Acorns, Caverns, and Me

oak-leaf

A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.


“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –

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When Jesus Says Hi

yellow-road-1426706766OER

 “And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.”

– Matthew 28:9, ESV –


I imagine that they were having a rotten day.

Surely the disciples had never been more discouraged. After the crucifixion, grief numbed them. Guilty for running, angry with the injustice of it all, they hid.  And how empty they must have felt. What, after three years of following the Teacher, did they have to show for it? What’s more…where did they have to go?

Sometimes, when I read their story, I forget that this was real, that these disciple names belong to eternal souls that I will meet in person one day.

And, among pages and narrations, I forget the humanity behind the words. They were surely at their darkest moment spiritually. Lost without a leader. Petrified that they would be next to be condemned and left to suffocate on a cross. Absolutely alone, even as they huddled together. Absolutely miserable.

Matthew says that two women–both named Mary–went to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1). Other gospels mention that a group of women went with spices to put on his corpse (Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1). Maybe they just wanted to see one more time, to assure their doubting minds that, yes, He was really gone. He was really dead.

These women, who just went to see the tomb, saw a whole lot more than they bargained for.

Angels in blinding white. Sprawled guards, tumbled every which way. Ground that trembled with unutterable joy.

And the words.

“He is going  before you.”

So they ran.


This is where it gets good.

Because I have been in tough places. Haven’t you?

I’ve been through some of those times when you just don’t know what comes next. It all seems dark. You thought a rescue was on the way, but it doesn’t seem to be coming.

And then it happens.

You’re trudging on your way and Jesus shows up.

And what does He say?

Not “Ta da!” Not “I am here to rescue you.” Not “You sure were impatient.”

He showed up in those women’s path and said hello.

“Greetings,” some versions say.

My family read this passage yesterday, and this greeting struck me as odd. These women have been grieving Him as dead for days. Plus, they’ve just had the shock of their lives, being told by a real angel that Jesus had risen. Talk about whiplash!

And then He shows up and says hi.

So, curious, I looked up this strange word.

“Greetings,” the ESV records.

But it is a strange, wonderful word, this greeting.

Chairo. It is Greek, and it means “greetings, salutations, hello.” 

But it also means, “Rejoice!” The common New Testament words for joy (chara), and grace (charis) comes from this root word for “greetings” or “rejoice.”

And it thrills through me.

How when all was lost and dark and hopeless for these sorrowing women, Jesus showed up. And there is no rebuke, no victorious declaration. Just a greeting.

A greeting that says to them, “Be glad! I am risen! So be full of joy.”

Two things stand out to me about this passage.

First, when we think Jesus has abandoned us, He still shows up. Whether we are in a deep pit of hopelessness or in a tizzy of doubt and disbelief, or overcome by wondering “Is He really back? Do we dare believe the light and the voice, saying that He is living and powerful?”– He still shows up. And, in coming, He calls us to rejoice.

Second, I am overcome by this greeting. Wow. To have such powerful ideas wrapped up in one word, Chairo.

Chairo. Hi there. Rejoice. There is hope. Don’t give up. Jesus is back.

And I wonder how we can speak Chairo. Ann Voskamp, in her One Thousand Gifts, talks about eucharisteo, a related word for giving thanks. She orients her whole thesis around this Greek beauty of a word, aligning her sorrowing soul with its teachings, reminding herself of the blessing of obeying in the command to “give thanks always” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Something like that can be done with Chairo, I think. There is a lifestyle wrapped in this word. Like being a light, or being salt. Like this picture Jesus paints:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38, ESV

Can you hear the fountain pouring in that Chairo greeting? It is the sound of all the hope and joy and possibility flowing back into the lives of all who loved Jesus.

So, I want to speak Chairo. When I say hello, I want to be overflowing with this message: “Hi there. Rejoice! Jesus is alive!”

Sometimes it will be words. Sometimes, maybe Chairo can be held in a smile, or a loving touch, or a hand reaching out to give help.

But there will always be a message behind Chairo. For all those in darkness, Chairo signals the beginning of the light.

Even today, He says “Chairo” — “Rejoice!” — to our doubting hearts. Philippians 3:1 says “Chairo in the Lord, always”! And the joy bubbles up, because Jesus was not in the tomb. He was right alongside the women, and now He is right alongside us.

The tomb days are over. The resurrection life has begun. So let’s live out this chairo, this rejoicing.

Because that’s what happens when Jesus says hi.


“When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the marketplace; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart.”

