This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: faith

Bags of Filth

 

It all began with a dare. A 40-day Lenten dare to put love into action. It was my Ash Wednesday – Valentine’s Day challenge to love deeper, truer, better. Could I practice a deeper love for forty days? For one week? For one day? And if I did, what would I learn – about me, about sacrifice, about love?

 

There is always a cost to doing good, to putting love into action. A cost to our financial resources, to our time, to our own desires, and even to our own egos. The first days were simple enough, a kind gesture to say I love you. A gift of flowers to bring beauty to a weary soul. A gift of words, in the form of a note or a card or a book, to encourage a fellow traveler.

 

I noticed the trash along the road by my house as if for the first time. Were there always so many discarded bottles and cans, so much paper and plastic rubbish, so many rejected items tainting the splendor of this lonely road that meanders through the horse country of southeastern Pennsylvania? Had it been here all along and I hadn’t even taken notice of it?

 

An idea forms. Am I willing to put love into action the hard way?

 

The large white plastic bag grows noticeably heavier with each step I take. Many of the plastic and glass bottles are not empty when I collect them from their roadside graves. A leash guiding my dog in one hand, the trash bag in the other, it is all I can do to pick up the trash and place it in the bag. So, empty or not, in they go.

 

My four-legged friend is not amused by the stop-start nature of our afternoon walk.

 

I catch sight of the top of a bottle, its body buried beneath a bed a leaves. As I bend down to claim the next captive to my assortment of rubbish, I reach into the covering of leaves and debris. The heft of the bottle surprises me. It is larger than any of the other bottles in my collection, and its weightiness reveals to me that it is nearly full.

 

I think twice about making such a weighty addition to my already burgeoning bag. Retracting my hand, I turn away.

 

Do I really want to add this heavy bottle to my bundle that has already grown far heavier than I had anticipated it becoming?

 

Turning back toward the half-hidden receptacle, I bend once again, willing my fingers to grasp it, even though I know that its weight will be significantly more than that of ten empty bottles. It is cold. I cannot stop to open bottle after bottle and pour their contents out on the ground. Nor does that quite seem the point – I’m trying to clean up the earth not add liquid pollution to it.

 

My eye registers the sight of the light tawny colored liquid and the bubbles inside, and instinctively I know this is no bottle of soda.

 

This is a bottle of urine.

 

I let the bottle drop to the ground. I’m not going to carry someone’s urine.

 

And just like that, I stand high and mighty above the bottle of human waste and declare that I am too good for this. And just like that, I have forgotten what Lent points to, what awaits at the other end of the Lenten journey – the sacrificial death offering of the holy God-man for all of broken humanity.

 

For me.

 

Who am I to say that I am above carrying human trash when my Savior willingly carried my human trash, all of my filth and sin, up Calvary’s mount? I reach for the bottle again, this time placing it gingerly in my bag of discarded things.

 

 

My load is growing steadily heavier now. I’m rethinking how aggressive my collecting was on the first half of my excavation. From time to time I feel sprinkles from my bag dance across my ankles, and I wonder which bottle is leaking.

 

When we carry trash, we’re bound to get a little messy.

 

And yet, how often do we insist on continuing to carry our own trash around with us. The trash of our guilt and shame. The debris from those we have wounded and the wounds others have inflicted on us. The trash that is ripe with the stench of festering anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. The discarded remnants of a self-esteem that is so performance-driven that it can never be satisfied.

 

On top of all this refuse we add the messes of our fears and insufficiency and anxiety.

 

And our knees fairly buckle under the weight of our broken humanness.

 

Cars pass. I’m suddenly uncomfortable knowing that others can see all the trash that I carry.

 

This bag of refuse that we carry is, after all, just that – refuse. It represents all that has been rejected, cast aside, deemed worthless and unsuitable. Is there a way for us to refuse to carry the refuse? I mean, isn’t that what Lent and Good Friday and Easter are all about? Isn’t that why Jesus said he came – to carry our burdens, to pay our price for sin?

