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Seen and Read

Over the past week or so, I've stumbled upon a few insightful reads posted on the internet, all related to trials or their accompanying temptations.

  • In a series of meditations on Psalm 27, Paul Tripp wrote about productive delay, about how God makes waiting redemptive and restorative.
  • Tim Challies collected a series of helpful quotes on envy and offers some a personal reflection of that topic.
Click on over if any of those interest you; happy reading!


Hymns for Hard Times: How Firm a Foundation

(Prior posts in this series:
"Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right"
"The Solid Rock"
"God Moves in a Mysterious Way"
"It Is Well")

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to You He has said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen and help thee and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake.

This hymn has been my constant companion during this trial of infertility. I sing it to myself regularly, rehearsing the promises of God. His Word is sufficient to give me comfort! He is with me, holding me up when I am weary! He will not let me drown in rivers of sorrow or burn in fiery trials! He will sanctify and refine me through these troubles! He will never desert or forsake me! Most of the text of this hymn is culled directly from Scripture passages, like Isaiah 41 and 43. This is my favorite hymn for hard times, because it tells me just what I need to hear in order to persevere in faith amidst suffering.


Hymns for Hard Times: It Is Well

(See the prior post in this series here.)

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way;
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! -
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

I desire the kind of controlling contentment that this hymn describes, a soul that is at rest whether I am in a time of peace or sorrow. No matter what happens to me, may I find joy in the glorious thought that all of my sin - my anxiety, my complaining, my envy, my fear - has been nailed to the cross of Christ. All other burdens seem weightless when I remember the weight of sin that I no longer have to carry because Jesus carried it to the grave. With that redemption and reconciliation with God, it truly is well with my soul.


Hymns for Hard Times: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

(See the prior post in this series here.)

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I was aware of this moving poem by William Cowper, but it became endeared to me in the trial of infertility through the updated version of the hymn on Sovereign Grace Ministries' Worship God Live album.

The third stanza imparts oft-necessary reminders to me. I am so prone to fear the cloudy circumstances that I can see on my horizon - difficult medical procedures, baby showers, pregnancy announcements, close friends giving birth, and so on. Many times those sorts of things seem truly dreadful to me, and I just want to take cover from the storms of life. But my God promises that he will cause those very things that I want to avoid to somehow bless me with showers of mercy. I can't always wrap my mind around that promise, but I want to grow in trusting its truth.


Hymns for Hard Times: The Solid Rock

(Here is the first post in this series.)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the 'whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

How often I need the reminders - like this song - that I should not lean on anything else but my Savior! When my hope for children gives way, I need to stand on the Rock of Christ. Even the blessings currently in my life, like my husband, should not be the repository of my trust and happiness. Only Jesus can support the full weight of all my hopes and sorrows and joys.


Hymns for Hard Times: Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right

Numerous songs have helped to keep my soul from sinking under the trial of infertility. I'll take some time this week to post a few hymns that speak to the topic of suffering.

The following hymn is a new one to me. I was introduced to it by an updated version on the CD In a Little While by father/son team Mark & Stephen Altrogge. Here are the original lyrics:

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate'er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall;
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path;
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I'll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers nought to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather;
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate'er my God ordains is right;
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father's care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to Him I leave it all.

I love the closing lines of the second stanza; so often I need to remember that God is not rendered impotent by my griefs. He can end these troubles at any time, and he will do so at the best time. My part is to wait patiently, trustingly for his day.


Books for Hard Times

Just about anything wise or discerning that I may have to say about suffering graciously comes from one of two places: God's word and godly authors. I can claim plenty of credit for the foolish or whiny things I say that come straight out of my sinful heart. But I can't claim credit for the cumulative effect that God has wrought out of some of the things I've read to help my soul cope with the difficulties of these past few years. So if you've benefited at all - by the grace of God - from what I sometimes write here, you'll benefit even more from the following resources:

How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson
This is an excellent book on the theology of suffering. If you are not in the midst of a trial, this books lays an excellent doctrinal foundation for any hard times you may encounter down the road; it will also help you to helpfully counsel any friends who are suffering. If you are in the midst of affliction, the rich truths of this book will bring comfort and clarity even when there are many unanswerable questions about your circumstances.

