• Faith

    Light…

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    "The light of the menorah, [Rabbi Micheal Strassfeld] says, 'lets us see each other and thereby enables us to help each other on our journeys. Despite the darkness, in [the Chanukah candles'] light we can see clearly from one end of [the] world to the other.'
        Rabbi Strassfeld, of course, is not speaking to the church, but I find in his words a helpful insight into one of Christendom's most persistent metaphors for Jesus: He is, we say, the light of the world.  He is the way, to borrow Rabbi Strassfeld's phrase, that we can see clearly from end of the world to the other."
    -Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

        Thinking on all the etymological meanings of light today: the sun has finally come out after a week of nonstop rain and precipitation. In winter, I find I both notice and cherish the light so much more than I do in the heat of summer- we take the warmth for granted. There is nothing like a cold day and a warm patch of sunlight to step into. I bask, enjoy, drink it in. It is also because the light remains largely hidden in the winter months-days can stretch on end without so much as a glimmer, overcast, gloomy, bereft.
        Light too, in the weighty sense of the term. The slaying of the under the stairs monster is finally done, the trash thrown out, the clothes and unneeded things donated. You can walk into the closet now, with one small corner taken up with Christmas decorations. It feels so good, so freeing. That understairs storage was like Custer's last stand, threatening to pull me under every time I thought about attempting it. I consoled myself with the fact that the rest of the house was in decent order and passed it by so many times. It had become a frustration and a burden that often niggled in the background. In a house that is cozily full of babies and kiddos (I say 'cozily' somewhat sardonically) storage is prime real estate. And it drove me nuts that most of that under stairs storage was chock full of *stuff* that we hadn't used, wouldn't use, and didn't ever need in the first place. I needed that storage for things we did use but had no place to put them. Now the garage (which had contained the storage spillover in the nooks and crannies) is now finally and fully a garage, just for cars and outdoor toys and James' domain- the poor Mustang is no longer buried and neglected. It would bring me great joy if James could actually mess around with it again- one of his first loves, long before I entered the picture or married him. It has a special place in my heart now too. I can't tell you how many times in the dark nights of financial insecurity it has almost disappeared, and how thankful I have been that we have never had to sell it. It's a legacy I hope that we'll be able to pass on the boys. I'd eat beans for months before selling our poor girl. She (yes, a she, but no name) was almost restored, but had some problems with the engine still. All heck broke loose around the same time, and the least of our worries was finishing it up. So maybe, just maybe, James and the Mustang can dream again?
        If there has been one blessing in the scary dragon, it has been the chance to walk down memory lane- some where in that mess was our 'keepsake' box- the box that held love letters and class rings, graduation caps and ultrasound pictures. It's amazing how the light of nostalgia can reveal things to you- things you've forgotten, things you dreamt about. And oh, how we laughed. Belly aching, tears running down cheeks, shaking from toes to head guffaws. We've decided in no uncertain terms that our kids will have to be seventy before they can read the letters of our early marriage- the poetry was that pathetic. Totally and completely embarrassing now. I won't torture you with it. But there were other writings- letters full of dreams and hopes and prayers, old journal entries, old artwork. It is fascinating to see yourself now in light of then. I think in some ways, I dream bigger dreams now. But I am pleased with the person I am becoming in this moment- I've fulfilled so many of the dreams I dreamt then, and remembered a few that I've left dormant. It amazes me to see and know how God had bigger dreams, better dreams, than I ever could have imagined then. Who would have ever imagined I'd be a momma to four, living in the country, digging in the dirt, getting paint on my fingers, wending words on a page, rejoicing in being my husband's beloved?
        I am thankful for these little glimmers of light sent my way today- I pray that God will continue to shine light ever outward from here. I want to see with His eyes. I want to see from one end of the world to the other.

    Send forth your light and your truth,
           let them guide me;
           let them bring me to your holy mountain,
           to the place where you dwell.

           (Psalm 43:3)

    (The tear sheet is from the back of this month's Discipleship Journal, and the photos are of Bumali, our World Vision girl, living in Uganda. I put these together on the board in my kitchen because I want to see and remember, every day.)

