How to Be Job’s friend

We all know the story of Job and his three friends who came to visit. These three men are generally disparaged for their tiring, all-knowing speeches explaining Job’s misfortunes. It’s true, they talked so much that they ran out of words. Despite their pompous speeches, you know what I think of them? I think they were amazing friends. One could make the case that the story of Job is one immense lesson on friendship. Remember, Job gave a big long speech, too, and God reprimanded all four of them when He started up. (Reading Job 38-41 in The Message version will give you a fresh perspective on how God talks to His best friends. It’s actually hilarious.)

Why were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar excellent friends?

Because they showed up.

When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.  Job 2:11-13

They took time off work and travelled to be with Job. This was probably neither convenient, comfortable, nor profitable for them. But they were not afraid to enter into his calamity. They mourned deeply with him. And this is the astonishing part: they sat with him FOR SEVEN DAYS AND NIGHTS WITHOUT SAYING A WORD. Who does that? A really, really good friend. A better friend than I have ever been.

These friends who are known for their verboseness, if we read the story carefully, were initially slow to speak.

I think we can learn a lot about friendship from these guys, particularly about being a friend to someone in crisis.

How can we be a good friend to the Jobs in our life?

1. Go to them.

Show up. Just be there. Don’t be afraid to enter into the mess, into the darkness. It’s a very Jesus-like thing to do. {“I was in prison, and you visited me.” Matthew 25:36}  We all fret about what to do for our hurting friends, and often this discomfort keeps us away. I’ve come to learn that the main doing that’s needed is just showing up. The presence of a friend makes the dark cell of grief a little brighter.

2. Talk less.

I imagine Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were a deep comfort to Job those seven silent days. And I imagine they cancelled out all that comfort the moment they started talking. Trying to explain why God would let bad things happen to Job. “God has a reason for everything,” we say. “God never gives us more than we can handle.” “Have you confessed your sin?”  “Maybe God is trying to teach you a lesson.” “God works all things together for good.” “One day things will get better.”  Anyone who has been the recipient of these words during crisis knows how much they do NOT help. In fact, they hurt. Of course we want to explain why bad things happen; and who wants an explanation more than the hurting person? But in the middle of the pain is the WRONG TIME to make assumptions, to pretend to be God. These guys tried their best to have answers, and God nailed them on their presumption. {“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has,” God said to them. Job 42:7} Any words based on discomfort, obligation, unbelief, assumption, judgment, or agenda will hurt your Job and your God. Who are we to know why bad things happen? It’s okay to not know.

It’s okay to not have answers. Don’t try to fill the emptiness with your words.

3. Listen humbly.*    

*This one is for the friends as well as the Jobs.

Job also spoke against the Lord, but after the Lord’s rebuke, he was quick to LISTEN, quick to repent and say God, You’re right! I’m listening to you! I take back everything I said (Job 42:1-6). Job was quick to ask for forgiveness, which put him right with God. But Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were still in need of reconciliation, and their humility came at an even harder price.

“So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf.”        Job 42:8

God told them to go to Job and receive a prayer of forgiveness and blessing from him. Job, whom they loved yet judged. (Don’t we do that to each other a lot?) Instead of listening to themselves talk, they listened to God’s voice, counseling them how to be a friend to Job, how to mend what they messed up. And simultaneously how to set things right with God. (Don’t we all need relational mending?)

Job also listened to God’s voice and prayed for the friends who had just slammed him in his time of deepest need.  Job, covered in disease, plagued by loss, with absolutely nothing to give. Job, who should have been receiving blessing from his friends. And yet God turned the tables. It was Job’s prayer that made everything right again in their relationships to each other and to God. Job, the friend of God. {Job 1:8, MSG}

Do you notice how interwoven it all is? Their relationships with each other and with God?

God, friendship, suffering, and forgiveness are inseparable. If something is off with one, all connections fray.  If we are humbly listening, God will show us how to make it right with God and man. And listen we must, for it may look or sound different than we would assume. Perhaps suffering is an opportunity to deepen friendships. (Could friendship be that valuable to God?)

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Matthew 5:23-24

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Hebrews‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭

Job’s prayer produced wonderful results indeed.

