Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Great Expectations

I love our church. We have some of the most gifted teachers and preachers around, and I just feel so privileged to get to hear them talk. Tonight was Wednesday night church, where you can go and eat dinner then break off into various different classrooms. We've been slowly easing back into church involvement, since for a long time neither of us had the energy or desire, and being in a new city I guess it has taken us longer than it would have back in Atlanta. Anyway, all that to say, I saw in the bulletin that Michael Card was leading a class through the book of John, and I thought "Well, that is not something every church offers." If you have not heard of him, he is an amazing songwriter and scholar with a really thorough knowledge of scripture.

So, tonight our friends Kate and Todd went with us and we read through John chapter 6. I could have sat there all night and just listened. But there were a couple of things Michael Card said that just really resonated with me. The first thing was that "if you follow God long enough he will fail to meet your expectations."

In this chapter a group of people come to find Jesus and basically ask him to perform some miracles for them so they can believe in him. He instead turns the tables on them and tells them that He is the Son of God and that he is the bread of life. If they will believe in Him they will have eternal life. He refuses to jump through their hoops and instead challenges their motives and hearts. After this dialogue "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (v. 66). They had an image of who Jesus was and he wasn't conforming to it. He failed to meet their expectations so they left.

I thought about this because it is so easy for me to create in my head an image of who God is and demand he act that way. He shouldn't make me suffer. He shouldn't let children die of cancer. He shouldn't let friends lose their jobs at Christmastime. And if he fails to meet my expectations, I have a right to be angry.

I really have struggled with trusting God to protect my family now. I had an expectation that he would keep my children safe and it was shattered. I used to read Psalm 23 and think, "This means God will keep evil and sickness and sadness from us, because we are loved." But then I looked closer at the Psalm. It says:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

That is exactly what we have done. We have walked in the shadow of death and watched it steal the life of our precious son. But the next verse says "I will fear no evil, for you are with me." Even in the shadow of death we can be safe and fearless. Even if death wins, it cannot take our soul. That is safe in the arms of God. We may experience evil but we don't have to fear it. Now I see God protecting my family in a different light. I pray that He is gracious and does protect our health and lives, but my idea of "good" is so different from His.

Back in John, after some of his disciples left him he turns to his twelve and says, "You do not want to leave, too, do you?" And Peter's response is so simple yet so powerful: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Michael Card called it "loyal despair." I could so relate to that. I have felt exasperated and heartbroken and angry, but deep down I know where the words of life are. Only His words have ever brought me any real peace. So I have felt like, "Well, I would leave if I could, but I know you would woo me back." I know you are true and real, but I just don't always like what you do. I think God can handle that.

Another thing Michael Card said was that God often puts us in impossible situations so we will see our need for him. At the beginning of the chapter he asks Philip where they can buy food for the 5,000 people who had gathered around him. Philip balks and says that 8 months' wages wouldn't be enough to pay for it all. John hints that Jesus had in mind already what he would do but he wanted to test Philip. I guess Jesus wanted to see if Philip knew what He was capable of providing. In the last few years I have definitely felt like I have been in impossible situations, but it never occurred to me that it was on purpose, so that God could show his sufficiency. I try to be so self-sufficient all the time and then feel like a failure if I can't handle it. How freeing to think God doesn't ask us to carry the whole burden. He wants us to give it back to him.

Thinking back on our whole journey with Joseph, it is just so clear we absolutely could not have functioned and thrived without many, many hands helping us to do so. We were just exhausted, heartbroken, and couldn't think straight most of the time. There were so many times I thought, "This is too much. It's just too much for any parents to have to bear." But the thing is, we didn't have to bear it all on our own. So many people brought us meals, gifts, money, cards, emails, groceries, etc. And so many people just loved Joseph and spent time with him and made him laugh and brought him joy and happiness. It wasn't all dependent upon us, and I think that is one lesson God was teaching us. That life isn't meant to be lived alone. We need each other and He works through us to help one another.

He may put us in impossible situations. He may not fulfill our expectations. But He is good and He is God.

"To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."


Jennifer said...

Love it. I wish I could come with you to the class! Tell Mike I said Hi! Man, this is good stuff Gill. It's amazing how God works. I love the part you said about even if death wins, it cannot take our souls. I seriously feel like I just read a Spurgeon devotion or the like after finishing your post. Beautifully written. Praying constantly for you guys & can't wait to see you very soon...

The Dogs said...

Amen. God is such a good God and he is teaching you so much. Your heart is open and it is so encouraging to read about. Thank you for sharing.

Randi said...

Hi Gillian,
I too felt blessed by this entry. I felt happiness as I too just know that something INCREDIBLE is there after our physical self dies. It's just about trusting the things that are not seen and that is faith. Although I feel God a lot, I trust that while He watches over my soul now, He will continue to take care of my family and I after we depart this earth.
Always praying, every night.

*the Jones family* said...

What wonderful words....we will continue to pray for your family to have regular encouragements like this along the way.

Kate Etue said...

Gill, we loved it too and are looking forward to next week. Todd and I were talking about how he always remembers CCC as a place where almost every week they say something that specifically relates to you or someone you know, and last night was no exception. Also, at bedtime I asked Grey his favorite part of the day--he was all "I don't know" and then he said, "Wait! I think it was when I had so much fun wrestling with Holly." I'm so thankful for her little friendship!!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a valuable class with even more valuable discoveries. Your comments about Psalm 23 are very memorable. -scott cunningham

suzebab said...


Thanks for sharing, your words continue to teach and challenge me. Hope to be in the class next week. Love you guys!

Anonymous said...

