The Lion Roared

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31, NRSV

Hours, days, weeks in the hospital blurred into one long anxiety. Pain. Fatigue. Helplessness. Abandonment. Despair. Negative emotions swam through my mind and curdled my thinking…what was left of it.  My brain had no more room.  Too many tests, too long before diagnosis, longer still until treatment. I. Was. Done.

Where was the peace that passes understanding?  Where was the intimacy I normally felt and practiced?  Where was my Advocate? Where was Immanuel, God WITH us?

I paused.

Well, where was He?  It hadn’t occurred to me to look.

Aslan. Lion of Judah, my Shield, my Defender… I waited, wondering what it would feel like to have a Lion defending me.  Would he roar? Would he attack “them”– all those people and infections and reactions hurting me?  Not a mythical lion, but the Lion of Judah, who promised to be with me always.   What would He do?

He stood at the foot of my bed and He roared.

Wait! Was that an impression from God or was I making this up?  I looked up, startled that my imagination had enough strength to function.  “Lord, is that YOU?” I asked.

He roared again–at the illness, the reactions, the complications, the doctors who frightened me, the CT scans that radiated me.  He looked at me with concern, and roared again and again and again.  “Lo, I am with you always,” surfaced in my mind.

He was holding back the things that would harm.  He was standing up for me when I couldn’t even walk. He was keeping the enemy from killing, maiming and destroying.  He was my Advocate, and he would not be thwarted.

“But Lord,” I thought, focusing on the foot-of-the-bed Lion, “what do I do with this deep alone-ness, this abandonment, this pain and despair?  You’re not taking it away, you’re not filling the hole, you’re roaring.  What do I do with this?”

And then there was a Lioness, beside the bed, licking, washing, pulling me toward her.  I imagined fur, and the strong body for me to lean against.  She purred, cleaned, rubbed.  I could almost feel her breath.  This was not a theoretical “with,” but a Jesus out to prove something.  He was roaring to protect, but He was nestling to nurture.  He would care and hold and shelter.  He would provide what the doctors and nurses and caring friends could not.

For three weeks He roared and nurtured, until I came home. For another three weeks, He purred and held me, through even more procedures and pain.  My hunger for Him grew even as He reassured me. I learned to wake up and lean into those secure arms.

Until one day, just eight weeks after the hospital post-surgery nightmare, the picture in my mind was gone.  “Lord?”  I looked around, hoping I would find the reassuring image and His reassuring breath.  But no, I didn’t need it any more.  I could still lean on Him, I could still be with Him, and I could still hear the roar.  Like the encouragement of a parent long-gone, the comfort was inside me.  I’d internalized the picture and the voice, and the trauma was over.

Where is the Lion of Judah roaring for you?  Is He nurturing, caring? Or fighting and protecting? Has He remained? Or has He vanished just as you recognized His care?

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Putting the Lie to Rest

leather bound journal with calligraphy pen, by Curt Fleenor

Leather Bound Journal with Calligraphy Pen by Curt Fleenor is licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Cor 10:5 (NIV)

I look at my journal, that precious place where God and I meet, and I see a great, big “SHOULD” button flashing in my brain.  I try to pick up my pen, but I can’t start to write.  Shaking my head, I drop the pen back on the desk and push away the journal.  “No,” my insides shout, “not now,” so I sigh and turn to face the lush green woods outside my office window.  Something tight, something heavy, blocks my wonder, my creativity, my productivity;  I can’t even finish the simplest of tasks.  I can almost feel a physical grip on my heart.

“Oh, just do it,” my earnest evangelical friend (whose voice resides firmly in my head) exhorts.  “Don’t think and introspect;  Only start, and the rest will follow.”

Fair enough.  Plenty of times, my mountain is moved by small ant-sized accomplishments.   But this is not one of those times.  I know myself.  This lack of rest, driven busyness, and restless non-work are not driven by a lack of will.  Gutting it out may work as a short term prod, but never as a long-term solution.

“Ah,” my charismatic friend might say, “Your symptoms scream ‘enemy’!  His hallmarks, right there, holding you back!  Pray against that stronghold!”

Maybe.  In truth he is undoubtedly at work.  But that’s not where to start, not by a long shot.  Instead, I think about my reactions: my busyness, the piles of work I can’t complete, the immobilization that halts my every start.  The busyness isn’t my enemy—it’s just a coping mechanism.

