This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: god’s love (page 1 of 3)

Ashes and Chocolate

 

Chocolate and ash. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. An odd pairing, isn’t it? Inconvenient, actually. How do I celebrate Love’s Big Day with all the expected pomp of a fancy dinner, fine wine, exquisite desserts, and of course, chocolate, when Valentine’s Day happens to fall this day on the Church’s Big Day of penitence and abstention, Ash Wednesday?

 

Could there be a way of celebrating both days at once, and in so doing enrich the meaning of each celebration? Perhaps the question I should ask myself this Ash Wednesday is not so much, “What should I give up?” as “Who can I love in your name, Lord?”

 

I have explored these thoughts in a new piece I wrote for ESA, an organization that thrives in partnership with Eastern University, not as a typical “think” tank, but as a “do” tank whose purpose is to mobilize movements for constructive social change. I hope you’ll give it a read right here, and consider joining me on a 40-day dare to put love into action!

His Eye is on My Sparrow

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I crossed a threshold in my life as a mother a few weeks ago. It was a moment filled at once with expectation at the adventure that lies ahead, and sorrow over what is understandably lost.

 

The moment came as I made the long journey from Philadelphia to Raleigh, NC to launch my first-born into “real life.” Like the signs that warn of “Severe Tire Damage” if you attempt to reverse out of the direction in which you are traveling, there is no backing out now. The bird has left the nest, and there will be no flying back in.

 

I often hear people say at this stage of life, “I can’t believe how fast it went!” I honestly can’t say that it went fast. None of it went fast. I took it slow, and so, for me, it all went slow, real slow.

 

Long moments with the unborn baby inside, pondering the mystery of the life growing within me. Daily walks in the park, rain or shine, with the baby in the pram, nestled warm and dry. Frequent visits to the firehouse or the library, hand in hand with the boy as he skipped up and down the curb, as though we had all the time in the world to explore together. Endless hours pitching baseballs, kicking soccer balls, and swimming in the pool together, because (did I mention it?) the boy has boundless energy.

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There were countless trips to the pediatrician for the chronic ear infections, the runny noses, the surgery and the stiches. There were hours upon hours of bedtime stories and homework help and lingering conversations around the dinner table. There were sports practices and games, baseball and soccer tournaments near and far. There was laughter. There were tears. There were late-night snacks for two that inevitably gave way to the best and most important talks between a mother and her dearly loved son.

 

It didn’t go fast; it went full.

 

It went full throttle and I didn’t miss a thing. And I am so very grateful.

 

But now, as I stand with my nest a little less full than I would like, a heaviness descends upon my heart. It’s not just the heaviness of a heart that aches for my precious one to be with me still. It is also the heaviness of uncertainty. Have I taught him everything he needs to know? How will he be guided in life’s major decisions? Who will take my place and love and care for my son?

 

fullsizerender-2And God speaks to me, reminding me that His promises in scripture apply not just to me, but also to my precious son. If His eye is on the sparrow, then certainly His eye is on my son and He will care for him. He reminds me that His love for my son far surpasses my own love for him. He reminds me that my son is first and foremost His son, and that it was God after all who entrusted him to my care 22 years ago.

 

He reminds me that He has a wondrous plan for my child. “For I know the plans I have for your child,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future.” He has a plan for my child, as surely as He has a plan for me, and I can rest in that assurance.

 

He reminds me how much He loves and cares for my son and that each and every promise I find in scripture applies not just to me but to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. In confidence I can lean on God’s words from Isaiah 43:

 

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed your son.

    I’ve called his name. He is mine.

When he’s in over his head, I’ll be there with him.

    When he’s in rough waters, he will not go down.

When he’s between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, his personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, his Savior.

I paid a huge price for him:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much he means to me!

    That’s how much I love him!

I’d sell off the whole world to get him back,

    trade the creation just for him.

 

I look around me and take one final inventory of the room that has now become my son’s bedroom in his new home. We accomplished much in 24 short hours. I blow out the candle and place my love letter to him on his pillow. I shut out the light and gently close the door. My work here is done.

