Monday, September 25, 2017

I had no idea where I was going

I headed out for an early run last weekend, as the forecast promised another day of August heat at the end of September.  I parked my car in its usual spot with every intention of doing my Saturday routine run along the river.  I started my run along the road, heading to a meandering asphalt path with a view of the lazy river.

But as I approached, I saw tents, cars and crowds.  There was a race in progress.  I immediately turned to the right and took another path that slipped along the back fence of the high school, and then another sharp right turn onto a familiar trail through the dense green of the woods.  I began to pay a bit more attention as this unimproved trail is "paved" with rocks, roots and the slippery places of life.

As I approached the end of this particular trail, I had the opportunity of crossing a busy road and continuing on the other side where I often see cross country runners practice in the green fields.  I have always wanted to run like that.   They appear to be merely floating and not sweating at all.

But on the other side of the road, I could see colorful triangular flags strung from tree to tree and hear the announcers for a cross country meet over to my left.  And so, I took another right, crossed a small wooden bridge, and continued to run on a trail through the woods that I didn't know.  I had no idea where I was going.  The trail was bordered by a late summer overgrowth of weeds, the deep green of a million leaves overhead.  But it was shady and silent.  I ran. 

When the trail turned, I turned.  I was in unfamiliar territory, not where I expected to be, not my usual.  But you know, God brings about the most unexpected blessings when I have no idea where I am, or where I am going.  He knows exactly where I need to be.

And it made me think of one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, speaking through his character Jayber Crow:  "I have made plans enough, but I see now that I have never lived by plan... I don't feel that I ever have been quite sure what was going on.  Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise.  All the important things have happened by surprise."

After one big hill that stretched before me like a magnificent aisle in a cathedral of trees, I emerged from the woods and found a trailhead I didn't know before, a different parking lot, and a whole new place to run.  I suddenly knew where I was.

God did not spell out my route, my destination, time, pace, and space. He did not hand me a route to take, marching orders, or directions printed out in indelible ink.  But He brought me to someplace new and to a different way of thinking through the thicket.  I did not just get through it, but He infused it with the wonder that only He can bring.

Our stories would be pretty boring, if we were the ones writing them.  God brings the awe.

I may not know where I am going.  But He does.  God is the one bringing me there -- to a new dimension of knowing Him, a new way, a new awareness of His Presence, even here, even in this.

God always reveals Himself when we seek Him.  Start where is proximate and "follow Me into this." His way may not be obvious, each individual step may come to the surface one at a time, I may not understand -- indeed I probably won't -- but there is always His profound design to it with no detours, interruptions, or dead ends. There is not "a reason for it," but God's incredible purposes in it, His faithfulness too deep for me to know.

Why does God not reveal His path for me?  Does He not trust me enough?

No, because I do not trust Him enough.

Where is He taking me?

To Himself.

And your ears shall hear a word
    behind you, saying,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
when you turn to the right
or to the left."

                     Isaiah 30. 21

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Press "reset"

Whenever I come to a stalemate with an electronic device, my husband advises me, "Back all the way out, and start again."  Whether faced with a frozen screen or an appliance that is not cooperating like a three year old child, I question the effectiveness of that process.

But it works.

A couple of months ago, an ordinary Monday was a reset to me.  As I rose in the morning, I needed to just to do something different to gain perspective, nothing catastrophic but simply to ease me out of a mindset that was stuck in a continual loop.   What could I do differently?  Back all the way out, and start again.

I felt God's nudge to fast for the day.  I have fasted before -- in seeking God for an answer, direction, solution, or purpose.  Or for His voice in a crazy situation.  Sometimes seeking God for loved ones, hard times, and impossible relationships.

When I started that specific day, I was not planning to fast.  But I did, just wanting to seek His Presence, just to hangout with God,  just because I could. 

Very early in the day, I questioned why anyone labeled this discipline as a "fast," because it is anything but that.  A fast is always slow.  Time does not drag, but it elongates.  I felt the moments come as in slow motion.  I prayed for others as I went about my day, while I worked, having to concentrate as if driving on the highway through a thick rain. I glanced at the clock.  It was only 8.30 in the morning, nothing more.

