This review is sponsored by Baker Books, who provided me with the book for the purpose of reviewing. There is an affiliate link by which, if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you).
I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I “prayed the prayer” accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, the first time, when I was four years old. At different points throughout my life my understanding of salvation changed and evolved and now, at nearly half-a-century of living, I understand this:
I KNOW NOTHING.
I can echo with Paul that the things I want to do (live and love like Christ) I don’t do, and the things I despise (living in fear and judgement and overall human nastiness) I do. Once a preacher and a youth pastor, at times a music minister and and a women’s leader, once a speaker-into-the-lives-of-others and a teacher and an inspirational writer…now just a middle-aged broad who realizes just how horribly imperfect she is and how much damage she’s capable of.
I have no right to speak to anyone. I can’t even get my own crap together.
I think Dr. Larry Crabb has been in the same place. Well, not the woman part, but everything else.
I think that because, in his newly published When God’s Ways Make No Sense, he asks the question that drives us all crazy, the question that has even driven some people away from Christ:
“If God is good, then what is He good for?”
And with that question he dives into the heart of the matter. If God isn’t bent on punishing the wicked and causing His people to do the right thing – just LOOK at the world, LOOK at those who call themselves “the Church”, LOOK! God! It’s disgusting out there! – what is He bent on? Is He even there?
With this review, I could outline how three biblical characters – Jonah, Saul of Tarsus, and Habbakuk – are compared and contrasted. I could look at the different thoughts about God’s sovereignty are examined and evaluated.
But I won’t.
Instead, I will share with you the statement that put a lifetime of walking and falling and sinning and failing and wondering if I would ever live up to God’s expectations of me into eternal perspective:
“Let me try to express the inexpressible good purpose toward which God is faithfully moving us: His Spirit is overwhelming the fallen power of self-centeredness so deeply imbedded [sic] within us with the thirst always stirring in even deeper places within us, a thirst to delight God by trusting His goodness in the worst of times. That overwhelming thirst frees us to relate in the divine energy of other-centeredness. And when we fail, as we surely will, we trust that God’s love is not weakened and that His good purpose in us will yet be accomplished.” (emphasis added)
This book has renewed my faith in a God I don’t always – or ever – understand. Before walking away in despair and discouragement and disbelief, read this book.
It’s funny, how fast time flies…my last post was on January 21st and, as far as I can tell from re-reading it, was really good! Full of powerful faith statements, assertions of truth…a truly uplifting, confident post!
But less than a month later, everything just…
Everything – my career, my marriage, my spiritual life, my mental health – was burning…drowning… hemmorhaging.
Choices that I thought were grounded in faith turned out to have been borne of fear.
The reality I perceived once as true…well, let’s just say I’ve had reason to continually question my sanity.
Everything I’ve ever trusted is up for revisiting, re-evaluation.
The pain is unending.
The loneliness is overwhelming.
And when I’ve called out in desperation, “Jesus, fix this…”
Heaven is locked in silence.
And in this silent time, I have found myself unable to join in worship, to pray, or to find joy. I haven’t truly smiled in months; trying to do so makes my face feel like it’s going to crack. Things that I enjoyed I don’t care about. I have pulled back from nearly every relationship, because, quite frankly, everything hurts just too much. Sleep is my best relief…and waking up just brings more fear, more pain, more dread of the day. I have gained 20 pounds, seeking the dopamine stimulation from food I really shouldn’t be eating.
According the the DSM-V (and yes, as a Master of Social Work, I know how to use it), I am on the cusp of transitioning from acute to chronic depression. And yes, I sought out counseling…and stopped.
Ultimately, this journey, this trial of faith or, as St. John of the Cross called it, this “dark night of the soul”, can’t be counseled or medicated or prayed away. It can only be traveled through, and no one’s journey is like another’s.
According to family history and, most recently, Ancestry.com, I am primarily Jewish – of the Ashkenazi, Eastern European variety. Suffering and isolation is part of my genetic makeup and memory. Psalm 137 documents the grief and loneliness and anguish of my ancestors as they mourned the loss of their home in Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon.
Just a few days ago, I found myself able to write again…this is what I wrote:
I sit by the waters of Babylon,
And weep for what might have been,
For choices unmade, for plans not yet laid,
For the light of the sunrise not seen.
