. Sure, my foot has changed a few colors, but it hurts less.

Yesterday I could move my toe and wear a regular pair of shoes again.

But now, since I’ve been walking funny for four days, I’ve noticed aches in my leg and other toes.

They are a reminder that something isn’t doing it’s job in my body and other parts are compensating.

This tiny bit of brokenness, this irritating ache has me aware.

I’m aware of my toe’s value, of everything I’ve taken for granted and all that it normally does for me.

I’m aware of what I actually need to do and what I can let go of for a while until I’m walking again without the limp.

And, I’m aware of tiny graces and the mercies I might otherwise overlook.

I remember the moment I realized my toe wasn’t going to simply sting for a few minutes and then feel better.

“Great,” I thought, “I have to do Children’s Church today!  Tomorrow, I start a week with a whole lot of driving and times when I’ll be working with kids and moving all around.  This is really bad timing.”

That’s true, of course.  My week would have been easier without a foot injury.

But I’ve been okay.

Sometimes we can work ourselves up into despair.  The one thing we pray won’t happen (of course) happens. We can’t ever see it getting better.  The timing is awful.  The provision is scarce.

And all that might very well be true.

Even then, though, even in the worst…or the uncomfortable, the painful, the unwanted, the heartbreaking, and the disappointing. He can transform the “worst thing” into a “God thing” with whispers of His grace, hints of His love, and reminders of His presence.

It’s like getting a thank you card just when you felt overlooked.

Or your two-year-old son not having a tantrum during that important meeting even though he missed his nap today.

It’s getting unexpected provision when you felt overwhelmed by one extra expense too many this month.

It’s God’s comfort and strength as you mourn.

It’s making it through the week with an aching toe and it all working out just fine even when you didn’t think it could.

I’ve been praying so much this year–for others, for my family–for big miracles, for visible deliverance, for undeniable healing, for rescue and provision.

But I also want to be aware of the daily blessings, the brushes with grace, the tender mercies.

I want to remember the way God sometimes doesn’t deliver me from difficult circumstances or disappointment or hurt.  But He does deliver me through. 

The Psalmist wrote:

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1 ESV)

ALL His wonderful deeds–not just the grand ones.

Timothy Keller says,

“We must discern God’s ‘wonderful deeds’ in our lives, a phrase that can refer to dramatic miracles like the parting of the Red Sea. However, we must also learn to see the more subtle ways God comforts us just when we were ready to give up, or brings the right friend or book or line of thinking into our lives just when we needed it” (The Songs of Jesus).

God didn’t keep that cinnamon roll can from hitting my toe.  He didn’t miraculously heal my foot after I’d hurt it.

Those would have been wonderful.

But He’s helping me make it through, and that’s wonderful, too.

He’s changing my focus from the worst, the disappointment, the hurt and the stress to His comfort and help just when I need it.

And I give Him thanks with all my heart.

The Adventure of the Cherry Pie

It began with a bag of cherries.

Cherries truly are the gold of the fruit world, so I’ve only bought them twice in over thirteen years of marriage.  This time, a super sale had enticed me to carry home a bag of this sweet and juicy cherrytreasure.

My daughters tasted them once and mostly were done.  Only one daughter and I continued to enjoy them day…after day….after day….until I knew I needed a plan to use the cherries before I had to toss rotten cherries.

Obviously, the answer in such a fruit crisis is to bake a pie.  So, domestically inspired, my daughters and I made the pie crust from scratch and left it in refrigerator to chill before rolling it out into the pie pan.  Then, we carefully followed the recipe for cherry pie filling.  It said I needed four cups of cherries to fill the pie.

I had exactly four cups.  Not 4-1/4 cups or 3-3/4 cups.  Four cups absolutely on the line.

It was a sign, a heavenly smile on my cooking project.

So, my eight-year-old and I pitted those four cups of cherries (without a cherry pitter) and felt thoroughly proud of our pioneer selves.

Yet, as we stirred the filling on the stove, I felt that first quiver of nervousness, that nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be enough to fill the pie.

I was right.

Once the dough was rolled out and the absolutely delicious homemade filling that we were so proud of was poured in, we knew the truth.  We only had enough for half of a pie and I was all out of cherries.

This began the series of minor annoyances that disrupted all of my homemaking tranquility and left me stressed, bothered, tired and frustrated within an hour.

Like how I pulled out all the ingredients for my homemade chicken and barley soup and couldn’t find the chicken stock I needed, not anywhere in any cabinet in the entire house, although I knew for sure I bought it at the store that week.

And how I put the homemade bread dough into the oven in the same bread pan I always use at the same setting with the oven rack positioned in the same place as always—-and started to smell burning after 15 minutes.  The bread had risen so high it was actually touching the top of the oven and burning.

So, I pulled the bread out quickly and placed it on the counter while trying to reposition the oven racks only to smell more burning.  In my haste, I had put the bread down on a stove burner that was still on from my failing soup.  The bread was burned both top and bottom now.

It was at this point that I started crying out to Jesus…over cherry pie, lost chicken stock, and burned bread.

A week later, of course, the bothersome kitchen disasters had passed.  I bought a can of cherry pie filling that night and finished off the baked goods.  We ate the middle of the bread and I found a way to make soup anyway.

