A way in the wilderness, Art, Bewilderment, Rivers in the desert

Rivers in the Desert

“A Way in the Wilderness,” A watercolor by Kathy Manis Findley; https://kalliopeswatercolors.com/

What is it about this statement from God and recorded by the Prophet Isaiah?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

This statement, or this promise, recorded in Isaiah 43 touches me to the core. It reaches into my soul that is so often parched by the events of life. As for the watercolor painting above, A Way in the Wilderness, you may have seen it before. I published it in this blog already. But this time, I would like for you to engage with me in a few moments of art appreciation. Consider the following questions.

What do you see in the painting?

What strikes you about it?

If you could choose one word or phrase or sentence in it that most relates to your life, what would you choose?

What do you see in the images and colors?

What do you see as the overarching theme of it?

What does it say to you? Or ask of you?

Okay! So maybe the painting says nothing to you! You’re not into art appreciation and it has no deeper meaning than paint to paper! I totally get that, but still, I want to tell you what it meant for me as I was creating it.

So much more than paint on paper, painting it was an emotional and spiritual release from my own wilderness. It was my way of learning to find rivers in my desert. Understand, it did not mean I could leave the desert and put the wilderness in my rear view. Instead, it allowed me to express my reality: that I live in the wilderness, but streams of river water quench my soul’s thirst in the desert.

That’s real and honest. A gut-punch of reality for me. Wilderness and desert terrain are common life habitations, for me and probably for you as well. I don’t live near the breezes of an ocean or on a ridge in breathtaking, snow-capped mountains.

I just live on a regular street in a regular town, and sometimes that can feel like wilderness.


What does that have to do with anything? Just this: During the times I feel as if I’m living in a desert wilderness, I need to remember the river. Or putting it another way, what I feel emotionally may be MY reality, but it is not THE reality.

It is not the ultimate reality of a life that is so filled with deserts and streams, storms and sunshine, smooth ways and rocky pathways, despair and hope, doubt and faith, sorrow and joy, death and life . . .

May your life be filled to overflowing with all of those things.

anxiety, Depression, peace, Spiritual growth, Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs

I feel exasperated sometimes with the constant ups and downs that are a normal part of my life. I would surmise that ups and downs are probably a part of your life, too.

Don’t we have a knack for riding them out on something akin to a roller coaster? I have truly become a master at riding out ups and downs since my kidney transplant, but then I never really wanted a roller coaster life. So much for life plans!

Even with ups and downs, I am comforted when my faith opens up insight I have gained over the years, like not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), not leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and not being anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6-7). Those stay-the-course words should surely be enough to help, shouldn’t they?

Not always! Faith and spiritual maturity and scripture are simply not enough at times to keep me from the despondency of the “downs.” That’s just the way my psyche reacts when I feel down or when a circumstance pushes me down. The trouble is, things that get me down are not always enormously critical things. Even an insignificant down moment can let depression plant itself in my spirit. That just doesn’t work for me, so I need to find a way to even out my roller coaster life and not let everything that happens be a potential for depression.

What do I want? I cannot say it simpler than this: stabilizing peace. It is not an exaggeration to say that since my transplant eighteen months ago, almost nothing has been stable. Immunosuppression medications are constantly being moved up or down; my lab numbers are constantly fluctuating; my emotions are up and down; my energy waxes and wanes; my blood sugar rises and plummets; and, on one day my kidney might be okay, but on another day, I am dealing with kidney rejection. My physical, emotional and spiritual well being rises and falls with each change.

Oh, for some stabilizing peace that stays constant through the ups and downs!

I keep going back, though, to the ultimate words that promise me the kind of constant, stabilizing peace that I so need:

Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. 
Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here.
Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.
With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.
Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus,
God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand.
And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.

Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile
and worthy of praise.

