Blue-light Special

Little Miss Sweetness and I walk to the bus in the dark these late fall mornings. (She has never been afraid of the dark, adventuring out-of-doors at all hours when she was truly little – another story, for another time). But now cocooned by her backpack and raincoat, she would like to see that big leaf maple leavings are not flying insects, that the rain debris is not a snake underfoot. She is suspicious of little piles of decaying pinecones. She does not want to step on slugs…period. In my hand is a metallic blue flashlight. She’d like it to cast its beam about 24 inches in front of her two feet. Even though other wonders lie ahead, that in the daylight she impatiently loooongs to see, like deer and her friend Florie and the neighbor dog; in the dark of night, she is content to focus on the next step. This may seem like a subtle difference, but to one who watches her every day, it is a dramatic change in how she approaches these contrasting moments of life.

Afraid of the dark???? Me? Naaah. How frustrated we grow, with God shining his narrow beam of light on what stands right in front of us, in the way of growth, or healing, or further relationship with him. We are offended at the obstacles (I think I swore 4 times on the way down this morning.) We’d like the benefit of daylight shining on the distant FUTURE, so we know what to expect, how to guard our hearts, how to prepare.  We clutch our clumsy baggage, soggy raincoats, and attempt to muscle through the ‘discomfort’ toward a better dawn. But in fact, there are slippery slopes, downed power lines, things that would harm us if we don’t navigate carefully. God is patiently, presently, effecting His preparation in these moments. He wants us to know what is in the way of our knowing Him. He is subtly adjusting attitude, unravelling resentment, clarifying our knowledge of who He is; so we can learn how to do what He does.

Trudging back the lane after meeting the bus; the dark lingered, the rain continued. The quiet felt beautiful,  cocooned in the safety of in his Presence

Tuesday mornings…psalm of hope

The Psalms have become a refuge in the milieu of mounting prayer needs and a sense of woe. I am reminded that it is not our circumstances that will sustain joy, as circumstances change. Nor can we manipulate them entirely to our satisfaction. I’m not suggesting one just give up; but hope, sustaining, abiding hope, needs to come from a  place stronger and deeper than that. The one who can manipulate our circumstances is God…and He has done so.

Psalm 32:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is Godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (1)

At first draft, I made a glaring typo: I will confess my transgression… singular, rather than plural. Often, I try to continue through my day, throwing off( read ignoring) my missteps and failures, only to be weighted deeper by their depressing company. Having trusted God for a long time, it is not so often glaring, overt sins that shape my struggle, nor even my tongue in public. It is subtle mutterings, attitudes of my heart, and distorted justifications of my mind. These things get in the way of any real kingdom work, effective prayers. As I finish reading this psalm, it makes me want to sing….Jesus is the answer for my trouble, my internal behavioral problems. Hallelujah! There is a Savior. He is so much better company, than my own broken thoughts. Praise his Holy name.

Jesus, today we beg your forgiveness, knowing that you welcome our sorry confession, our company. Will you brighten my countenance by your company, that I might offer YOUR hope to the world. Amen.