Then, I opened up the kitchen cabinet doors and found the chicken stock that had been missing just days before.  There it sat exactly where I remembered placing it, exactly where it should have been, exactly where I had looked over and over in one desperate rumble through the cabinet after another.

So, why?  Why, God, all of that unnecessary drama over things as simple as soup and bread and pie?

Maybe I don’t meet with recipe disasters and random kitchen mishaps every day….and yet every day there are the distractions: The yanking on our hearts to worry here and bluster with frustration there.  The nudging us off our faith foundation and the pecking away at our peace.

In Psalm 86, David prays over his own litany of troubles.  Eugene Peterson notes:

There are fifteen petitions in these seventeen verses: concentration is weakened by the distraction of clamoring needs (Praying with the Psalms, June 24).

Fifteen reasons for David to fall to his knees, one pesky annoyance after another, one overwhelming crisis upon another.

And it’s all just so much, so difficult to focus on Christ and to claim peace, so hard to ignore the circumstances and insist on faith.

So, David prays:

Give me an undivided heart to revere your name (Psalm 86:11).

And this becomes our prayer when life is overwhelming or when days grow difficult, when we’re hit wave after wave with bothersome trifles and knocked flat over by the powerful current.

One heart….one mind….united and unwavering in my intentional focus on Christ.  This is what we need.

Amen.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

VBS for Grown-Ups: God’s Love Helps Us

Every year at Vacation Bible School I watch as adults lead the excited children around the church from station to station, sing the songs (maybe we even do the accompanying motions), shout and laugh. kingdom-rock-logo-hi-res Do we also, though, compartmentalize? Do we box up the VBS messages and declare they are just for kids and not relevant for us?

But is there any message in Scripture that God delivers just for people under 18? We older and wiser ones sometimes make faith so complicated and fail to recognize or really consider the beautiful truths in these simple messages. So, this week, I’m thinking about VBS and what the lessons for children mean for you and me.  Our church is doing Group Publishing’s Kingdom Rock VBS, so that’s what I’ll be sharing about here with a mixture of old devotionals and new ones on the theme for each day.

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Originally posted as “Feeling Unloved, January 4, 2013
“I love you, Lord; you are my strength” Psalm 18:1

She was sobbing next to me and finally put all those unmanageable, messy feelings into four words.

“I feel so unloved.”

One fight with her sisters, one afternoon of correction and quiet discipline….and this totally loved daughter of mine told me she didn’t feel loved at all.

She sat with her tissue, snuggled against my side, my one arm hugging her shoulder, my other arm smoothing her wild hair that had been mussed by all the emotion.

But she felt unloved.

I had packed her lunch for the day, putting in her favorite snack and slipping a tiny paper with a joke on it into her bag of pretzels so she would smile and laugh and think of me.

She was wearing the outfit I had bought her and a ribbon in her hair that I (yes, the mom recovering from an allergy to crafts) had made for her with my own two clumsy hands.

Her favorite dinner was simmering on the stove.

Before bed the night before we had studied her Bible verses for the week and read together from books I ordered used online because they were out-of-print.  But they were her favorite, so I had happily spent an afternoon performing Google searches to find them.

I had combed out her long blond hair after her bath and sprayed it down to ease out the tangles and reminded her to brush her teeth.

And I had told her I loved her often, hugged her and kissed the top of her head throughout the day, then tucked her into bed under the blanket I had made for her myself.

But still she felt unloved.

She didn’t know that some people grow up without the kindness, the physical provision, the confidence that they are loved.

So I told my crying girl how loved she is and how even when her emotions push their faulty lies into her heart and mind, she can shut them down with truth.

We’re just as forgetful as my daughter is at times, feeling unloved because of a circumstance, a correction, a trial or sadness.  And we sit among our piles of blessings, of salvation and daily grace, and think, “God, don’t You love me?”

We meditate on the lies and feed them with our feelings, just like the Israelites did in the Old Testament.

Psalm 106 follows their long journey through forgetfulness and betrayal…

they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses (verse 7).

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold (verse 13).

They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea (verse 21-22).

They didn’t just forget minor provisions of lunch box meals and some new outfits for school.

They forgot miraculous deliverance out of slavery in Egypt, the parting of an entire body of water so they could cross on dry land, daily provision of manna from heaven and the protection from war-loving enemies on every side.

But always God was faithful:

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known…

Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
 for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented (Psalm 106:8, 4-45).

They forgot.  He remembered.

“Yet, He….” it says in each verse. In my NKJV Bible, it says, “Nevertheless…”

That’s what God is...never at any moment less than good and powerful, mighty and merciful to us.  He is never less than His character or His faithfulness to His promises.

Even when our feelings tell us otherwise.

Even when we’ve believed the lies.

Paul writes to Philemon:

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ (Philemon 1:6 NIV).

His prayer was that the church would “get it,” would deep-down understand the blessings of God and the totally undeserved, thoroughly unconditional love of our so-gracious Father and the Savior who died in our place.

If we really believed that God loved us, we would have confidence for the bad days and strength for the hard times.  We’d have the help we need when we’re annoyed, frustrated, tired or overwhelmed.

Even when we mess up we’d remember the truth: never-the-less He is faithful.

It’s God’s love that helps us stand strong.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King