A Mother’s Prayer

How many years have I idled away,
Waiting for that one perfect day
When the stars of mood and ambition align,
When time is free and the spirit is willing—

While I have this one life,
This fleeting gift
Through which time wings like a butterfly
That vanishes in the twilight.

What if that day never comes 
If every day is weary, crowded, busy, burdened?
Too soon will come the close of day,
While all this time I waited, wasting away the light.

May I see what is asked of me today, large or small—
To love, to learn, to give, to bear.
May I with joy carry out each task
In the midst of weakness and weariness.

Give me strength to be faithful,
Hope to endure,
Grace to love,
And Joy to be thankful.

~RDB

The Coming of Spring

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It was the end of one of the coldest winters on record. Freeze followed upon freeze until it seemed that spring might never come.  All of the desert plants, unaccustomed to such biting temperatures, had shed their leaves in desperate attempts to stay alive. For me too, it had been a winter of weathering bitter storms and of being stripped bare. Finally, the aching cold abated, but still the trees wore nothing but emaciated branches. The calendar announced spring, but the landscape lay unresponsive under the pall of winter.

One day, when it seemed I had forgotten what the color green looked like, I noticed tiny pearls on the ends of the tree branches. They were brilliant green, like green fire, and they awoke an indescribable hope within me. Each day I observed with exultation the burgeoning green softness that covered the naked branches, imbuing them with fresh, youthful beauty. If the trees, after the vicious cold of winter, could grow anew and be re-clothed in robes of leafy splendor, what hope of new growth might await me in the days to come?

My children met me at the door last Sunday with excited smiles, “Mom! Mom! We saw a rainbow tonight!” “I know! I saw it too!” I replied. We shared the joy of witnessing the wonder of a vivid rainbow stretched across grey skies. My youngest remembered the story from her recent Sunday School lesson, of how Noah saw the rainbow as he and his family left the ark, and how they built an altar to worship God and to thank Him for saving them from the flood of His wrath.

My heart swelled with gratitude that I too could join the age-old chorus of thanksgiving for salvation—salvation from sin, from fear, from hopelessness, from darkness, from despair. Thanksgiving that the travail of the winter of this world will one day break into spring, a glorious, unending Spring of the kingdom of our Lord, where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more sorrow or death or pain.  In that kingdom we will be clothed with the most beautiful robes imaginable—with the righteousness of our Savior.

I remembered how the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise never to flood the entire world again, and that along with keeping that promise, He keeps that even greater promise—that of providing a Savior. I rejoiced that God is not slow in keeping His promise, and that in Christ, all His promises are Yes and Amen. I marveled that these promises were not just for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; that God’s covenant of salvation extends into the harried information age of the 21st century where you and I stand today facing an onslaught of post-modern materialism and nihilism. That to “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)

When the nights are long and dark and the winter is bitterly cold, remember the Promise and have hope, knowing that Spring is just around the corner.

Waiting for Rain

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Sin-parched land;
Heat flickering, rising.
Air thick with heat.
Sky bleached, colorless.
Skin burning.
 
Waiting for rain.
Poised, paused,
Breath-holding,
Watching, wondering—
Will it come?
 
Tiny fist of cloud,
White as wool
Against a deep azure sky—
Blindingly brilliant,
Dazzlingly glorious.
 
Exponentially it grows,
Billowing, burgeoning
To towering masses—
Pregnant with
Grace rain.
 
One drop,
A cool, crystal diamond.
Two, then three,
Then, extravagant,
Profligate, luxuriant
 
Rain!
Drops too many to count—
Running, racing,
Rejoining into rivulets
And rivers.
 
And I want to bathe,
swim, splash,
Jump for joy
In the river of
Your Salvation;
 
To sate my
soul-thirst
With deep draughts
Of  never-ending
Grace.
 
~RDB

The Blessing of Suffering

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4
 

The tragedy in Colorado is on all of our hearts today. The word I have heard used most often to describe it is “senseless,” meaning that it was without purpose. Tragedy always strikes us this way, whether it is the death of a loved one, betrayal, or the pain of disease; all of this goes against our innate sense of what is right and good.