You know the teachings I gave you,
and you know what you heard me say and saw me do.
So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 CEV


I wage war, much of the time, with depression that continues its haunting presence. It is not the debilitating kind of depression that can knock one to the ground to the point of needing medication. It is not the kind of depression that leaves one in tears and prevents any meaningful activity. It is not even the kind of depression that affects one’s life to the point of complete stagnancy. But it is a depression that hurts the heart and leaves the spirit languishing — on some days more than others.

Yet, I am grateful for lessons learned. In my times of depression — through my ups and downs — I have learned a few helpful and hopeful lessons.

These are just a few of them:


  1. I must not fall into the bottomless pit of anticipatory anxiety. The things that fill me with such anxiety and worry rarely even happen.
  2. My spirit is resilient, much stronger than I think it will be.
  3. The bad things that happen to me don’t usually last forever. I can ride them out.
  4. It is not “pie-in-the-sky” fantasy to fall back on the faith that has always sustained me. The truth is that the God who promised to be with me, really has been with me — every time.
  5. My “downs” have always graced me with a fresh view of my soul and spirit, the deep places in me that fall to the dust but still manage to get up and move forward.

I admit I haven’t made peace with my ups and downs. I suspect I will have them as lifelong companions, but I have made peace with the soul of my being. I have discovered that there are some soul-things that I can never really touch unless I have gone as low as I can go. In those times, my emotions are discernible and my spirit is tender. In those times, there is a holy presence that will take my hands and lift me up. Of that, I am confident.

Debasiah Mridha wrote these words that are so true and so full of wisdom, “Life has its ups and downs. When you are up, enjoy the scenery. When you are down, touch the soul of your being and feel the beauty.” 

I would like to be able to leave you with a sparkling, new solution for all of the times you go from up to down. I would like to be able to tell you in your ups, and in your downs, that you will find peace enough to sustain you. I wish I could tell you, even, that your life will be all “ups.” I wish I could believe it for myself. But there are very few things that any of us can count on. I intend to keep holding on tightly to my faith and my belief that God’s Spirit of Wisdom walks beside me. Sits next to me on that terrifying roller coaster!

I also love this thought that I stumbled upon in a most unlikely place. Brent Schlender, in his book entitled, Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, made the most lovely, comforting observation. This is what he wrote: “The sun will set and the sun will rise, and it will shine upon us tomorrow in our grief and our gratitude, and we will continue to live with purpose, memory, passion, and love.” 

May the Holy One make it so. Amen


A way in the wilderness, Aging, anxiety, Change, Depression, Disconsolate, Faith, Former things, Isaiah 43:18-19, New Things, Rivers in the desert, sadness, Sorrow, The past

“I AM ABOUT TO DO A NEW THING!” – god

“A New Thing” ~ Watercolor by Kalliope Manis Findley, July 2021

For Jennifer


It’s part of human nature to sometimes want to hold on to the past, cling to the “good old days” and resist the change that moves us forward. Especially when days past were very, very good and prospects for the future are less good!

I, for one, find myself clinging to the past with all my might, looking at my past life as a full and exciting one and viewing my present as being a bit of an empty wilderness. I chalk it up to aging and retirement, but this sense of emptiness, sadness, is really more than that. I think it’s more about my ability to accept myself for who I am, who I will become in the future and, most of all, what I truly need in order to be at peace with myself and my world.

Our worlds change all the time, and change brings with it the question all of us must answer: Who are you in relation to this world you are now in? If before retirement I was a nonprofit executive and an advocate for victims of violence and abuse, who am I in retirement? When I no longer have to adapt to the leadership roles I used to be a part of, what “self” might I discover in these days of new things? When I no longer have to adapt to the role of pastor, what “self” might I find myself to be when there is no congregation to care for?

According to Isaiah, my go-to Prophet, God advises us not to remember “the former things” or “the things of old.” Instead God apparently makes a provocative statement and asks an even more provocative question:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth.

