Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy Summer!

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  Daniel 2:21

I walked into the office this afternoon to find a first grade boy wearing a paper headband and smiling. 

“Why are you wearing a headband?”  I asked.

“I was in a play!”  He said; his eyes swallowed up by his grin.

“What was your play about?” I asked with curiosity.

“It was about a king who had to decide what season was best!”

“What did he decide?”

“In the end, he decided that all seasons have their place in their time.”

This winter was ugly.  It did something piercing to my soul.  Precious plans were cancelled much to my disappointment.  Howling wind made my house shake.  My fireplace had to stay on far too long and it seemed to bring little comfort.  I found myself in the depths of seasonal depression sobbing on my floor. I still have haunting memories of eating disgusting leftovers out of my fridge on days where school was cancelled for days on end.

It was a season of saying unexpected goodbyes.  One close friend let me know of his resignation.  While I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, someone who’s been in my life for over a decade announced her retirement and another decided to move out of state.  All of this has left my head spinning, my heart heavy, and my eyes full of tears.

It was also a season of firsts.

Come on, who has ever heard of a polar vortex before now?  Suddenly, it’s become part of the meteorologist vernacular.

It’s the first time ever I’ve seriously wondered why in my 18 years living in my parent’s household they never thought of packing up our family and moving to someplace warm.  The Hills have been here for generations.  I don’t get it.

I also don’t get long range forecasts.  I studied them this winter like the Bible.  When was the sun coming?  On the first of Never.

Is winter really beautiful?  Do all seasons really have their place?

I started to feel a little better as Daylight Savings Time approached, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I began to really come alive.

My parents own a cabin in Nisswa, MN and I have great hopes that heaven will be something like it.  It’s on a little lake with the sweetest next door neighbors you’ve ever met.  It’s a quaint little cabin, nothing too fancy, but that in itself is an invitation to remember:

·         You really can put down your e-mail and work for a weekend and exchange it for a to-do list that includes napping and reading for fun.
·         There are days when time doesn’t matter except that it is 5:00 somewhere.
·         The best dinner is a burger on the grill and ice cream afterwards at The Chocolate Ox.
·         There’s more to hear in the background of your life than the grrr of a snowplow or your neighbor’s barking dogs:  you can go to sleep serenaded by the spring peepers and wake up to a chorus of birds.
·         Summertime and sunshine do exist.  Light can bathe your skin with warmth that fills you with hope—for once the Vitamin D pills can be left alone.  Your workout can take place outside.  Your body can sweat as it moves through the fresh air.
·         Family is precious.  Watching the next generation of little Hills spend the whole day in their swimming suits enchanted by the lake is a sight to behold: giggles at the feel of a flopping minnow in their hands, smiles spread wide across their faces while going for a boat ride with Grandpa, and bending down low off the dock to fill their buckets with enough water to make a sand castle. 
·         Evenings can be filled with bonfires and stories.  After the kids go to bed the adults can sit up and snack while playing cards.  We can crack jokes, make memories, and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Maybe the first grader I ran into today in the office was right.  Every season does have its place in its time.  I don’t like our winters.  But this one, as particularly painful as it was, made me grateful for the summer days that lie ahead.  Happy Summer everyone!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Presence Will Go With You and I Will Give You Rest

Last week I made mention of a scene in Exodus where Moses talked to God face to face like a man talks with his friend.  I’m so grateful that this very personal, human moment is included in the Bible.  It gives us a hopeful picture of the kind of close relationship we can have with God.  I’ve been reading forward a few verses this week:  Moses says some honest things to God; mostly that he’s finding himself leading people around in the wilderness and is in need of help.  God’s response to him is filled with two things I just love:

“My presence will go with you.”

“I will give you rest.”

I have to tell you, as a single woman who wrestles with fatigue, there’s really only two things I need to know most days:

·         I am not alone in life.

·         There’s a strong possibility of a nap in the near future.

I’ve also been thinking lately that perhaps His presence going with me is a truth that sometimes I appreciate more than the gift of His rest.

I’ve been training three days a week since early March for a5K.  I diligently stretch before and after each workout to prevent injury and soreness.  I’ve been taking the program twice as slow as prescribed.  I’ve steadily progressed forward each day; my body quietly whispering its “thank you” afterwards because my heart enjoys beating fast and my mind appreciates being cleared out. 