– Charles Spurgeon –

Joy in the Desert

desert walkers

“Listen to the birds sing…Do they ever sound alone?
Do they spread their wings and yet question their strength to fly?
I’m trying hard to trust You Lord, but it’s safer said than done
So won’t You feather my faith
With a love for the open sky?”

– Andrew Peterson, “If I Wanna Walk” –

 

I wake up in painful dryness.

I whisper a few words into the dark and they seem to echo back to me, unheard.

Where is He? He said He would meet me here.

Of course, I wonder what exactly I have done to cause Him to be so distant. I haven’t been reading my Bible enough, I haven’t been praying enough–surely I can muster up the spiritual strength and then He will return. What have I been doing wrong?

There’s a sandstorm in my eyes as I try to read. Every word seems purposely difficult and obscure.

My prayers turn repetitive and restless, a desert wind wailing in the night.

Where are you, God?

I want to be thirsty for Him, but I can hardly choke down Scriptures that in greener days were full of glory.

How long will the swirling sand hide You from me?

How do I seek Jesus when everything feels mechanical and forced and drained of power?

How do I find joy when all I can see are weathered boulders and shriveled grass and endless, endless sand?

I have been wrong. Joy is a very different thing that what I thought.

It is easy, when water and good moods and inspiring writers are present, to think that delighted tickle of understanding and wonder is Joy.

Joy is in it, yes.

But that is not Joy.

Joy can still happen when I stand on a hill in a barren wasteland.

Joy can still be found when I’m huddled in the dark chill of a desert night.

And Joy can be there still, when the morning slips over the purple shadows of the mountains and the hot sun begins once again to scorch.

Thirsty, I just want to know how. How do I meet with Jesus in this place that seems so empty? How do I thrive when the cloudless sky beats down without relief?

Working harder. Pleading for His presence. Trying to conjure up an emotional response to the Bible reading.

Sometimes, these things still leave me dry.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve slipped into thinking that when I can’t feel God, then He must not be around.

If His presence is not powerfully stirring me, then I feel abandoned.

But God never promised us a cartload of pleasant emotions. Jesus stated facts–beautiful, strong, unshaken facts: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the desert, Joy is an act of belief, not a dance of feelings.

So when I rise in the morning and open my Bible and stare at pages unfeeling, I can still smile and bow my head to my Maker. I can still pray for the fountains of His delight. I can still believe in His promises, whether I feel them to be true or not. They are–and they must be my anchoring places.

Some mornings, this act of Joy may feel forced. Jesus told us to rejoice. So I can look around and thank Him–perhaps without the leaps of my heart that I would like to accompany my gratitude–but I can still thank Him.

I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.

Because of that, I can wake up to an empty, cold room and know that my sight deceives me. Jesus is there, even if I cannot sense His warmth.

I can toil up a desert hill, sand slipping back under my heels, and praise Him for His love.

It doesn’t really matter if I feel the love at that moment. He is Love. And He has chosen me. I will rejoice in that fact.

When Joy is a choice, nothing can shake it.

The desert sands will slip away someday and grass will spring up.

But while the sun still beats down and the sand still burns, I will keep walking.

I will read when I feel nothing. I will pray although I feel alone. I will sing when it seems that no one is listening. And He will be there all along.

My feelings lie to me all the time. But Jesus never has.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

“The enemy can only bring defeat,
If he can somehow shake what we believe.
So our faith cannot be based upon
Only what we see or feel,
And the circumstances cannot change
What our hearts know to be real

So when doubts arise and cloud your mind
My friend, don’t be deceived
For with a knowledge of the Word of God
In our hearts we can believe

You can take God at his word
He is faithful kind and true
Not a prayer will go unanswered
In His time He’ll see you through

Keep believing in what you know is true
Keep believing, you know the Lord will see you through
When troubles rise in your life
and you don’t know what to do,

If you’re looking for answers and you can’t find your way
And the enemy tells you that there’s no need to pray
You just remember God is faithful and His word is true
Everything He’s promised is what He’s going to do
And you’ll be fine if you just keep believing.”

– “Keep Believing,” Gaither Vocal Band –

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and Marco Laython for this post’s photo.

Makairos and Corrie’s Pit

Makairos.

Blessed. Happy.

It was a Greek word reserved for demigods, elite, the ones “who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.” Then Jesus came and shattered the old conception with a line of astounding phrases. Maybe the lowest…were actually the highest.

I am beginning to see the blessedness.

