Friday, 19 December 2014

Do Not be Disturbed...

I saw my husband off to work while it was still dark outside this morning. I still can hardly believe the regular, adult hours we keep nowadays... I'm not sure I feel that grown up yet.

Instead of pouring my coffee and firing up the photoshop to continue working my way through a backlog of sessions, something (someone) drew me to crack my bible open instead. It's been awhile since I've opened the Word to just read, not searching for a specific verse to share with someone, or following a bible study, or keeping up with the preaching points in a sermon. I've missed it. I've missed encountering the Living God through the tiny print on the thinnest pieces of paper. But it's so easy to not take the time as everything else competes for my time and attention. And there have been deeper things holding me back. Cracks formed in my hope through various circumstances over the past few years that the enemy would use to discourage me and leave my soul homeless, but which God will turn over into good as He beckons me toward Him, not away...

I opened to 2 Kings. Random place to go, I know, but I had a bookmark there from however long ago it was that I had been working my way back through the Old Testament again page by page (it doesn't help that since being back in the states, I only have my travel bible, my study bible left in storage somewhere in Europe for the time being).

I still can't quite comprehend how it works. I know the Bible is not magic. And yet I randomly open up to 2 Kings and start reading about the reign of King Hezekiah on this random day, my heart full of random thoughts and random feelings, and suddenly, it's as if this part of history was recorded just for me to read on this very morning, in the midst of this very life. And I find that happens again and again and again when I turn to this book which is not magic, but certainly is something. God-breathed. The Living Word of a Living God who sees into my soul and loves every corner of it...

You see, Hezekiah was a good king of Israel. 1 & 2 Kings in the Old Testament read like a historical list of the leaders of this ancient nation. A few chapters explaining an overview of what happened during one king's reign, and whether he was with God or against Him, and then a few chapters giving an overview of what happened in the nation of Israel in the next king's reign, and whether he was with God or against him. And on and on it goes, the cause and effect on a an entire people of a leader working with God or working against Him unfolding before our eyes through decades and centuries condensed down to a few thin pages.

Hezekiah "did what was pleasing in the Lord's sight" (2 Kings 18:3). He "trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was never another king like him in the land of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. So the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did" (vv. 5-7). Great, right? But I have to wonder as I read the story if Hezekiah felt successful all the time, felt the Lord with him all the time. Because during his reign in Judah, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked and conquered their fortified cities. I've never experienced warfare, but I can't imagine being conquered by the Assyrians felt particularly "successful" to Hezekiah or his people. And if I was Hezekiah, my faith would have flickered to naught when the Assyrian king sent his commander in chief, field commander, and a personal representative (and a huge army, I might add) with a message for King Hezekiah and the people of Judah.
"This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Which of your allies will give you military backing against Assyria?... (vv.19-20)"

"I'll tell you what! My master, the king of Assyria, will strike a bargain with you. If you can find two thousand horsemen in your entire army, he will give you two thousand horses for them to ride on! With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master's troops?... (vv.23-24)."

"My master wants everyone in Jerusalem to hear this, not just you. He wants them to know that if you do not surrender, this city will be put under siege. The people will become so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine... Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Don't let King Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you from my power. Don't let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, 'The Lord will rescue us! This city will never be handed over to the Assyrian king.'... (vv.27-30)"

"Don't listen to Hezekiah when he tries to mislead you by saying, 'The Lord will rescue us!' Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? What happened to the gods of Hamath and Arpad? And what about the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah [all other historical cities the Assyrians conquered]? Did they rescue Samaria from my power? What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? Name just one! So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem?... (vv.32-37)"

Had I been amongst the throng in the dusty streets of Jerusalem that day, I would have looked out at that vast army, heard the shouts of their representative, and despaired. When King Hezekiah's officials reported this message to him, that's exactly what the bible says they did. "They tore their clothes in despair" (v. 37). 

The thing is... isn't this exactly what the enemy of our souls is screaming at us every day? "Look around you, stupid! Don't you see the evil conquering the innocent all over this world? Is your God keeping militants from waging gruesome 'holy war' across the middle east? Did your God keep the Taliban from attacking those innocent school children in Pakistan a few days ago? Or what about Nazi Germany, the Rwandan Genocide, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the Congo? Look at the estimated 70 million martyrs who have died for trusting the name of Jesus since Christ's time. 70 million! Where was His recuse for them? And closer to home, did He keep your loved ones safe from the depravity of pedophiles? From physical abuse and neglect in their own homes? From families being torn apart by lies, hate, selfishness, and divorce? What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? Name just one! What makes you think your Lord can rescue you?" .....

Heaviness, heaviness, heaviness.

King Hezekiah also despaired. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth (a sign of mourning).

But then he went into the temple to pray (2 Kings 19:1).

