I Got Nothin”

Twirling a pen in my hand I just sat there. I stared at the card in front of me, waiting for an idea, for something, anything, to say. A few words popped into my brain but they seemed trite and shallow. So I sat there, staring at the card waiting for the right words but I got nothin’.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to sign way too many greeting cards. Generally I like choosing and signing cards but this most recent batch were all for the unhappy occasions of life: Get Well, Thinking of You, and the saddest, With Sympathy.

What is there to say when the news is bad/sad? When you know the person receiving the card is struggling and in pain, physically, emotionally or both? What do you say when the person is standing in front of you with tears in their eyes?

Other peoples pain can take us by surprise, leaving us at a loss for words, uncertain how to acknowledge their sorrow, how to support, not knowing what to say or do. My heart hurts for the other person and I have that sinking feeling of frustration; that any words I might say trivialize their pain. There are times when silence is best, a hug, a comforting touch might be all that is needed and wanted but there has to be some verbal or written response, some words of understanding, some acknowledgement…

In the midst of pain our hearts cry out for comfort, for an answer or reason, for hope that the pain serves some purpose and that life is not meaningless. I always pause; I don’t want to say or write anything stupid and I don’t want to make the situation worse. I want to be sincere and genuine; I can’t know exactly how the other person feels but I do know what it feels like to lose someone, to be afraid, to worry. I want my few words to be comforting, positive and hopeful.

The Bible has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows; He knows what if feels like to be lonely, rejected, mocked and tortured. Many of the psalms are vivid descriptions of the authors’ fears, despair and pain. Many of those who wrote and are written about in the Bible experienced great loss and prolonged suffering.

Through all of the sorrow and challenge in the Bible runs a long and unbroken thread of hope; the hope of a better life, of an eternal home, of a promised Messiah, of blessing, of purpose. The hope spoken of and demonstrated in familiar Bible stories is not just a vague wish but also the absolute certainty that God has permitted every experience, good and bad. It is a sure hope for those who trust Him and believe in Jesus that God has a plan and His plan is for our good.

But, sometimes God’s Word is not welcomed or wanted and even openly opposed. It makes me profoundly sad that His words of comfort and strength cannot be shared and that is why it has been so difficult to sign the cards, to say the words. All the “acceptable” words, the “politically correct” words (whatever those are) have no real meaning or substance and everything the world offers is only temporary.

When I cannot share the hope of heaven, the love of God, His plan, His comfort, His peace, His presence, His eternal and greater purpose there truly is no meaningful hope I can offer, no words of lasting comfort.   Apart from God, from Jesus and His Word,

I got nothin’…

 

Whom have I in heaven but you and besides you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Your World Quakes…

Before…

Routine keeps me on time, on task, nothing forgotten.  Mental to-do list of who, what, where, when and how.  Small warning signs of trouble may be ignored but this time, God was speaking, preparing for the test and trial.  I knew something was coming, I did not know what.  Easy to praise the Lord when life is going according to my plan but much too easy to coast and think, “I got this…”

During…

The major interruption.  The unexpected, unplanned, unanticipated event; not on my schedule.  All routine out the window, calendar useless, reminders, lists, obligations, email alerts all ignored.

The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 18:4, 5

Trying to breathe, to remain calm, to put two coherent thoughts together.  Who to call/text?  There is one, the One who is above all others.  In these moments, I can only fall at His feet.  Heart pounding, I open His Word…

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. … In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple,
and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.Psalm 18:1 – 3, 6

This enemy is bigger than any ever imagined and foundations are cracking, rendered powerless, without knowledge, adrift without a schedule or plan to follow.  Refusing to dwell on what might happen, what could happen, what is the worst that could happen; choosing to focus on the One Who gave His permission for this trial, this test.

Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, … He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. Psalm 18:7, 9 – 10

God rushes in, He allows every earthquake to accomplish His purposes and He stands at the epicenter with His arms wide.  He gives strength to bear my burden, He sends Aarons and Hurs to keep my arms strong and heart lifted to Him.