Yet in the midst of the darkness, suffering can be filled with meaning. Since being given my own dose of deep suffering a year and a half ago, my awareness of stories of suffering has been heightened. I have heard over and over again the stories of loss—a child stillborn, a diagnosis of cancer, spousal unfaithfulness, abuse, the persecution and imprisonment of Christians; yet I am amazed how in each instance, God provides overwhelming comfort. Don’t misunderstand me, the pain is not taken away. There are still the agonizing nights of lying on the floor in tears, wondering if morning will ever come. But in those nights, God draws near, administering peace. There are still the days when each breath is a choice to persevere, when every song brings tears, when the ache in your heart is like a suffocating lead weight. But in each of those moments, Jesus is there. And He knows. He knows each pain, each sorrow, every tear. Only the God who suffered more than any of us ever will could know that.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
~Isaiah 53:3-5
 

Rereading my journal the other day, I found myself in awe of the journey which God has brought me on in the last 18 months. Was the suffering easy? No. Would I want to endure it again? No. But would I avoid it if I could go back and do it again? No, because through it I know my Savior better. I feel more alive today than ever before: my heart brims over with joy, peace and hope.   I believed in Jesus before, and I had some sense of His person, but today I know so much more intimately His love, His grace and His glory. And that came through my suffering.

Evil is just that, evil, and it was not a part of the perfect world God created. But our God, the suffering Savior God, in ways beyond our comprehension, takes even evils beyond imagination and metamorphoses His good out of them.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. ~2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 

Take heart, then, no matter what befalls. Our good God is in control, and He is making all things right. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus

Windows of Longing

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It has been one of those weeks.  Even as I write these words, I am frantically grasping to recall the “eloquence” I composed where most great ideas come to me—in the shower. Naturally, they have all fled my grasp by the time I emerge. (I really ought to let Tex install that white board he threatened to put up in there.)

My first failure of the week was a few days ago, when my heart and mind were overflowing with Longing—that Lewisian Longing described  in “The Weight of Glory:” “. . . this desire for our own far-off country. . . We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.”  I sat down and tried to put into words what I was feeling, and all I could get out were a few stilted stutterings that completely missed the essence of what I wanted to say.

Then yesterday I got very excited because I discovered that a local pastor in our denomination has created a publishing imprint. Stars erupted in my eyes like fireworks as I heard that magical word Published! ring in my ears. Yet as I read about it, my mind began to fill with doubts: What makes you think you are gifted enough to write? Just look at Leeana and Heather—they are so much more talented than you. Are you really sophisticated enough to write something worthy to be published? And doubt piled upon doubt until I was buried alive under them all.

And then I tread back down the worn, familiar path from childhood, the one spent sitting alone at every recess, taking refuge in writing poetry. (Yes, you read that right. And I wondered why I didn’t have many friends.)  I start to fret about interacting with people and fearing that I will unknowingly do or say something inept that will make people dislike me. Sometimes it seems like I wear my social awkwardness like a burka that hides me from those I want to know. I immobilize myself in the chains of comparison: surely she finds so-and-so more interesting than me.

Then comes the full weight of all my perceived inaequacies bearing down on me. How every day feels like a battle to beat back the chaos that threatens to overwhelm. How some days I forget to check the kids’ schoolwork. How I fail to finish the books I begin to read, and how am I supposed to record that on Goodreads? It’s not finished, but I don’t want to put it back in To Read; I really ought to make an Unfinished Shelf and flaunt my failures to the world.

Yet then I recognize that to wallow in this is sin. For if I am inadequate, Who made me that way? And who am I to say that He created me poorly? And I see, as Paul reminds, that this is not about me, but about Him. I must go beyond thinking solely about myself and become transparent, like a window, so that who people see is not me, but Him.

