{re}fresh

The Lion Roared

by Wendy

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31, NRSV

 

Hours, days, weeks in the hospital blurred into one long anxiety. Pain. Fatigue. Helplessness. Abandonment. Despair. Negative emotions swam through my mind and curdled my thinking…what was left of it.  My brain had no more room.  Too many tests, too long before diagnosis, longer still until treatment. I. Was. Done.

Where was the peace that passes understanding?  Where was the intimacy I normally felt and practiced?  Where was my Advocate? Where was Immanuel, God WITH us?

I paused.

Read the rest of this entry »

Think About Such Things

by Wendy

Philippians-4_8 by-sapphire-dream-photography_flickr-com_9600100560_293d0d7f22_CC BY ND 2.0

Philippians-4:8 by-sapphire-dream-photography_flickr-com_9600100560_293d0d7f22_CC BY ND 2.0

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”(Phil. 4:8, NIV)

Friends across a continent for more than two decades, we relished this rare week, far from the tangle of strained relations, finances, and obligations. Our daily duels with contentment-stealing vultures gradually faded as she basked in sketches, paintings and collages. I bathed in words, watercolors and photographs. She read. I wrote. We walked, prayed, talked, and made sense of the year’s triumphs and tumults. Until Wednesday, when all creativity ground to a screeching halt.

Stretching after an unproductive morning tussling with recalcitrant words, I peeked into the prayer room door. My friend sighed and looked up from her book. “I’m caught in a cauldron of negative emotions,” she mourned, shaking her head. “Yesterday was so good…” Read the rest of this entry »

Putting the Lie to Rest

by Wendy

 

 

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)                  

I look at my journal, that precious place where God and I meet, and I see a great, big “SHOULD” button flashing in my brain.  I try to pick up my pen, but I can’t start to write.  Shaking my head, I drop the pen back on the desk and push away the journal.  “No,” my insides shout, “not now,” so I sigh and turn to face the lush green woods outside my office window.  Something tight, something heavy, blocks my wonder, my creativity, my productivity;  I can’t even finish the simplest of tasks.  I can almost feel a physical grip on my heart.

“Oh, just do it,” my earnest evangelical friend (whose voice resides firmly in my head) exhorts.  “Don’t think and introspect. Only start, and the rest will follow.”

Fair enough.  Plenty of times, my mountain is moved by small ant-sized accomplishments.   But this is not one of those times.  I know myself.  This lack of rest, driven busyness, and restless non-work are not driven by a lack of will.  Gutting it out may work as a short-term prod, but never as a long-term solution. Read the rest of this entry »

“He Would Have.”

by Wendy

by bp6316_93/365_Flickr.com_3410006685_3064e380a5_z.jpg_CC BY 2.0

by bp6316_93/365_Flickr.com_3410006685_3064e380a5_z.jpg_CC BY 2.0

 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Prov 25:11, ESV

“He would have, you know.”

It was a soft comment, but I felt its weight.  As usual, Jesus’ voice  surprised me.

I was trying, hard, to burrow into the root of an issue.  Once again life’s daily tumbles had triggered me into shame, anger, worthlessness and ultimately, despair.  For weeks I’d skirted the problem but couldn’t make progress.  Now, finally, curled up on my bed, I found my voice – and His – and watched Him point the way.

As usual, the problem originated long ago in childhood.  “There was no one to protect me, no one to stand up for me or advocate FOR me,” I whispered to Jesus.  I could “see” His eyes; in my imagination they were warm and kind, encouraging me to continue.

looked far back and found a few places of victory – times when my kind father saved me from fears or taunts. He was so dear and I cherished those few memories. My mind ran over those crystal-smooth surfaces again and again, but I knew those times were rare. My feelings ran deep, but they stayed inside and he did not know them.

Warfare he understood, but emotions, not so much. I was a tender little girl, a being totally unfamiliar to him, and with very strange needs. Most times he backed away to let my mother and grandmother fight my battles.

