Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"The Lord Needs It"

As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying that colt?"  They replied, "The Lord needs it" (Luke 19:33-34, NET).

            For me the most phenomenal part of the Palm Sunday story of Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem is not the procession itself, nor the crowds’ “Hosanna” shout; not the throngs casting their robes at His feet, nor the palm-waving benedictions.  All that is splendid, to be sure, but I am most amazed and humbled by this little bit about the donkey.
            Imagine with me, if you will, walking out of your house early on Monday morning.  It’s not yet time to leave for work, but you thought you heard something unusual, so you go out to take a look.  Lo and behold, you see two men in your driveway hot-wiring your new pick-up truck, the one you bought to haul the equipment and supplies for your lawncare business!
            “Hey!  What do you think you’re doing??!!  Why are you taking my truck?” you demand.
            With calmness surprising for thugs, they reply, “The Master needs it.”
            The Master needs it?  Oh well, in THAT case. . .  “NO need to go to all that trouble.  Hold on a minute, and I’ll bring you the keys and my gas card.”
            Astonishing, isn’t it? But that’s comparable to what took place at the edge of Jerusalem that day.  Which is the greater miracle, that an unbroken donkey submitted to its Creator to be ridden through a noisy crowd, or that these owners – like all of us, not without their own donkeylike tendencies – consented immediately and without further ado?  “The Lord needs it,” was the only explanation they required.
            What about me, about you?  Do we have this simple trust?  Often in my past the Lord has revealed something or someone I was clutching to myself, afraid to let go even after I had sensed His hand taking it away.   May the Lord search our hearts – yours and mine:  is there some area of life right at this moment where we have heard His, “The Lord needs this,” but have not yielded?  Has He given us a cue to entrust this dear person, position, dream, treasure, ideal, or maybe even my own health to Him for now, but with no further explanation?  Am I futilely resisting His touch on some tender spot in my life, fearful of the consequence of yielding all to Him who gave it?
            If so, let us find both encouragement and challenge in the example of this colt’s owners.  The safest, best place for our beloved is in the Lord’s possession.  We are not told whether the colt was ever returned to the owners, but even if not, its giving constituted their role in the purposes of God and fulfillment of prophecy.  God had a greater plan for this precious animal than simply their beast of burden; might it not be so with whatever I am grasping so tightly?
            Indeed, we have His firm assurance in many places and no uncertain terms that His plans for us and ours far exceed even our wildest imaginings; that His purposes are better than anything that has ever entered our heads and hearts; that He plans to give us a future and a hope, free of pain and full of glory someday.
            May we believe Him and prove the truth of these promises for ourselves by yielding quickly wherever we may hear, “The Lord needs this.”

To read more contributions to the roundtable Ann Voskamp hosts on The Spiritual Practice of Easter, click below:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Memorial Stones: A Poem

   When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant  ahead of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season.  But as soon as the priests carrying the ark reached the Jordan, their feet touched the water at its edge 16 and the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up [in] a mass that extended as far as  Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing downstream into the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 The priests carrying the ark of the LORD's covenant stood firmly on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan,  while all Israel crossed on dry ground until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

   After the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan,  the LORD spoke to Joshua, 2 "Choose 12 men from the people, one man for each tribe,  3 and command them, 'Take 12 stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests' feet are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night.' "
    4 So Joshua summoned the 12 men selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go across to the ark of the LORD your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each  of the Israelite tribes, 6 so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean to you?  ' 7 you should tell them, 'The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD's covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan's waters were cut off.' Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites."
-Joshua 3:14-17;4:1-7, HCSB

When Yahweh parts the flood and a nation walks through on dry ground,
    nothing wet but the priests' feet,
When granola bars and sardines become a feast with 12 doggy bags,
When stone and slingshot slay a giant,
I heap up words like river boulders,
memorials of God's mighty hand and outstretched arm.
His love endures forever.

I heap up words to remember,
Lest, not remembering, I forget
And, forgetting, drift
Back to slavery of burdened unbelief.

