Mercies and Blessings

IMG_6014Like many of you, I have experienced dark nights of the soul. I have faced illness, betrayal, disillusionment and loss. I have faced the dark side of life more than a few times. In the midst of those times, I found the courage of faith, the gift of hope, and the promise of Scripture.

If you have known me through the years, you may know that one of the New Testament passages that gives me strength is in the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians. The following words are part of that chapter.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

– 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18 18 (KJV, NIV)

The passage speaks of β€œwasting away.” When I was so ill for all of 2014, I can honestly say that I believed I was wasting away. It was a frightening emotion, one that I would rather not hold in my memories. But my memories of that time also include mercies and blessings, blessings of gradual healing, blessings of compassionate and competent health care, blessings of being surrounded by a loving faith community, blessings of my husband’s devoted care, blessings of hope and faith in a God whose mercies covered me in so many ways. Clearly, my blessings came through adversity.

Today while listening to Pandora, I heard a song that touched me with its faith-filled lyrics.

. . . What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if trials of this life β€” the rain, the storms, the hardest nights β€” are Your mercies in disguise?

– Written by Liz Story β€’ Copyright Β© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

I learned that through serious illness, the fear was greatest at night. The nights were the hardest. But I also learned that what I had read so many times was true — God’s mercies are new every morning.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

 

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Extreme Situations

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And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

Extreme situations are definitely all too common. Around 14 million children suffer hardship and trauma from the war in Syria and Iraq. UNICEF estimates that 140 million children worldwide are orphans. According to the World Health Organization, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

Extreme situations.

Closer to home, a dear childhood friend of mine is fighting for her life in a hospital ICU. Her illness resonates loud and clear to me, shouting out the truth that life is filled with extreme situations, situations that assail us and leave us helpless and hopeless. And we are left with no control.

Extreme situations.

I found this little gem of a quote in a friend’s blog post today.

In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty, and love.

– John O’Donohue

So in the throes of extreme situations that come our way, let us give thanks for the whisper of that small voice, the voice that does not give us control, but does give us hope.

The Biblical character we know as Elijah faced off against an extreme situation.

. . . A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

– I Kings 19:11-12

If you find yourself hopelessly trapped in an extreme situation, may you find hope in the gentle whisper of God.

Resilient and Renewed

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Losses are a part of life’s journey. Aging brings with it frequent news of friends facing illness and even death. That cannot help but remind us of our own mortality. And yet, as I remember the joys I have experienced through the years, I also remember the losses, the times of disappointment and grief, the times of despair and pain.

Looking back, it is clear to me that the losses made me stronger. The losses made the most profound changes in me. The losses drew me closer to God’s grace and strengthened my faith. Bishop Steven Charleston writes that we come through life storms resilient and renewed. His words are so true.

Yes, the long shadows can surround us, no denying that, and yes, the losses in life are painful, leaving memories like scars within the heart, but no dark corner is the sum of our being, no hurt more lasting than love, for we are made of stronger stuff than flesh and bone, and have proved that more than once, by coming through the storm with flags flying, spirits sailing before the wind, resilient and renewed, curious creatures seeking the open sea, refusing to surrender to sorrow, but racing over the waves, high above the dark water, free souls on the path to hope, on the way to healing, the light before us shining.

– Bishop Steven Charleston

No doubt, long shadows will surround me again. My prayer is that, just as I have in the past, I will come through the storm resilient and renewed.

Rooted and Grounded

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For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and heightβ€” to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 New King James Version (NKJV)

Being rooted and grounded is important. It gives us the ability to stand fast in the face of life’s storms. It gives us the grace to endure trials. As the scripture passage says, it makes us able “to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . . and to be filled with all the fullness of God.”

With that kind of rootedness, we can live life to the fullest, with confidence and assurance. So how do we stay rooted and grounded? I think there are at least two ways. First, cherish long-term, genuine relationships and friendships. Nourish them and open your heart to the people who love you. Stay close. Create abiding bonds.

Secondly, nourish your faith. Honor your relationship with God and allow it to grow and deepen.

Set your feet firmly on the solid foundations of relationships and faith and you will find yourself rooted and grounded in love, forever.

Storms

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My garden was wilting. Some plants had already died in spite of my faithful watering. But on one day last week, my flowers were literally pelted with rain. Huge raindrops fell hard and long. I wondered if my tender impatiens would survive the storm. They did. The next morning, in fact, they were standing stronger and taller than ever. Once wilted by endless days of scorching sun, the blooms were now full and healthy.

It took a rainstorm to shock them to life. It’s that way for us, too. We have thrived after life storms we thought we simply would not survive. We took the pelting and emerged stronger, full of fresh new life.

The lesson for us is to face life storms without fear, knowing that storms pass and the sun always comes back brightly. If we’re lucky, we might even see a rainbow, a sign of promise and new hope. So let it storm. Let the pelting rain hit us as a refreshing shower, cleansing away the old and making all things new.