When Job prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before! Job 42:10

Another detail about Job’s life that’s gone under-publicized! When was everything restored for him? When he swallowed his pain and pride and prayed for his friends, out of obedience to God. When they were all listening, humbled, reconciled.

The result of right friendship with God and man was not only forgiveness, but abundance!

I wonder what would have happened if this trio never made the trip to visit their friend. Would Job have been restored? Would the four of them have remained friends? Would they have ever heard God’s awesome speech? Would we have this profound understanding of relationship? This is why I think Job’s story may be a giant lesson in friendship.

Friends, let’s learn from it? Let’s not let Job’s suffering go to waste?

If you can relate to Job, I deeply hope this last point encourages you. Don’t give up. Your abundance is coming. Keep listening. Keep putting up with stupid people who don’t know how to be your friend right now. Give them grace, even though you have nothing to give. It’s not fair, I know. But you are not alone – Job has shown you the way. Faithfulness is being refined in you in ways you cannot see, and one day you will bear the fruit. One day you’ll be able to sit with someone in silence, and you’ll know how much it means to them to not have stupid friends to have a friend well-acquainted with suffering. Speaking of, you have one of those friends right now in Jesus. You are not alone. {Isaiah 53:3}
And if you have a friend in a hard place, please don’t be afraid to draw near to them. They need you – not for your theology, not for your perfection, not for your “timely words” – just for your presence, flawed as it may be. Don’t be afraid. If you mess it up, maybe God will make something even more beautiful out of the restoration. Maybe He’s been waiting for it all along. Listen, and God will counsel you on how to be their friend. After all, it’s not about you – it’s about God. 

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2016 and a Fragile Faith

Dude. 2016: That’s gonna leave a mark. Not so much here — or here — but right along in here. (If you know what I mean.)

Looking back over the past twelve months, I find myself deeply grateful for God’s nearness, for unexpected gifts, for my children, for so much. So very much, it’s stunning.

And yet I find my soul frayed by the unpredictability of life. Looking forward, a sense of fragile faith looms low. Dare I look up, look ahead? For the longer I live, the more I realize how tightly the good is woven with the bad. With joy comes sorrow, with friendship comes loneliness, with gain comes loss, with health comes sickness, with favor comes cost, with purpose comes sacrifice, with new life comes death, with yes comes no. You can’t parse any of it out, can’t take your pick. The tares grow up with the wheat and we harvest it all.

So somehow, if we are to find joy, if we are to hold on to faith, we must be able to stomach the whole harvest.

What do we do with the good; how do we process it; how does it inform our lives? Every gift comes from the Father of Lights. Is it because of what we do? No, it’s because of who we are – His children. More precisely, it’s because of who He is – a Good Father. And yet faith is defined as believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. So as we live in Christ, we are to go from glory to glory; we are to expect His abundance.

And what do we do with the bad; how do we process it; how does it inform our lives? To say we can just throw it out is harmful. To say we can ignore it is disingenuous, even foolish. To say it is categorically not from God is short-sighted. To say it is punishment is cruel. To say it is parallel to our level of faith… well that is complicated. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world, because God chooses not to violate free will, no matter how poor our choices. We have an enemy and he is pretty good at ruining lives. Faith is not faith until it is tested, and God means to establish our foundation firmly. Yep, it’s complicated.

I have wrestled with these questions quite a bit throughout a year of extreme blessing and jolting heartache. Part of me believes in a faith that can move mountains, in a God that has made provision beyond all that we could ask or imagine, and the key is to live above the mess of this world, seated with Christ in heavenly places, claiming what He’s promised even when I can’t see it with my eyes, believing it will one day manifest. If He loves us, everything will end well.

Another part of me wonders though, how much of heaven can actually break through to this ugly world? How much freedom can we see on this side of the dim glass? How whole can a heart become while living in a broken world? Can I trust myself? How much do I give away? What is God doing in the midst of the suffering? Could the painful journey prove more fruitful, more powerful? Could the difficulty even be coming from His hand?

Which is true:

A life hidden in Christ should look like blessing and reward. We share in His inheritance!

A life hidden in Christ should look like sacrifice and lower still. We share in His suffering!