 

The invitation is the same as it ever was. To choose trust over worry. To believe that God’s love never fails. To rest in the unfailing arms of the One who has His eye on my sparrow.

 

 

Being the Beloved

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I have been a bit grumbly lately. Well, more than a bit, if truth be told. A lot grumbly.

 

Tired. Stressed. Worried. Dare I whisper it, afraid.

 

I keep reminding myself that I’m living in a season of major transition, so my emotional responses are normal. They are to be expected, right?

 

Yet, in the quiet moments of honest reflection, I admit I’m not so sure I really believe that.

 

In the quiet moments of prayer, when I cry out to God to meet my needs and I fail to discover his presence or his peace, it doesn’t take my mind long to go to the place of doubting that God is even listening at all. Are You There God? It’s Me, Bonnie is the snappy title that comes to mind to describe what I’m feeling.

 

I am in a season of enormous transition; that is for sure. My oldest son has recently graduated from college and has just accepted a position that will take him far, far away from his mama. I posted a photo on facebook today of the final “first day of school” that I will experience with my youngest daughter, or any of my children, for that matter. My precious dog just underwent surgery to remove her spleen and the mass that was growing inside it. And I have just started a new job.

 

And that was just this week.

 

There’s an emotional sterility in the words “my dog had surgery” or “my son’s job will take him far away from home.” Missing from statements like these are the accounts of heartache and confusion and anguish that have accompanied each of these situations over the past few months. Missing are the log-sheet of hours spent consulting with the vet or brainstorming with my son or lying awake at night as sleep eludes me or praying on my knees for resolution.

 

I know you get it. We all experience times when so much disruption is thrown at us at once img_4504that it knocks the breath out of us, like one mighty ocean wave after another.

 

These are the times when it is far too easy to grumble. It is too easy to whine, to fret the small stuff and fear the future, and at times, even sink into feelings of hopelessness. These are the times when the negative thoughts begin and if we’re not careful, we convince ourselves that everyone else has it so much better, or easier, or sweeter than we do.

 

These are the times when worry turns into grumbling.

 

Yesterday, waiting for my very-delayed train to arrive in the station, a beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen was waiting for me in my in-box.

 

“If you know you are the Beloved, you can live with an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure without losing your identity. Because your identity is that you are the Beloved…the question becomes “Can I live a life of faith in the world and trust that it will bear fruit?’”

 

I know these words well. That is to say, my copy of Nouwen’s work Life of the Beloved is underlined and dog-eared and highlighted in the many places where his words have deeply moved me to a new understanding of the truth of God’s love for me. But sometimes this forgetful soul needs to be reminded of even the most beautiful truth, or see it from another angle to learn something fresh from it.

 

As I read those words on the train platform, this profound question welled up inside me and struck me full in the face: do I really believe that I am The Beloved? Because if I really believed deep down in my core, each and every day of my life, that I was God’s Beloved, would I really get so worried about all these things? Would I really allow all this disruption to have such a hold over me?

 

It strikes me that what lies at the heart of worry is my disbelief that God really loves me enough to make a difference in the turmoil of my life. It is a disbelief that he is all I need, that he will supply all my needs. It is essentially a disbelief in the entire catalogue of God’s promises to me, his Beloved.

 

And I realize that at the heart of all of my grumbling about what I don’t have and what’s inconveniencing me and making me anxious is really the fact that in that moment, I want those other things more than I want God. God’s word for that is an ugly one, but here it is – idolatry. The very word makes me recoil, yet I know I have to look it full in the face if I want to understand the battle raging in my heart.

 

It’s not very pretty, is it? Disbelief and idolatry. So much for being a follower of Christ, saved by grace and growing in faith!

 

img_4505But if I want to move beyond this stuck place in which I find myself, I have to understand what is happening inside my heart and mind. And I discovered, the only way to move beyond the stuck place is to confess all the mess to God.

 

Confession isn’t always the easiest thing to do. I think we often approach confession with fear and trepidation, wondering if God will strike us dead if we admit to something he already knows about anyway. Odd, isn’t it?

