Most Christmas letters deal with the surface overview of our year’s life, and that is needful, if we are to stay informed on the what and where of our friends’ history; however, I don’t ever remember reading a Christmas letter that revealed the inward struggles of our souls or words like David wrote, “Your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Ps 42:7). Sometimes, however, I think a letter like that is necessary too so that we can profit from one another in the comfort of God and the eternal lessons that mean so much more than surface news. We are creatures of soul and spirit. So much of our time and meditations are spent plunging into the depths of spiritual thoughts, wrestling with lies, trying to heal heart wounds and overcome bitterness, sorting through the “stuff” of life to find God and walk with Him—or, as I just read somewhere, turning up the volume so as to drown out all the voices that we can’t escape. That, of course, doesn’t heal the wounds or reconcile the problems; it delays the reckoning. I say all that by way of introduction to the kind of year we’ve had. It has probably been the hardest year my sister Mary and brother-in-law Caleb--along with myself and the whole family--have had to endure, firstly due to one particularly very severe trial that was foremost directed at Mary and Caleb, and secondly due to many other secondary trials that have added salt to the wound. My goal in this discussion is to draw attention to the grace of refinement that God has worked in the furnace, without going into the nitty-gritty of the events.
I cannot go into the exact matter of the primary trial (and I will not take the time to discuss the secondary ones, related and unrelated), but we were essentially thrust into the furnace that had been heated “seven times hotter” (Dan 3:19). Yet, looking back over the year, many—if not all in my family—who have been walking in that furnace would have to testify that the LORD has been there with us, keeping us from being consumed, yea, even refining us through it. That is not to say that there are deep wounds that may never heal and floods of tears that may never dry up until the Day of Jesus’ return, though we pray for healing before then. In the midst of that mid-furnace walk, there has been an opening of the well of our soul. Some if not all of us in our family have testified to finding the most rooted truths of God’s Word called into question in our minds, the most “unshakeable” confidences in our salvation being shaken, and the most “sure” principles of our daily living being challenged.
The stroke of injustice had hit us where it mattered. It was as though the sword had pierced our own home. I had always asked myself how Christians in lands of severe physical persecution face and even forgive their persecutors who had maimed them or kidnapped their children or murdered loved ones in their family, including children. Well, it’s not in the human
to forgive such injustice. It’s in the
divine DNA. And the truth is, if we can’t forgive, then
we suddenly come to grips with the reality that we are not plugged into the
divine DNA. This conjures up in my mind a testimony given
by Corrie TenBoom when she was on tour to share her and her family’s story of
rescuing Jews during World War II, getting caught, being severely persecuted in
the concentration camps, and losing her family to cruelty. She tells of seeing a guard that she
recognized, who had humiliated her in the concentration camp, coming up to her
with a huge smile and extended hand to tell her how her story had impacted him
and how Jesus had saved him. Her
humanness was utterly repulsed, but her faith in God forced her to forgive and
shake that man’s hand in spite of all the agony of her emotions. God in His power honored her obedience and
gave her true forgiveness immediately after she acted with forgiveness. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must
remain in the vine. Neither can you bear
fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
I have realized through this year that such a depth of forgiveness
cannot be forced. The best human therapy
cannot bring about a true releasing and cleansing of bitterness that we harbor
against our enemies. Only God’s power
can do that, and only the absorption—the “chewing of the cud”—of the truth of
God’s Word regarding God’s perfect sovereignty, His bringing about perfect
justice, our own eternal debt for His forgiveness of our black hearts, and His
perfect love for us in the midst of unthinkable pain, can bring about the mind
and heart transformation that allows our emotions to follow.
An experience like this humbles to the core. We as a family have come to realize that apart from the power and grace of Jesus Christ, we are incapable of any good, of thinking anything good, of loving as God would have us to love, of forgiving our enemies (everyone can forgive their friends), of not forsaking the faith of Jesus Christ, of not returning to our enemies the same sins that were given to us (even if they be in the form of inward hatred and mental murder), and of walking the path of obedience in opposition to the demonic shrieks of all our raw feelings.
One good friend said to me in the midst of this trial, “Why would God allow such a thing to happen to such a wonderful family?” I’ve been chewing on that. That was a lie of Satan dipped in sugar. First, we are not a wonderful family, but by the grace of God. Second, the more righteous we are, the more Christ would glorify himself through us by exposing to ourselves and everyone else that our worth is in unshakeable faith and utter dependence on Him. That heart exposure must come through affliction. Third, the more righteous we look, the more Christ would strip us of our self-made “rags” (Is 64:6) of outward glory and cause us to realize that we are actually “blind and naked” (Rev 3:17) needing the “salve” (Rev 3:18) of His righteousness upon our self-righteous hearts. Fourth, the more our Lord would seek to woo us to Himself as a bride to her husband, the more He would need to make our lives on this earth all the more loathsome so that we do not find any desire in them but only in the light of how they shine on the glory and beauty of our Beloved. Thus, if we are chastened, we are eternally blessed! If we are left to enjoy the morsels of earth, to feel the comforts and stability of earthly pursuits, and to sense that we “do not need a thing,” the more utterly miserable we are! Oh that we would be given by our Husband and King an experience of the great earthquake that is to come upon this earth, before it comes: to feel the shaking of all our sensibilities, all our comforts, all our idols, all our hopes and earthly desires—all those things that in a moment are utterly destroyed at the word of His mouth! Surely in that Day, will not all things that seem wonderful on this earth suddenly become worthless? Will not bank accounts seem as nothing? Will not health seem as nothing? Will not fame and fortune seem as nothing? Will not being known, being loved, being remembered, being saved and being upheld by the King of Kings be EVERYTHING? Finally, we are called to suffering, that all our hopes and purpose on earth might be cast at the feet of our Heavenly Father, that all we do on this earth might be for His glory and will, not our own. Jesus said that no one is greater than his master. Jesus, our master, leads the way in a life of suffering unto the redemption of mankind. God has chosen the “weak and foolish” means of this world (1 Cor 1:26-31) to bring about a great harvest of souls, and we must trust the Father, who orchestrates the big picture and our purpose and role in the midst of suffering to that end.
The Lord is so full of grace and healing. Even in the midst of such a tumultuous year, He was so gracious to sprinkle our wounds with the oil of joy. He has given us daily mercies, never-failing abundance of food and clothing and shelter, help and comfort in times of great need, and the miracle of new life! On January 3rd of this year (2017), our daughter Hannah Joy was born to us, and I might add, with much less difficulty than the birth of our son. This was a special mercy to me, as I was going into that labor very tired and ragged and asking God for just that kind of birth. He was most gracious to answer that prayer! This year, probably due to its intensity, has just flown by, and now, our daughter is nearly 1 year old, crawling, chewing, and growing! J Our son, also, has made significant advancements in his maturity, having turned 2 in July. He runs all over the place, trying to push every button he can and reach every light he can turn on! He loves lights, pouring water (or pennies or various materials) from one vessel to another, and playing with every sort of gadget. He also enjoys cars and balls, and when he releases a car from the top of his roller coaster toy, he does something of a dance! Michael has also been greatly blessed in his work at Picatinny Arsenal and has received raving reviews. He was enriched by two training trips this year, one in MD and one in GA. The Lord has also been so gracious to provide enough financially through Michael’s job that Rachel has completely laid off the editing work to focus on home management and raising the children.
If our Lord tarries, may He bless every one of you this coming year with the kind of joy that He has given to us this year.
Much love in our Savior Jesus,
Michael, Rachel, Timothy & Hannah Joy