 

He beckons, cast your burden on me and I will give you rest, and yet we insist on carrying our bag of refuse with us. He declares that it is for freedom that he has set us free, and yet we insist on clutching onto those very burdens from which he desires to free us. He longs to give us freedom from anger and bitterness and hurt feelings. Freedom from fear and pain and worry and depression. Freedom from anxiety and loneliness and doubt that we’ll ever be enough. He came and he lived and he died and rose again to give us abundant life, yes that’s right, life abundant and free.

 

And yet some days we prefer to journey alone, grasping hold of our bag of rotten things as it leaks about our ankles.

 

My load grows even heavier now. My arm aches from the awkward bulky weight. My fingers cramp from grasping the plastic so tightly. My load is nearly more than my arms can bear, but it pales in comparison to the weight of all my trash the Savior bore on his shoulders to set me free. The one who lost his life so I could find mine gently beckons me to lay it all down, and I am reminded that his unfailing love and glorious grace are more than sufficient to carry all of my burdens and all of my sin.

 

Will you let him carry your burden today?

Lessons From the Gorge, Part 2

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to turn the page on this calendar year and put an end to 2017. It has been an awfully painful year, hasn’t it? Five terror attacks in the UK. The Barcelona bombing. Mass shootings, car bombs, and suicide bombs in Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria and many other locations around the world. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Nate. Two earthquakes in Mexico. And the Las Vegas massacre.

 

None of us is immune to the horror of these senseless acts of violence and destruction. We are stunned and grieved. Shattered. We all feel the anguish of what was lost, even if our lives were not personally affected by any one of these events. All of humanity shares in the pain and in the longing for recovery.

 

And we weep for those who have lost so much more than we have.

 

There are those who have suffered excruciating loss from the gut-wrenching events of this year. Some have lost loved ones. Others have lost homes. Some have found themselves suddenly alone in the world with no possessions and no family to depend on.

 

I cannot fathom their pain. It is bigger, more incomprehensible than the pain I have experienced in my life.

 

None of us is immune to suffering. We all experience our own private heartache and loss, smaller in scope for sure, but no less painful in our individual experience.

 

This year I lost my father. Then one month later, my mother followed her husband of 64 years. My daughter tore her meniscus, ultimately requiring knee surgery and months of rehab. My son’s health concerns have necessitated a leave of absence from college. And just this week we discovered a new problem in his eye related to his diabetes.

 

Years like this one are enough to make me just want to raise up my hands in surrender. Surrender to the bully holding me down. During years like this one, I long to shout UNCLE! to the forces in the universe that threaten to undo me. I have grown tired of the fight. Tired of reading of man’s depravity. I am unable to conceive of such hatred perpetrated against another human being. I have grown weary of the onslaught of medical crises. And my heart aches at each announcement of yet another natural disaster.

 

My heart cries out, Enough!

 

Maybe surrender is exactly what I need. Not surrender to the forces of evil that swirl and rage around me, flashing their jagged teeth poised to rip me asunder. Perhaps what I need most right now is to surrender to the creator God who is the force behind all that is good and pure and right in this world.

 

What might it look like if I opened my heart wide enough to consider that even amidst all the horror, God is still who he says he is – the God of love? Can I accept that even though horrors and tragedies surge unabated all around us, he is still enthroned over all the earth? What might it look like if amidst the firestorms of this year I would choose to look for the hand of God, still at work in his creation, still bringing new life where all had seemed hopeless?

 

 

I stand still before the mighty gorge. Quietly I observe all it has to teach me. The waters rage with great force tumbling over the solid granite slab. All is pounding. All is in motion. The water is relentless as it spills over the rock walls.

 

I catch my breath at the beauty and the majesty of the gorge. All I hear is the thunderous sound of the destructive water, powerful enough to move mountains and forever change landscapes.

 

Science teaches us that erosion continues in the gorge, not at the cataclysmic rate that was witnessed during the great ice ages, but at a slower pace that changes the landscape in less perceptible ways. Nevertheless, whether dramatic or imperceptible, forceful erosion is always a part of the experience of the gorge.

