07 July 2017

Beauty in Chaos

We heard a good sermon a few weeks ago at a church we visited while in North Dakota. The pastor talked about how to embrace the chaos of our lives for the purposes that God allows it. This was the verse we focused on:
"...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3, emphasis my own)
I gasped as I read it... backing up to the previous verse which begins this list with, "...to comfort all who mourn..." as I saw our own journey almost 9 months ago... and suddenly all of it made sense. My Love and I had different experiences/journeys through the grief of saying goodbye for now to our newborn daughter... but what was the same, was our surprise and, almost, dismay, at how fine we were after such a short time... which we could only explain as "God is so near, and we feel carried on the prayers of so many."

A crown of beauty - a few weeks into the aftermath, a new dear friend told me, when we came to the hospital that night, after she head our devastating news, just to wrap me in a strong hug before we left for home... that when she arrived and saw us, she was confused and couldn't believe that the news was right. Though we were walking out with empty arms, she said, "You were both glowing with God's glory and beauty... I felt like I was seeing a bride and groom leaving their ceremony together... not two parents who just lost their only child. You were GLOWING with His glory, and such peace... it was holy and I didn't know how to process it!" How does one respond to that!?

The oil of joy - Within two weeks, I was able to share our daughter's story and her life with friends who visited, spending hours with a sister/friend who came to stay for a while... laughing until we could laugh no more... not a masking laughter, but a deep, belly-laugh, joy-filled laughter... delighting in the fact that we were CHOSEN to be our little one's parents... for the duration of her life on this earth, and the privilege of carrying her the rest of our days until we reunite with her there! I saw the baffled and confused looks on our neighbor's faces... those we met on the street... who knew our loss, and could not understand why I was smiling and laughing SO SOON. It worried me, even... do they think I've lost my marbles? Is it a testimony or a stumbling block? (Now I have my answer.)

A garment of praise - the night we got the news she had gone, and had to make our way home... I was numb. No feeling but shock, horror, and disbelief. The next morning, however, when I woke (after finally sleeping for the first time in 4 days)... I immediately knew what I needed, more than I needed anything else... I needed, HAD TO, be surrounded with praise and worship music. I practically ran to the living room where mourning family and friends had already gathered... brushed past them almost without seeing them and certainly without greeting any of them (unthinkable in my adopted culture), and grabbed my ipod and speaker, filling the silent and tense room with the worship playlist I had used for labor and delivery. As the praise songs wafted through the sorrow-filled aura of the room... the whole atmosphere changed. I was strengthened over those next hours, with perspective, and was able to worship and praise in my heart for is obvious mercies in the whole process and the fact He was so near. Worship and praise became my haven... a tangible place of safety for me in those following days, weeks, and months.

A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor - I don't think we get to have this one. While there were many comments and encouraging words from those in our lives of how amazed they were that we were functioning, fine, and how we were "so OK"... I don't think, ultimately, we were the "planting of the Lord" in this story... our daughter was. She was the one who was born, beloved, suffered (but only briefly, praise God!), and then had her body planted in this place... being the seed which has already been growing and bearing much fruit. And oh man, is God's splendor being SHINED through her life... in the lives of others who have been deeply affected by her (whether they will admit it or not), but also in our own, as her parents. We are marked for the rest of our days by her life, first here, and now there. She has made heaven so much closer, eternal life that much more real, the brevity of our days and importance of not wasting them that much more urgent. She was the display of His glory and splendor, planted first in my womb, then in the ground, yet forever in our hearts.

03 April 2017

Fear: a rude and unwelcome stranger

Linking up with Velvet Ashes: The Grove today. This week's theme is "Admit."

I've never considered myself fearless. As a child, I was actually afraid of a lot of things. Unfounded, really, but afraid nonetheless. Afraid of someone breaking into our house while we slept. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of losing a loved one to a car crash. Afraid of drowning. Afraid of animals in the woods. Afraid of swimming in natural bodies of water. While I've outgrown some of these, some still hang with me.

As an adult, anxiety, dread, a feeling of being ill at ease... I'm very familiar with these. A sense of being very vulnerable, uncomfortable (like traveling alone in my new home country... where I get far too much attention to make me feel relaxed). Shock and confusion. Yes, all of these I am intimately acquainted with.

