This week has been a week of watching and looking for understanding at the work of God around me. My banner on my cell phone is Isaiah 55:8-9. It is a constant reminder that God’s vision is so much bigger than mine. That God’s work in the world around me is on a level that I will never fully be able to comprehend, although it is exciting when I can capture little glimpses of it in the way I see Him working in my life.
This week our hearts were pulled back to Texas as two friends in our church in Plano passed away. Rick Farmer and Lance Jackson left this earthly life too early, but they both lived the lives they had here with tons of passion for making an impact on the world around them. I remember always finding Rick (and his entire family) serving in the places that were often most unnoticed — Organizing prop rooms for the childrens’ ministry or cooking hamburgers and hotdogs for 500 plus folks at the church cookout. Rick took joy in making a big difference for God by serving behind the scenes, in places others might have not noticed.
Lance, like Rick could often be found serving in places others might not have noticed. In the nursery, holding babies alongside Janice, his wife or passing out bulletins on Sunday on the way into service. When Lance saw a need he went after it full force. In addition to being actively involved in his church and with the activities of his three children, after his cancer diagnosis Lance organized Team Jackson, a group of friends and supporters that rode and walked in the Livestrong races to raise money for cancer research.
Rick was a year older than me and Lance was two years younger and while their lives may have been short, they were full lives that were lived with a passion to serve God on this earth while they were here.
My heart was also pulled back to my earlier Texas years this week with the birth of new little baby at 27 weeks. Suellen Grace Finch weighed in at 1 lb 13 oz. Growing up in Orange, TX, the entire Finch Family, Dean (my youth minister) Suellen, his wife and Andy, Lizzie and Rachel were like my second family. Dean and Sue were my mentors even into my adult years and watching the three kids grow up and have their own families has been amazing. This week Lizzie and her husband Curt, who have just returned from years of service in the foreign mission field, gave birth to their first baby – Suellen Grace (named for her grandmother who passed away years ago) and due to severe preeclampsia, little Suellen was delivered almost 12 weeks early by c-section. And even at less than 2 lbs she has proved to be a fighter, scoring a 9 on her Apgar scale at birth and actively pulling out her feeding tubes in the NICU.
My heart also goes to Kate McCrae and her family this week. I’m never met little Kate or her family, but I’ve followed Matt Chandler’s twitter and he has introduced the world to her. Reading her mom’s journal of their journey through brain cancer is yet another chance for me to see God at work, even in the most painful moments of our lives.
Finally, my friend Ken Baker posted his blog about the work of God in his life when it came to finding a new job. Ken serves in multiple ministries at Church by the Glades and left his job in June when he felt God was calling him in a different direction. And after several months of unemployment and total trust in God and an amazing series of connections and events, Ken is now where he knows God wants him to be.
As I reflect on this week, I realize that God has used each of these people and their experiences to impact my life and to teach me more about His character. While all of these stories involve a different level of pain, suffering and struggle, they also teach me more about the character of God. How when we run to God instead of relying on our own strength He can use our trials and pain to develop our character and faith.
I may never know the reason behind why my friends, family or even I go through pain, struggles and suffering. But I am always mindful and thankful that I have a God that is in control of everything that happens in my life. And that if I will allow him to use even my most painful experiences, he will use them to shape me into the person that He wants me to be.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! Romans 5:3-5 (MSG)