Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, March 31, 2017

What Motherhood Has Taught Me: Hunched Over Dirt

I spot tulips poking through the ground the afternoon seven children are whooping and hollering in the fresh spring air. Those tender little shoots make me want to whoop and holler just like the children.

In my excitement I call the children to come look at the new shoots. Most of them glance carelessly as they dart past. The four year old pauses, bends down and true to his age and character, asks ‘why?’ and bolts off to catch up with his big cousin before I can even attempt to give him an answer.

I linger for another moment in the garden, hunched over dirt and marveling at new life as the sunlight slips into the western sky.

The yard is full of promise and life and laughter is falling from high in the tree and delighted squeals ring out by the bunny hutch and beauty is breaking through the humus in the garden.

The next morning we wake up to freezing rain and fraying tempers. Words whip around like the howling wind and sting like sleet across the face. I ask “why?” and run along to catch up with pressing obligations and ordinary tasks.

My son comes to me to recite his memory work, the little one dances to the hoedown that my oldest pounds on the piano and all day the house is filled with active learning, boisterous living, and dissonant sounds ringing loud while I listen to the bird song floating in from the treetops. Some days I wonder how on earth I got to the long end of it.

Motherhood has taught me many things about life.

I could write memos in the layer of dust across the top of the piano, dressers and bookshelves reminding myself to walk in humility.

The English word ‘humble’ is derived from the Latin word ‘humus’ meaning earth.

Humility always brings us down closer to the dirt and substance of life. Right down to where it all really matters.

This is what God requires of us: to walk humbly with God.

Because, really? Could we walk with God without humility? Without going lower and seeing who we really are? Without seeing ourselves as nothing but dust and dirt raised to new life by the sheer astonishing grace of God?

Walking in humility is not comfortable. In a world where everyone is clamouring to be seen, humility means stooping to go low.

Never has it been so easy to be seen or heard or give your opinion or fight for your perceived right or slam someone you don’t like.

We are hurt and we lash with words full of spite that pierce deep like the sharp scalpel that cut right down into my heart. We are wounded and we nurse our annoyance. We are judged and we respond with cruel, cunning revenge.

We rip others apart because of the pride that misplaces our sense of worth.

Pride keeps us caged up, rattling the bars and baring our teeth, determined to bite and devour one another, but in the end it destroys the soul that is imprisoned by its own raging self-preservation.

It’s as old as dirt. Well, almost.

God took dirt and formed the man, Adam and then took one of Adam’s ribs and fashioned woman out of man.

The Almighty Creator molded his body like a potter shaping a lump of clay into whatever he pleases, and He breathed life into his nostrils making a formed man into a living soul.

Man came from the dust of the earth and to dust we all return. We are all going the same way. Back down to dust.

We are all human, bearing the same image of God.

God made man to be fully satisfied in Him. But man has turned from God and tried to satisfy his soul with everything but God. Man is always trying to make a name for himself and always falling short of the glory of God.

The Son of God stooped down to walk on the very earth he created, and took on the likeness of mankind he had formed to bring us back to God.

He stooped to the lowest of low and died the most shameful and humiliating death.

How should we not walk in humility?

What is it that keeps us from bearing with one? What is it that prefers to protect our hearts instead of being tenderhearted towards one another? What is it that prevents us from getting our hands dirty from laying ourselves down low?

Going low hurts our self, but it's good for our souls.

Jesus laid it out clearly this way:
“‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?’” (Mark 8:34-37)
Following Jesus means to stoop down and carry our cross even when it is going to kill us. Because in dying to ourselves we are raised to new life in Jesus Christ.

A life to love and serve and bear with one another, to be kind to one another and compassionately tender-hearted to those who are hurting and forgiving to those who hurt us.

We convince ourselves to step away from stooping low. We pamper the desire to exalt self and satisfy the lust of our souls with the idols of our hearts. We whoop and holler in childish ways keen to make our selves look superior. We trust in our righteousness and look down on and treat everyone else with contempt.

But this is not the way of humility. This is the way that forfeits a soul.

We are called to walk in humility with the same attitude as Jesus Christ. We are to consider others above ourselves. We are to only let words flow from our lips that are good for building up so that what comes out may give grace to those who hear.

