Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Counting by Subtraction

We count our blessings by addition. That's how it's done.

But I wonder, can we also count our blessings by subtraction? 

Can we look at the things that have been taken from us, and count ourselves blessed? Can we see the grace of God by what he gives AND by what he takes away?

Often when we pass through the valleys of life well-meaning people will tell us to think of those who have it worse. In the beloved movie White Christmas, Bing sings, "When my bankroll is getting small, I think of those who have none at all, and I fall asleep counting my blessings." 

Is this how we are meant to traverse the trials of life? There are two major problems with this approach! First, it reveals a tremendous lack of compassion for those whose struggles are greater than my own. The fact that I have it better than another person is no reason to rejoice! That thought should double my grief, not ease it. Second, this approach fails for the one is at the bottom of the pile. Finally someone has it worse than everyone else. Where is their consolation? I don't think that God ever advocates the comparison technique. It's great to have perspective so that we don't become completely overwhelmed by a hangnail, for example. But we can't grade God's grace on a curve. His grace and love are always 100% for every living being. 

If I start there-- if I begin with the belief that come what may, God is always acting on my behalf with amazing grace and unending love, then I look at my trials through different lenses. In fact, I think we need such lenses--corrective lenses--to see our life and our circumstances more clearly. 

So while 2014 has been a beautiful and blessed year in so many ways, we have also had the privilege of walking a difficult path, where regret threatened to overwhelm us. But the mighty hand of God proved greater and stronger than all our shame.

Many of you know that back when we lived in the States, our house flooded severely. We lost everything on the ground floor of our home and it took more than six months to rebuild and refurnish. Because our house was situated in a 100-year flood plain, and because the house hadn't flooded in 80 years, we figured that we had suffered our one flood for our lifetime. We put great care into every detail of the rebuilding, believing that this would be the home where we would spend the rest of our lives. And then God called us to France. So we rented out our home, believing that keeping it would allow us to continue paying off a mortgage so that when we finally retired we would have a paid-for house. 

But the house flooded again in 2012. By this time we were in France. Renters were left homeless and we were left without renters for another 4 months of renovations, which we managed to negotiate from France because we had enormous help from dear friends in Spokane. 

Once again restored, the house was happily occupied by a young widow and her four children. She loved the house! And we were thrilled to have such a great renter. The only problem was that house needed a new roof. We had saved some towards a new roof, but we were far from having the full sum. Then David's beloved Granny died and left us an inheritance. While it wasn't millions, it was probably the most money we had ever had at our disposal in one lump sum. We thanked God for his provision, and we spent every penny of it on a new roof for our house. That was in October of 2013.

Then, in 2014, the house flooded again. Severely. Twice.

 That made four floods in eight years. Clearly, the "100-year flood plain" designation was no longer accurate. We looked at having the house raised and numerous other options, but in the end, we couldn't find anything that would work.

So we found ourselves with the grave realization that we could not continue to rent out a house that flooded every other year. We could not sell a house that flooded every other year. Nor could we afford the mortgage on a house that flooded every other year when God had called us to be missionaries in France.

We didn't regret buying the house, because there wasn't a single day that I lived in that house that I did not sense God's hand of grace on our lives there. We had many, many happy days in Spangle. But we did regret the fact that we were helpless to repay a loan on a house that was no longer habitable. And we did regret that fact that we had just put a beautiful new roof on an uninhabitable house. And we scratched our heads and wondered how that inheritance--which had seemed like such a blessing at the time, had slipped through our hands into oblivion. 

We did our best to keep up on the mortgage while we explored options, but in the end, the only option that made sense was what the bank called a "Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure." The bank got the house and all of the insurance money for the last two floods, and we walked away without any further mortgage obligations. We couldn't even take the new roof with us. The fig trees failed to blossom....

Yet, I will praise him. 

There is no amazing twist to the end of this story. Sometimes God works a miracle and turns a lousy situation into something great. But sometimes lousy is the end of the story. The story of our house, our retirement plan, our new 30-year roof, ends in loss. 

Yet, I will praise him.

Because his love for me is not revealed through my circumstances. His love for me is revealed despite my circumstances. His care for me is sure. He knows the plan in full, I only see parts. My house is gone. But my feet are sure. Like the feet of a deer. He makes me able to walk on the rocky cliffs.

In fact, I think I finally understand what Paul meant when he wrote, "Whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." 

The cost of true discipleship is not cheap. Following Jesus costs me everything. I know this. But do I hold my blessings in an open hand? Am I in love with the blessings or the bless-er? And if all the blessings were suddenly gone, would I still praise him? His love for me is unconditional...but is my love for him unconditional? 

Yet, I will praise him.

I will praise him because he saved me. He fills me with joy and he grants me his peace. His love is inexhaustible and his grace is greater than all my sin. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, which means that wherever he leads, I will follow. But if I want to go to the heights with the Lord, I need sure feet and empty hands. And so when the Lord takes something dear from my hands, I can be sure he is taking me to the heights. And I can praise him.

Can you count your blessings by subtraction? When he takes something from your hands can you count the loss among your blessings? What have you lost this year? Yet, will you praise him?


  1. Jenn, your blog has blessed and encouraged and helped me so much over the months! My wife and I are on our own journey to France (from London UK) for Christ. I know that God does nothing by accident, allows nothing to happen for no reason, and that there will be a time when you will look back and say "Oh, I see now why we had to lose that house" even if it makes no sense right now.

  2. My dear friend- I love this! Not through our circumstances - I love love love all you had to say. Thank you for sharing and as always so eloquently expressing His love for us.

  3. Oh my! Looks like you've gotten yourselves in a tight spot there. No one wants that and no one would ask for that, but such is the case. Don't look upon the new roof as a regret, though. At the very least, you've got one deterrent put up to support all the others you will have to work on to beat the flooding. What I am to say is that your house isn't way past rejuvenation and repair, and there are still ways and means to turn that thing around, with the roof being a start. Anyway, thanks for sharing that! I hope everything turns out for the better.

    Mathew Robinson @ Browns Roofing Company LLC