Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Joy that Makes the Weakest Strong


He often uses songs and poetry to shepherd me through seasons of life.
I'm loving the poetry of Amy Carmichael, set to music by Jim Spencer.


This poem, His Faithfulness, is especially meaningful to me this morning as I look at the week ahead - farewelling our home at Seabrook called Once Upon a Time.

Anticipating joy...

O wind of God, blow through the trees;
O birds of God, come sing your song;
For now I know the joy that frees,
The joy that makes the weakest strong.

The vapors march in shining crowds,
High in the trackless roads of air;
I look, and lo, unto the clouds,
His faithfulness is even there!

Pass foolish fears; the fresh winds blow;
O birds of God, come sing with me.
My God is faithful this I know;
My Father, I have all in Thee.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Gratitude...

#5 Grace served up fresh this morning (THANKS BE TO GOD!)

#6 Green amidst the gray (Seattle winters!)

#7 Growth amidst the compost (life lessons)

#8 Grass that dances in the rain

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The gratitude begins

"Working" on gratitude these days. :)

Here's my morning start - (#1-4)

* rain jewels bedecking the Japanese maple outside my window

* eyes to see the beauty of the rain

* memories of another life in West Africa with little rain, sparking gratitude for every sparkling drop of moisture falling here in this rain-soaked city (this is Seattle, after all)!

* being filled up (like a rain gauge!) with His gracious gifts, day by day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Walk with Me Quiet

Returning from a recent international trip, we felt like we were coming home. This place that my dad built 30 years ago is comfortable and comforting. Although we moved here just a little over 5 months ago and have been gone or hosting guests at least half of that time, we are relishing the feelings of familiarity.

On the sea of transition, we’ve sought the outline of the recognizable shore that would welcome us, anchor us, to a place and return us to the known. Instead, within 24 hours of returning from our last trip, the background shifted, revealing an alarming, dark crack in my universe. With so many “unexpecteds” in the last 2 ½ years, why am I continually undone when the landscape changes and shifts, when the shoreline disappears in the mist or jagged rocks appear where I remember still waters and a welcoming harbor?

We stood at the edge of the Pacific not long ago, watching the waves wash ashore, feeling the heart-thundering crash of the pounding surf. Anne Morrow Lindbergh speaks of “A Gift From the Sea,” and, indeed, there are many gifts from the sea. Often though, we feel ourselves beat up by each new wave that crashes over us.

*****

I, and so many of those I love, have experienced wrecking balls in their lives recently. You know the kind - the events that take your breath away and change everything? For some, it’s a job that offered security for the last 25 years, vaporized overnight. For others, it’s a mysterious disease that threatens to waste health and years. For still others, it’s a ruptured relationship that should be life-giving and instead sucks every bit of emotional strength for days, weeks or years on end. The wrecking balls of our lives knock the wind out of us in so many ways – like the crashing waves, they pound us flat…

We ran across a familiar and popular T-shirt in the night market in Thailand with the emblazoned slogan “same, same, but different.” In my journeys, and in heart-to-hearts with women all across the globe – I have found that our stories, although different, are so much the same – we look for joy and too often find sorrow; we wish for healthy families and instead find ourselves on the un-fun side of dysfunctional; we long for deep intimate relationships with our spouses, families and friends and instead find ourselves betrayed in ways, large and small, by those closest to us; we long for rich conversations with those we love and instead find ourselves harried and tongue-tied as we rush to fulfill our life calling. Sometimes the shudder of one wrecking ball barely subsides when another sideswipes our hearts, leaving us gasping and breathless.

Perhaps one of the biggest wrecking balls in our lives arrives in a rush, as we become aware of some bit of knowledge about ourselves that has niggled at the edges of our lives for years. Is it possible to find oneself ambushed at midlife – wrecked, so to speak, by a small memory or revelation that opens up a tidal wave of unfulfilled longings or, worse yet, unexpected “junk?” This type of wrecking ball – when it arrives – is perhaps one of the most devastating. The landscape of our lives – that shoreline – seems so radically altered, we wonder if we’ll ever find our way back home. We seek still waters, but are capsized by giant waves or pushed back out to sea, not realizing the tide shifted while we weren’t watching.

