When figurative language fails

A section of the Arkansas river in Buena Vista, CO

Any time I am near a river, the verse that John wrote in his gospel where Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38) comes to mind. How can it not? It’s an easy visual: If I seek Jesus, my heart should look like this stream. Right? Full of faith, confidence, joy in God. I am sure for all of us there are days where this might be easier to grasp, and others where it seems near impossible given all that is going on around you.

I wonder if this is even something people think about today.

Are we “thirsty” for something other than what’s trending on the social media platforms, the news feeds, political debates, or any other of the many, many things we can feast on when we are bored, tired, or trying to find something to fill our minds? Even as believers its easy to think that if we can feast on enough of these things, know how to prove ourselves “right” in a debate, or if we ingest enough instagram or blog “tidbits” of scripture that we have drunken living water and had our fill. My tendency is to read, read, bike, read (and snack) and read and bike some more (and snack more). I have to remind myself that even if I am reading books about God, this is not drinking living water either.

Those in Jesus day had heard of God as being “living water” from the prophet Jeremiah. They had heard that one day, living water would flow out from Jerusalem from Zechariah. They had been challenged by Isaiah to come to the waters of God to satisfy their soul. For an agrarian people who desperately needed rain to survive, the reality that God was the one that provided that the water that allowed them to live, I can only imagine this figurative language made sense to them.

What is interesting to me is that this statement is only made in the book of John. No other gospel records this, but let me reassure you: its not because Jesus didn’t really say it, or because the other gospel writers didn’t think it was important. The author of the gospel of John had a completely different core message than the other three (who focused on kingdom, repentance, and God’s fulfillment of his promise). Not that John’s gospel doesn’t address those things, but based on the stories and teachings of Jesus he included, his purpose was more to show the person of Jesus and his existence before time, as well as how he was the same YAHWEH who had been speaking to them all along.

What is even MORE interesting to me is that this claim was made on the last day of the festival of Sukkot, often titled as the “Feast of Tabernacles” in our bibles. The significance of this is crazy. This feast was held in fall after the harvest, and it was one of great celebration that lasted a full week. People came from all over to Jerusalem and built temporary huts to live in, as commanded in Leviticus 23:33-43. They celebrated God’s goodness to them, and sought His blessing on next year’s harvest.

Every day people would come and offer gifts to the Lord, then go back to sleep in their hut. On the last day, traditionally the priest would take a pitcher, march from the temple to the Pool of Siloam (which was fed from the Spring of Gihon), get some fresh water, and then return to the temple. He would stand near the altar and pour out the water as the people would cry and chant “Oh Lord, save us!” Symbolically, it was a cry for deliverance and saving by His provision in the next year of another good harvest.

Imagine for a moment having travelled with your entire family for a few days to get to Jerusalem. You are standing in a crowd of thousands, as you have since your childhood, celebrating the harvest that was harder than usual to reap this year. Yet you come to thank God and honor Him. You join with others, praying for rain for the next years crop and crying out for God to save you as a people, since you were living under an oppressive regime. Imagine watching this water being poured out…. and then a man you do not know stands up and says these words:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”

I wonder if I would have been curious as to what he meant, or brushed it over and ignored it? It helps sometimes to listen to how the original language draws a picture for us.

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In Greek, the word for thirst, when used figuratively means “those who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened”

Likewise, the word for drink, when used figuratively, means “to receive into the soul what serves to refresh, strengthen, nourish it unto life” (Blueletterbible.org)

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In other words, what Jesus was saying is this: Those who need support and strength. Those who long for life giving stuff in their innermost being (often translated ‘heart’)… come and get it. I am the one that can deliver what you are looking for.

This is text we have to wrestle with today, my friends, because it’s just as applicable for us as it was the day it was spoken.

Do we recognize the thirst in our own lives, so that we can see the thirst of others? Are we letting OUR thirst be quenched by the very Spirit of God that was promised, or are we letting ourselves be dulled by the things of life that distract, or perhaps things in our past that tell us this water isn’t enough, it’s too low, it’s unpredictable, it’s unsafe?

I suspect that many of you who have been believers for a while have a complicated relationship with an understanding of the Holy Spirit, perhaps due to church stuff. But when we look back at scripture, it is this very Spirit that is to breathe on us, into us, just like the disciples, to BE the people of God. We need this living water just as much as people did when Jesus first spoke those words.

It is the Spirit that enables us to press on in loving our kids and families and neighbors …. that wound us, reject us, misunderstand us.

