Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflections on the Life of Promise

In February, my sister-in-law, Ruthea Wolford gave birth to her fourth child by emergency c-section.  Little Promise was born in critical condition and almost died at birth.  She spent the rest of her life in neo-natal intensive care in Little Rock, AR.  During that time Ruthea stayed in Little Rock to be close to her.  All of us prayed earnestly for her recovery from an extreme case of fetal hydrops.  God said wait.  On April 30, Promise fell asleep.  
 Yesterday, Ruthea sent me this letter she wrote to Promise.  She believes that Promise is completely unware of this letter and will not know anything until Jesus wakes her up when He comes.  She wrote this letter, not to communicate with Promise, but to express some of what this experience has done for her.  The resulting first person letter is, well, you'll just have to read it.  You might want to get a tissue box first.  ~Janalin
          Although you are safe in Jesus arms, close to His heart, and sleeping in Jesus (we know it as death but not forever!) until He comes, I’m going to write as thought I’m writing to you since it helps me to formulate clear thoughts.  As your mommy, from the time I knew I was carrying you, I was confident that God would be with me and strengthen us for everything to do with the pregnancy.  In prayer time, I had assurance from God that this whole experience would be enshrouded by a rainbow so to speak and that the end of the story would be filled with peace and joy. 
          You were a little “missionary” sent to me from Jesus and I know my life will NEVER be the same, both the void that you have left and the deep lessons I’m learning.  This has been the biggest trial of my whole life and yet I believe will also be the biggest blessing.  Since your death on April 30, I have had many questions and tears and also healing times with Jesus, although as each day passes, I understand more of the picture.  Here are some of the precious lessons I treasure.
          From the womb, your life was bathed in prayer.  After your traumatic birth, thousands of prayers ascended every day for your healing as people from all over the world and all ages started praying for you.  I also was catapulted into unceasing prayer for your little life continually hanging in the balance.  I’ll never forget the night in the elevator when God impressed me to start praying for you every hour with whoever I was with, by phone or in person.  It became a great blessing.  I saw many answers to those prayers for you and for others (“Thank you God!”) and many other people joined.  It wasn’t difficult to make time to pray because your need was so great.  I know that God is leading me to this same kind of prayer experience in many areas in life, especially for your brothers and sister (who miss you so much) as they grow and face all of life’s troubles and temptations.  God wants me to feel my constant and great need of Him and be continually in tune.
          In connection with that lesson, I felt helpless and was helpless to heal you or help you like I wanted to.  As each day passed it was a new lesson in being cheerful with the unknown and things I was helpless in.  God wants me to feel that helpless dependence on Him each day!
          In the past I would feel a bit irritated about many things and situations in life that seemed big in the moment.  But now it seems that nothing holds a candle to your fragile life that was holding on by a thread.  I’m so thankful to God for this fresh perspective.  Now, nothing holds a candle to eternity and being with Jesus.  “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”.  How many people are holding on to spiritual life just be a thread?
          When you were first born, I cried and prayed until I was assured by God again by the quiet conviction that He HAD given you to me.  I didn’t have to worry about whether or not you would make it and I could treasure each day with you.  Now, looking back I see that God is the same God now as in Abraham’s day and just as He really gave Abraham the promised land back then (Gen. 13), so He gave you to me. And just as Abraham received it by faith until he possesses it with all of us, so you are still mine by faith until we are in heaven.