Unfortunately, like so many other strong mothers of their generation, they fought me instead of my battles.  Intimidated, I gave up and became the victim of my peers.  Not once did I learn how to handle a bully, and there were many.

“I wanted him to protect me,” I admitted to Jesus and that’s when I heard His quiet response.

“He would have?”  My eyebrows pulled together as I tried to understand Jesus’ words.

“He would – he wanted to – but he didn’t know how,” Jesus replied.  Oh! My father would have protected me if he had the right tools and answers.  I imagined how he might look in heaven – strong, confident, able to teach me to stand even amid hurled threats and shoves that left my heart cringing and trembling in the corner.

“He WOULD have!” I thought with relief, and suddenly Jesus’ three words filled in holes I didn’t know were there.  The “he didn’t” pain was replaced with Jesus’ strong arms and impenetrable back, showing me what my father would have done. if he could have.

Three words and a lifetime of healing in three seconds.

He does that, you know, with just a few words.  He undoes time and pain and winds them backward, resetting who we are in the process and transforming us more and more into who He created us to be.  Prison doors drop open and we walk away, released.

What words do we need today from the One who would set us free?

Chipmunks and Angels of Light

by Wendy

Chipmunk by A. Delray --The Forest Vixen - www.forestvixen.com, licensed under CC by 2.0Chipmunk by A. Delray –The Forest Vixen – www.forestvixen.com, licensed under CC by 2.0

“Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Song of Solomon 2:15

I saw him from the corner of my eye—a small something skittering toward the plants on the garage floor. Silly chipmunk. I was just six feet away and he didn’t particularly care. My idiotic arm-flapping “HEY!” as I moved closer didn’t scare him, either.  Silly me.

Too cute for his own good, I yelled louder and lunged toward the small, furry, brown and black invader.  It had been just a year since he dug into the house and invited two mouse-friends.  This was entirely too brazen.

I don’t know if it was my indignant hollering or my rapidly-approaching face that scared off the adorable demonic rodent.  I scurried to move the tender new plants back outside. Never mind late spring cold and rain (almost sleet).  The plants would survive but the garage door was NOT staying open any longer.

How like the Enemy is that little chipmunk?  He waits for the right moment and cutely, bold-facedly, struts into my back door when he thinks I’m not watching.  I virtually have to hop on top of him to make him leave.

Unfortunately, the “angel of light” knows he is enticing (“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Cor 11:14).

The enemy sneaks in softly under cover of beauty and subterfuge.  Our judgments seem wise and sure, but they do not lead to peace, and they are not true.  How quickly our thoughts captivate and control us, backing us into corners from which we can’t escape. Pains become judgments, then isolation.

No, this time the Chippy won’t take up residence.  My “make sense of this” thoughts, too, must be shut out with a thick door, chased back into the outside realms.

Know, Enemy, that even if you do find an entry hole, the way will be blocked and the door will not be re-opened.  Your creatures may be cute, but they are no longer welcome.

Save

Water in the Desert

by Wendy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 Oasis by Awee_19 is licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs;
36 there he brought the hungry to live,
    and they founded a city where they could settle.   (Ps 107:35-36, NIV)

 

It’s amazing what a little water will do.

Years ago, a teacher told me a story about flying over Israel’s Negev desert. Below him, he saw a round plot of green in the midst of the dessert.  Apparently scientists decided to see what would happen if they watered that one circle and didn’t touch the surrounding landscape.

It bloomed.  Brilliantly, beautifully, it turned green and lush, an oasis of growth in the midst of dry, dusty, sandy desert.  And even more amazingly, scientists and farmers engineered crops to grow even in the Negev’s brackish water. That’s water which has a huge salt content, from aquifers deep below the Negev Desert. Desalinization costs too much, so scientists found ways to use what was unusable.

And it worked.