It is the Spirit that enables us to believe that God exists and moreover, He hasn’t stopped pursuing the broken people of this world…..including us.

It is the Spirit that will continue to lead us into truth – about ourselves, our world, and the church. It is the Spirit that will show us how to move forward so that we are aligned to Jesus and His mission, not ours – regardless of the political landscape.

It is the Spirit that will expose our motives, our weaknesses, our obsession with self, until we understand that only in being broken and poured out is the life of Christ revealed in us to a world that needs to know there is hope for them as well.

So as the summer starts and (hopefully) we can all get outside more and do the things we have been missing for a while – don’t forget to take time to drink in the Spirit of God and let Him refresh you… so that rivers of living water will pour out of YOU.

Blessing, my friends!

Breadcrumbs of Hope in the Old Testament

Sure, there are some great verses that always get pulled out and posted somewhere (or made into a sign at Hobby Lobby), but if you try to read one of the books from start to finish, unless you have been taught about their structure, it can feel like you are being thrust into a movie filled with battle scenes, destruction, mythic creatures, judgements, legal proceedings, and declarations of love, switching from one scene to another without a predictable pattern.

Reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be a daunting task. 

Part of the issue is simply that we are expecting one type of writing style when in reality there are many styles represented, and they aren’t in chronological order.  The literary elements that you learned back in high school are very much in play – and when you read it like that .. some of it makes more sense. Or at least it helps you realize that when Jeremiah says something like “Every head is shaved, and every beard cut off; every hand is slashed and every waist is covered with sackcloth” (Jer 48:37) – it doesn’t mean this is true of every single person. You are able to understand that he’s exaggerating – but for sure, people are mourning, they are devastated, and it’s not just a family. It’s an entire people group he is talking about (in this case, the Moabites)

One book I’d recommend that will give you a good overview of the types of writing styles you see across the prophetic books is “Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic” by D. Brent Sandy. 

I know some trains of thought hold that since we are living in New Testament times, we don’t have to pay THAT much attention to the Old Testament. I do not agree with that at all.  It might seem that the Old Testament doesn’t have anything to do with our world today, and yes, many of the stories and prophetic words address historical issues with nations of bygone eras.  Yet there are also portions that, if you study them from a human failure/flourishing perspective,we can easily find ourselves and our world in the stories.The text can then also inform our understanding of what it should look like as God’s kingdom works itself out in our world.

Trust me….the frustration with leaders, the pain of national struggle and moral failure, the injustice…. It’s there in the text just like it is here in our world today. 

Yet what I am fascinated with again, after studying John 10, is something from my final paper in a class a year ago.

The prophetic books are full of passages scattered throughout that look forward to “one day” when all things are made right. Taken together, they yield a prophetic hope of what God would do and how it would look…and let me tell you.. it was a good picture. Like really good… for EVERYONE. 

It’s this prophetic hope that the Israelites clung to when they were refugees returning to their homeland with nothing. They were discouraged, because they suffered due to choices of those that had gone before them, and now they were left with the rubble and difficult work of rebuilding. They were trying to remember who they were, and who their God was, and what He had said of them. There was discord between those that left and those that stayed, so you had some disagreements even within the community as it was being rebuilt. 

Read that again – slowly – and think of it in global terms, not just a western-American-first-world mindset. Especially if you have never had to worry about a place to live (like me).  People experience this today all the time.

So they remembered. They remembered the promise of God to their ancestors, words collected over the past generations, and the promise of something better. One day, God would come for them – and when He did:  

  • They would have a good king, one that would rule them well, like David (and in his family line of course)
  • Their enemies would be conquered!
  • They would once again be a shining example that would draw the world to Yahweh!
  • Everyone would sit under their own vine and fig tree (prosperity and blessing for the land)
  • The old would live a long time and kids wouldn’t die young (good health)
  • Justice and righteous living would run down like water from the mountains (no one taking advantage of another, honest leaders, everything fair/equitable)
  • Peace all around in community. People caring for each other!
  • Laughter and dancing, celebrations galore!
  • Everyone would know the Lord, and he would teach them!
  • Everything would be holy and good again, not stained by sin!
  • Sin would be forgiven forever (release of burden and fear)

Pretty big list huh? Prosperity, health, peace, forgiveness and freedom. All the nations coming to Yahweh and living rightly in his ways. On top of that, there were all these other documents showing even more of what people thought it would look like when Yahweh returned (called extra biblical texts). These were written in the timeline between the last book of the Old Testament and the time when Jesus was born. What you end up with is this larger than life picture, one that I’m not sure I fully grasped until now.

