When it comes to summertime, my husband kind of makes out like a bandit. To begin with, there’s Fathers’ Day in June, followed by his birthday in July, and (dare he forget) our anniversary in August. So he can just stay in celebration mode all summer long, and keep Amazon pulled up on the computer 24/7 as the gifts roll in.
Now, lest I make Bob sound like E. Scrooge sitting at his table fingering his coins, nothing could be further from the truth. But even with his generous spirit, I’m the one doing most of the Amazon gift giving, for my husband’s special moments, as well as for other family members.
C’mon, ladies, you know how we do. Check the list, buy the gift, wrap it, put Dad’s name on it, take it to the post, whatever. No biggie. Just gotta remember to tell him what “he” sent so when the phone call comes in…Continue reading “A personalized present”
That title is from It’s a Wonderful Life, and maybe this Christmas I can get my family to watch it with me (but I doubt it.) Regardless, Friday is “pizza and a movie” night at the Jones’ home. Homemade whole wheat crust (it makes you actually use your teeth) with several toppings, including my own “special” sauce, freshly-picked herbs from the garden and two or three different cheeses.
In our division of labor when it comes to pizza, I do the cooking, the family does the eating. Occasionally, I get a bit happy with the sharp things, and am currently typing this with a finger bandaged tightly to stem the flow. But the pizza was superb (if I do say so myself) and life goes on…
With little incidents like this, we generally just chalk it up to that “life-goes-on” thing, but in the deeper scope of that life, pain creates a conundrum on a spiritual plane that must be addressed.
Some think of only two options when it comes to pain and God: a) He may be good, but not all-powerful, or He would stop this nonsense, or b) He may be all powerful, but He must not be good, because He allows this nonsense to continue.
Others far smarter with many letters behind their names have tackled this one, throughout the millennia, in fact. I’m a bit less distinguished (hey, I have a nursing degree, does that count??) but even in my puny mind there’s got to be more than that when considering the Divine! In my profession, we tend to have our patients rate pain on a scale from one to ten, one being a hangnail, and ten being childbirth—okay, that’s just my definition, but we do even have one for children:
Few believers would throw away their faith on #3, but let’s face it, it gets a bit more tempting as the scale continues. Then there are those who don’t even bother themselves with it, since (a) and (b) seem to have it covered.
To say that pain disproves the existence of a biblical God seems a bit shallow, and a bit of a cop-out really, accepted by a heart that has been beaten down with bitterness and disappointment and excruciating, heart-bending agony. What if our pain is actually a clue to His existence and the reality of what His Word says about life, and love, and the eternity that is “written in the hearts of men”? What if pain is telling us that what is happening is not right, was not originally meant to be? After all, we don’t exist in a vacuum, and to not care about pain tends to define the sociopath. At the end of the day, I have to allow for mystery, even disquieting mystery surrounding pain.
So how can I be faithful to a God I do not fully understand? And yet, how could I worship a God that I do fully understand? I posit that it’s not actually an issue of understanding; it’s about trust. God does give me sufficient understanding so that I can trust Him in the things that I don’t understand. Besides, a disciple isn’t called to always know the what’s or why’s of his master, and even the best of friends aren’t automatically privy to the heart of one another.
Thankfully, when I’m bleeding, He gives me more than a bandaid.
Here’s another part of the story about Prince Jonathon and his little sortie against the hillside Philistine party. In fact, it’s probably a bit of an overlooked, but really important segment of the account.
Once the prince and his side-kick armor bearer finished off the enemy soldiers on the hill, (which was 2 against 20, BTW), God then sends an earthquake, which had to be pretty scary to everyone, including our two heroes who had just put themselves in great peril for their nation and, more importantly, their God.
Seems like a pretty unconventional way of saying “well done”.
[I find it mildly amusing, or sad, probably both, when we call a natural disaster an “act of God”. Primarily because so many people in our society no longer even believe in God, (although one hears His name thrown around repeatedly in various ways), but also as if He is to blame for acts of His creation, (any more than a parent can be blamed for their adult children’s decisions, as much as we like to do that these days.) But I digress…]
The result of this act of God was that a large portion of the Philistine army was eradicated by this “natural disaster”, providing additional overwhelming victory for the Israelite army. So, as scary as surfing on what was originally terra firma was for our two, their persistence and faithfulness (gotta love that old-fashioned word!) paid off big. The earthquake needed to be properly interpreted as God’s intervention rather than an unfortunate interruption in Jon’s plan
The point: what seems like a setback, a disappointment, or even a disaster may just be God’s rearrangement of our otherwise comfortable terra firma for a greater “victory”.
That’s the question that came into my mind early one morning as my attention was drawn away from the task at hand while sitting at my “outside desk”. This is a fairly frequent occurrence…not the voice, mind you, but the diversion from the task at hand. The variety and beauty of God’s creation, even in my little back yard, is amazingly distracting! My eyes are consistently opened to new experiences about, well, anything that grows. I can recognize a few of the birds; that is, more than the robin and the cardinal—those were staples even in my limited aviary repertoire when I was a kid back in Indiana. Now I can add several more, just by observing and looking them up in my husband’s very old (but not obsolete!) Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds that he has saved since his high school years. In addition that, I am even beginning to identify some of their songs—the catbird, for instance. I was able to point out that peculiar sound for my daughter when she was home visiting. She actually thought there was a cat nearby!
On this particular morning, here was an exquisite song! And a fairly new one for me. The problem was that the sun was only thinking about waking up, so it was still too dark for me to see the singer.
“Do you want to see the bird?”