But capital "F"-Fear? Bone-chilling, gripping fear. Fear that wrings the breath out of your lungs and makes you break out in a cold sweat? This is brand new to me. In 30+ years of my life, this new feeling is completely foreign... a rude and unwelcome stranger.

I've traveled on 4 continents. I've traveled and stayed alone in unfamiliar places, where I knew neither people nor the language. I've been in tense places with conflict brewing beneath the surface. I've even been in some unsafe situations over the years, sometimes without realizing it and other times being completely aware. I've been afraid, sure... but not like this. This... this is difficult to describe well.

Since losing our daughter, this capital "F"-Fear has snuck into my heart... taking up residence, like it owns the place. At first, I thought maybe this is a normal reaction to loss. Maybe it's simply part of the stages of grief and grief process... fearing you will lose someone else, reeling in the aftermath. After all, it was so unexpected. There was no warning. In less than 12 hours, she went from healthy and normal to gone, cold, still. Wrapped up and whisked away from me in a coffin, and then the ground... with a cruel finality, and capital "F"-Fear cackled and walked through the door and set down his bags, claiming this place as his own. Even in the NICU, I didn't notice him... because we didn't really think we would lose her, until suddenly she was already gone.

He was stealthy. Smooth. Silent. I was completely unaware of his presence, even as he was setting up house inside of me... in the shrouded corners, and shadowed places. Lurking. Leering.

Several weeks ago, my Love was meeting a friend in a multi-story business center. I got a text message a couple hours later asking me if I could call a number he sent me... as they were stuck in an elevator.  As I read the message, my blood turned to ice... freezing in my veins. Capital "F"-Fear slinked out of his hiding places and wrapped himself around my heart. My heart pounded in my ears and my head spun. I called the number... then another... then my sister in law to call and talk to them again more clearly in the local language...  then a friend to pray with me because I was struggling to breathe... my Love, calm and collected, was still texting back and forth, assuring me he was fine (Only a day or two later, did he admit that he, too, was really scared. Apparently, they had tried to resolve it themselves from inside, it was really hot and they weren't getting fresh air... until finally someone pried the doors open  slightly. But he didn't want me to worry.) My mind ran wild and free, capital "F"-Fear at the reins. I couldn't think, couldn't pray... I sobbed. I paced the floors of my house, and then I finally turned on worship music. But my heart wouldn't rest until I got the text he was out, and fine.

"F"-Fear has pranced and danced his way around other minor events recently, and yet I was still unwilling to admit his hold. I also hadn't taken the space/time to really pray through and process that this is not a healthy, normal part of grieving. Because absolutely nothing about capital "F"-Fear is healthy or "normal" for a child of the Eternal King. Period.

I was recently on a transcontinental flight, heading on a work trip. We hit some turbulence. I realize that's normal, with as many flights as I've taken in the last 12 years of my life, but this turbulence, in this season of life, put me over the edge. I broke out in a cold sweat. I felt the familiar gasping of the oxygen fleeing my lungs. Terror crept in, as my white knuckles gripped the handles of my seat. My seatmate across the empty chair between us was blissfully asleep... and through the fog, I realized /I/ was the one having an abnormal reaction. Numbly, I pawed through my bag and found my iPod and headphones, and slammed my fingers across the touchscreen to open my playlist of Scripture songs... I missed the headphone port, while trying to plug the earphones in. Finally... success... and my ears and mind flooded with His words of promise, spoken and sung directly into my ears... wrapping around my spirit. The tension eased. The jolting and dropping became gentle rocking and swaying... almost... relaxing, as Fear was forced to flee in the face of TRUTH and PRAISE.

And the Lord met me there -- gently, yet with loving rebuke. "Do you trust My love for you, daughter? Do you really trust My love for you?" You see, I no longer live in a world of "It happens to others, but it will never happen to me." How many of us no longer live there in that world of innocence and false security? Too many. You see, I do trust His love... but there is always another step further into His heart. Always a deeper level to move forward in this journey. There was a part of my heart that was shrinking back from more sacrifice. Yes, I trust You, but... what if You ask something else of me. What if that was only a practice run? What if it was simply a lesson for something even harder? I'm unwilling to ever go through that again. Again, He whispers, "Then you are not trusting My love for you will be enough, even if I ask you to sacrifice more... for My glory. You don't believe I will be there and carry you through? Perfect love casts out fear... will you choose to trust My love is perfect?" Nailed. Through the soul. I have joked with others that God just really ever gives me an out, even when I feel like I deserve it. I guess that's because we truly don't ever deserve an out, if we're honest.