It all hinges here. Hezekiah might have taken this very serious threat (hello, huge armies outside his door!) and this very pointed intimidation and said, "You know, they're right..." But he remembered something. He remembered who His God was. His people had walked with the God of his fathers for generations, and they had experienced His power and His wonder and His care and His love again and again. So he decided to turn to his God and trust him once more. And God sent someone to minister to him. In this case, it was the prophet Isaiah. In my case, it's usually a friend, a mentor, a book, a poignant line in a film that reminds my soul of something it needs to hold on to, etc etc. Somehow, He comes. Don't forget in the dark what you learned in the light...

God told him, though Isaiah, "Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me... I myself will move against him" (v. 6-7).

Do not be disturbed by the lies of the enemy of your soul. I myself will move against him... 

And He did. 2 Kings 19 tells of how he moved against them in Hezekiah's time. But what has stuck with me this morning, and helped me to get up and face another day, is the thought that Hezekiah couldn't have seen it all playing out as it did, and yet he chose to trust. And he chose rightly.

Lord God, I want to choose to trust You! Despite everything my eyes ache to see unfolding. I want to choose to trust You. Because I know, I know, I know, I know that it is the right choice. You have drawn a line in the sand and allowed the enemy to come that far, but no further, Lord. You will move against him. And I will be on your side. Do not be disturbed by the lies of the enemy all around you. Your God Himself will move against Him... In fact, He's already begun.

"Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel [which means 'God with us']..."
-- Isaiah 7:14

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Shattering of the Sacred & Heavenly, Healing Magic...

I love him.  I love who we are together.

I didn't know when I said "I do" holding his hands, wearing my mom's beautiful lacy dress, dancing into the night with the people dearest to us, that I would love him this much. I thought I already loved him as much as any heart could hold... Little did I know.

Little did I know the quiet ways of real love, of real care. I hadn't seen it, really; not fleshed out. Sure, I'd dreamed of it. I'd written about it. I'd hoped for it. But in a broken world, love too is broken, and really rather extremely broken love is what I knew. And my husband and I are not perfect, far far far from it, in fact. And our relationship is still so young. We chuckle when we think of all the years of our lives we lived separate from one another, not even knowing one another existed. It was Sept 10th, 2009 when we happened into one another's [very different] stories. It wasn't until 14 months later that we took our friendship to that next level and blushed as we introduced one another as boyfriend and girlfriend. Nearly another 2 years after that we promised-- with a stunning diamond solitaire-- to marry one another. And it was only last summer that we joined our lives and hearts and bodies in marriage.  

Marriage: that courageous vow to not only love, but to cherish another person. To stand by them regardless of what the years bring, to support them-- with wise love-- to be forever becoming the person God meant when He dreamed them up. To take the hand of someone who is not you, who does not think like you, see the world as you do, feel as you do, and promise to put him first, to choose to lay down your own needs in order to serve his needs, trusting that he'll look after yours. And in that way, everyone's needs are met. It's terrifying. It can go so badly. Again, the broken world gets in the way... But when two people are daily trying (this is a key word since there's no such thing as perfect outside of Jesus' love) to love this way... the result is nothing short of heavenly, healing magic.

My husband's love is my own taste of heavenly, healing magic.

Our scant year and a half of marriage has happened upon one of the most difficult seasons of my emotional life. I don't have words to describe it, really. Circumstances have made me feel like all the things I thought sacred have been broken, mutilated, ripped apart, scattered. I don't know how to put them back together, so instead I feel like I just sit in the pile of the pieces and weep. And rage. I feel like I'm always teetering on this precipice, praying I won't fall into the dark abyss beckoning me to forget all the beauty, all the love, all the grace in the midst of all the evil, all the brokenness, all the despair that surrounds and closes in.

And there, stalwart and steadfast like the majestic Coastal Redwoods (and did I mention over-the-top handsome? My God is just THAT generous!) beside me stands my husband, quietly reaching out one stabilizing arm to massage the back of my neck. There he stands, offering me his strength, his perfectly kissable broad shoulders with their toned valley between them leading down to a muscular back beckoning me to rest against it. God's timing is more perfect than I have ever before known. May I hold on to that when everything makes me forget. I could not have met this season of life without the strength of my husband to borrow from, without the kindness of my husband to rely on, without his thoughtfulness, compassion, and care. Without his supportive love. Such a heavenly, healing magic! Such a gift from a loving God, and proof that evil does not get to win... That is the message my husband's love is sent from heaven to give me.

We took a once in a lifetime road trip a few weeks ago which made me ponder and grow. Flew out to Seattle, rented a car, and drove down the coast all the way to L.A., soaking up the beauty of one corner of the world our tremendously creative God made. Soaking it up together-- catching one another's excitement and wonder as we kissed in the ocean winds on the beaches of Oregon, hiked out to the sequoias in California, scaled the enchanting coastal Redwoods with our eyes (I love his eyes; golden brown and Long-lashed, speaking volumes in their gaze), walked down rows of vines in golden Napa Valley, and maneuvered traffic in L.A. Even outstanding beauty is more beautiful when I breathe it in next to him. When I feel his hand on the small of my back, guiding me over the rough patch of the trail, or when he insists on escorting me out to the motel office to keep me safe. This love he shows me... it is Jesus' touch. I recognize the divine in it, and I cannot bow low enough in gratitude and amazement. So the times when it's not easy, and little annoyances and hurts between us-- marks of living in a broken world-- rear their ugly heads, I remind myself of that hand on the small of my back, keeping me safe, looking out for my best. Because I know in good faith that that's my husband's heart... And my choice to show him love and grace and faith in his heart creates the same safe and strong place for him as he makes for me.

