Walking My Own Red Sea Road

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When I sit to sort out what kind of lesson I could bring to the table, I pause, uncertain. I am learning so very much from extraordinarily sharp and powerful moments, but their lessons are coming so slowly. 

Hopefully, I will be trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings here on the blog over the next weeks and months. And where do I start? Perhaps with my acute need. So, let’s walk arm in arm on the beach, my friend, and let me tell you about a great God who has seen me through once again.

(All quotations other than Scripture in this post are song lyrics from Ellie Holcomb’s transformational new album Red Sea Road, available on her website,  on Amazon, and on Spotify.)


“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9NASB

It’s a hard thing for a writer to be struck wordless. But after over 3 years of consistent blogging, I stumbled into a desert. I felt blasts of emotion like the onslaught of the desert sun. Circumstances bit into my skin like the blowing sting of a sandstorm. Have you ever tried to shout into a violent wind?  My words were snatched away much like that. Even when I was still speaking, how could anyone hear me over all that thundering violence? Besides, even in my own head, I wasn’t sure how to parcel out my  feelings and discoveries. Whenever I would attempt to revisit my pile of thoughts and experiences, I would type and stare, finally coming away with nothing.

Now that I think about it, God doesn’t ask us to always be able to neatly package our lives, especially when we are in the middle of living them. If His ways aren’t my ways–and I’m glad for that–then why should I be able to explain them?

It’s a good thing, then, that God doesn’t ask for neat packaging. He asks for trust.

Over the past months, I’ve walked through the deserts of loneliness, relational upsets,  odd situations, and inadequacy. I’m not sure I’ve discovered any real secret, except for two things.

  1. I have to come to my relationships with a repenting and willing-to-trust heart (even when I feel like withdrawing to keep myself “safe”).
  2. I have to come to God with my nothingness and let Him fill me up with His total sufficiency.

This is a summary of a thing impossible to summarize. This is a inadequate definition of God’s ways, which are utterly impossible to find out.

A few weeks ago, I was battling with my burden for the pain of the world, personal struggle, and emotional exhaustion. Unknown to me, a music album I ordered showed up in my mailbox. As I played the words in the car, it was like every song was written for that moment.

“It’s not the news that any of us hoped that we would hear
It’s not the road we would have chosen, no
The only thing that we can see is darkness up ahead
But You’re asking us to lay our worry down and sing a song instead”

So I did “lay my worry down and sing a song instead.” With fears lurking all around me, I picked up Ellie Holcomb’s Red Sea Road album and began to commit it to memory. Truths from God’s word–sometimes even word-for-word Scriptures-washed over me like I had never heard them before.

You are loved
Not because of what you’ve done
Even when your heart has run the other way
Nothing’s gonna change His love

I hadn’t realized I was so thirsty for refreshing truths. I hadn’t known how desperate I was to be assured, again and again, that God was with me, for me, living inside of me, and accomplishing His purposes through me.

And I didn’t know I’d find You here
In the middle of my deepest fear, but
You are drawing near
You are overwhelming me, with peace

So I’ll lift my voice and sing
You’re gonna carry us through everything
You are drawing near
You’re overwhelming all my fears, with peace”

I’m not sure whether the music lifted me into a sort of resolution, or if it merely reflected a quiet place already forming inside my soul…but it came at just the right time, reminding me where my only hope is found.

In her album, Ellie talks about our Red Sea roads–impassable paths that God asks us to travel. Impassable, impossible paths. But these lyrics echo the song I have already been learning to sing.

This road is not impassable or impossible if the Road Maker is here.

And He is always, always here. Whether the road ahead is desolate desert or the unforgiving waves of a sea, He is here.

We will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road

When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road

We’ll never walk alone.

I’ve chosen a difficult way. More and more, I see the hand of God upon my circumstances and passions, directing me into the hard and dark corners of people’s lives. I have to have a light to take there. I can’t venture into those difficult, painful corners of the world without a way to fight back against the dark.

That’s why I have to remember. This Red Sea road is scary and this journey might be voted “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” But with God?

