By Thy Help I’m Come

We went to the beach, the four of us, and spread out. The joke was that it was an “introvert party.” We all had our own things to process. I saw the rock barrier and instantly knew that’s where I needed to go.

I wanted to walk out to the end, but my lack of courage (and balance) kept me from going more than 15 feet out. So I parked myself on a rock with my journal and a towel. It was warm from the sun, but the breeze was nice. Refreshing.

From there, I had a clear view of the water and the sun and waves coming in. I didn’t realize there were so many colors of blue in the world. Deep blue of the sky far beyond the horizon. Murky, grayish blue of the waves in front of me. Muted, calm blue of the in-between. Even each of those had shades of depth and profundity. Levels of sadness; levels of joy.

The water was fresh, like the tears of joy they say fall first from your right eye. So many of my tears have been saltwater recently. Sorrow. Sorrowful tears aren’t really much different than joyful tears, chemically speaking. But they feel so much different. Tears are the place where sorrow is mixed with joy; bitterness of pain with the sweetness of relief you feel after a good cry. You still feel miserable, but somehow better.

Maybe this is what Paul meant when he wrote about being “sorrowful, yet rejoicing”. I’m sorrowful because my world is broken and has gradually gotten even more so. But there’s joy, because all things are being made new. Life consists in tears – sorrowful and joyful.

I could see down into the waves. The water was clear here, but only enough to see what was making it murky. There was sand and seaweed and rocks. Dead sea animals, shells, driftwood, sludge.

I realized it then: “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” God’s waves are love, but they knock me down. God’s love drudges up all the sludge I would rather not deal with. His love has to be violent sometimes to churn up what makes my heart murky. That grit and sludge – it makes its mark. The rock I was sitting on was smooth – not because anyone had made it that way, but because the waves had eroded it with the silt and sand they contain.

God has smoothed me out with the struggle of this past year. He had to bring suffering into my life to reveal all the pride, anger, and idols in my heart. He had to show me again how broken I really am. He slowly but surely eroded some of those rough edges of immaturity that seemed to follow me everywhere.

Sitting by Lake Michigan, I realized how angry I had been with Him. I had seen the waves in my life as hatred, not love. But God knew that I needed my pride broken down, my idols removed, and my dependence on others to hear His voice destroyed. He knew. So He did.

My faith had been hindered, like my prayers, because I was angry. I had been trying to hold onto things with a death grip that the Lord had chosen to take away. He gently pried open my fingers and said, “Give them to me. You can’t hold onto them any longer. It’s hurting you.” All the bitter tears of the past year were caught in His bottle.

Thinking about these things, I walked down the beach. Looking at the sand so I wouldn’t lose my footing, I began to see little stones – baby cousins to the one I had been sitting on. They were flat and smooth. They looked like they had been chiseled out to build a pyramid for the Pharaohs . . . or an altar to my God.

Spreading out my towel, I began to stack them into a pile. One after the other. 12 months, 12 stones. One memorial to God’s faithfulness over a very hard year. Like Samuel, I raised an Ebenezer – a stone named “God is my help”. He had been my rock and was faithful, even when I rejected His painful love and severe mercy.

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“Here I raise my Ebenezer:

Hither by Thy help I’m come.”

This little rock pile, built with patience and hot glue, sits on my shelf as a reminder. Every time I look at it, I reflect on God’s faithfulness. His helpfulness. His grace.

Through every ebb and flow of the past year, He was the same. He never changed or left. I cried out in anguish many times. I raised my fist at Him more times than I care to admit. I lay prostrate on the floor – flattened by the misery I felt.

But He was unfazed by any of this. His care for me did not change. He was still a loving Father Who brought these things into my life to show me His painful love.

Even when I screamed into pillows and pounded the floor and sat in stunned silence, He still said, “I love you.” He said it to me in the moments of my deepest depression. He said it to me in the moments of my highest joy.

“I love you. I love you so much that Christ died to rescue you.” He whispered it into my ear when anything more would be painful. He shouted it when I shut Him out to wallow in my misery.

I’ve learned that His love is not a cupcake kind of love – all sugar and frosting and sprinkles. No. His love looks like a naked, pain-wracked man with gory wounds who is in the anguish of being forsaken by God.

If God’s love meant that for Christ, what does His love mean for me?

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds.”

“Blessed are you when others revile you . . . on my account.”

He loves me – and that doesn’t mean everything will be sunshine. Instead, the storms show His love just as much as the rays of light. They show that He’s in control. He cares about me individually when the mess is much larger than anything I can see.

Life with God can be painful. But that pain reveals His love. If I didn’t feel pain in this life, I wouldn’t need God in this life. I have to be present in the pain, because God is in it. Like Elijah, I have to listen for His voice in the storm, in the wind, and in the calm. He’s there – in all of it.