Do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18 NRSV

I definitely had not perceived it, that new thing! In fact, I have been languishing about losing my “former things” for the last six years, not able to make the most of my present and certainly unable to envision a bright future. It might surprise even those who know me best how deeply disconsolate I have felt at times. Six years of languishing is not a good way to live. I made a gallant effort to make the best of it, but these six years took a toll on me in most every way — physically, emotionally and spiritually. My closest friends have ridden out this storm with me, so they know what I’ve been dealing with in clinging so closely to my good past and not being able to live into a good present.

And what is this “new thing” that God speaks of? What does the way through the wilderness take me and where are the winding, refreshing rivers in the desert?

– KMF

Two weeks ago, one of those close friends gave me a passage of scripture printed on a piece of paper. I received it in quite a serendipitous way. Neither of us chose the passage (Isaiah 43:18-19). It ended up with me in a very random manner. But as it spoke of former things, old things and new things, it got my attention so completely that I pondered it several times a day for a week or so. I didn’t obsess over it or look up its context or attempt to exegete it. I simply pondered it in my heart in the quiet times.

This scripture is truly a lovely God-promise, filled with a gentle, healing grace. I appreciated it for that. I also appreciated it because its words gave me the gift of sacred pause. And in the sacred pauses it gave me, I realized that the crux of this matter is not not how I react to change or how I survive it. What I discovered is that this is not about what I can do or should do when my world changes. It’s about who I am when my world changes.

With that in mind, maybe every time my world changes, I will still be the person of deep faith that I have always been. Maybe I will greet “the new things” with gratefulness, knowing that God has made before me a way in the wilderness and has provided cool, rolling rivers in the desert. And even when my soul longs for days gone by, perhaps I will know that I will see God’s light on the path ahead of me, even in the dark, even through the wilderness, even as I feel the inevitable sorrow of letting go of all the former things I so deeply cherished. Even then, I will know that I do not walk alone.

Thanks be to God.

“You Do Not Walk Alone” Traditional Irish blessing. Original music by Elaine Hagenberg http://www.elainehagenberg.com
Depression, Friendship, Heart, Seat of Emotions, Words

Words!

I wonder if writers sometimes just write words — words devoid of emotion or conviction or passion. I wonder if you would read my dispassionate words today just as you read my more passionate ones on other days. And does it even matter to you if the words I write come from my heart? Or not.

I ask because today my heart feels empty, just as it has felt for several days past. It’s that sense of numbness, maybe even a soul emptiness that hurts more than full-on despair. I cannot put my finger on a reason for it. I say to my friends, “I’m depressed,” but only because I can’t think of a better description, at least not one that most people would understand.

I have two particular friends, friends with whom I have a special relationship. We talk often about our feelings, about depression or anxiety, excitement or joy. We also ask one another a question that bypasses all superfluous language and tedious, spiritless conversation. The question is this:

How is Your heart?

The question gets us to the heart of the matter (pun not at all intended). The question gets us past the need to reticently enter into meaningful conversation. It bypasses all the fluff. It requires no long discourses on how depression feels or where we think it came from. It just asks a straightforward question that calls for an upfront, honest answer.

Just this: “How is your heart?” That’s it. We save a lot of time that way!

Either we struggle for a just a few seconds to figure out our honest answer, or we simply say, “I don’t know.” I realized not too long ago when my friend asked me about my heart that I was receiving her question as one of genuine concern for my well being. I did not feel that she was asking for a bunch of words like a treatise on my current state of being. I did not feel that she was asking me to bare the plethora of my feelings. I did not feel that she wanted to hear a string of words. I certainly did not feel that she was asking for a “How are you? I am fine,” conversation (likely the most meaningless set of words ever spoken).

She was not asking me for any of that, words and words and more words. She was asking about my heart, the seat of emotions, they say. All she wanted to know about was the condition of my heart — what longing was there; what heartache was there; what joy was there in that moment.