All things are possible. Amazing things are likely. The Best is guaranteed.

So walk the beach of the Red Sea with me, my friend, and look out across the rippling water.

You see, this isn’t just a stroll. That sea is getting ready to move out of the way.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

 – Romans 8:35-37, NASB –

When God Digs a Hole

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You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.

– Gordon B. Hinckley –

What is God up to?

This past week, full of thoughts and struggles, I heard a story called “Skyscraper.” Part of a collection of thoughts about God, this story, in a few short paragraphs, taught me to hope.

In this story, author Sally Lloyd Jones tells about the building of a high-rise building. First, long before the steel skeleton of a structure goes up, the foundation is dug.

“They are digging down to go up,” she writes.

In the years after being freed, Corrie ten Boom shared about her experience with her sister Betsie in a Nazi concentration camp. In one of her famous quotes, she spoke of their suffering as a deep pit–but it was a pit that could not go down deeper than the love of her God. With every painful shovelful that sank her deeper into that pit, God was making a solid, spacious place for her life to grow out of. One day, she walked out of that concentration camp. She lived to tell about the fantastic love of Christ that not only saw fit to place her in a pit for a time, but the love that raised her up triumphant to new heights.

This is the parable of the skyscraper.

In the middle of an amazing life, I keep feeling the scrape of rocks as my foundation is dug. Only, foundation-digging does not feel like progress. It feels like falling. It feels like the solid things in your life are being removed. It can feel like fear.

When our neighbors built a basement beneath their house, they hoped that the dirt beneath would not contain too many rocks. Unfortunately, we live in a county full of rocks, some of which run in thick layers beneath the surface. We do live in the Ozark Mountains, after all. So when the neighbors hired builders to dig beneath the house, they were dismayed when they hit a slab of stone only 18 inches beneath the dirt.

This happens in my life. God is digging deep into me, and even though it hurts sometimes, I am thankful. Then He hits rock.

“Great, Lord!” I grin. “That means you don’t have to dig anymore, right?”

Maybe our neighbors thought the same thing–maybe a deeper basement was impossible. Maybe the digging was over.

Then the digging crew brought out the dynamite.

Have you ever felt God pull out the dynamite? Have you ever thought the painful digging was done, only to feel your roots shake with blast after blast?

Using dynamite beneath a house takes great care and skill. Do you think our heavenly Father uses any less skill and precision and concern when He lays the explosive charges all around us?

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

– Isaiah 43:2, NLT –

What does digging look like in your life? In mine, it looks like normal days at home that are anything but routine. It looks like deeper pains and joys than I have ever experienced. It is harder decisions and more impactful words. Digging looks like long talks and many tears. Digging means grabbing onto something solid when the soil is crumbling out from under me. It means feeling overwhelmed–and maybe that’s the point. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, ASV).

O taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). 

I never realized that this tasting might be with a dry mouth, and this seeing might be with teary eyes. And that His goodness would taste so incredibly sweet.

I have many days of delight, when the digging is not frightening, when I trust the Architect. And you know…in a way, they are not any sweeter than the days when I am utterly unmoored, but Jesus carries me. Do I wish for the hardest days? No. But when they come, they are the bitter that makes the sweet all the sweeter.

And so the digging goes on. Some days, I don’t understand. Some days, I want to hide all the shovels and run from the growth. Sometimes, I forget what He is making me into.

But today, I choose to be grateful for the dynamite, and thankful for the chipping away.

Today, I will believe the Builder. He is laying the groundwork for something amazing.

I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well-built.” 

 – Luke 6:47-48, HCSB –

I step back to consider the wall that I have built,
A section of my castle where I laid my dreams in stone
Though the wall is new and short, the cracks already show,
And when the storm begins to wash it away, I fall on my knees and say

Lord, my Architect, come build me.
Lay my dreams’ foundation on the Rock of Christ.
Those words that broke off the stones around me
Can’t shake the castle You will build for me.
And one day I’ll wake up and see
The plan You’ve laid for me is the castle of my dreams.