Apparently, in God’s economy, abundant, green, growing life does not depend on perfect circumstances.  It depends on water.  Fresh water, rain, leftover water, it matters not.  Water, in some form, breeds life. Incredibly, in the right circumstances, even brackish water will do.

For my parched spirit, that is good news.  I want to be like the Psalmist’s person, a tree planted by streams of [living] water, yielding fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. However, while my soul yearns desperately for God like the deer panting for streams, I look around and see no oasis.

Wait. Brackish water, he said. They bred plants to resist the salt and grow in brackish water.

Have I overlooked the brackish water in my life, thinking it unsuitable for growth?  Was this my answer while I waited for the spring rains>

How many times did I look for an oasis and overlook a tiny pond?  Or wait for the ‘perfect spring rain’ when there was a fine flowing river just around the corner, as yet unseen?  Did I look in vain for a clean spring when brackish water was bubbling forth from the ground nearby?

Brackish water.  With the Cleanser of Our Souls, our hearts are trained to absorb life even in brackish water – He turns the brackish to clean and the bitter to sweet. Somehow, with Him, my soul can glean enough moisture to live even in the driest of days.

Those small gratefulnesses I voice may lead to big exaltations down the road; at the least, bit by bit they turn my heart back to God.  Those scathing reaction-words, not spoken and blurted at Jesus’ feet, may turn to blessings instead of curses.  The impossible disappointments force rhythms of hope in the midst of failure that may teach me to thrive despite my surroundings.

In the world, brackish water breeds death.  But… but… in His life, it’s amazing what a bit of water can do!

Too-Thin Fabric and Life Everlasting

by Wendy

DSC_8044 (2)The fabric of my life was suddenly too thin, the once-plush cloth of all the people who knew me when, now threadbare.

Another fiber pulled away yesterday, unraveling a piece of my history as it went.  Suddenly the weave was so thin, I feared it would dissolve in my hands.

My friend died, one of the ones who was always there, always praying, always believing… and always worrying in a good sort of way.  We didn’t speak often, but she was there, caring and loving even when she was in pain.

Her body gave out way too soon and the hole she left made me gasp. I didn’t realize how big her fabric thread was.

Almost forty years ago she promised to pray for us, and she and her husband never forgot. They prayed for us. Every. Single. Day.

All of a sudden, I felt very lonely.

“Who will pray for us now,” I sobbed to my husband as unwanted tears wet my cheek.

“She’s still praying!”  He smiled a gentle smile, comfort in his eyes along with tears.  Confused, I tilted my head, my eyes asking questions my brain couldn’t answer.

“All the company of heaven!” He threw his head back as he laughed, “that’s what that verse means.  She’s still praying for us, along with all the saints in heaven!”  Oh. Wait. Right. I forgot.  And suddenly, the veil between earth and heaven seemed almost transparent.  I wanted to pour out my heart, tell her everything I’d missed saying, everything that had happened, and everything that hadn’t.  But more, I knew I’d see her again, along with all the rest of the dwindling tribe of elders in my life.

Grief made me forget, but suddenly I remembered.

The resurrection. His, Jesus’s, that overcame death, and ours, to everlasting hope. The forever family, friends and community that would once again be together, the fabric no longer thin but mesmerizingly complete.  I would see her again.

I would tell her about the ministry she helped us birth, and what God did.  I would tell her about worship, and healing, and prayer, and wounded hearts made whole, but she would already know.

Easter would win over dark Good Friday.  Life over death, dancing instead of mourning, beauty for ashes, celebration in place of abandonment.

I looked down at my hands and imagined. Transformed, the fabric sparkled in my eyes, alive with the hope of heaven and the glory of resurrection.