Sure, I knew Jesus fulfilled prophecies. But I think there is a tendency to reduce the “bigness” of expectation to just a list, thus reducing the level of impact their fulfillment should have for us. Yet if you can take time to marinate a bit in the world into which the prophets spoke, it makes the things that Jesus says and does come to life in a way you never would have expected. It ceases to be an apologetic list of prophecies Jesus has fulfilled and becomes LIVING HOPE.

Here is what I mean:

Ezekiel is pretty much a scathing book of how wrong everything had gotten. He’s a bit more hardline and exacting than some of the other prophets when it comes to the temple, but very much in line with them on his critique of the leaders, teachers, and priests of Israel (three of the top things all the prophets spoke against). For example, in Ezkiel 34:4-6 we read:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves!……You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally… My sheep wandered over all the mountains… they were scattered… and no one searched or looked for them

What then follows is God’s plan to solve it in verses 11-16

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I myself will tend my sheep.. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice

We know the pattern of scripture is that when God decides to act, he acts. As good Jews, the Israelites of Jesus day were probably looking for God to act like he had before on their behalf: A just king, a non-corrupt priest, and battle plans where the Lord would go before them and do another exodus thing – free them from their oppressors!

So when Jesus shows up on the scene and claims to be the good shepherd, he’s like “remember when Ezekiel prophesied that God was going to come be a shepherd because the leader’s weren’t?”

Yeah, I’m here now doing just that. Finding the lost. Binding up the wounded

“Remember how Ezekiel also said God would come and live in your midst?” (Ezel 37:27)

Yep, I’m walking right here. Are you willing to believe this is how I want to do this?

“Remember how God told Moses no one could see him without dying? Remember Isaiah’s vision where he thought he would die after seeing the Lord?” (Isaiah 6)

Guess what. You are watching me RIGHT NOW and I’m not smiting anyone. I’m bringing them back to life. Did you catch that? 

THIS is why who Jesus is as Shepherd matters so dang much. It’s so much deeper than a list of prophesies he fulfilled. He was walking into the hope they had heard and dreamt about for YEARS.

Yet most of Israel couldn’t see it.

Our world hasn’t changed much in some ways. People are still wandering and longing for better.

Yet we live in the time of God walking with is people! We live in the time of God being shepherd, of God finding the lost and binding up the broken!

It can be tempting to long for “better” when a different leader is in power here in America. Some lived like that the past 4 years, some are longing for that now. But the “better” as believers we are to hope for is really God’s Shalom, and the picture is bigger than we can really understand. So let’s be careful to not confuse Jesus shepherd-leadership with the current mayor/governor/ senator/president. They will all come and go. What Jesus has done will not change.

Now, since the picture of shepherd today might not work well in a society that is largely unfamiliar with sheep-keeping, I have to ask myself: what is the parallel today?

It’s not a church, or a doctrine, or a theological answer.
It’s not an opinion or argument or political viewpoint.
None of that is shepherding.

People need to know there is a resting place for their weary lives and a salve for the pain of their past and present. They need someone to defend them from being attacked.

They need a place to find sustenance when they are on empty.  Something steady they can count on. Someone to help lead them when they don’t know what to do. Someone to step in and remind them who they are, so they walk with purpose, not wandering and aimless. Someone to lead them into life giving things.

People are going to have to see some of those qualities in us that know the Shepherd before they will be willing to trust that He’s really there and really able to be a shepherd for their lives.

So my question to you … do you KNOW Jesus as Shepherd, for your life, or do you just know the verses that talk about him as such?

Can you talk about Jesus as your shepherd as clear as you can articulate your political views? (sorry if I am stepping on some toes here). If not.. why not? Is that an area of growth for you perhaps?

One thing I know is that sheep are stubborn. I certainly know I am. Jesus as my shepherd has had to do quite a great deal of prodding me from time to time….. but I always know He’s leading me into places that he wants me. 

I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on Jesus as your Shepherd this week… and recognize you are walking in partial fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the ages!

Blessings, my friends!

Lessons of a (late) newlywed, Part 4: Out of the Shadows

A good friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Sarah Bessey’s new book “A Rhythm of Prayer”, and have been reading it little by little. Today, I read the benediction even though I’m not even half way done. Why? because.. well because why read it in order?

It got me thinking.

