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.

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
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

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

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,