Are in a season of you life where you have…Nothing? Nothing left in opinions. Nothing left in answers. Nothing left in the emotional tank. Nothing left in energy. All that’s left is emotional weariness. The blankness beyond questioning. The weariness beyond walking where you can only stand still in your tracks and say, “I’ve got Nothing.”
That’s a bit where I’ve been. Walking in the land of Nothing. On Monday, I received the news that my third friend in four months has been diagnosed with cancer. All three friends are healthy. Strong. Young. Two of them each have three children, all of whom are under the age of 10. In a matter of days, I turn 37, and I thought one received news of this sort when turning 77. Or 67. But 37? Come on. This is the season of life when we are supposed to be attending birthday parties for each other’s children, not prayer sessions fighting for friend’s very lives.
So yesterday, I was feeling like I had a whole lot of Nothing. Nothing in my proverbial pockets. Nothing up my theological sleeves. Nothing left to say or to give or with which to encourage.
That’s when, out of the corner of my eye in a bookstore, I saw a stack of t-shirts neatly folded in their plastic sleeves. They were normal looking as far as t-shirts go, but it was the word on the front that grabbed my attention and caused me to look twice. It said: Nothing.
That’s it. Just the word “Nothing.” But right below it, it had more than a word; it had a promise that infused that word with meaning. It said: Romans 8:38.
Now I know that verse. I know it because seven years ago, I had a beloved cousin take his life, and that was the verse my God-fearing aunt clung to.
Romans 8:38 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says it this way: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
That infuses a new meaning into the word Nothing, doesn’t it? My Nothing has a bunch of brokenness behind it and empty pockets attached to it. But God’s Nothing has His love infused into its very core. His fullness behind it. His Promises bolstering it. And as only God can do, He takes our Nothing and turns it on His head. Instead of becoming a recipe for disaster, it becomes just one more way for Him to astound us with the richness of His love.
So that’s what I am clinging to today. Trust me, I still feel like I’ve got Nothing. And my friends have Nothing. But it’s a kind of Nothing that leaves no room for anything else but Jesus. It’s a kind of Nothing bolstered by the Arms of the Father wrapped around each person that loves and trusts Him. It’s a kind of Nothing that fills our pockets with radical, reckless promises of hope when all we see is weary death. It’s a kind of Nothing that pursues us with the radical grace of God and fills our pockets with the richness of His love when everything else around us is falling apart.
I’m banking on Nothing today. For my friends. For their families. And for me. What about you? Are you ready for Nothing? Then emblazon Romans 8:38 on your heart and mind, and hold onto your pockets so that they don’t burst. His Love is enough for all of us who say we’ve got Nothing…Nothing but Him.
My children have taught me many things about many different subjects, but one thing they have taught me a great deal about is the table. I never thought much about the table, or cooking, or food before I had children. I didn’t really care what was served at the table or how it got there as long as it was there. And don’t blame my mom – she tried to teach me, she really did. But she finally gave up after I almost burned the whole house down when I left a pot of broccoli on the stove because I didn’t want to put my book down. It not only blackened the broccoli, turning it to a crisp, but it scorched the entire stove top as well. Almost set the whole thing on fire. Who cares about broccoli, or anything for that matter, when you are a few chapters away from finishing Lloyd C. Douglas’ classic book The Robe ???
But then I had children. And while poor Jason subsisted on cowboy stew and frozen biscuits for the first five years of our marriage (sorry, babe), I knew browned beef mixed with cans of minestrone soup wouldn’t cut it for my toddler. So I set out to learn how to cook, much to my mother’s (and husband’s) relief. And if I may say so myself, I’ve done an ok job of it. I not a gourmet chef by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I that creative with the dishes that rotate off and on our table, but I have come a long way from canned soup and cowboy stew.
As a mother of three young children, many days, life seems to revolve around the table. Organizing meals, shopping for meals, preparing meals, forcing people to eat their meals, and then, finally, cleaning up the meals….only to start the whole process over the very next morning.
With as much thought and effort that I, and every mother out there, puts into what goes in front of our children, that is why it just galls me to no end to have to force people to eat. Threaten. Cajole. Give the evil eye. Wake up from a dead sleep (see the picture). Because in all honesty, it’s usually pretty darn good stuff.
While I can’t count on many things during my ever-shifting day-to-day routine, what I can count on is that at some point, I am going to have to threaten somebody to eat my food. To set the timer. Give a consequence. Battle it out over broccoli.
But at the core of my mother’s heart, what I really wish is that each of my children would learn to simply and gratefully receive the provision that’s been set before them. Because as Lizzie learned yesterday, eating eggs and toast at 7:15am when it is hot and fresh tastes much better than having to eat it at 4:15pm when everything is cold and soggy from sitting in the fridge all day. (By the way, that consequence was a stroke of pure genius. I think she literally licked her plate clean this morning without me having to say a thing.)
