Rejoicing Through Tears
***Over the next couple weeks, we will be posting the messages from the Women’s Ministry’s Conference, "Living Hope in a Hard World”. Below, you will find our second session teaching, Rejoicing Through Tears from Bobbi Blanchard.
Good Morning! If we have not yet met, my name is Bobbi Blanchard and I have been coming to FCC now for about 13 years. As we prepare to explore Romans 5:3-5 and the foundational truth within it, that we can rejoice through tears, please pray along with me.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of gathering, fellowship among saints, the endless bounty of Your Word and the privilege of exploring it together. Lord, as we discuss what it means to rejoice in trial, I pray that You would help us to understand the things that are contrary to both our nature and the beliefs of the world around us. I pray that You would move powerfully through Your Word and write these truths upon our hearts today, whether we need them now or are preparing our armor for a later date. I pray that You would be glorified in the sharing of all of our experiences with You, the Living God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Some of you may already have Romans 5:3-5 memorized, but I’ll read it for us now because I will be referring to this, the King James Version today.
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
This is my favorite translation because it uses the words patience and experience. And in my experience, patience and experience with the Living God are what have produced in me a living Hope. When we experience God and the Love He pours out on us in tribulation, we learn to trust the faithfulness of God. And there is infinite Hope in knowing, by experience, that Christ is, and always will be, all we need.
Though these verses have become a comfort to me now, I clearly remember struggling with them years ago, in the midst of trial, because I misunderstood what it meant to “rejoice in our sufferings” or, as in the KJV, “Glory in tribulation”. In the darkness of pain, when the enemy works overtime whispering lies, I was tempted to believe that there was something wrong with my faith, or even my salvation, because I could not rejoice in the pain I was feeling. But, our Father did not design us to pursue or enjoy pain. He gave it to us as a means of protection so that we would avoid things that would hurt us and He uses it to alert us to things that are wrong. There is purpose in pain.
Romans 8:28 says:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
First, He promises to work even the hardest things together for GOOD. Somehow, some way, He is using what can often seem like meaningless, useless pain for good. We might not see everything He is doing here, but we can know, because He promises, that He is at work in it. Paul lists in Romans 5:3-5 just a few ways that we can see what He is doing with our suffering. Our suffering, if we are in Christ and walking with Him, WILL produce patience, experience and hope. Kay Arthur, in the book, “As Silver Refined”, says it well when she says, “God doesn’t say the situation is good, but He does promise that because He’s your God and you’re His child, He will bring good from it.”
One of my favorite old pastors, Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no university for a Christian, like that of sorrow and trial.” It is because we are unwillingly enrolled in that “University of Tribulation” that we learn to patiently wait on and experience God. And with that experience, we learn that our only true Hope is in Him. We learn to rejoice in the result of tribulation, not the pain it causes. We learn to glory in what we have learned about God in University, not the way it feels. We learn to rejoice in who God is, what He has done and what He promises to do WITH our suffering. In short, we find that it IS possible to rejoice through tears.
And how does the Apostle Paul tell us this is possible? We can’t do it alone. In verse five he tells us we do it with the power of the Holy Spirit, freely given to us. Not grudgingly or sparingly, but freely and generously, shed abroad in our hearts by a loving, faithful Father through the love and obedience of a risen Savior. He allows us to see and understand that which is hidden from the World and contrary to our nature.
It is in the University of Tribulation that the Lord drowned out the pleasures and distractions of my world so I could hear, know and experience Him clearly.