Sandra McCracken with Caedmon’s Call wrote the following lyric for their album, Back Home, in 1999.

Walk with me quiet, walk with me slow
With watered down coffee and words of gold
I can feel the edges of these things
When I hear you speak to me, so walk with me.

Walk with me empty, walk with me strong
The hush of our voices, when the day seems so long
It is like a balm, it is like a jewel
It unravels all I thought I knew

Will you lead me, beside the still waters
Where the oil, it runs over, and my cup overflows
You restore my soul.

Tell me the story, where old is made new
The promise of ages, and all things that are true
When the shadows fall and the wrecking ball
Swings and tears me through the heart

Will you lead me, beside the still waters
Where the oil, it runs over, and my cup overflows
You restore my soul.

More and more, I’m convinced that, unless I’m tethered to Him, I’ll never find my way back home. As the onslaught of waves pushes against my forward movement, I must center my attention all the more on the compass of God’s word, spoken in so many ways – through the Scriptures, yes, but through the metaphors of my daily life as He walks with and talks to me, through the writings of other saints, and through the spoken words of those with whom I fellowship. But, at each point, I must attend to what He is saying.

Don’t you find that to be true for you? We need to remind ourselves and others often and regularly of how God’s truth is shaping our lives, leading us home, soothing those wrecking ball wounds that gape so alarmingly. As we walk and talk with one another, sharing God’s good gifts back and forth, our faith is buoyed up in the face of the storm. So often, within the storm, we can see nothing without. We can’t see the shoreline through the mist. What we think we know (that we are lost at sea) is skewed as we are disoriented by the wind and waves. We need a tug with a strong motor that will pull up beside us and guide us toward the harbor. When we’re strong, we can tug others leading them by still waters; when we’re empty, others fill us with the words that fuel us on our journey homeward.

David and I are doing that for each other as each wave jars us afresh into new ways of seeing… Of course, we’re walking with the Lord and by His Spirit, but He has set us in relationship with one another and we continue to learn day by day from our walk with Him and as we live with, learn from and walk in grace with one another. Thank you for walking with us. It’s our privilege to also walk with you.

Be encouraged as you journey homeward. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Let His words encourage you, strengthen you, and give you hope and confidence.

Hear these encouraging words from Amy Carmichael, who suffered chronic pain for most of the last 20 years of her life.

O Lord, our strength and confidence
Our eyes are unto Thee
Thou art the rock of our defense
Our song of victory
Thou who dost still the violence
Of any raging sea

Thou at the flood didst sit as King
What are our floods to Thee
To whom it is a little thing
To walk upon the sea?
We wait to hail Thee conquering
King of eternity

Only, O Lord our God, we pray
Teach us to do Thy will
Through windy hours and flying spray
Thy purposes fulfill
Until the word of yesterday
Thou speakest – “Peace, be still.”
Thou speakest – “Peace, be still.”

Walking with Him,

~Janet

Monday, December 22, 2008

Looking for "the moment"


It seems there is "one moment" every December when the magnitude of God's gift in Jesus is revealed to me in a fresh way. Often it comes from a fresh reading of God's word. But sometimes it sneaks up on me, as it did that Christmas in December 1986.

As I opened one of the last boxes to be unpacked after our recent move, it caught my eye - the program from The Magnificent Christmas Spectacular presented by Radio City Music Hall (RCMH) in New York City early in December 1986. David was in seminary, the boys were in grade school and David's parents were visiting for a long weekend to take us to the Christmas Spectacular. And spectacular it was, as only RCMH can do it! From Santa, elves & reindeer, to Scrooge, to the Rockettes as tin soldiers, to portions of the Nutcracker; they seemed to cover it all. We came expecting great entertainment and we got it, complete with laughter, singing, dancing, ice skating, and general merriment.