A narrow faith says it is either/or. A realistic faith says it is both/and. This year I have become more of a realist. It takes tremendous capacity to stomach the full harvest, doesn’t it?

I can’t say my faith is stronger having lived through 2016. Fragile is more the word that comes to mind. Not to worry —  I’m more certain of His ways than ever — just more familiar with the extreme mystery of His ways. My trembling hands hold His tightly. Who is man to define what blessing or reward looks like? Who am I to decide what is best? How could I ever see the beginning from the end? Reminds me of how God questioned Job:

“Where does light come from,
and where does darkness go?
Can you take each to its home?
Do you know how to get there?
But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created,
and you are so very experienced!” -Job 38:19-21

 

Inexperienced, trembling hands hold His tightly. Darkness and light live together – there is not one without the other. While I can’t always tell which is which, I know I’m a daughter of the Father of Lights, and that is enough certainty. I must believe this to be true for each of His children, no matter what they are going through.

I’m coming to think that a fragile faith is more valuable, more desirable than I’ve given it credit. Thank you, 2016, for all you’ve taught me. I’m not feeling ready for 2017, but I’m holding this guy’s hand, and I think that’s enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Mercy is More Than Enough

The Name of God is Mercy is a book I’d highly recommend. It’s a collection of interviews with Pope Francis, as he named 2016 “the year of mercy.” I have zero history with the Catholic church, and yet his thoughts on confession stir me to desire accountability, and remind me of my human frailty. Catholicism’s view of man seems to me to be grounded in sin too much – we must not forget that the cross nullified our old sinful man and made us alive with Christ, fully made right before him, and we are called to walk by the spirit and forget our old nature. While I no longer identify as a sinner, but as righteous before God, I don’t want to lose the humility that Pope Francis embodies as he remembers he is but dust, prone to wander. The foot of the cross – what a beautiful place that is. A place to bow low and remember my deep need for a Savior, to find myself purely within him.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23-24

All have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God.

It occurs to me that these are not necessarily one in the same. I have sin, and I have short-fallings, and they are both beneath His glory. And for both I can come to the cross.

Do I sin? Yes. Unbelief is pervasive, and it is sin. But examining my heart, I can find plenty of places that are not sinful, and yet they fall short. There is lack. [I believe, God – help me in my unbelief.] This makes sense – while I don’t walk around thinking of all my sin, I do walk around thinking of all my shortcomings, and so I am self-focused and starving for a taste of glory. Mercy is for that, too. Here again I do not deserve to stand before Him righteous, and yet He has made a way.

His mercy and grace covers over my sin, AND it fills all my lack.

Do you identify with falling short? I think it’s something we can address with our Good Father. I don’t think He wants us to live from a place of lack any more than He wants us living from a place of sin. He has justified all of it. Freely.

Oh God, I have fallen short. Father, I am empty. I am not enough. I am low, very short indeed when compared to your glory.

I come to you desperate for your filling grace. I am face to face with failure. But how do YOU see me? Is this identity up for trade, too? You no longer see me as a sinner, but a righteous little Jesus who still sins sometimes. Is it true – you no longer see me as fallen short, but a righteous little Jesus who is perfect and complete, lacking in nothing? Filled up to the fullness of God? Would you do that for me again, here in this place where my emptiness is exhausting?

I give you my fallings short, God. I trade them in. Where I end, may you begin – and may that ending point be sooner rather than later. I need you and your righteousness, your more than enough. I invite you to fill every cavern and high hill of my heart that has fallen short. I look to see evidence of your fullness! Your provision! Filled up to all the fullness of God, justified freely by your grace. In You I am clean and in You I am enough – because it’s all Jesus.

Mercy Is More Than Enough

The Name of God is Mercy is a book I’d highly recommend. It’s a collection of interviews with Pope Francis, as he named 2016 “the year of mercy.” I have zero history with the Catholic church, and yet his thoughts on confession stir me to desire accountability, and remind me of my human frailty. Catholicism’s view of man seems to me to be grounded in sin too much – we must not forget that the cross nullified our old sinful man and made us alive with Christ, fully made right before him, and we are called to walk by the spirit and forget our old nature. While I no longer identify as a sinner, but as righteous before God, I don’t want to lose the humility that Pope Francis embodies as he remembers he is but dust, prone to wander. The foot of the cross – what a beautiful place that is. A place to bow low and remember my deep need for a Savior, to find myself purely within him.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23-24

All have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God.