 

There is never a place of having fully arrived, where the gorge remains forever the same, forever placid, forever free of the forces that threaten to be its undoing.

 

At the gorge, the pounding of the relentless flow of water carries on undeterred.

 

And yet, even in the pounding flow of destructive forces, there are places of respite where new life can be found. Look closely. There settled in the cleft of the rock, new life does its own inexorable work of springing forth.

 

In our trials there comes a moment of surrender. Not the lifted hands that signal a giving up, but the lifted hands that declare, even in this, I will trust you, God. And in the surrender, we see new life.

 

In the atrocities of this year, I see new life when I observe the hand of love. I see the image of God alive in humanity in the kindness of strangers risking their lives to help and shield those fleeing a firestorm of bullets.

 

I see the face of God in those who give of their savings and their vacation to travel to help strangers rebuild their lives when disaster strikes.

 

I see the hand of God in those who log a ridiculous number of miles on foot or on the seat of their bikes to raise money to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, MS, and all types of cancers. There are warriors of love all around us, sheltering us, giving us much needed respite in the storms of life.

 

 

This is the place of new life. This is the place of hope.

 

And in this place, I am reminded that the promises of God still stand. Despite the evil all around, God is still love. Despite the chaos all around, God is still enthroned above the heavens.

 

And one day, he will make all things new.

 

Behold, I am doing a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

 

 

Traveling in the Fog

 

The year my daughter was born was one of the “traveling in the fog” seasons of my life. An extended period of time when I had to learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

 

For 18 months I had been watching and scanning two growing masses in my thyroid, praying that the medication would shrink them enough to remove the constant threat of cancer. Scans every 3 months, always preceded by prayers that the medication would work so that I would be healthy enough to care for my two young sons. It was a season of living one day at a time, in hope, believing in God’s faithfulness.

 

Then came the good news that one of the two masses had reduced in size and I was given the green light to have another baby. Deep exhale. Had I really been holding my breath for all those months? Moments of peace. Days filled with expectation, forgetting that potential threat still loomed.

 

Eight months pregnant, my belly swollen with the promise of new life, yet my heart and mind were once again swollen with the fear of disease and death.

 

The masses were growing again.

 

Lying in the hospital bed after the doctors had successfully removed my thyroid, missing my two sons and my 6-week old baby girl, my husband accepted a job that would relocate us from Florida to Connecticut. Six weeks post-partum, 2-days post thyroidectomy, I had less than 6 weeks to buy a house, sell a house, and move a family of five across 10 states.

 

That I thought my husband’s timing on the job change was less than desirable is an understatement! Major house moves require a major plan and I didn’t have any mental or emotional capacity to develop even an ill-conceived plan.

 

I was still living one day at a time.

 

Learning how to care for a new baby girl amidst the frenetic activity of 2 energetic boys who were always on the move. Learning how to relax and rejoice and live without the constant worry of cancer. Learning how to get out of a chair with a baby in my arms and a neck that had just been cut open. (Who knew we contracted our neck muscles so much every time we get out of a comfy chair?)

 

But when the moving trucks show up, we have no choice but to move forward, plan or no plan.

 

 

Little did I know when we moved to Connecticut that another fog season would soon be rolling in, this one longer and deeper than the first. Month after month, new medical crises would emerge, feeling like blow after mighty blow to my desire to protect and care for my family. During our brief 3 years in Connecticut, my 3 little children would suffer through 5 cases of Lyme disease and my middle son would be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

 

Fierce Mama Love cries out: Why can’t I keep my children safe? Regret cries out: Why did we ever come here? Fear cries out: How can I ever protect my children in this disease-ridden place?

 

The health struggles weren’t limited to my children. My in-laws came for a weekend visit in October of that year and stayed with us until Easter, because the day after their arrival, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer where the only treatment available for her was in New York.