When God's people are the giants put to flight by a few,
When the handful of flour and bit of oil run out, yet famine does not lift,
When the waves swamp the boat and still He sleeps,
Those heaped-up words like river boulders,
memorials of God's mighty hand and outstretched arm,
they remind me:
His love endures forever.

This is why I write, why I journal, why I keep listing God's gracious gifts.  These are my stones of witness.  Thanks be to God for
~His faithfulness to His promises
~So many stories, from Scripture and since then, testifying that He can be counted on
~Yesterday's God is the same today and will still be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
~The right words at the right time (both given and received)
~The real God hearing and answering the prayers of His people. When "all I can do is pray," that is not second best or doing nothing because God is who He says He is.
~The Lord WITH us, with me and with my loved ones in their afflictions, "a helper who is always found in times of trouble"
~One hundredth post on Friday
~Birthday cake
~A new butterfly in the garden

(From the gratitude list, #4138-4147)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Twelve Years Ago. . .

Twelve years ago today, my favorite fella asked if he could ride with me the following night from seminary to book club.  Same point A to same point B. . . .  Sure, no problem.  That's what friends do.

Twelve years ago tomorrow, he drove my car to book club.  He insisted on buying me supper en route, "since it's your car and gasoline."  I suggested New York Subs.  He chose La Madeleine.  (Hmm, that's unexpected.)

After book club, he of course needed a ride to pick up his car at the home of his morning carpool.  When we had picked up his car, he felt like doing some coffee-house evangelism.  Did I want to come?  (Wait, didn't we just have book club at a coffee house?)

At the second coffee house, after he ordered his coffee and I ordered hot water for the tea bag in my purse, we adjourned to the patio, since the live music inside made evangelism and all other conversation impossible inside.  There he asked if I would be interested in moving on from friendship to courtship, and the whole evening made sense.

I replied that I couldn't think of a nicer honor, to which he replied, "What?"

"What, 'What?'"

"I mean, what did you say?  I'm not sure I heard you correctly the first time."

"I said, 'I couldn't think of a nicer honor.'"

"Oh, okay.  I guess next I need to talk to your dad."

"Well, they sent the mobile phone with me.  Should we just call them now?"  We did, to set up an in-person meeting the next day.  We talked a while longer, he took my hand for the first time and prayed with me for the first time.  Then he went home, and I went to my guest room for the night.  I didn't sleep much.

Twelve years ago Sunday, we celebrated his birthday together for the first time by having lunch with my parents, where he asked and received permission to court me.  He also received a tie I'd bought that morning.  He actually wore ties then, since one was required for seminary dress code.  That was rather a nice dress code.

Twelve years ago we began a journey that so far has taken us around the world and back.  We still enjoy coffee houses and La Madeleine.  We still laugh at our goofy selves on a regular basis.  More importantly, it is still my great honor to go out on his arm, whether to the doctor or a dinner date.  He has only grown in my esteem over this last year as he has gracefully learned a new level of sacrificial service, attentiveness, and loving me more than himself.

{Happy birthday, my love.  May this decade be the best yet.}

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

White Flag

A few weeks ago, the last Sunday I was not physically up to the challenge of church preparation and attendance, I worshiped along with the live webcast of Houston's First Baptist Church.  My closest friend from seminary attends there now, so I look for her at the meet-and-greet time, even though I think she worships with the evening crowd.  While this is by no means a substitute for flesh-and-blood community and accountability, it has been a great blessing to me in this season of narrower boundaries.

Another post has already responded to the day's solid sermon on John 8.  What lingers in my heart and devotions still, nearly a month later, is the incidental inclusion of a bit of sign language in the last hymn.  The pastor, Gregg Matte, shared that one of his seminary professors had been deeply involved in ministry to the hearing impaired and thus knew some American sign language.  This professor shared with his class the signs for the title and refrain of the hymn "I Surrender All."  Pastor Gregg proceeded to share the signs with his congregation and thus with me, participating online from home.  Because the gestures physically express the idea of surrender so well, because I am still using them in my devotions a month later, I pass them along to you.

(For all these, click on the highlighted term for a link to a video demonstration of the sign.)