  • facing grief,  Faith

    Listening and liturgy…

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    I was asked to speak to a small number of people this morning. People whom I deeply respected, people whom have had a profound affect on my life these last six months. I felt very, very, inadequate, and very, very nervous. You see, the question they were wrestling with was: "Does God care? How do we, as Christians, as believers, make sense of the realities that happen to us and around us?" How many, many, many times, have I found myself asking that question these last months? "God? Why?" I have struggled mightily with the inky darkness, and some days, it feels like the darkness will overcome. Grief and sorrow are so unusual in their expressions- so different for each person, but yet so universal in experience. Any mama who has lost a child knows the profound loss another mama is experiencing, but how the loss effects each mama can be strikingly different. And sorrow moves about like a shadow, catching you unawares at the most normal of times. I could hear a baby crying a thousand times and it not affect- but then one day in the middle of an errand filled busy day, a newborn crying in a grocery store will be like knives through my heart, taking my breath away and causing the tears to fall. Sometimes, you just don't know when its going to hit- I tend to think it never quite goes away.
        I could only tell these people what I knew, what I had experienced. In a lot of ways, it was hard to quantify. How to explain the black nights that were so deeply dark that they were almost navy blue? How to explain how many times I have doubted? How many times I have struggled with both anger and inadequacy? How many times I just wanted to say, "God, this hurts so very much, and why can't You make it better? " As if to question His wisdom, His competency. Oh, how I've wrestled with it, so much. I didn't spend much time talking about this wrestling match during my few minutes. I just couldn't look in the face of these people and say that. Funny how God works…but I'll get to that in a moment.
        What I did share was a condensed version of what I've said here on the blog. And how I've had to make this conscious choice to get out of bed each day and cling to the Light and turn back the darkness. Because, it would be so easy, so easy, to just slip off the edge, into the abyss. But I cannot. God has shown Himself so clearly in the pain that I cannot mistake Him. It's like seeing a silhouette.  I can't see Him in His Glory, but I see around the edges, where the Light peeks through, and it's those glimmers of light that I cling to.  Yes, nothing is certain right now. James is entering the third month of no job and seemingly no prospects, the pain of loss is still with me, and the normal every day realities of being a momma to four accident prone kids who test my patience on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Sometimes, none of it makes sense! But yet, in all of that, God is faithful. Each month, the money stretches, and God provides in the most unique of ways. I have been given companions for the journey- women who've faced the same loss as I have in nearly the same week, and I feel so much less alone knowing they are walking similar paths. Each provision, grace from a loving God who knows the hairs upon my head, who provides for my every need. I can honestly say that I would not have been able to see His provision had He not stripped everything away. If I hadn't nearly lost my life. I would not have had the eyes to see. I feel some days as if I am living on borrowed time. I hope I never lose that feeling, because it keeps my heart and focus in the right place. Knowing that you should have, by all rights, died- gives you this totally different view of things. Each day is a gift. Each day with my children, no matter how frustrating and bad, is a day given straight from the Father's hand, and therefore a treasure. It's true of our normal lives, yes, but oh how we forget! How often do we forget that this is just a journey towards Home, each day a step? How often do I forget, and I have not been long from my brief sojourn towards the undiscovered country?
        I can't wait to be able to link you to the product of this meeting- the worship service and sermon that come out of it- because just the beginning planning stages spoke so deeply into my heart and I hope  that the finished product will speak powerfully into the hearts of other believers. My English and my grammar fail me, honestly…it is so weird, in a good way, to watch and hear the Spirit move. To see how It informs and guides and directs, forms prayers, words, thoughts and places it on the mouths of those willing to listen. I mean, how could these people know some of the struggles I've had? How could they have known some of the questions that have stopped me cold in the middle of the night? And they were sitting there, talking out the format of the service, what needed to be focused on, what they wanted to extend to the Body, and I swear, I felt like I was an audience of one. I don't think they realized how much they were ministering to me- they were just brainstorming. But, whoa. It was again, one of those Light peeking around the edges moments, where I could feel God's hand resting on my shoulder, and showing how much He cared. How He cared that I had been struggling, doubting, grieving, and was using these people to be His hands and feet. Using them to bind up the broken places-they were probably totally unawares of it, too. I wish I had written more of it down…just light bulb after light bulb went off in my head, all the scriptures they listed and spoke of.
        One of the things that just resonated with me was something that the teaching pastor said: If remembering was easy, if the struggle wasn't a struggle, then we wouldn't need communion. We wouldn't need the ordinances to remind us of His sacrifice, we wouldn't need to pray. It would be that easy. But it's not, and that's why God gave us the liturgy of communion, why He taught us to pray. Because it's the process of doing these things that calls us to remember. The hard stops. It's these things that allow us perspective that we would not otherwise have. It just sort of socked me in the gut, and reminded me to stop trying to move on my own power, and start listening.

    —-
    Related: (The story of the loss, surgery, and recovery)
    Searching for words…
    Waiting
    The Lord gives, and the Lord takes…
    Resting…
    Starting for the High Places…
    Hello Fall…
    Life…

    Emptiness…
    A farewell…
    The Search for Authenticity
    The Gift of Sight
    Windows wide open
    Stories from the edge
    Clarity, Freedom, and A Confession
    In the moment
    Doodlebugs
    A Radiant Hope
    Breathe
    The Definition of Joy

  • Faith

    The definition of joy…

    (This is a part of LL Barkat's Thanksgiving Celebration. Head on over to Seedlings in Stone to read more…)
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    At a recent retreat, one of the questions put to me was this: "When have you experienced joy recently?".