In humility, we will put a guard over our mouth -- or refrain from typing -- and speak – or type -- words that are kind and true, that strengthen and bring forth life, and are full of grace.

If you say you are a Christian, then you will walk in humility and follow after the One who gives grace to the humble.

And right now as spring flowers break through the earth, linger a little longer and give thanks for the astonishing grace of God in your life.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pistachios, Manna and Starving Souls

Jon cracked pistachio nuts and sucked on sour keys while I begged for ice chips in that grim ICU room. With a tracheotomy stuck in my neck, I couldn’t eat or drink and I was desperate for cool water on my tongue. I snuck sips of water, teased my thirst like a few cruel drops of rain in a long drought, held it greedily on my tongue and spewed it out before it slid down the wrong pipe. Drinking water had become dangerous.

I couldn’t smell the food that I couldn’t eat, but I imagined how it would make my taste buds dance. In my mind I savoured delicious spreads, but I wondered if I would ever eat again.

Weeks passed and the stash of pistachios dwindled and the last of the sour keys got stuck in my children’s teeth. When finally a nurse yanked that feed tube out of my stomach, the stress of the calorie count and a sluggish digestive system made eating difficult. Eating became an onerous task.

I started craving the craziest things. In the middle of the night I was no longer calling out for ice chips, but pleading for a cold can of Coke. I don’t even like Coke!

Our minds can easily fixate on things we cannot or should not have.

When we don’t get what we think we need or want we grumble.

After the Lord led the Israelites across the Red Sea on dry ground they came to the wilderness and they couldn’t find any water. When they came to Marah, they found water, but it was bitter. The Lord then caused the bitter water to become sweet. Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and they camped there for a while.

In the second month after leaving Egypt, the people of Israel set out from Elim and settled in the Wilderness of Sin. This was a vast wilderness and the barrenness of their surroundings increased their grumblings.

You get comfortable in sin and you will never be satisfied. You will fixate on what you don’t have, can’t have, shouldn’t have and grumbling will increase.

The gathering of people in the wilderness grumbled against the Lord, and in His mercy, He heard them and promised to send them bread from heaven.

They had been dreaming of meat pots and all the bread they could eat back in Egypt, but God had something better for them. 

They had settled so comfortable in the sin of ingratitude, all they could think of was perishing in the wilderness when God was offering life from heaven.

“They said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them: ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.’”

Grumbling focuses on that which we don’t have and blinds us to the goodness of God. When we spend our days grumbling, we miss out on seeing the gifts God graciously bestows.

The people of Israel called this bread from heaven, this grace that fell like rain: ‘manna’. For forty years they gathered what they didn’t understand and ate this gift from heaven. God faithfully provided for them and they acknowledged it was a gift, but they didn’t fully grasp what He had given them.

God intends for our hearts to be fully satisfied in Him. God has purposed that we trust that He will satisfy our need completely in Himself.

We were never meant to be satisfied with mere bread or meat. Nothing in this world will ever satisfy. We keep snacking on pistachios and dreaming of rich banquets at which to feast and we yearn for something, anything to gratify our emptiness.

God always acts to glorify himself. So He brings us to these barren places where our soul hungers and thirsts for Him.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

He opens the eyes of our hearts to see that the Bread of Heaven, the Son of God, Jesus Christ has come and those who believe in Him will receive eternal life and taste of the goodness of God. The gifts He bestows are meant to turn our hearts to the Giver.

He continually and graciously gives us all things, not merely to satisfy us with these things, but to demonstrate to us that He is good and only in Him will our hearts truly find rest.

So even when we can’t understand why He will bring certain things into our lives, we will know that it is ultimately for our good and for His glory.

Go on, see the gifts he graciously rains from heaven, gather them, give thanks for them, but don’t be satisfied with anything but the Giver Himself.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Shall We Close Up? {Guest Post}

When you slice open your own fragile heart and it bleeds thin, splayed-out with feeble words, it leaves you exposed, limp, clinging to the Lord all over again. It’s safer to tuck these words away quiet. But God doesn’t call us to safe, but to trust Him.

We will not understand everything we are called to endure, but we are called to endure by faith. We are to “hold fast to the hope set before us.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ always brings hope to those who live by faith.