Psalm 32 Zondervan Study Bible NIV. Grand Rapids 1984

Tuesday mornings…extreme measures

Psalm 31:6  I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD. (1)
I hate those who cling to worthless idols… This phrase caught my attention in my reading today. Hate is rather a strong word for me, but I felt deep inside the frustration of this sentiment: what a waste. Yet I sometimes look up from this ironman swim in the ocean called life, only to find myself clinging to …a worthless idol, piece of Styrofoam, or waterlogged remnant of another person’s dream, only to find that it does not float.
But I am still far out at sea… Life lately seems like perpetual hurricane season. So much so, that my usual framework of ‘trust in the Lord’ seems inadequate. When a friend encounters struggle after struggle after 5 yr struggle,  that story is repeated in the trauma experienced by a stranger, and yet again with an acquaintance with whom I chance to explore deeper; my human scale of trust starts looking for percentages. My just saying, “God is able,” even though it is grounded in firm belief that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and is able to heal; seems insufficient when one does not see healing, or progress, or growth…now. What’s wrong with my lifeboat?????
My husband and I have worked more overtime than usual the last couple years, to realign some dysfunctional patterns in our communication. By the grace of God; and with the help of some detailed teaching and the company of committed friends, we were able to make some positive changes. One pivotal evening, I had the stunning realization that all the indicators that I had been using to assess how we were doing 25 years into the journey, were worthless idols. When I reassessed using scriptural paradigms, I was overcome by the grace and goodness of God in both who my husband is, and how God had, and continues to specifically and strategically position us in each other’s lives. Obviously, that could be a much longer story, but the point is that my frame of reference was all messed up, and by clinging to it, I was making myself miserable and depressed: one soggy, sinking piece of drift.
Care help 1)  Realign assessment of the situation to match scripture. The psalms have been richly helpful in this, because they don’t dismiss honest emotion, rather step through them to the safety of God’s love and care. Whether the emotion is fear, or discouragement , or frustration, or grief, God is able to come alongside and acknowledge this emotion with us.
Deflated, or sinking trust, has also caused me to reassess how I pray for others who are in trouble. As one with absolutely no mechanical skill whatsoever, I still would like to fix things. Surely I could offer some wise words of comfort? EXTREME COMFORT, is provided by God, sometimes through us. He is the one who knows deeply and intimately the needs of another’s heart, mind, soul. I have come to rely upon these simple phrases, taken from a prayer litany written for those in need of healing:
” The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy: I(Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10. ALMIGHTY GOD, we know that this life to the full is your plan for _______. Your kingdom come, your will be done.LET NOT ONE of your plans for ______ fall to the ground unfulfilled.
Care help 2) Praying for God’s plans, ALL OF THEM; rather than my temporary fix, is powerfully more reassuring for the longterm well-being of a friend or loved one. With sustaining power behind it!
Father in heaven, we offer praise to your Holy Name. Will you establish heaven on earth in the life of our friends and family today; for those in need of extreme comfort and healing, extreme rescue form the thievery and destruction of the enemy. Let not one of your plans or purposes fall to the ground unfulfilled or forgotten. Your kingdom come!
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3: 14-21 NIV (2)
Amen
jlf/2015
(1) “Psalms 31:6 (New International Version).” Blue Letter Bible. Sowing Circle. Web. 14 Jun, 2015. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Psa&c=31&p=0&rl=0&t=NIV&gt;.
(2) “Ephesians 3: 14-21.” New International Version, Holy Bible. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids 1983

Tuesday mornings…prayers for the journey

Beach Combings …

The Sea flings up her dross

waiting for traveler

“Find me…” this beauty whispers,

lifted out of hiding by the foaming of the waves.

I run to you, knowing that your love will see me through this gathering storm

Cling to grace, knowing it will part the waves that push my craft off shore.

Bend -u- double winds hush to calm

By turn, God-breathed light warms, then fire bakes:

eel grass to paper; tree to kindling…all blown away

lest we be convinced to worship this sun.

“Brace yourself,” the gale answers my Job question…

Brace yourself in heaven’s resounding “I am.”

Smooth warm pebble turns in my hand,

Round and round to feed my palm the reminder

That tomorrow will bring a new dawn

I run to you, knowing that your love will see me through this gathering storm

Cling to grace, knowing it will part the waves that push my craft off shore.

jlf 6/15

A few weeks ago, as anxious thoughts mounted, I retreated to the beach to find God’s comfort in the care of loved ones. Three of my four children were off, one to canoe the wild rivers of northern Minnesota, one to the jungles of LA, and the third moving toward a scheduled class trip to Israel. In spite of God’s persistent faithfulness, I feel better when I can see my hatchlings…

The offerings of the beach reminded me, that the wind and waves of life’s storms, under God’s precise and careful restraint, reveal the hidden beauty of a thing. So often, we long for the safety and well-being of a loved one. God takes it one solid step further into the well-being of a soul.

God speaks , in Job 39, of how the young of the deer, “thrive and grow strong in the wilds,” and the freedom of the wild donkey though his home is in the wasteland. God understands, more KNOWS, the subtleties of what each of us encounters. He knows what obstacles we will encounter, and what shape those obstacles will give to our character. He knows where the pitfalls lie that too readily fit the shape of each foot.

Me…I’ve been sizing my children’s shoes too small, for too long, for years. Enough such that my tallest daughter, has the smallest feet. So much for my human understanding, of what is required to shape a life that mirrors God.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” These words from Jeremiah 29: 11 to the Israelites, follow God’s instructions to them about how to live IN the place of difficulty and challenge, applied in captivity. They are followed by this assurance, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Lord God, You who see and understand all, we rejoice in the power of your voice to unleash or quiet the storm. We rejoice in your knowing the dust of which we are made, such that you can reorder the grains of sand to reveal YOUR beauty, hidden in us. Thank you for the honor of bearing your image.

Protect us from the confusion of trying to create any other image to wear. Free us from the pursuit of false beauty that would shackle us to this age, rather than free us into eternity with you.

