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Feeding on Mystery…

In 1,000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains that the Hebrew word “manna” means mystery. In their wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, the food the God of heaven and earth rained down on the Israelites was literally mystery. The sweet manna bread was given purposefully to be only sufficient for one day at a time, keeping the children of Israel continuously dependent on God to supply their each and every need day by day. No matter how many days God provided faithfully for them, they wondered with each new one if He could do it again. So it is for His children today: we are dependent on His provision each and every day. He faithfully provides for our needs, yet we are often filled with doubt that He will do it again. Our lives are full of paradoxes: glories and suffering fall on us all; rain falls on both the just and the unjust. So much is unexplained; our walk with the Lord can be nothing besides a walk of faith. We feed on mystery too.

 

In A Chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliott’s captivating biography of missionary Amy Carmichael, a letter is quoted that was sent to her by her mother. Amy had suffered a fall that caused an abnormal nerve response throughout her whole body. It left her bedridden for the rest of her life. These words encouraged Amy’s remarkable faith and  trust in the Lord that would be an example to many around the world in the coming years:

“He who hath led will lead, all through the wilderness.

He who hath fed will feed.

He who hath heard thy cry, will never close His ear.

He who hath marked Thy faintest sigh, will not forget thy tear.

He loveth always, faileth never, so rest in Him today, forever.”

 

I too, am currently in what could be called a wilderness season; I seem to have lost the path to the Promised Land. Trials of health and loss of career have led me out of Egypt and into a new place of dependence; the path is unknown and seems illuminated only one step at a time. I feed on mystery meted out in doses sufficient for each day. But if I’m wandering in circles through desert, I’m not wandering there alone. God has provided sweet sustenance through His presence and the companionship of true friends. He has fed my soul with beauty and peace; even the prickly cacti bloom in the barren land. I’m reminded of the prayer of George VI at the dawning of a new year:

“I said to the man at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light, that I may walk safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. It shall be to you better than the light and safer than the known.”

 

And so it is, and so shall it be. We put our hands into the hands of God and feed on the manna of His mysteries. We give thanks for it, break it, share it, and we call it…grace.

A Cadence  of Thanksgiving…

Since the time I was introduced to author Ann Voskamp through her book 1,000 Gifts several years ago, my thoughts and journals have been filled with lists of gratitude. As I walk and work and wade through life, conscious choices have built practices that have transformed me. Psalm 118:23-24 says, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. I will say this is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” If we are ever feeling out of the fullness of His presence, praise is the solution to encountering it once more.

 

Making sure our prayers are balanced with ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication), and not simply petitions for our needs and wants to be met, is part of the discipline of the Christian life. In her book 31 Days of Praise, author Ruth Meyers  revolutionized my prayers to praise early in my Christian walk, but the poetry of Ann Voskamp’s prose awakened my senses in a new way. Truly, there are thousands of gifts to take note of:

 

1, 697-Waking up basked in sunlight.

1, 704-A fun breakfast with former students; hearing about their college adventures.

1, 707-Storm rolling in over the mountains.

1, 716-Dwelling in a place of refuge.

1, 722-Walking and processing with a friend.

1, 723-Cobalt blue of the Colorado sky; walking with Colorado sunshine on my shoulders.

1, 745-Sitting on the porch to read a novel.

1, 765-Kindness, grace and understanding of true friends.

 

Now my days resonate with a cadence of thanksgiving as I set the intention of capturing the thousands of ways God works to romance me each day.

***Photo credits to Love Does

“He Restores My Soul…”

“You don’t have to come, but you always do. You show up in splendor, you change the whole room…”, sings Bethel artist Jonathan Helser in his song “Thank You”. Isn’t this so true? God continually shows up for us, perhaps in unexpected ways, but faithfully filling all those empty spaces that can seem so vacant of presence and the glorious.

 

I’ve always been a person with a very fragile strength. Sometimes it seems I’m a little too frail for this world. I’m empty when it comes to meeting the world’s great need, or to meeting my own brokenness. I don’t have the power to bring myself or anyone else to life….but, God does. He fills me with life and light again and again. My Shepherd satisfies my wants, not just needs, and restores my soul (Psalm 23:1,3). As Lamentations 3:22b reminds us, though we may lament our circumstances and feel sorrow that can dry us up, “His mercies are new every morning.”

 

He doesn’t have to come. God could have chosen to be farther removed from His creation. He could have made us only His servants and not the objects of His affection. Just what did we do to merit all the loveliness there is in this world? David asked in Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him?”. My creator could let my fragile strength and spirits remain depleted. But instead, He refreshes and renews and fills me with each new day; new mercies are offered day by day. He continually offers me Presence and encounters with the lovely and the glorious. “He prepares a table before me….my cup runneth over.”

Defined: Adequate or Inadequate?

I am a teacher. This is how I’ve defined myself most of my adult life. It’s become not just an occupation, or even a vocation, but also an integral part of my identity. That wasn’t my intention of course, but unwittingly, it’s the identity I chose. Perhaps it’s because I’m single and “my kids” have been just that to me; perhaps it’s the tendency we all have, particularly as westerners and Americans, to let what we do define us. I’m reminded of an English movie I saw recently where two strangers meet and one asks the other, “And what do you do?” The new acquaintance responds, “My, aren’t you sounding American.” In any case, though our actions always speak the truth of our characters, and however much we are shaped by the icebergs of culture around us, I can’t let my career define me.