Todd Anderson, a master wordsmith, offered encouragement to this weak vessel, by proclaiming the power, beauty and hope of the gospel to me in poetic words. Weaving pieces of the journey I shared last week, with the glorious truth of the gospel, Todd, verse by verse, shifts our gaze to the sovereign Giver and Sustainer of life. To God be all the glory.

With Todd’s permission I share his poem:
Shall we Close Up?

In the night the empty halls,
Encased by grief and stifling walls,
House the husks of mortal hope,
Slumping bodies, fraying rope.

In a room an open heart
Beats a weak and paltry pulse
Doctors frantic, slowly scrape
Calcified and concrete crust.

Sitting down or standing up,
Husband, gutted, holds a cup,
Paces in the quiet room,
Sweats against the coming doom.

Past the time for closing hours,
Anasthetic wearing thin,
Each try wrung of all its powers,
“Shall we close up, let it win?”

Fields of the sun, gouged and grim,
Lay quivering with chaotic vim.
Here Celestial host battered,
Countless Angels’ glory shattered.

In a garden the serpent slid
False dreams upon mortal minds,
Miscarried truth before ‘twas free,
Broke the golden crown of life.

Waves of murder, streams of blood,
Conjure morbid, raging flood.
Swelling up with mortal pleasure,
Pain and sorrow without measure.

Skyward in the brilliant dawn,
Man constructs himself a name.
Tower vaulted high by brawn,
“Shall we close up, disperse their fame?”

Surgeon shuffles through the door,
Scans the sorrow of the floor,
Finds the spouse with reddest eye,
Utters softly, “she may yet die.”

Some miracles are bound by grief,
Wrapped, as diamond, with base stone,
Lift us up to bring us low,
Taunt with tendrils of sweet breath.

Nothing left but time and night,
Clutching hand and drinking fright,
Emotions dancing like a jig,
Visions of a hole to dig.

Here, so alone, so alone;
Betrayed. No. Betraying her love.
This bed, this chair, and the great unknown.
“Shall we close up, forsake the dove?”

Olive sap and ancient trunk,
Watch as sorrow, deeply drunk,
Breaks down the soul’s last defense,
Presses the blood with dark suspense.

Trapped, as on a precipice,
The nerves rebel and will not act,
Clutching the dust upon the hill,
Drops of crimson doubt fall down.

The cup, which bitter to the taste,
Likewise causes the soul to waste
Away in acrid, lonely vaults,
The doom of dooms for fault of faults.

Here, so alone, so alone;
Forsaken. No. Forsaking: undone.
This branch, this tree, and the great unknown.
“Shall we close up, betray the son?”

One on a tree, one in a bed,
Both counted as those next to dead,
Both watched with grim intensity,
One bound to set the other free.

One, deserving of a tomb,
Rose, with hope, to sputtering life.
One, deserving of a throne,
Descended, despairing, to the depths.

Both wandered in those hidden days,
Healed, through time’s grey, lonely ways.
Both, through their wounds, became a cure,
Caused those around them to endure.

Lives destined to bring forth peace,
Through many anxious dangers tread.
Though we, yet still, must decrease:
“I shall close up, no more tears shed.”

* * *

Friday, March 10, 2017

Even When the Way is Impossible: Go Forward

Jon told me the way Dr. David walked into the waiting room, with a heavy weight on his shoulders, and weariness etched on his face, made him think I had not survived the surgery. He had anticipated not being able to take in all the finer details so he hit record on his phone as my surgeon began to speak. 

“Well, that was not good. It was worse than I expected.” he stammered. And right there Jon thought I was gone.

My surgeon continued: “I think the radiotherapy blasted the whole thing together—the heart, lung, the old lung—became like cement. It was very, very difficult. But, it was all done (cheers erupted at this point) . . . no, no, no you can’t celebrate yet, that was a lot of surgery. It was extreme . . . twice the anesthetist said, ‘I thought you were going to stop the operation and close her up’ and I said, ‘Well, if you close her up, you are sentencing her to death, then, she will die for sure.’” He paused briefly. “But, it’s not 100% . . . she could die tonight, tomorrow, next month, next year . . . that was a bad operation with one lung, a tragedy actually . . .”

