4:51 p.m. Harvest Party
After this trial broke, I spent the first six or eight weeks getting a foothold. Standing. Resolving not to retaliate, not to sin with my mouth. But as time went on, I realized that obedience to God meant more (but not less!) than outward kindness. God was also concerned with my heart.
I remember a conversation where CJ exhorted me: “Carolyn, we must not only respond with loving words and actions, but we must also honor God with the thoughts and attitude of our heart.”
This was a defining moment. I knew I must move beyond simply standing; I must cultivate a heart of love. This meant, above all, that I had to “Let all bitterness…be put away…forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). I must not harbor or cultivate angry, bitter, or vengeful thoughts and attitudes. I must not allow my soul to harden toward people or toward God.
To begin with, this meant I needed to spend less time reading, following, and focusing on the constant stream of slander against us. The more I read or listened to, and the more I thought about what I had read and heard, the more difficult it was to guard my heart, the more difficult it was to cultivate a heart of compassion and love. So I had to make a conscious choice to stop reading, stop paying attention to the words and actions against us.
This very practical advice came to me from one of the John Piper biographies about the life of Charles Simeon. “Simeon was no rumor-tracker” explains Piper:
”[He] was deeply wronged in 1821. We are not given the details. But when he was asked about his response (which had, evidently been non-retaliatory) he said, “My rule is – never to hear, or see, or know, what if heard, or seen, or known, would call for animadversion [criticism or censure] from me. Hence it is that I dwell in peace in the midst of lions” (Moule, 191).”
This is a very good, godly rule. Charles Simeon made a deliberate, conscious choice to ignore those things that would tempt him to an ungodly response in his heart or actions. And look at the fruit this simple decision produced in his life: he dwelled “in peace in the midst of lions.”
For those of us who feel that we are in the midst of lions today—-maybe your family is hostile toward you, or your co-workers or classmates are critical of your Christian witness, or you are a pastor’s wife whose husband is being slandered—we can dwell in peace. We can choose to stop tracking, following, focusing on the opposition of others. This is the first step toward guarding our heart against bitterness and glorifying God in the thoughts and motives of our heart.
When this trial dropped like a bomb on our lives this past summer, it was shocking, painful, and disorienting. Slander and false accusations flew at us from all sides, shrapnel raining down on our entire family. I struggled to get my bearings in a haze of questions and grief. I rushed for cover in the Psalms. I guarded my soul with sermons and hymns. And I sought God for a path forward through this trial that would bring glory to my Savior.
Even though there was so much I didn’t understand at first, I knew from Scripture that there was one thing I must not do. I must not retaliate. I must not return evil for evil, but entrust my soul and our reputation to my faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19). Here was a place to simply stand.
Martyn-Lloyd Jones calls this “getting a foothold.” It is what Asaph resolved in Psalm 73 when he was downcast and perplexed and his “feet had almost stumbled” (v. 2). He simply resolved not to sin with his mouth: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children” (v. 15)
“He held on to what he was certain of, and he held on at all costs,” explains Lloyd-Jones:
“About his main problem he was very uncertain; he could not understand that at all. Even after he had pulled himself up, it still puzzled him…But having looked at the thing again, he realized that if he were to speak as he was tempted to speak, the immediate consequences would be that he would be the cause of offense to God’s people, and he held on to that fact” (Faith on Trial, p. 38)
When trial or temptation suddenly invades our lives, we may be knocked off our feet by the blast. The first thing we must do is simply stand—stand on God’s Word and determine what we must do, or not do, in obedience to Him. We must not despise the day of small beginnings, urges Dr. Lloyd Jones. For this is “the way in which the Psalmist managed to steady himself and arrive back eventually at such a great and firm position of faith” (p. 31).
God had much more to teach me in the weeks to follow in this trial. But it began by simply “getting a foothold.” May God help us all to stand, and eventually arrive again at a mountaintop of faith.
Our adoption agency called on Friday with the exciting news that we have received a court date! We are scheduled to appear in court in Addis Ababa on November 30. This is earlier than we expected, and it means that it is a little over six weeks until we get to meet our new children face-to-face.
This is the first of two trips we will make to Ethiopia. The second will be 4-12 weeks after we pass court and will be for United States Embassy clearance and to bring our children home for good.
On this first trip we are bringing Jack and Tori to meet their new brother and sister. They are so very excited to go to ‘Opia (as Tori calls it). They pray for and talk about their new brother and sister every day, and I can’t wait to watch them all play together for the very first time. And I’m so grateful to my wonderful sister-in-law Megan who agreed to take time off from her job as an ICU nurse to come with us. She’s a super-fun aunt and I know our new kids are going to love her.
We fly out the day after Thanksgiving and hope to meet our children a day or so after we arrive in country. (What a day that will be! I imagine it over and over in my mind.) Over the next few days we will spend many precious hours getting to play with them and their friends at the Transition Home. The hardest part will be returning home without them. But hopefully not for long.
As always, I can’t thank you enough for your ongoing prayers and support. If you would be so kind as to pray, here are a few requests:
-For safe and smooth travel
-For us to pass court with no delays
-For a joyful meeting with our kids
You can follow along on our adoption blog for more detailed updates in the weeks ahead. Thank you so much for your prayers!
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
To “count it all joy” doesn’t mean we will always feel happy in the midst of trials; but regardless of how we feel, it is a command we can and should obey. Martyn Lloyd Jones explains:
“There is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and feeling happy. The Scripture tells us that we should always rejoice [Phil. 4:4]....To rejoice is a command, yes, but there is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and being happy. You cannot make yourself happy, but you can make yourself rejoice, in the sense that you will always rejoice in the Lord. Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord.’ Take the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. There you will find that the great Apostle puts it all very plainly and clearly in that series of extraordinary contrasts which he makes: ‘We are troubled on every side (I don’t think he felt very happy at the moment) yet not distressed’, ‘we are perplexed (he wasn’t feeling happy at all at that point) but not in despair’, ‘persecuted but not forsaken’, ‘cast down, but not destroyed’—and so on. In other words the Apostle does not suggest a kind of happy person in a carnal sense, but he was still rejoicing.”
One of the many helpful books I have read and re-read these past few months is Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This book includes contributions by experts in the field of suffering: men and women who have experienced—and in some cases are still in the midst of—extreme and unrelenting suffering, but who have learned to count it all joy when facing trials of many kinds (James 1:2). A few years ago, when this book was first published, we were allowed to offer a sneak preview of several chapters:
”All the Good that is Ours in Christ”: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us by Mark Talbot
God’s Grace and Your Sufferings by David Powlison
Hope…the Best of Things by Joni Eareckson Tada
“How does God’s grace meet you in your sufferings?” David Powlison asks in his chapter:
“We can make the right answer sound old hat, but I guarantee this: God will surprise you. He will make you stop. You will struggle. He will bring you up short. You will hurt. He will take his time. You will grow in faith and in love. He will deeply delight you. You will find the process harder than you ever imagined – and better. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, no matter how long you’ve known it, no matter how well you can say it, God’s answer will come to mean something better than you could ever imagine.”
Let me encourage you to listen to the conference messages that these chapters were based on and to buy and study this book. Let these godly men and women hold your hand through your suffering and point you to our gracious, sovereign God.