Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Ring was in the Freezer

My pastor gave a powerful sermon last Memorial Day weekend called "Engraved." It was based on this verse:

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; your walls are ever before me.
Isaiah 49:15-16

The sermon was part of a series called "GODISNOWHERE," which, if you notice, can be "God is Nowhere" or "God is Now Here." It can be easy to feel the former even while knowing the latter.

After hearing this sermon, I had a ring made based on this verse. It captivated me that God has my name engraved on his hands. For me, the hand is the place I write something if I don't want to forget it because I'm always looking at my hands. Pen washes off though, and if I'm not careful, I can forget even the boldest reminder. But here, this verse says that I am engraved. God is never going to wash me off or lose sight of his plan for my life. He even has nail scars to prove it.

I am often tempted to feel forgotten by God when I hurt for so long. When my prayers for relief go unanswered, I question. When my cries on behalf of others seem to fall on deaf ears, I wonder. When I'm trapped at home in my room, I think, "God, I could be out doing so much for you!"

I was out of the house for a few moments today for the first time in about 2 weeks. As I was singing along to praise music in the car, I was thinking with a chuckle: "Why keep this voice shut in?" Now, I'm no singer, but I can't understand sometimes why God has set apart this time for me to be isolated. I have such a desire to serve God and live life fully. Has God forgotten? Has he abandoned me?

I wear my ring every day to remind me of God's promise. (It was either that or a tattoo.) It reminds me of the tight bond between God and me - tighter than that of mother and child. He never for a moment gets distracted, falls asleep, or fails to keep watch over me. By faith, I can be assured that I have been set apart by him, like Israel was, for all time. He keeps watch over the walls that protect me, and sometimes, just like with Israel, he allows those walls to be broken down.

It's been a testing point for me in my faith to think that God could keep watch over me and still allow my walls to be broken down, to allow trouble in, to allow sorrow and brokenness. But recalling what happened to Israel, I do know that God has a plan to rebuild those walls again. When God allowed Babylon to break down the defenses of the city and Jerusalem to be taken into captivity, God knew all along that the captives would return and build up those ruins once again. I think he sees the same in my life. It won't always be this way.

So back to my ring. My grandma ended up needing an ambulance and going to the hospital yesterday. Because of this, I was very tired by mid afternoon, and my ring must have slipped off my hand while I was digging in the freezer for some very old, frosted pierogies. The thing is, I didn't even notice the ring was missing when I dropped it. I wear this ring every day and night, but I was so tired and stressed out that I completely forgot about the ring. It wasn't until my mom found it late last night and brought it in to me that I realized what had happened. The irony was not lost: I had lost track of the ring that reminds me of God's promise to never lose track of me.

As a human, even with the best intentions and a heart for God, I fail. I forget. I don't measure up. But in contrast to my failings, I can be sure that God is not like that. My ring may slip off and fall into the bottom of the freezer. I may slip up and revert back into patterns of sin that I thought were behind me. But no matter what I do, God is faithful. It is in his character, and he cannot be any other way. He will pursue me with steadfast love.

Lord, thank you that I am engraved on your hands and that nothing, not even my own failings or hardships, can get in the way of your all-consuming love for me.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Scrabble Bingo!

I have a secret habit that most people don't know about.

I'm a Scrabble fanatic.

I love to sit there and mix the letters around in my tray looking for the highest scoring word. I love plotting how to get the most bonus squares into a turn, and I love how no game is ever the same. It's possible to get a really high score with just one letter but to only get a single digit score using 6 letters and very creative words.

The best part of the game, the real high, comes whenever I can make a "bingo" (all 7 letters in the tray played at once). This takes both luck and intuition. I've seen very experienced opponents come up with bingos using letters I would have dismissed as unworkable. It takes a lot of practice to get a sense of when your letters will make a bingo and when they won't. When they do work, the reward is not only the value of the word but also 50 bonus points. It's a great way to break free from a neck-and-neck struggle.

But don't get me wrong, my love for Scrabble isn't just about maximizing the points on each turn. It's a journey. And no, I'm not stretching the analogy too far. Ok, maybe a little.

A few minutes ago, I played the final move in a game that has been going on for a week or two with 2 of my toughest opponents. They both got bingos very early on in the game, one of which was over 100 points just by itself. I languished back by between 50 and 100 points most of the game. My letters just wouldn't work in the places I had to play. The temptation was to just write this off as another loss. But I have learned that in Scrabble, as in life, it's not over until the final play.

So, each turn I played the best word that I could, considering what I had to work with. Four of my eight plays were only 20 points. It was not looking good.

Right before my final play of the game, the scoring looked like this:
Player A: 240
Player B: 249
Me: 184

And that was when I was able to lay down a bingo (AWARDERS). It changed the whole game, and even though I had been losing by a wide margin all along, I came out the winner in the end. It was the game-changing play.

I think it is going to be that way for a lot of us when we come to the end of our lives. We either gave up trying to follow God long ago, or we kept on making the most faithful decisions we could considering the tiles we'd been dealt. Sometimes those decisions made in faith just seem to set us back further. Godless people can prosper and faithful people can struggle. But considering that the game is not over until God says it is, I take great comfort in persisting despite how things appear. Persevering when it looks like all is lost is just like continuing to make small 20 point plays while my opponents racked up the points. It seemed foolish to keep inching forward with great effort when I would surely lose, but all those inches added up so that when I was able to place all that I had on the table, I came out winning by a single point.

We are building a foundation inch-by-inch, brick-by-brick, in every decision of obedience to the Lord. Do not give up and grow weary because circumstances are against you, because you experience failure, or because you do not feel or see God. Obedient decisions do not always yield immediate reward, but as believers, we are called to press on in faith till the very end.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9