For 13 minutes Dr. David described how he had to carve out cement–like dead tissue around and in my heart and put in plastic and steel hardware in whatever healthier tissue he could find. He didn’t know if I would heal with all the hardware inside me. All we could do was wait.

Jon stopped recording when my surgeon walked away and waves of intense sobs from relief and heartbreak shook his whole body.

No one knew if I would wake up.

Those hospital halls were foreign land to Jon that night. He wandered this wilderness to find me under a warming air blanket and hooked up to machines that lit up like a Christmas tree. Late into the night, he returned to his hotel room to rest knowing the days to come would be difficult and intense.

My older sister sat by my bedside all that night. She refused sleep to come to her eyes. I wasn’t going to die on her watch. She held my hand, never letting go of hope. She was there when my nurse attempted to wake me up the first time. Hours later she was there when the nurse took the breathing tube from out of my mouth and leaned down to tell me: “Rebekah, you did it.” She echoed my cry: “The Lord did it all! Thank-you God.”

The Lord did do it. The Lord has done great things and we are full of joy.

But, this joy was not in the absence of great anguish and pain.

Somehow joy and sorrow mingle. 

By the end of 80 days in that intensive care unit, Jon had worn a path in those halls. My surgeon had hoped there would be no further complications and that I could be sent home after seven days. But, after seven days I was not well. For weeks my body wasted away and I started to doubt whether we had made the right choice to risk surgery. In my distress, I wished I could go back to August 28th and refuse the operation.

I began to grumble. Tears streamed from my eyes. Thoughts turned sour. Grief walled me in. Fear held me captive.

I felt trapped. Literally in an 8x8 foot ICU room. Separated from my children. With an uncertain road ahead. 

Two months after my surgery, the head nurse came to chat with me. From years of caring for cardiac patients she knew how to be compassionate and how to craft a motivating pep talk. With gentle firmness she told me: “Crying and feeling sad is ok, but you can’t go back and wish you made a different decision. This is the choice you made and you need to go forward.”

The struggle was real. There was no easy way out.

I could identify with the Israelites: grumbling, bitterness rising, hope diminishing. I had left a very unhealthy place and now I needed to go forward.

Did I trust that God who had brought me to this place would see me right through?

Consider the exchange of words after God had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt:

“ . . . the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?. . . it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.’”

The people of Israel were in a hard place between the Red Sea before them and the host of Egyptians behind. This was an impossible situation. They could not see a way out. But God wanted them to trust Him; to look not on what they could see, but what they knew of Him to be true.

And this is what they were to do:

Number 1: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.”

Number 2: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Number 3: “go forward”

This is what we are to do when faced with an impossible situation. When we are pressed with tragedy or trial we are to trust God and keep walking by faith.

Fear not, stand firm and look to God—To not fear is to be fully confident of God’s presence and protection. He is the one at work so He will get all the glory.

Be silent--quiet your mind, be still and know that He is God and that He will be with you in whatever you are called to endure.

Go forward--you can’t stay at the edge of the sea. One step at a time, your faith must be demonstrated by obedient actions.

We can’t go back. Trust God and go forward.

Refuse to trust and obey Him and you will certainly die as sure as if my surgeon had stopped the operation and closed me up, sentencing me to death.

But God makes the sea into dry land so we can go forward into the midst of the sea and on the other side, sing victoriously:

“The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise Him,
my father’s God and I will exalt Him. . .

You have led in your steadfast love
the people whom you have redeemed . . .”

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hope Echoes in the Hollow Places

May 21, 2014, once again my world crumbled before me.

My cardiologist looked stern into my eyes, like a father who lifts his daughter’s chin, to be sure he had my full attention and warned: you need to take it easy so we get to keep you around. I slumped on the inside and shifted my gaze to his shiny navy shoes tied with bright cobalt blue laces and choked on the lump in my throat.

I was 37 years old with three young children and my cardiologist couldn’t promise me months or even a few years to live. He couldn’t be sure how bad things were, but he knew something had gone terribly wrong with my heart and it wouldn’t hold up to much more. All that radiation they had blasted my three-year-old body had killed the cancer and left me riddled with horrific side-effects. Now the risks of open-heart surgery were astronomical he said and the chances of survival were slim. 