June 5th, 2014 started like a typical first week of summer vacation for us. With kids still waking early but intent on staying up late, I decided the day would require caffeine and an outlet for their overtired energy. I packed up our ten year old son, Jordan, our 7 year old, Joelle and one year old, Jace, treated myself to a fancy Caribou coffee and headed to a place called Messes and Masterpieces where they could dig through mountains of people’s discards and creatively repurpose them into their own creation. I burned the roof of my mouth gulping down enough coffee to give me a head start on chasing the toddler and on one lap around the building stopped in my tracks. Joelle, intent on her creation, was struggling with a glue bottle and her hands were shaking. On occasion, we had seen her hands with a slight tremor in the past and we had attributed it to anxiety or low blood sugar. But this morning, my baby girl was completely content and had just finished a breakfast of eggs and bacon an hour before. I grabbed Jace on his next revolution around the table and sat across from Joelle before my legs gave out. Between the smell of Jordan’s hot glue gun and Jace pulling on my hair, it came clear and fast from the Lord’s lips to my ears. She was not okay. In that stomach sinking, breathtaking moment, I knew in my heart that our beautiful masterpiece of a life was about to get really messy. And it did.
Exactly a week later, I brought my seven year old daughter for her first MRI. I had no idea that it would become the first of dozens and one of the easiest procedures she would endure. Over the next year and a half with over a half dozen leading specialists, this tiny slip of a girl would go through more testing than the average adult would experience in three lifetimes. Because she didn’t get better. She got rapidly worse. Her shaking didn’t stop at her hands. She developed a progressive ataxia, had several falls a day, could no longer tie her shoes, button or zip her pants, or put toothpaste on her toothbrush. All things she had mastered years before. She started exhibiting what seemed like dementia, asking where dad was five minutes after he’d said goodbye and walked out the door. And wondering if her aunt Mandy was still alive when she’d seen her just a few weeks before. She could no longer count to 100 and struggled to read because she would forget which sentence she had just read. She was in the same room with us but it was like she was no longer there. During a 72 hour hospital stay of testing, the neurologist stopped distracting her with an ipad when we discussed results and next steps because it was no longer necessary.
In our dogged determination to get a diagnosis, we were forced to trade our cars for ones we wouldn’t need a car payment for. We sold everything of value we had, short of our house. And we were going to lose that too. On top of the dozens of daily medical, insurance and therapy phone calls, I was fielding collection calls and threats of foreclosure. We needed to get an attorney to fight for insurance coverage to see the growing number of specialists she was referred to and against the denials for therapy because she wasn’t “improving”. Our diagnostic journey had proven to be too much for my parents, my sister and my unsaved husband and they, who had been my support system, jumped ship. One by one, the Lord removed everyone and everything I had, in the past, placed my security, trust and hope in.
By August 19th, 2015 I was under a hundred pounds, had malnutrition bruises all over my body, was suffering daily panic attacks and losing too much hair in the bristles of my hair brush. My favorite quote of Charles Spurgeon is, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages”. Because it truly was a “wave” that hit me that day in August, found me at the end of my rope, and sent me spiraling. I clutched my cell phone in one hand and the end of my threadbare faith in the other.
A clinical, sympathetic voice told me it was a genetic disorder, degenerative, untreatable and incurable. My stomach turned over and I struggled for breath as my mind struggled to process the words pouring through the phone. I knew from countless hours of research what she was trying to explain.
We would lose her. Bit by bit.
Over the next few weeks I was like a novice swimmer caught in a raging sea. Pulled under by an overwhelming wave of grief, I despaired of my next breath. Which is a poetic way of saying I laid on the floor of my closet and begged God to take my next one and every one after it. The darkness was so all consuming, the water so cold that my mind and body were numb to anything but pain. I searched frantically for a ray of light; a piece of comforting scripture, a song full of promises, a glimpse of God anywhere and in anything to break through the wall of pain and find my way up to the surface. My prayers were no more than tears and the groaning of my heart because I could barely form words, never mind sentences.
I was no stranger to anxiety or depression. That was what the Lord had used to bring me to Him years ago. But I had no idea that pain like I was feeling even existed.There is a particular pain in experiencing the suffering and/or loss of a child. One that I can recognize immediately in other mothers. There might be joy and hope in them, but there is a shadow in their valley and it can be seen in their eyes. It makes me wonder what our eyes will look like in heaven. For over a year I’d watched Joelle suffer and now I had to consider a shortened lifetime of it. The shadow covered everything.
