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Whether “Down in the Valley” or Standing  “Upon the Mountain of God”…

I’m in a really beautiful, beautiful season of my life right now. I have the opportunity to rest a little and chase a few dreams. I’ve fallen in love with the best man I’ve ever known, and even though there have been a few challenges for a Colorado girl pursuing a long-distance relationship with a Puerto-Rican (mostly three classes 4-5 hurricanes!), overall, I’m filled with gratitude every day for the sweetness of it all. As someone said long ago, it really is the greatest thing we’ll ever learn, just to love, and to be loved in return. This learning process is one that has given me the gift of getting to see the top of the tapestry the Lord is weaving in my life, when the previous thirty-five years have felt mostly like the underside view. In essence, my present in this present time is to stand upon the mountain of God with the one I love, looking back on the valleys we have separately crossed, as well as the deserts and hills we have independently wandered and climbed. We both look back on the last ten years of our lives, seasons that felt mysteriously dark and lonely to us both, and can now see so many ways God used them to prepare us for one another and the ministries to which we feel He is calling us. Our God is truly such a master architect and designer!

 

But, at the same time that my beloved and I are standing on top of the mountain of God, many others in my life are really hurting down in the valley. Good friends face the devastating betrayal and heartbreak of broken relationships. Another continues to desperately miss the husband she lost to illness. One is watching her uncle lose his battle against cancer, and her aunt face the prospect of losing a second husband to a terminal disease. I watch others suffer chronic pain or prolonged economic or relational difficulties. The people of Puerto Rico and México continue to suffer in the wake of shortages and hardships resulting from natural disasters. Many of the residents of Las Vegas grieve loved ones who tragically lost their lives to a mass shooting. As we all know, this world has no shortage of heartaches or joys. It is full of darkness, and it is full of light. And yet, even in the valley, we can hear the winds of promise blow, as a very old American folk song: “Down In the Valley” by Burl Ives says…

 

“Down in the valley, valley so low

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow” (Lead Belly).

 

Whether this reaches you down in the valley today, standing upon the mountain of God,  or somewhere in between, may you hear in the wind the whisper of our Savior saying your name, and speaking of His unchanging and unfailing and unfathomably great love for you. May His voice fill your heart to overflowing; may He bring you peace. It’s funny, because all of this has been on my heart to write for so long, the title has been typed and awaiting me on my computer, and then this morning, I heard a song on the radio that was new to me, that perfectly expresses it all. I hope “Hills & Valleys”, by Tauren Wells, ministers to you, as it did to me. Wherever you are, may you know, without a doubt, you’re “safe inside [His] hand”.

 
“I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love
On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
I’ve watched my dreams get broken
In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand.”

 

***Photo Credits: Lovedoes.org

Woven…

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite poems is called The Tapestry, by Corrie Ten Boom. One stanza reads: “My life is but a weaving, between my God and me. I cannot choose the colors, He weaveth steadily. Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride, forget He sees the upper, and I the under side.” This is such a profound poem and life insight to me, especially as written by a woman who survived the horrors of Auschwitz, but saw her family perish there. Though, they weren’t Jews themselves, they were imprisoned for providing “a hiding place”, as her memoir is entitled, to the Jews within Holland.

 

In my own relatively peaceful and unscathed life, still I find that the majority of life is lived as this beloved author painted it, looking at the messy underside of a weaving. The tapestry may indeed be masterful, but from the limited vantagepoint of earth, the larger picture is hard to see or understand. I cry out when a pattern I’ve begun to be able to see or become attached to is suddenly disrupted, or when one color is torn to make room for another that doesn’t seem to belong. I question why so many messy threads hang down and why it’s all such mayhem. I’m ever striving for a tidier picture than the one I have, and a semblance of control. It rarely makes any sense what is happening through my lens. Believing that it’s all a part of “a grand design” takes a giant “leap of faith” most days.

 
But then, there are those moments, when the master weaver beckons to me from the other side of the tapestry, and allows me to come and take a peek at His view. Just for a moment, I see the smile on His face and the twinkle in His eye. I get to take a seat with Him as He points and gestures to the pattern He’s designed and woven. And oh my, how it takes my breath away. A chill crawls down my spine and tears fill my eyes, for I can see that all along, there really has been a plan, and He really is an artist, and every stitch has been joined with the utmost care for its ultimate great beauty and purpose. It’s all sooo beautiful, and He’s been arranging and composing it all along. He looks into my eyes with joy, and I can only look back into His with regret. I’m filled with sorrow for the many moments, or if we’re really being honest here, the lifetime of moments, I’ve filled with distrust. He knows them all, and knew them all when He designed this glorious pattern for me, and yet still, He counted me worthy to be woven into the fabric of His plan. This inclusion, this composition, this revelation…these are His gifts to me. These are the manifestations of His love for me.

Awakening the Senses…

Many can be brought to tears by a field full of wildflower glory and radiant color. For me, a field of grass inspires in such a way. Plain brown stalks of seeds catch a million shades of brown and gold in the sun’s soft light, and its this sight that awakens my senses like nothing else.

It’s a perfect day in mid-September. The grass is blowing in the wind, the sun is shining down, and it all takes my breath away. I see a cloudless Colorado azure sky above, and the mixed variant colors of leaves beginning to change their hues. Mostly mixes of green and yellow, they still carry the faint scent of summer life, though some have grown a crispy golden and fallen. The quaking leaves are framed by the chalky bark of their aspen parents.