I always answer that question because it is a holy one. It’s never just words — her question or my answer. Instead, it is a sacred pause we enter, knowing that we will share with one another thoughts that are much deeper than words. We will share from the wellsprings of our lives.

The Egyptians taught that the heart was the seat of the soul. The ancient Hindus believed that the soul was located in the heart. The Aztecs said, “The heart is the seat of the soul.


“How is your heart?”

It is a question overflowing with meaning. The wise Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote that the heart is the seat of the soul. Another man of wisdom, Augustine of Hippo, actually behaved quite unwisely for a time, causing speculation that he was perhaps suffering from depression. The many wild wanderings of his youth caused him to harm his very soul and left him sitting at the salt pools of death. From that place, Augustine returned to God, like a bird to its forsaken nest. And he said in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee.”

― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

I empathize with Augustine, if indeed he did suffer from depression. And yes, it is true that all these words have emerged from my own place of depression. Yet, even from that deep place where my heart feels wounded, I can still rest in knowing that my heart is the seat of my soul, a place I diligently guard. Gratefully, I can still rest in the fact that I am clothed in the comforting presence of my friends who never fail to ask, “How is your heart?”

To them — Sister Lee Ann and Monica — I dedicate this post.

For them, for us, the question is not just empty, superfluous words. Between us the words are sacred words, a holy question that taps into the “wellsprings” of my life. I always answer that kind of question. For these two friends, and a few other friends who keep vigil with me whenever I am depressed, I give thanks to God. Amen.

Guard your heart with all diligence,
for from it flow the wellsprings of life.

Proverbs 4:23

anxiety, Bewilderment, Depression, Depth of Mercy, Depth of Soul, Emotions, Feelings, God’s Mercy, Hope, Life pathways, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Soul, Trails, Unknowing

The Trails I Take

I have taken many trails throughout my life and I imagine that you have as well. It’s one of the things all of us have in common. The trails we take can sometimes lead us to places unknown. Not just places on a map, but places in the soul. Our more difficult trails can push us to our limits, mostly the limits of the soul at its depth. Sometimes, today maybe, my soul is in the depths of unknowing.

What does that sentence even mean? My soul is in the depths of unknowing? If I don’t know what that means, how can I possibly talk about it with you? I can try!

I’ll try.
I’ll search for words
that explain
how I feel, how my soul feels
and what it means —
the depth of unknowing.

These days I sense an unease in my soul, in its depths. I have named it depression. I have tried in vain to make an appointment with my therapist. Isn’t that what people do when they are depressed? Anyway, I did that, but cannot see her until the end of July. So I determined that I had to become my own therapist. In doing that, I decided to search myself more deeply. I determined that perhaps what I feel isn’t depression after all. Instead, what I feel may be the depth of unknowing.

For me that means chasing away the unknowing, getting rid of it because I want to know when I will feel stronger physically, or when I will see my grandchildren, or how I will handle my emotional fragility, or where I will live for the rest of my life. Just to name a few things I need to know.

And yet, the depth of the soul’s unknowing may well be exactly where my soul begins to fully know. The trails I take while inside my soul’s depths contain lessons and treasures and wisdom. The trails bend and wind leading to an unknown path that opens its way for me. I follow it willingly, blindly, yet for some reason, expectantly. The trails are most surely my depression, their unknown, perilous way distressing me as I walk. Jagged rocks on the trails, vines creeping their way onto my path, thorns, bristles and barbs — boulders sometimes — all to remind me of the hard path I walk and the heavy load I carry.

The trails I walk may be no more ominous than yours. We all walk them and we all carry burdens on the way. You and I walk no easy trails. There is “no easy walk to freedom,” the song reminds us. Truth! The trails I walk, and your trails, are many and winding, hard and confusing. The obstacles overwhelm. I suppose this describes my depression as well as any words could, and it is precisely that unease in my soul’s depths that has come to me in these days.