It occurs to me that these are not necessarily one in the same. I have sin, and I have short-fallings, and they are both beneath His glory. And for both I can come to the cross.

Do I sin? Yes. Unbelief is pervasive, and it is sin. But examining my heart, I can find plenty of places that are not sinful, and yet they fall short. There is lack. [I believe, God – help me in my unbelief.] This makes sense – while I don’t walk around thinking of all my sin, I do walk around thinking of all my shortcomings, and so I am self-focused and starving for a taste of glory. Mercy is for that, too. Here again I do not deserve to stand before Him righteous, and yet He has made a way.

His mercy and grace covers over my sin, AND it fills all my lack.

Do you identify with falling short? I think it’s something we can address with our Good Father. I don’t think He wants us to live from a place of lack any more than He wants us living from a place of sin. He has justified all of it. Freely.

Oh God, I have fallen short. Father, I am empty. I am not enough. I am low, very short indeed when compared to your glory.

I come to you desperate for your filling grace. I am face to face with failure. But how do YOU see me? Is this identity up for trade, too? You no longer see me as a sinner, but a righteous little Jesus who still sins sometimes. Is it true – you no longer see me as fallen short, but a righteous little Jesus who is perfect and complete, lacking in nothing? Filled up to the fullness of God? Would you do that for me again, here in this place where my emptiness is exhausting?

I give you my fallings short, God. I trade them in. Where I end, may you begin – and may that ending point be sooner rather than later. I need you and your righteousness, your more than enough. I invite you to fill every cavern and high hill of my heart that has fallen short. I look to see evidence of your fullness! Your provision! Filled up to all the fullness of God, justified freely by your grace. In You I am clean and in You I am enough – because it’s all Jesus.

 

God Will Not Let You Stay Stuck // A Life Lesson from Toddlers

“God will not let you stay stuck.” 

Weeks ago I read an article with this title, and ever since I have kept that Safari window open on my phone. It’s a daily reminder beaming with hope when the voice in my head tells me I’m stuck.

fullsizerender

In this short post, Graham Cooke addresses seasons of waiting and tension:

“We have to resist the urge to doubt God when things take longer to happen than we want or expect. ‘Nothing’s happening,’ we whine sometimes. ‘Am I even in the right place?’

I’ve discovered the more impatient I am, the more God slows things down.

He’s like a watched kettle — He never boils when we’re in a hurry.”

Isn’t that the truth?

Here’s another tab to keep open: Tension doesn’t mean something is wrong.

“When we feel tension, we assume that something is wrong. Yet, I have reason to believe that tension is really just telling us that something is happeningAfter all, movement cannot happen without tension.”

I remember how my children behaved when they were on the cusp of developmental milestones – cutting teeth, wanting to crawl, wanting to walk, wanting to talk, longing to communicate their budding opinions and preferences. Just before each change, they would suddenly become so unhappy. Impatient. Difficult. RESTLESS. At times even in pain because of their body’s growth.

Eventually I realized their unusual behavior was a sign that change was coming. Not that something was wrong, but that something was happening. Sweet six-month-old Cas grunted cries of frustration when one day, upon seeing a toy across the room, he had the brilliant idea to crawl over and get it. His grunts ballooned to wails when his body didn’t quite know how to make that a reality. Two-year-old feisty Jake screamed in protest when forced to sit still, unable to articulate in words: “Mom, I need to get all this energy out! Let’s go play outside!” And lovely Molly Claire had finally quit sucking her fingers until kindergarten became a reality, and the impending transition called for comfort.

img_2740

I think we never outgrow the desire to transition quickly. And since life is one long string of change after change, in a way, we are all still toddlers. We are all still learning to walk and run, and we get downright mad or sad when we end up stuck in the middle of the floor or face-planting on the sidewalk. Especially when it seems like the rest of the world is filled with professional marathon runners.