How long I will sit here is not mine to know,
Nor how many tears I will cry;
All that I know is that You brought me here,
And in the pain, remain by my side.
You have numbered my tossings as I’ve wept through the night,
You have counted my tears, one by one;
And when that bottle is full to the brim, Your love
Will turn their water to wine.
I think it’s a song, and there is more to come. Just when the muse will hit again, I don’t know. Just like I don’t know when this dark night will end, or what life will look like when the night gives way to the light.
I do know that, as soon as I penned those words, I had the first moments of peace, of settledness, that I’d had in months.
I don’t know how often I will be posting…the last few months have removed any sense of being qualified to speak into anyone’s life. I will keep writing, though…
…and perhaps this is the beginning of a rebirth. I will be partnering with my husband in a fairly new venture. My husband has been so very hurt by me and by the turns our life together has taken this year…
…this is the one way, the only way, I can think of the actively repair the damage.
It is so dark in my life, I can’t see my hand in front of my face…
…but I can see him.
It is the one step I know I can take, so take it I shall, and soon you can follow his Bigfoot adventures on our joint blog, “Squatchin’ With Hannah.” Totally out of my comfort zone, totally not what I thought my life was about…
…but with this, maybe for the first time in our 20+ years of marriage, it won’t be “my life”.
Maybe this dark night is leading me to “our life”.
It’s funny how, as a North American culture, we don’t get around to celebrating Thanksgiving until the end of the year: November for the United States, and October for our cousins in Canada. And what’s even funnier is how, after we’ve gone around the table and given thanks for whatever pops into our head and stuffed ourselves senseless on enough food to feed a third world country, we start bidding the current year goodbye and begging the new one to hurry up and come and please be better than the last.
When I was reviewing 2017 in my own life, I decided to look for great things that happened instead of focusing on crap that came my way, annoying people who wouldn’t leave, or, God have mercy, politics. And what I found was that, by-in-large, 2017 was AMAZING!
I made it through a very difficult year of teaching – what a victory!
I finished a graduate program.
I lost 53 pounds (there’s a 2017 resolution checked off!).
We celebrated TWENTY YEARS of marriage!
And we welcomed a new puppy into our home (yes, we are staying positive on that one).
So I decided to approach this year differently – starting with gratitude. And, after all, that’s why I blog – to keep track of all God’s tender mercies that He just showers on me, day after day, month after month, year after year.
It’s so easy to get bogged down with the daily grind, isn’t it? And that grind sometimes grinds a little harder than we’d like it to. And, for whatever reason, the negatives stick in our minds and hearts far more easily and for a lot longer than the positives. But if we can make a habit of being consciously mindful of the wonderful things that cross our paths, it really will make our lives better.
But don’t take my word for it…you’ll listen to Huffington Post, won’t you?
“Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off” (from The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier).
Now, habitual gratitude can be tricky to develop, so I decided to actually use one of those awesome Pinterest projects I perpetually pin; I made my very own Gratitude Jar! I put some serious effort into this jar – we’re talking paper tearing, Mod Podge (gosh, I LOVE that stuff, and the smell…I know, totally weird…), hand lettering even. Then I set up a little thanksgiving station in our dining room. It’s very obvious and we will always be prompted to take a moment, write down what we’re thankful for, and drop it in the jar. I think it turned out rather well!
Then, when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, we can spend the evening doing more than binging on Netflix and hoping the crazies won’t crash outside our house and wake us up (because we’re now old and we like to sleep in, rather than party in, the new year). We can go through each little moment of gratitude we’ve deposited and reflect on the amazing tender mercies of God as they’ve been bestowed throughout 2018.
And I daresay that, while we’re doing this, our overall outlook will be transformed. It is, after all, our mental life that determines how we interpret our outer life. The state of our mind is what primes us to recognize God at work, and also what primes us to miss His hand in our lives. Paul tells us this in Romans 12:
Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2, KJV)
I am determined to grow my faith in the Savior’s guidance, and am utterly convinced that cultivating an eye for what He’s doing and a heart of gratitude for it will do just that. And, as I recognize and give Him thanks for the small things, I will find bigger things to marvel in and bless Him for.
