He must have had something different in mind when he announced to the church, "We are going deeper this year. This will be our year to tackle the deep end." He wanted everyone to pray for this step into study and devotion.
Sounds good, doesn't it? Does make you wonder, however, what was happening last year?
It has been my real-life experience that the deep end is not about more serious Bible study, or more doctrinal clarity, or more classes or conferences. In my life, the deep end is crisis time. The deep takes us in over our head.
The deep is not the study; it's the test, the struggle, the roadblock, the challenge. The deep rocks our world, rattles our cage, and exposes our heart.
When the Hebrew people were about to go into the Promised Land, Moses reminded them:
Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don't live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God's mouth. Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child (Deuteronomy 8:2-5 MSG).
After Job's experience in the deep, he said, "I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes" (Job 42:5 NLT). Job found God in the deep.
Jesus expanded the deep and promised His presence, always. God doesn't provide answers for the struggles in the deep, but He does provide power for facing the pain of the present with courage and hope rather than bitterness and despair.
Amy confided, "I just thought that once she came home from the NICU things were going to be so much better and Ella would start eating, we wouldn't need a feeding tube, and she would just develop like any other child. Ummm, yeah, so that's not how it went down. Things with Ella were much harder and more complicated than we knew or expected."
Ella was born with omphaloceles (pronounced om-fal-o-seel). With her arrival came an unexpected load of helplessness. "I didn't know how to help her eat or stop throwing up," Amy said. "I dreaded going to new doctors' appointments and undressing her to show her deformity. 'So do you have any concerns?' "Do I have concerns?! I wanted to say, 'Well, besides the fact that she was born with numerous organs outside of her body, a major deformity, can barely use her left arm or turn her head to that side, is vomiting multiple times a day and night, and will not eat unless she is in a dark, quiet room and is almost asleep, just to name the major ones... ummm, other than that no, nope, no concerns to speak of.' But I didn't. I would just say, 'Yes.'"
2009 was unimaginable for this young family. Amy explained, "Those were some really hard, hard days and nights. Days that brought me to my knees. Days that were filled with exhaustion, frustration, sadness and little hope. Days with moments where I was so low I didn't know how I was literally going to pull myself off the floor and stop crying. Most nights I was up almost every hour until we were blessed to receive night help three nights a week. Rick (her husband) was going to bed early and getting up early so he could take over monitoring Ella before he left for work and so I could get at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. For several months I would have nightmares from time to time or wake up and just cry because it hurts so badly when you have a child that struggles so much. Those were nights I had a hard time catching my breath... even out of a dead sleep. I don't know that the word hard even comes close to being able to describe what every day and night was like."
New faith perspective: "A word that does describe my feelings," offered Amy, "is thankful. I'm at the point now that I can look back and honestly say that I'm thankful for 2009 even though it was by far the worst year of our life. I'm thankful for some of those dark times. The Lord gives us treasures that can only be found when you're in the dark. They can be very simple things, sometimes big things and sometimes not even tangible things. Sometimes the treasure was in the moment I was curled up in a ball on the floor crying unable to stand and finally I would hear His soft voice saying, 'I'm here, I love you, I know it's hard but it's going to be okay. You will see.'"
God's presence has given Amy and Rick courage for the journey and a contagious appreciation for life and light. And, Ella? A few weeks ago, Ella looked up at me and in a polite soft voice said, Thank you, for letting us swim in your pool," and ran back outside.
And, the darkness is gone!
If you want to get connected to Amy and Rick's little Ella's progress, bookmark their blog. The Carder Family Blog http://hlt.me/RnAJM1.
What has been your experience with darkness? Did it humble you? Is God testing you? Has He provided manna at just the right time? Did He show up when you felt most alone? Did you hear His voice? Has He provided power just in time?
Thank HIM! Take the baton from Amy, share your story, the real story. Oh, and keep looking for hidden treasures along the way.