There are these two huge canvas pictures that hang on the wall in our house. They hold a central spot really, visible when you sit at the dining room table – you can’t miss them. Both are from the rafting trip through the Grand Canyon Trung organized and led over a decade ago. At the start – 16 people, sitting on a raft with the oars and paddle boards, helmets and PFD’s (personal flotation devices .. aka lifejackets).. and in warm jackets. At the end, still 16 people, but some gone and some new ones, sitting around a cooler with the sun in the background, all a few shades darker from three weeks of having been on the river.

I have heard stories about this trip from nearly every person I have met since Trung came into my life a few years back…. enough to make me wonder if another trip can ever live up to it (but we’re hoping we can get a permit some day for another one-so we will see!) I can name and have met almost every single person on that trip as well. Of course by now, everyone is a bit older, some are more grey-haired…. and some have less hair. One no longer has her dreads, having traded them for a shorter cut that her (now 3) children won’t yank on.

If I’m honest, I have felt like I have had to walk in the shadow of this great life of adventure my husband has lived before he met me, hearing tales not only of this one rafting trip but of other grand adventures he has both done and invited others into. They make my meager family camping trips and races seems so small in comparison.

and yet

I am reminded of the following truth:

He and I have spent lifetimes investing in and becoming experts in our respective worlds: his, adventure; mine-family/relationships and ministry. They both have been deep and noble pursuits, and neither is greater than the other. They are just different.

It is easy for me to look at all he has done, and think I have nothing so exciting to speak of (which is crazy, it’s all a matter of perspective, I know)

So as I sit and think… a smile comes to my face, as my imagination and the (hardly) poetic side of me tries to put words to the picture that comes to mind.

He has lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are no disasters, of gear packing and outfitting, of navigating rivers and rapids. He has camped in sub-zero weather, carried the heaviest of packs and walked for miles. He has rappelled down ravines and climbed up frozen waterfalls. He has done back-country skied and snow-shoed. I’m sure he has had some harrowing rescues in his day, stories yet to come out.

He has climbed mountains and seen the stars more brilliant than you can imagine. He has found solace in the silence of nature. He has taught so many the things he knows, calling them to lives of character and respect for the great outdoors. I could go on – and should you need proof, there’s a room in our house full of gear that can attest to any one of a thousand stories.

Me?

I too have lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are not disasters, only mine included snacks and diapers, sunscreen and sun hats, pack -n-plays for nap-time and books for reading before bed. I have outfitted and gear packed, but it came in yearly cycles with the changing of school seasons and backpacks and new supplies, whether it was crayons, dry erase markers, or the newest graphical calculator. My miles were to and from the bus stop, along soccer field sidelines and in the green room or ticket booth at theater shows (along with the miles I ran for my own sake). I can’t say I did any rappelling, but I got pretty creative with a pulley system in a two story house to avoid running upstairs to get something small.. does that count?

I have navigated rivers of moody teenagers, more than I can count, waves of emotion that seemed endless, covered in prayer. The mountains I have climbed seemed more spiritual than physical many years, trusting God to move the ones that seemed to big and help me climb the ones I needed to see beyond. I think my rescues were more in the things you cannot see, victories won for my kids and the lives of those in our church that only God can see (and of course He was really the rescuer there, I just did my part). I challenged people to lives of integrity, to believe there was more to this life than they could see… and to place their trust in the One that created it all. I have photo albums and journals galore, should you need proof.

I think of all this, how our lives have parallelled in ways I never knew, and I have to laugh…

because true to form,

what he has done with his hands and in the natural for others

I have done with my heart and in the faith lives of others

Not that he hasn’t impacted the faith lives of others – for I KNOW he has.. and not that I haven’t invited others into adventures – for I have (just not the same kind).

The reality is that we have both been living a life of adventure really – his full of gear and the wildness of the outdoors, mine full of tears and prayers and the wildness of how watching how God moves in the world.

Now we get to see what it looks like when those things come together.

It’s pretty darn beautiful if you ask me.

Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.

Hallelujah!

My take on Hebrews 11

The view of mountains (far, far in the distance) as you drive into Colorado from Nebraska. I promise you, they are there right beneath the clouds.

If you have been in church for any length of time, you have probably heard Hebrews 11:1 quoted often:

“For Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen”

or, as the Message translation puts it: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. Its our handle on what we can’t see”

The author then goes on to list all these people who lived from the time God called Abram somewhere between 2100 and 1800 BC through his current time, pointing to choices people had to make in the face of difficulty to show that they knew God had bigger plans for them, for their nation, for their lives. Not all of their lives are reflected in this overview, just some big, recognizable stories. It would be like if you had done your family’s genealogy and you just wrote about the highlights, like “your great, great, great grandparents moved from [insert country] to [insert country] with nothing, just to make a better life/escape war… then by faith they took this job and followed this path… and it landed them [insert state/country] where they met [insert spouse], and married them even though the family shamed them …”.