I was a little, or rather, a lot, shocked when I noticed just the other day that my last blog post was on Thanksgiving – approximately 5 weeks ago! As a music teacher, once Thanksgiving comes and goes, it’s full-speed-ahead into the Christmas music season. Between 6 school choirs, 1 community choir, and 11 private students, the whole month can be summed up as follows (and believe me, adults differ not from youth in this matter):
Auto-pilot somehow got me through seven (that’s right, count them, SEVEN) concerts in in two weeks, plus an open house and, oh, yes, that’s right, the out-of-the-blue funeral for my sister-in-law…then right back into the cook, clean, bake, wrap, drive, celebrate, eat-way-too-much, drive, pass out routine that is Christmas Day and all the days that lead up to it.
Nonetheless, I didn’t seem to have time, energy, or inspiration for any laugh-inducing, thought-provoking blogging. My activities were quite thrust upon me, rather than being intentional.
But now, it’s New Year’s Eve. On Facebook, someone asked, “Did you achieve any of your resolutions this year?” I replied to that one, because I’m quite proud of what I achieved this year:
Got blogging – and some people even read it (like you are, right now)!
Finished a Master of Arts in Teaching (because insanity will, eventually, get you a certificate…of some sort…)
Lost weight – a LOT of weight – 53 pounds!
July 2, 2017, 18 days before going on program…
November 23, 2017, 4 months later and 53 pounds lighter!
He said, “Good for you! What’s in store for 2018?”
And that got me thinking…what is in store for 2018? I hadn’t taken a lot of time to think about it. So I gave it some brief thought and said back:
And not just any book…a book I’ve had on my heart for almost three years now.
A memoir of what God has done in and for me, and the journey I’ve been on to more and more fully experience His Love and Grace and Presence in my life – my every day, often-lived-on-auto-pilot-life.
A testimony. I want to write my testimony, and give it away so that everyone can witness what He has done.
Today’s Old Testament reading was from Isaiah. Isaiah’s one of those books that you labor through and, quite frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot of what’s in there. But this passage is, quite possibly, the most beautiful I’ve ever read:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see they righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. (Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, KJV)
This is such a gorgeous description of what happens when the Lord saves, when He heals, when he restores that which the locust has eaten and makes restitution for lost, broken years. The joy He has kindled within me and the beauty He has bestowed on me has made people wonder…and I want to tell my story. I’ve been waiting for the right time, and I think 2018 is it. Not quite sure, but I’m very nearly positive that yes, this is the set time.
Today’s Gospel reading was, not surprisingly, from John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
I am very rarely satisfied with rote teaching, and so I had to look this up. Greek is a difficult language to translate into English, mostly because we don’t have enough words to encapsulate the richness and subtle shades of meaning that Greek has. (And, with the onset of textese, soon we won’t have any words at all…NOT LOL…) So, pulling out my handy dandy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (now easily accessed on the internet instead of having to lift all 72 pounds of the actual book), I looked up logos, the word we translate as “Word”.
Here’s what I found, and I can’t believe I’d never seen this before:
“Logos: the expression of a thought…preeminently used of Christ expressing the thoughts of the Fatherthrough the Spirit.”
English is so inadequate. But now when I read it, here’s what it says to me:
“In the beginning was God’s thought, His plan, expressed, spoken, brought forth. The plan perfectly reflected Him. The plan – that perfect expression of His love and grace and truth and mercy – was with Him in the beginning.”
Everything Jesus Christ thought, said, and did – and everything He continues to think, say, and do – is a perfect, flawless, intentional expression of His Father’s character and His plan of salvation. It has always been thus. And that’s what I want my testimony, and my very life, to be – a perfect, flawless, intention expression of my Father’s character. Now, I certainly can’t guarantee perfection and flawlessness, but I can be INTENTIONAL. I can choose my actions and my words carefully, so that they will communicate “the king’s glory”, and so that they shine like a diadem and a crown in the hand of my Heavenly Father, causing all who see that light to spring forth in praise.
I read the other day that, in the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media venues that have launched a whole new “selfie” industry, our society is breeding more and more narcissists. Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, tells the story of a young man named Narcissus:
“In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑːrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: Νάρκισσος, Nárkissos) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope.He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology)).