The difficult thing about soul-deep depression is its dogged persistence. That kind of depression has staying power and it sits in the soul, creating that terrible sense of the soul’s unknowing. It has the power to convince me that I will never know the things I want to know. Mostly, I want to know destination. Where am I headed? What jagged rocks and prickly thorns will injure me along the way? And will I survive my injuries?

There lies the depth of depression. It lies in the desire, the need, to know. We need to know the unknown — where will the trails take us and what formidable obstacles will stop us. Now understand this, if I had answers, I would have given them to you several hundred words ago. I have no answers of my own, but I do have a nugget of wisdom written by author Angie Weiland-Crosby.

Some trails defy definition,
longing only for the soul.

Angie Weiland-Crosby

There may be something in her words. If the trails defy our attempts to define them or to know them, perhaps we can find comfort knowing that the trails long only for our soul. The trails only want us to bare our souls along the way and to open them up to the new. The trails are meant for our good, for our spiritual maturing. And as for another comfort, the God we know has seen and known the trails before us. However you see and know God, you can rest in the knowledge that God has some hand in the work of the soul. God knows about the trails we take.

Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid. Don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”

Joshua 1:9 (The Message Bible)

When all is said and done, I believe the trails I take are necessary ones. In a way, perhaps the trails I take are sacred ones, meant for opening up my soul to its depths where transformation can occur. No, God does not lay out my every trail or remove its thorns and rocks. The trails I take are strewn with rocks meant for me, thorns that pierce just enough to get my soul’s attention. I believe that. And I believe that there is for me a way to trust God wholly. My personal translation of Proverbs 3:5-6 gives me a tiny inkling of hope even when depression ravages my soul.

Trust in whoever you believe God to be in your life.
Trust God with all your heart,

and don’t rely only on what you understand.
In all the twists and turns in your life,

perceive this God as one who offers a depth of mercy,
A God who sees and knows the trails you walk.
And be assured, know deeply in your soul

that God will direct your paths.

I want to share with you a video of a beautiful, meditative song entitled, “Depth of Mercy,” performed by students of Fountainview Academy, a Christian high school based in southern British Columbia, Canada. I also share this because of where it is filmed — a beautiful wooded area with various trails. Whatever trail the students took to arrive at their destination seemed a treacherous pathway to me, and even more treacherous, the place where they stood to play and sing.

They were on top of a magnificent ridge, but way too close to the edge for my comfort. At the end, as they sang, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me?” The image pans across them to the jagged edge and then reveals a very deep and ominous gorge. Panning even farther across, you will see a most beautiful portrayal of nature, one that stirs the senses and reminds us of the depth of mercy our God reserves for us. I hope the video is meaningful to you.

Beauty of Nature, Bible, Birdsong, Comfort, Darkness, Ecclesiastes, Emotions, God’s Gift of Stars, healing, Hope, Joy, Laughter, life, Loss, Music, Nature, Psalms, Restoration, simple joys, Stars, Trees, Troubles

Almost Magic!

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Photo by James Ronan,  FOAP/Getty Images

Today, while minding my own business — and browsing the Better Homes & Gardens website — I stumbled across a stunning image of a tree. Those of you who know me, know that I have had a lifelong passion for trees. Trees, for me, are not only beautiful, they also take me often into a spiritual place. This morning while looking at the bark of the Rainbow Eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta), my thought was, “This is almost magic! It can’t be real!”

Rainbow Eucalyptus trees look too beautiful to be real (but they are!) (BH&G) 

These  trees have an astounding multicolored bark that looks like it’s been decorated with a humongous paintbrush. They seem like something one might imagine, or see in a fantasy movie, or discover in a Dr. Seuss book. But they do grow naturally with a brilliantly colored bark. The Rainbow Eucalyptus, which grow 100 to 200 feet tall, are native to tropical regions like the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and even in the most southern parts of the U.S. “Though pictures of these trees are stunning, they don’t quite capture the awe of seeing them in person.

