Friday, November 11, 2016

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?

Psalm 10: 1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

There came that day when I cried out, "God, where are You? I thought You loved me! I thought You wanted good things for me. This is not good! I have been praying and trusting You with this for so many years now. Are you really good? And if You are, what now? Because this isn't working! I've got to agree with Jeremiah when he lamented, 'My splendor is gone and all that I hoped for from the Lord.'" That day was not just a day; it was years upon years of pain and unanswered questions, of walking faithfully and waiting, of trusting that the circumstances I desperately wanted would come to fruition.

I was not alone in my dismay. Jeremiah cried out too. David questioned, "How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" Job had these strong words, "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer. I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me." Here are men God loved, God chose, God spoke to. It's not an easy road for the faithful. St. Teresa of Avila said, "If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it's no wonder you have so few."

So, He stands far off. He withdraws that we might hunger for Him.

 He lets things go terribly wrong that I may see how I was depending on things going right. He lets that loved one fail me so I will know who I was looking to for my hope. He shrinks or even destroys my bank account to awaken me to how I've worshiped at the altar of comfort and convenience.

He may take my job, my health, my family, my home. Whether He takes one or all of these I say, "You have taken everything from me!"

 "Everything?"

There is silence as my soul tunes in.

His Spirit speaks to me, "I thought I was your Everything. Do you remember saying that I was all you needed? Did those songs you sang to Me come from your heart and or only your lips?" Hard questions, tender voice.

I contemplate other questions that He didn't ask: Who is my god? Who is my everything? Have I let this person or this work or this way of life become my god? Will I let go of My Hope?

"No, Lord," I reply, "I will not let go of my hope in You. And yes, Lord, I declare that those songs were not empty worship. I will say with Job, 'Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.' For who has the words of life, but You? Who, but You, can heal me in this moment? Who, but You, are able to redeem my life from the pit that it has become? Only One, only You. There is no other.

The weight of trying to make sense of what cannot be understood in this world drops from my shoulders. The Father gathers me as I crumble on the floor among pieces of shattered dreams. He holds me close to His heart... so close I think I will never leave this place, this moment, this grace.

The things that were lost to me are still lost. Nothing is restored yet and I have no sure word that any of it will be while I remain here on this earth.

Hebrews 11:39 says of the faithful, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised."

Will I be well satisfied with God if He enables me to be faithful, but doesn't give me what I want in the here and now? That is a question I have to ask myself daily.

 Heaven is there, not here. I only have His Word that He is enough. He is Life. He is Everything. I look down at hands that have released their demands and are now open. And I rest in surrender.








Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Standing in the Gap

“I completed my hiking adventure in the Cumberland Gap along the Ridge Trail. We hiked 35 miles over 3 days.”

My daughter told me to post that statement on social media without any disclaimers.

"You did it," she said, "You can tell your friends all the other stuff later. Right now it's time to celebrate the accomplishment!"

I took her advice. This blog is the disclaimer. It is the rest of the story.

Day One of the trail was the most challenging and difficult for me as I struggled to carry a hiking pack that was too heavy for me. The pack itself was one of the lighter ones, with just my own gear. But I am a small person and I could feel the pressure on my neck and shoulders before we took the first step.

Emotionally, my anxiety kicked in. I did not want to ask for help. I did not want to be a drag on the group. I did not want to be seen as needy. But I was. I was unmasked. I was not the small, spry, and fierce trailblazer I wanted to project. But the small, anemic, and wobbly woman of 50 years who could not keep pace with the team. It was all there in plain sight.

I kept trying to breathe deeply. I tried yoga breathing, "pinwheel" breathing, "Darth Vader" breathing. But I still couldn't seem to bring my heart rate and lungs under control. They were much more rapid than they should have been. I was being led by dread.

So I asked God to give me the strength that I needed to make it. "Hello, God. I need You here. I can't do this!" I said more than once. I heard nothing. Finally, God seemed to break through to me, "I've provided the strength you need. It's right here on the trail with you."

He was pointing me to my co-hikers.

"Lord, that's not the kind of help I'm asking for here. I want to be able to do this on my own."

Yep. There it was. That old self-sufficiency rearing it's ugly head. I insisted on help, but only of a certain kind: the kind that didn’t involve admitting frailties, doesn’t succumb to the humility of exhaustion, and can’t risk vulnerability. The kind of help I wanted would have made me look good.

That's me in the lime green shirt and floppy hat.
God continues to be disinterested in that agenda of mine. He keeps wanting me to lean hard into Him by opening my life and struggles to others. It seems He is very serious about this whole Body of Christ thing.

So, God gave me help. First, He gave me Leigh. Leigh, who had her own physical limitations to overcome, switched backpacks with me for the next leg of the hike, so that I could carry her light day pack and she could carry my heavier burden. She never complained about the extra strain and pain she endured for my sake--someone she had known for an hour. What a beautiful picture of Christ’s lowliness and compassion she was to me. I would not have made it without Leigh.

Later, I was again carrying my own backpack when I reached the breaking point. I didn't think I could take another step with my rapid pulse and the pain in my chest. I was emotionally and physically wrecked.

"I can't do it. I can't go any further with this pack," I said. I hoped all the sweat was hiding the silent tears I was wiping away. Chris B. stepped up and said, "Hey, I can carry your pack and mine. It's no trouble. Are you okay? And we can slow down. We are in no hurry and have plenty of time to get to camp. It's no problem. Really."

This guy who had known me only a few hours at that point was more concerned with my well being than with my performance on the trail. Isn't that like Jesus? Chris strapped my pack onto His and walked on like it was no extra weight at all. His strength also was a picture of how Christ lifts that which we cannot. I could not have made it without Chris B.

When we were all taking a break, my daughter Taylor came over as I sat alone trying to regain my composure in the midst of my failure. She hugged me and said, "It's okay, Mom. I know you are doing your best. It will be okay. You will make it. We will make it. Chris can carry that pack easily. Don't worry about it. I love you."

Such sweet words of assurance from my daughter. If there was anyone I feared failing here in this moment, it was her. She invited me along. I did not want to be a problem. She saw my weakness and gave me grace in time of my need just like my Jesus does. I could not have made it without Taylor.

For the next two days Taylor and Chris B. would carry some of my supplies so that I could manage my own pack. I needed the gift of being able to carry only what I could.

And then there was Rachel. She had prepared all of our food in advance. Through her hard work and preparation I was able to enjoy three meals a day and have the energy necessary for the hike. Daily He loads us with benefits.

Chris F. had gone to the trouble of packing little extras for everyone: we had coffee by the campfire each morning. I'm talking real hot coffee! We had hot foot soaks and foot massages too. These blessings reminded me of Christ willingness to spend His all for us. He doesn't hold back His goodness. He is rich in love and faithfulness.

Matt brought a game called "Werewolves". There was renewal at the end of a hard day as we laughed together. Playing that game helped me bond with this band of twenty-somethings. I needed that after my shortcomings on the trail. I needed to know that I wouldn't be rejected because of my weakness.
I had asked God for help and He gave it,.. just not in the form that I desired. Instead of increasing my physical ability, the Father sent real flesh and blood people to minister to me, to strengthen me, to enable me to do what I could have never done on my own.

There was humiliation in admitting my neediness, but the gifts I received in return tied my heart to these young and strong adventurers in a way that my strength could not.

Strength draws admiration. Vulnerability draws the soul.

Maybe the mountains in our lives can only be conquered when we come to the end of our strength, cry out to God, and allow our brothers and sisters to share in our burdens. Maybe God is waiting for us to receive the help that He has sent our way. Trust me, we won't make it without them.