And I am pretty sure that is a lesson my Heavenly Father wants me to learn at His Table as well. Most mornings, I have to be cajoled out of my bed. Set my timer. Given the threat of no hot coffee. When all the while, a plate of the most delicious food has been set before me in the pages of Scripture in my study below. Nourishment awaits me in the discipline of prayer. Sweetness beckons me in the intimacy of relationship. And while many nights I go to bed with a heart heavy with burdens I cannot carry, the meal served to me when I awake is just what is needed on the table of my heart and in the course of the day ahead.
But the question is, why is it so hard for me to eat the meal? To regularly and gratefully pull up my place at the table? To eat while the food is fresh, hot, and ready? Why do I insist on skipping meals or taking my plate out of the fridge later when the food still provides sustenance but isn’t nearly as good as it would have been in the dawn of my day.
One of my greatest desires is to be a regular participant at the table of the Lord. To never miss a meal or a morsel. To appreciate and show gratitude for each and every course, each and every cup, each and every bite.
My God is a much more patient parent than I am. He doesn’t threaten, cajole, raise His Voice, or set the timer. He simply removes the plate. And then waits. Waits for me to run half-starved to the table where I frantically look for my place. And the amazing thing is, my place is always there. Still set. But wouldn’t the meal have been better freshly served? Eaten when I was still half-alive instead of half-dead? Take a lesson from Caroline, Lillian, and Lizzie: don’t waste time missing meals at the table. Pull up a chair. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit down, and eat. Savor every bite. Because the meal that’s been set before has been planned for the menu of your day and the state of your heart long before your eyes ever opened or your feet hit the floor. As a child of God, relish in your plate and in your place at His Table. It’s a meal worth eating every bite.
This blog is a tough one for me to write. Not because I don’t love the subject (she’s my sister-in-law, after all). But because putting down onto paper how I really feel about Robin Ince has left me at a loss for words.
Watching someone you love walk through the valley of the shadow of death from the opposite side of the world is difficult. Because all you really want to do is give the person a hug. Just wrap your arms around them and let your tears mingle in real life rather than on the phone. And sometimes the ache of missing the person you love mingled with the pain of grief seems almost too much to bear.
But. And that’s a very necessary and important word here. But when you see the people you love struggle well, struggle for splendor and not just for sorrow, it makes the grief easier to bear.
And Robin and my brother Taylor have struggled well. The splendor radiating off of every stage of their sorrow has touched almost every continent of the world, and for that, I am grateful.
When they went in for an ultrasound at 10 weeks and were told that the baby’s leg was not developing past the thigh, something like cysts were forming around the stomach, and there were possible chromosomal issues, they wept. But they wept in hope, believing that the purposes God had for this child went beyond the suffering.
And when they went in three weeks later and found out that the leg still was not developing properly and that the cysts were actually life threatening, they wept again. But this time they wept in strength. It was a strength I could feel from this side of the Atlantic, washing in with the waves, pounding out the beat of the sovereignty and strength of a God who does not waste our suffering.
Robin wrote a blog that testified to this strength while they were waiting for the news from their next scan. If you want to read her post, you will be as blessed as I was. You can find it at www.taylorandrobin.blogspot.com/2013/09/fearfully-and-wonderfully-made.
Then came the final blow at 18 weeks of pregnancy. The little life they had loved and prayed for so fervently went to be with the Lord, and in His presence, was ultimately healed. For the second time, Robin had to go through the labor process with no reward of life at the end. (They lost their first child, Tristan, at 20 weeks in the womb, and she had to deliver her as well.)
But not once did I hear self-pity in Robin’s voice. Not once did I hear fear…or blame…or even anger. I did not hear the sorrow that leads to death, but only the sorrow that leads to life, rest, repentance, and joy (II Corinthians 7:10).
And that is why, only one of the many reasons why, I love Robin. Her life is not her own. It is lived for Another. And through her season of struggle, I saw that truth played out on an even deeper level in her life. I first saw it when she married my brother, Taylor, six years ago and willingly embraced the life of a pastor, a missionary, a student, and all of the hardships that lifestyle entails. I saw it when she moved to North Carolina and then back to Houston and then to Scotland where they now live. I saw it when she delivered their first child, Tristan, at 20 weeks and delivered her to the grave instead of into her arms. And I see it here. Now. Again. Standing as strong by the grave as she does in life.
That is why when I think of my sister-in-law, I think of a True Heart. A Heart that sings the song of life to the tune of Psalm 73:25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing that I desire on earth besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
While she was still pregnant and in the waiting process, I asked Robin a few questions about her definition of a True Heart:
My Question: What is your definition of a True Heart?
Robin’s Response: My definition comes from the words of Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
My Question: Looking back over your journey and walk with the Lord, what are things you did, perhaps unknowingly, that prepared you to walk through the trial you are now facing in the present?