You get the picture. High level. Hard stuff that takes guts and faith in a God-sized destiny. The ability to look far, far away and see something beautifu. Kind of like looking for mountains on the horizon as you drive into Colorado, just waiting for them to appear 🙂

One of the things I have always loved to challenge people with is to read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11. Note the things you think really took faith, and note the ones that didn’t. Fact check. Do you think the author was painting any of this with rose-colored glasses?

Here’s why I ask: “…by faith [Moses] left Egypt, unafraid of the kings anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible”. Yet if you read Ex 2:14, there is a bit of a different take on why Moses left Egypt.

I’m not saying this to point out an error in the bible. But I do think the author of Hebrews is using this as an example to make a point. He could look back and SEE the long haul of Moses life, which DOES tell us that God walked with him to bring deliverance for the Israelites. Much of his later life IS lived in light of believing on the One who is invisible.

So this is big picture vision. How much of our lives to we spend in small picture vision?

Yes, the day in- day out existence matters. Did you speak kindly to your wife/husband/child/partner/friend/neighbor/person-at-the-checkout-counter/coworker/enemy today? Yes motives in business matter, Yes to all the little things that honor God.

But have you ever taken a step back and looked at your life to see the things that you have walked through, by faith? Not for self glory, but to take a humble look at how God has led you, maybe even when you didn’t notice.

By faith… what has been overcome? By faith, what did you live through? By faith, how were you carried by God when you just about gave up?

Sometimes when we wrestle to understand scripture, its easy to forget that our lives too can be found in these stories. They look different, they sound different, but God is still a God of rescue and deliverance. He is still writing stories…. and don’t think for a second that yours doesn’t belong alongside the list of folks in Hebrews 11!

What’s your story? No matter how hard it might be to write it down, get it all out. When you cannot see where God was there for you…. rather than avoid it, I challenge you to be willing to face it, be honest, and ask God about it. I trust He was there in a way you cannot ever have imagined.

— Tama

When it’s -6 outside

This morning I woke up early, as usual even though I have the day off. Sun peeking through the curtains so I know its at least 7 am. I figure it’s cold out since a frigid snap has decided to blow through the western and midwest part of the country. Still, there is still something so delightful about the early morning when no one is out and snow is on the ground that I cannot let go of. It beckons, that is the only way to say it.

Not wanting to wake my husband, I make a mental note of everything I need: base layers, flannel lined jeans, wool socks, a sweater. Grab my phone, sneak out of the room and head to the kitchen to check the temperature on the weather app:

-6. Yup. Pretty dang cold.

Well at least its not -11 like in the Springs. (because another 5 degrees below zero makes a ton of difference (can you hear my sarcasm?)… Frankly once it drops below zero I am not sure I can tell the difference but mentally it just seems that much colder). Anyway.

I finish layering up and creep outside, heading to the lake nearby to take a lap. I was right. It’s just me. I love it. (although I am sure everyone sitting inside looking at me through their windows thinks I’m nuts. It’s ok. I am .. a little.)

The air is so still, for which I am grateful. I’m not sure I could handle wind on top of the cold, that I know. The lake is frozen over again and strangely the geese are nowhere to be found. I wonder.

Then I hear this sound, even above three layers on my head: birds are singing. Really? I look around to see where they are.. but see nothing. I can hear them though, they are here somewhere. Eventually as I make my way around the lake as I look in the tops of the trees I see a cluster of red winged blackbirds up in the trees, basking in the sun as its rays pour out over the tops of the houses. Then towards the back of the lake the song is even louder, echoing out over a sanctuary area nestled in a spot I had never seen before. Tons of birds, like a chorus.

I have to pause for a minute here and just explain something about myself. I normally do not pay much attention to birds. When I lived in the Chicago suburbs and was out running, they were always a reminder to me that spring was around the corner, but other than that – they are just nice background noise (please forgive me if that sounds callous, all you bird lovers. I know they are exquisite, they are just not my thing. God bless you if they are your thing. You help me appreciate them).

I stopped to pay attention to these birds because I wanted to purposely listen.