"I cannot give you all the answers to your 'Why?' But you may draw courage from the fact that the one who loves you so much he died for you asked the same question: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"

All Things for Good by Thomas Watson
This little Puritan paperback is a rich mine for the sufferer. While scrutinizing Romans 8:28, Thomas Watson packs every paragraph full of vivid metaphors that impart practical understanding God's promise to work all things for good to those that love him. When you just can't see any good arising out of your circumstances, read this book to find out all the possible ways that God might be at work.

"All things work together for good. This expression 'work together' refers to medicine. Several poisonous ingredients put together, being tempered by the skill of the apothecary, make a sovereign medicine, and work together for the good of the patient. So all God's providences, being divinely tempered and sanctified, work together for the best to the saints."

Beside Still Waters by C.H. Spurgeon
This book collects various writings and sermon excerpts on the topic of suffering from the famed 19th century London preacher. Spurgeon's congregation faced poverty, illness, and death as features of daily life, and he himself struggled with depression. The short, devotional-style entries are arranged by Scripture reference, but there is also an index arranged by topic. If you want simple, brief doses of help for the afflicted soul, pick up this book and read a little.

For a few quotes, see here, here, here, and here.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, eds. John Piper & Justin Taylor
This book collects articles based on messages given at a Desiring God conference of the same title. I've not read them all, but I'm slowly working my way through the different chapters. The chapter by David Powlison is probably the single best examination of the topic of suffering that I have read. He addresses the comprehensive experience of trial and brings a God-ward focus to bear in a way that is not at all trite. He plumbs the depths of despair and soars to the heights of praise. (If you have a friend who is in a long season of difficulty and you feel like you don't know what to do or say, read this chapter!) It's almost impossible to choose just one quote from this chapter, but here's a small taste:

"The problem is not that we feel troubled by trouble and pained by pain. Something hurtful should hurt. The problem is that God slides away into irrelevance when we obsess over suffering or compulsively avoid it. God inhabits a vague afterthought - weightless and distant in comparison to something immediately pressing. Or, if God-words fill our minds and pour forth from our lips, it's easy to make the "god" we cry out to someone who will magically make everything better if we can only catch his ear.

The real God is up to better things. He says and does weighty and immediate things that engage what you are facing. He pursues purposes that are better than you imagine. He refuses to become your lucky charm who makes all the bad things disappear from your world."

There are a few other resources that deserve mention. The chapter "Responding Humbly to Trials" in C.J. Mahaney's Humility is one I have re-visited a few times. And Pete Greasley's seminar message, "When Crisis Comes," impacted me and stuck with me when I heard it at a conference. (And hey! It looks like the MP3 and outline are being offered for free! Go forth and download!)

I know there are a lot of excellent resources about suffering; these few have shaped how I think and feel about the suffering I have faced, making it a little less incomprehensible and therefore a little easier to endure. Take up and read, and to God be all the glory.

Edited to add: I just saw this review on; looks intriguing enough to be the next book on suffering that I read...



I've made a few updates to my sidebar: quoted the verse that gave me my blog title, added a couple of new blog links, and reset the link to my church's new website. As most of you know, I work for my church, and we've been very busy preparing for a new church name and new meeting location. If you look at the website, you can see a little bit of what I've been up to (I helped to design the new logo). With work as busy as it has been, I've only had time for some light-hearted blog posts lately. But I'm storing up some more serious thoughts. In the meantime, if one is deprived of opportunities to poke fun at one's reproductive system, what other topic to turn to than chipmunks?


Alas, Poor Chipmunk

What do these two pictures have in common? The one on the left is Thelonius Monk, legendary jazz pianist. The one on the right is (a look-alike of) Thelonius Chipmunk, legendary resident of our patio.

When we first moved to our current apartment in July of 2004, it did not take us long to make the acquaintance of the chipmunk whose burrow had an entrance just off of our first-floor patio. He could frequently be seen scampering across the cement deck, frolicking onto a low brick wall by the front door, scurrying down his hole in the mud near the tree in front of our bedroom window. Since he was sort of like an outdoor pet, we named him: Thelonius. (Yes, we're jazz nerds that way.)