I bring you dream stones glimmering with starlight from my eyes,
But stone by stone You clear away the best of the plans I have.
In Your strength I sweep the ashes, in the wind they fly away.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” You say.
I stretch out my empty hands.

The first floor is finished, the Builder’s strength undiminished
As the first golden plans begin to take place
New walls rise above me, my eyes shine with trust,
And my Architect keeps pressing on to build the life He has for me.


Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones (foreword by Timothy Keller), is an amazingly-profound book with gorgeous illustrations. Today’s blog concept of skyscrapers came from this collection of one-paged lessons on Scriptural themes, teaching poignant truths of the beauty of our God. Written especially for children, this book has encouraged me again and again. The wonders of God are for all ages! I highly recommend this breathtaking book–and the only reward I get for recommending it is the pleasure of seeing my friends love something I love. 

When Life Knocks You Down

snowball-in-hand2.jpg“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief ―
Last week, the snow was light on the ground, drifting only in sparse piles on top of the vehicles and the edge of the driveway. I looked out the kitchen window, and this is what I saw.
Around the driveway drifts, two young friends of mine gathered, rolling snow into lopsided balls in an attempt to build a snowman. Somewhere along the way the lure of the snow was just too much for one of them and snowballs began to fly.

Before you knew it, the round snowman torso was being plundered for ammunition. One of my little friends, laughing in the thrill of the moment, suddenly caught a huge wad of snow in the head. He went flying backward into the snow, his red coat a streak of color against the blank palette of yard.

It was one of those magical moments.

Laying on his back, he grinned, laughing at being bowled over. Soon he was up again, and before long, not a trace of the original snowman remained.

This is the joy I seek.

To go down laughing when this world bowls me right over.

The boys playing in my snowy yard plowed through the cold like it was a joy to do it. They lay down in the stuff like it was comfortable. They took hits like troopers. It was all a blast–a game without risk or reason to fear.

Life seems a little more heartless. Its snowballs are packed a lot harder, carry a little more ice inside them. Adventures we once craved, we now see in their true light: cold, wet, hard things that we really don’t want to go out in.

No wonder so many of us stay inside ourselves, where it is warm and comfortable.

But there was something marvelous about my little friends trouncing through the snow. Their exhilaration in the beautiful discomfort. Their embracing of being swept off their feet.

So I think I know a secret, how life can be like a snow day. You can get cranky because the snow went down your neck and into your boots, and your gloves are soaked clean through, and your nose is dripping off. Or, when the big snowballs of life knock you off your feet, you can lay there a while and laugh at the sky above you.

Maybe that’s the best place to see the sky–when you are flat on your back. Sometimes it takes being knocked down to get you to look up. 

Maybe that’s when you can stop trying to prove how well you can stand up to the barrage, and you can just flop over and laugh into the cold sky.

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”

 – Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p.31 –

I think that hope teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Life can be very, very hard. It is true.

But when we are knocked down, we can cry over our smallness and weakness…or we can laugh at it. We can marvel at a God who loves the little person bowled over by the snowball. And we can trust that the God of the snow knows all about snowballs…and He knows just how much we needed to take a long look at the sky and ponder what kind of Creator would gift us with such blue beauty.

“This is why we do not lose courage. Though our outer self is heading for decay, our inner self is being renewed daily.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:16, CJB –

The God of snow days and of little boys and long, happy falls into snow banks is also my God. He has promised to make all this world into something fresh and new one of these days.

Until then, He gives grace for the days when we are knocked right off our feet. His redeemed daughters “smile when they think about the future” (paraphrase of Proverbs 31:25, The Voice.)

It is easy to be discouraged when life knocks us down.

But take a deep breath and look up at the blue, blue sky and laugh. Your Father is making it all come out perfect in the end.

That’s why snow days are worth celebrating.

As cold as everything looks in winter, the sun has not forsaken us. He has only drawn away for a little, for good reasons, one of which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him.

– George MacDonald –

When God’s Hand Burns

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“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

– Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Suffering, p. 30 –

I watched the searing iron come down. The goat kid squirmed and begin to gasp, and yet the iron stayed.

Have you ever been burned? Has the iron stayed so long that you wondered what God was doing, why He was making you suffer?

