Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A story unfolds but not yet done

At the beginning of the year, we all look with anticipation at what we are going to do and what doors that God will open for us.

Sometimes those doors are not what we expect, nor can we explain.

One year ago this afternoon, my husband Bill was hit by a truck while he was out on his bike, an intricate part of Bill's life story of which he does not remember, even a glimmer. 

But for me, I am still pulling out splinters of memories -- answering my phone, driving to the hospital and hearing the screams of the ambulance behind me, knowing Bill was in there.  Even right now, I am sitting at the same desk with the sun streaming in the window.  Just as I was writing that afternoon.  And I still recall one of the verses I had read early that morning that is now printed in indelible ink in my brain, the very last four words of the book of Ezekiel, "The LORD is there."  And indeed, He still is.

Recovery is a long road.  Healing takes longer, some things impossible to measure. Just a little bit stronger every day, even now for both of us.  One step of trusting Him, and then another.

One thing I experienced that afternoon, still very evident to me:  God is there in the everydays.  God is there in the crisis.  God is faithful.  He does not just show up.  He is already there.  His Presence is real. 

At this point, the accident is ancient history to most people, a faded anecdote, an amazing tale of the past, and rarely now even comes up in our interactions with people.  "Oh, I totally forgot about that," one woman said to me last week.

But what took place a year ago was not just about Bill.  God never works in isolated incidents, solitary characters, or even singular outcomes, but in grand narratives that impact the hearts of a cast of thousands, probably even more than that, beyond the six degrees of separation, those we know now and those we will never meet until the other side of life.  What took place this past year did not just "happen."  Bill was given an intricately designed story for God's glory.  We need not even ask why. 

When people occasionally ask how Bill is doing, I now usually reply, "he's good."

But what I am really thinking is "God is so good."  And I am grateful to God for his life.

Now to Him who is able
to do far more abundantly
than we can think or imagine.

                Ephesians 3. 20 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The art of wrestling

Right before bed, it is my habit to check if the outside doors are locked, lights have been turned off, coffee pot set up for morning, and alarm set on my phone.

But what I typically fail to do is to lay my concerns before the LORD, close all those apps so to speak, and switch my brain to snooze.

My husband possesses the amazing gift of falling asleep in three seconds or less, and staying asleep through the storms of life.  But I often wake in the deep watches of the night.  Most times, it is not God waking me for some urgent sacred need of praying for someone, but anxiety about fill in the blank.   At times, I lay in bed wide awake for hours composing scripts of what I am going to say, play by play diagrams for how I am going to handle a situation, unraveling every kind of possible and unlikely contingency, accident, blunder on my part, or unpredictable emergency.  Even those that have no relation to the problem at all.  Every single rabbit trail.  My imagination on steroids.  Trust me.

Anxiety is not a fear of the unknown, but the process of trying to figure it out on my own.  The stress I feel is carrying what God never meant me to carry.  Make that trying to carry it.  Attempting to stretch my finite brain and limited resources to come up with a one size fits all solution.  Am I struggling with a problem....or am I struggling with God's way in this?

Night before last, I was in a texting conversation shortly before I went to bed.  Instead of laying my cares about it before the LORD, well, those worries crawled into my side of the bed and crowded out any idea of me sleeping.  What is the right thing to do?  What if you did this?  What if that was the wrong thing to do?  Ahhh, you know the litany, over and over, wrestling with worries and inviting their friends to the match.

The truth is my lack of sleep contributed nothing to the solution.  I did not wake to a carefully wrapped answer tied with a bow.

I sat down that morning to read God's Word, but first scribbled down in my journal "Show me, O LORD, how to navigate this for Your glory and the well being of others."

No sudden neon signs appeared in the air or beams of light slicing through the clouds.  Just laying the situation on the altar.  I tied on my shoes and headed into the day.

Not an hour later, as I prayed my way on the treadmill, I received a text:  "No big deal.  Don't worry about it.  I'll just see you later."  Conflict resolved.  Game over. 

I lost sleep over that?  No big deal? But then again, why was I surprised at God's breaking through once I took His hand and bothered to ask His help?

God brings order out of chaos, sometimes in very unexpected, unorthodox and sacred ways, rarely on my radar, but smack dab in the midst of His intricate designs.  The chronicle of God's faithfulness in my life is an crazy map of illogical turns in the road and a history of wonders and oddities of which mostly made no sense at all to me at the time.  And He guides me in ways I do not know to the eye of the hurricane and through the jumble of absurdities, over and over again. "...the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day..." (Genesis 48.15)  Leading and redeeming.

Anxiety only makes the miry bog even thicker in mud.  Or am I allowing my life to be altered, changed and transformed by the reality of God?  Am I trying to figure it out on my own....and missing out on God's way and His glory in this?  Even in "impossible" situations.

Don't lose sleep over it, or worry into a panic, but  "...give God 'elbow room.'...Do not look for God to come in any particular way, but look for Him...Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes."   (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 25)

Was it not You who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
Who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to pass over?

                         Isaiah 51. 10

And who expected that?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

And then the picture emerged

The puzzle that I wrote about earlier this month sat mostly untouched on the dining room table for a few weeks.  It became obvious that it was not going to solve itself, as in any dilemma in our lives.

It took time.  It took effort.  It was slow.  But every so often, bingo, someone discovered a piece to slip into place. 