During our second summer as neighbors to Theolnius, friends from Texas came to visit us - friends who had never seen chipmunks before. One of them (*cough* Rishi *cough*) pointed out our sliding glass doors and exclaimed, "What is that on your deck, a hamster?" No, that's Thelonius.

In the spring, we looked forward to seeing Thelonius emerge from hibernation. In the summer, I waged friendly wars with Thelonius over his propensity to molest my flowers. The first time I tried to plant flowers, I set a large box planter on the ground; every morning, the soil would be flung across the patio, and the roots of the flowers would be exposed. I was baffled by this - and blaming the Canadian geese - until one day I caught Thelonius red-pawed. He was perched on the end of the box, digging a corner of dirt up wildly, until he noticed me watching him through the glass doors and darted off with a guilty look. I bought a plant stand, and that seemed to place the impatiens safely out of his reach. This summer, I added a second stand and pot, and I planted begonia bulbs. I guess bulbs were more tempting to a chipmunk busy stocking up for winter, because he managed to find a way to climb and dig them up. We had a stand-off one day; I sat on the sofa trying to surreptitiously observe how he would get up the 3-foot-tall stand, and Thelonius tried to sneak past my watching eyes (hiding under the threshold of the sliding doors, crouching on a doormat, slinking into a bucket). He won that battle of wills, and I never did figure out how he climbed into the planter. That felonious Thelonius...

Did you know that chipmunks chirp? Sometimes in the mornings, we would wake up to a high-pitched sort of squeak repeating over and over. We thought it was a bird. But it was Thelonius.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't seen Thelonius for a while. I've been on the lookout for him, but he seems to be gone. My dad once scoffed at our certainty that the same chipmunk had inhabited our patio during our entire tenure here, so we did a little research and learned that chipmunks have a lifespan of two to three years. I guess Thelonius has reached the end of that span. It seems strange to contemplate another year of leasing here without him. I hope he had a happy chipmunk life and a peaceful end. (I really hope I didn't poison him by introducing fertilizer to my begonias in a desperate attempt to get them to bloom in the everlasting shade that falls on our patio.) After recent rains, the little hole that enters Thelonius' burrow seems to have been permanently covered up.

Rest in peace, Thelonius Chipmunk. Unincorporated Lisle just won't be the same without you.


Four Things

A friend from church sent this in an e-mail, and I thought it might be fun to fill out and post. If it looks fun to you, too, feel free to leave a comment saying you've posted your answers and a link for where to read them (or post your answers in the comments if you don't have a blog of your own).

Four Things about Me

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. salesperson at Banana Republic
2. receptionist for a radio station
3. phone-a-thon caller (fundraising) for Wheaton College
4. church administrator

Four places I have lived:
1. Redlands, CA
2. Colorado Springs, CO
3. Annandale, VA
4. Austin, TX

TV shows I like to watch:
(This is a tough one, b/c we don't have TV. But these are shows I've enjoyed on DVD.)
1. 24
2. Foyle's War
3. Mystery! on PBS
4. House

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
3. Montreal/Quebec, Canada
4. Oak Island, NC

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Heath bars
2. Avocado
3. Berries
4. Broccoli cheddar soup

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Great Britain
2. the beach (with a good book!)
3. on a bike ride
4. sitting in a rocking chair cuddling a baby of my very own

Four places I like to shop:
1. Target
2. Ann Taylor Loft
3. Crate & Barrel
4. Old Navy

Four friends I think will respond:
Um, I'm not really sure... random guesses that all begin with the letter A:
1. Annika
2. Amy
3. the other Amy
4. Amanda


10,000 and Counting

According to my stat counter, my blog has now had over 10,000* visits! Thanks to everyone who reads along!

You can scroll to the bottom of the page to see the current count of visits.

*I didn't add the stat counter until a few months after I started blogging, so we probably really reached this number a little while ago. Still, it seems like a milestone worth celebrating.