And I know that this masterpiece of a man whom God's given me to live life with is a gift to me from a loving God. And THAT is my Jesus' heart. So I cannot let this shattering of the sacred bring me to forget the heart of what God is up to in this world, His heavenly, healing love shed abroad to anyone who will accept it. I must hold on to all the ways He places his hand on the small of my back, guiding me over the rough patches of trail...

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Face of Joy

She had lived through the Holocaust.

Anita Dittman came to speak at my church the other night. She had survived one of the darkest experiences in human history. She had had her family stripped from her when she was still only a girl, really, living for months on her own, praying that her mother would survive the concentration camp. Then forced to work digging trenches for the Nazis while starving, dying from an infection that she had to hide lest she be shot on the spot. When she was finally "safe" in a hospital, the Nazi nurse tried to kill her. She was spared brutal rape by the incoming Russian soldiers only because of the wounds they saw when they stripped her naked. She had seen more indescribable evil and horror than most of us will ever even come close to...

And yet, the joy in her face shone brighter than all the pain.

And I left church Sunday night mesmerized. By her story, yes; by the incredible opportunity I'd just had to meet an 87 year old Jewish survivor of the Holocaust; but mostly by the joy in her face.

I came home, sat down on my side of the bed-- my heart communicating with God even while my mind raced-- and concluded: I want to be that faithful.

I want to stand in the face of this personal darkness and respond with faith. I want to pray and know that He hears and I can trust Him no matter the outcome. I want to face my personal Nazis and watch as God uses them to help me escape (she literally was given a train ride to freedom by some German soldiers after she escaped with 4 other girls from their work camp as the Russians closed in...) to freedom. I want to someday stand before a cloud of witnesses and shine joy from my face because of the grace of my God. I want to stand that firm in the love of Christ, that the deepest darkness can't muffle my praises because I KNOW that this tiny blip of time on earth where satan has reign for a time is just that-- the blink of an eye. And my King is bigger. Bigger than all this pain. Bigger than all this evil. Bigger than all this sin. Bigger than all this betrayal. Bigger than all this heartache...

I just forget so easily how little light it takes to dispel the darkness. The most miniscule flicker breaks the heaviest dark. How can I forget?

Lord, please, in the midst of it all, rise up in me faith like I have never known, and joy that shines out of my eyes midst the tears of gratitude that You see me, You love me, You never leave me-- not even for a moment-- in this inhospitable world. May I not only see your hand in this, but may I grab hold of it so firmly that my faith only increases in the face of evil. And one day, may I give Joy a face for another...

"Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord."
-- Psalm 31:24

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Though the Mountains be Shaken...

We drove out to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota last week. Through the Badlands, into Custer State Park and up the awe-inspiring Needles Highway at sunset (after an appropriate meal of buffalo stew), soaking up the ethereal beauty, the majesty and might of those otherworldly, glorious spires poking up into the heavens. Mountains which have stood the test of time...

And gazing at this beauty, such a calling card of God's, Isaiah 54:10 kept echoing against the walls of my mind, "'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you."

Have you ever wondered where in the heck your peace has gone? Have your mountains all been shaken to their core, and the hills which used to be a constant on your horizon slipped away who knows where? When everything you thought was sacred, suddenly... wasn't?

The world becomes a very unkind place, very very quickly. I am well-acquainted with this feeling. Such desperate disillusionment. Crying out silently to God with the last bit of energy you have after just surviving another day, Lord, I know you're here, but I can't see you in this! You want to pull up close to Him, but the old familiar paths seem closed to you now, grown over with brambles of hurt and confusion. You want to sing His praises, but it hurts too much to even breathe, how are you supposed to sing? You're just holding on with whitened fingernails...

But as we drove that narrow, curvy road through the magnificent needle formations at the pinnacle of that mountain range in the Black Hills, He whispered this scripture through the near-numbness. Even if these mighty mountain formations all around you were to shake and crumble into dust, my love would hold you. My love is holding you. It is all around. Trust me, little one...

And I came down from the mountain knowing afresh that He is with me.
"Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea..." -- Psalm 46:2

And I just thought maybe you too might need to be reminded of this love that will never be shaken if you trust the Son...
"When hope is lost, I'll call you Saviour;
When pain surrounds, I'll call you Healer...
Through the darkest night of my soul
You surround me and sustain me."
-- Tim Hughes, "When the Tears Fall" 
"When your doubts have got you thinking...
That nothing's ever really sacred...
And you're afraid you might believe it
Believe in Me, and I'll make a light to guide you back home...
Because after all the sky has fallen down
And after all the water's washed away
My love's the only promise that remains
My love's the only promise that remains..."

-- J. Timberlake, "The Only Promise that Remains"

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