Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Light in the Darkness

How do you celebrate Christmas when things aren't as they should be?

How do you experience joy in Christ's birth when there is pain he has not yet relieved?

Christmas Eve is the answer to these things. It is the anticipation of the miracle.

For me, there has always been such a mysterious and beautiful quality to the night before Christmas. The snow falling in the dark, the call to fall on your knees as you sing and realize it is a Holy Night. I have to admit that the anticipation for me as a child is different now that I'm grown, but it is no less intense. Instead of longing for a morning of material presents under the tree, I now long for the morning of a long, dark, and hard night of trial.

The promise of presents was nice back in childhood, but eventually I stopped playing with all those toys. They got old, broke, or turned out to be less fun than the commercials advertised. But this miracle I'm leaning into now-- this miracle of hope that I'm clinging to in the darkest times of my soul--- This Jesus will not wear out or fade or be destroyed. I will be increasingly be captivated by him, and his deliverance is certain, sure, and trustworthy because I've placed my faith and trust in him.

Why is it that we all have such a hard time having faith in him when the bottom drops out? It's easy to say "I believe in Jesus" when the world's turning our way, or even when we have inconveniences. But when everything you once held as certain becomes uncertain-- when God lets tragedy not only strike but also linger in our lives, do we still have the courage to say "I believe" and mean it? We have certain expectations of God-- that he will make our lives comfortable, our friends and family blessed, and our prayers answered within a reasonable time. But God makes no such guarantees. "Unfair!" we cry in reflex-- without even thinking we react to loss and sorrow with a whiplash of faith that can catch our minds and emotions off-guard. We expect joy and peace to mean everything in its place and circumstances lining up. It has never occurred to us that joy can choose its home in the broken body, or peace lay covering the heart shedding tears.

Who is this man Jesus who said "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."? He's the one who holds his hand out to you today and says-- "Will you take it?" Will you take his hand knowing he could take you to the depths of some of the most painful places but promising that he will never leave you or forsake you?

I ask tonight if you believe in the hope of tomorrow. Do you believe that "to us a child is born, to us a son is given"?

He is our Wonderful Counselor when we can't understand.

He is our Mighty God when we can't defend ourselves.

He is our Everlasting Father when our earthly fathers die or fail us.

He is our Prince of Peace when we are hit hard in a world full of chaos, sin, and darkness.

Take heart, you who are in pain-- you who hurt and feel like it will never end. Take heart when you look at others and see that they have everything you want but can't have right now. God is gracious, and he remembers you.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
Isaiah 9:2

Monday, December 8, 2008

Broken

The last entry I wrote didn't have much of "me" in it. I sat down to write it because I've been so plagued by fear, doubt, despair... seeing my loved ones suffer and suffering myself for a long time has done a number on me, and it's hard to keep going.

When I was a kid and my parents would take me to an educational historical village, I'd start to get tired of learning on my vacation about halfway through the day. My feet would hurt, and I'd be hungry, and no amount of tractors, train cars, or weaving loom demonstrations could rekindle in me the excitement I needed to go on. I'd glare at the video camera, and when I had finally had it, I'd just sit down and refuse to move.

I had that moment yesterday with God.

I am no "super-Christian" and the truth is, in between these blog posts, I struggle so desperately to cling to what I know in my head to be true. The feelings aren't always there. I'm weary and worn out from years of enduring. I'm waiting for the heavens to part, for the blessing to rain down, and for things to start going our way.

But that doesn't happen.

And I have to continue on somehow.

I told a friend recently that I had always thought that faith in Christ protected me. I thought God would shield me somehow from the deepest pain, or soften it, or somehow keep the worst from happening. The fact is I've seen some of the worst things happen to my family, and felt them happen to me. They are deeply personal and things I haven't been comfortable sharing on here for everyone to read, but the past several weeks have been devastatingly difficult for me. I've used up what little emotional and physical strength I've had on tremendously stressful situations, and I've had nothing left to fight the spiritual battle. I've physically been so run down and off track that I haven't been able to get out of the house, to even attend church, and that has contributed to my feelings of isolation.

I write all this not to whine, but to "keep it real."

A friend of mine recently posted pictures of her new home, beautifully organized and decorated for Christmas. The last 2 pictures showed the room that still had all her boxes, baskets, and bags of unpacked things. She called those pictures "keeping it real," and that's what I need to do here.

I need to be real about my weakness and my baggage so that Christ's strength can shine through me. That way you can see that these verses and entries come not from any great power on my part, but from the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within me and guides me through the deep, dark valley.

So here is my picture of the messy room-- the one that no one usually sees:

My father is no longer living with us, as of a few weeks ago. This is deeply painful to me and I feel betrayed, as if I have lost my father completely. This man doesn't act or sound like my dad. I don't know what has happened, but he is cold and unfeeling, even when confronted with my pain. He left because he was caught lying about some serious matters, and still remains uncaring about our physical safety or well being, preferring to blame us and say there is nothing he can do.

We have experienced continued harassment, home intrusions, theft, and often hear/record loud bangs and crashes in our garage, attic, and basement at night. The smell of cigarette smoke often permeates our bathroom and bedrooms, even though none of us smoke and we live in a freestanding house. We see footprints in the snow coming from the street, and going around our house.

Our cable, phone, and Internet have all been disconnected, interrupted, and problematic repeatedly, with no apparent cause. In addition, our toilets literally exploded sewage water all over our bathrooms, for no apparent reason.

My grandmother's condition following her stroke continues to deteriorate, and not only does she require care, but she has become difficult and angry-- making it almost impossible to do any basic hygiene care simply as she is always ready to fight, shake her stubborn fist, and defiantly proclaim her infamous phrase, "I'm not going to do it." It's so painful to see her once beautiful and gracious "old self" slip away into this angry shell of an old woman.

I have a new job that I do for a few hours from home at night, and someone else's mistake was blamed on me after only a week of training. I've also been so exhausted that I've been making mistakes of my own that don't look good for me.

I was the victim of credit card fraud last week.

To top it all off, I had to have a sexual assault examination after Thanksgiving due to vaginal trauma that I woke up with after being asleep in our home. This isn't the first time we have all woken up with injuries to our bodies, headaches, dizzy, nauseous, and no idea what has just taken place. I'm left with not only no validation for this traumatic experience, but also knowing I'm not safe to go to sleep in my own bed.

We're being victimized by some serious crime, and the people who we've gone to for help have either abandoned us, brushed us off, or backed away in fear-- including the police. For protection, we have only the work of my own inexperienced hands, and what I can order off of the Internet. It seems that the newest cameras I ordered last week have given us a short reprieve from the banging and thuds and nightmarish pain. I'm just not sure how much longer I can make it with these burdens on my shoulders. I'm so scared, and I have not felt or seen God's powerful intervention in a long time. He hasn't changed my circumstances. They've only gotten worse the more I've prayed.

I hunger for him to change this situation where we have been targeted, and I cannot bear to see my family hurt, to be hurt, and then to be victimized by unbelief on top of everything. I know what I've seen, and the harassment we've experienced has been real, vengeful, personal, and caused our family deep hardship and loss (relationally and financially). It began after we were robbed by a ring of caregivers-- at least one of which turned out to be a convicted felon, married to a rapist, and still they were not even investigated as a part of the ongoing harassment that began shortly after that original crime.

I had never heard of anything like this before it started happening several years ago, and even what I witnessed firsthand, I didn't want to believe at the beginning. But when I read accounts of others-- others who are stalked, harassed, robbed, and hurt through some sort of organized campaign, I realize we are not an isolated case. It's intense and something I usually never discuss in detail, but in all honesty, if I don't say that I fear for my safety, for my life, for my mother's life, then I may always regret that I kept this secret. I'm ashamed to tell people and embarrassed. I'm mortified that this has happened and that we have lived like prisoners this way for so long. But it is what it is, and I'm barely making it.