 

Immanuel, God With us: How “With” is “With?”

by Wendy

Seal Your Mouths  by Brook Rosemary flickr.com/photos/indigotimbre/46141712

Seal Your Mouths
by Brook Rosemary
flickr.com/photos/indigotimbre/46141712

The dentist’s chair was the last place I wanted to be. A piddling annoyance for many, the dentist represented far more trauma for me. Vivid pictures swirled in my mind of childhood cavity-fillings without anesthesia, and the more recent “time-I-almost-died-in-the-hospital”: a near-fatal bacterial infection had invaded my system after a broken tooth and a six-month cleaning.

Four years later, I was still terrified.

I cringed in the chair and tried, hard, to imagine Jesus near me. Anywhere near me. Even in the same building. In that moment, no amount of “with” seemed enough, and nothing convinced me – not Scripture, not worship songs, not frantic prayer, nor even hand-holding by a concerned dental technician.

Immanuel, God “with” us, just didn’t cut it, and I sputtered in exasperation.   Exactly how “WITH” was “with?”

The drill whined, and I clenched my jaw, my fingers, and my toes. Eyes wide, my mind went into overdrive, forcing facts into the front of my brain.

“OK Jesus, where are you?” I forced a deep breath, and tried imagining somewhere Jesus might be. Not just a distant force, I reminded myself, but someONE right here in the room. Someone strong and protecting.

What if Jesus was really THERE, in the room, at the end of the long chair…

…wiggling my almost-numb toes.

What? The surprising image popped into my brain. He was wiggling my toes loosening my tension, changing my view and jostling me out of my terror. I giggled silently as the picture gradually emerged and I realized how stiff I was. I flexed my hands, my fingers, my ankles. In my mental picture, Jesus smiled as I wiggled each limb, reassuring me that this was no dangerous visit. I would not die, the pain would not defeat me, and the fear could leave.

Somehow, I couldn’t be scared and grateful at the same time. (That much is objectively true: anxiety and fear both emanate from the same part of the brain, I’m told). I breathed, and stopped chomping vice-like on my physician’s hands.

Christmas was long-gone, but Immanuel was apparently still very much “with.” He didn’t come to leave us alone, but to stay amid our darkness, our fears and instabilities, our joys and blessings, and our anger and pain. He is huggingly close, holding our hands and our hearts and overcoming all manner of evil.

Immanuel, God WITH us. It’s not just for Christmas any more.

God Rest You Merry

by Wendy

Christmas came, we rejoiced briefly amid too-many-things-to-do, Christmas went; then January crashed in on me, unceremoniously, with its backpack of trauma, dreads and fears. The let down from Christmas was fierce and unrelenting.

I fumbled for focus, for footing. Thankfully, Christmas actually lasted twelve days in our household this year, and I had more time than usual to internalize again the well-known carols. “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” stuck around past New Year’s and I decided to linger in it awhile, reveling in its hopeful message and gracious reminders. The world might be too much with me, but God’s story held hope for something other.

“Let nothing you dismay!, the carol reminded me. Stay merry through January and beyond. Stay joy-filled, for Jesus came to destroy the works of the enemy, rescuing us not just once but every day from the world’s evil and scorn. “To save us all from Satan’s pow’r” meant Immanuel wasn’t just with us in His birth and incarnation, He STAYS with us in the moments of our days, standing between us and the worst plans of the enemy, redeeming and turning the darkness to light.

My fears didn’t want to listen. What about the inevitable conflicted discussions about theology and ministry practice? Those didn’t sound particularly appealing. What about the lack of funds, the push for teamwork, the forging ahead to create unity? What about the day in and day out drudgery? I whined that it all seemed too hard, too constant. My drop-in-the-bucket efforts were too small, too wearing, too wearying, too little, too late, and too impossible.

I groveled for a moment, but then the “O tidings of comfort and joy” part rose up. “Listen, fears,” I scolded, “no, you will not take Christmas and trash it in January. No, you will not drag me through an alone and hopeless January. No!” I told them, as I stood up on the inside, and I meant it.

