Well, that’s how I wanted it to be this morning as I sat in my usual spot in the front row. Pastor’s wife, full of faith and confidence and spiritual example to the congregation…. and bawling her eyes out throughout the entire service. To be honest, I’ve felt it off and on all week. One minute, I’m strong and “it’s going to be fine” and “God’s grace is sufficient” and “the Lord is my refuge” and all the right confessions of faith. Projecting the “right image”. The next minute, I’m a puddle and I’m crying and I’m heartbroken for what was lost. As much as I know the Lord is able to restore and rebuild and heal, I know that His faithfulness cannot be judged by my circumstances. God is STILL faithful, ALWAYS faithful, no matter what I can see in the natural.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a green curtain to hide behind in my front row seat. So I cried, right out there in the open, in the front row, raw and exposed.
What happened this week? Hurricane Irma. All over our newly renovated-paid-in-cash children’s wing.
Oh y’all, trust me. It’s SO MUCH WORSE than it looks, honestly. I know it just looks like a hole. I know what you are thinking: “Put a tarp on it” (we did), “Hire a roofer” (we will), “don’t you have insurance?” (we do). I’ll spare you all the details, partly because I just can’t form the words without crying so hard I can’t see the computer keyboard. It’s just worse.
I’m mourning today. I’m mourning the loss of that beautiful new room. It cost us so much more than money. It cost a year of our lives. Hard work, hard people, hard labor. Days I thought would nearly kill us. Days were I learned from first hand experience that people actually do leave the church over the color of the carpet. Honest promise – before 2016, I thought those were just stories people made up, some kind of ridiculous exaggerations to distract us from the work. Now I know – the struggle was real. (We didn’t actually lose anyone, but it wasn’t because the devil didn’t try).
I’m mourning the loss of what my flesh counted as provision. We raised the cash for that renovation. New sound, new lighting, new computers, new furniture, new carpet, the best we could do and cash every step of the way. That felt good. That felt like blessing. It felt like the blessing of obedience. (Do you see this conversation going downhill? I’ll continue so you don’t miss it….) It felt like security. It felt like a reward. It felt like, “since y’all did this, the Lord will do this“. That felt like sunshine. That felt like winning. It felt like getting ahead. It felt like being the “head and not the tail” (in my misguided way of translating Deut. 28:13 in this situation).
Really, it wasn’t ANY of those things. You know what it was? It was a building. It wasn’t the sole evidence of God’s faithfulness.
What I want is to connect all these symmetrical lines in my life, tying my world up in pretty finished bows. I like a finished project. I like a beginning and an end. I like feeling the ground beneath my feet. When something is unfinished or unexplain-able, it throws me off balance – but only for a minute. Then I remember.
I remember heroes of faith from the Bible who struggled AND were blessed. I remember that one of Jesus’ promises was that we would have tribulation in this world (John 16:33) AND that we would never be left alone (John 14:18). I remember Habakkuk writing,
“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18)
That’s not really the verse that I wanted to write today – it doesn’t exactly draw the line from tragedy to comfort in the way my flesh wants it to. Want to know what the truth is? The truth is, God’s faithfulness cannot be measured by human’s standards. On my fantastic days, God is faithful. On my terrible days, God is faithful. His character is not defined or determined by my feelings. I did feel good when we finished that wing (because feeling good feels good) and I praised God for being faithful (because He is faithful). Where I “went south” was connecting my fleeting good feelings to God’s consistent goodness.I’m not only reminded in this moment that God is good, I experience the ultimate comfort because I know that God never changes, even if my circumstances change. I will JOY in the God of my salvation!
It’s true that I am a person of faith. When I’m projecting the right “pastor’s wife image” there in the front row, when I’m smiling and my mascara is on my lashes (and not running in hot streaks down my cheeks), I’m operating in faith and trust in the Lord. The congregation can look my direction and feel good that all is right with the world because I’m smiling at the right times and I’m allowing a few tears at the right times (oh the pressure).
It’s also true that I am a PERSON. When I am bawling out crying and I look like I just lost my best friend, I’m STILL OPERATING IN FAITH AND TRUST IN THE LORD. Mercifully, there are dear ones in our congregation (God bless them!) who get their confidence from the Lord. They realize that even though I’m the pastor’s wife, I’m still a fellow pilgrim on the journey forward. These dear people know that even when I’m not projecting the right “pastor’s wife image”. They know I can be sad AND full of faith all at the same time.
It’s such a relief to be able to be understood when I say, “I KNOW it’s only stuff. I KNOW that God will restore. It’s just that I liked that stuff and I didn’t want it to be destroyed by a hurricane”. Some people understood – and when they hugged my neck, I could tell they felt just the same way.
This is one of my favorite psalms, and it seems to fit just right here:
“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion” (84:5-7)
Passing through the valleys, being refreshed by the rain and scorched by the sun and moving forward in spite of feelings….. I might make it with the occasional mascara streak and I’ll definitely make it with smile wrinkles too, but I’m gonna make it. We all will.
Standing on the promises of God – and I mean ALL of the promises, not just the ones that make my flesh feel good – is a treasure. God is good, whatever your circumstances. Praying you find a reason to praise our amazingly kind and constant Heavenly Father – even if it’s a “in spite of” praise – today