          When I saw God had given you to me, I chose then to give you everything I had, even though I at first was inclined to hold back because nobody had assurance that you’d make it and I didn’t want to bond with you only to lose you.  But I spent all the time I could with you, I loved you as much as I could, I sang and prayed with you more than I had done with Isaac, Joy, or Seth during your short life because that’s about all I COULD do.  Thanks to the Lord, I have no regrets for my part in your life which is a wonderful example of how God wants me to live my life every day….a life with no regrets.  I see a clearer picture also of how God has given absolutely everything to us despite the fact that the majority of us humans don’t recognize that or love Him for it.  He keeps pouring His love out in un-numbered ways.  He bonds with us even though the certainty of spending eternity with us depends on our decision.  Thank you Lord, for giving your all and holding nothing back.  “The Lord would be so bountiful toward His human family that it cannot be said of Him that He could do more.  When He gave Jesus to our world, He gave all heaven.  His love is without a parallel.  It did not stop short of anything.” Comments on Matthew 26:6-13
          Along the same line, pumping breast milk for you was a huge trial for me.  It wasn’t because it hurt or because of the idea of feeding a pump instead of you.  It was because I didn’t know if you would ever get it, and every single time I pumped it was a reminder of how sick you were, how much I loved you and yet couldn’t hold you, etc, etc.  One day, God impressed me with the thought to not even worry about the future of you using my milk but simply to see it as a love gift for you right then.  This is such an example also of Jesus’ pure love to us constantly…simply because that’s what He is, pure love with no strings attached.  What a beautiful picture into Christ’s character.  I thank the Lord for the opportunity to feel more of His heart.
          Sometimes I felt almost guilty about being with you so much, since Isaac, Joy, and Seth needed me too (although Grandma was here).  Then as I prayed I realized again that I needed to be right where I was, with YOU.  God has a place and plan for me to be every moment of each day.  For each of us as His children, there may be needs all around us that call for our attention but our focus, attention, and energies need to be on the one place God has in mind.
          More than anything, I wanted to hold you in my own arms.  I prayed many times that Jesus would do that for me since I couldn’t, and I’m sure He had ways of making you feel His snuggling.  Yet that desire to hold you personally  was always there. I’m thankful for the precious moments Daddy and I held you before you died and I’ll always treasure that.  But the trial of not being able to hold you has also given me a deeper glimpse into God.  I know He would love to hold us all close physically and can’t wait until heaven when we will be united with Him.  I thank God to feel that with Him!
          You had no idea that you had an unconscious influence or even what “influence” is, but nonetheless it was great.  People and nurses who were with you commented on what a peaceful baby you were.  We had been praying all along that God’s name be glorified and we believed it could best be done by your life. However, we still believe that His name is glorified and claim that verse “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.  By your life and death, may God’s name be truly honored.  I believe you will have many stars in your crown and yet you were totally unaware of almost everything to do with this life except for the pain you were subjected to.  You have taught us so much.  You rested in Jesus…and that’s what my position should always be…resting in Jesus.
          With your life, we have been surrounded and immersed into hundreds of other people with intense needs too.  Jesus was moved with compassion on this earth for the crowds surrounding Him and He wants my life to be filled with compassion also.  “Lord, forgive me for my insensitivity to needs around me.  May I ever have your compassion and know what to do about it.”  I had never felt deep compassion for these kind of needs partly because I was never really aware of all that is happening and partly because I hadn’t suffered myself that much before.  Now, my outlook is completely different and I’ll never be the same.  In the past,  at times I’ve felt a bit judgmental about other people, but I realize more now that I’ve never carried their burden and that maybe I would make those same decisions if I was in their shoes..  I’ve entered more into God’s heart of compassion for us humans who are just as helpless as you have been in your little bed.
          The time you smiled at me gave me such a feeling of joy that I’ll never forget.  God must also long for our “smiles” of recognition and joy for who He is.
          A few days before you died, I was overcome with sadness and sat down to cry.  After a little while, God brought to my mind a song to sing and the thought that my remedy would be to sing.  God is in the business of helping us humans heal and how good He is at it.  Sometimes I can’t sing because of tears and my throat is tight but then I can again.  What a help to be able to sing through the tears.  I think I see deeper how music is like prayer and connects me with God in a way to bring continual healing and help.  Again, thank you God.