A little later in the day, I thought about how fasting prepares you for a hard time ahead, because through it, as hard as it is, you learn that you will not die. You will get through this difficulty. And God will change you by it.

I had no particular reason to fast that day.  Or so I thought.

Later on in the afternoon, little did I see it coming.  I ran full speed right into a perfect storm, an old problem.  Boom.  I was like the cartoon character with little stars spinning above my head.  It was like being hit broadside by a car I did not see.  I consciously thought, "Breathe.  Breathe. Breathe," even when there appeared to be no oxygen, and my heart ran out of words.

And then I knew why I had fasted.  It was not "for no good reason." God stood firm around me.  My heart did not explode.  My life was not reduced beyond restoration.

I did not see it coming.  I didn't have to. God knew.  And He knew what I would need, an extravagant package of His strength, already delivered and dissolving into my bloodstream.

I refuse to live as a practicing atheist, as if fasting and praying and trusting God does not matter, as if God does not matter, as if the supernatural does not exist at all.  Because He does.  God is alive and well and working powerfully.

I did not fast for something.  I fasted for everything.  There was an ache buried deep in my heart that while at the end of the day was still there, it shifted just a little bit.  In the momentary crisis, I did not die, I was not buried alive by it, but a strange sense of peace passed over me, not an emotion, but a sense, a Presence.  And with it, a profound urge not to despair, but to pray in that place, to not miss that opportunity to pray, to take a different trail in this, a higher road, not insensitive to what was happening, but deepened by it.  It is not that my wounded feelings could not touch me, but as if I was even more aware of every nerve ending, what steadfast love feels like, what shalom does, a completing of what had begun, a new dimension opening and then another that does not end.  Not an outcome, but excavating a quiet place in my soul.

I did not fast for any reason than to be with Him. And that is exactly what happened, in ways I would never have chosen, in a place I could not have imagined.

At the end of the day, I came home and ate.  Was I starving?  No, not really.

Quite filled, actually.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I just followed you here

Our Sunday School class had already started, when she entered the room.  A woman that I did not know sat across from me on the edge of the large circle, but seemingly engaged and listening intently to the discussion.

As our teacher began to dismiss us, she spoke up.  "I came early to church today with the intention of going to the first service," she said.  "I had heard about this class, but I was reluctant to go."

She hesitated a moment.  "And then, I saw you," she said, pointing to my friend Sandy.  "I followed you up here."  My friend had no idea.

"I just wanted to say what a blessing this group was to me this morning."

A few minutes later, as I sat in the church service, her words resounded through my thoughts like a repeating echo.  "I followed you up here."

And when we get to the other side of life, how many people we do not even know, or we would never suspect, will say the same to us, "I followed you up Here."

Faithfulness to God is contagious.  It does not just change the course of your life, but all those who are around you ...and even those yet unborn.

You never know who is watching you, carefully observing on Whom you stake your life and what difference God makes in you, not just in the "big events," but in the every day stuff of life, which always turns out to be the most significant of all.

Others are watching to see if God is real.

Who is following you to Him?

"Let us go with you,
for we have heard
that God is with you."

             Zechariah 8. 23

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Something extraordinary is about to happen

There is a swath across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina 50 to 70 miles wide,  awaiting in breathless anticipation for what is about to happen in another week.  On August 21, a total eclipse of the sun will appear in the skies, plunging a bright day into utter darkness, when the moon comes between the earth and sun, blocking out the light.  In Nashville, where we live, it will occur precisely between 1:27 and 1:29 in the afternoon.

Image result for total solar eclipse

Tens of millions of people have purchased special glasses to observe this extraordinary event. Without protection,  eyes are permanently damaged.  Even school children in those regions have been dismissed from school to witness this once in a lifetime event. It last occurred in Nashville in the year 1478  -- 539 years ago.  None of us will be around when it visits Nashville next.