I feel a strong breeze touch my skin, rustling the hairs of my bare arms. It’s a bit of an unusual characteristic, but I love wind. Its power captivates, fascinates, and even comforts me, probably one many reasons autumn is my favorite season. I hear the river meander by, low and peaceful.

Days like today bring the taste of remembrance of all things good. Without setting any conscious intention, my chin lifts, my breathing deepens, my step finds a spring, and my eyes gain a sparkle. I came to this moment without agenda or expectation, but it met me, awakening my senses with its presence.

“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”…

We all need something solid to stand on, to ground us, to provide a refuge for us. How blessed we are that Christ is our foundation, sure & unchanging. What comfort we can take from the hiding place & shelter He provides for us. The Psalmist says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.”

 

But, if you’re out of strength, beloved, hear this: Not only can we cling to Him, He clings to us too. Jennifer Knapp sang a declaration, “I will not be shaken from the Rock that clings to me” (emphasis mine). Whatever condition we are in, however far we’ve tried to run, we cannot escape the kind constraints of His Presence & Love. As Charles Wesley & Augustus Toplady wrote in 1763, let us seek the cleft He offers us in Himself.

“Rock of ages, cleft for me

Let me hide myself in Thee

Let the water and the blood

From Thy riven side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure

Cleanse me from it’s guilt and pow’r

Nothing in my hand I bring

Simply to Thy cross I cling.”

“I Like Myself Best When I Am Laughing” (Zora Neale Hurston)…

I have a friend who loves to laugh.  She prompts me and others to laugh so beautifully. An entire wall in her home is covered with signs reminding her to do it… to laugh, and to keep on laughing. Her joy and amazing sense of humor are part of her spiritual gifting, a natural inclination and  talent that she has, a reflection of the joy and mirth in God’s own heart. But of course, life has tested and tried this pure joy. Circumstances and storms have attempted to destroy the very quality that most attracts those around her to Christ. She inspires me every day in her determination to resist these attacks and, as Proverbs 31 says to laugh at the days to come, but oh yes…she still has to remind herself.

 

Isn’t laughing such a reflection of a state of happiness, innocence, and lightheartedness? What a beautiful offering  to give to the world. Along with the childlike spirit it embodies, it seems to me it is also a symbol of trust and vulnerability, when we unabashedly present our truest selves to those around us and the world, just as they are, without holding back. Zora Neale Hurston said, “I like myself best when I am laughing.” Me too.

 

Unlike the friend I mentioned, laughing is not my natural inclination; I am more serious in heart and nature. But I believe it is a habit that can be learned, that must be practiced. I must learn to cultivate and love this voice and offer it to the world, for all its worth…for the glory of all He’s worth. Today, may God bring joy to your own heart. May you sense Him shouldering your burdens, looking you in the eyes, offering the twinkle in His own, and drawing out the beautiful laugh He gave you. After all, it’s like no one else’s.

 

***Photo Credits: lovedoes.org

Divine Interruptions…

Sometime in college, a friend and mentor introduced me to the concept of “Divine interruptions”. She noticed that I struggled with unpredictable interruptions into my very well-planned and predictable routine schedule, but counseled that I had to stay open to the idea that God was allowing these interruptions in my day and plans. They could, in fact, be what has been termed in “Christianese”, “Divine appointments.”  If I could learn to consider them Divine, I could remain inviting and open to what God wanted to show me, and how He wanted to use me.

 

This transformed my approach to life. It’s still a struggle, but over the years, space has often been created to see God do something that only He could do. Life would be a small fraction of the gift it has been if my heart had been closed. I’m so grateful for this lesson early in my adulthood. Life, indeed, is a series of interruptions that can affect and change our courses. I want to continue to see these as invitations into His space…as a surrender of the plans I cling to into His capable hands.
Henri Nouwen has invited, “Let us try to see the pain of our human and spiritual journey “from above.” The great art is to gradually trust that life’s interruptions are the places where God is molding you into the person you are called to be. Interruptions are not disruptions of your way to holiness, but rather are places where you are being formed into the unique person God calls you to be. You know you are living a grateful life when whatever happens is received as an invitation to deepen your heart, to strengthen your love, and to broaden your hope. You are living a grateful life when something is taken away from you that you thought was so important and you find yourself willing to say, ‘Maybe I’m being invited to a deeper way of living.’ ” I want to live in such gratefulness.

How Great Thou Art-

Consider, beloved of God, all the works His hands have made. “See the stars, hear the rolling thunder: [His] power throughout the universe displayed.” We are called to live in awe of our awesome Creator. What marvel exists that has not its foundation in His power? What vista stirs our soul that has not its roots in His creativity? What exists that owes not its existence & sustenance to His hand? And…not only does His power know no limits, nor His realm know no bounds, but His love & His goodness also know no end.  

 

He is not only great, but good, & He loves…you, as if there was no one else to love. This does not mean we will escape the trouble & toil of this adventurous life; we are, in fact, assured of it by our Saviour. It calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ story The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. There is a famous scene where the youngest girl Lucy inquires of  her friend Mr. Beaver after the character of the legendary lion Aslan, the absent king of Narnia: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

And of this “problem of pain”, we can say with author Philip Yancey that we find comfort in a God who was willing “to take His own medicine.” The long-favored hymn How Great Thou Art says in its final verse:

And when I think, that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in

That on the Cross, my burdens gladly bearing, He bled & died, to take away my sin,

Then SINGS MY SOUL, my Saviour God to Thee, How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art.

 

So, beloved ones, let’s, take in the goodness & might of our great God, & let that soul of yours, let it SING.

***Photo Credits: Ann Voskamp