Why Lord?

We always take our new goat kids to get their horn buds removed, when they are only days old. The process takes only seconds. Held by a firm, practiced hand, the kids are one by one laid across a lap. Then a hot iron, specially made for the purpose, is held to each horn bud for 10 seconds. The heat burns away the forming horns.

The soft hair on their heads singes and smokes. It stinks. They struggle and kick and cry, but no one lets them up.

To them, the pain is purposeless and cruel. All they wanted was a nice pile of straw and a warm bottle. Was that too much to ask?

But I had a purpose in their pain: I dreamed for them — when they were unable to dream for themselves — of a future with no horns. They, had they known what I was taking from them, might have complained. “Hey, those are mine! I need those. They look dashing, I’ll be popular with the lady goats, and I’ll be the king of the pasture.”

When I pulled out of the disbudder’s driveway, I thought about the whole painful process. A friend riding with me asked why their horns had to be removed. I started listing the benefits of hornless goats. They wouldn’t get their heads stuck in fences as easily. They wouldn’t be hurt in the occasional “status” fights that goats use to determine who is boss. They wouldn’t gore another goat. They couldn’t poke people with the sharp tips.

So I pondered this too. It was love, I realized. We loved them enough to give them pain, because there was a purpose beyond it. Even though the kids couldn’t see it, I brought pain into their lives for their ultimate good.

Recently, a friend finally got me to listen to a song she’d been telling me about for over a week. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the beauty in it.

Singer Elliott Park writes about a young sapling whose trunk is doubled over when a dying Rebel soldier hangs his gun on it. Watered by pain and tinted by blood, this oak grows that way — bent over, ruined in the eyes of most. But…just listen to the song “The Soldier and the Oak.” There was a purpose beyond the pain. The reality became better than the dream. The suffering can transform you into something even lovelier.

In the recent film Cinderella, after she long endures the hatefulness of her stepmother and sisters, Ella finally stands before the Prince, who still doesn’t know her name. “Who are you?” he asks.

“Cinderella,” she replies, using the name of derision that others had used to mock her. But she said it with a smile — a smile that showed that not only had she survived the suffering, but she was stronger for it. Her pain wasn’t a shoved-away corner of her identity. She embraced it, along with the change it wrought in her. Not Ella anymore. No, the pain had made her lovelier. She was Cinderella.

Keller says,

“In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” (Ibid., 26)

I’ve definitely seen pain that way — an entirely unpleasant interruption to my otherwise-happy existence.

But that night driving back toward the farm, I caught a new vision of suffering. In a strange shifting of roles, I found out what it was to be on the “knowing” end of things, the one that knew it would all be okay and the pain had a point (John 9:3; Rev. 21:1-7).

Every other day, I’m on the “not knowing” end of things. But…the uncertain cries of baby goats taught me a lesson that night.

“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CEB)

Sinful and weak as I am, I know better than my goats. How much more does our Heavenly Father know better than us where a moment of pain might lead (Isa. 55:8-9)? To what heights might it allow us to soar?

Could it be…that after this long enmity, suffering might turn out to be a friend?

Or that when God’s hand burns, we can trust after all?


“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”

– Henry Ward Beecher –

When God Doesn’t Show Up

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“Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.”
– Charles Spurgeon –

She didn’t have John 11 in her Bible.

And she didn’t understand.

Maybe, as the quiet, cold countryside air drifted through the house, she leaned against the wall and held her breath, waiting for her sick brother to inhale one more time.

A slow breath just beyond the thin wall.

She exhales, waiting for the next sound of air in fragile lungs.

It doesn’t come.

Her throat tightens. Hands go still where they’ve been digging a thin place in the hem of her skirt. Oh God, let him breathe.

It still doesn’t come.

A thin, reedy wail bubbles up from her chest, rising into deep sobs.

It didn’t come.

And neither had Jesus.

Other cries begin–her sister’s weary, husky choking, the softer wails of watching friends, a baby stirring on her cousin’s hip.

She closes her eyes and tastes the hot salt wetting her lips. “Why didn’t you come?” she whispers in the dark. “You could have stopped this.”