He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. Psalm 18:16 – 19

The quake was strong, intense and thankfully short.  There were aftershocks that occurred without warning; they were accompanied by shortness of breath, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and ability to focus, a constant sense of anxiety.  God, His character, His Word, His Truth needed to be repeated, often, and deeply planted to recognize and reject the lies, to slow the breathing, to quiet the mind.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped. Psalm 18:30 – 36

After…

Back on schedule with minor, manageable, interruptions; they are welcome after all the rocking and rolling.  God chose to deliver and give what was requested, He was gracious and merciful to me.  Ultimately He gave the one thing He always and consistently gives, His gave according to His will and purpose.  Would I be praising the Lord as much if my request did not agree with His will?  Difficult to say, I like to think I would and I know I would trust Him to lead me through whatever He allows and I know there will always be another quake. Lord, help me continue to sing…

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of my salvation, … He delivers me from my enemies; surely You lift me above those who rise up against me..Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name. Psalm 46 – 49

Mukuntuweap – Stand Straight Land

Years ago I took one of those self-assessment tests.  This particular test was intended to help you understand what to do or where you need to be to feel close to God; the idea is that once you know this about yourself you need to go and do that activity or be in that place – often and regularly.  My assessment told me I hear God best when I am studying His Word and feel especially close to Him when I am out in nature.

This week I was able to combine both when I visited Zion National Park in Utah.  Mukuntuweap, or Stand Straight Land, is the name given to this area by the Paiute Indian people.

As the sun was rising over the peaks of this Stand Straight Land, I turned to Psalms to help me praise the Lord…

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.”  Psalm 50

“May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made the heaven and the earth.” Psalm 134

“The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord.”  Psalm 146

…and my favorite…

“How blessed is the man whose strength is in You; in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”  Psalm 84:5

Later that same day, hiking the Kayenta Trail to the Lower Emerald Pool, I was brought to tears by the beauty of this place and how blessed I felt to see and experience a small part of it.  Every few steps I had to stop and gaze at the surrounding rocks and landscape.  Really that is what Zion is, just rocks, trees, tall rock walls, many rising straight up from the ground, and if you’ve seen one rock you’ve seen them all right?

But if Zion and places like it are not such a big deal, just bunches of old rocks, why do people travel from around the world to spend time here?  There are places that are much more accessible, much easier to walk in.  There are temperature controlled places so you are neither too hot or too cold.  It is work to get to the spots with the breath-taking views and other people have already been there and done that so you could just look at their photos and YouTube videos and save yourself some time, money and effort.

I think a lot of people are like me; they long to be in a place where they can feel close to God and that place is in His creation.  Not all of these people know that God is drawing them.  Some will deny this reason.  But something larger than ourselves draws us to see and personally experience beautiful places and the spend time outdoors.  That “something larger” is God and now part of my heart remains on the highway to Zion, among the incredible and beautiful rocks of Stand Straight Land.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Binding Judgement

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Binding Judgment.”

  1. Got a lot to get done – make a list.
  2. Not sure what steps to follow – make a list.
  3. Want people to read your post – write a list.

I am a person who likes to make and follow lists.  Lists help me stay on task, ensure nothing is forgotten, keep me organized.  Many years ago I was invited to a “Woman’s Retreat”.  I was not exactly sure what that was but I was a mom with three very young kids and the prospect of a week-end away with NO, kids, cooking or laundry sounded amazing.  Besides that I liked the woman who invited me, it sounded relaxing, it was not costing me anything, why not?

Fortunately for me, the invitation included a list!  A list of all the things I should bring to the “Retreat”.  Most of the things were pretty obvious: clothes, medications, shampoo, toothpaste, sleeping bag – oh yes, it was a camping retreat so a pillow was also on the list.  The last items on the list were a pen and notebook.  Guess they expected me to listen and take notes at some point.

The next to last item on the list made me frown – a Bible.  Now this was not unexpected since it was a “Church Women’s Retreat” but it was a problem; I did not own a Bible.  What to do?  Follow the list, go to a bookstore, acquire a Bible – easy!

The bookstore had more Bibles than I had ever seen.  Bibles with leather covers, covers in all different colors, study Bibles, different versions of the Bible (there’s more than 1 version?), paperback Bibles, large print Bibles – racks and rows of Bibles – who knew?  But, Bible was on the list, end of discussion.