Late in the program, a hush fell over the auditorium, as the strains of O Come All Ye Faithful began to play. As sheep, donkeys and a camel or two moved onto the stage, the growing light at center stage revealed two awestruck young people bent over an unassuming manger, watching their baby sleep. Wise men and their retinue made their way onto the stage with their royal robes trained behind them. Of course, this was the climactic moment of the RCMH presentation, so before long the music swelled, the center stage lifted the Holy Family high and the twinkle lights brought glam and glitz to what was, in all likelihood, a very simple, humble affair. Nevertheless, it was a notable reminder that, but for the birth of this child in such humble circumstances, there would be nothing to celebrate. As the Christmas story was read aloud by the deep-voiced narrator, we were blessed that the spiritual significance of Christmas had not been forgotten. We emerged from Radio City Music Hall with tears on our cheeks and Christ in our hearts, reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas.

It happened again yesterday - my "moment."

As most of you know, we moved just 7 weeks ago into a duplex my dad built in 1978. The memories in this home through the years have leant a surreal quality to our transition; 1979 - as young marrieds with babes in arms, 1990 - as new seminary grads homeschooling grade school boys and serving at our church nearby, 1995 - our furlough year from service in West Africa when the boys were in high school.

Early last week, as I was preparing the guest room for David's mom's arrival, the memory of our baby boys cooing in a crib in this very room those many years ago seemed oh-so-fresh in my mind and heart. Can 3 decades have passed so quickly?

Then yesterday... our boys walked in the door for our family get-together and it struck me afresh. Those babies, these men, so real, so ordinary, yet still a miraculous gift to me, to us... My heart was struck for my sons and for the growth and healing our family has experienced this past year. It's been a hard year, but a good year.

And my heart was struck for my Lord, Who arrived in newborn flesh and whose entire earthly life was a miraculous gift not only to His mother, father and siblings, but to the human family, to those who trust in the miracle of His birth, life, death and resurrection!

This Christmas, may your heart be open to a Christmas "moment" when the miracle of Jesus' birth rings in your heart in a new way.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Morning Glory

"I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name." Isaiah 45:3
"It's been a hard year
But I'm climbing out of the rubble
These lessons are hard
Healing changes are subtle..."

This song by Sara Groves called "Less Like Scars" is the soundtrack of my life this year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CjbCcyIiQw

An organization which focuses on sabbatical experiences encourages the pursuit of things during a sabbatical year which "make your heart sing!" I had anticipated our sabbatical year as one in which my heart would sing merrily along. I would be free to enjoy reading, walking, visiting with family and friends, quilting, scrapbooking, as well as devoting my time and heart toward the Lord in ways that only a sabbatical would allow. My "Once Upon a Time" would have a "Happily Ever After."

The reality? This sabbatical year was mostly a year of confusion, grieving and darkness. It has been a chrysalis experience - entering and waiting in a dark chamber for... something???
"Every day it's
Less like tearing, more like building;
Less like captive, more like willing;
Less like breakdown, more like surrender;
Less like haunting, more like remember."


I knew in my heart that this COULD be - that God COULD redeem my circumstances and bring me to a place of seeing what He was building in my life. But, in the moment, I only felt so much loss;

the loss of my dad and step-mom last summer and David's dad in January (highlighting the passage of life from one generation to another and my own aging face and hands);

the loss of 24/7 relationship and impact on the lives of MKs at Gatehouse (after 8 years at Gatehouse I was tired, yes, but I also desperately missed the beauty of the Gatehouse family);
the loss of our "place" in community in both Redding and Seattle (we ended up on the Washington Coast in a charming town, but far from the support of family and friends. We have felt somewhat displaced - like exiles in a beautiful, but strange, land).

I picked up a book which likened the chrysalis experience to a spiritual reawakening at midlife. It seemed a well-worn metaphor, but as I began the book, the metaphor fit so well! I read the first 2 sections "entering" and "transformation," but couldn't bring myself to read the last section called "emerging." I just wasn't there! I put it back on my bookshelf.


"And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars and more like
Character."
What was God doing in the darkness? What pieces of my life was He fitting together? When my heart craved comfort in the face of loss, there was more loss, less certainty, more questions. We faced many a "bad situation" - a fractured family relationship which amounted to 9 months of silence between parents and children (this cut deep along an old scar of a question, "Am I a good mother?") and another relationship which persistently demanded more than I could give (each request, however reasonable, was delivered in a way which seemed like an emotional blow that highlighted how fragile I was). What are you doing, God?? This is NOT the way I "scripted" our sabbatical year!!!!