Have you seen a night that dark?

A death that tore out your heart. A friendship that melted away in the forge instead of being tempered by the flames. A dream that withered again and again.

We all ask this question, don’t we? “Why weren’t You there, Lord, when that happened? Where were You when I needed you?”

There’s the theological voice in our heads, telling us that God is omnipresent, that Jesus promised to never leave us, that He sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and be our Comforter.

But…honestly? You can’t always feel truth. That theological voice can tell me all it wants, but there’s no doubt that sometimes we cry and it seems like there is no reply. No comfort. No easing of the pain. Just silence.

I think that’s how Mary felt.

She sat, perhaps, in the dark and wept for her lost brother Lazarus, and wondered why, why on earth, did Jesus fail them.

He could have stopped this. He’d done it before–healed so many. Healed those that didn’t even follow Him, healed beggars on roadsides, healed servants of Gentiles long-distance.

But the man he loved, whose sisters he loved? He didn’t show up for him.

Don’t you know that Mary cried in the dark and couldn’t wrap her mind around the lostness. It was bad enough that her brother was dead.

But the ache of Jesus failing them…that must have been a thousand times worse.

She’d sat at his feet (Luke 10:39). She thrown her soul into following Him. She’d tossed everything aside as unimportant, secondary to knowing Him.

And yet He hadn’t come.

So Mary buried her brother, perhaps helping her sister Martha wrap him in spice-soaked cloths. So Mary cried until her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, until her heart felt drained of tears, and then she kept crying.

It was another four days, four days after the tombstone was shoved across the cave’s mouth, when Jesus finally showed up.

Late. Too late to heal. Too late, even, for the funeral. Just too late.

The Bible records Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ illness this way:

” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (John 11:5-6, NKJV).

Wait…what? This seems like a bad joke.

He hears about Lazarus…and stays away?

So, when he comes four days after the funeral (John 11:17), I wonder if Mary had stopped looking for Him? The passage doesn’t say. It only records,

“Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house” (John 11:20). 

Did Mary hear? Why did she stay at the house? Perhaps she she was too swallowed by her grief. Maybe she didn’t know Jesus had arrived. Or maybe she had given up on Jesus, because He hadn’t been there when she needed Him most.

But Martha–strong, capable, warm–went running in her tears and met Jesus as He approached:

“Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

But then, as Matthew Henry suggests in his commentary on the passage, she seems to regret her hasty, grieved words. Thought probably still asking “why” inside, she corrects herself:

“But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22).

This is a grief-stricken, somewhat-shaken faith. “Lord, I don’t understand,” she seems to be saying. “I still believe in you. I still know you have power. But I don’t understand.”

Under Jesus’ gentle questioning, she affirms her conviction that He is the Messiah, even the Son of God.

Then he sends for Mary.

Remember, Mary hadn’t read John 11. She didn’t know what would happen. We who have the whole Bible, who have grown up with the narratives, become numb to it.

But this wasn’t a flannel graph, two-dimensional story for Mary. This was real.

Her brother was dead. Her Savior had abandoned her.

Then He called for her and she hurries to meet him.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

The same words as her sister–this same theme that resounds in our own hearts when God doesn’t show up in our pain.

“If you had been here, God…If only You had been here.”

And what does Jesus do? He had given Martha the theological answers. For Mary?

For Mary, He cries.

With Mary, He cries. Yes, God in flesh sees her tears, the tears of her sister, and He openly weeps (John 11:35).

What comes next?

A glorious rising. A heart-stopping, mind-blowing resurrection right on the fringes of Jerusalem. The world was shaken up that day.

Because Lazarus rose and walked out of that tomb!

But if we walk away from Mary’s story with the idea that Jesus will immediately come along and undo all our griefs, set it all right, make it not hurt anymore–then we’ve not learned our lesson.

You see, Mary didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. 

But, behind Mary’s grieving, Martha’s questioning, Lazarus’ dying–behind all this was a much larger Story at work:

The Story of God glorifying His Son in the world (John 17).