When our daughter RAN into the arms of Jesus with rejoicing, and we were left behind in the aftermath of sorrow... I felt the darkness creeping in around us, almost like when you're about to blackout and your vision gets smaller and smaller, all the edges becoming dark. The next morning when I woke, I saw my Father reaching His hand down in the narrow circle of light I could still see through, "Will you still worship Me, child?" When I walked out into our living room, people had already gathered, sitting silent and somber on our couches and chairs... I didn't greet them even, in my rush to reach the speakers and plug in my iPod. I found the worship playlist I had compiled for my labor and delivery only 3 days prior... and suddenly the silent room was filled with praise music. From that moment, and in the coming weeks, worship and praise became my lifeline. My tether to my Sovereign, Loving Father, in the beating rain and relentless wind. He never let me go, and He used worship as the rope that bound us tightly.

There is a safe haven, a tower of refuge, in the place of worship. Prayer is powerful, but I am finding that worship is even more so. It takes me outside of myself, my needs, my wants... into the place of realignment and fully focused on God's face, God's heart. When I am in worship, I am... untouchable... everything else fades away. Fear is replaced by assurance. Capital "F"-fear is silenced, defeated. The enemy hates our prayers and seeks every hindrance and distraction to keep us from this place. But he CANNOT stay anywhere near us when we are given over to praise of our King. He MUST flee. And his hold is loosed. I find safety and security in a place of worship.

On the return transcontinental flight, we again hit turbulence... and I was ready. I stared capital "F"-Fear down, face to face. Standing on truth, resting in His perfect love, and armed with worship ready on my heart's tongue... capital "F"Fear was taken aback, caught unprepared. He wrapped a cloak of darkness around his shoulders and leered with unusual hesitancy, then I saw his ankles were shaking... despite the aura of authority he tried to present, there were visible cracks in his confidence. I smiled and looked over my shoulder, as my Father's LIGHT suddenly broke through and surrounded me. Turning my eyes back to capital "F"-Fear... he was nowhere to be found. He had fled, and all I could hear as evidence of his presence was a fading whimpering. He has been uprooted. Ousted. Evicted with no option to return.

This was not my battle. It was my King's all along. He was simply asking me to admit Fear's presence, admit my need for His power to bring victory, and admit my heart's need for Him to work a deeper trust in His heart.

My song this week is Laura Story's new single featuring Mac Powell, "Open Hands." I'm linking it here. How many of us can truly sing this song and MEAN it? Honestly? Not a single one of us, without the supernatural grace and love of God.

16 March 2017

staying put

Linking up with Velvet Ashes: The Grove on the theme of "participate."

I'm coming up on four years. Four years calling this place "home." I've been through the culture shock, then also the culture pain and culture stripping. I've come to learn, not only mentally, but experientially that the straight and narrow, well... isn't. I've not only written my name in this land, but I've also buried my heart here... literally, encapsulated in the body of my firstborn.

Last year, I was struggling, feeling like nothing I have done has really come to fruition. Partnerships I had built and handed off either went dormant or turned sour. All the effort I had poured into new teammates and staff seemed to have come to naught as, one by one, they returned to their home countries. National teams I poured into -- some broke apart, individuals fell into sin, and yet others plodded along with the patience of Job. From man's point of view... all my efforts hadn't amounted to anything of lasting value. Still, I stayed. Put down roots. By the grace of God, I am still here -- the place where He has chosen for me to be, to dwell.

And I'm beginning to see, He was still working -- not through my strivings and my efforts, but simply through my being here, my living and my staying put.

I live in local housing -- condominiums. When I talk to local people, whenever our dwelling comes up, they are surprised. "We don't know other white people who live in our condominiums," they say. I have neighbors, on both sides. Below me. I can walk nowhere without passing beautiful people who have become my community, with the obligatory greetings and well wishes that now freely flow off my tongue. Though my language learning still leaves MUCH to be desired, I can at least greet with the best of them.