"Less like a prison, more like my room
It's less like a casket, more like a womb
Less like dying, more like transcending
Less like fear, less like an ending."

In a season when there were no immediate answers and the darkness seemed to endure longer than I wanted or could have imagined, little glimmers of hope sparkled around the edges. When all I wanted was for the pain to cease and the light to burst forth, showing me a "new day," I began to realize that my searching for a release from pain was only a further grasp for control and that there was something to be said for surrender. What I thought I wanted was relief; what I found is God's Presence with me in the darkness.

"...freedom comes only from our dependency on the Creator... God has forgiven us for trying to be God... and has saved us from the hell of living as if we were in control. He loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves in the reckless attempt to create our own lives." (M. Craig Barnes in Yearning: Living Between How It Is and How It Ought to Be)

"Trust hangs somewhere between knowing what your heart longs for and trying to dictate the shape or timing or outcome of your heart's desire. It lies in the willingness to accept the particulars of how and when and where God chooses to intervene. It waits in the cool shade of surrender." (Paula Rinehart in Strong Women, Soft Hearts)

"And I feel you here,And you're picking up the pieces,
Forever faithful.

It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able,
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars and more like
Character."

He is able!
"In the moment in which we feel abandoned by both our dreams and the God we thought would save them for us - in precisely that moment we are ready to receive God's true salvation. It is then we discover that God wants to save us, not our dreams." (M. Craig Barnes in Yearning)
"Shattered dreams are the truest blessings; they help us discover our true hope." (Larry Crabb in Shattered Dreams)

My ultimate dependence on God was highlighted over and over - in every scripture, in every book, in every song! He was showing me that no matter how desperate my situation, HE IS ALWAYS ABLE!!

Psalm 126:5 came as a fresh lesson, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." From our years in Africa, I know that the sowing of seed is done at the most desperate time of year, as the storehouse is depleted. There's such a temptation to just eat the sowing seed as it takes a lot of faith to put it in the ground and hope the Lord sends rain. Thus, seeds are sown into the darkness of the earth, not knowing if - whether - how - they will produce a crop!


"Just a little while ago
I couldn't feel the power or the hope
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing
Just a little while back
I was desperate, broken, laid out, hoping
You would come."
The darkness and silence that had once irked me, I began to see as a blessing. I asked Him to release me from the darkness and, instead, He entered it with me. God had stripped away much of what I cherished and shown me that even in the face of heartbreak, His joy could be found.

"The scandal of God's silence in the most heartbreaking hours of our journey is perceived in retrospect as veiled tender Presence and a passage into pure trust that is not at the mercy of the response it receives." Brennan Manning


"And I need you
And I want you here
And I feel you
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars
And more like
Character"


What I thought would be a year of peace and tranquility, or at least comfort and rest, has instead been a blossoming of something far beyond what I anticipated. Aspects of character have been formed in me, in us, in ways that only darkness could produce.

As tiny shoots are poking out of the ground this spring, I feel myself also "emerging" to a place of hope and light. While there is still much that is uncertain, I have a new-found certainty in the Lord as my only hope, my only source of light. That's the resurrection story. Jesus entered our dark world and provided the only way for us to know the light of God's Presence, through his own death and resurrection! He is our "Morning Glory."

Thank you for waiting in the silence with me, for demanding nothing during this year, for praying as God prompted, for supporting us financially allowing this sabbatical year. My heart is full - of gratitude to God for His Beauty, His Majesty, His Presence!

Thanks for listening - and for continuing to walk this road with me. Now I think I'll go find that book that had something to say about "emerging..." :)

Blinking in the morning light,

Janet

Monday, November 5, 2007

Roller Coaster


After a long absence, we made our way to the Ocean City (NJ) boardwalk on a summer evening in June. There’s no place quite like the boardwalk for overstimulation; the aroma of funnel cakes, the flash and dash of kitschy storefronts, the mouth watering chewiness of Shriver’s saltwater taffy, the fireworks bursting over the end of the pier. At the end of the evening, we fell into bed exhausted, with visions of the Python (roller coaster) looping through our dreams.