 

I didn’t grow up with a liturgical church background, reciting designated prayers for things like confession. More often than not, I find myself fumbling with the words, uttering lots of “I’m sorry’s” and “please forgive me’s” and still feeling like I haven’t quite moved to a place of restored relationship with God. But yesterday, sitting on the train platform, it was the words of the Confession, which I have only recently learned, that came immediately to mind.

 

I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…

 

In the silence that followed, I brought substance to those three words: thought, word, and deed, bringing to mind fresh examples from the past few days and weeks of how my thoughts, words, and deeds had been offensive to a holy God.

 

By what I have done, and by what I have left undone…

 

The words are simple, and because I know them so well, they could fade into the background and stand instead as the framework on which to structure my thoughts and my confession. What might God have done through me if I hadn’t been so self-focused?

 

I have not loved you with my whole heart.

 

And there it is, the deep, ugly heart of the matter.

 

Disbelief and Idolatry.

 

These are the two real issues I had been grappling with amidst all the disruption in my life. It took some time sitting with my thoughts, identifying and confessing these false heart and mind attitudes. (It was a good thing the train was so late!) Confession paved the way for me to choose to believe that I am God’s Beloved and in response, to choose to put him above all else. Confession paved the way for me to choose to trust that God is still at work in my life even amidst the turmoil and uncertainty. Confession restored my soul.

 

Confession, as it turned out, was what I needed all along.

 

 

 

 

In the Presence of My Enemies

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

And so begins one of the most well known passages of scripture. It is one of the first chapters in the Bible that I memorized as a child. The image of God as my shepherd is as comforting to me now as it was when I first came to understand Him as the Good Shepherd.

 

He is the One who gives us rest when we are weary, guidance when we are lost, discipline when we go our own way, and abundant blessings even when we don’t deserve them. He is the One who gives out of the overflow of His great love for us.

 

It is one of my favorite chapters of scripture.

 

And yet, I have always puzzled over the meaning and placement of verse 5.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You have anointed my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

 

This psalm is sensorially rich. We smell the new grass upon which we lie down. We hear the soft babble of the quiet waters. We see the path laid out before us. We feel our shaking body as it trembles in fear as we traverse the dark valley.

 

DSC_0441The sensory build up continues until it reaches its crescendo in verse 5 when we finally arrive at the feasting table. I envision a lavish table laid before me, spread with an intricately woven cloth whose golden threads glisten in the candlelight. The delicate crystal goblets tinkle as I gently touch them. The vessels of pure and polished silver gleam. I can see my Master’s face reflected back at me.

 

The food is piled high on each platter. Memories of pleasure and plenty are awakened as rich scents waft up before me. Savory meats. Succulent fruits. Delicate sweets. The table stretches on and on. It is a feast prepared for me by my Lord. I taste a thousand and one exquisite delicacies that are mine to enjoy, blessings from the hand of my loving Father.

 

And then, I see them. Right there, just off to the side, but ever watchful, they are there.

 

My enemies.

 

“What? Who let them in? What in the world are they doing here?” My mind reels and my stomach turns at the sight.

 

This is a moment for my Lord and me. A moment to savor. A time for rejoicing together, to delight in one another. It was meant for us to share; not for them to interrupt. I know it was; I saw His face reflected back at me in the silver.

 

And yet, there it is – the enemy alongside the sweetest times with the Lord. Or said the other way round, the sweetest times of fellowship with the Lord often come when we’re in the midst of the thickest spiritual battles.

 

A few years ago, during a particularly difficult time in the life of my family, I experienced occasions when I felt the presence of the enemy just that close to me. His hot breath on my neck, dagger drawn, ready to pounce. It was also a time of intense ministry work – finishing writing my book, preparing live talks for the Bible study, and also leading the study. Always, I knew that I had to keep my eyes on my Master’s face. It was the only way to walk through that season of anguish, the valley of the shadow of death, without succumbing to the taunts of the enemy.

 

And what did my Master so lovingly do as I gazed on His face?

 

He prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

 

He prepared that beautiful feasting table of fellowship for me right there in the midst of the firestorm. His voice was so clear. His peace was so sweet. His love was so real.