The sign for "I" occurs a couple of ways, according to the online dictionary.  In the webcast, the pastor demonstrated the version in which the littlest finger of the right hand points upward from a closed fist, held against the chest.  This reminds me that I am smaller and less powerful than I might like to think, that the problem with "I" is that closed-fist grasping at the illusion of control, holding on to my will.  That acknowledgment, for me, is the start of surrender and letting go.

"Surrender" begins with both hands in closed fists (about waist-high) in front of the signer.  The fists open and lift toward the shoulders, as if to convey the cop-show cliche of dropping my weapons and coming out with my hands up.  In other words, my fists graphically represent my surrender.

Finally, "all" consists of one open hand making a single revolution around the other open hand.  It makes me think of another idiom, "the whole ball of wax."

I love that progression from close-fisted emphasis on myself towards openness and completion.  I love and daily need to surrender, to release my grip on God's business, to stop fighting against God for my own foolish way and to wave the white flag.  I need to love extending that surrender to all that concerns me.

Maybe all this simply reflects my Italian heritage.  Talking with my hands is my birthright that way.  At any rate, in the battle to replace grumbling with gratitude and fear with trust, I am finding these three simple signs a means of grace.  When I find my emotions and spirit clenching up in fear and grasping for control, in the better moments I remember surrender and pray with these signs, opening hands and wrapping up the specific trigger of worry in that "all."

The actions remind me also of a prayer I use often, sometimes daily, to recognize areas to surrender and work through entrusting those things and letting them go into God's wise, good, loving (but not tame) control:
Lord I am willing [sometimes just "willing to be made willing" and humbly asking God to do the making] to receive what You give, release what You take, lack what You withhold, do what You require and be what You desire. Amen (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 101, addition mine). 
In other words, "I Surrender All."

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant"  for a time that we might share the glories of righteousness with Him, in His name I lay down arms and raise the white flag of surrender.  Lord, grant us grace to let go of our own ways more quickly that we might receive the good things You desire to give us.  Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Worn Out

"Misseelone [i.e., Miss Leone], you wear me out!!!"  My freckle-faced student would punctuate these words with a tilt of her blond ponytail and a fist planted on her hip.  Usually the outrageous demand prompting such protest was something like following a spelling lesson with a math lesson, only a water-fountain break between.

Last week I felt the same way towards God when the week began Monday morning with unpleasant dental news involving a consultation with an oral surgeon later this month.  The ground lost to gratitude there, at the gates of the week, left me ill-equipped to deal with the other minor aches and pains popping up afterwards, the further frustration of smacking headlong into the reality that "improved pain control" does not mean "normal" or "no boundaries," and impatience to see answers to prayers for loved ones suffering more than I am.  Knowing how tiny my troubles are compared to those of the Japanese and Libyan people and others closer to home only adds guilt to the mix.

This week I have stumbled in practicing celebration.  I may have successfully practiced lament, depending on where the line falls between worshipping through lament as the Psalmists did and just plain whining.  I'm guessing I was on the whining side of the line..

Thankfully, the week ended better than it began, and today fresh mercies give me a fresh start to realize the words of George Mueller (quoted in John Piper's When I Don't Desire God):
When he was seventy-six, he wrote the same thing he had learned for fifty years:  "I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord" (119, emphasis mine).
This week, I give thanks to God (sometimes by faith) for
~dentists and my misbehaving tooth
~the rest of the medical professionals with whom I have frequent fellowship
~aches and pains, weaknesses and difficulties
~delayed answers to prayer
~unexpected encouragement from a bloggy friend
~time with my mom two days in a row
~guidance to quick resolution of a tech support problem way beyond my pay grade
~wisteria in bloom at the end of the lane
~tea in my favorite cup
~sister bringing back treats from her spring break trip
~a new Carolina chickadee guest at our feeder
~the perfect cliche-blue sky and cotton ball clouds today
~a neighbor boy offering to help the husband clean up all the branches thinned out of the live oak out front
~phrases from Ann's book calling me back to gratitude:
  "Life is not an emergency."
  "Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle."
  "God is always good, and I am always loved."
~fresh starts
(from the gratitude journal, #4079-93)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Lesson of the Loaves

    The apostles  gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while." For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, but many saw them leaving and recognized them. People ran there by land from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  So as He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things.
    When it was already late, His disciples approached Him and said, "This place is a wilderness, and it is already late! Send them away, so they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat."
    "You give them something to eat," He responded.
    They said to Him, "Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
    And He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look."
    When they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."
    Then He instructed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of pieces of bread and fish. Now those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men (Mark 6:30-44, HCSB).