Robin’s Response: Through the years, time spent studying and meditating on God’s Word, memorizing Scripture, and participating in Bible Studies like Waiting on the Lord and Beth Moore’s study, Breaking Free, have all helped tremendously. But most recently and profoundly, your teaching on Psalm 139 prepared my heart to walk through the trial with this baby.
(Side Note from Susannah: This past summer, the girls and I spent three weeks in Edinburgh with Taylor and Robin, and Robin and I led a Bible study together for women in her apartment complex on Psalm 139. We spent two weeks talking about all of the intimate, detailed ways God knows us and our children, beginning with our conception in the womb.)
While looking at Psalm 139, I had just started feeling pregnant and had no idea of what was to come with this baby, but the study was such a powerful reminder of how much care the Lord puts into knitting us together and writing our story. It was so comforting having this branded in my mind so close to the time we got our initial diagnosis for the baby.
Also, what has helped me develop a True Heart is by walking with the Lord and consciously working out my salvation with fear and trembling since middle school. Knowing what I believe and the One in whom I believe has helped to build my faith in a sovereign God. So in the midst of this trial, I am not plagued with asking the question of why – knowing that it is all for God’s glory and our sanctification is enough. I look forward to seeing the character and fruit this produces in our family.
Lastly, going through the loss of our first baby, Tristan Joy, helped to prepare my heart for the circumstances of this baby. The Lord used her life to prepare us that babies aren’t always healthy – we are not guaranteed to get to parent them here. This lessened the shock when we heard this baby’s initial diagnosis. Losing Tristan forced me to walk through such a deep valley of grief, but it also taught me how to press in to the Lord in ways that would not have happened without that loss. Ecclesiastes 11:5 has become an important verse to us because of Tristan and now this baby:
“As you do not know the pat of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”
My Question: What is the greatest challenge to keeping a True Heart in the midst of the circumstances you are walking through?
Robin’s Response: The greatest challenge is not knowing the outcome. Will our baby make it to term? If he does, will he be healed completely or will he be born with a disability? How will this affect our family? How do we prepare Seth and Avery? Ourselves? I feel like if I knew what to expect I could start coping. But the Lord gently reminded me the other night after a precious friend prayed over us that He doesn’t want me to cope. He doesn’t want me just to survive this but to be refined by this. He wants to redeem this and for us to come out more joyful on the other side. And so I wait and trust – it’s all I can do.
My Question: Who, or what, inspires you to keep a True Heart to the Lord during this season?
Robin’s Response: Mostly, it is my family and friends who do not know the Lord. I want Him to receive glory from how we walk through this suffering and for our friends to see we can only survive this because of our relationship with the Lord. We want to see their salvation because of our story, our suffering, our Hope.
Also, our children inspire us to keep True Hearts as well. This will be the first major suffering they have seen us go through, and I want them to see how we lean on the Lord and walk through it (hopefully!) graciously. I pray that as they see us walking in the suffering of uncertainty, that they themselves will turn to the Lord in their own suffering down the road, whatever form that suffering may take.
Like I said in the beginning, I really love my sister-in-law. The soil of her heart has borne rich, ripe fruit from which many have tasted of the Lord’s sufficiency, goodness, and grace, not despite her suffering, but because of her suffering. Her heart gives me hope for my own heart – that if I will chose to walk closely with the Lord through suffering, believing in His Sovereignty, I too will be like that tree planted by water, that does not fear when heat comes, and whose leaves remain green nor cease to bear fruit, even in a year of drought (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
Every time I hear Christy Nockel’s song, For Your Splendor, I think of Robin. So it seemed appropriate to end with those words instead of mine:
I’m so concerned with what I look like from the outside
And will I blossom into what You hope I’ll be
Yet You’re so patient just to help me see
The blooms come from a deeper seed
That You planted in me
Sometimes it’s hard to grow
When everybody’s watching
To have your heart pruned by the One who knows best
And though I’m bare and cold I know my season’s coming
And I’ll spring up in Your endless faithfulness
With my roots deep in You
I’ll grow the branch that bears the fruit
And though I’m small, I’ll still be standing in the storm
Cause I am planted by the river
By your streams of living water
And I’ll grow up strong and beautiful
All for Your splendor, Lord.
For Your Splendor, Christy Nockels
(Since writing this post a week ago, Taylor and Robin found out that their baby was a boy. They gave their Scottish boy a thoroughly Scottish name – William Lachlan Ince – William meaning “Will or Determination,” and Lachlan meaning “Light.” Yesterday, they buried William in a cemetery close to their house in Edinburgh, Scotland. The words on his tombstone read:
In Memory of
William Lachlan Ince
Son of Robin and Taylor
Brother of Tristan Joy, Seth, and Avery
October 13, 2013
We look forward to a glorious reunion one day and smile knowing that William and his big sister, Tristan Joy are playing together at the feet of Jesus.)