And that's my brokenness through which somehow, someday, I am convinced that Christ will display his glory.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Devil's Top 10 Lies to Hurting People (and how to fight back!)

10. You are all alone.

9. Nothing will ever change.

8. If God really loved you, you wouldn't be in so much pain.

7. You are too weak for this.

6. There is no purpose in your suffering.

5. What's the use? You might as well give up.

4. You are worthless, forgotten, and unlovable.

3. No one understands what you are going through.

2. You are a victim and have no power.

1. You have no hope.


How did Jesus fight the devil's accusations? He said, "It is written..."

10. He is with you.
"Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "the Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid."
Hebrew 13:5-6

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:20

9. He will bring newness and change to dead circumstances.
...the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
Romans 4:17

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"
Revelation 21:5

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."
Isaiah 43:18-19

8. He allows pain to happen to his most cherished and loved children, most especially his Son.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

"In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:4

7. When you are weak, He is strong.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why for Christ's sake I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

6. He has a perfect and important purpose for your pain.
"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:19

And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

5. Do not give up! He has a great reward for those who persevere!
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
Hebrews 10:35

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

4. You have great worth, are never forgotten, and He dearly loves you.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Luke 12:6-7

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands"
Isaiah 49:15-16

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

3. He understands your pain perfectly because he himself suffered.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:18

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
Psalm 139:1-4

2. You have the triumphant power of the resurrection living in you.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Romans 8:11

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57

1. You have hope in Christ.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade - kept in heaven for you
1 Peter 1:3-5

God has chosen to make known...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 1:27

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31



Job resisted the devil's lies by saying in faith...

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nick Vujicic



For more information click here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them

There once was a man who had been rowing a boat, late at night, for a number of miles. The wind was against him, and no matter how much he strained with his friends, they just could not get that boat to the other side. Their problem lasted them through the wee hours of the morning-- well after 3am, when suddenly, Jesus appeared, walking on the water.

It was Peter who asked if he could come to the Lord-- to literally overcome this problem of the wind that had been plaguing him all night. And Jesus said to him, "Come."

When Peter got out of that boat, he was focused only on Christ. It was his Savior standing there that allowed him to walk above the struggle and confusion of the moment, in perfect peace. I noticed that Jesus didn't calm the wind and waves at this time, but instead, he called Peter to walk on despite the rough waves-- in the midst of the bad circumstances.

Peter started out okay. However, Peter's mind did what my mind does so often. Instead of continuing to focus on Jesus, he started thinking about the overwhelming wind. He was afraid. He became focused on the adversity instead of the anchor of faith. It was at that moment that Peter began to sink.

I think the most important verse in that whole story for me was "the wind was against them." Recognizing this story was about more than water and miracles has helped me tremendously to see the application to my own struggles. I've literally had circumstances "against me" for so long and have complained to God that what seems to come so easily for others is so often an obstructed, long, and burdened path for me. And I admit that I can frequently give my mind over to worry and fear—avoiding God and trying to outlast the pain on my own.

In this story, I see the only way to walk in peace through a storm is to keep my focus on my Creator. I see how one day off track-- neglecting my conversation with him-- can leave me sinking so quickly that I don't even know what hit me. I've been there recently, and I don't want to go back. The wind and waves may be against me, and I may row all night, but there is One to whom the fierce wind is nothing more than a breath. And he is calling me to come.

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
Isaiah 26:3 (English Standard Version)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Does God Care?

In the darkness of a long trial, this question often comes to my mind.

It's a question I never would have thought to ask several years ago. I may have even looked down on someone who asked. I would have said-- look at the birds-- look at the sunsets-- look at the way our hearts beat, our lungs expand-- the beautiful, intricate symphony of our body systems that keep us alive and going. I would have said, "Of course God cares! Look around you! What more proof do you need?"

But that was before the wilderness. It was before God said "no" to me. Repeatedly. For years. I cry out, "I'm in pain, God! Don't you care?!"

Some of you reading have either had a time, or are in the middle of a time, when God does not appear to care. Your burdens and pains may be secret ones. And when you shake hands in church or go to the grocery store, you plaster the understudy smile on your face (the one that is "on call" for when there is no genuine smile left), and you fake it. Meanwhile, there is an iceberg-sized hurt under the surface, just waiting to sink your life like the next Titanic. There appears to be no solution, and you just don't know how much longer you can take the pain.

If that has ever been you, or is you-- you may ask yourself-- Does God care? How can such private, secret pain ever be turned for good like Romans 8:28 promises? How can God be glorified by your anguish when He is the only other party aware of the true sorrow in your heart? After all, wouldn't it be more powerful if people could really perceive what you were dealing with-- to fully understand God's strength that holds you upright and helps you put both feet on the floor to start each new day?


I prayed to God about this, and in my despair at the moment, expected another silence. I prayed for faith-- faith to see the answer to this deep and perplexing question that haunts me. Is this all for nothing? Is all the endurance of pain just a big waste?

And as I was talking to my mom today, the answer came straight out of my mouth from the Holy Spirit-- referencing a verse I didn't even realize that I knew prior to this. It stunned me how quick and sharp the Sword of the Spirit can be-- going right to the heart of the matter.

When I ask what will become of the pain I carry in secret, Jesus responds:

"There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs." (Luke 12:2-3)

This is such good news for those of us who suffer silently, who have been misunderstood, misjudged, rejected, or who feel isolated as we struggle to maintain faith. The bottom line: Our choices made in private do matter. The darkness will not last forever. Jesus is the "light of the world," and when he shines, nothing will be able to hide.

Jesus went on to say:

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

God does not overlook the small matters. If we feel insignificant and forgotten by God, we must ask ourselves-- are we as small, cheap, and tiny as a common sparrow? Are we as disposable as a hair? God keeps close track of those things. How much more will he care for you as a precious being made in his image and likeness? He cares for us with an everlasting love... (and as Elisabeth Elliot always reminded me on the radio every morning before my freshman math class) "...and underneath are the everlasting arms."

God does care. Do not lose heart.

The execution of Jesus is the proof that intense darkness comes to those whom God loves dearly.

Yet the empty tomb of Jesus is the proof that God sees, God hears, and God's light shines-- overpowering all darkness-- to reveal His glory in those who continue to cling to Him when there is no light.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Beauty of the Little Bit

I recently graduated from an online course which gave me some extra skills for working from home. It took me a year and a half to finish, and it was self-paced, so the motivation to continue working had to come completely from within.

It was not easy for many reasons, but one is peculiar to my personality. I don't really like to do things that I can't get done instantly. Now, instantly is a relative term, but in my mind, I like to get results quickly. When I run into a snag, my gut reaction is to throw in the towel.

Now maybe some of you perfectionists out there can relate to my irrational reasoning. I like to do things right the first time. If there is no progress and I see a project stalling out, I want to do something else that can give me the satisfaction of a job well done. I just shift focus and try my hand at a different project-- often abandoning my previous efforts because I was convinced I'd never make it across the finish line.


There is a problem I read about in 10th grade math class called Zeno's paradox. The problem involves a race, and a man named Zeno proposed that the race could never be completed because in order to run it, you would have to run half of the distance, and half of the half, and half of the half of that half-- on into infinitely small steps that could never be completed because there were, well, infinity steps. Sometimes I feel that way in my walk with God. "I'll never make it, Lord. There are infinitely too many steps."