Little over a dozen years ago, I sat in my first class, 601 Spiritual Life, of my first full-time semester of seminary.  Dr. Bill Lawrence, with abundant energy and clear enthusiasm for his subject and students, was a good way to begin. He told us over and over, "Repetition is the key to learning," and perhaps he was right.  Again today, as I read the account of the feeding of the 5,000, I heard his voice reminding us of what he called "the lesson of the loaves."

The first clause of the lesson describes the problem in the passage: more than 5,000 (if women and children were also present) hungry people in a remote wilderness, late in the day.  What does Jesus say?  He tells the apostles to feed this impossible multitude with five small loaves and two tiny fish.  In Dr. Lawrence's words, "You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have."

How many of us feel that way on an almost daily basis?  Whether the "must do" involves mothering, a difficult job, the lack of a job with financial pressures that continue on, health problems, or just the ordinary pressures of life, most of us understand this feeling of overwhelming demands and inadequate resources.  I certainly do. In the Scripture passage, though, it is Jesus who places the demand on the apostles, so in that instance, at least the impossibility was His will.

Thanks be to God that the lesson doesn't stop there!

The second clause provides the solution: "BUT He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus took His followers' inadequate resources, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute.  In His hands, they became not only a start, not only enough, but too much.  The great crowd ate until satisfied, and still 12 baskets of leftovers remained. "He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus' resources are adequate for the overwhelming demands of following Him and seeking to serve those He brings us.

This morning I was feeling like those disciples, the list of responsibilities, projects, paperwork, and prayer requests longer than the day ahead and greater than the strength in hand.  Reading Luke's account of this event in my daily portion reminded me of my teacher's words, and I found courage to bring the needs to Christ and take His strength, one basketful at a time.  It only felt right to pass the basket on to you.

Dear Crumbles, whatever your overwhelming need today, take heart:

"You must do
what you cannot do 
with what you do not have,
He will do through you
what He can do
with what He does have."

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11b-13, ESV).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Deep End

When I was six or seven or eight, my mother enrolled me in swim class at the big pool at the high school.  There had been other swim classes, but this was the year to learn real swimming, the grown-up strokes, the ones with exotic names like “freestyle,” “backstroke,” and “breaststroke.”  At the end of the class, we had the opportunity to earn a proficiency certificate from the American Red Cross, or so I remember.

The sensory imprint remains three decades later when I close my eyes: the clammy concrete floors, the air heavy with humidity and the acrid smell of chlorine and rubber swim caps, the enveloping grey not dispelled by the half-hearted fluorescent tubes.

Everything went well until the challenge to swim the length of the pool.  That started well enough, pushing off from the shallows, reaching and kicking in rhythm, twisting my head right to breathe as my arm swung forward.  With the help of the navy lane markers on the bottom of the pool, I even steered straight enough.

Then the color changed.  The light aqua water I stared down into suddenly deepened to turquoise.  I was entering the deep end.

I panicked, froze, flailed, reached for my teacher.  Was I tired? Out of breath? Did my muscles spasm?  No, no, and no.  I was simply scared of the deep end.

It was irrational, and even then I think I knew that.  I was no more able to stand in five feet of water than 10; however, I was no more able to unscare myself of that dark blue beneath, that letting go of the security of the shallow end.

My kind, no doubt also frustrated teacher let me try again and again until we ran out of classes.  I never did succeed at swimming the length of the pool.  I might have made it halfway up the stairs of the high dive.

These last nine months my Father has enrolled me in a different sort of swim class: clammy hands instead of concrete, surrounded by the sterile scents of stainless steel and rubbing alcohol, under the same fluorescent tubes.  I have been staring into the deep end of multiple chronic illnesses and often scared.