During this season of transition, I am learning anew how to aid the maturation process. Two distinct lessons come to mind:

For one, I’m learning to slow down, because God is never in a hurry. And if He is slowing things down, I’d do well to follow along instead of resist the process. God’s timing always wins, He doesn’t waste time, and He doesn’t usually take shortcuts. If a little one must learn to walk before she can run, then I must be retooled to enter a new season. And my Good Father means to supply me well for what He knows is up ahead. I’m grateful for this, and I want to take it all in – even the hard parts.

I am also learning to consider the tension, anxiety, restlessness and difficulty and reframe them inside the boundaries of His Goodness. Because maybe… it’s actually God. Maybe what I see as pain is actually my requests being made known to Him – the teeth are about to break through the gums! Maybe all these feelings of confusion and weakness are because I’m learning to walk in a whole new place and I just don’t quite have my footing yet. Maybe He’s teaching me a whole new language and I’m struggling to find the words.

What is it they say about struggle and the butterfly?

Transition is real, yes it is.

Graham gives practical advice for any of us feeling restless, wobbly-legged, or wanting to reach for a pacifier:

Next time you come into a situation where tension is present, ask yourself questions like these:

What’s happening here?

What’s changing?

What is God moving us into?

What’s the dimension we’re coming out of?

What’s the dimension we’re entering?

What does that look like?

I would add, What have I been asking God for?  What if that is what’s happening right now?

Reframing current frustration within the context of our lives and the Goodness of God is so very important. His perspective is best and truest and most hopeful – like a parent’s hand or a blankie to hold onto – and a very present help in trouble.

Take heart, all you toddlers – He never leaves us stuck! Your breakthrough is coming!

love,

Rachel

Potholed People in an Era of Mercy

On this first day of September, I say we celebrate enduring this past month. I don’t know about you, but in all her humidity and heat and storms, August has mirrored (and likely expounded) the heat index on my insides. “Feels like 105,” August said as my six-year-old played her first soccer game. Oh September, treat us more kindly? Cover us with a dry breeze every now and then?

Cover. Makes me think of a Hebrew word I came across four Augusts ago: kaphar. It means to atone, to reconcile, to annul, to forgive.

This is what the Old Covenant priests’ sacrifices did – they made atonement, covered over the sins of the people. This is what happened at the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement (kippur). The lid of the ark of the covenant was called kapporeth, another derivative of kaphar… to cover. The place where the Mercy Seat sat.

Mercy.

Pope Francis says The Name of God is Mercy, and we are in a kairos era of mercy. When asked why humanity is so in need of mercy, he said, “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.” So true.

This word kaphar has one more meaning: to cover over with pitch.

My husband is a civil engineer whose specialty is asphalt. When we were dating, and still to this day, as we drive along he tells me the ins and outs of paving a road well. I have slowly grown to enjoy it. [Can you believe he loves the smell of asphalt?!] The first thing he taught me about paving roads – probably instigated by complaints about potholes – is that the paving machines can’t run in winter. The asphalt has to be hot enough in order to be applied correctly. So until the weather is warm enough, the road crews can’t repave a foot. They can only fill in potholes by hand. A temporary fix.

Winter causes potholes in the first place, then prevents repair. Winter, what’s up with that? The bitter-cold, barren seasons of the heart inflict similar damage, don’t they? Seep into your cracked fears and freeze, only to tear a rent wider and deeper, until once solid ground crumbles under foot.

Creator God knows this, and He is a respecter of seasons. Even when we long to live healed and whole, it is truly mercy that, in our immediate winter-time trauma, He patches up our souls so that we can continue to function. A temporary fix.

In her new book Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford explains the process this way: “Out of his overwhelming love for me – for all of us as His children – God brilliantly fashioned our hearts in a way that equips us to survive in the world, giving them the ability to keep pain from overwhelming us so we can function. However, this coping mechanism was given as a temporary solution to help survive emotional pain, but never as God’s permanent solution to heal it.”

It is not a temporary fix we hope for. It is forgiveness, it is mercy, covered over thick, once and for all, that all we potholed-people desperately need.

Oh mercy! A time comes, when the weather is warmer and the heavy equipment can operate, that He purposes to dig up the pothole and get to the bottom of the fault. And so He comes back around to do it right.