How do you keep on walking when burdens of life weigh you down?

In days of waiting, how do you take the next step?

In songs of lament, where is the joy?

In these times of trouble, don’t start by looking to your problems—they are always too great to bear. 

Always start with God. Look to the Lord.

The author in Lamentations 3 directed his thoughts to the Lord and reminded himself that he has hope because He trusts in the God of hope. Listen to his song:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”

On days when grim problems spark fear, look first to the promises of God and your faith will be strengthened.

When your faith is so stifled you think hope may be lost, look to the Lord’s great faithfulness. Seek the LORD and his strength, hope against hope, believing in God who is faithful.

When you have come to the end of yourself, you will find rest in the sovereignty of God.

Look away from your troubles and unto Jesus. We see him in the garden of Gethsemane, the eternal God, the God incarnate, the God-man, full of sorrow and deeply distressed, his soul “crushed with grief to the point of death”.

For months I lived not knowing if I would wake up the next morning. I reminded myself to hope in God and that nothing would separate me from His steadfast love.

Life wasn’t pretty packages tied up neatly with strings those days. I needed to cling to the promises of a faithful God. I had to anchor my soul to the Rock of Ages.

I scratched out my muddled thoughts and occasionally I weaved poetic words as if I could run my hand over a patchwork quilt and smooth out all the unruly strands of life. Poetry dares to peel back the hidden song, cracks open the lament and exposes the joy.

August 2014, sixteen days before my surgeon sliced his scalpel right through to my beat-up heart, I hacked through deep heartache and hope echoed in the hollow places.

These were those simple, unpolished words I strung together:

“She's stuck.

Gone numb to the needs around her.
She wishes for tears to surge to relieve her parched heart
then she corks them when they threaten to flood her panting soul.

Dishes stack up in the sink, laundry piles spill over in the halls
till her little one wonders where all her clean underwear is.

The list of to-dos would be endless if she cared to write them down.
It's easier to pretend that there is nothing to do when you can't do them yourself.

What do these things matter anyway?
The world has gone mad.
Why should she care if beds are made?

Rain breaks from heaven like unstoppable tears.
Thunder roars and lightening flashes across the sky.
Something beckons her to look.

She turns her face toward the sky.
There are slivers of light;
Speckles of blue sky in the fast moving storm clouds.

Day after day she will wake up and notice that she did.
Her heart kept beating.
The storm rages on;
the madness races on.
Morning by morning she will speak to her own soul.
Hope in God.
It appears in this world that He may be asleep.
That while she lays low in the dust
she must cry out for Him
to wake up.

to Rise up.

to Come and rescue us from ourselves.

To Redeem us from the darkness
for the sake of His steadfast love.

Nothing will separate her from His love. Nothing.

She beholds the gifts of his love He graciously gives:
In the slivers of light and speckles of blue sky:
The way her brother comes and empties the dishwasher,
and friends bend their knees, and pick up the phone
to boldly speak truth to her in her darkness,
the way her husband keeps on loving her,
and her sisters know the ache and cry for her,
and her sisters-in-law cook meals for her,
and her Mama comes and get things in order,
and her Dad holds her,
and her children need her to laugh at the days to come.

In the snuggles, coos and smiles of her niece,
the belly laughter of her nephews,
the sweetness of watermelon,
and maple syrup on waffles,
and strawberry jam surprises,
the zucchini loaf,
and cookies
and spaghetti sauce
made lovingly by her nieces.

It’s the clean underwear for her baby girl on a new day,
and Lincoln Log villages her boy made in the living room,
and precious prayers with her daughter in the morning,
and the way he kisses her fast pulse on her neck at night.

It's the way the sunsets in their lives
and promises to rise again in their love.

Joy comes in the morning.

She looks back.
She remembers.
She speaks to her soul.

She may be stuck,

but not forsaken.

God never slumbers or sleeps.
He will not let her go.

In the darkest of days,
He is Light.
In the hatred in the world,
He is Love.
In the brokenness in the world,
He is Peace.
In all things,
He is Sovereign.

Come. Come to our help.
Make things right
and new
and beautiful.

Come, Lord Jesus. 
She cries with the saints who long for Him 

to Come. Come.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

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