This time, though, there has been no chance for retreat to the safety of the shallows or the security of the side.  Maturity means moving past the middle to the depths, and maturity is where He intends to take me.  I have a daily choice: to hold onto my fears and tread water where I am or to hold onto my Companion-Teacher and swim forward together.

I am not good at letting go, but I must let go of the fear to take hold of Him.

Day by day, breath by breath, I’m practicing my grown-up strokes and pressing onward to the other side.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).

Monday, March 14, 2011


The Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land because the enemies are too many and powerful.  Complaining against Moses and Aaron, they plan to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt.

Moses and Aaron fall facedown (Numbers 14:1-6).

A Levite named Korah  incites the people to rebel against Moses and Aaron and God's revealed structure of priestly authority.  "The whole community is holy, not just you," he says.

Moses falls facedown (Numbers 16:1-4).

When the rebellion continues, the glory of the Lord appears, and He threatens to destroy the whole community.

Moses and Aaron fall facedown and ask God that the whole community not be destroyed for the sin of one man (Numbers 16:16-23). He grants their request.

Yet again the Israelites complain about their leaders, the glory of the Lord appears, and He threatens to destroy the whole lot of them.

Moses and Aaron fall facedown (Numbers 16:41-44).

And again the Israelites assemble in protest, quarreling with Moses about the scarcity of water and pleasant food.

"Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting. They fell down with their faces [to the ground], and the glory of the LORD appeared to them" (Numbers 20:6, HCSB).

So many repetitions in so few chapters have me thinking:  when faced with complaints, unjust criticism, imminent discipline, and fearsome enemies, how do I respond?  Do I clench my fists to fight or flee?  Or do I follow Moses' and Aaron's example and fall facedown before the living God, hands open to ask His mercy and receive what He deems best?

This week I have spent more of my prayer time facedown.  That feels like the right place for me to be.

While I'm there, I am thanking the Lord for
~The patience of God
~Scripture providing examples to follow and calls to transformation
~Freedom to offer our requests to God
~He truly hears and answers
~Strength and peace beyond what I could have asked for long medical appointment last week
~No sinus surgery needed at this time
~Gorgeous, windy week and opportunity to enjoy it long enough to snap photos
~Remembering to change our clocks forward
~Even the dog taking time to be still. Sometimes.
Ebony watching for squirrels
~Strong, healthy husband working in the yard on a Saturday
~In-laws supporting each other
~Loved ones' problems I can't solve but God can
~Access to good dental care
~Opportunity to trust God in dental hygiene appointment today {smile}
~Edifying, free reading material from Desiring God ministries
~Comfort of old book-friends (Anne's House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery)
~"Blue for the sky and the color green/That fills these fields with praise"
~The late Rich Mullins and his legacy of song
(Gratitude list #4096-4112)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Treasures at Hand

First strawberries

May our gracious Lord,
Giver of all good gifts,
Open our eyes this day
To hidden treasures as near
As our own neighborhood.

From top, strawberries in a hanging basket;
a neighbor's redbud,
a daffodil down the block,
a cheeky robin posing for the camera (first sighting of the year),
Bradford pears in bloom,
pear blossoms up close.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Anointing: A Poem

{from Luke 7:36-50}

                        Broken, Rabboni?
The brightness of this alabaster dream
Shattered into fragments at Your feet?
What preciousness deserves so great a price?
This is My body, crushed to give for you.

                        Emptied, too?
Not one sweet drop remaining for myself?
Bereft of fragrance brightening my days?
What gain can justify such costly waste?
This is My blood, poured out for your forgiveness.

                        Broken, emptied.
Shattered into fragments at His feet.
Not one drop spared, the fragrance fills the house.
The poverty of all my all is dust
Beneath Your feet, O worthy, precious Lord.
Your sins have been forgiven; go in peace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How Quickly I Forget (On Numbers)

How quickly I forget that the census numbers are only a small part of the Biblical book of Numbers.

How quickly I forget the many great, pivotal, true stories found there, even though the New Testament refers back to several of them.

How quickly I forget how quickly the Israelites forgot the miracle of the manna, wailing, "We're all gonna die!" whenever no water was in sight.