The biggest problem was believing that indeed all of these pieces had a purpose, nothing missing, nothing random, even in what we could not yet see, even when it seemed to make no sense at all. But the truth is even through all my daily experiences and even in the radical shifting of life's tectonic plates, I don't have to understand how God is working it out. That is what trusting God is all about.  Because the reality is that I may not ever realize the purposes or see the whole picture, even when it's done. But God is God.  Even then.

God is not a genie who grants instant answers my way.  Poof, the puzzle is done.  God is not limited to my carefully crafted requests and perfect solutions that don't require His help at all.  God does not need my manipulation to help Him out or tweak the results for a favorable public relations image for Him.

He is "The LORD who is there," as it says on the very last line of Ezekiel, a book written in the 500s B.C. while that prophet was living in exile in ancient Babylon.  It is the very same book in which 62 times God repeats "that you will know that I am the LORD."  In case we didn't get it the first time around, in case we still don't grasp it.  Even on the journey, even when we have yet to see anything good from it, even when it is yet a mystery.

Yet is one of my favorite words of God.  Because God's timing is always perfect, and mine is not.  It is not that the outcome isn't ready.  More often, I am not. Waiting is a season of gathering and growing. Ripening is hard work.  And sometimes it takes a long time.  Not ready yet are words of hope, not wishful thinking, but that on which we can stake our lives. 

Even when I have no idea what I am doing, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the task, God's purposes are already in place and running strong.  Faithfulness is driven not by the emergence of the final outcome, but energized by the sticking with God in it. Faithfulness doesn't always know what is ahead.  But that doesn't matter to the faithful. A puzzle piece may not fit where I want it to, but takes its strategic (and often unlikely) place in the course of time.  "I don't get it" is no reason for despair, but for prayer.

More often than not in working this puzzle with my husband, as I was looking for one piece to fit, I found another that did.  One direction led me directly to something I wasn't even seeking.  Pieces that did not even appear related, or even part of the same picture, were suddenly aligned in a triumphant aha moment.  You'd think there was some kind of design to it.  You'd think that God knew what He was doing. Absolutely.  We don't even have to imagine that.  God is really good at being Who He is.

For awhile, I continued to be amazed, standing behind the chair of my husband.  He would sit quietly as if studying the pieces and positions and the way things were.  He did not suddenly just see the configuration.  He just stuck with it.  As for me, I just stared at the pieces, but nothing happened until I began to try, starting off with one little wing, or a smidgeon of color, or a beak, taking an actual step, realizing that it may be part of an entirely different bird in another quadrant.  One failed step and then another false move.  Nothing seemed to fit.  And then realizing it was not the cardinal after all but another exquisite delicate bird whose name I do not know.

Along the way, God brought others to observe and help.  God uses the most unlikely people for His purposes, sometimes for just a few minutes, just to connect a piece or two.  Or maybe just to have another set of eyes looking at it, bringing a bit of experience and deeper vision to it, or offering words of encouragement.  "Ahhh, that is where that one goes."  I didn't see it, but she did.  That is what fellowship does, even when we tell others "I'm good," in an effort to appear self-sufficient, and we are the ones deprived of the multi-dimensional blessings of being in community.

If life were easy, we wouldn't need to seek God.  If the path is going to be that obvious, life would be terribly boring.  If I am looking for the easy road, or the big bold six lane Interstate highway, I'm going to miss out on God's way in this.

There is always more than one side to a mystery, to a dilemma, or to a place of desperation.  Have you tried turning that piece vertically or even what appears upside down? Am I focused on looking for a new door to open? Or trying to find an exit sign as an excuse to abandon this problem?  Or intentionally staying in place and discerning a different picture that is being redeemed?

Some day on the Other Side of life, we will be shocked.  "So that is why that happened."  The whole picture is not a dim mirror image, but suddenly a reality face to face.  It is not that someday all the pieces will suddenly come together.  They already fit in an intricate design.  It just isn't time yet.

This January, we didn't just give up on the one thousand impossible little pieces.  In time, a picture of birds appeared, everything in place, as it should be.  Someday, it will be His glory over all the world, as it should be.

The puzzle has been put away in the closet, not out of defeat but in triumph,  and time for yet another challenge, another opportunity to seek Him through.

For My thought are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

                               Isaiah 55. 8-9

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

And does it really matter if I say anything?

God uses unlikely people in unexpected and awkward situations.  Being faithful to God always bears fruit that we will never see.   The point is being faithful, not in the outcome. Because we never really know how God is using us.

People are always watching you, not to see if you are perfect or to see you fall, but to know if this God of yours is real.

Decades ago, a man named Tom received his friend Chuck into his home.  Chuck was not a likeable guy.  He was tough, surly and unpredictable, and unbeknownst to Tom, Chuck was going through a huge personal and professional disaster which was called Watergate.  Chuck was Nixon's hatchet man.

Not knowing the magnitude of what his friend was going through, in the course of conversation, quietly and gently, Tom simply shared what God was doing in his own life.  Tom's offer to pray for Chuck was rebuffed.

It was the first time Tom had verbally shared his faith.

But what happened after Chuck got into his car and drove off changed the trajectory of many lives.

"Share the gospel always," said Saint Francis. "When necessary, use words."  Be not afraid to use words.  

This quiet man Tom passed away this week at the age of 94.

Click here to read about what Chuck's daughter had to say about Tom's story.

It is an amazing story.  But think about:  And does it really matter if I say anything?  More than you will ever know.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

And then I looked up

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