The resolution of this paradox comes from calculus, which (to sum it up!) says that infinite parts can combine to make a finite whole. As we know from experience, the race can be run to the end. It's just that devil telling us these tiny, almost imperceptible steps we make with God will never add up.

I have many unfinished books dotting my shelves with bookmarks sticking up like weeds in my abandoned literary garden. When it comes to my time with God, I made big strides for a few days or a week, spending hours reading and praying, then when I hit a roadblock of distraction or discouragement, I scale back to near nothing again. When I exercise, I stay consistent for a few weeks or a month, only to get off track and then never come back to the routine. In my head I think, "Well, I've missed so many, so what's the use." I just quit running.

These highs and lows plague me so that I can only do short term projects, meet short term goals, and get small rewards. I have chronic New Year's Resolution Syndrome.

That was until I joined the Mini-Goalers. Mike once mentioned that this sounded like a little league soccer team, but, in fact, it is an online forum thread that opened my eyes in a big way to the beauty of the "little bit."

My online course involved a community of classmates, created through an online forum. And on that forum, a small subset of students had come together to keep each other accountable. Every week, a member of the group would create a post which had a note of encouragement and would ask each participant by name if they had completed their specific course goal for the week. It was a friendly group, strictly voluntary, and there were no consequences for not meeting a goal.

At first, every week I would post a goal. When I met the goal, I'd race back to the thread to post my accomplishment along with my new goal. I was going along like a locomotive. But somewhere around last summer, when Grammy had her stroke, I stopped working and stopped posting for a while. It was my typical give-up moment. A distraction occurred. I lost focus. I suddenly looked up at the mountain I was climbing, and it looked too high for me. With my nose up close to the sheer volume of work I was facing, I felt like it was time to pack it up and go home. I had no chance of finishing any time this century.

But the Mini-Goalers continued to press the message over and over-- "You can do it. One lesson at a time. The way to victory is to keep pressing on."

Before that time, I saw very little value in doing work in small chunks. In the tortoise and the hare race, I was the hare. When I was 3 years old, my playmate and I would build tall towers with building blocks. When hers would start to crumble, she'd patiently and methodically replace the broken walls one block at a time. However, when my quickly-erected tower started to crumble, the construction efforts ceased. My chubby demolition arm came swinging through. The tarnished tower met an untimely demise.

God made me passionate and strong willed. When I come out to meet a challenge, I meet it with all my strength and energy-- head-on, full sprint, holding nothing back. I truly believe God loves that about me, and I believe it's helped me in my faith to push closer to him with all my gusto behind my prayers pleading to see his face, to know him more deeply. But there is a down side to expending all your energy at once. There is a let-down and a fatigue that sets in when you don't pace yourself for a long race. People like me can lose the joy of constantly abiding with Christ when we trade it for the constant ups and downs. We miss the beauty of seeing the steady progress of the "little bit" which leads to great glory at the end.

When I made my final push to the end of the course, I knew I'd done more than just finish some online requirements. I set up my schedule to do 5 tasks per day. And very uncharacteristically, each day, I did my 5. I didn't do more and burn myself out. I didn't do less and give in to the discouragement to quit. I just did my 5 per day. Now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't try to sneak in a few extra here and there to speed up the process, but what I learned was the beautiful reward of not quitting, and not burning out. For a moment, I dropped the all-or-nothing attitude to focus on the little bit.

I see all around me the glory God creates in the lingering moments that add up to ultimate victory. You can see it in his creation as the sun slowly processes across the sky-- barely perceptible to us as we run here and there. But ultimately, in those small increments, the sun completes both its ascent and descent into the dusk of achievement. In the same way, the seasons bloom and whither, each into the next season.

As I was riding in the car this week, my eyes studied the landscape for signs of fall. All I could see on the trees were muted browns and yellows-- hardly the kaleidoscope I've been yearning all year to see. Absentmindedly I muttered, "Is this it!?" Only to be reminded immediately of how impatient I still am, of how much is yet to come.

A science website by Abram Teplitskiy, Ph.D. compared the race paradox from math class to this gradual color change:

"The Zeno paradox is similar to the color spectrum paradox. If you go from red to orange on a spectrum of colors, you can move in steps that are small enough so that you cannot detect any color difference between the first red and the second, between the second red and the third, and so on through a large number of "successfully" undetectable differences until you get to orange. One could conclude that there is, therefore, no real detectable color difference between red and orange."


Obviously, this is false. Red is quite different from orange, just as a new believer in Christ is much different from the man or woman who will one day stand complete before God in heaven. In both cases, those many imperceptible changes add up to a very perceptible difference in the end. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says: "And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." All believers are on the path of transformation from "one degree of glory to another" or "from glory to glory." Likewise, in autumn, no one sees the individual, gradual changes of color in any particular leaf, but each leaf itself goes through every painful step of the transformation process. Finally, after all changes have been made, the breathtaking beauty of the completed process will be revealed to the world in one grand debut week-- full of laughing families gathering pumpkins, drinking apple cider, going on hikes, and munching on donuts.

It's hard to miss God calling us to growth. No solid relationship is built in days, but years. When you get a bad haircut, it takes months to grow out. Our fingernails and toenails appear to never go anywhere, but once a girl puts on some polish, a few weeks later, she can see the slow, methodical work of God. Life breathed into us, into this earth, has us all moving and growing toward one glorious conclusion. As we have been studying at church lately-- we are all moving toward "That Day."

I've always been an instant sort of girl-- instant messaging, microwaves, e-mail, drive-thru. I like easy and quick. What would we gain by remembering the old way of doing things? -- the yearning and the longing of waiting. The slow brew. The aged wine. The buggy rides. The long walks. The smell of a fireplace fire that comes from actual burning logs instead of flipping a switch for gas. The homemade soup that simmers all day. The conversation that's unhurried and held face to face. The sound of being still and knowing that the LORD is God.

Proverbs 13 reminds us: "A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul." "A longing fulfilled is a tree of life." When we long for God on this journey and consistently come to meet with him, it will be to our great benefit. Let's aim to follow Paul's advice who urges us to persevere in this hard race:

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do:"

Philippians 3:12-14

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the story of my second ipod

This is story is a little boring, honestly.

As promised, Apple released its new ipods, and after returning my old version due to the faulty rewind, I prepared to enter the 21st century.

After much weighing of classic vs. nano pros and cons, I finally realized that I don't have 120G worth of music in the first place, nor was I going to crack out an ipod classic to watch a movie in my hand when I have a perfectly good television. So I finally decided to get an ipod nano. Instead of green, I bucked tradition and got purple. I am a rebel.

It just came last night. The color is great, and it's really light. It's like holding a cracker. I think what won me over at first was the ability to play a game that only required me to tilt it around in my hand like little Wii remote. Neat.

I haven't put all my music on it yet or used the new "Genius" feature. This feature is supposed to collect information about what songs people listen to in a big "cloud" and then tell me what songs go together. I kind of enjoy making my own mixes and not having data about me collected by any sort of technology disguised as harmless condensed water. But whatever, maybe I'll like it. Who knows!

The shuffle feature is pretty neat. All I have to do is shake the ipod and it will shuffle the songs. I was worried it would be too sensitive and shuffle all the time, but the smart people at Apple figured out how to avoid that.

And yes, this one does rewind.

I have much more to post-- especially about how all the following are related:
my recent graduation from an online course, toy blocks, toe nails, and autumn. See the link? I will save all that for another day. I also have something to say about telephones.

Last week, before I got my new ipod nano, I became completely distracted by the show Monk. By "completely distracted" I mean that I've watched Season 1 and Season 2 in a little less than 2 weeks.