          Although I miss you terribly, I see that you had a mission to complete which you did, so you could say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 1 Timothy 4:7,8.  You were preserved and healed in the womb when the doctor didn’t think you’d make it, you survived your birth which was another miracle, and God also worked after your anointing in a special way.  Evidently He saw you had a special work to do, like the song I sang every day (Come Thou Fount) and this one… “God has a plan for you, something only you can do.  You are so valuable to Him.  You are beyond compare, a precious jewel so very rare.  He gave His everything to make you His own.  God wants just you, no one else will do.  Listen to Him call you by name.  You were in His plan before the world began and He wants you to live your life for Him.”
          We can’t wait to see you and we know it will be soon!  We are so thankful God brought you into our family!

Our faith must pierce beyond the veil, seeing things that are invisible. No one else can look for you. You must behold for yourself. In the place of murmuring for blessings that are withheld, let us remember and appreciate the blessings already bestowed (MS 42, 1901).  {7BC 930.11}

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Sunrise on the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area with Mt Adams in the background.  Washington State

Every mountain climbed is an experience all its own.  Every one demands its own level of exertion; every one offers its own reward; and every one sings its own song.  I have seen the sun rise from Round Mountain in Washington State and gasped at the melody of sun streaks over the lake, the wonder of Mt. Adams towering over the Goat Rocks, and the majesty of a pink Rainer turning to gold in the dawning light.  I could almost hear the orchestral strains of breaking dawn complimenting the harmony of stillness.  A concert that made the strenuous moonlit hike shrink into nothingness.  I have climbed the gentler slopes of Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains.  They offer a less spectacular view and a less exhausting climb, but hum with the sweet sound of insects and birds in harmony with the breeze rustling the beech, pine, and oak trees.   I have climb foothills in the Italian Alps, urging myself up the last slope to feast on the sight of peaks of three countries. The Alps swell with melody.  Waterfalls seem to gush from every cliff and rivers thunder through every gorge.  The green meadows lilt with the music of bells worn by the flocks and herds.  No two mountains offer the same; each sings a song wonderfully its own. 
Castelluzzo is no exception.  It was one of our easier hikes actually.  My husband and I had already climbed Monte Servin above the famed Pra del Tor in Waldenses territory and Punto Vergio above the rugged Valley of the Invincibles.  Our honeymoon in Italy was filled with excursions into the beauty the Alps had to offer, but Castelluzzo was a must climb for us.  There were no cow bells or vast fields of wildflowers, and the clouds obstructed what vista there might have been.  We were there to claim the reward of standing where a battle was fought and gloriously won.  We were there to hear the song of the martyrs.
We were oddly silent on this hike.  I listened to the sighing of the trees, the thud of solid ground beneath my feet, and the roar of the distant river.  My mind was taking in, not just the beauty of the tree covered heights, but the scene of 500 years ago.  I saw lines of people climbed the trail before me.  I saw babies in their mother’s arms.  I saw terrified little faces, anguished lips moving in silent prayer, and calm determined eyes.  I saw hateful stares and malicious smirks.  I saw drawn swords and other hideously ugly weapons drawn to prevent any attempt of escape.  Only one escape was offered: renounce this heresy, this idea that one could be saved without the intercession of priest and saints, say mass, go to confession, and you may walk down this mountain and live.  My line of people kept climbing.  My husband and I followed. 
Isaac Watt’s hymn was playing in the background of my mind.  Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?
The night before I had sung that song in the Tempio Valdesi in Pra del Tor, wheezing the notes out of the antique pump organ.   Suddenly, the message of the song overwhelmed me.  I assessed the last few years of my life.  Lately the passion for God that had filled me in earlier days was lacking.  Maturity and experience had tempered my zeal with reality.  Although I still experienced many moments of joy and even fun in ministry, some days, I honestly just wanted to quit.  But now I knew I couldn’t. The weariness with ministry, the growing reluctance to take on responsibility, the longing for a quiet life of ease and contentment, the frustration with working hard and feeling that it was never enough, all came home to me in that moment.  I felt like a plastic toy soldier next to a seasoned warrior as I compared myself to those who had endured so much without complaining.  With tears I told God that whatever He asked of me would be done cheerfully.  Now this climb up Castelluzzo.