This August, I’ve felt the black of the pitch. Hot – sticky – stinky – in ruin. The equipment is heavy indeed; stripping away the crumbled asphalt that gained its strength from others’ opinions, others’ encouragement, other’s attention. The tension and pressure of metal teeth the size of my head grates into my core. Orange cones and flashing lights keep traffic away. “Right lane closed ← merge left.” Some days I feel He has diverted the flow of traffic too well, that no one can see me. It seems friendship cannot be grasped. It seems that we do not have enough. I am lonely. I am anxious. I am discouraged at the seeming lack of progress and all the mess.

And yet, I am beginning to see this  too is Mercy. To cover over with pitch, to fully fill the holes in my heart, to make me new, to make atonement – all is mercy.

 

“But I’ve dealt with all my issues,” you may say. Well, so have I, and yet here I am again. That’s the thing about being alive – there is always more weathered wounding to be had. And that’s the thing about being alive in Christ – there is always more healing, always more freedom, always more redemption to be found in and through the King of my heart. To have a sure highway, a firm foundation, a healed heart, the deeper work must be done. In my experience, every type of healing – emotional, relational, physical, mental, and spiritual – follows this pattern: it gets worse before it gets better. For this hope set before me, I can endure when it gets worse, knowing it is possible to cure the wounds

If you are in pain today, if your life seems to be crumbling around you, I encourage you to search out God’s perspective is. Maybe He’s getting to the root of your broken places, because He means to heal and fill you well. Maybe it’s getting worse because it’s about to get better. 

And if you are in a season of temporary fix, it’s okay. God is brilliant and near and knows. You can trust that His manual filling will last exactly as long as it’s supposed to, and His grace will be enough to get you through until you have the space to become undone.

Take some time alone and invite God into your heart. Ask Him what season you are in, and how you can partner with Him in that season toward wholeness. Whether a temporary fix or a deeper hot-weathered work, never doubt He has your best interest in mind, and He wastes nothing, and He does all things well.

“Search my heart, O God, and see if there be any hurtful way in me,” we often pray, and rightly so. The true journey is to go along with Him, diving into the deeper places of our souls, so He can illumine the eyes of our heart to see what’s really going on. Search together with Him, and the fear and loneliness will not overcome. His gentle ways and steadfast hope will sustain.

Search my heart, O God, and take me with you as you go…

With this cry, I come to the seat of mercy, where Jesus has paid for my whole and perfect heart, and say yes. I choose to partner with God to undo the patch job – to dig it all up again, and then some. To get below the deepest fault, uproot the old and establish the most excellent way. I commit to giving myself all the space and time and grace necessary to finish this road maintenance well.

And I am taking a cue from my husband by learning to love the smell of asphalt, for it means a heart is being made whole.

All the clouds

All the clouds
layer upon layer
between the sun and here

stacks and billows of rain
and strange winds.
Small windows of clear

but always in the distance.
The rain follows me
and I cannot see

This is not
how August
is supposed to be.

A Dress for Every Season

Navy silk, perfectly tailored

A gift from my husband

Bought for a time of rejoicing:

the wedding of a dear little-sister-friend.

 

And oh how beautifully the bride shone

Surrounded by friends and family

Saying goodbye to a familiar past

And yes to the love of her life.

 

“Place me like a seal over your heart,

like a seal on your arm;

for love is as strong as death,

its jealousy unyielding as the grave.

 

It burns like blazing fire,

like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;

rivers cannot sweep it away.”

 

Tears of deep joy stained the silk

And muddled the sight

Of these sacred words

Read to all.

 

Today I wore the same dress

For a time of weeping:

The funeral of the husband

Of a dear big-sister-friend.

 

And oh how brokenly the widow wept

Surrounded by friends and family

Saying goodbye to the love of her life

And yes to an unknown future.

 

“For everything there is a season,

 a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to grieve and a time to dance…

A time to be quiet and a time to speak…

 

Yet God has made everything beautiful 

for its own time.

He has planted eternity 

in the human heart…” 

 

Tears of deep sorrow stained the silk

And watered the pages

Of these sacred words

Read to all.

