Reflections on Twenty-One: Disciplined by a Faithful Father

Saturday, August 14, 2021

It would be a challenge to accurately sum up all the events of this surprising year of my existence. New opportunities arose that felt simply wondrous, while there were also trials that brought grief. "Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace" [1]. Do you ever have moments where you pause to thank the Lord for the finiteness of your mind? I am grateful He is omniscient and I am not. Because this trip around the sun held challenges I would not have wished to walk through, I find myself praising for how He in no way warned me about the unexpected uncertainties to come. 

It was in year twenty that COVID first hit and my adventures of bedside nursing assistant care changed from the norm. But, thankfully, the coronavirus saved its most challenging trials--as far as my inpatient experiences go--for this year. 🙃 Before, I would have a COVID patient here and there and most of my experiences were very interesting, full of learning and curiosity to discover more about the new disease process. Then things got a bit heavier as our unit nearly maxed capacity with almost all COVID patients for an entire month in the winter. 

After watching a documentary on missionaries who fought Ebola, I had always romanticized pandemic health care--wouldn't it be amazing to be on the cutting edge of science and epidemiology, bearing the light of Christ to many people nearing death? How heroic I thought such missionaries to be...entering into the chaos and bringing a healing touch. Thus, I was enthusiastic about being a CNA in a pandemic. Let's rescue the COVID patients of the world, shall we?! The thrill did not subside until I reached a point of being unable to keep up with patient care, due to an extremely high census, and I began to see death, after death, after death. This was not what I had pictured..... Aren't we supposed to be saving the world together? A particular challenge of fighting new diseases is that there is very little information off which to base care, so health care providers have effectively been blazing new trails in the treatment of the coronavirus. So, tragically, while the cure for critically ill COVID patients remained unclear, we watched a number of patients gradually reach demise, with a few recoveries here and there. 

I will note that these experiences did not cause me to conclude that our world should be eternally locked down and masked. There are so many individual takes on how our world should have responded to COVID; there were both mistakes made and effective strides taken to fight for patients' lives. It is a bit of a challenge to work in health care during these times in the world in part because people begin to assume how I must feel about all things related to certain buzzwords like vaccines, masks, shutdowns, herd immunity and the like. As is usual for me, I did not necessarily follow the crowd in my reactions, but I deeply desired to expose the light of Christ to patients nearing death through the darkest days of COVID. I will be forever grateful for each coronavirus patient I had the honor of caring for with a remarkable team. 

If we as health care staff believe our hearts were broken over the losses of our challenging fall and winter, let us also remember that God's heart went out to our every suffering COVID patient. We have a genuinely caring God (Is. 54:8b) who indwells the life of every believer. Therefore, every Christian health care staff member never once entered a COVID patient room alone. No, Christ--who is Himself the Great Physician--entered with us. He was present when we saw slow but certain declines of health; he was present when we rushed to put on PPE for a code; He was present as our hearts ached over units that at times felt more like morgues than places of healing. 

Though it is true that some health care staff in the world burned out of this field through the challenges that abounded, others of us concluded more deeply than ever that this is where God desires for us to be--at the bedside, covered in PPE and our patient's bodily fluids, standing with vulnerable people in their most devastating or most joyful of moments. 

Aside from new frontiers of health care experience, God was also leading me through moments of testing--did I really count Him my all? Would I truly give my everything up in surrender to His purposes for my life when things became painful, uncertain and did not go as I planned? God did not allow these to be mere theological questions in my head, but real experiences of year twenty-one. It's incredible how misguided my heart can be and how tragically blind I sometimes am to my own weaknesses. Oswald Chambers once spoke these simple, convicting words: "His is the future, not mine" [2]. I can mentally know the reality that Jesus holds my entire past, present and future in His mighty hands, and yet live out my day-to-day practical experiences as though it's fine for me to go my own way without consulting His wisdom. Thankfully, He is a gracious Father who confronts the places in our lives where we know the truth in our minds, but have not so well applied it to our lives, through His grace. 

My heart chewed on personal hopes, whims and wishes in contrast with what I was convicted I must do. Reading through a book on prayer, God graciously led me to pause and examine my life: "It's not pray this much, surrender this much, and you get [the answer to prayer you desire]. Nope. God doesn't work that way. He answers prayer with what's going to glorify Him the most" [3]. We have a God who prioritizes His glory above our comfort, ease, dreams and desires. This is not because He does not care about our needs and desires. He is our faithful protector and ever provides for us perfectly, after all. In the book of Isaiah, God proclaims powerful words that help us more fully grasp how incredibly vast and omnipotent He is:

"'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; you are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and I am God. Also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?'" (43:10-13). 