What really lies at the heart?

Lurking beneath my roadblocks are usually deeper issues—reasons I don’t stop, or don’t rest, or can’t accomplish.  Unearthing those reasons will free me to move forward—or step back—intentionally.

Ironically, pondering will have to lead to journaling, that thing I don’t want to do because I’m afraid of what I will find.  Yes, that’s one block:  I’m afraid to rest and find out what’s lurking because I surely won’t like my own sin, or the sin done against me. Perhaps I won’t like the solution, either.  Can I trust that the word the Lord speaks will heal and not destroy.  Another block, surely.

But underneath is yet another lie. A bigger one, sucking me dry.  I know it’s there, and I know the process:  find the lie, discover where it came from, and pray for healing.  Listen to what the Lord says, and feel His presence changing my perspective surrounding its birth. He pours grace and peace over the still-throbbing ulcer and the pain subsides.  He heals the wound and changes my heart, and my body and soul return to rest.  Gladly.

I don’t know what it is yet.  I can’t tell you what the offending lie is, nor where it came from.  But I promise you this:  I will not rest, cannot rest, until it is found.  Jesus and I…  we will find that thing that chokes me, and Jesus will dissolve it.

And so I’m off on a lie-hunt.    And what about you?  Do you hunt, too?

Let’s hunt together, you and I. We all have those callouses of long-forgotten lies, built up to protect our vulnerable hearts.   Now they hurt instead, keeping us from all that Jesus brings: healing, restoration, and rest.

Can we join forces here?  What are the lies that hold you back?  What healing will free you and destroy them?

 

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He Would Have

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  Prov 25:11, ESV

by bp6316_93/365_Flickr.com_3410006685_3064e380a5_z.jpg_CC BY 2.0by bp6316_93/365_Flickr.com_3410006685_3064e380a5_z.jpg_CC BY 2.0

 

 

“He would have, you know.”

It was a soft comment, but I felt its weight.  As usual, Jesus’ voice  surprised me.

I was trying, hard, to burrow into the root of an issue.  Once again life’s daily tumbles had triggered me into shame, anger, worthlessness and ultimately, despair.  For weeks I’d skirted the problem but couldn’t make progress.  Now, finally, curled up on my bed, I found my voice – and His – and watched Him point the way.

As usual, the problem originated long ago in childhood.  “There was no one to protect me, no one to stand up for me or advocate FOR me,” I whispered to Jesus.  I could “see” His eyes; in my imagination they were warm and kind, encouraging me to continue.

looked far back and found a few places of victory – times when my kind father saved me from fears or taunts. He was so dear and I cherished those few memories. My mind ran over those crystal-smooth surfaces again and again, but I knew those times were rare. My feelings ran deep, but they stayed inside and he did not know them.

Warfare he understood, but emotions, not so much. I was a tender little girl, a being totally unfamiliar to him, and with very strange needs. Most times he backed away to let my mother and grandmother fight my battles.

Unfortunately, like so many other strong mothers of their generation, they fought me instead of my battles.  Intimidated, I gave up and became the victim of my peers.  Not once did I learn how to handle a bully, and there were many.

“I wanted him to protect me,” I admitted to Jesus and that’s when I heard His quiet response.

“He would have?”  My eyebrows pulled together as I tried to understand Jesus’ words.

“He would – he wanted to – but he didn’t know how,” Jesus replied.  Oh! My father would have protected me if he had the right tools and answers.  I imagined how he might look in heaven – strong, confident, able to teach me to stand even amid hurled threats and shoves that left my heart cringing and trembling in the corner.

“He WOULD have!” I thought with relief, and suddenly Jesus’ three words filled in holes I didn’t know were there.  The “he didn’t” pain was replaced with Jesus’ strong arms and impenetrable back, showing me what my father would have done. if he could have.

Three words and a lifetime of healing in three seconds.

He does that, you know, with just a few words.  He undoes time and pain and winds them backward, resetting who we are in the process and transforming us more and more into who He created us to be.  Prison doors drop open and we walk away, released.

What words do we need today from the One who would set us free?