 

I’ve come up against this rather startlingly in recent months when it became obvious that I was no longer serving or caring for my students as their teacher should, primarily because of health challenges. Leaving teaching behind is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. To be honest, I guess I would say I feel a little groundless now, particularly in responding to the questions that characterize dinner parties.  My aunt has always wisely said it took her a long time to learn we are called human beings and not human doings for a reason. Just why is it so scary for us to offer up ourselves as we are without listing what we are doing and accomplishing? For me at least, it feels insufficient. But God says to me that He has made me sufficient. As Marilynne Robinson once wrote, and as quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech:

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. You say, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God! Your playing small does not serve the world….and as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously liberate others to do the same.”

I am a child of God, defined only by how He views me: totally right with Him, completely accepted as I am, utterly worthy of dignity and delight. I’m clinging to that these days, trying to learn to see myself through His eyes.

Path Paved by the Son…

 

Heraclitus observed that “The only constant in life is change.” This truth is older even than ancient Greece, yet in our own journeys, we often find ourselves surprised by & resistant to transition. Unexpected curves in our paths can throw us off balance & leave us searching for direction. God promises that His Word will be our lamp & guide, & also assures us of guidance as a component of communion with His presence. As Isaiah prophecies in chapter 30, verse 21, “Whether you turn to the left or to the right, your ears will hear a voice behind them saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’.” Rather than an audible voice or a burning bush, however, we most frequently come to commune with our Savior by being attuned to His still, small voice. His paves our path gently by going Himself behind & before us, providing a guiding light & peace as gentle & as sure as the rays of the sun. In Jesus Calling (February 11), author Sarah Young says it this way:

 

 

“My Peace is like a shaft of golden Light shining on you continuously. During days of bright sunshine, it may blend in with your surroundings. On darker days, My Peace stands out in sharp contrast to your circumstances. See times of darkness as opportunities for My Light to shine in transcendent splendor. I am training your to practice Peace that overpowers darkness. Collaborate with Me in this training.”

 

Who better than our Lord to bestow light? Who better than our Savior with whom to collaborate? Who better than Jesus to plan our journey? May we discern His voice & surely as we watch the sun rise & set. May we respond to His leading as gently & pleasantly as we feel the sun warm & light our way.

The Body of Christ, Crucified…

Church is important to me, and at least until my health became poor several years ago, I was very involved in ministry within it. Lately, however, I’ve been discovering I feel pretty apathetic towards it. I still love to worship in it, to raise my voice in song and take communion with others, to listen to messages that dig deep into the Word. To be quite honest, though, there’s something about it that can be so exhausting. The people who inhabit churches can be so broken, as we all can be. On the flip side, I’ve also been the recipient of generosity, grace and lots more love than I could ever deserve from people within churches. I’m not meaning to throw punches, and certainly have no right to cast stones; I know I can’t remain in apathy or disconnection, and that my eyes should be on God alone. It seems, however, that if there’s something to this whole faith thing, and I know that I know that there is, there should be something different about church.

 

I remember reading somewhere years ago, though I’m not sure of the source, an explanation of church that has helped me in accepting this, or at least it made it all so much more comprehensible. It explained that the Body of Christ, the Church, is still the broken body of Christ. Though often filled with wonderful and well-intentioned people, and inhabited by the Holy Spirit, the Church will not be the resurrected and perfected Body of Christ until the day our Savior returns. One day, we too, shall be like Him; for now, we are all still being sanctified. Sometimes, as when the church welcomes all into its doors and steps out into communities and preaches with actions and not just words, reaches out its hands to help those in need, we are like Him even now. Others, we are broken and bleeding and wounded…but still, the blood flows down from the Savior who died to bring all men to Him. As the band Casting Crowns said in their song “If We Are the Body”, may we continue striving to be His arms reaching, His hands healing, His words teaching, His feet going, His love showing [the world] there is a way.

 

Photo Credits, & an Interesting Article: http://www.charismanews.com/us/53715-study-thousands-of-churches-closing-every-year-but-there-is-a-silver-lining

“But Even If You Don’t…”

An inspiring story I’ve loved since childhood is that of the three Jewish boys, Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, who accompanied Daniel to the palace of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. True to the prophecy of Jeremiah, God had allowed Babylon to lay siege to Jerusalem, and though a remnant remained, the majority of the Israelites were living in Babylon and exile. These four young boys, exemplifying the best of the tribes of Israel, modeled living faithful to God, despite their captivity. When they refused to worship the image of gold cast and commanded by Nebuchadnezzar, they were condemned to death, and thrown into a fiery furnace. They remained unburned and walked out alive. Their miraculous rescue, and the appearance of a fourth man in the furnace with them, is one of the great stories of scripture.

 

My favorite part, however, is their unwavering trust in the sovereignty of God, whether or not He did as they wanted. In Daniel 3:16-18, they respond to the king with this statement: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

 

I want God to heal me, to provide for me, to work miracles in my life…and I pray for faith to believe in Him for all this. But…even if…He does not…I still want to trust Him. I do trust Him. Mercy Me recently published a song called “Even If” that tells this story and proclaims this same largeness of faith and trust:

 

“It’s easy to sing

When there’s nothing to bring me down

But what will I say

When I’m held to the flame

Like I am right now

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith

To move a mountain

Well good thing

A little faith is all I have, right now

But God, when You choose

To leave mountains unmovable

Oh give me the strength to be able to sing

It is well with my soul”