I think about a friend who is likely the wisest, most compassionate, most grace-filled woman I know, and I wonder that she calls me friend. I think of how she radiates the love of Christ, and how she told me that God uses both our failures and our strengths to make us who He wants us to be. I remember how she gives voice to her fears and weaknesses, and I know I am not alone.  In fact, I must be in very good company. We are all a little more or less inadequate, and maybe some of us are more aware of it than others, but there is Deeper Truth we need to know beyond that.

To my friends who call me often with a sigh, I love you. I love you because your candor encourages me that I am not alone in this. Know that you are not alone in this either, and you are beautiful—all that seems to you to be your failure is not. You are a wonderful mom and a gracious friend and a beautiful daughter of the King. And know that this is my echoing sigh in return, affirming you, and knowing that our sighing is an outpouring of our Longing for that which is Perfect, which one day we shall know face to Face.

Finding Strength in Rest

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Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. ~Psalm 91:1

Much of my journey has been a learning to stop anxiously striving to do what God requires, and rather to rest in being who God wants me to be. I love this passage that a friend recently quoted on her blog:

 “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” Colossians 1:11-12, The Message

That has been me—that gritting-your-teeth Christian, tired, tense, anxious, and miserable. But where do I find that “glory-strength” that “spills over into joy?” Sign me up, please!

The prophet Isaiah says, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. The will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).I heard that when an eagle is soaring on a wind current, it takes him no more energy than if he was sitting on his nest.  Could it really be that easy?

I feel like my whole life I have been trying to battle God in order to convince Him to take care of me or give me what I think I need or even to help me to become what He wants me to be or to do what He wants me to do, when instead He is holding out to me the best gifts He can give me, saying, “Go ahead! Take it! Trust! Ask! I want to give this to you! I made it especially for you! I love you!” (Matthew 7:7-11).

Why do I cry out to Him, feeling incapable and  insignificant, when He has given up His very own, only Son in order to restore a relationship with me? (John 3:16). When He sends His Holy Spirit to abide within me (John 14:26), how can I think  that I am inadequate to accomplish the wonderful things He has planned for me? (Ephesians 2:10). Of course I am perfectly inadequate: that’s why He gives His Spirit to help me! Over and over in Scripture He reminds and reassures that He supplies what we are lacking. To Moses He says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11-12).

To Jeremiah,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. . . Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:7-10).

 Clearly, I am meant to see that nothing I do is to be of my own strength, but only by His grace working through me. So the oxymoron is that I rest and He works through me.  My pastor stated it this way: “We are to rest in the reality that Christ is sufficient.” That just hits the nail on the head. Ultimately, all of my striving and worrying is no less than saying that I think I must take control, because I don’t trust God to have it under control; I don’t have faith that He can and will supply all that I need.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us that those who know Jesus find that strength and joy come in following and trusting, resting under the yoke of His commands.

“Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burden they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary.…Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”

Glimpses of Glory

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“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” ~Psalm 46:10, ESV

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” ~Exodus 34:29, ESV

Some days I just need to “go up the mountain.” I know that God is always with me; but most days the clamor of little people, the clanging of urgent and important tasks to be done, and the constant drumming of daily routine make it difficult to hear Him clearly.

These are some of the places that have been my favorite “mountain” haunts, accompanied by the beauty of Psalm 65.

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

I have never come “down from the mountain” with my face ablaze, but I rarely fail to catch a glimpse of His glory when I’m there.

Consumerism, meet Generosity

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“The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.” ~Proverbs 11:24-25, The Message

I stopped by the discount store today to pick up a couple of things. Just walking through, I was surprised at my visceral repulsion to the marketing and materialism around me.  We have been more or less “making-do” for so long, I can no longer identify with the need for better, newer and more. Not that I was always this way; shopping used to be almost a type of therapy for me.

Consumerism is now like a slap in the face. The more I learn about the world around me, the more conflicted I become about the way I live.  Sometimes in our home it feels like we are being crowded out by our stuff. Then I see a story like this one, and I wonder how I can go on living in satiated comfort while children are starving. We tell ourselves it is not wrong to have nice things, but is it certainly wrong to ignore the needs of a child of God.

