Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Symbol of Hope

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
Romans 8:38,39 (KJV)

Casting all sad recollections of 2011 aside, do you have a favorite memory of this year?  A favorite day that went just right?  A favorite time with God?  A time of spiritual awakening that was especially unique?  Looking back, I guess I have several favorite memories of 2011.  One of them happened on a balcony in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We had just passed through a very troubled, trying time in our lives, and we took a much-needed vacation to one of my favorite places in the world….my Dad’s home state of Tennessee.  We rented a condo for a few days that was right outside the town of Pigeon Forge.  The view was gorgeous…you could see the outskirts of town, yet you could clearly see a beautiful mountain across the way in the distance.  Every night while we were there, Zachary and I would go out and sit on the balcony, stare at the mountain, and talk.  We would look at the lights up and down the side of the mountain and imagine what the families inside the houses were like…what were they doing?  What was going on in their lives?  Though we would never meet or know the answers, we connected with them for those brief moments by the lights in their windows…shining out across the night sky.

Sometimes the aftermath of a storm is worse than the storm.  Sometimes it leaves you reeling, and the repercussions are much more profound than the actual blast of fury.  Sometimes you wake up after it is all over and you wonder what just hit you and how you will ever pick up all of the broken pieces and regroup and rebuild.  You second-guess choices you have made and wonder if, in those split-second decisions, you did the right thing.  Unfortunately, our archenemy, satan, loves to dwell and work in the aftermath.  It seems to give him great delight to point out every mistake we’ve made, but one of his biggest strategies when we are struggling and hurting, is to cause us to question God’s love for us.  “If God loved you, He would never have let this happen to you.  You aren’t really His child.  If you were, He would have protected and shielded you from this deep hurt.  God doesn’t care about you.  He is angry with you, and He isn’t listening to your prayers.  You’re an outcast, and you are no longer His child.  You really, really blew it this time”….just some of the hateful, mean-spirited lies he loves to sit on our shoulder and whisper into our ears. 

You know, I think satan can sense fear and insecurity in us, like a shark can sense the smell of blood in water.  When he senses it, he pounces and closes in for the kill.  If he can get us to doubt, even just a little bit, that God has forsaken us, he will attack with full strength.  This is where I found myself one night on that peaceful balcony.  I had gone out alone, with Zach’s promise to meet me out there later.  It was just me and God, the night sky and the serene mountain across the way.  But, into the midst of my tranquility and gentle thoughts, the old nagging questions started flooding my mind.  “Did we do the right thing?  Was it really God Who had led us down such a radical path?  Did we really hear HIS voice, or was it the voice of another?  Did God care about us?  Had He forsaken us?  Would the hurt inside ever go away?”  On and on and on the questions came, each one with more intensity, and the faster they came, the more my anxiety increased.  By the time my horrible lightning round battle with the devil eased off and subsided, I was exhausted and thoroughly discouraged.  This is the shape I was in by the time I heard Zach opening the french doors and walking up to sit down in the chair beside me. 

Bless his little heart, it never ceases to amaze me how much comfort a child can bring!  He is so precious and has been such a source of encouragement and joy to Kevin and me through all of our trials.  He had barely sat down and gotten comfortable when he exclaimed, “Oh, Mama!  LOOK!”  I leaned forward to see what had caught his eye, and there up the road a ways, was a huge, solid white cross….seemingly hanging in space against the night sky.  We looked at each other, and we began to wonder what was holding it in place.  And why hadn’t we noticed it on any of the nights before?  We got the camera and took pictures, but it was so far away it was impossible to get a clear image.  It looked like it was suspended, off the ground, from where we were. 

Zachary was completely fascinated….so was I.  He didn’t know anything about the war that had been waging in me, nor did he realize how close I was to completely giving up the hope that God loved us or cared about what we were going through.  I would never want his trusting, innocent heart to feel the complete hopelessness that had nearly overwhelmed me just moments before he came outside. 

As I sat there and stared at our newly discovered cross, its comfort enveloped me like a reassuring hug.  It was like God had sent me a sign…right at that exact moment….when I needed it the most.  And what better sign to send than the emblem of the suffering and shame of my Savior?  It was like He was saying, “Child, I understand.  Remember the old, rugged cross?  Remember My suffering?  Remember when I cried out WHY to My Father?  Because of what I suffered, because of what I went through, you can know with all certainty that I DO love you, child.  I love you so much that I died for you.  THAT is the express reason I died.  You are not alone.  I am with you.  And, by the way, it WAS My voice you heard, listened to, and followed.  You did the right thing.  You are in the center of my perfect will for your life at this moment.  Continue to follow Me.  I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.  You are My child.” 

Oh, the peace that washed over me!  I stared at that cross for a long time that night.  I never could figure out why we hadn’t noticed it before, but the next day, as we were driving along, Zachary and I spotted it and pointed it out to Kevin.  It turned out that it was securely supported by the ground on the side of a mountain, and the lights of the city around it had only given the illusion of it being suspended in mid-air.  Another gentle reminder that the message of the cross is forever concrete and solid.  It will never change. 

Seeing a cross is a symbol of eternal hope….a profound reminder that God’s love will never change towards us.  He will never leave us alone.  He is there….during the storm and all the way through every stage of the aftermath. 

Today’s passage lets us know with certainty that no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we go through, no matter how hard it gets, one thing will always, always remain.  God will always love us.  Nothing can separate us from His love.  It will penetrate through the deepest depths of suffering and the most concrete barriers this life could ever create.  I repeat, NOTHING can separate us from His love.  And to prove that, He hung, suffered, bled, and died on a rough wooden cross.  Shortly before His death, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (KJV) 

He loves you…and He loves me.  These days, I find that I need to remind myself of that more often than usual.  No matter who turns against us, talks about us, slanders us, decides to sever relationships with us….no matter who else lets us down, He never will, my friend.  He never will.

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