Having been a social worker, clinical and otherwise, I can professionally attest that to be diagnosed a narcissist takes a lot – and I mean a lot – more than being obsessed with one’s physical appearance and/or public perception. When I left social work, I gave away my DSM (diagnostic manual), so I won’t go any further than that. But I will say that, as so many others, I do get tired of seeing selfies…
…unless they’re mine. Oh, I have become a selfie queen. When I started losing weight 2 years ago, I discovered that I’m kind of cute! And I really liked seeing my new, thinner self on screen. Since then, I have mastered the art of manipulating light and angle and facial position to successfully camoflage jowls, multiple chins, and wrinkles. The power of retouching is harnessed in a cell phone and is mine for the clicking!
My selfies are GORGEOUS…and they hide so much:
days when makeup is too much work to deal with
moments when my dazzling smile is overwhelmed by stress and tears
30 pounds of weight gain
Yes, I have gained 30 pounds since last September. That’s roughly three pounds a month, and it’s a whole lot easier to put on than to take off.
This ticks me off, because it had been coming off so easily. Already being gluten- and caffeine-free, it seemed I could eat anything as long as I hit my bike and kept up with my walking and yoga.
There’s a big difference between 45 and 47, however; we won’t talk about the hormonal shifts that have commenced in just the last few months. We can talk about being middle-aged and in grad school again, the hours my backside has been stuck to a chair instead of on my bike, the stress of a new position that brought it’s own cortisol-inducing situations, and my growing addiction to SUGAR.
Well. At least it wasn’t 50.
And, my Heavenly Father, with His inimitable tender mercy, crossed my path with another woman whose midlife looked an awful lot like mine. As had her waist. She shared with me what she’d been doing to shed her own midlife baggage, and inspired me to do the same.
My life is, for the most part, an open book, so I’m going to post my Day 1 photos and, every now and again, I’ll share how my journey to optimal health is going. Unlike my myriad of adorable selfies, these photos are raw and uncensored: nothing hidden, nothing retouched – just an honest reflection of the state of this temple, which is now undergoing some serious remodeling and long overdue maintenance.
Here we go – front view:
Aaaaaand side view (just breathe!):
I’m 47 years old. I started my first diet when I was four. I remember the nurse who told my mother to only let me have one piece of toast, rather than two. That was the start of my battle against my body.
The body that God Himself crafted for me, I tried to destroy – fad diets, bulimia, overexercise – I tried it all. And the one time I seemed to be losing weight effortlessly and naturally – two years ago – turned out to be a trauma response. Life isn’t traumatic anymore, so it came right back.
But something has changed in the last two years, the two years I’ve been nestling into the God who loves me and calls me “daughter”: I’ve come to truly love myself.
Which is why I can post my fat pictures. Because even though this temple in which I reside is very unhealthy right now, it is still beautiful because it houses a princess. It has carried me, sheltered me, protected me [I also won’t go into how fat can be quite the protective mechanism]. It has walked and biked and danced and sang. It is worthy of my respect and my love. Not in a narcissistic, obsessive way, but in a let’s-give-you-what-you-need-to-thrive sort of way. It’s time I gave it that respect, that love in return.
If I hadn’t seen my friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, about her own amazing journey to health, I would still be stuck. As it is, I have taken my first step on my own amazing journey, surrounded by encouraging and inspiring people who walk with me.
My favorite statement from Kayla’s beautiful blog – and she’s SPOT ON: “Sometimes, I realized, as I stopped dead in my tracks to catch my breath, realizing there was yet another switchback that hinted at us being nowhere near the trailhead–the journey is ugly. “
This blog post came to me precisely around the time the snow pack shifted under my hiking boot and I felt my ankle “crack”.
It wasn’t a break–I knew that right away. But it was uncomfortable enough that the 8 or so miles to go didn’t sound too exciting at that moment.
It was around that time when my cute partner turned around with his hiking poles in hand, his eyes covered by dark glasses to keep away the glare from the white–and he said genuinely, “Babe, do we need to turn back?”
