Refuge in a rocky place

I’ve challenged myself this year to read the Bible cover-to-cover; the last time I did this was 22 years ago, before marriage, family, a very consuming career plus simultaneous grad school, and before the middle-aged lag in energy.  Then I read all 66 books in 3 months.  Now I’m trying to get in just five chapters a day, but including some more in-depth study and journaling along with it, so I’m actually digesting and processing what I read.

I know, commendable.  I’m a few days behind, don’t admire me too much.

Anyway, sometimes things jump out at me out of nowhere and I spend more time than I plan chewing on them…hence being behind (along with being far too busy – true confession, sometimes I just forget).  Just such a verse waved at me last night, Genesis 31:21 – “So he [Jacob] fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.”

The first thing that happened was, as a lifelong singer of the sacred, an African-American spiritual popped into my head, the only one that could in response to this verse:

There is a balm in Gilead

That makes the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

You sang along, didn’t you?  Deny it all you want; you did.

Then I had to ask myself, What’s so important about Gilead? Why did he go there? Handy-dandy, trustworthy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance  defines Gilead (pronounced ghil-awd’, by the way) as “a rocky place”.  Here’s a photo of modern Gilead:

gilead

Looks a lot like the mountains in Eastern Washington and Oregon where I live; not very pretty AT ALL.  Sage, tumbleweed, scrub brush, rocks everywhere.  Yet this is where Jacob went when all hell broke loose for him.  After leaving his uncle Laban’s home (and uncle was a bit miffed because Jacob had prospered so greatly while working for him; the employee surpassed the employer), Laban followed him in hot pursuit, and there, in the middle of this yucky place, God met him and told him to lay off.  It was in the middle of this rocky wasteland that Jacob and Laban made their now famous covenant with each other, “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (31:49).

In that same place, Jacob was faced with meeting Esau, the brother from whom he’d stolen his birthright and patriarchal blessing.  In this deserted and uncomfortable terrain, Jacob wrestled with “a man”…but then named the place Penuel, which means “God’s face”.  Whoever Jacob wrestled with left him a changed man, a changed name, and a changed attitude.  The next day, Jacob and Esau met after more than two decades and, surprisingly, the past was all water under the bridge.

Yucksville was the site of God’s protection, deliverance, and blessing.

Makes me think about the hard times, the rocky places, the steep cliffs and prickly bushes in my own life.  How often am I too busy commenting (because I don’t complain, per say…nope, not me) on the surroundings and the difficulty of the situation that I don’t see my Father so very carefully maneuvering and manipulating things to serve His – and my – best interest.  I’m so longing to get out of Gilead and into the Promised Land (whatever that is in the moment) that I don’t experience the balm – the comfort, the healing, the blessing – that is part of the rocky place.

Needless to say, I’m still behind in my Bible reading goal; at this rate, I’ll finish next January.  But hanging out in a rocky place isn’t so bad, even if my timeline is thrown off.  Maybe I won’t try to book on out of here quite so fast this time.

Shiny!

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Today is the day, the first day of 2017 CE.  Common Era.  I love how they tried to eliminate the whole BC-Before Christ and AD – Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord), but really, what makes the Common Era, common?  The division is still delineated by none other than the history changing presence of Jesus Christ on the earth. The world can try to erase His existence and ongoing influence…they can try all they want…

Moving on, today is the first of January in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.  And I absolutely welcome it.  I’m not just wishing happy new year in a trite, habitual manner; no, I absolutely welcome 2017, red carpet rolled out and eyes bright with anticipation at what this year will bring.

Some people might say, “Yeah, I’m glad it’s here, too; couldn’t wait to say sayonara to 2016!”  That’s really not my case. I am thrilled with the prospects of 2017 because of what the Lord brought to me during 2016. My heart is so filled with gratitude and thrilled to watch His hand at work in my life and in the lives of others – it was a truly fantastic year!

What was so fantastic? Well…

…My spiritual life – my understanding of God as my Heavenly Father and my ongoing relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – has become stronger. After years of wandering in a spiritual netherland, not really knowing what I believed or why or if I did at all, 2015 and then 2016 became an ongoing adventure in hearing God’s voice and learning to obey.  I’ve experienced obedience as the way to my truest freedom and, although I’ve a long way to go in the trust department, I’ve learned far more readily trust my Father, even when I don’t understand what’s happening at the moment.

