God Revealing Himself

God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.
We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.
We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.
Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.
If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.
If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

Some Days Are Just Ugly

There are some days when it is easy to love.
Loving each other
Happy Baby
I am able to surrender to the Spirit which causes peace to fill me up and overflow into the hearts of my daughters, my husband. I have the supernatural strength to stay calm in the midst of tantrums, kind in the midst of misunderstandings, and joyful in the midst of hurt.
Then there are days like today.
Yelled at by Mommy
Days when something ugly wells up inside of me. Days when I want to be mean. Days when I feel resentful towards those I love best.
I hate these days.
What is this darkness, this nastiness that overwhelms me and threatens to spill out into the hearts of those I love?
Sadness
Tantrums
Anger
Defiance
My daughters cry to be held, fuss about wearing clothes, throw tantrums because school is hard, and my desire is not to comfort them but to scream like a crazed woman with fire in my eyes.
My husband makes an innocent comment and my desire is not to hear his loving intentions but to deliberately misunderstand and hiss a disparaging remark.
I intentionally fight against the changing of my mood. I want to savor, to wallow in my blackness.
I hate these days.
I get so tired of fighting this battle within me. I get so weary of fighting my very self. I long for the day when I finally look like Jesus, when my desire is to love rather than hate, when my heart is all light with no shadow at all.
As ugly as my heart can be, I am grateful that God refuses to give up on me. I am thankful that He does not save me and then leave me as I am. I am astounded that He is filling me up with Himself, crowding out the ugliness until there is nothing left but Beauty.
I try not to feel impatient.
Yet I know. I know. I know that I belong to Jesus. He gave Himself for me and therefore sin has lost its hold on me. I can hold on to that knowing even when I cannot feel it. Little by little, sin’s grasp is slipping away because Love has taken hold and nothing dark can hold on in the light of this fiercest Love.
As the recent hymn says, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
No scheme of man. Not even my own schemes. Nothing can separate me from Love Himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Amen.

Go Act Like It

Sometimes, when I forget who our King is, this world makes me want to run away and hide.
In a week when refugees number in the millions,
refugees
In a week when a friend, a friend with a wife and three small children, dies much too soon,
Kirk Workman
In a week when fellow believers choose to scream about gay marriage across the country rather than to do something about the poor on the other side of town,
Protesting
It is easy to believe the lie that I can do nothing against the darkness of this world.
It is easy to believe that the darkness is too strong.
It is easy to believe that ISIS wins, that cancer wins, that politicism wins.
In a week like this, I want to give in to despair. To give up. To gather my babies around me and sit and wait for Jesus to come back and make all of this right again.
And then I remember.
I remember that Jesus calls us to fight. He calls us to be a royal priesthood. A people who rule on His behalf and a people who represent Him to the world around them.
If we hide from the darkness, the darkness will certainly overcome. At least, it will overcome those to whom God asked us to be the light. Perhaps it will overcome us as well.
God is light and He has commissioned us to bring that light to the world.
Loving the Littlest
Teaching
I often tell my children:
You are beautiful. You are loving.
Now act like it.
Caring
Helping Others to Stand
So now I tell myself and I tell you:
We are royal. We are priests.
We should act like it.
Go dish out food at a soup kitchen.
Go babysit the children of a parent who has lost someone they love.
Go take a meal to an elderly friend who broke their hip.
Go have patience with that tantrum-throwing child one more time.
Go bake some cookies and take them to the gay couple down the street. Without a note that tells them how wrong they are.
Go find out how to help those refugee children who are lost and hungry and afraid (here’s a good place to start: http://wewelcomerefugees.com/).
We are royal. We are priests.
Act like it.
Be the light that overcomes the darkness.
And take heart; Jesus has overcome the world.

When You Can’t See Your Next Step

We wander around in the dim light.
Dim Light
Lost in a twilight we hope will end in glorious dawn yet are frightened may only lead to utter darkness, we stumble around and squint about us for a path.
We can ever only see the next step, sometimes two, but we still strain our eyes towards the horizon, searching for a ray of the sun.
Twilight
Other shadows stumble near us and we are as likely to swing out clumsily to protect our frightened selves as we are to welcome them as companions on a journey.
All we can do is cling to Jesus, to that name, whatever it means to each of us. We cling to the Word and are disappointed that it is a lamp and not a floodlight.
lamplight
Yet as we stumble and search, if we keep our eyes on that dim pool of lamplight, we find that it is enough. We find that a circle of candlelight is enough to keep us from falling flat on our faces if we will only keep our eyes on our own path instead of casting them around farther ahead or behind.
candlelight
Asking for our daily bread keeps us crying out that we need Him every hour rather than only every week or so.
And so the dim light helps rather than hinders. It keeps us clutching the One who knows where we ought to be rather than stubbornly crawling off the edge of a cliff because we have the right and freedom to do so.
Perhaps the searchlight of God would be enough to turn us to stone and make us beg for the soft familiar lamplight again.
soft guiding light
We all wander around in the murky light.
And if we can only remain content in our small circle of candlelight, then one day we will see, perhaps only out of the corner of our eyes at first, the first rays of Him who is the Light of the world breaking through our mist and burning it all away for a glorious dawn.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

A post from the archives due to a week full of holidays, family moving, end of the year field trips, and big decisions.