No, was my response of course–as I winced, adjusted my hiking boot, and continued onward. I’m stubborn like that–and he knows it.
It was the very last hike of our weekend and I wasn’t about to let it slow me down. He had planned the perfect anniversary weekend. We stayed in a train car that was…
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday! And what is Good Shepherd Sunday? Well, from that fount of all contemporary knowledge (no, you weren’t mistaken, that was sarcastic), Wikipedia, here is a fairly accurate definition:
In the Episcopal, and many other “liturgical” churches, the Scripture lessons are predetermined by the lectionary, or the established schedule of Scripture readings over the course of three years. Apparently, it’s set up so that, if you follow it daily, you will read the Old and New Testaments (additional, alternative Scriptures not included, although on occasion they do sneak in some of the Apocrypha) over the course of three years. There’s an Old Testament reading, a Psalm or other poetry/wisdom passage, a selection from one of the Epistles, and, last but certainly not least, a reading from the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The one that gets the most attention, with lots of pomp and procession as THE BOOK is carried into the midst of the congregation who are all standing in reverence, of course, is the Gospel reading. The one that gets the least attention and is even sometimes skipped, is the Psalm. But it’s the Psalm that got my attention today, because it’s what’s been getting my attention all week. Fitting, I suppose.
On Good Shepherd Sunday, what do you think a suitable psalm would be? It’s kind of a no-brainer: “The Lord is my shepherd” immediately comes to mind, and you’re right. Today’s Psalm, dutifully read in responsive fashion, was Psalm 23.
I have warm, fond memories of Psalm 23, hearkening back to my nearly-faded-from-memory toddler years. Psalm 23 was very important to me, because, in Sunday School, if we could memorize and recite 50 scripture verses, we would win our VERY OWN New Testament. Not that my home didn’t have shelves upon shelves full of Bibles, but this New Testament spoke to me, called my name: “Han-nah, you want me!”. It had a little girl and boy with Jesus on the cover and by golly, I was gonna get it.
And I did. I memorized 50 scripture verses, straight from the hallowed pages of the AUTHORIZED King James Version. (On a completely unrelated side note, I didn’t deviate from that narrow path until I was 18, when I gave in and went New International. I have since returned to my King James home. I once had a sweet Baptist friend who called the NIV the “Nearly Inspired Version”…my apologies to those of you love it…really. Whatever floats your boat.) Those 50 verses included the standard John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It included Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and have fallen short of the glory of God”, as well as the rest of that evangelical super-highway, “The Romans Road” (Billy Graham, eat your heart out). I don’t know what else it included, except for this: Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” I could recite it, but I couldn’t quite understand it. To my little 3-year old brain (and this 3-year old knew exactly who Jesus was), it didn’t make any sense that I should not want the Shepherd. That’s what I heard every time I repeated it: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Of course I wanted the Shepherd! Who wouldn’t want the Shepherd, what with all the green pastures and still waters and tables placed and oil running over and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever! Who wouldn’t want that?
Nonetheless, 50 scripture verses later, I got that New Testament.
I loved it well. I made sure I would always remember why I got it,
practiced writing my name in it, and, as any 3-year old girl would, promptly fell in love with the handsome shepherd boy depicted there.
But it it took me a long time to really understand what Psalm 23 meant. I certainly missed what I now know really is the message of that Psalm…by the time I could really read the Living paraphrase of that psalm on the back cover, I’d moved on to my first King James Bible, an 8th-birthday present; it was white bonded leather with GOLD LETTERING ON THE COVER and a ZIPPER! I don’t have that white Bible any more; somehow part of the Noah and the Ark story went missing and I stopped using it, but I still have this very loved and worn Living New Testament; it’s been with me for just over 44 years now and sits in my living room with my collection of Bibles in multiple translations. When I look at it, I feel immense gratitude for being taught to love the Savior at such a young age.
And, those same 44 years later, I am reminded that, still, I sometimes don’t know what that Psalm really means. Life gets hard. As we follow Jesus Christ, we often forget that He warned us, basically, “If you follow me, you’ll get what I got. It ain’t a rose garden; in fact, it’s usually more thorns than roses on any given day.” We like to skip to exaltation and glory without putting in our slow-going, right choosing, intentionally-placed-there, seemingly unending wilderness time, much like my piano students want to skip to being awesome without putting in the requisite thousands of hours of slow, correct, intentional, and seemingly unending practice. And we whine, and pray for deliverance, and wonder just when the wilderness will end.
