Have you ever been personally overwhelmed by the goodness of God — where it just rolls down at you quickly like a giant snowball down a steep mountain until your whole heart and soul is caught up in praising Him?
Before that moment this morning, I was ready to peg 2014 as being off to a bad start. The past week has been a struggle. Not a monumental burden or major calamity. I don’t seek to overdramatize or pine for sympathy. Something as yet unidentified slowed me down physically, first with extra fatigue and then a mounting series of unpleasant digestive symptoms that sapped my comfort, appetite, concentration, and sleep — not to mention much of my good humor.
The good news is, with the help of the wonderfully gifted and caring Mrs. Virtus™, all has been under control since yesterday afternoon. The uh, more challenging, news has been that I reluctantly but prudently conceded to some extra temporary dietary restrictions that might have to rule out the traditional birthday dinner and birthday cake fare.
And today I turn 37. Another year older. My birthday expectations, coming as they do on the heels of two fun but wearying holidays, have long been low. This year, as most others, I look forward to a relaxing day with my family, a good book, a little football on TV, some friendly Facebook wishes, and (of course) my wife’s superb renditions of two of my mom’s classic recipes: 1) meat lasagna and 2) oatmeal cake with coconut icing (the image you see is of the 2011 edition). My mouth is watering as I type.
Yesterday, as we were talking through the situation and how to stay a step ahead of the shape-shifting symptoms, I bluntly asked about the lasagna and oatmeal cake. “Only if you want to keep hurting,” the lovely Mrs. Virtus™ graciously responded. I didn’t like it, but there is truth in what she said. I’ve already been burned with more pain and discomfort a couple times for trying to jump back in with less digestively-challenging foods than lasagna.
This morning I woke thankful for a full night’s sleep and no lingering stomach pain, while deep down hoping for some semblance of traditional birthday victuals. The quiet white blanket of freshly fallen snow outside added a fresh foundation that appeared to presage a peaceful day.
Then… one of my three beautiful daughters had a crisis meltdown moment that included (among other things) slamming her bedroom door and locking herself inside.
God graciously exposing a sinful attitude, yes. But not my first idea for birthday fun. We had an extended talk. Perhaps more clearly and thoroughly than ever before, I took the opportunity to discuss her actions in terms of the gospel and the ultimate price paid for sin. I keep praying it all gets through to her, forced to remember the redemptive life and sharing the Truth of God’s Love with our children is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment campaign.
It didn’t all get resolved as sweetly and cleanly as an 80s sitcom episode, but with a little nudging my daughter confessed to mom (whom she had offended), mom forgave, and they hugged. That’s when I noticed the snowball starting to roll down.
I decided to take the quiet moment to commune with God, having started 2014 with the seven-day James Macdonald devotional series God at Work (excerpts on the YouVersion Bible app). Today’s reading caught my attention. In highlighting the story of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28), Macdonald notes the unusual pose of God standing and observes:
There are a few instances like Amos 9:1 and Isaiah 3:13 that describe God standing in awesome judgment, but the rest of the time, when God does stand, He is reaching out to you and me for relationship. That’s what brings God off the throne–relationship….
A humbling thought, an awe-inspiring thought, that the eternal King of Creation who spoke the universe into existence, told the winds and waves to be still, the One whom we usually see in Scripture seated on His sovereign throne, stood up to reach out… for me.
And the snowball rolled downhill a little more. I then turned to Psalm 40. Years ago my parents gave me one of those bookmarks with my name (“Benjamin”) and a suggested verse related to the meaning of the name (“son of my right hand”): Psalm 40:11. Eventually I adopted the 40th Psalm as my favorite, for that very reason selecting it as my research and presentation assignment in Professor Westblade’s Hillsdale College Old Testament class years ago.
Today a couple verses jumped off the page:
You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.
Indeed, “more than can be told.” What a relief for the blogger! And another, verse 16:
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
The snowball was accelerating — and growing — now. Those first three verses of Psalm 40 speak of the Psalmist’s divine deliverance from sin. What today I am burdened to pray for even more for all my children, one of them especially. And how can I not be confronted with immense gratitude for what God has done for me?
A few minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to hear a musical rendition of Dottie Rambo’s “He Looked Beyond My Fault” set to the tune of Londonderry Air (think “O Danny Boy”):
Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise.
For it was grace, that brought me liberty,
I do not know, just why He came to love me so.
He looked beyond my faults and saw my need.
I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary,
To view the cross, where Jesus died for me
How marvelous, His grace that caught my falling soul
He Looked beyond my faults and saw my need.
Then I got hit by the snowball. I broke down, and couldn’t find any peeling onions to blame. My Father pursued me in pure and perfect love. I will better undertake my poor and pale imitation of that love to lead my own children to Christ. It all begins with prayer.
I thanked God for His goodness during a painful Thursday night, and now digestive relief had come. My early progress on New Year’s goals has been mixed (though writing a blog post only four days in bodes at least one good sign).
And while my children downstairs made and wrapped birthday gifts for me, a surprise I wouldn’t even consider ruining so not to ruin the joy on their faces, my wife came up to tell me there would be another surprise. A dinner surprise. So no lasagna, but she smiled and said that I had been symptom-free long enough that she would have no guilt on her conscience to make the oatmeal cake and give me a piece tonight.
SMILE!! I didn’t need any of these to know that God is good, though they sure help. My heart overflows. I count them as “good and perfect gifts…from above” (James 1:17) — icing on the cake that makes a rich birthday blessing.
In this case, the icing is coconut.