What Is Found in the Dark?

Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
Lighting Candles
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.

Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

My Little Circle of Lamplight

We wander around in the dim light.
Dim Light
Lost in a twilight we hope will end in glorious dawn yet are frightened may only lead to utter darkness, we stumble around and squint about us for a path.
We can ever only see the next step, sometimes two, but we still strain our eyes towards the horizon, searching for a ray of the sun.
Twilight
Other shadows stumble near us and we are as likely to swing out clumsily to protect our frightened selves as we are to welcome them as companions on a journey.
All we can do is cling to Jesus, to that name, whatever it means to each of us. We cling to the Word and are disappointed that it is a lamp and not a floodlight.
lamplight
Yet as we stumble and search, if we keep our eyes on that dim pool of lamplight, we find that it is enough. We find that a circle of candlelight is enough to keep us from falling flat on our faces if we will only keep our eyes on our own path instead of casting them around farther ahead or behind.
candlelight
Asking for our daily bread keeps us crying out that we need Him every hour rather than only every week or so.
And so the dim light helps rather than hinders. It keeps us clutching the One who knows where we ought to be rather than stubbornly crawling off the edge of a cliff because we have the right and freedom to do so.
Perhaps the searchlight of God would be enough to turn us to stone and make us beg for the soft familiar lamplight again.
soft guiding light
We all wander around in the murky light.
And if we can only remain content in our small circle of candlelight, then one day we will see, perhaps only out of the corner of our eyes at first, the first rays of Him who is the Light of the world breaking through our mist and burning it all away for a glorious dawn.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

Terrible Love

It is Thanksgiving time and there is light.

Happy kids eating

Happy eating

Fine dining
They sit around the table laden with food, this family bound together by blood.  There is light and laughter, talk of sports and of God, there is caring and kindness between generations.  There are eyes shining bright, shining with love and with joy in the company around them.
And there is darkness.
There is one who is recently bereft of the comfort of spouse, struggling to find what is normal.  There is one who sits heavy with the weight of marriage that is harder than expected.  There is one who wonders if anything they do will ever seem good enough.
There is one who struggles with getting older, one who struggles with trouble at work and money that slips through the fingers, one who wonders if there is anything good coming when they can’t see what lies further down the road.
The Road
There is darkness in all of us.  It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.  And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.  The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”  It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.  It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can here in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  And darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

Still Following the Signs

I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina.  It is the third anniversary of her death, and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark.  So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now.  In this world, it will always be so.  There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around.  I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
pain of death
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.  Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.  Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.  To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
Forsaken
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis.  It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us.  We see it all throughout the Bible.  Abel.  Abraham.  Joseph.  Moses.  Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live.  John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin.  All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.  I might never know the reason.
Kristina
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp

What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best?  Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
Puddleglum
We often learn best through story.  One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair.  Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia.  They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair.  The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”.  The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt.  “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum.  “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously.  “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question.  What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about?  On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?  Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.  “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.  “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum.  “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen.  He only told her what to do.  That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder.  But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right.  We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there.  Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed?  It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done.  He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”

And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why.  It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard.  If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s.  God is able to handle our questions, our fears.  Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
We aren’t let off following the signs.

Sketch is Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses

Stomach Doubt

Sometimes it is a hiding in the two a.m. darkness.

Hiding

Sometimes it is a wrestling with something only partly known.

Wrestling

Sometimes it is a stumbling around in the dusk that is almost nightfall.

Stumbling

It is a doubt about God that is common to all who are awake and alive.  Whether you believe in God and at times doubt His existence or you disbelieve in God and at times doubt His absence, it is an experience of humanity.
Frederick Buechner speaks of head doubt and stomach doubt.
Head doubt can happen at any time and about anything at all.  I can doubt the existence of God, the true fabric of reality, even the evidence of my own senses if the mood is right.  When these doubts descend, I usually keep living my life as I have been living, continue to act as though I still believe, and in the end it eventually comes out right.
I have never experienced stomach doubt.  Perhaps only those who whose faith is the strongest, the saints among us, have experienced this kind of doubt.
I believe that Jesus did.  When He cried out “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  I believe that He was engulfed in stomach doubt.  He had, as Buechner said, “looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed Him.”

 

I don’t know that I am strong enough to withstand that kind of doubt.

 

It seems hard to pray that someday I might be.