Some people desert the Shepherd in the middle of the wilderness: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want [anymore]”. It reminds me of the account given by John, in his gospel. John 6 has Jesus feeding the 5,000 off of a few tuna sandwiches – now we’re talking green pastures! The crowds followed Him willingly. But when tuna sandwiches turned into the idea of true loyalty to Jesus Christ (who was starting to suggest that He, Himself, was the Messiah), and the difficulty that following Him often entails, the change of heart and mind and walking away from what we think we know and understand…well then, we have 6:68: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” When the green pastures turn into rocky cliffs, many turn back. “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Numbers 11:5-6).
(Another side note: how many remember Keith Green? Can’t continue without leaving this; he really nails it.)
As I was considering my own personal wilderness (and we each have our own, tailor-made, in fact), which happened to coincide with a mindless browse through my Facebook news feed post, this popped up. I’m sure it was just a coincidence…(yes, more sarcasm). Take five minutes out of your life and watch it; it’s really good:
Belly deep alfalfa. I love how Mr. vander Laan depicts our understanding of “green pastures”, and how he shows, so clearly, what this psalm is talking about. The Living paraphrase nails it: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.” How would my life have been different if, at the age of three, I had absorbed that, instead of the images of belly deep alfalfa in my spiritual life? And for sheep in Israel, there is never belly deep alfalfa, only the sparsely scattered tufts of grass, just enough for them to keep going.
Mary Poppins is another fount of all wisdom…probably more reliable than Wikipedia! In that scene where she’s giving the kids some cough syrup (that magically tastes like their favorite treats, which are different from person to person…wonder if she went to Hogwarts?), Michael starts begging for more, to which she replies:
My dad used to, at holiday gatherings (usually at my mom’s folks’ house with her family), stand up and, in his booming New York accented voice, declare, “Thou hast prepared a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Yes, there’s a double entendre there…but he generally meant that he was grateful for the immense amount of food he was about to pack into his belly (which was sizable). As disciples of Christ, we so often are deluded to think that God’s provision – materially or spiritually – means that we will never want for anything, that said table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies means that we are feasting as gluttons while they starve.
But that’s not what scripture says. It says that, as we follow the Shepherd, who leads us into those green pastures (which look an awful lot like rocky wildernesses!), we will have everything we need. If we don’t have it, we obviously don’t need it but, like children, we often think that we need many things we don’t. Nonetheless, our Shepherd, our Savior, knows exactly what we need, and He delivers all our needs right when we need them the most, just enough to get us over that next rise, where our next need will be fulfilled. And He does this, truly, to the amazement and often conversion of onlookers, and He does this to bring glory to His, and our, Heavenly Father, as He brings many, many children of God to glory.
It really reframed how I look at what has been a very long journey, or what I think has been a long journey, through the wilderness. But, in the distance, I can smell the water, I can see a slightly more abundant patch of grass. We’ll get there. He won’t leave me, and I truly do, and will, have all that I need, in this life, and in the next.
Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need…Your goodness and failing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with You forever in Your home. (Psalm 23:1,6 – The Living Bible)
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, right about the time that hippie-style “Jesus Folk” music was becoming a staple in *gulp* dare I say it? – stodgy – mainline, evangelical churches. Hymnals were being replaced by songsheets and the occasional overhead projection; organs, pianos, and, in our case, brass bands were being supplemented (not replaced) by guitars; and defined song selections gave way to pick-your-favorite sing-a-longs (this was, you realize, years before “seeker-sensitive” and super-tech-savvy productions happened; we still hadn’t become production-oriented).
