Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Red Baron {A Poem}

Zooming, diving, soaring, sweeping—
Your squadron of biplane bombardiers
Dazzles with the virtuosity
Of your aerial maneuvers,
Shooting down our common enemy
On the wing.

Today you stopped at my airstrip.
Awaiting new orders?
Marveling at your gossamer wings,
Scarlet fuselage,
Delicate landing gear,
I wondered at the battle-tested God
Who does not send mosquitoes
Without also dragonflies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rose from Brier

Thou hast not that, My child, but thou hast Me;
And am not I alone enough for thee?
I know it all, know how thy heart was set
Upon this joy which is not given yet.

And well I know how through the wistful days
Thou walkest all the dear familiar ways
As unregarded as a breath of air;
But there in love and longing, always there.

I know it all; but from thy brier shall blow
A rose for others. If it were not so
I would have told thee.  Come, then, say to Me:
My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.

The above poem grew from the pen of missionary Amy Carmichael, who served southern India in the first half of the twentieth century. She bravely put herself at risk to rescue children from enslavement as prostitutes in Hindu temples there, providing them refuge in a children's home and hospital at Dohnavur Fellowship. Elisabeth Elliot told her story in A Chance to Die, and Bishop Frank Houghton in Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. The rescued children called her Amma, like our "Mama," and so shall I for the rest of this post.

I first made her acquaintance in a Focus on the Family cassette tape (the way we listened to recorded music and speech before CDs, which came before MP3s) my mother gave me during my high school years. I wore out the tape of that message, given by Elisabeth Elliot to Wheaton College students. In it, she recited Amma's poem "Hast Thou No Scar?" from her little volume Toward Jerusalem. That poem captured my imagination. I transcribed it, then memorized it, then went to The Mustard Seed, the Christian bookstore down the street, and gradually acquired a copy of everything they had by Elliot and what little they had by Carmichael. Later my collection grew until I had a copy (sometimes with extras to give away) of everything still in print by either lady.

Sadly for Amma, a fall in a dimly lit building rendered her an invalid in severe chronic pain for the last two decades of her life. For much of that time she was confined to her own room at Dohnavur. Happily for us, her limitations--like Paul's imprisonments in ancient times--meant that she continued her work through the written word. Most of the books she has left to us grew out of the pain that disabled her from more active forms of service.

Her poem "Rose from Brier" was first published in a book of the same name, a collection of letters "from the ill to the ill." In the essay which introduces the book, she wrote,
"reading them through I am troubled to find them so personal and sometimes so intimate. It is not that I think the personal or the intimate interesting or valuable, but that I did not know how to give the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted without giving something of my own soul also (p. 9).
Those words could apply, for me, to the blogging journey of the last 4 years (August 7) as well. So many times when some odd thing prompts me to review an older post, I'll be surprised at just how personal the words are, and how they take me back to that moment. Even in the writing process, the temptation often presses in to protect myself, to hide, not to let you in quite so far, but I know Amma is right. We rarely give and receive comfort without some foundation of friendship, and true friendship is impossible without vulnerability.

Later in the same essay, she ponders receiving a "fat parcel" of pamphlets for the sick and how they "took me nowhere."
This sounds most unmissionary; unhappily, it is true. It was not till some time later, and after several similar experiences, that it struck me perhaps the reason was because they were obviously written by the well to the ill, to do them good; and so they could only flutter past like ineffective butterflies. But I found that things written by those who were in pain themselves, or who had passed through pain to peace, like the touch of understanding in a dear human letter, did something that nothing except the words of our eternal Lord could ever do (11).
My own experience echoes hers, in that the most comforting words into my illness and pain have been those of others who have been there: Amy Carmichael herself, for one, Joni Eareckson Tada, and some "real life" friends who have been there or are there now. Elisabeth Elliot, though she didn't write out of illness and physical pain, has also spoken with authority and comfort into many of my suffering seasons, and I believe this is--in addition to the Scriptures from which she derives her ultimate authority--because she has known her own trials by fire, in the martyrdom of her first beloved husband, in the decision to go back to the jungles as a widow with a toddler daughter to take the gospel to his killers, in loss upon loss in her missionary service, and in the death by cancer of her second husband. She may not have known my particular species of brier, but she knows how thorny life can be and has found the Lord trustworthy in its midst. Her suffering enhanced the credibility of her counsel. When she used to open her radio program with the words, "You are loved with an everlasting love, and underneath are the everlasting arms," I was inclined to believe her because she had tried the One who made those promises and found Him faithful.

I haven't proven to have the courage, staying power, or impact of either Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot, but from the first posts here, this journey has comprised learning to "bless the boundaries" of my small life, to fight "through pain to peace" in the Lord even when the elusive desire of recovered health remains tantalizingly out of reach, and to trust Him to make a rose bloom for someone else out of my "brier" of pain, limitations, and disappointments. What Amma did not observe is how one rose blooming for others returns to the brier patch as a dozen, how in sharing God's comfort one's own comfort multiplies in the mysterious economy of the body of Christ. Thank you, Crumbles, for that. Thank you for sharing your own roses with me in your prayers, comments, and e-mails. God knows and will reward you for your kindnesses.