It’s also been a bit of a negotiated struggle.  I am face to face with my physical limitations as I move around the track and I must acknowledge and accommodate for them without letting them overtake me.  It’s a delicate dance: 1 step forward: “I can do this,” two steps back:  “My tight left hamstring is making this so hard.”  Even in the midst of this tricky tango I press on because amidst my stubborn determination and encouraging crowd of friends I also know God that is with me, bringing me His sustenance and breath.  He goes with me every step of the way. 

Then one morning, I woke up and found my right ankle was in pain.  I couldn’t recover just going about my daily life at its normal pace, so eventually I called my doctor.

Her prescription: Rest.

And so, for nearly the past two weeks; I haven’t been jogging.  I’ve been coming home and sitting on my couch, ankle elevated, ice wrapped around, ibuprofen in my tummy…waiting as my body heals. 

The first day this happened, I was in tears.  Why did I even try to do this!?  Why do I ever try to do anything!?  This was already a challenging goal and now this happened!!  I felt defeated and sad and contained.

Rest has an amazing ability to give us perspective.  As I sat on the couch this weekend I began to think about how spiritual life often mirrors this injury.  We can run hard and fast after good things, carefully doing everything “right” and suddenly find ourselves surprised by pain. It is in these moments that we must learn to stop and rest and wait and listen until it's time to go again; perhaps our pain is a signal to seek some help and make a few changes.  This kind of stopping interrupts your life and makes you change the order of things as you reflect and listen and gain perspective.  It's a discipline that doesn't come without cost, but may we be willing to pay the price!  And, what a better course we will continue on because of it!

When is the last time you stopped and pondered God’s overwhelming outpouring of love for you?  Have you sat still long enough lately to hear Him whisper?  Beth Moore said in a message that “Many of you have not experienced the tenderness of God because you have not let Him tend to you.  Tending takes time.”

So, this week if you find yourself in pain from all of your running, sit down, put your feet up.  Remember that the God who goes with you is also the One who gives you rest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Friendship of God

 “Who brought you to Jesus?”

A few weeks ago my pastor stood on stage as he posed this question.

I found myself in a reflective mood, scribbling notes on the back of my bulletin with my royal blue Sharpie.  The thing is…I have no dramatic salvation story.

There was no compelling sermon, alter call, or recitation of The Sinner’s Prayer.  Yes, I have wonderful parents who loved me, prayed for me, and brought me to church.  I had great Sunday school teachers who taught me the Word of God. 

But for me, that wasn’t how it happened.  In fact, I’ve never met the two songwriters who brought me to Jesus; I’ve just stared at their picture on the back of their songbook, thanked God for them, and imagined myself shaking their hands in heaven, grateful for the work they’ve done on earth.

I used to spend hours as a kid in my bedroom.  And, because I was a child of the ‘80s, I would lie in front of my cassette player and listen to music, Christian music, over and over again.  There was one cassette, “Wee Sing Bible Songs,” that had taken scripture and put it to music.  One of those verses was Revelation 3:20.  This song boldly spoke of Jesus, someone who was knocking at the door, wanting to come in. 

So, one day, I stood at the threshold of my bedroom door, looking out in the hallway, and simply said, “Jesus, you can come in.”  In that moment, I just wanted Jesus to be my friend, to come into my room and play with me along with my stuffed animals, my books, and my music; To jump on my bed, to know about my life, to listen to my prayers.

I think Moses must have experienced this type of relationship when he went into the Tent of Meeting and talked to God face to face, like a friend, using plain, honest language, just like I did standing at my door all those years ago.  My heart aches for the rest of the Hebrews who had to stand at their own tents outside, uninvited, longing for that kind of friendship as they worshiped God.

I don’t know how old I was the day I asked Jesus to come into my life to be my friend, but I do remember so many beautiful moments that came afterwards…all those nights when I would lie in bed at four, legs pinned in place, completely immobilized, entombed in a white body cast while I recovered from an operation which improved my gait.  I’d sing all those songs to Jesus from my tapes as I fell asleep.

I remember in first grade being so lonely and without friends, walking down the hallway at Pinewood Elementary, spilling my heart out without mouthing a word, and realizing in that moment, God’s comforting presence and ongoing desire to be my friend. 