 

And now that the season of intense spiritual battle has lifted, I long for the table. Oh how I desire to linger at the banqueting table, even if it must come in the presence of my enemies. It’s harder to see the table when the stench of the enemy and the pressures of life are not as prominent. The presence of my enemies forces me to seek out my Master’s face and it is then that He blesses me with the feasting table He has prepared for me.

 

 

Jehovah-rapha, my God who heals

Psalm 16:6 “I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”

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God reveals himself by many names in scripture. Each strange, foreign-sounding Hebrew name reveals to us something of his nature, so that we can know him better. I have known him by many names that show him to be sovereign, master, teacher, and all-mighty. Now I know Him as Jehovah-rapha, the God who heals. Jehovah-rapha has healed my son.

 

He was 17 years old that day when he came home from school exhausted and went straight to bed. When he awoke, he was no longer the same. My vibrant, full of life son with the twinkle in his eye and the laughter in his spirit would not return to me for almost 2 years.

 
IMG_2416After weeks of languishing with fatigue and other symptoms, he was diagnosed with POTS – postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a disease of the autonomic nervous system that prevented his blood from traveling against gravity back up to his heart and his brain. It affected everything from his ability to focus, to his ability to fall asleep or wake up and feel alert, to his internal thermostat, to his digestion, and required a cocktail of 7 different medications, as well as a strictly controlled diet of salt and liquid intake. Exercise was a key part of the wellness protocol, even though those living with POTS struggle even to get out of bed, let alone exercise.

 

Did I happen to mention that he also lives with type 1 diabetes?

 

About a month after his POTS diagnosis, I came across this passage from Ezekiel in the course of my Bible reading:

Ezekiel 37:1-6 “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”

 

I knew the passage, and the promise of restoration that it has meant to the people of Israel at the time of its first writing and at various times throughout their history. I remembered that it was the scripture that the Jewish remnant had read at the Masada in 73AD when they took their own lives so the Romans would not be able to slaughter or enslave them.

 

But on this day, the words rang loud in my ears with a different sort of promise. A promise of healing in this life, not just in resurrection life.

 

I remembered that a friend of mine who is in the medical field had told me that the autonomic nervous system affected “just about everything that wasn’t the bones,” so when I read this passage about bones coming back to life because everything surrounding the bones had been restored, it caught my attention!

 

“Is this a word from you, God? Is this You speaking directly to me about my son through the pages of your scripture? Are You telling me he will be healed?” These were the questions that raced through my mind that cold December morning.

 

Over the following days and weeks as I prayed about what this might mean, God seemed to confirm to my spirit that yes, He would heal my son. I didn’t know when. Would it be in a year? In 5 years? During my lifetime? I didn’t know. Would my son be able to finish the school year? Would he be able to go to college? I had no answers to those questions either. But God seemed to be assuring me to trust Him in this.

 

unnamed-2And so I trusted. And I cared for my son as I waited and watched. And I cried when he couldn’t get out of bed. And I fought for understanding and for academic accomodations at his school. And my godly friends supported me when I could stand no longer.

 

And slowly, he began to heal. Yet, every baby step forward seemed to be followed by a giant step backward. Like the concussion he sustained just when he was getting back on a good academic footing. Or breaking his wrist, just as he was able to find the energy for greater athletic pursuits. Or eventually needing surgery on his wrist, resulting in many weeks of missed exercise and the fear of a return of symptoms.

 

In the fullness of time, God did heal my son. I don’t know why He chose in this situation to break through the veil separating heaven from earth and do the miraculous in the life of someone in such need of a touch from Him. Why did He heal this time and yet so many times it seems our prayers for healing fall on deaf ears?

 

We are taught to pray in faith for God to do big things, and yet we temper our prayers with small expectations, knowing that we deserve nothing from Him. This blessing of healing was not deserved, it was a gift of grace, a manifestation of the undeserved favor of God resting on us. But, whether God chose to heal my son or not bears no reflection on His love for me. Or for my son. That was settled once and for all on Calvary.

 

This healing was all grace. Pure grace.

 

And my heart sings with praise for Jehovah-rapha who has dealt bountifully with me.

 

 

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