The carol and the Spirit prompted me. God had sunrises after sunsets. He held hope in darkness, promises in vacuums, and encouragement in deserts. He didn’t come to leave me stranded, facing lonely Januaries after sparkling Christmases. He came to save me from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and give me new strength and hope.

“God rest ye merry,” the carol commanded me in January. Stay hopeful, stay focused. Let the Son of God defeat the enemy once again, even while you are tempted to stray into pity and depression, it told me. Let nothing you dismay, soul. Tidings of comfort and joy may stay for the whole year – don’t pack them away at Christmas!

I fingered the one tiny Christmas crèche ornament still hiding on my desk, just to remind me. Glad tidings, it said again and again, glad tidings of comfort and JOY!

Slandering Appliances

by Wendy

Image by Jeremy Brooks 5/4/08; https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremybrooks/ CC BY ND 4.0

Image by Jeremy Brooks 5/4/08; https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremybrooks/
CC BY ND 4.0

“What didn’t go wrong in the last two weeks?” I snapped at my friend’s innocent “How is it going?” My litany of woes wasn’t short; the daily absurdities felt like a swarm of hungry mosquitoes, intent on making me dessert.

I reviewed the damages:

  • The refrigerator puddled water on the floor, costing hundreds of dollars to fix, just as my husband left for another unexpected business trip.
  • Our new laser printer digested my expensive cardstock and refused to perform just before our scheduled seminar.
  • A predatory virus blossomed into a raging ear infection and pounding sinuses after four flights in one weekend.
  • And finally, our faithful Honda van joined the onslaught, blinking the dashboard lights randomly on and off (and on, and off) en route home.

Barely scratching the surface of my afflictions, I wondered if now was the time to add the story about wanting to throttle a well-meaning co-worker. Perhaps not? At least I could slander appliances and viruses without fear of retribution.

My friend groaned and then laughed. “Wait, wait,” she interrupted, “tell me three things you’re thankful for!”

Great. Thankful? I wasn’t even close.

I stopped, retracing my brain’s steps and taking a breath. Slowly, pictures surfaced in my mind. Better pictures, not fantasies of kicking refrigerators or throwing printers out the window. Images of friends helping, sacrificing, coming alongside. “The leader who gave up time and rest to come to our ­­­­­meetings when he wasn’t well enough to do so,” I said, forcing myself to calm down. “And my colleague – she spent hours copying and collating notes for Board sessions the other weekend.”

I took another breath. The list was getting easier. “Oh! My friend surprised me with an invitation I didn’t expect. She made me feel so welcome and loved!” More pictures surfaced, unbidden. Like eager puppies released from a cage, appreciations tumbled out on top of one another. “The weather, the gorgeous foliage, the food and the show when we saw the performance last weekend; The lavender and rosemary bushes that survived the cold snap; our excited friends helping with next weekend’s bridal shower; and our marvelous supporters who paid for all our expenses at the seminar,” I gushed. Breathing was easy now, and fun pictures of the past weeks bubbled to the surface.

“Okay, okay, my turn!” my friend interjected. By this time we were both laughing, blessed beyond measure that in the midst of stress, Jesus was holding us and keeping us afloat. Nothing changed on the outside, but inside our worlds shifted. For the umpteenth time, God reminded us that He was bigger than our circumstances. He understood, He knew our pain, He was there to help and redirect us, and to redeem all the offending attacks.

I shook my head. “I’ll learn,” I thought. “I really will get this!” Determination rose up and joy snuck into my soul, ready to try again. After all, the refrigerator was working again, the car would probably be fixed tomorrow (and last until spring?), and the laser printer and I had called off our divorce.

The assaults were real, but God was more real, more present, and more able than I’d remembered. Appreciation opened the door, and the Holy Spirit blew in. I smiled, grateful for the break from unrelenting attack. This was a thankful I could live with.

In the midst of your stress, are there “thankful-nesses” waiting to be noticed?

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