Storms

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My husband loves thunderstorms. Sitting on the porch during a storm is one of his favorite things to do. As for me, I have a childhood memory that makes me somewhat afraid of storms. At the first clap of thunder, my grandmother would turn off all the lights in the house and gather us next to her on the sofa. Whenever she heard a clap of thunder, she would let out a blood-curdling scream.

Lesson to young grandchildren: Be terrified of thunderstorms.

So thunderstorms tend to frighten me to this day. Yet, there is something very cleansing about a thunderstorm pelting the earth with rain. When it’s over, there is a sense of calm, maybe even a rainbow. And that always reminds me that storms don’t last forever. There is a calm after every storm that brings a kind of peace in me. Perhaps it is just relief that the storm has ended and everyone is safe.

And then there is the reality that storms of the soul do often threaten us, but they, too, come to an end, leaving us with a grateful heart that we survived yet again.

Fly with Your Wind

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While a friend of mine was driving through the plains of Oklahoma, he marveled at miles and miles of vast rolling plains of grasses and the strong winds that were making them sway. Then he noticed something else every few miles: trees in perfect rows. And he wondered why the trees grew in almost perfect rows. As he contemplated the phenomenon, he realized that when the trees seed, the seeds are blown in the direction of the wind and thus the trees are growing in the direction of the wind. The wind shapes the vegetation and literally shapes the landscape.

Our lives are guided by winds, too. Winds of change. Winds from storms. Gentle, refreshing winds. Winds of bitter cold. Winds that blow in the heat of summer. The breezes change us, challenge us, and sometimes restore us.

We become who we are as the winds blow across our lives, leaving us different than we were before. I enjoy the writing of C. JoyBell C.

I don’t believe in fighting the wind. You go and you fly with your wind. Let everyone else catch their own gusts of wind and let them fly with their own gusts of wind, and you go and you fly with yours.

Fly with your wind. Sounds to me like wise advice.

Scars of the Spirit

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I have my fair share of what I call scars of the spirit. They remain with me, reminding me that I survived my deepest wounds. They also remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has left me stronger and more resilient.

No one escapes the woundedness of a life well lived. No one can claim to be free of scars. But every person — flawed, scarred and wounded — can use the hurt of the past to be stronger in the present and more resilient for the future.

It seems that I have two choices. Either I can look at my past and hold on to the kind of bitterness that destroys a contented life. Or I can own my past, with all of its wounds, and become stronger because of it. In The Fires of Heaven, Robert Jordan writes, “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”

I am grateful to know that when strong winds blew through my life, I bent with the wind. I moved forward stronger than I was before. With me, I brought wounds and scars. But they remind me that I survived.

Cast Down but Not Destroyed

 

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It was several years ago, a sunny, balmy day on the beach. A beautiful vacation with friends. Until the ill-fated phone call.

“Your nonprofit organization will no longer receive state funding. Your grant ends immediately. You will receive no payments as of today.”

To say this was shocking is an understatement. Suddenly, ten years of building was over. Services for victims of violence would cease immediately because staff had to be laid off. I was in shock and inconsolable. I had lost all that I had worked so hard to accomplish. What would we say to our clients? Who would help them when we closed our doors?

The press was asking for comments, but I had no words. All I could muster was silence and a few tears. I was too shocked to really cry. I was too bereft to make any coherent statement to the press or anyone else. Richard Rohr had the spot-on words to describe such a blow.

The pain of something old falling apart — chaos — invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Otherwise, most of us would never go to new places.

So true. I would never have gone to new places. As I look back on the day of my soul’s assault, I can honestly say that I was forced to listen to God at a deeper level. When that old life fell apart, there was something new in my future. Enmeshed in my work, I would never have seen it. I was drowning in my ministry and did not even notice that I was sinking. My health – physically, emotionally and spiritually – was at a low ebb. My friends saw it. I refused to.

In the end, the pain of that loss, the chaos, opened my eyes to a fresh new day. There was a new path ahead, bright and full of promise. As I allowed myself to be comforted, I called to mind one of my favorite scriptures, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . .”

Change and Growth

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The Chinese Tallow tree in my yard constantly changes. I have been documenting its changes for over a year, and I am amazed when it tassels and then becomes heavy with green berries. By fall those berries will have changed color from green to black and finally to white. The lifespan of Chinese tallow stems seems to be less than 100 years, although roots may live longer. Other experts report that Chinese tallow is short-lived, surviving 40 to 50 years.

The tree experiences many changes during its lifetime, much like we humans do. In that way, the tree reminds me that our lives cycle and change too, from season to season, as the years go by. We have to be comfortable with change and growth, standing firm, just as the Tallow tree does. We stand against scorching sun and rainstorms. We weather strong winds and enjoy light breezes. And all the time, we’re growing and changing.

God gives us the strength to stand tall in sunshine and shadow, through strong winds, gentle breezes, bitter cold and oppressive summer heat. It’s the way of nature, and God is faithful through it all, walking beside us as we change and grow.