Michael Card sang us to sleep so many times reminding us of all the "joy in the journey" during Matthew's battle. His music will always be so special to me. Thanks for sharing your life and insights with us. I think of you often and lift you in prayer when God brings you to mind. I was looking at our rally photos from this summer yesterday and thinking about your precious family. Let me know if I didn't send those to you, please.
Grace and Peace be yours in ABUNDANCE!
Gina B.

Anonymous said...

I hope saying a simple "thank you" is good enough. This is an inspirational blog and it is so much appreciated. Blessing of peace to you and your family~ a friend in Texas

Anonymous said...

WOW! thanks for sharing from the heart. love and miss you lots.

B and B

Carrie said...

Thank you. I needed to hear this tonight.

Anonymous said...

God bless your family.

Margaret said...

Oh Gillian,
You continually amaze and humble me. What a blessing for you to have found this class and to be open to its teachings. While many hands helped carry you along, you have given so much more back to us.

jody (atlanta) said...

You are amazing. So glad you and Allen found this class. You so inspire me with your faith and trust and positive outlook. I MISS YOU! Jody

DC said...

Yer post reminded me of a poem called "The Man Watching"by Rilke: "This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.
Full text here:

Sarah-Jane said...

I love you sista. YOu have a teaching gift...and writing gift that ministers to my soul. I am so thankful for all the people God gave you to walk through this...all the cyber-friends we've made and all the Nashvillians, and Atlanta people.
You have all encouraged all of us!!

redeemedintohope said...

loved this! glad to hear from you.

Anonymous said...


I am going to share your post with a friend who is hurting. You have encouraged me today.

paige c.

Courtney said...

Good words, Gillian.

-Courtney S.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. It strengthens my faith to witness that even after going through such a heart wrenching trial you are still seeking God. It's so wonderful to see that He is speaking to you. It's hard for me to put it into words, but it just feels affirming that no matter what happens, as believers, we will be ok.


lizzi said...

Gillian--that part in John where Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," is one of my favorites. I always imagine him saying it with a reluctant and exasperated attitude, like, "If there were anything else that would work, we'd try that, but there's no where else we can go! You're our only option!"

Sometimes I feel that way, as I know you certainly must...if there were any other place to turn, we'd do it, but God is the only one we've got! And, strangely, that is comforting.

Lots of love,

jody (atlanta) said...

Miss you, thinking of you. Give Holly, Allen and yourself a BIG HUG from me. Abigail sends her love also. Jody

Martha said...

These are some great thoughts. I'm glad you shared them.

Marisa said...

You are amazing! I feel certain Michael Card would be in awe of your entry if he read it. I know from experience, preachers/teachers don't expect their listeners to come away with all the gems you carted out of that Wed. night. We are still praying for y'all.

We loved seeing Sarah-Jane and Phil at our church a few weeks ago. They are so fun. We'd love for y'all to come stay with us whenever you need a change of scenery! Knoxville is always fun.
Holly would love our girl basement.
Love to all the Peabodys

Shannon Pierce said...

You all have been on my mind, I thought about you over Christmas and how hard it would be to go through all the holidays without Joe. I don't know why I hadn't thought to check the blog, but here you are writing. Gillian, what great therapy and great for all of us to ready. God has done amazing things in you and through you in all you all have experienced. I know you miss your sweet little boy terribly,you are in my thoughts and also my prayers.

Vanessa and John said...

This is probabyl one of the most important things i have read on blogs ever. I, like you have been so disappointed by GOd, feel so betrayed, yet know He is the only one I care to love/follow/pray and cry to. SO many people only talk aobut the good and redeeming and ignore the bad...yet it's still there adn you have to figure out a way to deal with it. My blog is on private but you can email me at to read my daughter's journey. God bless you, you are strong and i am so proud of you!! :)

Vanessa and John said...

also, do you sell the nursing covers? I am pregnant and love the design!! :)

Abbie said...


I am such a fan of Michael Card. I would JUMP at the chance to sit under his teaching.

I'm so encouraged by your post and praising God that He is ministering to your family by His word. (and ministering to the rest of us who get to read about what He is teaching you.)

Thank you, Gillian!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for illuminating so much for me. I haven't been able to go back to church after spending too much time in a children's hospital with my son. The commercials never show the profound suffering. Nor should they, just had no clue how awful it can be.
You've brought a sermon to me that gives me more hope in Christ than I've had for a long time.
Thanks for having the courage to write.
I am so sorry for your suffering.
I beg you, keep writing.

Anna Tester said...

xxxooo. So I am way out of the loop these days but my sister-in-law sent me Michael Card's CD and we listen to it in the car A LOT. Anyway, I did not even put it together until I read the posts.

There are too many reasons to say thank you for your sweet and powerful voice.

a big hug!


Laura said...

Gill - a woman here in Atlanta said of you, "she just seemed wise beyond her years" and she met you when you first moved to Atlanta. How true she was and even more so now. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Much love, Laura

Anonymous said...

What a great post. It is such a blessing to get to read your thoughts. I just listened to "My Shepherd" by Michael Card. I'm studying through John and would love to read more of your reflections as you go through this class. Ya'll are in our thoughts and prayers.
Love, Karl

Jaime said...

What an incredibly comforting and encouraging post. This, I believe, will continue to inspire. I am printing it out to keep and reread as I have others.

Tina said...

This was an absolutely awesome writing! ... Thank you!

A little background... said...

Gill-- what wonderful words from Michael Card! I love that man :) He's smart :) And you can tell he's lived through real life and hard stuff and clung on. Anyway, thanks for sharing! Read that you guys are coming back to the ATL-- can't wait to see you when I'm home this summer!!!
Love, Cristi

Shannon said...

I learn so much from you. Please continue to write and share what God is teaching you. You have helped me put to rest some questions I have had for years.