I've been trying to avoid pushing God to the side in favor of the easy escape. Watching three episodes per day of the endearingly brilliant OCD detective Adrian offers me no lasting peace, however. So I have done my best to keep searching for the reassurance that will last.

Here is the most recent reassurance I have received:

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."
Isaiah 49:15-16

Picture those nail-scarred hands. He did that for you and for me-- to save our lives from this sin-infested world-- to give us something better that we do not deserve. He promises to redeem our pain, to give us new life, and he gives us all this by grace.

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever-- do not abandon the works of your hands."
Psalm 138:7-8

No matter what storms we face, no matter how we feel, no matter how uncertain and bleak the future may appear, he does not forget us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Habakkuk Hope

Though I don't often go into detail, I'm in the middle of several raging storms right now. Life is not smooth for me. I daily face the realities of my dad's verbal abuse, caregiving for a grandma with a stroke, chronic illness, betrayal, denial, crime, abandonment, loss, unbelief, and terror. Every day is a silent struggle-- trying to survive a situation that cannot be easily explained or understood.

And as a person who has always looked for evidence of God's love in terms of how pleasant/blessed he makes my earthly journey, I've been one disappointed kid. The feelings of being abandoned are powerful. The temptation to deny God and turn my back is rhythmic-- like waves eroding the shore of my soul. How can God be loving and watch evil swallow us up? How can he be faithful with no sign of his justice year after year?

The prophet Habakkuk asked the same questions:
"How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted."


Those questions swirl in my head all the time:

"Why do you make me look at injustice?"
"Why do you tolerate wrong?"


They could just as easily come from the mouth of a college student who's been mistreated by a professor, a mother who's lost a child, a relief worker at a calamity site, a woman who's been abused, or an old man on fixed income who's been robbed.

I'm sure not one of us has to think very hard to conjure up a situation where we were treated unjustly, or watched a loved one suffer unfairly.

Of course, the intensity of our questioning God is often directly proportional to the extent of injustice we see taking place. Some of it can move us to tears, while other times, we can be paralyzed, traumatized, literally begging, on the floor immobilized with sobs so deep they seem to shake our very soul from its foundation.

I've been there.

So when I see these questions asked of God in scripture, my first reaction is to sit up and take notice of the answer. God speaks to his prophet in this book, and after reading, I find myself both comforted and longing. Still waiting for more complete answers, but also assured.

The bottom line is, we're not going to fully understand here. It's not possible to understand God's ways. They are higher than ours. His timetable is not the same as ours.

As God answers Habakkuk with his plan, he says things about the specific situation that aren't really pertinent to me. But the overall message has universal meaning. God is working on my situation. Though I do not perceive it, he is there behind the scenes preparing and readying for the time of holy judgment.

My main idea is that God has not come fast enough for me. He has not corrected or prevented evil "in time." God did not come "in time" to heal Lazarus either. He let him die and left him in the grave 4 days. But God DID come. And what he did at that grave was more magnificent than the fastest healing of any sick man.

I was thinking of a passage in Philip Yancey's book ("Disappointment with God") where he describes God's hard-to-grasp omnipresence with an outer space analogy:

He refers to a star explosion (supernova) that can be seen from earth with the naked eye, but only 170,000 years later because of the vast distance the light must travel to reach our planet. When we look up in the sky, so many years after the fact, we see the impressive result of what happened long before. Though we were unaware of it (not even born) when it happened, the explosion set into motion a powerful blast of light. We just had to wait in order to see it with our own eyes.

If a being could somehow be big enough to inhabit all of space simultaneously, then, due to his sheer size, he would see both the star and our planet at the same time. It would thus be possible for him to see the star both when it exploded, and 170,000 years later when the light finally made its way to earth. From the small perspective of the earthling, the star explosion was discovered and happening in the "present moment." From the perspective of such a super-sized being, the supernova was arriving on earth at present, but had also been initiated long ago.

That is similar to how God is, Yancey says. God can see past, present, and future as he inhabits all time and space at once. He knows what is about to happen even before we have perceived it. And he tells Habakkuk to wait. He is raising up justice as we speak. He is preparing a people for that purpose that we do not yet perceive, and wouldn't even believe if we were told! God is always working on our behalf. Punishment WILL come to those who do evil. God's cup of wrath is coming around to them. He does not miss a single injustice.

So as a super-sized being in space, what would you tell the little person on earth, who is waiting to see the guaranteed supernova? For years he cannot see it in the sky. What would you tell him when he questions your assurance and doubts your promise because years go by without so much as a glimmer or a flicker of light?

The same thing God says to Habakkuk:
"For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay."

He goes on to remind us:
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea."

"...the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."

When Jesus died on the cross and rose to life again, incredible power was released, and the devil was condemned to hell. We will soon see the full measure of God's victory just like that supernova in the sky. The power over death and evil has already been released. It will appear to us fully manifested on the chosen day. We must wait for it.

God talks of the day when we will finally see what he has seen coming all along. Though everything may look bleak and dark-- though we see righteous fall and evil succeed-- though the sky looks as it always has, with no flicker yet of what we've been told to look for... we still hold on with hope.

"I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights."
Habakkuk 3:16-19

Monday, September 8, 2008

The heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

Friday, September 5, 2008

the story of my first ipod

So, after a short nap on Wednesday night, I got up at around 1 a.m. and began playing with my new ipod nano! It was very shiny, very green, and very exciting. I also unwrapped my new 8-disc collection of "The Bible Experience" to be the first to load onto my new player.

After I downloaded the most recent version of iTunes, I put in the first CD. I followed instructions for transferring the mp3s, but that didn't work, so I just decided to drag and drop them. Eventually, after several hours of deleting, reloading, and reorganizing, I performed the "synch" but must have "synched" improperly because my playlist ended up starting at Numbers rather than Genesis and completely left off the New Testament altogether. I also had to find the tracks in the recently downloaded list, so I decided to try the whole synch thing again.

iTunes froze approximately 2-3 times during the evening, requiring me to restart my computer each time, since it would not respond to "end task." But finally I had the whole Bible on there and played Klondike 23 times while listening to the first 25 chapters of Matthew, which, upon second thought, was a bit too much all at once.

However, aside from the annoyance of iTunes, there was one pesky little problem. My ipod nano would not rewind. Now, because I'm psychologically scarred by things that are blatantly wrong (like chronic theft, crashing sounds in the house at night, or the smell of cigarette smoke wafting into my bathroom), which I'm forced to tolerate or otherwise listen to people minimize/deny, I tried to tell myself for a while that this was just the way the settings were and that it wasn't really a problem. Then I tried to play with the settings, and realized that, in fact, holding down the back arrow really should rewind and not ignore you and/or take you back 3 tracks. I continued to try to rationalize keeping it, but eventually conceded the glaringly obvious fact that my cute little green player would have to go back to its hometown of iPodia.

So tonight I reset it to factory default settings and got the RMA and shipping label ready to print.

So long, minty green ipod nano. I barely knew you.

I was thinking of buying a classic ipod as a replacement, but upon searching the "infoweb" I found out that new ipods and new ipod nanos will be released by Apple on TUESDAY. Nothing like being the lucky one to buy the old product right before the next version comes out. I hear there will be a price reduction too. So, we'll see what happens.

Ah, Steve Jobs. What will you do next?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Refreshed

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water. Psalm 114:7-8


About a week ago, I was incredibly discouraged. I'd had it with my circumstances that were just beyond overwhelming. I felt I was in way over my head for too long and that God had turned his back on me. In my desperation, I poured out these feelings to God with explicit honesty, holding nothing back. I typed God a letter. I (politely) demanded a response to my feelings-- some sign he cared about my pain. It was not conditional-- I wasn't going to stop following him if he remained silent. I know by now that God is not manipulated or controlled into giving signs and answers. But I was so desperate to hear his still, small voice. I think he knew my heart was sincere.

