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Our second daughter, Anna Grace, was born on December 18, 2019 at 11 A.M. on the dot. She is blonde and beautiful. She is strong and the Lord is good.

As I write this, the date is January 20, 2020. Wow. I didn’t realize it has been over a month since she was born. She’s in the NICU with Lauren, fighting to heal from pneumonia. She is expected to have heart surgery within the next few months, along with her brother who has a similar heart condition. Our family has been separated – with limited time together – for the past month. What a trial.

I have been joyful, happy, elated, depressed, burdened, frustrated, angry, full of faith, full of doubt, full of energy, full of despair, and all the in-between over the last month. So where do I stand now?

On Christ the solid rock I stand, ALL other ground is sinking sand… all other ground is sinking sand.

I have been amazed by how many people have also seen their foundations shaken from watching our trial. I am both touched by their tears and burdened by their pain. Today, I hope to comfort us - myself included - with the mercy of God.
God speaks a promise in James 1:2-4, one that I do not yet fully understand, but one that I cling to: “Count it ALL joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Steadfastness is the same as patience. Patience is the same as waiting on the Lord. Waiting requires trust, which is the essence of faith. All these are things that the Christian should be marked by. But how are they formed in us? Through suffering. Through trials. Through difficulties of various kinds.

I have prayed for years that the Lord would sanctify me. When I got married five years ago, I started praying that for my wife. Sanctification is the process by which God’s children are refined and made perfect. That is what James is talking about: “Consider all trials a joy because they are producing in you faith, which in the end (of life) will lead to your salvation - your complete sanctification in glory.”

Why in the world does it have to be so hard though? I don’t know.

My pastor told me a few weeks ago, “You are too strong." Indeed, although full of irony: yes, I am too strong. For some the refining takes trials I would consider small. For me it takes a twelve-pound sledge-hammer pounding me from all sides to bring me to my knees, to bring me to dependence, to teach me patience and faith; to rely on the mercy of God alone and not my strength or my abilities to plan, fix, and control.

If anyone knows about trials, it is the person of Job in the Bible. After God allows all his sheep, camels, and donkeys to be killed or stolen, and after most of his servants are destroyed or taken captive, and after all of his seven children are killed, and after his wife tells him to curse God and die, Job says to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” Basically, Job is asking, "Is the evil that befalls a person outside the will of God? Are there times when God falls victim to his own creation? Is God at the mercy of the devil and his evil schemes? When trouble comes and I'm not getting my way, am I justified to condemn God - curse him - because he obviously doesn't have my best interests in mind?" Certainly not! But why, you and I ask. Why does all this bad stuff happen? Solomon reminds us: "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore, let your words be few."

Like Job, it is the one who has faith in God that can eventually say, “Though peace like a river attendeth my way, though sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” I accept God's will for my life. In fact, I am thankful for it.

Because the Lord’s will is perfect, because man is at the mercy of this sovereign Ruler, because there is no higher power in all the universe, and because God is gracious beyond all we can think or imagine, Paul can write, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in ALL circumstances – for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” My sister challenged me with these words recently. “Have you thanked God for these trials?” she asked. Of course I hadn’t. What am I, a fool? Yes. I disobediently and foolishly believed myself to be sovereign, to be in control. I know what is best, I lied to myself. I foolishly prayed (although unbeknownst to me): “Our Father, who art beneath me, let my will be done on earth as it should be done in heaven.” But what does our Lord rightly pray? “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I do not offer a glib, superficial sort of feel-good answer to suffering. That sort of positive, motivational talk only angers me because it downplays the reality of suffering and the reality of evil. I am not just ignoring my pain and trials, forcing a smile to say, "I see the glass as half full." That simply doesn't change the reality that my family is suffering. No, I can rightfully do as Job did after he heard all the news of his calamity: tear my clothes, shave my head, fall on my face... and worship: "Naked I came from my mother and naked shall I return to the earth. The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised!"

God, this is your will. It is your will that my daughter suffer, that my son suffer, that my wife suffer, that my three-year old wake up in the night crying out “Mommy!” But mom isn’t there; she’s in the NICU taking care of Anna Grace. Asher needs heart surgery. Anna Grace has pneumonia and needs heart surgery. Mom is getting over her pre-eclampsia. Bills need to be paid. The oil needs to be changed. The animals need to be fed. I still need to go to work. Etc.

This is God’s will. It is my duty as his created being to glorify him by submitting to his rightful rule and reign. It is even more my reasonable duty to trust Jesus, as the one who died for me and as the one who lives for me.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for these trials, even if I have to force myself to say it. I am finite. I am a vapor. I have a birthday and I will go to sleep (die). I own nothing. I control nothing. I am a fragile creature in need of mercy. Let me not be bitter, but let me be strong in weakness, because my strength rests not in me, but in the Lord – the one who loves me and gave himself for me. Lord, I won’t be perfect until the Perfect comes, but I want to walk in your way. I want to trek along with gratefulness. Let me not forget this time, oh Lord. Let me remember always to trust you. Build in me faith and thanksgiving. Like a little child that must obey his dad even though he doesn’t understand why, let me obey you and trust you, even though I do not know why. I do not know why Anna Grace has this heart condition and why other children do not. But I thank you for it. That hurts a little to say, but I thank you for your perfect will. I accept trouble with gladness, as an old friend. I give thanks for it not because I like the trial, but because you tell me to give thanks for it. I look forward to what your purposes will be, though I may never see them. I begin to relinquish control over my life and the life of my family. Lord, help me to live in faith, to walk in faith. Keep me from extremes, that I may walk in the Way and not stray to the right or to the left. Suffering is to be received with joy because suffering is always overseen by you. Trials are not above you; they work for you and according to your will. Therefore, they always have a good and righteous outcome: "All things work together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose." You are my Father and I am your child. Your will is for me. Help me to trust you, to have faith, in my imperfect, messy, and difficult little world. Lord, thank you for the trials. Thank you for making me perfect through the sufferings of sanctification. Help me to live in you, not just talk about you. Form Christ in me, that I may not be tossed to and fro by every emotion, but that I may sleep even during the storm, as you did in the boat, though your disciples worried: “Jesus, you slept in the storm in the bow. You trusted your heavenly Father that’s how.” So be it. Sanctify me and sanctify Lauren according to your perfect will, through trials of suffering, that we may attain to the salvation promised us by your Son. And grant faith to all who hurt with us. Amen.

Like a father to his toddler, so is God saying to me: Stop throwing tantrums; trust me. Be at peace. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth: I will be exalted.”