For those under our care or instruction, would you give us again, the assurance that you know exactly what you are doing? Instruct us in our role so that we can participate in the purity of your plan. We pray in Jesus’ name.

tuesday mornings…steel magnolias

Today, neath spectacular sea-blown skies, I met with an old friend to catch-up on family doings. There were some fair weather reports, mixed in with storm after storm after storm. I was reminded anew, what a frontline guerilla warrior she has been, is, and seeing the need, still asks for more. More because she knows God is faithful. More because the call to answer God-spoken needs is in her DNA.

Another friend encounters health challenges and in every other ‘update’ asks for divine appointments.  I prefer to think of these and other friends as Steel Magnolias, but as the world asks if women are really ready for combat, experience tells me that the women of God, are guerilla fighters, not because of a passion for war, or hand to hand combat, but because of a passion for God, and a passion for the people they see underneath the clouds and smoke. I see a friend who hesitates to speak before crowds, yet lays out the defining truths of God’s love in no uncertain terms. I don’t know what the garden really required when it welcomed Eve, and after 25 years of marriage I am still with God’s help, figuring out in practice what my Adam needss, but in these ‘Eves’ I see the quiet turning over of a woman’s heart to God, and him, by His Spirit fashioning hearts of great strength. Sacrifice and passion molded in His hands to change the world. Because of love.

A couple things have helped to shape my prayers recently:

My vision is cleared to see others with compassion when I am on my knees, perhaps physically, but more so, spiritually. Landing there sometimes entails a painful stripping away, but God has used it for good, both in me, and for others.

God is powerful. Though my capacity may feel small, HE can do anything. I believe this. He has infinite resources at his disposal. Most days my job is simply to bring people and their needs before him, blanketing them in his word and truth to my mediocre best on the way.

God of grace and power, YOU are here, and we behold your beauty: the beauty of utter sacrifice and depletion, and the refilling with your amazing love, that you evidenced at the cross, and that you repeat in us if we will let you. Fill us we pray, with your love that overcomes evil. Overcome evil with your good; in us, through us. Eph 4:2-9

If I must wrestle, help me to wrestle against the things that keep me from knowing and understanding you. Help me to turn my flagging energy toward loving the sinner rather than my own sense of righteousness. May my meager attempts at righteousness, serve only to mirror your glory, for righteousness comes from you alone.

Help us not to be debilitated by weariness: renew the joy of knowing you as our strength; the unity of fellowship, spouse-to-spouse, believer-to-believer; as powerful witness to others, but also to us, of who you are. The eternal sustaining nature of your being, breathe in us, as suits your purpose we pray.

God, will you bring your infinite and unmatched power to address the needs of those traumatized by life Will you supply resources, and wisdom, and understanding that will renew the life that you intend; trading poverty for riches, by your definition rather than ours? Will you push the enemy out of the way, such that your purposes will be accomplished? Will you give the thirsty living water, such that they will not thirst again? Always God we pray, as you meet needs, will you see beyond the superficial that sometimes stalls us, and speak into the hearts of your people, we pray. Amen

jlf/2015

tuesday mornings…the stone prayers

For some reason, this first week after Easter, the stone has drawn my attention. Propped there for years, in hearing and celebrating the life-breathing message of Christ’s resurrection; it is in the picture, then not. But it has captured my attention this year, as I feel a stone’s weight of concern sit upon my heart – for friends, for family; for the future of the world, backlit by the crossfires of social commentary. And I see that the power that raised Jesus from the dead, also lifted away the stone that would hold us, at least, in the grave.

There are other stones God addresses.

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When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God asked Joshua to have one man from each tribe carry a stone of remembrance from the river, gathered from this spot: “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by…Joshua 3:17a  “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:6,7 (1)

The river ran a boundary between the Israelites in the wilderness, and their stepping into the land of God’s promise.

I wonder, as they look at the stones, do they also remember another water crossing??? Ex. 13:17.18a  “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” (2)

In that desert, at Pharaoh’s approach, the people “were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Ex 14:12

Moses replies, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Ex 14:13a (2)

In between the Red Sea of deliverance, and the river separating them from the land of God’s promise, lay 40 years in the wilderness. It feels like wilderness sometimes, to be rescued by God from the darkness of sin; only to wander in a place of shameful weight, whether the sin is one’s own, or committed against one; wearing clothes the cold gray color of the grave. It is also a place where we again, begin to trust that God is with us, that He has always been with us, a place where we learn anew the truths on which to stand. A place to begin to look up and see the promise. And in that place, we lay down curses and shame. We fold the grave-clothes honorably, for they have brushed our skin, sometimes for years. But they are grave-clothes, and we lay them behind to pick up stones. Not the familiar weights of guilt and shame, the bricks of Egypt, that God knows we are prone to find less terrifying, but stones of remembrance of his power.