In a self-obsessed society, it does us some good to bow our hearts before the reality that we serve a God who is so far above us. We do not fully grasp how worthy He is of our full surrender; our lives did not come to be so that we could go after our own dreams, but so that, through His enabling grace, we might walk out His eternal purposes for our lives. Elisabeth Elliot says it boldly: "Real satisfaction and joy come in response to acceptance of the will of God and nowhere else" [4]. Betty Scott Stam was a woman who would be tested on this exact reality. Prefacing the words Elisabeth Elliot would later echo in her book, Betty once prayed: 

"Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever" [5].

She fully gave her life over to God's purposes. And God's plan for this young missionary and her husband was for them to share the Gospel in communist China, where they would both be martyred before reaching age thirty

I bet young martyrdom is not on your bucket list.

But sometimes obediently carrying out God's purposes for our lives means going uncomfortable places.

Are we willing to give up all our own plans, purposes, desires and hopes to the God of glory?

The young martyr may not have known the cost of her surrender would be so high, but she had a devoted soul that counted no cost too high for the One who had paid for her salvation with His blood: "When we consecrate ourselves to God, we think we are making a great sacrifice, and doing lots for Him, when really we are only letting go some little, bitsie trinkets we have been grabbing, and when our hands are empty, He fills them full of His treasures" [6].

When we honestly assess the state of American Christianity, there is such a grave bout of the disease of self-obsession. We want our dreams and we want to think we're spiritual for pursuing them rather than praying "Thy will be done" (Matt. 6:10). We want relaxing, comfort-inducing experiences that feel refreshing, not self-expenditure for God's purposes. We want to live by the wisdom of the world and conclude that we are yet strong Christians, glorifying God as we speak profanities and live idly just like the lost. 

Does your heart long for more? Mine does.

I'd happily be unpopular if that is a ramification of believing wholeheartedly that the entirety of this one short life is not meant to be lived by my own objectives, but radically given over to Christ for the building up of His kingdom rather than my own.

Tim Shenton gives us a peek into the cost of historical Christianity and the stark realities we often do not believe to be "necessary requirements" to live the Christian life, when in fact we must all be this devoted to Christ. To belong to Jesus means not merely to follow Him when it is easy, but on the hardest days, having full loyalty to the King of kings.

"The Gospel is the same in every generation and our faith in the unshakeable and immutable truth of Christ should be as strong now as it has ever been [...] How many of us believe Jesus Christ deeply enough to be ready to die for Him if the hour called for it. Could we take off our dancing shoes and put away our lives of merriment to take that long and lonely walk to the scaffold or be willing to lay our head on the guillotine block? [...] How deeply and firmly do I believe in Christ? Am I so embedded in Him that nothing and no one will be able to uproot me? Is Jesus Christ so important to me that if [...] I was threatened with imprisonment or death, I would be ready to take those steps down to the dungeon and to hold out my hands to the chains of my enemies? [...] There is no one but Jesus Christ who is worth following and dying for. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, waiting with open arms to welcome His saints into eternal glory, just as He waited for Stephen, the first New Testament martyr" [7].

Do we want to be haphazard Christians who reflect the world, or intentional disciples being transformed more fully into His likeness? 

"Obviously there are two kinds of greatness recognized in the Scriptures: an absolute, uncreated greatness belonging to God alone, and a relative and finite greatness achieved by or bestowed upon certain friends of God and sons of faith who by obedience and self-denial sought to become as much like God as possible" (A.W. Tozer) [8]. 

Discussions of surrender are not new to my life since God deeply pressed my heart with the cost of following Jesus the days leading up to when I gave my life fully to Him in childhood. I knew it would be difficult and joyful to live for Him. Yet, year twenty-one contained moments that did not reflect an abiding trust in the One whose ways are always higher than mine (Is. 55:9). Amy Carmichael once warned: "We cannot allow ourselves to become entangled and still believe we will have spiritual power" [9]. But even having hand-written this quote into my journal years ago, I was not so well living out its reality. 