A motherly neighbor, with whom I've slowly been building a sweet connection... she now comes and shares her prayer requests. We practice different religions... and it was so subtle I almost missed it. First, she was ill... I told her I would pray. Each day I greeted her in my comings and goings and asked how she was.. "I'm better now!" She said, "Thank you for praying for me!" Then she had horrible headaches from a eye problem that needed to be resolved. This time she asked me to pray, I said yes.

(When we lost our newborn daughter, this woman came daily to my home--bringing food, sharing her daily bread, serving those who came to sit with us, washing our dishes.) Soon, she went for a single eye surgery and now it is healed. She came especially and banged on my front door, gleely lifting up her glasses and saying, "See! Now I can see you!" I took her a lunchtime meal one day, a local meal which I cooked, "You are becoming one of us," she exclaims. A couple days later, she brings me a new dish I was unfamiliar with, "There is more for you to learn," she says.

Just this week, I was walking to my home (which requires me always to pass her), she grabs my hand, kisses my cheek and tells me her son has lost his job. I nod. I point to the heavens. She nods and smiles, "Thank you," she says. She doesn't ask me to pray. She already knows I will.

Other friendships which has taken these years to forge, are finally opening windows, if not doors. A former landlord has become a dear sister. A sister has become a friend. A friend has turned into the Lord's vessel to share His love better than I can, in a heart language I'm still learning, extending His heart towards my own relatives.

The local juice stand owner knows our order, and never forgets my straw. Tears fill his eyes when he asks where our baby is, and we tell him straight...he whispers, "I'm so sorry" and slips a few extra pieces of fruit into my bag. In fact our whole neighborhood was anticipating the birth of our firstborn, and they took the tragedy personally. Some passed on the news to other shopkeepers, so we wouldn't have to be the ones to break it. I know they already know, because they hold onto my hand longer than the handshake requires, and they whisper to me: "Be strong."

I see my taxi driver friend probably more frequently even than our local family... he has now appointed himself as my cultural advisor. I can ask him (almost) anything. He talks about life. We practice different religions. We send him sms well wishes on his holidays, and he sends us the same for ours. I find a sneaky way to ask him why he suddenly feels comfortable opening up (teasing him about how chatty he has become), "You have stayed," he says. "Everyone else leaves, but you are still here. You even had your child here. You have become one of us." He has learned sign language, picking up bits and pieces, and chats with my Love. I am now superfluous to their conversation. My heart smiles.

All the while I was looking towards the quantifiable. The number of partnerships. The number of people. The amount of progress. And all the while, the Lord was looking, rather, at hearts and relationships -- opening, shaping, forging, deepening. In the most unlikely ways and places... only now am I beginning to see what HE was doing all along. Not through my works, but through my participation... in normal, everyday life. Just being present. Staying put. Now that I finally know where to direct my gaze, I am excited. Anticipating. Rejoicing. I know this is only the beginning...and I have so much still to learn.

10 March 2017

An invitation: the most costly gift I could possibly offer

Linking up with Velvet Ashes: The Grove, for this very personal post on the theme of Invitation.

The first week of October 2016. A week permanently burned into my soul, changing my world forever.

I welcomed October on it's first warm day, chuckling ... our firstborn child, still in my womb, decided that she would finally make preparations for her long-awaited appearance. After quite the adventurous day of bumpy taxi rides, insane traffic, and unexpected relatives dropping in... my Love and I welcomed her into the world with much rejoicing in the midnight hours of the following day. Quite the spunky little one, even from the first moments of her newborn autonomy... with the lungs of a lioness. Healthy and perfect, she was everything we could have wanted.

After 48 beautiful, sleep deprived, blissful hours with her, she became mysteriously listless and started having erratic shrieking episodes and catches in her breathing. As the dawn broke, we rushed her to the hospital. It was the fastest I'd ever experienced their reception, and within 30 minutes... I heard the words: This child has sepsis. In a frenzy of activity, she was swooped out of my arms and hurriedly admitted to the NICU, leaving me standing with a handful of newborn clothing and blankets, still warm from her feverish skin.

We had named her Ayalon, after the valley of Aijalon in Joshua 10. A place of holy miracles. A place of divine intervention, through the faith-filled prayer of a mere man. A place where God brought victory for His people. We camped on these prophetic words, sitting on the coach in the NICU waiting room -- alternating between the sterile room, the doctor's office, and updating friends and family.