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Chipmunks and Angels of Light

If you are joining me from {re}fresh, welcome!
Chipmunk by A. Delray --The Forest Vixen - www.forestvixen.com, licensed under CC by 2.0

Chipmunk by A. Delray –The Forest Vixen – www.forestvixen.com, licensed under CC by 2.0

“Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Song of Solomon 2:15

I saw him from the corner of my eye—a small something skittering toward the plants on the garage floor. Silly chipmunk. I was just six feet away and he didn’t particularly care. My idiotic arm-flapping “HEY!” as I moved closer didn’t scare him, either.  Silly me.

Too cute for his own good, I yelled louder and lunged toward the small, furry, brown and black invader.  It had been just a year since he dug into the house and invited two mouse-friends.  This was entirely too brazen.

I don’t know if it was my indignant hollering or my rapidly-approaching face that scared off the adorable demonic rodent.  I scurried to move the tender new plants back outside. Never mind late spring cold and rain (almost sleet).  The plants would survive but the garage door was NOT staying open any longer.

How like the Enemy is that little chipmunk?  He waits for the right moment and cutely, bold-facedly, struts into my back door when he thinks I’m not watching.  I virtually have to hop on top of him to make him leave.

Unfortunately, the “angel of light” knows he is enticing. (“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Cor 11:14).

The enemy sneaks in softly under cover of beauty and subterfuge.  Our judgments seem wise and sure, but they do not lead to peace, and they are not true.  How quickly our thoughts captivate and control us, backing us into corners from which we can’t escape. Pains become judgments, then isolation.

No, this time the Chippy won’t take up residence.  My “make sense of this” thoughts, too, must be shut out with a thick door, chased back into the outside realms.

Know, Enemy, that even if you do find an entry hole, the way will be blocked and the door will not be re-opened.  Your creatures may be cute, but they are no longer welcome.

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Water in the Desert

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Oasis by Awee_19 is licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

He turned the desert into pools of water
and the parched ground into flowing springs;
36 there he brought the hungry to live,
and they founded a city where they could settle.   (Ps 107:35-36, NIV)

 

It’s amazing what a little water will do.

Years ago, a teacher told me a story about flying over Israel’s Negev desert. Below him, he saw a round plot of green in the midst of the dessert.  Apparently scientists decided to see what would happen if they watered that one circle and didn’t touch the surrounding landscape.

It bloomed.  Brilliantly, beautifully, it turned green and lush, an oasis of growth in the midst of dry, dusty, sandy desert.  And even more amazingly, scientists and farmers engineered crops to grow even in the Negev’s brackish water. That’s water which has a huge salt content, from aquifers deep below the Negev Desert. Desalinization costs too much, so scientists found ways to use what was unusable.

And it worked.

Apparently, in God’s economy, abundant, green, growing life does not depend on perfect circumstances.  It depends on water.  Fresh water, rain, leftover water, it matters not.  Water, in some form, breeds life. Incredibly, in the right circumstances, even brackish water will do.

For my parched spirit, that is good news.  I want to be like the Psalmist’s person, a tree planted by streams of [living] water, yielding fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. However, while my soul yearns desperately for God like the deer panting for streams, I look around and see no oasis.

Wait. Brackish water, he said. They bred plants to resist the salt and grow in brackish water.

Have I overlooked the brackish water in my life, thinking it unsuitable for growth?  Was this my answer while I waited for the spring rains>

How many times did I look for an oasis and overlook a tiny pond?  Or wait for the ‘perfect spring rain’ when there was a fine flowing river just around the corner, as yet unseen?  Did I look in vain for a clean spring when brackish water was bubbling forth from the ground nearby?

Brackish water.  With the Cleanser of Our Souls, our hearts are trained to absorb life even in brackish water – He turns the brackish to clean and the bitter to sweet. Somehow, with Him, my soul can glean enough moisture to live even in the driest of days.

Those small gratefulnesses I voice may lead to big exaltations down the road; at the least, bit by bit they turn my heart back to God.  Those scathing reaction-words, not spoken and blurted at Jesus’ feet, may turn to blessings instead of curses.  The impossible disappointments force rhythms of hope in the midst of failure that may teach me to thrive despite my surroundings.

In the world, brackish water breeds death.  But… but… in His life, it’s amazing what a bit of water can do!

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Too-Thin Fabric and Life Everlasting

DSC_8044 (2)The fabric of my life was suddenly too thin, the once-plush cloth of all the people who knew me when, now threadbare.