In the depths of COVID, I struggled to push back the weight of discouragement, quickly believing my feelings rather than consulting how to apply His truth to my circumstances. In seasons of exhaustion, we need an unwavering focus upon our God who never fails. "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil" (Proverbs 4:25-27). Perhaps knowing this reality, I yet lived as though our locked down world would be a dark and ugly place from there on out. I was not so very hopeful, but at times writhed with pain, as I wrote about here

What a gracious God we have. By January, I would be walking through particular circumstances God had set up to confront my weary soul. 

For months I had planned to photograph the March for Life at the end of January for a Michigan-based nonprofit, but sadly the trip was canceled. Eventually, I connected with another pro-life organization and agreed to capture the March for Life for them instead. One night, only days prior to the event, I stepped into the hospital parking lot as I arrived for an upcoming shift, glancing at my phone as I closed the car door, only to discover a text telling me I was now called off for capturing the March for Life for this organization as well. The March for Life's staff had decided, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, there would be no national March for Life. I grappled with this reality; how could we tell the world that just because there was a pandemic and unrest we would then cut down on our efforts to stop something with a death toll far higher than COVID deaths and local fatalities combined? But I was not in charge and it was now my job to move on.

Days later, an email popped up in my inbox. Would I still come to photograph a different pro-life event at a nearby location? 

Fast forward six days, and I was sitting in my local airport, having arrived many hours prior to the flight due to familial schedule conflicts. Here I was, much too early and not a soul in sight that I knew. What to do with this free time?....God had gone before me. 

I opened up my Bible with the intent of having a half hour of reading and prayer, with a plan to quickly move on to developmental psychology homework afterward. Instead, the book of Galatians utterly stopped me in my tracks. So much for speeding through a passage. There was too much beauty and truth before me to do so. 

A brief look at the first few chapters and some cross-references caused me to pause; am I living in step with the truth of the Gospel (2:14)? Am I living a life reflective of the truth that I have been redeemed by Jesus Christ who became a curse for me, that I might be set free (3:13)? Am I redeeming the time, knowing that the days are evil (Col. 4:5-6, Eph. 5:15-21)? I was convicted that I had been living based on the goodness or roughness of my circumstances, rather than disciplining myself to walk out each day in light of the Gospel. Ever had one of those seasons you just deeply need to be disciplined by God? I am so grateful He does not ever abandon me despite my weaknesses and sin. He is a faithful Father who uses everything--including fluctuating circumstances--to land me in an airport long before departure as to get me alone with Him. Like a parent pulls their fit-throwing toddler aside for a discussion about the needs of their heart, so God ever-graciously arranged a moment for me to be called out and called higher in following Him.

In all honesty, rather than being an example of excellence like Betty Scott Stam in my life priorities of year twenty-one, I much more so reflected a fit-throwing toddler in the depths of my heart, needing my Heavenly Father's correction. I do not deserve His patience, but when He graciously disciplines us, we have a joyful opportunity to grow closer to this Savior of ours who has such amazing grace that He yet saves and sanctifies a wretch like me. 

Hoping to not have years like twenty-one again any time soon, but if it produced opportunities to know Jesus more deeply and be corrected by His loving instruction, it was utterly worth it all. 

"The soul's deepest thirst is for God Himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without Him" (F.F. Bruce). 


[1] The Perfect Wisdom of Our God by Kieth and Kristyn Getty
[2] McCasland, Dave. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest. Discovery House, 1998. p.55.
[3] Gunn, Robin Jones, and Tricia Goyer. Praying for Your Future Husband: Preparing Your Heart for His. Multnomah, 2011. p. 171.
[4] Elliot, Elisabeth. Let Me Be a Woman: Notes to My Daughter on the Meaning of Womanhood. Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. Forward.
[5] Ibid
[6] DeMoss Wolgemuth, Nancy. “Betty Scott Stam: A Life of Surrender.” Revive Our Hearts, 21 Apr. 2016,
[7] Shenton, Tim. John Rogers--Sealed with Blood: The Story of the First Protestant Martyr of Mary Tudor's Reign. Day One Publications, 2007. pp. 7-8.
[8] Tozer, A. W., and Gerald B. Smith. Evenings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings. Moody Publishers, 2015. October 7.
[9] Carmichael, Amy, and David Hazard. I Come Quietly to Meet You: An Intimate Journey in God's Presence: Devotional Readings. Bethany House, 2005. p. 46.

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