But I am left feeling helpless to meet these needs. I feel as though life drags me along and I have no control over it. Life is chaos, and I struggle just to keep my head above water: things happen and I deal with them.  It is easy to live that way; to live a disciplined life is hard.  To chart one’s own course takes time and effort and discipline. Yet when I look back on the path of my life, which road do I want to have taken?

It is also easy to succumb to the excuse I can’t save everyone, yet if I could save just one—one of the least of these—isn’t that worth something? I’m not sure right now what kind of generosity God is calling me to. And I’m frankly a little nervous to find out. What if He calls me to—I don’t even want to say it—go to a dangerous foreign country or to foster or adopt a child? Those are things that I feel utterly incompetent to do and completely terrified of.  Yet when I reflect on the lives of those who have made great impacts on the world—Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and William Wilberforce—they did not let their insufficiencies hinder them. By submitting themselves to the power and grace of God, they became more than they were able to be on their own.  Hudson Taylor said, “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use and that He found me.”

The apostle Paul put it this way:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.“ ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

Once again I find myself helpless, but also hopefully dependent on the One who calls me to higher grace.

Stained Glass

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Broken. Broken.
Broken.
Piercing shards bleed bright red.
Deep blue drowns in grief.
Worthless array of
Shattered Hope.
 
What good can come
Of broken bits
And scattered shards
Of Life—
Pain, Sorrow,
Disappointment, Grief?
 
The Mender 
Picks up pieces,
Fits together
Pain with Grief,
Sorrow and Disappointment,
Leading
Each to Each
With Love.
 
Lifting it,
Holding it
Before His face,
Light of Grace
Illuminates.
Glory-Fire Ignites,
Enlivens
Artistry
Fit for the halls
Of a King.
 
~RDB

A New Thing

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“I gave your husband to you to be a blessing to you,” spoke the Lord to my heart as I strode hurriedly through the Costco parking lot.  I was taken aback, not just that God would choose that moment and place to speak to me, but that He would make such an audacious claim. That my husband was meant to be an instrument for my sanctification, I could believe, but a blessing? I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

It suddenly dawned on me that for all these months since that day of reckoning, I have believed him, but not fully trusted him with my heart. Would he understand that I still fight to forget the events of the past? Could I really trust him to be my best friend again? And yet, here my wrongdoing surfaces. On New Year’s Eve, the Lord gave me Isaiah 43:16, 18-19,

“This is what the LORD says— He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’ “

While I coddle my old wounds, I prevent new growth from springing up. This is my disobedience—a perverse, sinful attempt to protect myself.  I profess belief in his repentance, but hesitate to trust in his rebirth. Most grievous of all, when I fail to trust him, I am ultimately failing to trust God. How can that be? After being carried through the raging fire of adversity, can I not rest in His hand in the days of calm?

Have I forgotten the strength of the enemy we face? It was not a mamby-pamby bad habit that undermined us, but a full-on assault by all the forces of Hell, “hell-bent,” as they say, on destroying the marital image of Christ and His church. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Have I forgotten the terror etched across the face of the one I love as he recounted the feeling of inescapable bondage to the sin that he despised, yet had relentlessly pursued?  Until that moment, I had read verses about slavery to sin as symbolic, not literal. Yet Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)

Have I forgotten the amazing, even miraculous, work that He did for us? How the one once haunted by the terror of enslaving sin was set free?  How on his knees in broken and repentant submission to Almighty God he found joy and peace?  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

Have I forgotten the newness of life He granted us, both as individuals and as a couple? Have I forgotten the shining light in my  husband’s eyes, the gentleness in his tone that bore witness to  the Spirit living within him?  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Heaven forbid that I forget a single thing that my Savior has done for me! He who made a path through the sea is doing a new thing. He is waiting to bless me, if I will only open my hands to receive it.

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:1-2)