At the time, it was all very hip and wonderful. Now, though, as a solidly middle-aged person who has run the church gamut multiple times, I tend to gravitate toward the grander hymns of the faith and have to admit, nothing stirs my soul like a well-played organ (especially if that organ is playing Kingsfold or something else by Ralph Vaughn Williams). Nonetheless, there are some of those “pick-your-favorite” sing-a-long songs that, on occasion, really stir my soul. Here’s one of them:
Today was just such a day. Started yesterday, actually. Maybe it’s the “late-winter-bucket-of-suck” time of year, maybe it’s the grad school schedule I’m pulling on top of full-time-plus work, maybe it’s the 20 pounds I’ve packed on since September, maybe it’s all of those things. Whatever it is, I’m tired. So, so very tired. Waiting for this particular season (meteorological, professional, spiritual, personal…again, whatever…) to pass and for spring to bloom in my heart and mind and soul and, for Pete’s sake, in my yard! Right before I went to sleep, as I was getting in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year chapters (5 on a good day, 15 on a catch-up day; that was last night), this is what popped up on my phone:
Timely, right? Nonetheless, I cried myself to sleep, praying, “Hasten the day, Father…please, hasten the day.”
Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll remember that, on occasion, I’ve been known to treat Facebook posts like fortune cookies. Sometimes, it’s amusing; other times, it’s absolutely uncanny. This morning has been uncanny. First, while I was slapping on my pretty-for-the-public face:
Just like a 19th-century preacher to slap me in the face. They were good at that, you know. (Smith Wigglesworth smacked a corpse – well, kind of threw it against a wall – it got up and went home. True story.) But let’s not leave it to revivalists; here’s what came from, for cryin’ out loud, Toby Mac:
My season of waiting. Waiting for spring – new life, new purpose, new vision, new hope – to burst through the cold, unyielding, frozen ground of winter. But winter is when all that life gathers energy to explode at just the right time. And while I wait, I must remember that the Lord Himself is renewing my strength…not to run forward, but to wait. The mounting up, and the running, and the walking all come after the waiting.
When I was in the 4th and 5th grades, I attended a little Christian school where we had chapel every morning. One of the “pick-your-favorite sing-a-long” songs we sang frequently was a musical setting of Isaiah 40:31. The emphasis wasn’t on mounting up, or running, or walking. Look at the lyric structure and notice how it begins and ends:
They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength:
They shall mount up with wings as eagles,
They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.
The emphasis is on not the forward or upward or explosive motion, it’s on the waiting. In waiting on God is our strength renewed. And in remembering this, I feel my strength and resolve and joy being renewed. It’s like Proverbs 15:23 says so beautifully: “A man hath joy by the answers of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”
God’s word to me today – word spoken in due season – is truly good, and His mercies, so tender and compassionate and tailor-made for me, are new every morning! Great is His faithfulness!
It’s 4:38 am as I write this, yet another post in a long line of multiple blogs. My last blog went the way of my hacked and stolen email account, and even WordPress, God bless them, can’t retrieve it for me. But as I sit here at 4:39 am, thinking about the many times I’ve started blogging because it’s true! I love to share my life with others, with whomever can derive pleasure, joy, or blessing from my journey, I am forced to ask myself, Really? What do you really have to offer? What makes your story so interesting that you just have to write about it at 4:41 am?
Not that my journey will be adequately reflected in a blog post, or even a series of them, but, at now 47 years old, here’s what I finally determined I have to offer the world, here’s my testimony, my “as God is my witness” statement:
Chesed is a word I learned in seminary, what seems like multiple lifetimes ago. Chesed is a beautiful Hebrew word meaning “lovingkindness” or, as the title of this blog indicates, tender mercy. In the Old Testament, chesed is used to describe how God relates to His people, people who ran the gamut from noble and praiseworthy to deceitful and shameful. No matter what the state of the people, God always dealt with them as a kind, loving, nurturing parent, always acting in their best interest and with compassion at the root of even what looked like harsh discipline.
Looking over my life, I see the same thing: chesed. Every step I have taken, even those markedly outside of my understanding of God’s plan, has been flanked by God’s tender mercy, leading me, ultimately, closer to Him.
I have a sweet friend who has encouraged me, perhaps unknowingly, to keep my eyes open and watch for God’s tender mercy in my life each day. Whether it’s a Facebook post, an act of kindness, a surprise blessing…what it is matters less than the fact that I am now being more mindful of God’s intentional interaction with me, every day. My hope is that, by sharing the tender mercy of God in my life, you will realize His tender mercy in yours, as well.