She took a turn for the worst. Our hearts dove, but we clung to hope. She rallied. We rejoiced. She responded to my touch, wrapping her hand around my finger as I whispered prayers over her. Then, less than an hour later, her heart stopped. There is no horror like that of watching people perform CPR on your child. I think I, too, had stopped breathing in those minutes. She responded. I finally exhaled. Test results came back. She was now showing signs of anemia, and we signed the papers for an emergency blood transfusion. We returned to that worn coach and prayed our hearts out.

We were carried on the prayers of so many, and felt supernatural peace God was working. It was touch and go. Her heart stopped again, and she fought her way back to us. She stopped breathing. They put her on a ventilator. She fought to breathe once more on her own and succeeded. We got to see her a couple more times. My Love ran to get a couple items from home, so we could stay the night at the hospital. He returned and we went together to get another update.

When we stepped into the NICU waiting area, I was acutely aware of the nurse’s face. She looked exhausted, and ... defeated. The last time I had seen this particular nurse, she had been pumping oxygen into my daughter’s lungs with a hand oxygen pump... as I was hurried away from the window and an electric ventilator was being wheeled in. Now, she stood slouched against the door frame, with sorrow and exhaustion in her eyes. I knew... it resonated through my body and my fuzzy brain. And then I immediately shoved it away. No. I would not give up hope. Divine intervention. Victory. A miracle. Ayalon. This is our fiery little daughter.

The doctor came to the doorway, as we were putting on the sterile coats to enter. I will not repeat the words he choose to use to break the news. Suffice it to say, I had to ask him in plain English if he was telling us she was gone. She was. Fifteen minutes before, after her fourth cardiac arrest, she was whisked from that little NICU bed and into the arms of Jesus... never again to face sickness, pain, or suffering. Complete. At peace. We walked in to see her little body... she had such a restful look on her face, it brought a sliver of comfort.

I want to fast forward. There are many details I could include, and may add later, but want to condense for brevity sake.

She was buried in the smallest cemetery plot I have personally ever seen. In a miniature coffin covered in red velvet with gold embroidery. I remember thinking red wasn't her color. But by the beautiful, personal hand of God... my breath was taken away when I saw the location of her grave. It was smack in the center of an enormous grove of 4.5 feet tall yellow Ethiopian meskel daisies in full bloom. The same daisies that bloom with vibrant ferocity for only a couple of weeks, marking a change in the seasons, and then quickly fade and die... until next year. Fleeting. Here and then gone. But loud and colorful, and not to be missed or ignored. Like our daughter.

We were carried supernaturally, with such peace and divine comfort, in those days and weeks. God does not take us through any grief or valley without providing His grace to empower and strengthen us. He was so near, even still IS so near. We clung to Job 1:21, quoting and singing, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." We rejoiced and gave His glory for the very real ways He was revealing Himself to us and holding us, and for the immense privilege of being chosen to love and carry Ayalon on this earth, and the gift of our 66 hours with her here.

I was given Angie Smith's book, I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy in the weeks that followed. I underlined paragraphs on almost every page. This particular section stood out to me, as I sought His heart for His purposes in this loss, this sacrifice if you will:
“Is it possible that we are chosen to undergo something then all the while the Lord knows that it will be given to Him in sweet surrender? ... I pray that you continue to worship the Lord, keeping what He has given you until the moment you are called to give it away. ... And as the glass shatters all around you... know this... It was always meant to fall from Your hands. And He is glorified in the shattering.” (Angie Smith)
A couple of weeks later, I was making dinner listening to songs on my iPod. Sara Groves' song, "Open My Hand" came on...
“I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
the broken find healing in love
pain is no measure of His faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us...
no good thing from us.
I will open my hands, open my heart....”
(Sara Groves)
Tears poured down my face, and I recalled Psalm 84:11 - "No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." My heart was in absolute turmoil, "How then, God?!  How could this happen? How was our Ayalon not a good thing??? That You would take her from us? It doesn't make ANY sense!!!!" The Holy Spirit wrapped me in His love as He whispered, "No, My child, she WAS a very good thing. But what I am doing through this sorrow and suffering... My purpose... is a better thing... an even greater thing."