We feel like we’ve been riding that roller coaster this past year, complete with twists and turns, flying head over heels, blind curves and that sense of weightlessness followed by heart-pounding drops. Throughout last fall, we had a growing sense that our ministry days at Gatehouse in the role of house parents were drawing to a close. By January, our board had agreed that we would take a sabbatical during the 07-08 school year. Last spring, we wrapped up our days of ministry in the house; over the last 8 years, we’ve had 42 young Missionary Kids live with us. As you may imagine, we were weary and in need of rest, but also sad at seeing a beloved chapter of our lives come to a close. So, began our season of transition.

It was a season of transition in a lot of ways. David and I each celebrated our 50th birthdays this past year. We also purchased our first home, an investment property on the WA coast in a resort community – a place we could rent out daily or weekly, but have available for our own family’s use as well. We anticipated it as a place where our family could gather – something we’ve been missing these past 8 years at GH, where there was no room to welcome our sons and daughter-in-law “home.”

Packing and moving was squeezed in and around other life-jolting events, beginning with an unimaginable fracture in a cherished life-long relationship in March, my step-mom’s death in June, my dad’s death in August and, in the final days of October, a call that David’s dad may not make it through the night. We are in daily contact now with David’s mom, as we continue in this season of waiting. Our comfort? All of these precious loved ones making their final transition from this life have that “sure and certain hope” in the reality of their home in heaven because of Jesus’ shed blood.

Especially during this season of sorrow, it would have been great to have a place to call “home.” We had arranged a house sitting situation in anticipation of being near my dad this fall. Instead, 3 days after our arrival in WA, Daddy passed away. Instead, since leaving Gatehouse last May, we’ve slept in 17 beds in 7 states. To be sure, we’ve been grateful for the generosity of so many, but we are weary and our longing for “home” has reached the point of ridiculousness!!
So, in this season of sabbatical, we have found ourselves homeless, parentless and jobless.

Truthfully, our summer has been a bit overwhelming. As we watched a storm come in along the California coast not long ago, I wrote these words “I feel like the sand, worked over and over and over by each crashing wave with no time to settle into place before another wave of sorrow or disappointment or hurt washes over me again, tumbling my world upside down.” Just like that roller coaster, we find ourselves topsy-turvy and wondering which way is up.

What do you do when the waves of life crash over you? Where do you turn? How do you muster up obedience in the difficult seasons of life? What prevents you from becoming completely undone, uncertain, at the mercy of the roller coaster of life? What lessons are to be learned from seasons of sorrow?

One big lesson for me has been that we reap what we sow. What we practice in the good times, serves us in the hard times. My relationship with the Lord tells me who (and whose) I am. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In this season when it’s been necessary to dip deeply from the well, I’ve found it full of life-giving water for my soul. Like any relationship – my relationship with the Lord is sometimes hard work! But as I commit to relationship with Him, I am strengthened (even when tired), joyful (even in sorrow) and hopeful (even when every evidence would indicate otherwise).

Ken Gire writes in Life As We Would Want It, Life As We Are Given It “so much is distilled in our tears… not the least of which is wisdom in living life. I have learned that if you follow your tears, you will find your heart. And if you find your heart, you will find what is dear to God. And if you find what is dear to God, you will find the answer to how you should live your life.”

On the breath-taking roller coaster of our recent months, finding ourselves in unimaginable places of grief (probably at least as much for the broken relationship as for the deaths of our dear ones), we have determined that we want an - “our God is able to save us, but even if he does not (Dan 3:17-18),” “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Gen 50:20),” “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13:15)” - kind of faith.

God’s promises are what we cling to – that safety bar on our roller coaster…

“Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord.” (Isaiah 51:3)

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.” (Ps. 71:14 – 15)

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:23)

As you may imagine, we’ve been trying to catch our breath and gain our equilibrium. We’ve experienced God’s grace through your love and care for us. Thank you.
In His Grip,

Janet