…My professional life has been growing in leaps and bounds. Again, starting in 2015, I experienced what can only be described as a miraculous, midlife career change, transitioning from social work to music education.  There have been some major challenges along the way – re-entering grad school and, after only one year, a sudden, very unexpected transfer from primary to secondary music – but each of these challenges is forcing me to more fully rely on God (F.R.O.G.) day by day and is helping shape me into someone that looks a bit more like His Son.

…My personal life: when I see where God has brought me over the last two years (yes, one more time, going back to 2015) in my family relationships and friendships, I stand utterly amazed.  There were times when I didn’t think our marriage would survive…we celebrated 19 years in August! We bought our first (and last, I think) house together two months ago! I can look at my husband today and truly confess that I love him more than any other human on this planet…and that’s only because God has so beautifully healed my once utterly broken heart and psyche.  And in so doing, He has surrounded me with a web of precious brothers and sisters in Christ that pray with me, laugh with me, and mourn with me.  And as they have borne my stretcher, dropping me into the direct presence of that Great Physician, I have found myself able to bear some of their burdens, as well.

2016 was a year of beauty, healing, and growth. Regardless of the difficulties along the way, I can only say, “Thank you, Father, for a great year…that and better will do!”

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2017!

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness…in 2016 and Beyond

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”  (Genesis 8:22).

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We’ve done it. Yet again, we’ve made one more trip around the sun. Millions of people are, as I type this, celebrating with friends and family in a variety of ways; some are at clubs with food and wine, others are in private homes with board and card games, and some are even at the odd church that may still hold a Watch Night Service, praying in the New Year. Outside my window someone has just set off fireworks. Some folks are glad to see 2016 fade into history, hoping for a better trip this time around; others look back and say, “Not bad…not bad at all.” Balls will drop, Auld Lang Syne will be sung and kisses will be exchanged; people will drive home either very carefully or carelessly, depending on the amount of alcohol they have drunk, and hopefully, tomorrow morning, there will be few or no reports of injuries as a result of too much revelry. Regardless of anything that happens tonight, tomorrow will go on, much as today has and much as yesterday did, as the days, weeks, months, years did before them…

But for us, a new calendar is exciting. Unlike my cat, who is so very present in the now (Now I want petted, Now I want food, Now I want your side of the bed) and, to my knowledge, has no recognition of the passage of time or of the differentiation between years, people have, for all recorded history, marked time.  Before calendars, we watched the weather patterns and ordered our lives around the changing of seasons, each solstice and equinox celebrated with great joy and festivities.  Different developments of marking time are still present; religious communities follow a yearly pattern, as do societies, and the celebration of the New Year is, at least in the western world, one of the most significant.  Somehow, the turning of the metaphorical page from one year to the next gives us hope of forgetting what has been painful, and whets our appetite for better things to come.  Reflecting on the last 12 months inspires many of us to make grand resolutions for self-improvement and, even those grand intentions have gone completely flat by January 31, the very act of making them indicates their importance to us as a people.

Does God mark the New Year?  God, as I understand Him, stands outside of time, being omnipresent, present in our past, present, and future simultaneously, able to behold the end from the beginning and all points in between.  Fortunately for you, I am not going to try to explain that particular phenomenon; some things are best left a mystery.  I do know that God understands time, and recognizes its importance to us.  I was reading the story of Noah earlier this week, and God’s promise in Genesis 8:22 jumped out at me: no matter how crazy things get, the world will keep turning.  The sun will set, the sun will rise, there will be evening. and morning, and another day…

I’ve been amazed at how many people have posted on social media how they just can’t wait for 2016 to be over: multiple celebrity deaths, a chaotic and difficult U.S. presidential race, catastrophe and calamity, poor decision, poor outcomes, yada yada yada…but the world will keep turning.  Nothing about changing a digit on the year designation is going to alter the normal procession of life.  Babies will be born, people will die, nations will rise and fall…but day and night will not cease.  Until God deigns it so, the world will not end, and I take great comfort in that.

For me, 2016 was fantastic – maybe tomorrow I’ll reflect on all of the wonderful things God did in my life. When I wake up in the morning, God will not have mysteriously disappeared, taking all His blessings with Him. No, I will wake up as I always do, still safely tucked under my Father’s wings and hearing Him sing over me.  Because as long as the earth is, and as long as I have breath, He will remain faithful.

I can’t think of a better way to bid farewell to 2016 and welcome 2017 than by singing the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Thomas Chisholm, William Runyan):

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee.

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou has been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Summer and winter and seedtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth; thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow; blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.