A Record of Lament

I recently wrote the last page of a journal that I keep for my devotional times. That particular journal began by documenting my struggles to put jealousy to death before the baby shower of a close friend. That friend is now expecting her second child. That journal's last entry recorded my sadness on getting the negative results from our second and most recent IVF. One small notebook, full of all the heartache of infertility and one woman's fight for faith in the midst of deferred hope...

I began a new journal by reading and meditating on a passage that has meant much to me over the past couple of years - Lamentations 3. There are some very familiar words of hope in that passage, words of new mercies, unceasing love, great faithfulness. But the wonder of those words, and what many Christians miss, is the context from which they emerge. These affirmations of God's love arise out of anguished accusations that God has afflicted the writer to the point of desolation.

"I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light. ... He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.' Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me."

Those despondent cries set off an echo deep in my soul. I believe that God is absolutely sovereign, that nothing happens apart from what he specifically orchestrates. I have seen affliction, and as far as I can tell I will go on seeing affliction for a while yet - and that affliction is directly from the hand of the Lord. He has driven me into the darkness of infertility, and he has removed immediate (though not ultimate) hope from my circumstances. For now, he has shut off every means of escape from barrenness. He has blocked off the option of natural conception, he has dead-ended the road of IUIs, and he has turned aside the path of IVF. He has locked me up with childless chains that weigh heavy indeed. I have called and called for help, but he has not sent a rescue from this heartbreaking situation.

"Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?"

Infertility comes from God's hand just as surely as pregnancy and children do. Strange as it may seem, I find comfort in God's sovereignty over my suffering. If infertility falls on me as a matter of chance, or from a force of evil that God cannot bend, what hope do I have? But if this ill wind blows directly from the Lord, then it can do me no eternal harm. At times I may feel forgotten by God, and I may wonder if he remembers how I hurt, but I have a lasting assurance that the one who saved me from my sin will deliver me from evil.

"For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."

God has caused this pain in my life, but he afflicts me with a Fatherly tenderness. In his perfect wisdom and love, he knows that this suffering is the only way to accomplish his good purposes. My deepest heartache is under the sovereign sway of a good God, a God who gave his only Son up for me. The Lord may end my infertility in a few months or a few years; he may not end my infertility until my deathbed. Either way, infertility is only temporary. God's steadfast love, secured to me by the cross, is forever. He bestows it on me abundantly now - when I sometimes only reach out for it blindly - and eternally - when I will see his love with utmost clarity.

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

Even as I record laments over my unfulfilled desire for children, I anticipate filling up the pages of a new journal with deeper understanding of God's fresh mercies and steadfast love. Great is his faithfulness, indeed.


To Keep the Casement Open

A friend sent me the following quote after the news of the failure of the 2nd IVF:

There are times when things look very dark to me--so dark that I have to wait even for hope. It is bad enough to wait in hope. A long-deferred fulfillment carries its own pain, but to wait for hope, to see no glimmer of a prospect and yet refuse to despair; to have nothing but night before the casement and yet to keep the casement open for possible stars; to have a vacant place in my heart and yet to allow that place to be filled by no inferior presence--that is the grandest patience in the universe. It is Job in the tempest; it is Abraham on the road to Moriah; it is Moses in the desert of Midian; it is the Son of man in the Garden of Gethsemane.

There is no patience so hard as that which endures, "as seeing him who is invisible"; it is the waiting for hope.

Thou hast made waiting beautiful; Thou has made patience divine. Thou hast taught us that the Father's will may be received just because it is His will. Thou hast revealed to us that a soul may see nothing but sorrow in the cup and yet may refuse to let it go, convinced that the eye of the Father sees further than its own.

Give me this Divine power of Thine, the power of Gethsemane. Give me the power to wait for hope itself, to look out from the casement where there are no stars. Give me the power, when the very joy that was set before me is gone, to stand unconquered amid the night, and say, "To the eye of my Father it is perhaps shining still." I shall reach the climax of strength when I have learned to wait for hope.
-George Matheson

My heart feels the vacancy of children very keenly right now. My windows look out on black skies void of stars. My cup brims with sorrow. But, somehow, I trust that this drink will nourish me; that not one star is missing; that my heart can be full of my Savior though empty of children. I trust, I hold on, I wait for hope.

(Thanks, Charissa.)