Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Treasures of Darkness
Way back when, when I was in teachers college, I woke up one Saturday morning and there was an anonymous note with my name on it sellotaped to the front door of the house. I unfolded the note and it said, “God told me”. So immediately I was worried and thought, “exactly WHAT did God tell you?!” Inside the note was money – the same amount that I had just given away – which was the last money that I had to my name. More importantly, there was a bible verse. You might know it – Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans not to harm you, but to give you hope and a future …” At the time I did not know that verse and I thought, “wow … that’s cool. I like that.”
Some time later I was at a church meeting and someone came up to me and shared with me that they felt I needed to know a verse. The verse? Jer 29:11. At this point I was a little concerned as I realised God was speaking and my life was humming along quite nicely. I wondered why he was reassuring me. Not long after that my boat was rocked when my father was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. In the midst of that, I went to see a multimedia team doing an outreach. They had come from America and were using screens, drama, dance – the whole thing. I walked in and sat down. They had a huge verse up on all the screens while the audience was waiting. Guess which verse it was?! Yes … you are right. Jer 29:11. I remember sitting there thinking, okay God, I get it. You have a plan in this. My Dad went through chemo and went into remission and then relapsed with 3 brain tumours. Within 10 months of first diagnosis he was dead – at 49 years old. 4 weeks before the birth of his first grandchild and less than 2 weeks after my 21st birthday – which in NZ is symbolic of reaching adulthood. I was fatherless at a time where I was just getting to know my Dad in a whole new light – adult to adult.
Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name.”
You know, the thing with darkness is you can’t see. Darkness is really dark! Sometimes we wonder how we will walk through it. Isaiah 50:10 has something to tell us about that as well: “Let him (or her!) who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his (or her!) God. We can trust in God because he is trustworthy. But also because Psalm 139 tells us that the night will shine like the brightest day for darkness is as light to him. As Alpha and Omega, God sees the beginning from the end.
In Job 13:15, Job, in the midst of his world falling down around his ears said, “though he slay me, I will put my hope in him.” When you can’t see your way in the darkness, put your hand in his. You have to walk by faith. It’s a choice. You won’t understand and you can’t see. When my father became ill, there were distinct times I point blank said, “okay God. This stinks. I don’t like it … I don’t want it … I do NOT understand it but I will choose to trust you because YOU SAID. You said your plans were to give me hope and a future and not harm me. YOU SAID … you provide a way through when it seems more than I can bear … you said you would not leave me or forsake me. You SAID.
So let me take a moment to tell you about some of the treasure that I took out of the darkness of my father’s death.
In an Oprah magazine last year I read this amazing article written by a lady describing how she helped her dying friend make the transition from life to death – she helped her to let go. I said this last year, but I will say it again. It really impacted me. There was a line in the article that said, “It broke my heart. It strengthened my soul.” I read it and cried and cried because I realised the truth of it in my life. Let me give you an example.
I am a bit of a toughy and always have been. A fighter … and over the years God has been softening me … it’s a work in progress and the journey has been a long one! Some people ooze mercy. I am not one of them! I have a friend Nicole – she is one of those people. She is so lovely and gracious and shines. If there was a scale for mercy going from 1 – 10 she would be an 11! Me … I was a –9! When my father died, God broke my heart. 17 years on, a part of it is still broken, but out of that brokenness has come a softening, an ability to empathise with others and show mercy. It needed to be in my life. Treasure out of darkness.
My family has pulled together very closely. We have the gift of realising that life is unpredictable and short. We know there are no guarantees and that we need to take the moments and enjoy each other. We travel lightly. The petty things that can annoy and divide families are not things that we need to hold or want to hold. What matters is each other. Treasure out of darkness.
I have learnt to see beyond circumstances. In the New Testament, the bible uses a word for truth – in the original Greek, it is Alethia, which means, “the reality lying at the basis of an appearance”. In hard times, I have learnt to look for the Alethia. The truth under the circumstances. Treasure out of darkness.
It is kind of funny that I would think about these things over the past 10 days or so. I had the thoughts swimming around and thought I would talk about this with you this morning. I was going to write on Sunday. Early Sunday morning (around 6) I was woken by a phone call from my Mum. She told me that my wee niece Ruby who is not quite 14 months old, has just been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Ruby is a wee gem. She is the younger of my brother Tony’s two girls. She was a gift for me as I was down in the South Island a year ago when she was born. I was due to fly back Saturday morning and on Thursday thought, “I will extend my stay”. Saturday morning when I would have been heading to the airport, Claire went into labour and Ruby was born about 2 hours later. She is a really laid back girl with the most infectious pixie grin! A nice contrast to her 4 year old sister who is very full on and dramatic! Ruby has had a bit of tough start as she had to have surgery for a dislocated hip and was in a full body cast for 3 months. She got through all that with a smile and just came out of it a few weeks ago. She had had a fever for a few days and then broke into a rash so they took her to the hospital. They did a few tests and flew the whole family down to Christchurch where they are still running tests. Her fever is still up and there have been complications with her platelets being way too low. I was devastated when Mum called me. It stinks. It’s not fair. Life is not fair. How do you tell a little girl who loves you and trusts you and can’t talk, that you are hurting her because you love her and it will help her. I can’t imagine the pain that is for a parent. Then two nights ago, I got off the phone from my brother at the hospital, opened an email from my sister who said that my 17 year old niece has just been diagnosed with Coeliac disease and has to go into hospital and have a biopsy. This one is manageable but it will be a lifelong condition and she is going to have to change her whole life. Pretty tough for a 17 year old just about to leave home.
So in this situation. What do I do? I look for the Alethia. What do I know?
1. God is on the throne.
This is not a surprise to him. He has a plan. He will bring good out of this … somehow, some way. There is treasure in this darkness. I need to trust him.
2. God Cares.
Sometimes, we take God out of the picture. He is not an impassive observer. “Where is God is this?” we cry? He is right there in the midst of it … feeling the pain … putting his arms around the broken hearted and the hurting … as he has from the beginning of time. Look all through the bible … you don’t see God saying, “ok. You have asked 33.3 times now. I think that is sufficient. I think I might answer you.” No. We see Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb – weeping for the loss of his friend. We see Jesus responding in compassion to a shunned woman who has the courage to reach out to him. We see Jesus showing mercy to a man lying by a pool who didn’t know him. Don’t take God out of the picture.
3. God loves. I remember praying one time and not realising I had shut down. In my minds eye I saw this Narnia doorway – if you looked through the door, it was this lush green, beautiful meadow. If you looked around the sides of the door, it was a dry, cracked, barren expanse. I had the sense of God saying, “come in Sarah.” My response was fear. I hovered in that doorway saying, “no, the last time I trusted you, you hurt me.” And then I was reminded of an incident. My friend Peg asked me to go with her to the doctor to get her little girl some shots. She was 6 months old and Peg hated doing it. I went and when the doctor stuck the needle into Olivia – this baby, this 6-month-old baby, turned her eyes on that doctor and everything in them said, “you hurt me. You HURT me … how could you? The betrayal and pain in her eyes was awful. Her mother was crying along with her daughter. Here is the thing though. Her mother was allowing this hurt because she loved Olivia. She knew good would come out of it. But she agonised over it. She felt every bit of her daughter’s pain. And its like that with God. He doesn’t stick us with a needle and go. “well its for your own good”. He allows that needle, knowing good will come but feeling every bit of it with us.
Today, I just want to encourage you in your dark times … whether you have had them … are in them now … or they come in the future. God sees. God cares. God knows. God loves you. He will bring you through and he will give you treasures from the darkness. Be blessed today and walk in the light of his smile.