And so, as one who has received comfort in Christ, I offer a small bouquet of it to you all post by post. I pray that the Lord would scent this place with the fragrance of roses, that He would keep bringing those in the midst of their own brier patches here to smell His blossoms and share theirs with me, that He would keep bringing kingdom fruit from what's already been written and whatever He would allow and enable to be written in coming days.

Dear Crumble, maybe your "thou hast not that" has nothing to do with health or relief from chronic pain. Maybe there's some other disappointment or lack altogether which causes you to ache inside. For you I count on God's promise that "He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Cor. 1:4, HCSB). May He truly use this place to comfort those in any kind of affliction with the crumbs of comfort He has given me. May He give you courage to look for roses in your own brier patch.

Know this, friend:  pain never has the last word for those who are in Christ Jesus the Lord. Never. And a day is coming when all the briers will burst forth into bloom, when the God Himself will wipe away every tear from the eyes of His people, when even our scars will become as beautiful as the risen Lord's, to the glory of the triune God.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Come to the Feet of Jesus

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, HCSB

This butterfly we believe to be an Eastern Comma was taking a rest just outside our front door Saturday night as we left for supper. (S)he waited very patiently until I had captured the photo I wanted and then fluttered off.

Come to Jesus.
He promises rest. But far better than rest of body is rest of soul. It is wretched to be a slave, to groan, bleed, toil; but far worse to be Satan's bondman, dragging about an evil conscience and an aching heart. Rest from this cannot be had but by coming to Jesus. And, if we come, He will lighten every other load. Are you poor? Come, and He will make you rich forever. Are you sick? Come, and He will cure your worst disease [the very worst being those of the soul and spirit, even more than of the body]. Are you sad? Come, and He will wipe away your tears. Are you bereaved? Come, and He will be to you a brother in adversity, who changes not, and never dies. Is sin a burden? O then, come to Jesus and He will take it all away. Do you dread the day of death and judgment? Come, and that day will be the dawn of life and glory. O then, come.  --Newman Hall (1816-1902), Come to Jesus

Coming to Jesus, falling "At the Feet of Jesus" is where I have needed to start my days lately. So if you're looking for me today, look for me "in the shelter of my Savior’s embrace /Hidden safely in the refuge of His mercy and His Grace/And I Will Sing Hallelujah to the One who sets me free/And you will find me in the arms of Jesus" (Steven Curtis Chapman, "At the Feet of Jesus," The Glorious Unfolding). Perhaps another Crumble needs to hide in His refuge too?

At the feet of Jesus I will lay my burdens down
I will lay my heavy burdens down
In the stillness I can hear my Savior calling out
Come to me and lay your burdens down

So I will lay down my struggles
I will lay down my shame
All the fear I drag around through this life
like a ball and chain
(All my questions and confusion)
I will sing Hallelujah to the One who sets me free
And you will find me at the feet of Jesus

In the arms of Jesus I will find my peace and rest
I hear him calling come to me and rest
Carried by my shepherd cradled tightly to His chest
There and there alone my soul finds rest

So I will rest in the shelter of my Savior’s embrace
Hidden safely in the refuge of His mercy and His Grace
And I Will Sing Hallelujah to the One who sets me free
And you will find me in the arms of Jesus

At the feet of my Savior
At the feet of my King
I will bow down and worship
I will lift my voice and sing
Hallelujah Hallelujah to the One who sets me free

You will find me at the feet of Jesus

~lyrics from Steven Curtis Chapman's website

May you have a truly restful weekend, my Crumble friends.

{To view the video on the Web, please access this blog post at the crumbs site.}

Monday, June 30, 2014

For Those Who Take Refuge in God

Yahweh is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.
Nahum 1:7, NASB

Every word of God is tested;
He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.
Proverbs 30:5

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June at the Pond

Sharing a bit of my #spiritualwhitespace moments with the community at Bonnie's:
Faith Barista

To be honest, here's the darker side of the pond right now as the city works hard at improving it:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I Wait for You

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
Isaiah 30:18, ESV

Ebony and I are creatures of habit. We like the routines and rhythms of a day at home without appointments. (Amore craves more variety, except first thing in the morning.) The first expectation of every day--well, after Amore hits snooze on the alarm clock at least once--is that he opens the door of Ebony's crate. Ebony shoots off like a rocket down the hall, Kong in his mouth, because the Kong usually still contains the bedtime cookie from the night before. By the time we slow and decrepit humans get to the coffee pot, Ebony is sitting on the love seat drooling, tail thumping like the drum in a military band. When we sandwich him there, hot beverages in our hands, he either drops the Kong in our laps or throws it at us, (depending on the value he has assigned to the kind of cookie inside). This is his way of asking us for help in extracting said cookie, which sometimes is easier said than done, especially before our first cup of coffee.

Some days since my shoulder surgery have been different. While the bones heal on the right side, I must sleep on my left side. Many nights my body protests this at some point and I move to the reclining love seat in the living room, currently my only alternative for pain-free sleep. On those mornings, Allen hits snooze back in the bedroom. When his feet hit the floor, he opens Ebony's crate. Ebony flies down the hall, with or without the Kong, and takes a flying leap from halfway across the living room into my lap. On these days I awake to a jolt followed by a flurry of kisses, tail wags, and possibly a Kong thrown at my face.