Now, was that really God’s voice? Or was I just thinking it? Either way, as I was looking intently for the source of the song, it looked as if the bird had already flown away. Okay, so that was a disappointment. But the bird’s premature departure moreover presented me with a mildly perplexing challenge: if, indeed, God had spoken to me about this lovely part of His creation, why had He not shown it to me when it was in His power to do so? He is not Someone Who holds a piece of candy in front of us only to cruelly take it away, of this much I was confident. From cover to cover in the Bible, the basic foundation of all life is the understanding that God is love, (1). This truth assures me that even the disappointments in my life, whether large or small, have both reason and purpose that are founded in His love for me. These higher plans of God to work in my disappointing circumstances, and sometimes in the especially painful ones, also include what He desires to accomplish through me to benefit others.
Then it hit me. (I can be a little slow on the uptake, but thankfully not this time.) There are times when God, in His loving wisdom, does not immediately provide for my request, at least in the way that I am requesting it. It seems that one of the divine reasons for this apparent refusal, which may be merely a delay rather than a flat out “no”, is so that I can see for myself just how badly I want what I am requesting.
This, then, is the gift that is often times greater than my original request—
that God would show me myself: the true reasons for my desires, unearthing any selfish ambition that lies hidden beneath years of impoverished thinking. (2) It may that I need to be shown my motivation in requesting the gift, which may need to be reworked, (the motivation, that is, not necessarily the request itself), before I can be on the receiving end. (3)
that the gift of waiting would stimulate and produce in me a more clearly defined and better focused desire (4).
that He would prepare my heart and situation to properly receive from Him. (5) I am reminded of what kind of king the Jewish people of Jesus’ day were looking for, and because of their expectations, many missed Him completely. (6)
that I would learn to keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking. (7) One of the characteristics of true faith is its persistence.
that I would keep trusting His love to provide what He feels is best. (8)
Actually, the end result—or I should say, the intended main objective—is intimate relationship with God. At least, that’s God’s main objective. Which means it would behoove me to make it mine as well.
I’m still not sure what that bird was. Maybe a warbler or a wren. It matters not, because I hope I have received the greater gift, not of connecting with the singer, but of connecting with the Voice.
July fourth! Freedom Day!! I have been watching the hibiscus grow from the stems I was convinced were long dead from the winter freeze. This past season we had a real blizzard; I mean, a blizzard as meteorologically defined by the National Weather Service. Here in town it looked like about 18 inches of fluffy white fell from just this one storm; it was beautiful, but brutal. The storm passed, the mountains of snow plowed from Walmart’s parking lot finally melted, and as the year progressed, I talked with some of my gardening friends at work when I noticed that my hibiscus wasn’t resurfacing. Oh, they said, they always bring their hibiscus plants in for the winter season. (Great. Now they tell me.) Their precious plants live securely in big pots that are easily transferable throughout the seasons. Mine lives in the ground, or so I thought. Sure, they continued, they turn a little yellow and lose a few leaves while inside, but they survive, which was currently more than I could confidently posit for my new little plant.
Yet another one bites the dust.
Winter eclipsed into spring, and I was about to dig up the place where my hibiscus lay in permanent repose, remove what was left, and make the area available for another try at…well, something. But what I soon observed stayed my hand: I noticed small green shoots coming up from where the “dead” plant was. Over the next several days I watched, at first somewhat incredulously, then excitedly, as the shoots continued to defy the harsh winter blast by pushing up tenaciously toward the spring sunlight. Soon, the shoots became as thick as my thumb, and eventually provided a harvest of hummingbird-tempting, bright red blossoms as big as my hand, all from the plant I thought was gone for good.
My experience with my hidden hibiscus, though at first disappointing but then elating, gives me pause in a few other areas:
Pastor Lawrence Wilson has said that a vision must first die for it to be properly resurrected. 18th century theologian Matthew Henry would seem to agree, and writes concerning the gospel of Christ, (but which can also be appropriately applied to any dream we have with God): “The good seed of the gospel sown in the world, and sown in the heart, both by degrees, produce wonderful effects, but without noise…so it is with the gospel, when it is sown, and received, as seed in good ground. It will come up; though it seem lost and buried under the clods, it will find or make its way through them.” (1)
How quickly I was ready to give up on my hibiscus! And what a waste if I had given up too early and dug up the plot just when it was working hard under the dirt getting ready to surprise me! And how quickly I can be to give up on more important dreams, or people, in my life.
Many times God works silently, despite the harsh cold of evil in our circumstances; He works relentlessly, pushing through the painful shame that tries to hold us in seclusion. Consider: Paul gave up on John Mark; that’s the same Mark that went on to later write the second biography of Christ, thanks to his Uncle Barnabus’ kind intervention at the time. (2) God’s right-hand-man, Job, gave up on himself, until God put his circumstances in a higher perspective. (3) And God Himself seemed to be having second thoughts about this wayward group of vagabonds called Israel, and allowed Moses to “change” His mind. (4) In all three historic events, something that looked dead, like a dream, a relationship, even an eternity, made an amazing comeback.
What disappointments do you have in your life—can you name one right now? (Yeah, I know, probably more like ten or twenty.) Have you given up on something, or someone? If you have, then you’re actually in good company. What hopes and dreams do you have for your family, your children, yourself? What vision has been seemingly buried under a brutal life-blizzard? You are invited to join the team. Rest assured that we are being observed by “so great a cloud of witnesses” to rejoice as the fresh new shoots rise from the cold dirt.(5)
The challenge, the invitation, is to commit to God the hopes and dreams that I hardly dare to recall, even after the blizzard abates. Patiently, may we let God’s timing have its way with the roots, and come spring, we may be surprised.