We entered a beautiful meadow.  How peaceful, I thought.  It seemed hard to believe this was the scene of such ugliness.  Grass covered the top reaching from the forest on the back to the rocky cliffs before us.  I could still see my Valdesi friends marching through this field and I knew what was next.  Maybe there was one last chance; one more attempt to convert their victims to their system.  This being denied, the men, women, and little children were taken around the last boulder.
My tears flowed freely now.  The men who had committed no crime but courageous faith, the mothers who had taught the words of the gospels to their children, the innocent little ones too young to understand, the young bride like me, full of dreams of a simple life with husband and children, all were thrown over the cliff.  The soldier returned to the fort in the valley.  My husband and I were left to walk back down the trail in peace. 
Why not me?  Why was I born in a time and place where freedom was granted and men worshiped their God in peace?  A strange mixture of gratitude and envy surged through me.  Gratitude for freedom, envy for a faith that could conquer that.  The song kept playing.  Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize or sailed through bloody seas?  Are there no foes for me to face, may I not stem the flood, is this vile world a friend of grace to help me on to God? 
I crawled between two rocks in search of a quiet place out of the wind.  All was still.  I saw them again, forced to this point choosing not between a Sabbath afternoon of outreach and a nap but between life and death.  Am I a Soldier? 
I opened my Bible to Hebrews 11: 32- 40
"And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:  Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:  And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:  God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."  
Why not me?  The answer came clearly.  You too.  The martyrs of Castelluzzo and thousands like them are asleep waiting.  It is for us to finish.  We 21st century Christians who have everything, we who stay home if it rains, we who are quick to protect our temporal comfort and slow to protect someone else’s eternal life, we walk in the footsteps of the martyrs.  We are called to the same degree of commitment. 
Sure I must fight if I would reign, increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy word.
I moved closer to the edge.  My mind, heart, and soul tried to take all this in.  How did they do it?  Were they merely spiritual giants with no fears?  Was theirs an innate courage, some martyr gene that hadn’t made it into my DNA?  For a long time I pondered this.  A tree moaned in the wind.  The river thundered far below.  The song played on. 
The saints in all this glorious war shall conquer though they die, they see the triumph from afar with faith’s discerning eye.
They saw beyond the moment.  They saw a crown laid up ahead.  They saw a city with foundations.  They saw a robe of white and a mansion of gold.  But they saw more than all One who had ever been their Helper.  They saw open arms to catch them as they fell.  They had already proved Him in lesser trials. 
The sun poked through the clouds bathing my rock with warmth.  I smiled.  This grizzly place, these cruel jagged rocks, this scene of such unspeakable evil, was a beautiful place.  A victory was won here that may be repeated in each moment of sacrifice faced by God’s people.  Not by being active and zealous in our own strength will we follow.  Not by a sudden infusion of that mysterious martyr courage will we finish this war, but by looking beyond the moment to the One who has endured more than they all. 
Hebrews 12 follows Hebrews 11.  It reads. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” 
This is the secret.  Consider Him.  Not once a week, or even once a day, but every time the temptation comes to be careless.  I leaned back onto the grass.  My commitment of the previous night could be kept.  Any weak ordinary Christian had have this if we will just look away from the moment, away from our problems, away from ourselves, to one who has fought this glorious war and won. 
I stood and begin to join in singing the final verse of the song Castelluzzo had sung to me.  When that illustrious day shall rise and all Thy armies shine, in robes of victory through the skies the glory shall be Thine.
Yes a victory was won on Castelluzzo by Jesus, the One who was so mistreated in the person of His people, and so glorified by them.  The glory was His and always will be.  No super Christian walked down the mountain that day.  But Jesus walked beside a dependent one.  The work was still there.  It was still hard, and seemingly unrewarding, but it didn’t need to be doable.  I wasn’t doing it alone anymore.  Castelluzzo continued to sing it’s song, to demand its sacrifice, and my heart had found strength to meet it.