In his mercy, God responded. It wasn't with a bolt of lightning or an appearance at my bedside, or even with a change in my circumstances. But it was love, and it was full of life, and so I know that God heard and God answered. It's funny, all the subtle ways in which God works when we are hurting. He doesn't always take away the pain, but somehow, someway, he still sustains us and refreshes us when we are the most thirsty, the most despairing of life. In the same way that he fed Elijah who was running, running, running in despair and fear, God fed me. He reached out to me through people, through his Word, and through hearing Truth preached. He placed in my heart a renewed sureness that he loves me, that I am not forgotten.

I posted this picture because it's another way God showed me his love. After my missive to the Almighty, I was browsing Facebook and came across an album of photos from Yosemite belonging to a friend of a friend. The picture I posted here (with permission) blew me away-- not only by its sheer beauty, but by how I felt awed by God's "hugeness" when I looked at it.

It's easy to forget sometimes that God is SO incredibly big and powerful and that this whole complex and majestic earth was all lovingly and carefully made by him out of nothing. When Job cried out and demanded an answer from God about unjust pain, the Lord spoke about the unsearchable wonders of creation. The main message: Our God is in control. He controls the length, intensity, and reasons for our suffering, just as he controls the weather, the tides, and the stars. It is not within our ability to understand what God has done, or why we are where we are. But we can be sure that evil is also completely subject to God's great power. And when we belong to Christ, we are headed for triumphant victory as we wait patiently on him.

Whether I physically make it to my earthly Yosemite and stand under those falls triumphant, or whether relief and triumph will only come to me in heaven, I see this picture as my future. I'm headed toward the God who made the mountains and the waters.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:7-11

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Last will be First

Being last.

It is as bad as it sounds here on earth. Everyone races by you with their weddings, their high-paying jobs, their houses and renovations, their babies and videos and pictures of domestic bliss. It's all there on Facebook and Myspace. It's there on TV and in celebrity magazines, and fashion catalogues. There is always that woman who appears to have it all, smiling, stinging my insides as I see her twirl in her purple silk dress, to spin away with everything that this world values. Where are my values?

Several years ago, when I was growing increasingly enamored with worldly people, I used to constantly feel God calling me back to a passage in the Bible that tells us to not love the things of the world (1 John 2:15-17). I didn't realize at the time that it meant more than just men or style, or excitement, or money, or fashion. It meant everything. Don't love what you have in this world too much because those who are last will be first. Those who have nothing here and sacrifice to be obedient, and suffer injustice-- those will be rewarded 100 fold.

Tonight, I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. When China marched out, Yao Ming, a 7.5 foot famous athlete, marched out in front of China's team with the national flag flowing in the breeze. He was the epitome of strength, youth, national pride-- glowing and standing tall like a super hero above all others. He was the head of the nation at that moment-- the representative, the conqueror. Billions of people were watching this moment.

But who was that beside him? Who had a right to walk with this extraordinary man? It was a 9-year-old kid. At first I was astounded! This was no place for a child. This was the time for the athletes, for the strongest ones to march.


Obviously, the announcers explained, he was no ordinary child. He was given the honor of marching at the front because he had been at the bottom of the heap-- quite literally. Trapped in the midst of devastating rubble from the recent Chinese earthquake, this kid had not only freed himself, but had risked his life to go back to save the lives of his classmates as well. He was last, broken, shattered, but in that moment of testing and pain, he decided he was not here just for what he could get or for his own comfort. At his lowest point, he decided to reach out his hand to others. He sacrificed in order to serve.

At the end of the most spectacular show, with hours of special effects, dancing, 15,000 performers, choreography, flames, and a vast parade of nations, the final shots were of the giant man-- the rightful leader, holding up this exceptional child with him-- in a position of the highest honor.

When we give up our rights and our love for the pleasures of this life to follow Jesus, it may feel like we've lost, but we will be like that child when we reach heaven-- people will ask why we are honored by marching with our Lord. We will not have to answer for ourselves. It will be told how we responded when we were struck down. It will be told how we clung to him obediently and loved him when tragedy threatened to swallow us whole. At the end of all things, we will be held safely in the arms of the master. When the show is over, we will finally be out of the rubble and celebrating with him.

Matthew 19:27-29
Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Aftershocks

The recent earthquake in California has been replaying on TV. Video of Judge Judy's court being shaken shows dramatically how everyday life can be going along as normal, when suddenly everything changes. In the clip, the people in the room look around. I thought about that-- how surprised and alarmed they were-- confused by this completely unexpected event.

Luckily, no one was hurt, and after the broken bottles are swept up and the cans of tuna are put back on the store shelves, life will return to the way it was. Or will it?

One news reporter made the important observation that though this earthquake was not serious, it serves as a wake-up call for people living in that region who have not felt an earthquake for 15 years! Some teenagers shopping in a mall there had never before felt the ground shake.

It's easy to get complacent in this life. When we are richly blessed for a long time, I think we can grow to expect that ease and pleasantness to go on indefinitely. My life was pleasant and virtually idyllic for about 17 years before the "ground shook." My family and I lost our home and our possessions to a natural disaster of water damage and toxic black mold. It was a wake up call for me, as I carried a black trash bag of my clothes between hotels, apartments, family, and hospitable friends. My health was also affected. Suddenly the reliability of feeling well and the security of home weren't constants anymore.

We're lucky in life if we get circumstances like that which remind us that this life is not safe or stable. It's funny for me to write that because it's not how I instinctively feel in my flesh. I naturally cry out for my old home. I think of the "good ole days" when my family was happily going on 2 vacations a year, and life ran like clockwork. It hurts when I want to reach for a memento from childhood or when I fight the chronic limitations of my body, caused by the devastation so many years ago. But looking biblically at the nature of a crisis, it becomes quickly apparent that like a siren, pain sounds loudly to remind us of the temporal nature of our earthly lives and the eternal nature of our future.

"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. "
(2 Corinthians 5:1)

Nothing on this earth is permanent. Not our homes or our cars. Not our physical bodies, our photo albums, or even the very ground we stand upon. We're told not to place our trust or confidence in the stuff of this earth.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
(Matthew 6:19-20)

When the "certain" things of my life shake, and I'm left looking around alarmed and confused, can or should I ever go back to living the same way I once did before the quake?

The reporter on the news claimed that we shouldn't. When the earth shakes, we need to sit up and take notice. We need to make an action plan and prepare for a more cataclysmic emergency. Where we place our treasure, where we build our house, what we focus our lives pursuing-- these determine our plan of action. When our life's purpose is obeying Christ Jesus, we have the unshakable, eternal emergency plan:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock."
(Matthew 7:24-25)

After all, the "Big One" will eventually come. With an authoritative tone, seismologists declare it with certainty. With the same surety and confidence, the Bible declares Christ will come back. We don't know the day or the hour, but these quakes and aftershocks in our lives serve as powerful reminders not to get too cozy here, not to return to our old oblivious way of life.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
(2 Peter 3:10)

Will you be ready?

When he comes back at an hour no one knows, will you have built your house on the unshakable Rock of Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Friends of Fire

Today was tough.

I attended the viewing for my dear friend's dad, who just died of cancer last weekend. Amazingly, in the midst of his own pain and grief, my friend managed to minister to me.

After that, I stopped to talk to another friend I've known for over a decade, only to be confronted with cruel rejection and bitter betrayal because my of my family's present trial. In that moment, it became crystal clear that though we had shared some good times, this person had never really been my true friend.