In fact, in the very next chapter, we see the results of Lazarus rising:

“Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:9-11).

The Bible never tells the end of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha’s story.

But that passage–rather than scaring me, or making me worry about Lazarus’ safety–reassures me.

See what God did?

The whole mess of grief and then wonder, death and then life–all of it was a master-design to point the world to Jesus. Lazarus was such a testimony to His God that the Jews wanted him dead just to get people to stop believing!

God doesn’t always ride in and fix our problems. He doesn’t always come and heal our loved ones, raise our dead dreams, or mend our broken relationships. (One day, yes, He will! He will make all things new!)

But Mary’s story teaches me to hope.

Because whatever God is doing in the pain–however silent He seems to be–I know two things.

I know He knows my sorrows and is moved by my pain.

And I know that He is up to something glorious.

Grief is hard.

Pain hurts terribly.

Prayers don’t always feel like they’re going through.

But whether my Lazarus rises or not, I know that “God’s absence”–when He decides not to intervene in my hurt–is part of plan that makes God look amazing.

When He doesn’t show up, I will cling to the knowledge of His love and presence. He won’t always tell me why I have to hurt. He doesn’t owe me an explanation.

But I will believe.

And then I will watch His beauty be put on display.


 “And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.”

– Andrew Peterson, “The Silence of God”  –

* All Scripture verses come from the New King James Version

 

Joy’s Nemesis

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As I talked to a group of girls last night–one old friend and two new–one of them started talking about the connection between fear and the lack of joy.

I realized that it is true.

Fear chases away joy, in just a whisper of time.

We, white-knuckled, clench imagined control…and joy evaporates.

There are so many fears that run at us and storm our hearts’ gates. They crunch down the doors with solid bolts of facts, worry, despair.

And you know what…maybe we have good reason to be afraid.

If your goal is to stay safe, untouched by pain, hidden from trouble, tucked away from loss, un-torn by loss of people you love–then yes, you have much to fear indeed.

I have to tell you a story–a story that is very, very true.

As a twelve-year-old girl, I was diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma.

Yes.

That word that carries a host of terror. Cancer. I had it. Inside my body was a wild thing tearing at my seams.

But that is the short part of this story.

Because, you see, a host of prayers went up, and I went to M.D. Anderson where I clutched an oversized teddy bear named Andy and slipped into a hospital gown. They took out a biopsy from my side.

Weeks later, I was declared cancer-free. Doctors claimed to have made a mistake.

Funny thing was…I was okay, then. A little nervous. But I was young and–by some mercy–did not have to take myself to that dark place. I never considered the worst–that cancer kills, and I could be its next prey.

But I wasn’t.

I moved on with life–cancer-free and largely untroubled by the experience, except for a tiny puckering scar over my rib cage.

It was several years later that the fear stole back to haunt me.

I had been experiencing strange symptoms in the site near my scar, and the terror suddenly loomed over me.

I. Could. Die.

That terrible disease could creep over me again and…this time it could take me.

The reality of death hit me in the chest and sat there a while. I cried in the quiet dark. I feared.

And then I gave in. Gave over.

In that still moment, I surrendered my future–whether life or death–to the Lord. I shrank from the idea of pain, from the thought of wasting away before the eyes of my family. But I gave that to Him. (Of course, it was His already…I just needed to align my will with His!)

Easy?

Not at all. Desperately, terribly hard.

But there was peace…washing, cleansing peace…

And  wide-open gates of joy.

This was only one of my battles–vivid still in my memory. I’ve felt the paralysis of fear. It seeps deep into your bones, freezes your joints, immobilizes you until you think every scrap of bravery is gone.

Fear is being haunted by possibilities.

Fear is to stop living to keep from dying.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

So…as I was saying above…you might have good reason for fear.

Believing in God doesn’t mean that you’re promised earthly happiness. The pain of this life is inevitable (John 16:33).

How will you handle it?

Because you MUST handle it. Or let it handle you.

You can run out to meet the fear, or let it catch you as you run. But you will meet it, and you will get to know it well.

I’m just telling you this straight: Life is hard.