    (Now let me digress for a minute. My name is Joy. I kid you not, I have had people tell me that I was not allowed to be sad because my name is joy…and I would try not to fix said person with a sarcastic stare and remind them that it was my name not an emotion. It has been lobbed my way many a time over the years, to the point that I have just learned to nod and smile and go on my way.)

    The thing is, though, being named after such an emotion, I know first hand how many have a slightly skewed definition of joy. Or a profound misunderstanding. Joy does not automatically equal happiness. Happiness abounds out of any circumstance, where as joy seems directly related to circumstance. Merriam Webster on joy: "the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires". My favorite definition, though, is this one: "Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every
    area of my life", written by Paul Sailhamer. Both are definitions I have struggled with over the years. On one hand, circumstances are rarely so good as to evoke every happiness, and on the other hand, Mr. Sailhamer's definition mean that I really, truly, had to trust God fully and believe that He really was in control.

    This whole definition conundrum flashed through my head as I contemplated the woman's question. It was on my mind too, as I read LL's invitation to celebrate thanks-giving; to count the blessings.

    I finally, truly, understand joy. I can say, without doubt, that God is in control of my circumstances. It has probably been the most terrifying three months of my life, much of which I have not shared here. As many of you know, I lost a child in August to miscarriage, and nearly lost my life in the process because the pregnancy ruptured and bled into my abdominal space. This you know. What you do not know is that my husband lost his job less than four weeks later due to the economic crash. His entire division was laid off in one day- and none of them, including my husband, have found another job to date. Unemployment in our area jumped to 40% this quarter. Scary and terrifying sort of don't cover it. We've always tried to be frugal and not spend more than we earn, but at the same time, we have dealt with crushing medical expenses this year due to James' cancer scare. Our savings were minimal the week that he lost his job. I've done everything I can over the last year or two to cook and bake frugally while still feeding my growing brood of four kiddos well. In short, there was nothing we could do to make his job loss any better. We were at the mercy of the crash.

    And you know what? We did not fall. He has been in control, every day, every week, every minute of the last three months. There are so many things I could tell you, so many blessings to count, so many to be named. His providence just amazes me in the darkest of moments. Just when we feel as if the oil is gone, so to speak, we find it never runs dry. And every time, it has been in such a way that there can be no doubt that God has orchestrated it- the amounts so exact and so fitted to the current need that it could not be mistaken. So many people used of God without even knowing that they were doing so…I wish I had reams and reams of paper to tell you the stories.

    My answer: I have experienced joy every minute of the last three months. Unmistakable, unmitigated understanding that God has truly been in control, and that He is providing still. For the first time in my life, I truly understand contentment. I am sure that this sounds strange- how could anyone be content in such a circumstance? But I do. And I am so grateful, so thankful. I have found joy.

    This thanks-giving, I give thanks, because God was, and is, and always will be our Jehovah Jireh, Our Provider.

  • beautiful things,  Faith

    We ought to
    give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because
    it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope
    of our eternal country.

     C.S. Lewis

    Counting the endless gifts…

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    For the fireworks and splendor of autumn…

    For the harvest, long awaited…

    For the turning of the seasons, each in their own time

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    For the restoration of a friendship…

    For healing and peace…

    For a chance to begin again anew…

    For the burdens of guilt and shame lifted and abandoned to the seas…

    For memories lost to the mists of time, restored…

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    For art…

    For creativity…

    For the joy it brings me…

    For the love of 'all things bright and beautiful'

    For the season of joy, anticipation, gratitude, and community

  • Faith

    A radiant hope…

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    {Sunrise, Monday morning: October 27,2008}

    Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
           whose hope is in the LORD his God,

      the Maker of heaven and earth,
           the sea, and everything in them—
           the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
    (Psalm 146:5,6)

    May the God of hope fill
    you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may
    overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    (Romans 15:13)

    I pray also that the eyes
    of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to
    which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the
    saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
    (Eph. 1:18, 19a)

    This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and
    for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living
    God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
    (1 Timothy 4:9,10)

    God did this so that,
    by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we
    who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly
    encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
    (Hebrews 6:18-20)

    Praise be to the God and
    Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new
    birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
    the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
    (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    What amazing sunrises we have had these last few days! Coupled with the gorgeous fall foliage, the hills seem almost to be on fire, dipped in gold. The radiance is achingly beautiful, fleeting. Yet it sings praise! How timely a reminder it has been to me- our hope is in the Lord of Lords. Even when everything seems helter skelter, markets crashing, rough and tumble, our radiant, living hope is in God Almighty. Let us not forget our inheritance that does not waste away and our citizenship where He knows our name, graven in His hands. May the hope of Christ our King be with you today, and everyday.