My husband and I attended a lecture about the eclipse at the Vanderbilt University observatory. The precise mathematical details were incredible, calculated and analyzed and studied by prominent PhD scholars and scientists.  Our lecturer had either his doctorate in astronomy or astro-physics (or maybe both).  He had mapped out the facts and figures in colorful charts and graphs, pointing out the exactness of this spectacular event.

A total solar eclipse does not just suddenly appear, but can be calculated exactly in time and place, far in the past and into the future, down to the second, even where to stand along its exact path, a thousand feet on either side altering one's vision of it.  We were supplied facts on what, where, when, why, and how.   People in the audience were quite excited, peppering the lecturer afterwards with questions for clarification. The lecturer was energized by their curiosity.  He was prepared by decades of study and detailed information.

Towards the end of the question and answer period, a little three year old girl raised her hand. She said into the microphone in her tiny little voice, "But WHO made the sun and moon?"

It was as if all air had been sucked out of the room, along with all the facts and figures and models and knowledge.  The answer for "who" had been left out of the discussion, the answer for "who" was so obvious in that silence that no one -- believer in God or not-- had to answer.  The evidence of God, as Creator and designer, was blatant before us.  His Presence resounded in that room.

The lecturer was speechless.  That little girl's question hung in the air, seemingly printed in bold type and CAPITAL letters. In all of his study and deep research, he neglected the question "who.".  It was almost as if after his hour long lecture about this phenomenal eclipse, a tiny pre-school girl had set him up for this question.  The answer was obvious and profound:  God.

The lecturer stood at his podium, silent for the first time in almost two hours.  He stumbled and fumbled -- this man of elaborate explanations and equations -- and finally spit out, "Well, that's rather complicated."

Even the audience chuckled at the irony.

The presence of God is so complex, there is no end to discovery. The evidence is so obvious, even the smallest child can recognize Him.

All the calculations are incredible, because they are so seamlessly woven.  But don't forget the awe. What we recognize as beauty and wonder are only His fingerprints all over it.

So in a week, when this extraordinary event in nature spans across the skies, may the majesty of God rise up in the heart of every observer.  Things like this don't just happen.

There is design to it, nothing has changed, all the way to the beginning of time  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  Genesis 1.1.

Last week, I asked our four year old grandson, who is already mesmerized by study of astronomy, "So Adri, who made the sun and moon?"  He looked up at me and laughed out loud,  "God, of course!"

...let all the inhabitants of the world
     stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke,
and it came to be;
He commanded,
       and it stood forth.

                   Psalm 33. 8-9

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The only thing pathetic was my attitude

It was a long and upward trail on the side of a mountain.  There was a way through this wilderness that had been faithfully trod by those who went before me, be it rocky and full of roots that tried to trip me up.  But there was a path engraved.  I just had to follow it.

I kept my eyes to the trail.  And all I could see was dirt and gravel and roots and an occasional low spot of squishy mud.

Kind of like an ordinary day, I thought.  Keep your head down and you'll get through this.

But as I hiked, following Bill up the mountainside, my senses began to awaken to what was around me.  And I realized that the only thing pathetic was my attitude.  Because when I lifted my eyes, God astonished me.

I glanced to my left, and God took my breath away.

And then, I looked up and saw a million trees singing praise.

This was not a path through the woods, but the main aisle in one of the world's greatest cathedrals.

God does not transform the mundane and ordinary.  I am already walking through the extraordinary, and I don't even know it.  Even now.  Even today.  Even in what only appears like gravel and mud, He dazzles me with His Presence. 

I just need to lift up my eyes and see what He has wrought.  Look where I am.  Look where I am going.  Look at what is before me.  I don't want to miss out on His resounding faithfulness, bombarding all my senses. How majestic is Your name in all the earth.

I will not just get through this hard gravelly place. Things will not just be OK.  That would be missing the point. That would be missing the awe of God in this.  Because God is not all about outcomes and destinations, but the incredible journey of knowing Him more.

Where is this hard path going?  You wouldn't believe.  Don't miss the wonder along the way.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
     who made heaven and earth.

                       Psalm 121.1-2