As an adult too, on my first day of college as a doctoral student, I walked down the steps in my own home, nervous and scared, crying out to God like a kid, “I need you to hold my hand today!”  I shook all the way to St. Paul, but when I found the courage to get out of my car and walk into the door, I was immediately greeted by someone who recognized me from church, and was going to teach my first class.  Then I exhaled, so grateful that God was meeting me once again at the threshold of another door. 

There are moments though, when I haven’t wanted to open my door, and walk out into the world.  The anticipation of the people and situations I’m about to encounter seem overwhelming, and I’m not always sure that I have something to offer that’s of any value.  It’s in those scary moments that I hear His gentle whisper, “I’m right here Jenny, I’m right here.”  The kindness in those moments almost brings me to tears, because I remember the decades of His constant friendship, and together we go through the door and out into the world.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Wilderness of Singleness

I’m not quite sure why women need their own church conferences, but there I was.

Sitting next to my friend Krista, Bibles open, listening to Nancy Guthrie preach.   The morning had been filled with music that was impossibly too high for my alto voice led by women wearing impossibly high wedge heeled shoes.  Everyone had perfect hair and trendy clothes; most were married with children.

There I sat, in the back of the sanctuary, staring down at my special needs feet, callused and deformed as they are, the likes of which will never wear wedge heels, pondering the volume of estrogen currently present in the room, and feeling very out of place.

Nancy was preaching that morning from Deuteronomy and as she led us on the Israelite journey through the wilderness, I began to see my singleness.  While the Israelites complained to God, I remembered my many prayers, sitting on the couch at home, slowly uncurling my index finger towards heaven (I call these my pointed finger prayers) , asking in exasperation, “Are you kidding me?  This is your great plan?”

It’s not so much that I desire to be married, as much as I have felt unprepared for singleness.  Growing up my youth leader did a really great job making sure that I understood that sex should be saved until marriage, to remain pure, but so much of this conversation centered on the assumption that there would actually be someone in my life to love.

I still have vivid memory of my pastor in college preaching on marriage and family, pausing, looking straight at me, and saying, “For some of you, this message will come in handy later in life.”

It’s later. 

I still haven’t found his words helpful.  In fact, I don’t remember a single word of his sermon; only that I was SINGLED out.

I pondered these memories as Nancy continued.

As she explained the taste of manna, I began to taste what it is to eat the same meal over and over again, eating at my dining room table alone.

Nancy expounded on a passage where the Israelites neared the Red Sea again, many years into their journey.  I thought about how the scenery of singleness can feel like walking through the wilderness because it never changes.  While others mark their lives by the growing and changing of their children; mine seems to be marked by circular routines.

The Israelites had to consider being attacked and feared being overtaken.  I often feel outnumbered in a family friendly society when I have none to come home to at night.  I’m discouraged to hear over and over again that marriage is the only relationship that reflects your relationship with Christ.  This leaves me with a challenging and uncomfortable question:  What does my life reflect?

As I sat in the back of the sanctuary, I came across this verse in Deuteronomy 1:36:

There [in the wilderness] you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."

I thought about all the ways I have seen the Lord at work in my life.  He is the first one I greet in the morning and the last one I speak to at night.  He greets me at the door when I come home from work and sits at my table while I eat dinner.  He listens to my prayers in the car and knows how to comfort me when I am alone in the midst of a crowd.

I thought of my many heartfelt prayers, asking God how He could possibly create me with such a strong desire to express and receive love through physical touch: a hug, a hold, a touch on the arm when I live alone.   The many times I’ve said, “I can handle being single if you would just send people into my life to hug me.”

Then He did.  I learned how to be honest about this need with others, and in turn, they’ve learned how to wrap me in their embrace.

When I got home, away from the high music, high heels, and estrogen overload, I lost it.  Tears of repentance fell from my eyes, as I sat in my bathroom, learning against the wall crumpled by conviction.

There [in the wilderness] you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."

As I ponder this verse, I imagine the Lord, scooping me up from the dusty ground, my twisted legs dangling over the side as He gathers me in His big strong arms.  I lay my head against His chest and hear His heartbeat.  This is a posture that defines my life as much as did for John, the Disciple Jesus Loved. He leans over and quiets me with His love as if I’m His little lamb.  And in this manner, He carries me through years of unchanging scenery and unwavering menus, through being surrounded and being alone, all the way, every step, until The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

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