How to Live with the Unknowns

I keep coming back to these thoughts on HOW TO LIVE WITH THE UNKNOWNS, on how to hold questions in one hand and wisdom in the other. Turns out, both are promised to us. So there must be a way to live with the tension and mystery of the kingdom. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts – do you think God promises to answer our questions? How do you seek answers? What do you do with the un-answered? How comfortable are you with mystery?

Rachel Norris

“Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.”  Daniel 4:9

King Nebuchadnezzer demanded interpretation of his dream OR ELSE. After all, his kingdom could be at stake! He finally found a man of true wisdom in Daniel.

Daniel said,

“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,

For wisdom and power belong to Him.

It is He who changes the times and the epochs;

He removes kings and establishes kings;

He gives wisdom to wise men

And knowledge to men of understanding.

It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness,

And the light dwells with Him.

To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise,

For…

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When Way Closes, Way Will Open

The Quakers say it this way, when a member of the community comes to an impasse.

When way closes, way will open.

Such beauty and mystery in six small words. They resonate in my soul as truth, although I can’t quite explain them. Sometimes the melody is sweet and hopeful; other times frustrating, clanging. How might one respond to this simple promise? What could this mean? How could it be?

Parker Palmer elaborates on the struggle beautifully in his book Let Your Life Speak. It’s a short read; one well worth space in your heart and mind. In it, Mr. Palmer recounts his vocational journey through secular and sacred, faith and works, seclusion and exposure, fit and misfit, all the while seeking, as Frederick Buchner put it, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The following excerpt can also be found here.

‘Have faith,’ the Quakers said, ‘and way will open.’

‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’

After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well-known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘people keep telling me that “way will open.” Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’

Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’

If you can relate to Mr. Palmer, if your world and your God seems to be shutting you out, I’d like to first of all encourage you to read his book. Secondly, I’d like to submit to you some new ways of thinking. Maybe closed door after closed door does not mean you are in the wrong place. Maybe it actually means God is moving you along. Maybe it is not opposed to the beautiful promise:

You will hear a voice behind you when you turn to the right or left, saying, ‘This is the way – walk in it.’   Isaiah 30:21

Maybe God is using the sound of doors closing to fine-tune our hearing. Maybe He wants to teach us how to move along more efficiently. Maybe the racket made by trying to wrestle doors back open is drowning out that still small voice.  After all, a door opening is usually quieter than one slamming shut. Maybe it’s just not time yet. Maybe there is no good reason, yet God can still make it all work together for your good, and if your life can be a demonstration of His miraculous goodness — could that be worth it? Maybe that door would have been good, but God in His great love has a more excellent way He wants to show us.

Or just maybe we haven’t noticed what IS opening because we have filled our senses with what HASN’T opened. Maybe we need new eyes to see, new ears to hear.

In the frustration of doors closing, we must not become deaf to the still small sound of an open door.

I have done this. I have filled my heart with what is lacking, closed my eyes to His goodness, tuned out hope for the future. Unwilling to do the hard thing, to hold today’s disappointment in one hand and tomorrow’s hope in the other. I have also let busyness rush me right by what (or rather who) might be an opening. Once again it’s true: hurry hurts. Perhaps related, I have even let pride govern my willingness to do the very small thing in front of me.

But I – we – must not become too busy or too proud to say yes when that opening appears small, insignificant, almost shadow-like. I love how pastor AJ Jones says it, something like this:

God does have a place for you, something in this world that only you can do. Just keep being faithful, keep saying yes to all the little doors opening, because that’s how you’ll know to walk through the big one.

God sure does love to pour into lives willing to be faithful in the little.

So friends, when way closes, let’s not become calloused by banging on closed doors. Let’s move on. Let’s work to keep the doors of our hearts (eyes and ears) open. Let’s practice the little yeses even when our hearts long for the big one. Let’s not lose faith when the things unseen and hoped for appear to be on the other side. Let’s loose tight, blaming, controlling fists and lean trust-fall into the wind. Let’s look for a tiny shadow of an opening and stoop to see what lies within, how we can go lower still, how to take one small step at a time, and trust that way will open.

When Way Cloeses, Way will Open-2