A real rainbow eucalyptus can stop you in your tracks, so if you have the chance to travel to see them, it’s well worth the journey. (BH&G)

As you would expect, I did some research to find places where I could see this magical tree in person. San Diego, California, is actually becoming a travel destination for seeing these trees. One can see them at Balboa Park, along Sports Arena Boulevard, at the San Diego Zoo, and in parts of Mission Bay. One can also see them in parts of Florida, Hawaii and Texas. So there really are a few places you can see a Rainbow Eucalyptus without needing a passport.

You might ask, “What’s so important about a tree that looks fake?” And that would be a good question. I’m not sure I have a coherent answer, but I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes we find ourselves in places that feel “blah.” We’ve lost our sense of direction and maybe even our will to move forward in life. Those times can come to us because of grief, illness, family challenges, concern for our children, stagnancy in our careers, waning spirituality or simply feeling out of sorts. Hundreds of life circumstances can bring us to a lethargic or depressed place in life. It’s not a very good place to be, and most of us wonder how we got to such a place.

In those times (and there have been many) when lethargy got the best of me, I tended to search for a bit of magic. No ordinary remedy seemed adequate. I just needed some magic and I have discovered over many years that magic can be found in a myriad of places, beginning with some very hope-filled passages of Scripture.

There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy . . .
— Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NRSV)

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other . . .
— Ecclesiastes 7:14 (NRSV)

So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NRSV)

For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

— Isaiah 55:12 (ESV)

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength . . .” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing . . .
— Nehemiah 8:9-12 (NRSV)

And always, words from the Psalmist:

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

— Psalm 16:11 (NRSV)

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
— Psalm 27:13 (NRSV)

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
— Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

These messages from the pages of the Bible bring me joy and a bit of relief from feeling down. Being lifted from depression, sadness, the doldrums and other similar difficult seasons of life can feel like magic, magic that can be found in lots of places — if we’re paying attention. The magic may be found in a forest with a verdant canopy of leaves we can see if we look up. It may be found in the laughter of a child or in listening to joyful songs, the rhythmic melody moving through the heart. Magic may be found in loving relationships, in a garden, in a place of prayer and contemplation. You and I might find magic in birdsong or in the cloud shapes we see in the morning sky. We can even find magic in the darkest of our nights — for 100 thousand million stars sparkle for us in the Milky Way — a gift from the Creator, shining out of the darkness.

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Photo by Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Today, I found magic in the most unlikely place — in the bark of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. At least it felt like almost magic! I happened upon this treasure of nature quite by accident, or perhaps it was by providence. Anyway, catching sight of this whimsical, majestic tree brought me the joy of remembering afresh the varied potpourri of the gifts of creation, coming from God, the Father/Mother of lights.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.
— James 1:17 (NKJV)

Thanks be to God for unspeakable gifts of grace. Amen.

 

 

 

Chronic illness, Comfort, Darkness, Despair, Emotions, Faith, Grace, grief, Holy Spirit, Hope, Illness, Inspiration, Introspection, life, Light, Pain, Romans 8:26, Silence, Sorrow, struggle, Trust, Wisdom

To the Other Side of Silence

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Barbara Resch Marincel, lifeisgrace.blog

Today is another “Wordless Wednesday.” My friend, Barbara Resch Marincel, is a sister blogger, an insightful writer, and a photographer extraordinaire. You can see one of her amazing works in the image on this post. The image reminds me of a dark time that is slowly changing with the glow of new light. And in that light, the flying birds speak to me of the wind of the Spirit. Barbara’s images are a gift to me, always bringing up a range of emotions.

Here is a bit of how she describes herself on her blog, lifeisgrace.blog.

Blogger, writer, photographer, in varying order. Finding the grace in the everyday—and the not so everyday, while living a full and creative life despite chronic pain and depression.

If you take a few moments of your day to visit Barbara’s blog, you will find enchantingly stunning photography that speaks of joy, pain, life and grace.