How quickly they forgot the Passover, the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire leading them through unknown territory.  They forgot and despaired that the conquest of the Promised Land was too hard, the people too numerous and powerful, their own strength too little.

How quickly I forget that seeds of complaint ripen into fruit of rebellion, a "no" heart towards God, and even idolatry; that complaining equates to rejecting and despising God (Numbers 11:20); that fear is disobedience and unbelief (Numbers 14:9-11; Hebrews 3:12-15).

How quickly I forget. . .

So I remember Truth by reading it again and again.  I remember God's goodness by slowing down to count His gifts.

Thank You, Lord, for
~Israel's example and God's glory recorded in Numbers
~Invitation to change my behavior in response to God's perspective on Israel's
~Yahweh's jealousy for my affections and trust
~His patience not to write me off because of complaints and fears
~Comic irony (yes, even in Scripture!) of the blind seer and the seeing donkey (Numbers 22-24)
~Curses turned to blessings (see item above)
~Disciplining Your children because You love us too much to leave us in our sins
~Daffodils, Bradford pears, and redbuds blooming out
~Gift of new poem after dry spell
~Celebrating sister's birthday
~Husband taking time off work to accompany me to the doctor downtown.  Again.  He is too good.
~Three consecutive nights of sound sleep
~New pain medicine improving costochondritis control
~Loving prayers undergirding me
~Practicing gratitude in community, week by week
(from the gratitude journal, #4040-4054)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hope-Full: A Poem

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13, HCSB).

Trust digs channels for hope
To flow from holy Source--
Spurting, splashing, splattering
Down, upon, into emptiness.

Thirsty vessel drinks,
Drop by drop,
Joy and peace--
Filling, fulness, flowing over open lip
Down, upon, into emptiness.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
   Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:5, NIV

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: A Lifetime of Wisdom, by Joni Eareckson Tada

The passage of time has a way of altering our perspective.  When sad and hurtful memories are the primary focus, pain deepens into bitterness and resentment; when blessings and God's grace in the midst of trials fill our hearts, time beautifies the one remembering.

Joni Eareckson Tada's four decades as a quadriplegic exemplify the latter possibility.  Every time I have heard her or watched her speak, the radiant peace and joy on her face attest to God's goodness and grace through trials I cannot fully grasp.

Joni's recent book, A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You (Zondervan, 2009), captures what she calls the rubies of wisdom gained over 40 years of severe physical disability and increasing chronic pain.  Each chapter presents a vignette from her early years of paralysis, followed by a longer account of the strength and comfort she has found for or through that particular struggle.  Almost unbelievably, she has arrived at a place where she can honestly thank the Lord for her wheelchair.

In recording what she would have liked her younger self to know, she offers comfort, hope, and encouragement to others facing chronic illness or disability.  The intensity of her own suffering lends authority and grace to her words to the suffering.  I also found the book humbling.  Her trials have far exceeded mine, but her response through the decades shines with nobility and courage I have lacked in relatively minor struggles of much shorter duration.

Two anecdotes particularly challenged and encouraged me.  Her dependence on others for physical needs such as bedtime and waking routines has often meant 12-hour nights alone in bed in the dark.  She understands the fear and loneliness of keeping company with pain in the night watches, but she has learned to practice Bible and hymn memorization during the day with her helpers so she has a place to hang her thoughts during those long periods of solitude and silence.  What a challenging but inspiring example!  The book also records a conversation with a Canadian missionary who also suffered long with chronic pain.  The missionary friend encouraged Joni from Psalm 10:17 that the inability to pray because of the distracting, concentration-breaking effects of pain is not in itself sin.  In such cases, she said, the Lord hears the afflicted one's desire to pray  as prayer.  This has not often been my experience, but it was at the time I first read that account, and I found the story and Scripture deeply comforting.

All in all, I heartily recommend this book to those seeking to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him fully in the midst of pain, weakness, and infirmity.  Joni's gentle wisdom and inspiring testimony offer hope that God truly heals souls even where He chooses not to heal bodies during this life.  It may also benefit caregivers as an aid to understanding the emotional and spiritual struggles their loved ones face.