It is frightening. And glorious beyond my imagination.

I read the “Blesseds,” hear them proclaimed in my ear, softly beckoning and comforting as my CD repeats and I heard the round of eight verses followed by the breathed awe. “Rejoice! And be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

How does the soul-emptiness, the mourning, the readiness to accept the wrongs and hatred and persecution, the starving, the unrequited outpouring of myself turn into the blessedness? At what point do I realize the rejoicing instead of the dread that I might be wronged?

Jesus does not phrase this conditionally. This is reality, who I am in the kingdom. This is how this world will recognize me.

But what price must I pay to realize the fullness, the comfort, the abundance of Christ? What corners of my heart am I clutching so tightly that my fingers throb and I can’t imagine the searing pain of being pried loose from my autonomy. That scares me.

Until the light started to come. I don’t know what it was, but I started to see.

That the break in the clouds, when the sun pierces through with glory, would not still our souls with thrills without the clouds.

The turn for the better in the hospital when your heart has wrung dry and bitter and then the eyes flutter and the one you love is going to live. Could we feel the soaring without the wringing?

When my pillow is wet every night because she’s still running from God and I can’t understand but I’m still clinging to Him because He’s all I have left, I am stilled and find the sweetness at the dead core of the hurt. A sweetness I would never have found without this pain.

I start awake in the night. There’s fear I can’t be sure of and longings that I can’t fill and I can’t find any rest until I’m laying in His arms again. In that quietness, I bless the ache that drove me back to Him again.

I start to grasp the unutterable and He’s here. I see the “Blesseds” and know that they’re not just promises or bewildering spiritual paradoxes or a shortcut to happiness.

These radical blessings are where Jesus can take me. They are reality when I bring my soul poverty and unquenched thirst and He brings His love that knows no blight and His strength that conquers all. They are the proofs of His power, because now I can live impossibly and love impossibly and die impossibly. What limitless power!

Fallen at His feet, I let Him strip away the brokenness. He gives me His abundance.

I recently watched the film “The Hiding Place,” as Corrie ten Boom clutched her dying sister close and tried to block the inevitable from her mind. Betsie whispered in the dimness, words that became a victory cry long after the Ravensbruck ovens had cooled from their ghastly work. “…(We) must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”

And maybe the only way people can see His glory today is for me to be crushed and still sing.

I’m on the altar again, sisters.

Will you join me? It’s glorious, because He’s here and I am truly blessed.

Dancing With the Daffodils

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
– William Wordsworth –

Dancing With the Daffodil

I narrowed my eyes at a vase of faded daffodils. Faded, I say, because every petal had grown stiff and the fragrance died away and the youth seemed to pour right out of them.

“I should just throw those away.”

And then I looked more closely. The vibrant yellow still shone on the frail petals. I cradled a single stem in my hand. All the daffodils still had their heads up, embracing the light streaming through the kitchen window.

In the language of flowers, a bouquet of daffodils represents joy. Now, maybe I’m crazy to think about the life-work of daffodils, but when I cradled that crisp happiness-flower, I thought about the joy that it brought my mom when my brother presented her with a bunch of daffodils, their golden heads bobbing in glee. Surely those plucked-up flowers were bouncing with the joy of being ripped from the soil and given away as a gift.

If I dare to go on in my speculations on the personality of a daffodil, I just know that a daffodil loves to smile. How could it not smile? It pushed through half-frozen dirt and slushy ice only to pop its head out and cry, “Spring! Look!” Its canary rays stretch and its little yellow Sunday bonnet quivers in the chilly wind—a wind that can’t quite decide whether to usher in spring or prolong the winter. The daffodil stretches its thin green neck as high as it can and lifts its bright face to the sun, basking in its Creator’s glory. It stands like a lighthouse, lone and erect in the winter’s deadness.

It’s a lot like the joy we are called to, joy in the midst of tribulation. The stand of the daffodil on a frozen hill is our stand. I am memorizing the words of Matthew:

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

– Matthew 5:14-16, NKJV –

The true Light is now shining, sisters. And we “are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10). Maybe you feel the frozen ground cutting you, so you can’t find the strength to rejoice. What is the secret?

Fix your gaze on the Son of righteousness. Dwell on the One who died that you might live. Remember the Savior that “ever lives and pleads” for you at God’s right hand (from the song “Before the Throne of God Above). For the darkness is past and the true light now shines (1 John 2:8).

Behold the Light and dance on the hill.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

– Helen Keller –