So what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to keep running? Are you going to let the fear breathe down your neck every minute?

Or will you let go of the fantasy that you can dodge the pain?

The relief does not come when you hide from the bad things–it only comes when you accept the possibility and yet know that even if the worst comes, you will still be standing at the end.

How could you know this? How could this be your stand?

To face coming days in this way is Joy.

I have a vision of this joy. Maybe it was birthed in my imagination, or implanted in me by other tales. I picture a woman lifting her eyes to the dawn, face radiant. It isn’t a care-free face. It is lined with the trails of years and tears and many laughs. But as this woman looks up, her beautiful, worn face is lit with wild sort of joy–so much joy that it seems that a army could not trample it, or an ocean wash it away. It is a holy, unwavering thing–a way to laugh in the face of death. A way to smile as dawn rises on more trouble. A way to keep loving when it seems all that you love dies.

She is fearless.

And there is only one explanation.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes

– Psalm 112:6-8 –

This is the only well of joy.

Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Fear cripples us–but trusting God’s eternal love breaks its hold.

The question is not whether pain will find you. This world is crying out, waiting for Christ’s final renewal.

The real question is whether you will take refuge in God’s love to carry you safely through the storm. He alone can hold you tight–even giving you faith enough to believe in Him.

I can’t promise you happiness… 

…nor a smooth ride through life…

…nor an emotional high that some call joy..

…but would you really want that, when God’s adventure awaits?

When His pure Joy is just on the other side of your fear?

Nothing is strong enough to part you from Him–not even fear itself.

So…will you run from fear?

Or will you run to your Jesus and together run at the fear?

May you throw back you head and laugh, for your future–however mysterious– is perfectly secure.


 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:31-39, NIV –


My dear friend Emily wrote a post about this very thing. How about checking out “Whale-Lines, Foolish Elves, and the Faith of Laugher”?

Hope on the Dark Side

barbed-wire-fence-closeup

“So you think that you’re the only one to cry yourself to sleep? That you’re the only one who’s scared they’ll all forget you when you leave? So you think that you’re the only one whose heart is black and blue? Listen, I’ve got news for you….

So you feel so wrecked and dirty He could never make you new? Man, have I got news for you, for you. I’m so compelled to tell you that it’s true….I’ve got good news for you.”

– Andrew Peterson, “I’ve Got News” –


Suffering. We’ve learned to run away from it, ever since we bumped our heads as babies. Ever since our childhood pet got hit by a passing car. Ever since our young hearts broke over the first person we knew that died. Ever since our adolescent souls were scarred by one-time friends that turned into Judases, Brutuses, Benedict Arnolds, betraying who they claim to love. It all seemed so unnatural, a blip in the happiness of childhood.

As adults, we see more of the pain. Our early immunity to the harshness of the world beyond has worn off. We see it all: the death mixed in with life, the tears that come as often as laughter, the hate that turns so much love sour.

Suffering. We recoil from it. We take medication for it. We know, instinctively, that pain means that all is NOT right with the world. Pain means something has gone wrong…crazily wrong.

Atheists say that the world has always been this way, that nature’s desperate struggle for dominance. We’re swept up in the unending pain, only to have it stop at death. We just have to survive till then.

Transcendentalists say that life is suffering–and only suffering. The only way to escape is to disconnect from the material, stop wanting anything, and join up with the cosmos. Let it swallow you. And hopefully you’ll come back as a being better than the one you are now–just don’t mess up the karma.

I have good news.

Jesus says that a better kind of life is possible. Unlike the meaningless suffering that other beliefs offer, Jesus says there is hope beyond the pain. Others can only hope for oblivion, a cessation of the bad. But the loved ones of God hold to a greater dream–the Biblical portrait of a Day when all is made new and clean and pure and empty of pain.

When Jesus came to earth as a man, grew up partaking in our pain, and died at the hands of His own creatures, His death lent value to suffering.

The cross said: Suffering isn’t pointless.

But, in three days, the rest of the message came clearly. If Jesus’ death gave meaning to pain, then His resurrection gave hope . Hope–the promise that one day this pain will be over. Our “three days” of languishing have the possibility of ending with the same kind of triumph–a rock-quaking, life-raising, never-dying kind of resurrection can be ours too.