Joshua set up the stones east of the Jordan. “He said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 4:23.24  (3)

Powerful God, Mighty Deliverer, we are a people terrified and traumatized by the past; rescued only by your deliverance. Evil runs rampant over the earth. Some of us remain in need of rescue. Will you push back the waters that block our escape, by your merciful grace? Will you do on earth, what you SEE in heaven?

Thank you for the freedom, and the toil of the wilderness, for it teaches us about you; about your provision, your  heart.  Thank you for wilderness time to re-tapestry our hearts with death and life, to look more like yours. Will you renew mine?

In the wilderness of societal confusion, where factions cry out; will you give us dry ground on which to stand firm? May we see in the stones, 12 of them, the breadth of your reach? As we come into your presence, the Holy of Holies, will you steady us in  truthful worship, toe-to-toe, side-by-side; our lives grounded in WHO YOU ARE rather than the politics of the moment?

You have promised…to give what is both meaningful to us, and praise-filled for you. Rivers of deception separate us from the realization of that promise. The subtleties of confusion keep us churning between ‘dry ground’, and desert, looking back…. Make us wholly your own, in fear and awe of you, we pray.

(1,2,3) All scripture references taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version c 1973,1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission.

tuesday mornings…prayers of vulnerability

My hand is ‘out of joint’ this morning; I woke up during the night, and something had shifted. Painfully. Thankfully, things are moving better as I go about my morning.  My heart is out of joint, too, with the pain of a friend newly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer,  old friends painfully grappling with estrangement, a third friend and her family already too many days at Children’s Hospital. My heart and mind keep cautiously approaching these explosive facts, trying to figure out what to do, to help or to understand; wondering when quiet, versus questions is the kindest, least intrusive form of care. Then wondering if intrusion is what the moment needs. Doubting that sequestration in a prayer closet is the answer, but having NO CLUE how to proceed. If I feel vulnerable and at a loss…how do they feel??????

For my friend with cancer, I feel angry and afraid. Very afraid. There are too many pieces of life attached to her, for me to calmly ‘let go’ and trust.

For my friends who are parting, there is so.much.sorrow

For my friends in hospital – there are weeks of wearying work ahead to facilitate recovery.

You likely have loved ones to add to the list.

I feel vulnerable in relationship to all of them – (how am I ever going to help?) I FEAR that I, their sister, their friend, will surely fail them in these moments.

I feel vulnerable for them – these strong , amazing advocates for others, who will now have to ask for themselves. I have lost.. it is not a journey one enters lightly. I have held the stone of sorrow…I have wearied my brain and bones in caregiving work. Perhaps this is why I feel vulnerable FOR them, this glimpse of what lies ahead. None of them are strangers to the journey either. Truthfully, I would not trade those journeys – the intertwine of beauty with ashes – the tracing of one’s hands across the face of God in the heart of Christ, along this journey we call life.  But I have not walked their sorrows, and I do not envy them the walking it now.

Vulnerability    History helps. I remember a time, when I was invited to flat-out worship God, but found myself in a position of vulnerability. As if on cue, the words flowed, telling God all the ways in which I felt vulnerable, all the fears and questions for which I had no practical answers. I had been circling the problems, puzzling them from different perspectives, rather than bringing them to a Holy God. The God of the Storehouse found in Job 38:  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?… Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the evil out of it?” There it is. Job, with a season full of woes, and  God reminding him that nothing is beyond his reach; the whole passage a call to worship. Three chapters worth.

Job responds, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”  And, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42;2,5

Finally, I know what to do. God of the Storehouse, we stand amazed that you have every resource at your disposal. Bring them to bear, we humbly pray, on this array of needs. Help us to trust not only in your power, but in the goodness of your grace. We worship your goodness, Oh God.

 It is not ours to judge one another, but where we need to shift, to repent and change, please show us the way. Help us to RUN in that new-found freedom. We worship your goodness , Oh God.

HELP US TO SEE YOU, over and over  as we go about our days. And in seeing, to worship you truthfully; not as we expect you to be, but as you are in power and majesty, in righteousness and glory. May your glory fill the whole earth, as you shake the evil from its dust. No plan of yours can be thwarted. We worship your goodness, OH God.

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On Easter Sunday, we spotted the first trilliums in the woods. They remind me again, of the triune completeness of our God; the Father to give us life, his Son to teach and save us, the Holy Spirit to lead and empower, the living of our own resurrected life. He is complete. And in Him, we find the help we need.

jlf 4/15

1) Quotes from Job Cpts. 38-42. NIV The Holy Bible.  Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 1983