After this emotionally draining evening, I started thinking that the presence of true friendship and love is explicitly revealed when pain strips away all pretenses. It reminds me of that Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

True character is revealed when the heat in our lives is turned up high.

What other time do we get the gift of seeing another human's true colors? Amplified by the pressure of pain, a person’s heart can be expressed either in an instant of hostility, or a gentle word of compassionate love. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

This leads me to look at my own heart tonight. On Saturday at church, Pastor Andy was asked a question about how to press past the religious ritual of Bible reading into a real intimacy with Christ. His astute personal observation was that "motive matters." He asked: Are we really seeking relationship with God for who he is?

Recently, I noticed a specific Hollywood coupling of an extremely young, attractive woman with a much older, wealthy man who could generationally be her grandfather. Most would argue they are together because of what the man can provide for the girl. Take the same old man and strip him of the position, power, and money he offers the girl, and he would no longer be worthy of her love. It's because she never really loved him in the first place. She loved the gifts, not the giver.

In his book, "Where is God When it Hurts?" Philip Yancey wrote about loving God for who he is, not what he gives us:

"God wants us to choose to love him freely, even when that choice involves pain, because we are committed to him, not to our own good feelings and rewards. He wants us to cleave to him, as Job did, even when we have every reason to deny him hotly. That, I believe, is the central message of Job. Satan had taunted God with the accusation that humans are not truly free. Was Job being faithful simply because God had allowed him a prosperous life? Job's fiery trials proved the answer beyond doubt. Job clung to God's justice when he was the best example in history of God's apparent injustice. He did not seek the Giver because of his gifts; when all gifts were removed he still sought the Giver." -Yancey pg 91

Am I seeking God only so he can fix my circumstances and I can live free and easy? Am I seeking him only because I want the powerful gifts he can give me? Health, deliverance, safety, vindication? God never promised the Christian life will be easy street-- in fact, he promised just the opposite. He’s calling people into mature relationship—friendship that is deep and will last through the painful tests. What will I do when the heat is turned up?

God uses heat a lot in the Bible as a metaphor for painful trials. He even used it literally with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. When they refused to compromise their faith in God, they were thrown into the fiery furnace at the whim of King Nebuchadnezzar, and in a final burst of defiance, the king turned the heat up 7 times hotter than normal. At that moment, they had a choice-- try to save themselves by forsaking God, or stand firm in truth and risk being licked up by the flames of evil punishment. The injustice of the situation cries out from the pages of Daniel. I personally think they would have been justified to do a little whining that God wasn't being very fair and that as faithful servants, they shouldn't be in this mess to begin with. However, the trustworthy and faithful men proved their love for God by willingly going into the furnace all tied up. And because of their faith, Jesus was in the furnace with them; the men were not consumed by the fire, but came out unbound, not even smelling of smoke. “They trusted in him [God] and…were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28

What could be a better testimony of a person's love for God than choosing the hard, narrow path of trusting him in trial rather than compromising and taking the easy way out? This is the test that defines our friendships and refines our faith. As a metal refiner works to find pure silver and gold amongst worthless dross, God puts us under the heat to see how we will behave-- as a precious child who loves Him, or as a faithless opportunist-- only out for what we can "get" from God.

I once heard a sermon on Job, and I will never forget what the pastor said: "When we suffer, we are being given a rare opportunity in our lives to show God that we love Him for who He is, not simply for what he's given us."

It is a call to me to look at suffering from God's point of view. Our God designed us men and women specifically for a love relationship with him-- for the deepest kind of friendship-- with our Master and Creator. Our God is (to say the least) well-connected, wealthy, powerful, influential, and can open incredible doors of success and opportunity. He is full of good gifts and longs to bless us—but what happens when like a spoiled child or bribed girlfriend, we find his gifts more delightful than we find just abiding in his presence? What happens when our relationship with him remains superficial because it is full of good times and no hardship? What if the depth of our love never grows for him because it is not tested or tried? Worse yet, what if we angrily turn our backs on him when we are tested-- showing we were never his friends to start with?

Through my painful life circumstances, I have seen the character of each of my friends emerge clearly. I continue to discover and value how deep their love is for me as they stick close by during the fiercest storms, when it isn’t always easy or pleasant to be a friend. So I see the parallel now--How God must long for me to cling to him in my pain-- to not turn my back on him or reject him, but to sit quietly with him, feeling his sweet embrace as he cuts the ties that bind me and prepares to walk me out of this furnace-- not even smelling of smoke.

Isaiah 43:1-3
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God; the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Adoption as sons (and daughters!)

My cousin and her husband are adopting 4 little kids from Haiti. When they visited the first time, it was just going to be one little girl, but during their stay, they met a little boy, and after much prayer, they decided to adopt the boy, along with his brother and sister.

They recently returned from their second trip to meet the children and bond as a family, but since the adoption paperwork is not complete, they could not take the children home with them.

My cousin wrote about the sad parting this way:

"Our last night with the children, we had someone translate for us to help them to fully understand what was going on. We had to explain to our kids that we had to leave in the morning but that we would be back and that one day they would be coming home with us to live with us forever. We tried to explain that we are their momma and papa forever now."

When I read this, I realized that God the Father feels the exact same way about us. Because we are still children and don't entirely speak God's language, it can be extremely difficult for us to understand why we must endure without our Heavenly Father being physically present with us. Our hearts long to be united as a family with him and to never again be parted from his righteousness and peace. As Christians, we must rest in the promise that we are His children in name, and one day we will be able to come home and live with our Father forever.

"...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:23

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fireworks!




















I had to wait a long time for these, but boy, were they worth it!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Water, water, everywhere

One of my very favorite TV shows is Man vs. Wild, hosted by Bear Grylls.

If you've never seen it, Bear is a survival expert who shows what to do if you'd ever find yourself lost in the jungle, desert, or frozen tundra. You never know, right?

The premise of his show puts him in the most inhospitable ("unforgiving") environments on earth to show how to safely eat, drink, and find a way to civilization alive. He is usually either swimming through icy rivers or eating scorpions straight from the sand. The extreme wastelands of this world, where no life can survive, are the places he chooses to go.

Tonight Mike and I watched the one where Bear goes to Namibia, Africa. The show opens with Bear standing on the side of a helicopter that's flying out to sea. Yelling to be heard over the whir of the chopper, he casually shares introductory remarks with the camera and then does a backflip straight into the water off the "Skeleton Coast." Right before he lets go, he says that sailors have nicknamed this place "The Gates of Hell."

When he finally stumbles on shore, it's easy to see why this "Skeleton Coast" is so formidable. Carcasses of ships and animals lie scattered over the sand. Bear's first priority is to find a source of water to avoid dehydration.

As the waves crash on shore behind Bear, I listened to him explain that sea water, although abundant in supply, is deadly for anyone who yields to the temptation to drink it. "Whoever drinks it will just crave more and more," he said. He then set up an elaborate distillation pit, which ultimately only gave him about an inch of fresh water to slurp down. It seemed ironic for him to work hard for that inch of fresh water when he had an entire ocean behind him.

In my spiritual desert right now, I feel like all around me are temptations to relieve my thirst for deliverance, joy, peace, hope, and love. At my fingertips, I can go on the Internet and browse for hours-- soaking up emails, playing games, posting profile info, instant messaging, looking at "stuff" in online stores, reading advice from worldly people. This vain search for peace and joy can take hours, and after I'm done, I have nothing to show for my time but an even bigger void inside of me, crying out to be filled.