A couple of weeks later I was standing once again in the kitchen, when, in a panic, I couldn’t remember if I’d given our daughter her new medication more than once! I knew this meant I would be sleeping once again on the trundle bed in her room awake and worrying and watching her all night. I was overwhelmed. This is what it’s going to be like. Medications, appointments, specialists, and never ending fear. I backed up to the refrigerator and slid to the ground. Down to the beautiful hardwood floors Tim had reclaimed off of an old job site, hauled home, installed, sanded and refinished for me. I sat there in a daze, looking at all of the perfect imperfections in that floor, and I saw it. My heart, shattered into a million, razor sharp pieces scattered throughout my kitchen. He broke it! It was a genetic disorder. There is no escaping the truth that He intentionally formed her this way, knew the whole time, and didn’t tell me! Silently sobbing on that floor, feeling betrayed, alone, and bone soul weary, I cried out:
And the answer came soft and insistent:
He doesn’t love you.
No, He has been with me through it all, helping me through! I’ve seen Him in this! He died for me!
He’s punishing you. For those sins. Punishing her for your sins. It’s your fault.
No! I have been redeemed! He set me free!
You don’t look like you’ve been set free. You look broken. And your daughter looks sick.
This doesn’t look like love.…
Fiery darts from the enemy came fast and furious. Because the enemy dances in the dark and delights in our despair. I wish, at that time, I had read the aforementioned book by Kay Arthur and had been wiser to the tactics of the enemy. She says, “Just don’t forget - never forget - that your mind is the battleground! Satan will attack your mind with imaginations and thoughts that are contrary to what God says in His Word. These ideas and perceptions will be a perversion of His truth about you. These thoughts will be nothing more than disinformation and distortion.” But I was inexperienced in battle and that disinformation and distortion was like living seaweed, wrapping around me and pulling me down. I needed some kind of relief; an escape from the torment. And did what I had never done before. I brought out a bottle of wine intent on dulling the pain. Because of my family history, I had always been very careful with alcohol. It was rarely in our home and only for celebratory purposes. But I had never been in this place before, I didn’t feel Him in it with me, and I was falling victim to lies. I poured one glass and then quickly another. I almost made it back to sitting on the floor before I realized it wasn’t going to stay down. So instead, I raced to the bathroom and sat on that floor. Cold, sweaty and completely empty I sat sobbing and sick. And because I was still certain of His sovereignty, if not His presence, I was exasperated that He wouldn’t allow me even a moment’s relief. And that’s when He answered.
I Am ….the only thing that will give you true relief.
I fell asleep on that floor, then woke up long enough to move to Joelle’s room and slept another four hours in a row. A precious gift.
Over the next few weeks God mercifully answered my cries for help. Slowly, He met me where I was; unable to sleep, eat, or put hands and words together in prayer, with the light I needed to get through. He came in late night texts from beloved sisters in Christ, providential songs on the radio, perfect words from an unbelieving husband, meals left on the doorstep when I couldn’t even get up to open the door, unprovoked hugs from a toddler and, on occasion, precious, supernatural peace. Lungs bursting, I’d catch a glimpse of His light penetrating the darkness and surface long enough to draw breath to sustain me through the next wave of grief.
Finally, at a retreat He knew I’d need and had provided a scholarship for months before, He brought me to the end of myself. It was surrender my family, and everything I thought I needed, fully to Him or succumb. And in that moment, He brought to mind not only every moment He had provided for me in tribulation, His provision for me and the kids for eternity but the Love that motivated it. I found, at the end of everything else, the absolute sufficiency of Christ. I left no longer in danger of drowning, but treading water.