The very next song to come on my iPod shuffle was from Keith & Kristyn Getty's new hymn, “Perfect Wisdom of our God”:
 “...Teach me humbly to receive the solid reign of Your sovereignty.
...each strand of sorrow has its place, within this tapestry of grace.
So through the trials I’ll choose to say: ‘Your perfect will in Your perfect way.’
 On Ayalon's one month birthday, had she still been with us, I was sitting facing the early sunrise. The Lord was asking me to surrender something to him... and I immediately started arguing with Him: "Lord, I already gave you my daughter, didn't I? ..." I stopped short, as I felt a weight of conviction settle over my spirit like a blanket.  I had been speaking the words of Job, "You gave and You have taken away." And He was revealing the underlying accusation in my heart... "You... You did this... You took her."

In that moment, He extended me an invitation... He asked me if I would actively, willingly offer my sweet Ayalon back to Him in worship rather than passively "allowing Him" to have taken her. What a subtle and yet crucial shift in my heart's attitude and posture. I accepted and right there, I willingly, actively, wholeheartedly offered my precious, beautiful daughter back to Him, declaring anew: Blessed be Your Name. Peace. A holy rightness of being aligned with Him. All glory be to our loving, sovereign Father... who reminded me that He, too, is intimately acquainted with the unique grief of offering up an only child, a firstborn.

My daughter is the most valuable gift I could possibly offer to Him, and she came from Him. What a holy privilege that He would entrust us with such a costly, priceless gift to offer back in a sacrifice of praise. He is worthy beyond measure.
"Glory be to God the Father! Glory be to God the Son! Glory be to God the Spirit! The Lord is my salvation!" (Keith & Kristyn Getty, bridge from The Lord Is My Salvation)
I've had glimpses of the Lord's hand at work through our little girl's life... and I smile through tears. He doesn't owe us any explanation for His ways, but He has been measurelessly gracious to invite us to peek into His heart's purpose in all of this. There were those who had dismissed her easily with the words, "It is no matter, you will have other children." At first, those phrases brought an agonized mama bear roar from my chest... but now I almost... gloat. Because, my friends, I KNOW my daughter's value--her incomparable worth--and how God has been using her life mightily for His glory, touching souls, calling rebellious hearts home. I now UNDERSTAND that the span of our lifetime here on earth is not what matters, but rather the weight of it.

And I chuckle to myself, because Ayalon's life was not to be missed or ignored. There was NO way... our little fighter. (I mean, c'mon... who defies death and comes back from cardiac arrest THREE times, at only 2 1/2 days old...) Even as I have seen her numerous times, unbidden, in my mind's eye... freely flitting around heaven bossing around the angels, leaning over the arm rest of the throne telling Jesus her thoughts, and her opinions. In her arrival and departure, she not only left permanent stretchmarks on my body and permanent imprints on our hearts, but she created holy ripples across time and eternity... for the glory of God. I am proud and honored to say she was ours.

07 March 2017

An invitation to knock

God deals differently with His children, His disciples. He is the ultimate cross-cultural worker, and has the cutting edge on contextualization. He has the added benefit of having created our hearts, so He knows them even better than we do... so He knows HOW to relate to us, and exactly what each of us individually needs in order to shape and refine us. And that means, it's never going to look exactly the same as someone else's journey.

Duh, right? Bear with me.

I have several very dear friends, incredible women of God, who I admire and adore... who know and love my Jesus deeply, intimately... and yet have such a different relationship with him than I do. And, (this is gonna get real)... there are times I have gotten off of calls with them, and struggled with their words and testimonies, even though I know them, in my head, to be true. True testimonies of their experiences with God of laying before Him not only their circumstances and needs, but also their desires of how they would like Him to work... down to things that really don't matter in the eternal scheme of things, but it is their wants, as well as their needs... and God responding to them personally, intimately, and saying, "Yes, I can do that... I will do that." And then He does. Not single, random events. But, repeatedly.  And the sweet, precious, childlike faith and unswerving trust of their hearts in God's personal, intimate relationship is evident. A perfume of praise to Him.

Yet, every time, when I hang up... I'm left with a lingering sweet scent, and a confused heart. WHY, God? WHY do you work this way in others, and yet never with me? Don't misunderstand me... there is not bitterness or anger in my spirit AT ALL... no, it is more bafflement. I desire to understand. (As a student of crossing cultures and the transcultural gospel of our Lord, I mentally grasp that you must always deal with this particular person in the way that reaches and speaks to them. I get that. But I suppose there are those days my heart doesn't fully grasp the methods.) See, in my life experience, I cannot say I can point to a time that I have said, "God, I would really like X..." and He said, "Great. Here you go!" No... my testimony includes a great deal of "no's" and "wait's" and "I don't think so... here, this is better..." ("But, Lord, that's not what I wanted!"). It has never been one of specific prayers of wants and desires with immediate and matching results. And I've been ok with that in the long run, because He has ALWAYS given something better (even though the means have almost always been more difficult and/or painful). 