Similarly, I can watch sitcoms when I'm up late at night, scared, wondering about my family's future and trying to numb the worries with canned laughter. I'm a professional. I've looked everywhere for just the right things/people to soothe the emptiness, the disappointment, the ongoing sorrow. Just a respite from reality-- that's all I'm looking for.

I speak from experience: None of it works. In fact, it makes me want more. One more show, one more minute here on this site. One more hour working on this project, reading this book, researching this idea, emailing this person. After drinking up an evening of salty distractions, my thirst is almost unbearable.

This is what the LORD says:

"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6

When I'm in pain and I look inward, or worse, outward for a worldly fix, I feel instant soothing, but later such a terrible ache inside. The good feelings are shallow and they never last. If I ignore my spiritual needs long enough, my ache can almost grow physical. My soul is an empty, dry place like Namibia when my focus is on soothing myself. I ultimately only increase the void.

I rarely talk about why I'm in such pain or what exactly my family is going through. It's a defense mechanism because I've been badly burned by confessing the truth of what is happening to people I trusted. Our trial is highly unusual and mind blowing, and some days I stop and just say to God, "How can this really be happening to us?" In a previous post, I explained briefly about how we have been targeted by a group of criminals. The crimes committed against us are intended to be bizarre and unbelievable so that we become more isolated, terrified, and made to look "crazy." This type of crime is not highly publicized, but it does happen and is called "gang stalking" or "community-based harassment." Getting untangled from this nightmare is going to be by God's miraculous hand alone. Our ongoing human efforts have not saved us, only put a Band-Aid on a gangrenous wound, allowing us to limp along day to day.

Because of this, I have felt angry at God, hurt, wounded, like I can't trust him. When God doesn't respond to my prayers for help, it's tempting to give up seeking Him. It's all too easy to turn away and see the pleasures of this world as an escape from my pain-- as a delightful diversionary drink from an inexhaustible ocean of instant gratification.

How many of us are spiritually dehydrated from drinking what the world has to offer?

I think I should raise my hand here. I've always done it, but in the heat of trial, I can feel the effects faster and more intensely than at any other time in my life.

Coincidentally, my health condition (dysautonomia) has my body in a chronic state of physical dehydration. If you see me out anywhere, I probably am toting a tall bottle that says "Smart Water" on it. (It doesn't make me smarter.) My body needs this water constantly to keep my blood volume at a normal level. If I don't continuously drink water, my blood pressure drops, and my heart races in futility to rescue my brain from impending loss of consciousness. Heat makes this happen much faster.

I know how to fight my physical dehydration, but how can I fight against the temptation to succumb to spiritual dehydration?

Something tells me that, like David, since I can't avoid the "heat" of trials, I need to be drinking more and more of God's refreshing Word all the time. When David's soul felt downcast and disturbed, he didn't turn aside to the distractions of this world. He sought the face of God. He willed himself to put his hope in God.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2

David knew that in his time of danger and being targeted by Saul's men, the only one who would quench his thirst and save him was God alone.

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8

Withered by the heat of my trials, I need to remember that how I respond will determine whether I end up dehydrated and weak, or fruitful and strong. It all depends on what water I choose to drink when the heat is on and my soul is parched:

Will I keep seeking fulfillment in the ocean of the world's salty pleasures...or will I put forth the extra effort to reach over and over for the cup of God's pure, quenching Word?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Don't hold back."

The "Waitgain" series just finished up at church tonight. My muscles ached so badly from my outings on Thursday and Friday, but I just couldn't miss the last sermon on waiting, and thankfully, God strengthened me to go and hear it.

As I've mentioned before, I have a great fear of hoping for deliverance from God here on planet earth only to be disappointed. Hoping that my Mom will survive this horrific assault on her life is my primary focus right now, and trying to help her get through this trial has been devastatingly difficult-- both emotionally and physically. I wonder some days, will God take my best friend from me? Will he really test my faith to the point of taking from me the dearest soul I've ever known-- all the while my father ignoring, mocking, and abandoning us to the evil that he sees happening?

Searching for precedent, I can see my mom's dear friend Annette, an amputee, who got off of dialysis with a new kidney just to see her husband pass away, and to shortly follow him in death. Her devotion to the Lord was so fierce, and yet her dreams of living with a new kidney were cut off.

Angie Smith, who is a tremendous blogger at http://www.audreycaroline.blogspot.com/, recently lost her daughter after giving birth. Her sister-in-law lost her baby soon after. The faithful family grieves and mourns the bitter loss of two bright young lives that will not be lived here on earth.

My friend Emily, a young and caring woman, just spent a day last week recognizing her 10 year anniversary of debilitating illness. We've talked about the lost opportunities and the dreams she's had to let go as time has dragged on without healing.

My dear friend Melissa suffers with a punishing progressive illness, stealing her ability to eat and move around, landing her in the hospital repeatedly with life-threatening infections-- all of this happening to a 28-year-old full of passion for the Lord and other people. I reason with God sometimes, "Lord, you've given her so many talents and gifts-- such depth of character, such deep devotion to you." I am in awe of this young woman's perseverance through setbacks, disappointments, crises that rise up again and again. Talking to her always reminds me what it means to live with hope. Never is her hope unrealistic, but like a refreshing spring that sort of bubbles out through the tone of her voice and the way she looks at the world. Her circumstances are never defeating to her, but a reason to fight harder, to pursue better treatments, to research the best experts. When her body fails her, she is the first to point out how she was saved from something even worse. When lights go out all around her, her light shines brighter.

All this is to say that my hope for Melissa has always been for a miraculous healing on earth. A young woman with so much to offer, who volunteers online to encourage those with illnesses much milder than her own-- of all people, she must be one God would want to heal. I ask for this in prayer repeatedly and things seem to improve, but months later another setback occurs. More loss, more pain, more of wondering what God is doing.

It's people like Melissa, Emily, Angie, and Annette that make me ask God, "How can I count on you as a sure thing here on earth?" It's the circumstances in lives of the faithful that never get better causing me to wonder, "Why do you allow so much loss and pain where you could easily bring healing and joy?"

Pastor Rick's sermon today was about waiting with expectation for God's best which is yet to come. In the here and now, in the dark places of pain, in the wake of years of unanswered prayer, this expectation is the driving force for our faith. This little engine of expectation must sputter us through the times when we have no ability to take one step forward based on the decay we *see* all around.

I asked him after the sermon how to cope when I want to pull back from trusting God because earthly outcomes can be so daunting and unpredictable. He encouraged me to not hold back. That simple phrase, "Don't hold back," moved me, and I keep thinking about it tonight. Don't hold back praying for Melissa's healing. Don't hold back praying for my family to be free from abuse, crime, danger, fear, and illness. Don't hold back hoping for dreams on earth, but realize that the real hope lies beyond the grave for all of us who believe in Christ.

My view of heaven has always been a little vague with a lot of clouds. I see the great light of God's throne. I hear the praises of him never-ending. I see the golden streets. But what I had not considered until recently was how glorious, sharp, and real the atmosphere will be. The same God who takes my breath away with the deep purple-pink of a sunset, the thrill of a lover's touch, the satisfaction of the most delicious flavors, the mind-blowing colorful creatures living in the depths of the sea-- (solely created for God's delight because for countless years we humans didn't even have the ability to dive down to see them)-- this same God created heaven. It will be breathtaking, filling our hearts with the sincerest delight, the total fulfillment of what we long for now.

