Between Two Worlds

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."         ~ Ephesians 6:12

The warrior was tired.  More tired than he can ever remember being.  He knew that if he didn't get to the castle gates before the sun went down he might not survive the night.  You see, he was bleeding but he couldn't figure out from which part of his body that the blood was coming from.  There was so much dirt and blood mixed together, along with the pain that really wracked his entire body.  If he could just . . . make it . . . to the . . . castle.

The battle had been fierce.  But so had many of the battles that he had fought.  Many of the battle strategies he had not understood but because the Master Commander had ordered them he followed without question.  The warrior knew that the MC's ways were far above his own and that to follow Him meant success.  But at this moment he felt like a failure.  Too broken down and bleeding to go much farther.  All of his efforts had been put into following the orders from the top.  At times he would close his eyes, trying to block out the images that haunted him.  But this only caused the memories to become more vivid, as if he were re-living the scenes of destruction and carnage over and over again.

 Others had followed him into battle only to find their own life in danger.  Most of them were encouraged when the battle cry had first come up.  They also fought hard not counting their own lives but striving for something far beyond themselves.  But as the months and years passed so did the encouragement.  Some ran away to find shelter in another part of the kingdom.  Some of the warriors died.  But the worst of it for this seasoned warrior was when fellow warriors turned traitor seeking their own honor and glory.  So, with the emotional turmoil coupled with the physical hardships the warrior had turned towards home, the place of respite.

The castle was positioned on top of the hill.  It had been purposely placed there so that all warriors could see it and find their way.  It was always lit brightly, that candle on a hill.  Above the castle gates a sign read, "Come to me, you who are weary and weighed down;  you will find rest here."  This is what the warrior needed and hoped for.  He knew the battle wasn't over yet but if he could just rest for a bit, get refreshed so that he could go back to the war zone.

His armor needed to be reshaped and cleaned.  It smelled of the stench of war; dirt, sweat and blood.  It looked much worse than it smelled.  The warrior needed his armor.  He wasn't the largest of fighters.  The fact being that he always wondered why the Master Commander had given him the post in the first place.  The warrior was of slight physique.   He did not have bulging muscles to make him look impressive like a warrior should.  That is why his armor was so important.  It made him something that, in himself, he wasn't.  The warrior was still learning that his weakness would mean that the MC would be strong.  It had been hard for him to grasp ahold of this and, truth be told, still didn't quite understand.  But because the MC had said it the warrior believed it and hoped as his training and service to the kingdom progressed he would understand more.

How he longed to be made whole again.  His outer garments needed to be cleaned but he also felt that the inside of him needed a good scrubbing too.  War had taken chunks out of him and he felt crippled, unable to walk, except with a crutch.  The thought of being made whole again is what pushed him forward.  He had to reach the castle gate.  He just had to.  One foot in front of the other, alternately using his shield then his sword to propel him forward.  He could see the entrance now and barely see the letters above the door.

That is when they came running out.  The sound of the trumpet had blasted through the night air signaling a fallen warrior.  The watchman on the tower had seen him struggle to make it to the gate.  There was a flurry of activity as the warrior collapsed.  Many hands reached to carry him the few yards left to the castle door.  His head was swimming now from the loss of blood.  But before he lost consciousness he heard over and over again, "Well done, well done, well done."  And then all was black.

For the next number of days the warrior came in and out of consciousness.  He vaguely remembers warm water on his face, tender words given to him but not comprehended.  There were sudden pains as he was being gently moved so that whoever was administering to him could continue the healing process.  The warrior could smell the fragrance of an ointment placed on his wounds and also the taste of medicine slowly given to him by mouth.  He never saw the faces of those treating him.  His eyes still were not focusing and he felt like he was in a dreamy fog.  He knew his caretakers were there because as each day passed he could feel his body react to the treatment.  It was like an inner light had been place within him causing his body to come to light from the inside out.  He started to feel alive again.

The day came when the warrior awoke and his eyes began to focus.  He felt somewhat normal which was odd because he hadn't felt that in a long time.  As he looked around his room he saw the tools and contraptions that had been used to bring him back to life.  He remembers the time that the Master Commander had said, "... whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  Well, the warrior had almost lost his life in the battle but now he was coming to realize that in the fray he had already given it away.  You can't lose what doesn't belong to you.  Years previous he had pledged his life to the Master Commander and the battle.  The understanding of this changed his whole perspective.  He felt strangely free, as if he could fly.

It wasn't long after this that the warrior was standing in the courtyard of the MC.  His garments had been cleaned again and his wounds had healed.  The armor that had been so beaten up and broken was renewed, as if made new.  The warrior had gained back his fighting spirit by just being in the MC's presence.  Yes, he did have remaining vestiges of the war, many battles that had tried to kill him.  But he also new that by the MC's help he could and would run through the troop and leap over whatever wall he needed to.  