Just last week, I opened my devotional, after another personal disappointment of God delaying something I was praying for in faith (after another conversation with a friend on things God has been graciously giving that which she had asked for) and I the topic was "Ask & Receive"... 

"Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." Mark 11:24

"And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." Matt 21:22

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." John 15:7 

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Psalms 37:4

 I broke down and wept. I searched my heart for unconfessed sin. I confessed a lack of faith. I pondered whether I had been abiding in Him, if there was error between us, if I had not been delighting in Him. He showed me some things, but also whispered that this was not a matter of me not checking things off a list of having done all the proper steps... simply that He was delaying, for His own reasons, and for my growth. But it stung. I told Him I was struggling with the fact that these verses feel like slaps in the face sometimes... I KNOW them to be true, but I often don't experience them as truth. (Which probably wouldn't bother me so much if I wasn't watching it become experiential truth in lives of others around me.) He told me the reality is that He is giving me the desires of my heart... which are often buried deeper beneath the wants... to the request of being made more like Him. Often the means I would choose don't lead to that end.

A couple days ago, I was listening to the new album by the Christian band, Love & The Outcome, and their new song "Ask" started playing on my iPod. These next words destroyed me...
"Our Father knows your deepest hurt
Before you've even said a word
But He still wants to hear your voice
There is a purpose in our seeking
There is a light beyond this door
We have a promise in our knocking
He wants to give us so much more
If we just ask, ask
If we just ask, ask

~Love & The Outcome, "Ask"
 And it hit my heart like a semi truck: It's not about the answers. It's not about the receiving. It's about the conversation, the process. Prayer is not about the results, but it's an invitation to be in relationship. He already knows. And yet He still invites us to ask. Why? Because He delights in the conversation with us... and THAT changes us. We all know conversations, to be such, have to be two-way. Live. Participatory. Present.

"There is a promise in our knocking..." This line. The knocking itself. The action of reaching out. This changes me. There is purpose in it. It's not about the results on the other side of that door... because HE is the one who opens it. And in the knocking, I am grabbing onto His promise that He WILL open to me. HE will answer (not He WILL answer)... HE will answer. The God of the Universe. The Author of Salvation. The Perfecter of our Faith. HE will answer my knocking. And no matter how He chooses to answer... it will not matter as much as the fact that HE IS MY ANSWER. And all He gives and decides and chooses and replies is in HIS LOVE, and HIS Sovereignty, and for Hi glory and my good.

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened." Matt 7:7-8

"Oh my dove, in the clefts of the rock... let me see your form, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your form is lovely." Song of Solomon 2:14

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" Psalms 27:14

"I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard by cry." Psalm 40:1

"And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness," says the Lord. Jer 31:14b

"For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." Psalms 107:9 

Linking up over at Velvet Ashes: The Grove, on the theme of invitation

29 July 2016

Minibus observations

One morning, I climb into a sardine can, squeezing in between two souls and wedging myself against the seat (actually - a fellow passenger's leg, if I'm honest). As the third person shoved into two seats, he is still gracious and apologetic for being so intimately close to me. A few kilometers, and the driver hits the brakes hard. No handholds, and I start flying. Said passenger becomes more than legs, and his arms reach out to grab me and hold me securely in my 'seat'. I'm upright again, not sprawled across laps... and he lets go immediately, allowing for some semblance of personal space/autonomy in the midst of the crowded bodies.

Another morning, I get a spot in a seat, not shared--all my own (for at least a few kilometers). An elderly man climbs into the very back, wrapped in religious robes. One our way, he starts chanting a monotone prayer loudly, his voice filling the minibus. Driver, money collector, and passengers start exchanging glances via windows, mirrors, and slightly turned heads. Driver nods, and cranks up the radio. A couple other passengers start singing along... effectively drowning out the determined old man. I chuckle lightly. Non-confrontational, as society dictates. Yet passive aggressive social control is alive and well.