 

 

These are the seasons when we long for a light to guide our steps and allow us to see where the road is taking us. What we want is a searchlight. The strong sure beam of a lighthouse lantern to illumine our way, warning us of danger, spotlighting the boulders in our path that would be sure to pull us under. What we want is a light that is bright enough to assure us that we will make it to the shoreline, safe and sound.

 

What God promises instead is a flashlight.

 

A little handheld beam that illumines exactly two steps in front of us.

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

 

Tucked in the middle of the longest chapter in scripture, a chapter that praises the beauty of God’s written word and his spoken words to us, the psalmist reveals exactly how much light we are given to guide our way.

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

 

How very much like God. The God who fed his children manna in the wilderness – exactly enough for just one day at a time – is the same God who asks us to live by faith, one day at a time.

 

How I long to see the entire journey before I decide to follow. I want to know how much it will cost me. When the pain from these hard seasons becomes too overwhelming, I want to curl up and escape it all. I want to know that I, and those I love, will be safe.

 

Instead, God asks, will you follow me, trusting that I won’t leave you but will guide you through the raging waters? Will you let me lead you to the place where your trust has no limits? Don’t you see that the safest place for you is right by my side. My love for you knows no limits, because it cost me everything.

 

The light he shines on our path is not enough to see our way through the entire journey, but when coupled with faith, it is enough for one day.

 

Enough grace.

 

Enough peace.

 

Enough hope.

 

Just for today.

 

 

 

Questions of Grief

 

Grief saunters in, uninvited, turning the warmth of summer’s heat cold with winter’s frost. Grief is the unwelcome companion of the death of a loved one.

 

Or the death of a friendship.

 

Or the death of a wish-dream.

 

Grief is stealthy, coming by night in the shadows, catching you off guard. It has a way of cracking wide open what has long remained hidden away, shrouded in armor, impenetrable.

 

Sometimes the loss itself is not the source of the greatest pain, but rather, what Grief allows to be dredged up from the depths of the spirit. It dredges up questions. Questions we would rather not face.

 

What will you do now that you have suffered this loss?

 

What is the meaning of Life?

 

What is the meaning of your one life?

 

These are good questions, all. The essential questions to ponder in a life worth living. But when they bubble up in our times of grief, we can have a tendency to approach them from a spirit of despair rather than a spirit of hope. The questions themselves seem to emerge from the dark shadows. Like the serpent’s whispers to Eve, Grief hisses question after round of questions at us.

 

Our enemy would have us lean into his whispers, giving into doubt and despair, twisting the good questions into sinister ones.

 

Does God really want the best for you?

 

Will God really provide for your every need?

 

Does God really love you?

 

There is a voice that shouts that because of death all is lost. That because of loss, all is hopeless. But there is another voice that declares, “Behold I make all things new!”

 

Even in the death that causes Grief to speak these questions, faith stands firmly on the side of life. Even in death, there is always the opportunity for new life. Even in great loss, God’s promise to provide for us stands firm. Even in despair, the words of scripture that promise that God is for us are unshakable.

 

The invitation woven throughout scripture’s delicate unfolding of the nature of God, is the challenge to live by faith. Even in the midst of loss and death and decay. The invitation is to turn from despair, believing that the answers to all of these hard questions are yes and amen.

 

The great epic of God’s revelation to man draws near its close with a well-known chapter on faith. In it we read of those who chose to live by faith, despite uncertainty, loss, death, and decay.

 

By faith, Abel…By faith, Enoch…By faith, Noah…By faith, Abraham…By faith, Sarah…By faith, Isaac…By faith, Jacob…By faith, Joseph…By faith, Moses’ parents…By faith, Moses…By faith, Rahab…

 

Do I have the courage and the faith to add my name to that illustrious group of forebears of the faith? Will I today, amidst all the longings of my heart, the pain of loss, and the unanswered questions, will I respond in faith, believing in the God who does all things well?

 

It is right, and good, that Grief demands answers to his questions. Our challenge is to know the voice of the one who asks us these questions. Is it the hissing whisper of the enemy or the gentle and loving voice of God who always beckons us to draw near?

 

 

 

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