Another fiber pulled away yesterday, unraveling a piece of my history as it went.  Suddenly the weave was so thin, I feared it would dissolve in my hands.

My friend died, one of the ones who was always there, always praying, always believing… and always worrying in a good sort of way.  We didn’t speak often, but she was there, caring and loving even when she was in pain.

Her body gave out way too soon and the hole she left made me gasp. I didn’t realize how big her fabric thread was.

Almost forty years ago she promised to pray for us, and she and her husband never forgot. They prayed for us. Every. Single. Day.

All of a sudden, I felt very lonely.

“Who will pray for us now,” I sobbed to my husband as unwanted tears wet my cheek.

“She’s still praying!”  He smiled a gentle smile, comfort in his eyes along with tears.  Confused, I tilted my head, my eyes asking questions my brain couldn’t answer.

“All the company of heaven!” He threw his head back as he laughed, “that’s what that verse means.  She’s still praying for us, along with all the saints in heaven!”  Oh. Wait. Right. I forgot.  And suddenly, the veil between earth and heaven seemed almost transparent.  I wanted to pour out my heart, tell her everything I’d missed saying, everything that had happened, and everything that hadn’t.  But more, I knew I’d see her again, along with all the rest of the dwindling tribe of elders in my life.

Grief made me forget, but suddenly I remembered.

The resurrection. His, Jesus’s, that overcame death, and ours, to everlasting hope. The forever family, friends and community that would once again be together, the fabric no longer thin but mesmerizingly complete.  I would see her again.

I would tell her about the ministry she helped us birth, and what God did.  I would tell her about worship, and healing, and prayer, and wounded hearts made whole, but she would already know.

Easter would win over dark Good Friday.  Life over death, dancing instead of mourning, beauty for ashes, celebration in place of abandonment.

I looked down at my hands and imagined. Transformed, the fabric sparkled in my eyes, alive with the hope of heaven and the glory of resurrection.

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Immanuel, God With Us: — How “With” is “With?”

read Seal Your Mouths by Brooke Rosemary, Flickr.com_-photos-indigotimbre-46141712_412e856dc9_o

“Seal Your Mouths” by Brooke Rosemary, Flickr.com_/photos/indigotimbre/46141712_412e856dc9_o.jpg

The dentist’s chair was the last place I wanted to be. A piddling annoyance for many, the dentist represented far more trauma for me. Vivid pictures swirled in my mind of childhood cavity-fillings without anesthesia, and the more recent “time-I-almost-died-in-the-hospital”: a near-fatal bacterial infection had invaded my system after a broken tooth and a six-month cleaning.

Four years later, I was still terrified.

I cringed in the chair and tried, hard, to imagine Jesus near me. Anywhere near me. Even in the same building. In that moment, no amount of “with” seemed enough, and nothing convinced me – not Scripture, not worship songs, not frantic prayer, nor even hand-holding by a concerned dental technician.

Immanuel, God “with” us, just didn’t cut it, and I sputtered in exasperation.   Exactly how “WITH” was “with?”

The drill whined, and I clenched my jaw, my fingers, and my toes. Eyes wide, my mind went into overdrive, forcing facts into the front of my brain.

“OK Jesus, where are you?” I forced a deep breath, and tried imagining somewhere Jesus might be. Not just a distant force, I reminded myself, but someONE right here in the room. Someone strong and protecting.

What if Jesus was really THERE, in the room, at the end of the long chair…

…wiggling my almost-numb toes.

What? The surprising image popped into my brain. He was wiggling my toes, loosening my tension, changing my view and jostling me out of my terror. I giggled silently as the picture gradually emerged and I realized how stiff I was. I flexed my hands, my fingers, my ankles. In my mental picture, Jesus smiled as I wiggled each limb, reassuring me that this was no dangerous visit. I would not die, the pain would not defeat me, and the fear could leave.

Somehow, I couldn’t be scared and grateful at the same time. (That much is objectively true: anxiety and fear both emanate from the same part of the brain, I’m told). I breathed, and stopped chomping vice-like on my physician’s hands.

Christmas was long-gone, but Immanuel was apparently still very much “with.” He didn’t come to leave us alone, but to stay amid our darkness, our fears and instabilities, our joys and blessings, and our anger and pain. He is huggingly close, holding our hands and our hearts and overcoming all manner of evil.

Immanuel, God WITH us. It’s not just for Christmas any more.

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