Without Jesus, the world languishes. Suffering is pointless, pain leads to nowhere but a grave that levels all things to dust. But WITH Jesus, the difference is too great for words. Imagine a dark room, with the windows covered in heavy black cloth. Sun is excluded. The darkness is almost thick and the air is stifling with the absence of color or light or breeze. Then imagine someone came in and threw open the curtains. Imagine someone came and knocked out the walls. Imagine that the ceiling crumbled away and the sun’s full-noon glory pierced down.  It was dark, and now it is light.

But those words, simple and short, cannot convey the power of the change. The hope of God is not just a prick of light at the end of a tunnel. God’s hope is a total smashing of our room of darkness. We still stand in the same place, but now we see it differently. Before we saw only interminable darkness. Now, what do we see? Light flowing over, around, through us. Told another way, the blind cannot see the end of the pain. Only the opened eyes can perceive the reason to hope that stood as a crossroad of history and even now is rising again on the horizon.

“The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. And who are the few that hear it? They are the ones who labor and are heavy-laden like everybody else, but who, unlike everybody else, know that they labor and are heavy-laden….Rich or poor, successes or failures as the world counts it, they are the ones who are willing to believe in miracles because they know it will take a miracle to fill the empty place inside them where grace and peace belong….Maybe the truth of it is that [the good news is] too good not to be true.”

– Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, page 70-71 –

Do you see it? Christ, in you, the hope–the HOPE!–of  glory (Colossians 1:27). Hope of glory? Yes, hope of a glory beyond this world of pain. Hope of a life beyond what we know here. Hope that this present world is not how it was nor how it will always be. Hope hinges on what we believe (Hebrews 1:1). First, what we believe about Jesus. And, as a result, what we believe about suffering.

Our view of pain depends on our faith. Do we believe that all that goes wrong here will be–soon and gloriously–put to right? Do we believe in a God with an incomprehensible blend of grace and justice, a God who will make us, his rebellious creation, into His perfect creation again? Paul perfectly captured the hopeless view of most of our world:

“If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!'” (1 Corinthians 15:32b, NKJV)

If this life–this hard, often-agonizing life–is all there is to look forward to, we are right to despair. But Paul himself had another perspective on pain:

“….that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NKJV).

In his commentary on this passage, 17th century theologian Matthew Henry explains:

“Knowing him here is believing in him: it is an experimental knowledge of the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, or feeling the transforming efficacy and virtue of them….We are then made conformable to his death when we die to sin, as Christ died for sin, when we are crucified with Christ, the flesh and affections of it mortified, and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is our conformity to his death…..This joyful resurrection the apostle pressed towards. He was willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, that he might attain that resurrection. The hope and prospect of it carried him with so much courage and constancy through all the difficulties he met with in his work….Observe, His care to be found in Christ was in order to his attaining the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let me be found in Christ, that I may attain the resurrection of the dead, be found a believer in him, and interested in him by faith….”

Here, we see that pain can be a tool for our good. No, pain is not good itself, just like every other product of fallen humanity. But our powerful God can work even these present hard things into glory to come.

This is my message to you today, sisters: We live in a dying world. Have hope! We live daily with the painful consequences of sin. Have hope! We live among people who see no answer, no end, no solution, to this suffering. But have hope!

Many of us have heard this tale until our ears are full of it and we cease to wonder at its beauty. But the cross is not just for the unsaved. The cross–and the resurrection–is for me and you, every day, just as it was for the apostle Paul. The cross proclaims that our horrible sinfulness has a potent cure. The resurrection announces that we have a good reason to laugh today, because this momentary sorrow is dying away. Yes, our world is crying out, like a woman almost ready to deliver her child (Romans 8:22). But soon the baby will be born. Do not fear. The pain is almost over. New life is on its way. Spread the hope to those who see no end to the pain.

This earth is being birthed into new life. Good news: Our God never miscarries.


“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

– Revelation 21:1-7, NKJV –