Thinking of heaven as a real place-- the most idyllic earthly haven amplified 1000 fold-- gives me this image of Melissa and me eating together, and after we finish, putting our running shoes on to race around a high mountain, with a clear crystal lake. I smell the tall pine trees and take off like an untamed pony on my strong legs. I dream of not running out of breath because of asthma or getting pained and exhausted, but bounding with limitless energy. I dream of the cleanest air I've ever breathed rushing through my lungs and in my hair. I picture Jesus waiting for us at the top, as a real man, fully with us, smiling and being able to dive with us into the mountain pools-- splashing, laughing. And these glorified bodies that enable us to do all things we cannot do here-- these bodies were worth waiting for. This time with Jesus in paradise was worth the tears we cried. In fact, we can't even remember the tears.

I had to share this image because what I long for is for Jesus to make all things right. I see so much horror around me and hear so much cruelty, and right now I can't see God doing much of anything to make it right. I struggle and labor under the promises of deliverance, when I can easily see that we are NOT delivered.

This morning, I read Psalm 89, which completely captured these feelings of indignation over God's seemingly broken promises to the people of Israel-- specifically the throne of David. They did not yet have the perspective of Jesus reigning on David's throne forever, so to them, it appeared God had forsaken them. What I found so amusingly familiar were the details and great pains the Psalm-writer took to remind God of what he'd promised and then following that up with how it didn't "jive" with reality. I do that same thing to him so often-- confronting him with circumstances like a prosecutor and proudly claiming that they don't "jive" with being delivered, saved, or protected. He is still Lord of it all, and I just don't have the perspective yet to see what he's doing.

What can I do in the meantime, until I have that perspective and can see the complete fulfillment of God's promises to me?

A passage from Hebrews reminds me to look ahead to what awaits-- when I patiently wait on the Lord, I will see the promises of God fulfilled:

"Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."
Hebrews 10:32-36

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A mere 400 years away from victory

Have you ever thought about the times when the Bible is silent?

I'm not talking about when the Bible is closed and we don't open it. :) I'm talking about the times in the Bible that we naturally skip over-- the times in history when God did not overtly act, but instead waited.

The Bible is a history book, and I took for granted that it covered God's continuous interactions with man for all of time. However, recently, while reading "Disappointment with God" by Philip Yancey and listening to a sermon series from church effectively titled "Waitgain," I was suddenly confronted with large GAPS in God's timeline.

There are 2 large blocks of silence when the Bible says little to nothing about God's involvement with his people. Was God on vacation? It probably seemed that way to his people at that time. No big miracles. No visions of angels. No leading. Nothing recorded at all. But what we see beautifully in hindsight (so much so that we can overlook the waiting all together), is the great victory after the wait.

1) The first 400 years of silence occurred between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. At that time, Moses was led to prepare the way out for the Israelites who were oppressed by slavery to Egyptians.

2) The second 400 years of silence occurred between the last prophet Malachi and the beginning of the Gospels. At that time, Jesus came to prepare the way for Israelites and all people who were oppressed by slavery to sin.

Both periods of silence preceded arguably the greatest, most impressive, and boldest interventions of God's power in the history of mankind.

Both of those interventions were for the purpose of saving his oppressed children from evil power greater than themselves.

I have been keeping a journal since I was 9 years old. One of those years (2003), I tried to write an account of every single day for the entire year. It was exhausting and stressful. I just didn't have time, and the things I wrote were usually mundane. On the days that big things happened, I didn't have room to write it all. After that year, I went back to my old habit of writing when I was moved to write. There are long gaps of silences in my journals, but that doesn't mean that I'm not at work. In fact, those times are usually when I am the busiest, but the record of my work doesn't show up until the battles have been won. Only then are the empty pages put into perspective.

God is teaching me that he is similarly at work in these years of waiting, leading up to a future victory. His time table is not the same as ours. One of his most passionate friends on earth described him like this...

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
2Peter 3:8-9

Though this talk of 400 or 1000 years sounds ridiculously long to us, God has the whole picture in mind and some day we will see it too. For now, we must remember he is in control. From his perspective: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." He reminds us: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

He has assured us that the end will be worth the wait and wants as many of us as possible to have faith in him, so we will share in his final victory.

"I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory."

1 Peter 1:6-7 (Message translation)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

as trusting as a whale

The cry of my heart tonight echoes in this song by Kathryn Scott:

Hungry I come to You
For I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know
Your love does not run dry
So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I'm falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You're all
This heart is living for

Broken I run to You
For Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch
Restores my life
So I wait for You
So I wait for You


I'm exhausted in every way possible. I feel like I can't keep going. When I went searching for the secret of keeping and maintaining faith tonight, I read about the bigwigs in the "Hall of Faith" (Hebrews 11).

While reading, I saw how dangerous it is to be a person of faith. BIG faith requires BIG RISK. Among other things, the people mentioned in that chapter risked public humiliation, wasted time, being laughed at, losing secure homes, the lives of loved ones, huge hassles, years in prison, false accusations, persecution, disappointment, and death.

But to risk all you have betting on God is THE sure win. Why don't more people do it? And why isn't it easier? I mean, people go skydiving and bungee jumping and car racing. Rock climbers place their faith in safety harnesses, and everyone who flies or drives places their faith in computers, machines, and crazy people on the road. I even know one person who would ride a bike on the berm of the highway if it was legal. Why do we risk so much on this earth when the payoff is small and uncertain at best? Why not fully place our lives in God's hands who promises to work all things for the good of those who love him?

The answer, I think, is the final 2 verses of Hebrews 11--
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us, so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:39-40

We don't get all our rewards now. Faith pays off for those who wait on the Lord. It's the waiting "without" that's the problem for most of us. We need our rewards instantly, at least I do-- the thrill of the chase, the rush of adrenaline, the flush of endorphins, the goal in sight-- when we don't see that quick reward follow our faith, in fear we sometimes back away. In disappointment and anger, we blame God. "I was faithful!" "This is how you repay me?" "How long will you punish me?" Relationship with God is not an easy ride. It requires something from us in return: To love him and trust him as the perfect Father, even when we don't understand what he's doing.

I saw a clip on TV recently that involved a whale rescue of some sort. People were in the water for hours trying to untangle and free a small whale that had come in too close to the harbor. With many failed attempts and the whale showing signs of distress, the rescuers were left with no choice but to lift the whale out of the water and transport him to safety in the back of a pickup truck. Of course, as an objective human, I relaxed because it was easy for me to see the whale was going to be just fine once he got into open water; however, my view of the situation changed when one of the rescuers turned to the camera and said something like,

"I wish we could somehow communicate to it that everything is going to be ok while it's on this truck. It must be pretty scared not knowing what we're doing."

When I heard this, I immediately thought of how the whale couldn't see man's plan to help, and was afraid-- just like we often can't see God's plan to help us, and feel he's somehow stopped caring. The truth is: God is on a massive saving effort for mankind. We're groaning under the stress of being caught in a net of sin, and we can't free ourselves from the ugly consequences of this sin-infested planet. Disease eats at our bodies. Depression, worry, and stress eat at our joy. We look around, unable to comprehend that we are being offered a way out, but that it will take time, and it will get scary before it gets better.

We're lifted out of our familiar waters when we begin to follow Christ in his suffering, but instead of feeling safer, it can most surely feel like he's hauling us away on a flatbed truck to our demise. What could this rescuer be thinking!? All our senses say he is not the loving helper. He tells us with words that can only be interpreted through the Spirit of God that the future holds safety and freedom that we can't imagine. The way is hard, and though we don't fully understand the twists and turns of this rescue effort, we can trust Him. He'll sit in the back of the truck with us on our long ride to open waters and whisper to us as he scoops water over our hot skin. He will gently lift us up once more, and this time, we won't ever be caught in the traps of sin, disease, or death. We will swim free with him forever.

Hear his whispers of hope in these verses:

2 Corinthians 4:16
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Romans 8:18-19
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed."

Isaiah 64:4
"Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."