About six months after Joelle’s initial diagnosis, we received an additional diagnosis for her…one that included our oldest son. Jordan and Joelle are 2 of 75 patients in the US receiving treatment for that disorder. They are two of the youngest to have received treatment in time to impact their quality of life. There is no precedent. They are the precedent. Their life saving medication is $100,000/month. For life. The uncertainty of each day requires me to surrender them anew each morning. With each surgery, evaluation, therapy, test, or financial struggle I ride mini waves of aftershock. But I am incredibly grateful for the result of each one. They are an opportunity to experience God in a way that many can’t imagine. I’ve experienced miracles and had the great privilege of watching God’s perfect, intricate timing and provision hold and rescue me. (And I would love to tell you about them sometime, let’s have coffee)
Each wave of trial strips away more and more of my love for the things of this world, erodes their deceptive, attractive exterior and reveals them to be the filthy rags that they are, and in turn, increases my craving for the things of God. I learn, over and over, to rest in Him. In Who I have found Him to be, what He has done, and what He promises to do. There is a confidence in God that comes from finding, through experience, that He is Who He says He is. And we can lay down our lives, and the lives of those we love, because we know the faithfulness of that Father.
I assure you, I’m not a King James loyalist, but I like the KJV of this verse too:
Romans 8:32 -
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
We can trust a Father that would not withhold from us His only begotten Son. We can trust a Love that would willingly sacrifice the Son with whom He is well pleased for the sake of sinners, while we were still enemies. We can trust a Savior that has fellowship in our suffering. Who trusts His Father unto death and showed us we don’t suffer without pain and wrestling and tears; but we also do not suffer alone and we do not suffer without purpose.
Now, thinking about Romans 5 again I am convinced that we cannot “glory in tribulation” without remembering the Faithfulness of God. I cannot, on my own, glorify God in my pain without remembering His Faithfulness in my past. Pain and grief too often drown out His voice and shutter our eyes to what He is currently doing.
I think all of this is summed up perfectly in Lamentations 3:19-24
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
Patience and experience gives us Hope in God’s faithful love and sufficiency in anything He calls us to. And by His Spirit, He enables us to rejoice through tears.
Remembering can be painful. Like picking at a scab. I am not proud of several of the things I’ve shared with you today. A couple of which I have shared for the first time. I know that I did not always honor God in my suffering. But it is my prayer that you would see His faithfulness, even when I wasn’t. That you would see His incredible strength in my weakness. That you would see, if we are in Christ and walking with Him, He WILL produce in us patience, experience and hope. That you might be convinced, that no matter the wave, He is enough.
Our wave of tribulation is unique. But trials are not. Our Lord tells us we will have them. And the tactics of the enemy are to kill and destroy so sisters, I implore you not to wait for the moment you are enrolled in this University to prepare for it. I urge you to study like you’ve never studied before and be ready to fight back. Pour over His Word with more time, energy and devotion than you would to prepare for your ACT. Know it, backwards and forwards and pray that it would be written on your heart, that you would be able to recall it easily when you are hit with the waves of tribulation. Get alone with your Father. Every day. Learn to look for Him in every situation, that you might, out of habit, be able to do it when circumstances make Him harder to see and hear.
If you have the great privilege of walking alongside someone else in suffering, a few reminders so that we would not make the mistakes of Job’s friends. First, we enter into the mess with them. We don’t stand on the sidelines evaluating their circumstances. We are to care for their physical needs by using the time, talents and treasure the Lord has provided. Next, we help hold up their arms in battle. Remember, the battlefield will be in their minds! They don’t need us to speculate on what God is doing and why. They need us to remind them, by both word and action, that God loves them, is with them and will never forsake them. They need us to listen and to speak truth into any lies the enemy might be throwing their way.
Finally, If you are currently experiencing trial, read through the Psalms and be reminded that Christianity does not demand that we deny or hide our pain or disappointments.
We err only when we do not work through discouragement, dejection or despair with God. When you feel your world and what you thought to be true turned upside down, find fellowship with the disciples in the upper room. Grieving and/or fearful of the future, lock yourself in with your brothers and sisters that love Christ. Welcome the “Mary”, breathless and eager to tell you that Jesus is alive and there is Hope. And when you’re doubting like Thomas, remember that Jesus invites you to bring those doubts to Him. Examine Him and find the Living God to be exactly Who He says He is. Then tell others the good news as well. Share the Hope of a risen, living, Savior. The One who makes it possible to rejoice through tears.