I did not want to make a big investment here.  I just needed it for this week-end, I was not planning on using it much after that.  Since I am also an experienced shopper I knew that in every supermarket the cheaper items are always on the bottom shelves so I figured that would be true for the Bibles.  Score!  The bottom shelf had the “generic”, plain and cheap old Bibles; no study notes, no fancy covers, mostly black, fake leather and cardboard.

I chose one that was about $6, not too big, with a cardboard cover, plain dark brown, gold letters, Holy Bible – thats’ it.

The week-end was nice, the ladies were friendly, the food was good and the games were fun.  I returned home to the kids and husband and laundry and cooking and cleaning.  The Bible sat on the shelf.

The Bible seemed to be on the “Things to Take to Church” list so I began to carry it with me on Sunday mornings; everyone else carried one.   I took it off the shelf every Sunday morning and put it back every Sunday afternoon; my plain, cheap, brown Bible with it’s gold letters.  I started to read it but I don’t recall when, I do remember trying to figure out how the stories I heard as a teenager seemed so different from what was actually written in my Bible.  The stories I read in the Bible seemed so much more complex, deeper, full of meaning than what I remembered.  I began to read the Bible more often.  I fell in love with Jesus.

Now, many years later the cheap, brown cardboard covered Holy Bible is back on the shelf.  You probably wouldn’t even notice it there among all the other, more colorful books.  Some of the pages are falling out.   Some of the gold lettering is worn away.   Many of the pages are full of notes and markings, sections are underlined and marked with yellow and pink highlighters.  Notes, cards, names and dates are written on both the front and back flyleaf.  I don’t bring the cheap brown Bible to church any more because it is now too fragile and precious to me.

The words printed inside, on the pages of my cheap, brown Bible, and the God who wrote them, changed my life for eternity and I am eternally grateful.  You cannot judge a book by its cover.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119:11

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Psalm 119:89

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.  Psalm 119:103

Your word is a lamp for my feet. a light on my path.  Psalm 119:105

Binding Judgment

Let Me Use Your Words

My eyes open and I know something is very wrong. I am gripped with anxiety. I had a restless night, had trouble falling asleep, tried the couch for a while, drifted off, awoke, went back to bed, fell asleep again and woke at the first glimmer of daylight.

Tired and anxious with a “low-grade” headache, and an unsettled stomach, I took several deep breaths trying calm down.

Walking is a stress reliever for me so I go out and walk. That remedy, usually a sure thing, fails me. My husband asks me what’s wrong but that adds to my distress since the only answer I have sounds lame and whiny, “I don’t know!”

I have been learning the importance of regularly pouring my heart out to God; pouring it all out, the good the bad and the ugly. I take my laptop and start writing, a total free-write. I just type out everything that’s swirling around in my anxiety-ridden brain. I close my eyes some of the time and cry a lot of that time. I talk aloud as I type. I know I have to continue until I feel peace. I run out of words but my mind is still racing. Now what?

I pick up my Bible and turn to Psalm 142. I begin to type the psalm, saying the words aloud as I type. Time passes; I pray and type the psalm at least 3 times before I feel the burden lift.

Is this some kind of magical charm or guaranteed prayer formula – ABSOLUTELY NOT!!   I was not just “saying words”, I was saying God’s Word; this was a deeply personal and prayerful conversation between God and I.  Just as David was pleading for God to hear him, to help him, to release him, I was pleading with God to hear me, for peace, for calm, for deliverance.   I had run out of my own words so I used David’s.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my laptop but I sat there long enough, I prayed long enough, I talked with God long enough that the peace I had sought now replaced the anxiety that had me crippled and powerless. I deleted the conversation, it is private, between me and My King and now, it is settled.

Some hours later I realized why I was so anxious and I was able to deal with the very small issue that had paralyzed me. I believe God wanted me to see how gloriously dependent on Him I am and how His Word is the answer; He was testing me to see if I was going to put into practice what He had been teaching me. I passed the test.

Next time you find yourself anxious or struggling with a problem or person I encourage you to pour out your heart to God and open your Bible. The Psalms in particular are a treasure trove expressing every human emotion. Read a psalm, using the author’s words to talk to God. Write the psalm, take your time and think about the words, tell God how you feel. He is waiting to hear from you, to bring you peace.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. Psalm 142:1,2