You see, I used to feel the world was alive and “enchanted” some might say, every living thing beckoning me to admire it, to worship, to see its beauty and connect with the One that made it…. And somewhere along the way even though I still am thankful for the beauty of creation, its beauty has somehow crept up into my cerebral realm and been relegated to “just fact”. Meaning, the wonder of it takes longer to get to sometimes. Sometimes the wonder feels… absent. I am not sure I like living like that, because it makes me wonder if I will miss something the Spirit wants to show me.

Ever been there?

When the year started, I asked the Lord what I needed to learn, or re-learn this year.

Wonder, the Spirit seemed to whisper. Wonder.

And so that was why I stopped to listen to those birds, to see what I could hear from them and learn, to wonder what lesson Jesus might teach from them if he were here today. NOTE: This is not easy for me as a logical thinker, even if I can have long deep talks about the meaning of life… LOL

So, here goes:

  1. It is below freezing. They are still singing just like they would in spring. Why? Because that is what birds do, that is their song, their unique song given to their unique breed by their creator.  And it made me ask this:  Can we do the same? When our world is cold outside, or when its cold in our inner world, do we still know the song we were created to sing? Do we know what it sounds like, or have we forgotten the chorus somewhere along the way? If you have, how do you find it again?

    Jesus spoke about his kingdom being something that a little child understands, but we as adults often miss it. Or lose it… So I wonder….is this a work to undertake, to find the song that you have forgotten to sing to yourself, to your creator, to the people around you?

    Is your song one of music or writing, is it building or creating, is it protecting and providing? Is it service, giving of yourself or your time, is it creating beauty or stability for others to rest in?

    Because just like these birds, even when I couldn’t see them, I could hear them. When you can sing your song, it’s like living hope. People will see it, they may choose to join in, or they may not, but they will find hope and healing by being around you. And isn’t that what the prophet Malachi  spoke of, when he said that the “sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” – speaking of Jesus? And we who know Him, therefore carry that healing to others. How we do it, how we sing our song or speak of healing will differ based on each of our life stories….but it needs to be sung.

    2. The location of these birds differs from the location of the geese. What do they gain by their location?  The red feathered blackbirdsare at the tops of the trees, basking where they can see the sun. The geese however, were all gathered on the other side of the lake around the one spot that hasn’t frozen over, sitting with their beaks curled back and tucked into their feathers. They are quiet. Of course they all started squawking when I got there, but they never moved – it was if they just wanted to acknowledge I had disturbed their peaceful view or something. I know their location has everything to do with the type of bird (because I’ve never seen geese in a tree) – but still. Hang with me here a sec.

    I thought about the necessity of the two things this time of year: the (bare) warmth of the sun, and a place you can get water and find food, and it made me think of seasons of the soul and of life we go through.

    Sometimes, we feel like all is well and we can easily see each day bringing something new. We know that even if the sun is hidden by clouds, it’s still there. We can still walk with hope, joy, and purpose because we know the One that created us and we know who we are. 

    Sometimes, we are in seasons where all we want to do is sit and huddle down, making sure we have sustenance, but we tuck our beak in our feathers and just take care of self.

    Which one are you at the moment? Or are you a mix of both?

    With all that has changed for you this past year, whether or not your life has been affected a lot or a little by COVID, don’t forget that your own life, your own faith, goes through seasons too. God and his faithfulness has not changed, but it’s important to recognize the season you are in, and learn the lessons you can from it, because you will not stay there. 

After all, if you have been around geese and watched them for a season or two… you know very well they get up from their winter perch on the ice and spread their wings and fly. And squawk. And fiercely defend their young.

Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com

Your life – all of it, with however many years you are given – can and will display the glory of the One that created you, cleansed you, gave you hope, and brought you back to life over and over… because that is why He came to live and dwell among us. That is the beauty I see in Romans 8:18 right now: where the future glory of all that God has planned in a world remade starts to break into our lives now. His hope, rising like the morning sun. Our lives a song, calling out like the birds back to Him in response to His love. Sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly.

Find your song. And know that no matter how it sounds to you, its always beautiful to Him!

Blessings,


Tama

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 2: Everyone’s favorite question

Hi all! Hope everyone had a nice Christmas and New Years, no matter how you celebrated. Trung and I were able to spend Christmas Eve with some of our best friends here, and Christmas day with both my girls and my parents. Successful holiday sharing – woohoo! (because we all know holiday sharing is something you have to tackle when blending two lives….)

You know, after a wedding, people are pretty good about giving the new couple some space to just settle in and get used to their new life together. There aren’t rules on how long to wait before you reach out to them, of course, but inevitably friends and family decide the time is up (whether you are ready or not), and they invite you over, or text or call, and the question they ask is always “Sooo….. how is married life?”