Ebony has a very keen nose and ears and typically is so attuned to my whereabouts that we could accurately have named him Shadow. If he weren't crated, he would probably follow me into the living room on my uncomfortable nights, just as his predecessor Steinway did. (Steinway was not crate-trained. We tried once, and he growled something about did we feel lucky and to make his day.)

This Monday morning I had relocated to the recliner at 2:30 am and settled back into a sound sleep. I didn't hear the coffee or tea maker through my ear plugs but awakened to a sense of movement and the light coming on in the adjacent kitchen. Amore trudged past the table and made his way to the coffee.

What? No flying Labradoxie tackle? No Kong in my lap? I asked Amore where Ebony was. Had he forgotten to open his crate?

No, it was open. Ebony, he said, thought I was still asleep in the bedroom and had settled in there to wait for me.

Didn't he tell him I wasn't there?

Yes, but he didn't believe him. I'd have to go show him myself.

Drawing on the ninja skills apparently acquired during the night, I tiptoed walked as quietly as I could down the hall and peered into the room. Ebony had stretched out in the prettiest "down" you could want to see, his face towards my side of the bed with his Labrador ears aimed like satellite dishes at the pile of pillows he thought was me. His Kong lay on the floor beside him, cast aside in his preoccupation with the bed. Clearly, he was not going anywhere without his mama, and he'd wait as long as it took.

"Ebony," I said, "I'm back here, sweetie."

He bounced up and pivoted to face me, all in one springloaded motion. His tail started wagging and he bounded toward me, stopped, turned back for his Kong, and raced past me down the hall to resume our usual routine.

In the moment, I laughed at his misunderstanding and smiled broadly at how loved and cherished it made me feel. Where "Special Agent Hoover" is concerned, there will be no man left behind, especially not me. As I've pondered the memory in my heart for a day or two, though, I've asked the Lord if He had something more He wanted me to learn from this.

If Ebony in this experience were analogous to me, and I were analogous to my heavenly Master (which, granted, demands tremendous suspension of disbelief), similar to the sheep-shepherd metaphor of the Scriptures, what might this teach me?

First, Ebony's dedicated expectation challenges me to keep hoping, keep waiting on God when I'm growing faint in my prayers and answers seem long in coming. In that morning, his routine didn't matter; his Kong didn't matter; a cozy nest on the love seat didn't matter. All that mattered was waiting on his master. Do I do that, or am I quick to give up and look for solutions and satisfaction elsewhere? Too often, the latter.

Second, Ebony's immediate specific hope (that I would get out of bed) was disappointed. He was waiting for the wrong thing, or for the right thing in the wrong place. In my case, what am I waiting and hoping for? Ultimately, the only hope certain not to disappoint is hope in God and in the Word and promises of God. Paul described this to Titus this way:
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
The "what," then, is the glorious appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, the consummation of all the promises of God. We are waiting for God Himself.

Where or how should I wait? The context of the above verse offers one answer to that question:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
When I yield to the grace of God's training, I learn "to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions." Grace teaches me, us, "to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age." The comely, appropriate, obedient way to wait for our Blessed Hope is to live increasingly in accordance with Christ's self-giving "to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." The grace that meets us as we are does not leave us as we are. Insofar as my life doesn't look like that, I am waiting for Christ's return in the wrong place, in the wrong way.

This is impossible in and of myself. Thanks be to God that I don't have to live in and of myself. Rather,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
He will enable even my waiting as I turn my face toward Him. He waits to be gracious to us. He exalts Himself to show mercy to us. Blessed are all who wait for Him.

Linking to my friends Laura and Bonnie this week:
Faith Barista

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Deeper Troubles, Louder Thanks, Indomitable Joy

"The deeper our troubles, the louder our thanks to God,
who has led us through all, and preserved us until now.
Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise,
we reckon them to be the bass part of our life's song,
'He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad'"
(Spurgeon, Morning, June 9, Morning and Evening).

"What the world needs from you is your indomitable joy in the midst of suffering and sorrow"

Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness in things hard and happy,
for wise, challenging words,
for progress and pain both in my shoulder healing,
for a clean house without my labor,
for a meal and a lovely visit from my Bible study leader,
for hearing the word "benign" from my dermatologist's nurse on the phone,
for strength to drive myself to my first two appointments this week,
for husband strong and healthy enough to commute by bicycle twice this week,
for freezer meals to heat and eat,
for week 2 of the Siesta Summer Bible Study underway,
for the blessing of faithful custodians of my stories, especially the messy ones,
for leaders brave enough to be vulnerable,
for a verbal job offer for a friend after months of waiting,
for Your glorious, wondrous work in a family's storm,
for the Thessalonians' resounding example through the centuries of "receiving the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6, ESV).
(2014 gratitude journal #1561-1575)

linking with Laura's Playdates community and Bonnie's Spiritual Whitespace pilgrims