Back to “Wordless Wednesday.” So many reasons to be wordless. Some people may not have adequate words to express joy. Others cannot speak of deep sorrow. Some of us have no words because of pain, while others are wordless because they have fallen into the depths of depression.

There is no end to the reasons people are wordless, no end to the seasons in which they find they are without words. I have lived in that season many times, and in that place I could not speak of my pain because words were completely inadequate. I could not speak the pain out loud to any friend, and even for prayer, I had no words. Silence was my close companion.

I love that my friend, Barbara, entitles her blog post “Wordless Wednesday” every week, because in the middle of every week, she reminds me of my seasons without words. Her art is a reminder for me to give thanks that I survived those times, and celebrate that I am now on the other side of silence.

But will not forget that it is no small feat to get to the other side of silence. I must remember that it is not easy to endure silent, grief-filled times and to the other side of them. While living in my seasons of unspoken angst, one passage of Scripture brought me comfort and hope.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
— Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

When grief has stolen our words, when we cannot speak and find ourselves in silence, may open our lives to hope, trusting the intercession of the Spirit’s sighs that are far deeper than words. 

Thank you, my friend, for “Wordless Wednesdays.”

And thanks be to God for allowing me to move to the other side of silence.

Amen.

Faith, God's presence, healing, Hope

A Perfect Place to Die

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Japan’s Aokigahara Suicide Forest

I watched a very thoughtful and intriguing movie last week — The Sea of Trees. The film was captivating, telling the story of a despondent professor who despaired of life and searched for a way to end his life. His search led him to Aokigahara, a forest in Japan known also as the Sea of Trees or the Suicide Forest.  Aokigahara Forest has been home to over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s. It is called “the perfect place to die” and is the world’s second most popular place for suicide.

One might say that suicide is not the most uplifting subject for a blog. But suicide is a very real and present tragedy in the world. Consider these startling statistics reported by The Jason Foundation. (http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/)

▪️Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC)

▪️Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2015 CDC)

▪️More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.

▪️Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12.

▪️Each year, 30,000 Americans die by suicide. An additional 500,000 Americans attempt suicide annually. (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/suicide)

Some people have found help through suicide prevention programs. Others choose to turn to 24-hour suicide helplines available around the clock to provide crisis intervention. (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) Still others find that it is their faith that raises fresh hope within them and lifts their sight above the darkest of days.

There is a special kind of renewed hope when people who have been on the brink of taking their own lives share their stories of faith, the depth of faith that ultimately gave them the inner strength to live. Samuel Trevor Francis (1835-1925) told such a story of faith. He experienced a spiritual turning point as a teenager, contemplating suicide one night on a bridge over the River Thames. An unexpected renewal of his faith saved his life that night. At age 41, Samuel Trevor Francis recalled the faith that saved him and penned the words of the well-known Christian hymn, “O the Deep Deep, Love of Jesus.”

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

But let’s go back to where we began —  the best place to die.

Many years ago, I looked for that place, a way out of many years of relentless, chronic pain. I traveled alone to Mayo Clinic to receive two weeks of specialized medical care and physical therapy.  Perhaps a city very far from my home would be the best place to die. After an upsetting treatment at the clinic, I managed to make it to my hotel room. I took out all the bottles of prescription medication I had with me. The phone rang, and a friend distracted my focus from the tablets I had poured out in front of me. And through our conversation, with tears falling on my freshly-made bed, I learned something very life-giving about the depth of my faith, and most of all, about the depth of God’s abiding, ever-present love.

And so today I can say with strong assurance that the best place to die — or to live — is in middle of the deep, deep love of Jesus, a love that is for me “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!” A love that restored hope in the midst of my despair. A love that was enough.

Today, as I silently sing “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” the words of that beautiful hymn ring real and true. God’s love truly was underneath me and all around me, even on that cold and lonely night in Minnesota.

Thanks be to God.