So, I’m sitting here on the floor of my office at midnight, ready to write – my internal motor is running about as fast as the little space heater I’m sitting next to. Clearly, that large glass of “Baptist caffeinated sweet tea” I had before Bible study this evening is still doing its job!
Currently, I’m leading a Bible study at our church based on One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I loved the book the first time I read it. I love her blog. I want to move into her farmhouse and live in the pictures she posts and just sit with her and soak up her amazing-ness, and be her bff forever! (Ann, if you’re out there, you always have an open invite to my house and a fresh cup of coffee waiting! Just ignore the dust bunnies and mountains of laundry!)
Our group is really interesting to me. Except for two women I knew peripherally from my Sunday school group, everyone else is brand new to me! And even more, this is their first Bible study ever at our church. It’s weird trying to teach/lead a group of women I don’t know! Slowly, they are overcoming their shyness and starting to open up and share and man, are our studies finally getting pretty MEATY and good. I love it when studies are more discussion, instead of lecture!
This week’s session covered chapters 6-7 of the book, covering the idea of the “ugly beautiful.” This reminds me so much of Samuel’s anointing of David. How David was the last to be “seen” and yet God chose him, because He looks not at the outside (the ugly) but at the heart (the beautiful).
When Ann talks of thanking God for the “ugly-beautiful” in our lives, for me I’ve tended to call these moments “the hard thanks.” And after tonight’s class, I might call these “fleas!”
In Corrie ten Boom’s book, she relates a story of when she and her sister were in a concentration camp. Her sister is “preaching” to the prisoner workers around them and the verse, “Give thanks in all circumstances” comes up. Later when she starts to thank God for the fleas in prayer, Corrie protested. But her sister held firm. God said to give thanks in ALL circumstances, not just the one we liked, or only the parts we liked. So they prayed and thanked God for the fleas, even though Corrie didn’t agree. And yet, a few weeks later, her sister had the last laugh. She found out that their freedom to speak so freely in the workroom was completely due to the soldiers’ not wanting to enter the flea-infested room! God had used those fleas to open the door so she and Corrie could share the gospel!
I admit, I’ve had some serious ugly in my life. Some ugly I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And frankly, even though I can see how God has used and is using that ugly in my life to make beautiful, to bring about transformation, I still can’t say that I’m all that excited by it. I wish there was an easier way to learn life lessons than have them beat into me, like the Potter hammering clay. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can understand and appreciate it, and maybe even accept it, but that still doesn’t mean I like it. And I think what that means is, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel thankful, though mentally I am thankful that God is using those moments to transform me into something new.
One of the study questions tonight:
All is grace! Is it? Are there things in your life that you still can’t trust to God? How can you trust our God — that nothing is beyond the reach of His redemption?
My answer that I posed to the group is that it’s not that I don’t “trust” God, necessarily. I feel like I’m accepting and holding him to His promises – that there is beautiful in my ugly, that He will work out ALL THINGS according to His purposes, that His purposes are to bring us future and hope.
But sometimes I have to count those ugly-beautiful moments as grace through clenched jaws and gritted teeth. I have to thank God and count them as grace even though I don’t feel it and certainly don’t see it or like it, and can’t quite completely accept it. For now I’m calling this my “fake it ’till you make it” approach. That by thanking God for these “hard thanks” over and over, I will start to understand, and accept and SEE.
See through the ugly. Through the dirty windows of our life and out into the world as Jesus sees us. How many times over and over and over did Jesus stop and truly SEE a person’s heart, and not just the surface? Past their history, past their circumstance, past the situation, past the hurt and the scars and sins and UGLY. Jesus never had to ask God to open His eyes to what was really going on, but often we have to. (I totally remember a reference to the Old Testament where one of the prophets prayed that God would open the eyes of a servant so he could see the spiritual battle happening around them – I just can’t find it! So if you know, please tell me!)
One gal in my group had this amazing insight. That over and over and over in Psalms and elsewhere we are COMMANDED to give up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. So when we do that, even when it’s hard and feels like a sacrifice, then we are obeying God. And God rewards those who obey His commands. I loved that thought!
Throughout my life, it feels like I’ve always been a struggler. A Jacob wrestling. Sometimes it’s discouraging to see those around me who don’t seem to have to go through that wrestling match to be transformed. Esau didn’t (that we’ve been told at least). Before, he threatened to kill Jacob, and yet when they meet years later, he welcomes his brother instead of fulfilling that threat. He was transformed.
Jacob, however, apparently needed that struggle. His struggle with God was the process that God used to mold him, transform him, so he would be ready for the blessing. Otherwise, why didn’t Jacob ask for the blessing sooner? Why did he wait until after God touched his hip and put it out of socket? Why didn’t “the man” tell Jacob to stop earlier instead of letting it continue all night until the dawn? I think it took all that – an entire night of struggle – for God to transform Jacob’s thought process and character. And even though he was “transformed” through his struggle and was rewarded with the blessing and a new name, the repercussions still remained. That limp, those scars and the injury were left to be a constant, forever reminder of the past he left behind with his old name, to constantly humble him him and to give him a new heart. To open his eyes past the ugly in himself and past the ugly in others.
So, I’m not sure what my resolution to this post is. I still struggle with it, even though I know He has a plan and a purpose. I trust in that. And accept that there Is plan, even if it isn’t mine. (I think that’s the harder point to accept sometimes.) That I am thankful that God can use anything about to create those miracles and changes in our lives. Even after all that, I still don’t like my “fleas.” It’s like brussel sprouts: they might be good for me, and my momma might make me eat ’em, but that doesn’t I like ’em, and I might never will.
(PS. This is to just cover my last comment – that was a figure of speech. My mother never made me eat brussel sprouts. Now, if she reads this, I won’t get in trouble!)