That can be a loaded question, my friends. (cue awkward silence and quick exchanging of glances or arm nudges)

Whereas 20-year olds couples or those that have known each other for years before they got married might often answer “It’s amazing!”… when our friends started asking that question, we were gut level honest: “Uhhh ..we’re adjusting”. I’m not sure our friends knew how to respond to that!

Now, I can’t speak to much of what my husband is going through, but I know having a wife is quite a bit different than all the roommates he had. I am a LOT more particular than they were, for one. I have some demands on his time they never would have placed (like… please call me if you won’t be home for dinner so I don’t cook for two… and what do you mean you forgot to tell me you were scheduled to work? I was hoping to spend the day with you). I know both of us have also had to do some vetting with our best friends these first few months. My sister-in-law and best friend in Illinois have been key to this for me. I have called them often asking “hey.. um.. is this normal? how did you all navigate this when you were first married?” I am sure my new husband has asked his best friend some similar questions.

Just about every book, blog, website, and happily married couple will all tell you that the first year of marriage is hard – so I figured because I knew this, I’d be set. Oh, was I wrong about that! (ummmmmm…yeah.. you can start chuckling now, go on….)

What actually happened when I moved in and started making his bachelor pad our “home”, is that all these expectations I had of how we would spend time each week building our life together started surfacing. It’s like something in me kicked in and started executing some sort of internal “plan” on how I operated within marriage. I knew I couldn’t just live my single life in a new house. The framework had changed, therefore the “rules” changed too.

Need I remind you I’m an Enneagram 1. Of course there is a plan.

My plan included dinner together almost every night, a date night each week, figuring out each other’s love language and working on speaking it, asking each other questions so we could learn… share what we had studied in scripture, go for walks. Oh goodness. When I finally recognized I was operating on some built in “plan” — I was able to own up to the fact it had grown out of having a schedule raising my girls, paired with expectations of what I was looking forward to being an empty nester. That was a hard thing to own up to. I wasn’t used to having dinner “whenever”, having a ton of flexible time, or having conversations whenever they came up.

The day it hit me that we could build this marriage together, and it could look however we wanted it to, was revolutionary on a number of levels, let me tell you.

Whereas I knew this in my head before getting married, now I am keenly aware that I have no clue on how to build this particular marriage with this particular guy. That would leave me feeling helpless, but for one fact:

I know the One who does know how to build it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I guess I take a while to hold onto lessons. The entire time we dated, there have been a few passages of Scripture that the Lord has used to encourage me and remind me that HE is the one building our relationship. Rather than go over all of them, I’ll share one you might be familiar with:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” – Psalm 127:1

He’s built the foundation, sure…..Yet here I go, getting all my own lumber and bricks and mortar and trying to build as fast as I can. Obviously that is getting me NOWHERE.

One thing my new husband has been observant about is that I always am more in a rush for things than he is. He takes time, considers things, trusts that things will come to pass in God’s timing. It’s not that I don’t do that, I just do it in … well.. a much more condensed timeframe than he does. I want to hurry God along if I can (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)

I find that I must continually remind myself that all those marriages out there that are doing well didn’t just happen over night. They aren’t just because they are OUR age either. They took time. Like a vineyard, they needed sun and rain. The vines needed to be tended to and pruned when needed. We are just starting our journey… two vines planted side-by-side….that have yet to see what it looks like to grow together.

We’ve been at this 5 months. I need to give myself some grace!! 🙂

So here are my encouragements to all you newlyweds out there:

* Remember that God knew you would be good together, so learning to navigate your (unexpected) differences is absolutely possible.

* Close friends are there when you join in the covenant of marriage, because you will need them. Take advantage of that, and trust their wisdom.

* Your marriage needs to be YOURS. You may pick a few things from each of your families you want to reflect in your marriage, or you may not. You may (and I think should) learn from books or blogs, other couples, things you read or hear to make your marriage better over time, but it will NOT mirror your parent’s marriage, and it will NOT mirror any previous marriage. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you want it to look like.

*** If you have been married before: No matter how much you have pursued healing and worked through your issues from your first marriage, things will come out once you are in a relationship again. Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are reacting out of fear or hurt from your previous relationship, or when you are projecting. Your new spouse cannot live in the shadow of your previous one.

Above all else, remember this:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Goodness knows we cannot do that on our own – but the Author of Love is willing and able to!

Blessings, my friends! Til next time.

Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Thanksgiving 2020

Hello all! I know its been a while since I’ve published anything. You’d think with all this time from being at home and not going to school this semester would give me a ton of time to write and think (and while it has in some ways) – I am just not really liking writing much at the moment. Strange for me. So this post might seem a bit all over the place, but its the best collection of thoughts right now. Enjoy!

As I see states issue guidelines for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll admit I’m divided: I can see the wisdom in it, yet it frustrates me and leaves me a bit skeptical. I know the threat of this is real, having had two friends who lost people close to them this past year. Yet I also know my husband’s family has had it, and recovered just fine. As I write this, my best friend in Texas and her family are going through the throws of Covid. I trust they will recover, but I’m still waiting for them to emerge healthy.

I guess you could say I am on the side of NOT seeing Covid as a death sentence. That comes partly from the reality that no matter how I ran the numbers – state wide, nationally, and internationally, its still only 3% fatal. That’s larger than I’d like sure – but I’m choosing to not fear the rise in Covid numbers. More people are getting tested so of course you will find it more.

(side note: I’m pretty healthy, and so I know this influences my view of it all. I figure the chances of me getting it are only going to increase as time goes by, but I trust it will run its course just like the flu would. Yet I am well aware that others have more compromised systems and don’t have the luxury of exposing themselves as much, because for them its more dangerous. Please do not misunderstand me: Wisdom must be used here. I am watching my parents navigate this, given my dad’s health after lung surgery last year, and they are troopers. Isolation at times, social distanced fellowship at others. They and their community are taking care of each other. I am so grateful!

I just keep trying to set it in context: 12% die each year from heart attacks (which is 4 times those dying from Covid) – yet we never have that broadcast from the media. So how much is media playing into both education as well as perpetuating fear? Leaders are, no doubt, trying to balance fear and care for their states while grappling with how to keep people safe. It’s natural that some of us will wrestle with the guidelines they issue.

I get it. Frankly, I am glad I do not have to make those decisions!

I applaud those who are front-line doing the testing, taking care of those who are admitted… suiting up in their full gear, air tanks or masks. Every day. This part hits home just as much because I have people I care about on those front lines: My daughter, a friend in BV, and a new friend in Oregon. Millions across the country in the healthcare industry. I am grateful for all you are doing to save others, and to protect yourself. Your sacrifice will NEVER be forgotten.

And although its their job, it seems to me that it takes a certain kind of fearlessness to be willing to step into the “line of fire” if you will, risking contracting Covid – for the greater purpose of caring for the humanity of others. It makes me think of Mother Theresa taking care of the dying in Calcutta, of Jesus, who went to the lepers without fear, and countless others across history that cared for the sick because of their Christian faith (there’s a great article I found about it in case you are interested – see link at bottom of the blog)

You might be wondering what the heck this has to do with Thanksgiving.

I guess I’m saying that its not going to stop me from inviting those that have nowhere to go so that they are not alone. Its what I have always done, and I don’t think this year should be any different (other than maybe not sharing drinks or forks!)

I want to press forward into the Christian calling to hospitality and care, even in this next season – even moreso since the holidays can be hard for people to begin with, and I expect that will be true in greater measure this year.

On top of that, as I have done some reading recently, its interesting that Thanksgiving as a national holiday wasn’t declared until the time of Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed it official in midst of the Civil War. He was spurned on by a woman named Sarah Joespha Hale, a writer and education advocate who had grown up celebrating it and believed that making it a national holiday might help ease tensions and help with the healing of the nation.

Interesting that at this time, in 2020, healing is the cry of many right now. Regardless of your feelings about the results of the election, isn’t a day to be thankful and gather what we need right now? Could our Thanksgiving celebration have a healing, encouraging effect on all of us if we will let it?

Now, ultimately, I know each family / person has to make their own decision – and so maybe you are on the more cautious side. No judgement here.

Regardless, as you consider your own plans for this holiday….. I’d like to encourage you to think of ways to still reach out and invite in those that might be alone this Thanksgiving. Even if the invite is just knocking on the door and leaving them a note, a child’s hand-drawn picture, a plate of dinner, or a cup of cocoa – something small to let them know they are not forgotten and not alone.

Here’s to turkey, or tofu, pumpkin or pizza, green bean casserole or collard greens… good friends and reflection time! (and football, I’m sure my husband would add! 🙂

** reference articles, in case you’d like to read more, are below. All content in the links below are owned by their respctive authors and I am not claiming any rights, just sharing! ***

https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2020/how-did-early-christians-respond-to-plagues

https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving )