When crisis comes and emotions crumble, questions multiply. We may ask: “How can I cope?” “What next?” “God, where are You?”
Through the years I have been acquainted with women who have asked similar questions. Their lives impacted mine because of their response to unexpected events. Some women had searched for meaning in all the wrong places before giving their hearts to Christ.
Others struggled with obeying God in a certain matter. A few remembered the principles of faith and inspired others. Still others cried out to God in their distress. Yet even when God was silent, they made a decision to trust His heart and to believe His Word.
Touching the Clouds shows how exercising biblical faith really does make a difference. It challenges the reader to strengthen her own faith, encouraging her to stand firm, whatever her situation may be.
Popular recording artist Cynthia Clawson once said, “I have always been enamored with the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul talks about the common sufferings and the common consolations that we share. I know this is true. When I know someone else survived an experience, and I find myself in a similar situation, I feel that I can survive, too.”1
Is faith enough? What is faith? Why do we need it? Where do we find it? Faith is not something we can handle and touch, yet its results are plainly evident. Its main elements include:
Believing that Scripture is God’s truth, holding onto His truth relentlessly, surrendering our lives to Christ, and conducting ourselves accordingly.
Our faith walk begins when we believe in God’s character and trust Him. But when trials and testings come—and they will, according to James 1—what is our response? “Dwight L. Moody described three kinds of faith in Jesus Christ: struggling faith, which is like a man in deep water; clinging faith, which is like a man hanging to the side of the boat; and resting faith, which finds a man safely within the boat and able moreover to reach out with a hand to help someone else.”2
While the women I interviewed are graciously sharing their lives as a way of reaching out, each of us determines our own response to life and its trials and what kind of faith we’ll demonstrate. Faith grows with exercise. When body muscles are idle, they become flabby and weak. In a similar way, if we become spiritually lax, we rely upon our feelings rather than upon God’s Word and so become discouraged. Just as a good workout builds healthier bodies, exercising faith is oxygen for the soul.
The “Faithlifter” at the end of each chapter is designed to help you to exercise your faith and apply it to daily living. Each “Faithlifter” is divided into three sections:
■ In Her Shoes
■ In His Word
■ In Your Life
Through them you’ll connect another woman’s story to your own, find strength in the Scriptures, and begin to nurture an important characteristic of faith for the rest of your journey. And remember, you do not walk alone. I am holding your hand, walking alongside you on this faith journey, because, like you, I have not yet arrived.
However, I am excited about our final destination and about what we can both learn along the way.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
In the Bible, clouds are always connected with God. Clouds
are those sorrows or sufferings without or within our personal
lives which seem to dispute the empire of God. Seen apart
from God, the clouds or difficulties are accidents, but when
seen as from the Spirit of God they become our teachers which
show us how to walk by faith.
My husband, John, and I were stunned as our daughter told us that for years she had been struggling with a serious eating disorder. Corine had always been a delightful, compliant child. Through the years I thought I’d done everything right as a parent. Now we couldn’t believe what she was telling us.
“But Mama, you don’t understand!” Corine insisted with a quivering voice. Her piercing blue eyes pled for help as she spoke. Shoulder-length blonde hair softly framed her tear-stained face.
“No, Corine, I don’t understand,” I said. “But I’m trying.”
The thought of my twenty-two-year-old daughter having an eating disorder was beyond my comprehension. Bulimia—characterized by bouts of overeating followed by voluntary vomiting, fasting, or induced diarrhea—disgusted me. I didn’t want to talk about it.
Because Corine appeared healthy, her circumstances were even more difficult to grasp. Yet somehow we had failed to hear her silent cries.
In a few weeks, Corine’s university classmates would graduate, but she would not be among them. Her caring roommates tried to help Corine with her problem, but when their efforts failed, they said, “Corine, you must tell your parents, or we will.” Courageously, Corine had come home.
My initial response was denial. A nightmare supplanted my fairy-tale dreams for Corine’s future. How could Corine do this to us? I thought. We seemed to be a good Christian family. She’d attended a Christian high school and gone to church regularly. We’d given her a comfortable home.
As a perfectionist, I thought that if I were a diligent parent, Corine would grow up and live happily ever after. I often prayed, “Lord, if I love You and serve You, I know You’ll make everything right.” Deep in my heart I just knew He would honor my efforts.
Now I was upset with not only Corine, but also God. How could He let this happen?
After the initial jolt of Corine’s disclosure, John and I consulted our pastor and several mature Christians, who recommended that we send Corine to a professional counselor. But I realized I needed help, too. I began to pray fervently, “Please, Lord, give me understanding.”
After one counseling session, Corine came home and said, “I’m so relieved to be talking with the counselor, but it just kills me to see you and Daddy hurting so much.” The counselor had reminded her, “You’ve been working through this for four years, Corine, but your parents are just now beginning.”
Touched by her concern, I looked at Corine and reassured her, “Your daddy and I will bounce back from this.”
My emotional anguish continued, however, as I tried to sort out new developments. Throughout her weeks of counseling, I kept recalling Corine’s teen years, when she occasionally made statements such as, “I hate myself,” or “Why do I keep memorizing Scriptures and sinning like crazy?” Her words now echoed in my memory.
As time passed, I realized Corine did not need my preaching or judgmental attitudes—she craved my love and encouragement. It sounded easy, but demonstrating unconditional love was difficult.
My first opportunity came soon after Corine moved back home. At first it seemed awkward having her back in her old room. I’d forgotten that while she was away, I’d used some of her drawer space for storage.
One night, I went up to Corine’s room to get some wallpaper samples from one of the drawers. When I opened the dresser, my heart sank. The drawer was filled with boxes of assorted chocolates. I closed the drawer quickly and went downstairs to the dark, quiet family room to talk with God.
“O Lord, she is our only daughter. Have mercy,” I prayed. I didn’t know what else to do.
Later that evening, I walked by Corine’s bedroom door. Seeing that I was upset, Corine asked, “Mama, what’s wrong?”
Stepping inside, I said, “Corine, I would never infringe upon your privacy, but tonight I opened the top dresser drawer to get some wallpaper samples.”
Her countenance fell. I could see in her eyes that she knew I had discovered the chocolates.
Remembering that Corine liked butterflies, I remarked, “Maybe some butterflies just need more food than other butterflies.” That was all I said. I felt the firm restraint of God’s grace upon me as I pleasantly whispered good night, gave her a hug, and went to bed.
The next morning as Corine and I drove along in the car, she quietly said, “Mama, last night you reminded me of a Scripture: ‘God’s kindness leads you toward repentance’ (Romans 2:4, NIV). Last night your kindness led me to repentance. After you went to bed, I got down on my knees and cleaned out my heart. Then I got up off my knees and cleaned out my drawer.”
“I’m proud of you, Corine,” I said. Silently, I thanked God for the victory in both our lives.
A godly woman had recently advised me to use the “zipped-lip principle.” My former tendency would have been to launch into a lengthy sermon. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, I refrained. He taught me that “love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4) and that sometimes kindness means silence.
From Corine’s counselor I learned that those who are caught in bulimia’s trap sometimes gravitate to drug abuse, alcoholism, immorality, or kleptomania. About two weeks later, an unexpected telephone call revealed that our daughter also had further struggles.
When I answered the phone, Corine cried, “Mama,” and then wept.
“Corine, what’s the matter?” I said. “Everything will be all right.”
“No, it won’t,” she answered between sobs. “I was caught stealing five cans of tuna. The police walked me out of the grocery store after the manager called them. My car is in the pound. I’ve been fingerprinted and a mug shot’s been taken.”
I felt numb. Yet I continued to inwardly beg, Lord, please help me understand.
It was her second arrest. This time a judge placed her on probation with the stipulation that if she were caught stealing in the next six months, she would go directly to prison.
Six weeks after her probation began, Corine and I spent an evening together and talked about her kleptomania. Nervously, I reached for the cross dangling from my necklace, sliding it back and forth on the chain. Corine had given it to me on Mother’s Day.
“Mama, I even stole the necklace you’re wearing,” she said. My heart pounded as she quickly added, “But I’ve been good these past two weeks. I haven’t stolen anything.”
Lord, please help me say the right words, I silently prayed. We both knew the consequences if she were caught.
“Corine, I can’t bear to think about you going to prison,” I whispered.
“Mama, it gives me cold chills just to think about it,” she confessed.
Afterward, I went downstairs and wept and prayed for hours. Broken, humiliated, silent, I turned to Jeremiah 17:7: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him” (NIV). Then I confessed to God that in the past I had trusted in my own efforts. I asked Him to be my trust, my bank account, from which I could draw love, courage, strength, wisdom, and grace. Next I read Psalm 62:5: “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him” (KJV).
Taking a sheet of paper, I wrote out all my expectations concerning Corine:
■ Having a mother-daughter friendship
■ Being able to enjoy her wedding and her children
■ Seeing her find fulfillment in her home life
■ Delighting in seeing her serve the Lord
■ Rejoicing in having a daughter who honors us with a godly life
■ Gaining respect from being viewed as a good mother
My honest prayer became, “What do I ask, Lord? How does it make You feel? Did I injure her as her mother? You heal, You bind up, You set free. Do I have the right to ask You to keep her out of prison? I give it all up to You. Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Please Lord, change me.” Then I gave the list to God and said, “She’s yours.”
As morning dawned I was still awake, but my weariness was overshadowed by the excitement of God’s grace. His message to me was, “Just love her.”
I stepped into my dressing room, ran a comb through my hair, put on fresh lipstick, and went back into the kitchen to prepare a breakfast tray for Corine. I’d never done that before. It was a pretty white-wicker bed tray, complete with cloth napkin and butterfly holder, a fresh flower, and Corine’s favorite foods.
I took the tray upstairs to Corine’s room. She had just awakened. As I stood there, smiling, she burst into tears and said, “Mama, I’ve always thought that God is a God of wrath, but now I know that God is a God of love.”
She stretched out her arms as I set down the tray. We hugged and cried together. I realized God was at work, and the less I said, the more clearly Corine could hear Him. As time passed, I became even more aware that God was changing me. As I “let go” of Corine, she opened up to me. She began expressing her fears. I began confessing my faults. We began to laugh together. Gradually, we became transparent.
Eight years have passed since Corine revealed her battle with bulimia. She has made tremendous progress. In spite of her many heartaches, she finished college, was released from probation, held a job, married a wonderful man, and became the mother of two children.
Through this time, I learned that regardless of how hard the situation, God always meets us at our point of need. By His grace it is never too late to restore a damaged relationship.
Christian psychologist and author H. Norman Wright encouraged me with these words:
You have failed in the past. You are failing now in some way. You will fail in the future. You weren’t perfect in the past. You won’t be perfect in the future. Your children will not be perfect, either. When you fail, allow yourself to feel disappointment, but not disapproval. When you release your grip on perfectionism, the fear of failure will release its grip on you. You can fail and not be a failure!1
Overcoming perfectionism has been a painful process, but I feel God urging me to leave the past behind and to keep looking ahead (see Philippians 3:12-14). I’ve adopted a healthier goal: not seeking perfection, but seeking to become more like the Perfect One, Jesus Christ, and loving others unconditionally, the way He loves me.
Judy had to wait for God to work in her daughter’s life, and in the meantime, Judy learned more about God’s love for them both as He met each at her individual point of need. Isn’t it great to know that God loves us as we are and that He loves us so much He keeps moving us to a higher spiritual plane?
Judy struggled to “let go” of her expectations and place her daughter in God’s hands. Can you identify with her dilemma?
Judy reached a turning point when she realized she could not change Corine, but could change her own attitudes. Have you ever been challenged in a similar way? Have you extended unconditional love, only to have the other person reject you? What happened then?
Exercising love is not just having a mushy, soft feeling; it is doing what is best for the object of that love and leaving that person’s response in the Lord’s hands. Sometimes it involves confrontation while other times it means staying quiet and prayerful while God weaves His Word into the fibers of our souls. Human love will often fail, but God’s love never fails. As Judy learned, our goal is to become like Him, the One who is love.
In the Creation account recorded in Genesis 1–2, we see how God lovingly prepared for mankind. As a family readies the house for a new baby, outfits the nursery, and prepares the crib, God, in His awesome, incomprehensible power, prepared the universe for man.
Then He made man in His own image, each unique person with the capability to love but also with the ability to choose. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and chose to sin, God kept reaching out in sacrificial love. Again, He provided. Throughout Scripture we see God’s merciful, forgiving, restoring, sacrificial, unfailing love.
Love expresses the very nature of God. It should also characterize God’s children in our attitudes toward one another. Agape and agapao, the Greek words for love in the New Testament, are used to explain the attitude of God toward His Son, the human race in general, and particularly those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, NIV).
Love is the attribute of God that is sometimes the most difficult to reconcile in our finite human understanding. We look at tragedies and ask, If God is a God of love, why did He let this terrible thing happen? God—how could You? We look at people we don’t like and ask, How can I love him? How can I love her? And yet our definition of love is so limited that we fail to see the whole picture of who God is and what He has done.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10, NIV).
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16, NIV).
The apostle Paul indicated that the love of God is beyond human comprehension. But he prayed the Ephesians would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NIV).
The Pharisees asked, “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ’” (Matthew 22:36-39, NIV).
Unlike Hollywood love, Christian love toward fellow believers or toward others in general does not spring from an impulse of feelings or a special affinity. It acts in obedience to Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 13; Colossians 3:12-14) and is not self-centered but seeks to please God.
Showing love helps the undeserving to see the Holy Spirit at work and helps us reverence God, who initiates that kind of love for each one of us. As the familiar chorus says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Just as God demonstrated His love for us while we were sinners (see Romans 5:8), He calls on us to verify love in practical ways. Suppose someone has offended you many times and personality conflicts hinder your relationship. These suggestions may help:
■ Say a kind word to her or do a nice deed for her, even if you don’t feel like it.
■ Make a small gift (bread, cookies, or a craft item) and give it as a surprise.
■ As you prepare your gift, pray for her, “Lord, you know I cannot love in my own strength. So I ask that You would simply use me as a channel for Your love. Let me know how You want to love through me.”
■ Remember that you are responsible to love, but the other person’s response is out of your control.
■ Meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, using different Bible translations. Pray the Lord will continue to help you understand biblical love and practice it. Through a personal relationship with Christ, we grasp the meaning of unconditional love. This love sparks the birth of a new process in our lives—Christian growth with the development of the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Dr. Dwight Pentecost wrote: “Love for God produces obedience. The way to please God is to have a heart that is set on Him. And a heart that is set on Him obeys His commands. Obedience manifests itself when we love others.”2
Mother Teresa once said, “If faith is scarce, it is because there is too much selfishness in the world, too much egoism. Faith, in order to be authentic, has to be generous and giving. Love and faith go hand in hand.”3
During life’s trials, we can rest assured that God loves us. Nothing we do can make Him love us more. Nothing we do can make Him love us less. His love is unchanging, unfailing, everlasting.