In the presence of the Master Commander he was cognizant that he was not alone.  For there were many others, warriors themselves, who had come back to the castle to be refreshed and renewed.  Now they all stood together as one, ready to be deployed, once again back to the war zone.  It was different this time than from the first time they had been sent out.  There was no fanfare or joking of possible conquests.  This time, as you looked at the faces of the warriors, one could see a serious determination.  They all knew that some of them would not come back.  They knew that they would give their lives to the entirety of the conflict.  With each level of battle experience the warriors knew that they were headed for hardship and deprivation.  But they also knew that there are some things that are so noble and worthy of their best efforts they must be attempted.  Fighting hard, and the possibility of death, would still be a victory because the MC had equipped them for war and had given them the shields that were their salvation. 

So they started their march towards the battle.  The warriors could hear the cries from the ramparts, "Fight on, fight on."  With each step came more resolve; the steps turned into a brisk pace that then turned into running.  The MC's banner was flying high along with the warrior's shouts of victory.

"For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.  For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.  This God -- his way is perfect, the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.  For who is God, but the Lord?  And who is a rock, except our God?  -- the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.  He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.  He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great."  
~ Psalm 18:28-35

"For you equipped me with strength for the battle."  
~ Psalm 18:39

May you find strength for the day, hope in His promises, and the courage to face your battles even if you lose in order to gain the victory.


Back at the Center

"Only a grateful heart sees God everywhere."   ~ Ann Voskamp

Well, it is quite lovely outside.  I don't think that it is normal for the Pacific NW to be so lovely at the end of October.  There are no complaints, for sure, as we hold our breath because we know the rain is coming.  So we have been enjoying each day as it comes not even minding the morning fog.   I have actually gotten a lot accomplished in the flower beds.  Dug up the potatoes and we even had a burn pile going a couple Sundays ago with the grandkids.  Much fun with fallish things.  The garden boxes are cleaned out (thanks to Grandma and Lydia) and my blueberry patch looks awesome (thanks to my grandson, Ethan).  Dan has mowed in the field and the grass around the house has had one last clipping.  I even finally got the grape vines planted that have been in pots for two years.

At moments I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the day realizing that this, too, is a gift from the Creator.  This hymn has been going through my head of late:

"For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and a round us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flow'r, sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle 
thoughts and mild,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely giv'n,
graces human and divine, flow'rs of earth and bud of heav'n,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise."

As I sit in the porch swing gently rocking back and forth I think of all the most wonderful things that I have.  But of all the blessings that I now enjoy it all comes back to the center, on Him, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  I was sharing with a friend a while back a verse that means so much to me.  Because even when I can recognize the gifts of my God there can still be this dissonance in my heart causing me to look with natural eyes the seeming fractures around me.   In Colossians 1:15-17 it says, 'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.'

That simple phrase: 'All things hold together' keeps my mind and heart from cascading into a million directions.  If He holds all things together that also means that He holds me together especially when I might think I'm falling apart.  So I go back to the center of all things and start again.  Because He has created all things, goes before all things and holds all things together I am able to sit on my porch swing and give thanks to Him for the blessings that I have.

This produces such a sense of love and adoration to God for the gifts that I have been given and that I certainly don't deserve.  A picture paints a thousand words so the saying goes.  But even if I were to produce a hundred more pictures it wouldn't suffice.  Many could be of the faces of loved ones that surround our family.  Memories of lives spent together with friends far and near.  And there is more . . . . a lifetime of gifts and graces given no matter the location.

The hymn above is usually sung around the harvest and Thanksgiving time is just around the corner for us in the USA.  There is much to be thankful for even in a world that feels at times topsy-turvey.   So, tonight, as my eyes get heavy with sleep I will praise the Lord of all for His many blessings.  For I am grateful and this causes me to come back to the Center.

Blessings to all of you as we enter the holiday season.  I am thankful that you choose to read the simple thoughts that run through my head.  You are a wonderful encouragement to me and, I'm sure, to others as well.  May you be encouraged as you find Him drawing you back to the Center.

*I should mention that these pictures are of our property or nearby.  We have some lovely trails that we can walk on, or preferably for some, ride motorbikes on.  We have three different streams, trickles really, that converge into one farther down.  Dan and some of the grandkids have made bridges over them so that one can easily cross and not get wet.


Do Overs

Two days before we were to be leaving for a week's vacation Dan came into the kitchen with seven gallons of picked Chickasaw plums.  He says to me, "What can we do with these?"  I am sitting in the dining area with sore fingers as I am frantically trying to finish up hand stitching the quilt that I was making for our grandson's birthday (of whom we would be celebrating within two day's time).   The word that I zeroed in on was "we".  My panic level just goes up and trying to stay calm I say to my man, "I don't think I can help you with those."  He assures me that it is himself that will deal with them but just needs some information on how to get started.  To his credit, and my joy, he did.  This is the first time in almost 37 years that the man of the house has made jelly ~ Chickasaw plum jelly.  I have never made jelly.   I have made jam but never jelly.  This is a monumental event.   One, in fact, that should be repeated year after year, eh hem!

But, there has been one slight problem with the plum jelly.  Some of the jars of jelly didn't gel.  No problem ~ we will just do that batch over again.  So we go to the store to buy more pectin and lids (I'm telling you now that this jelly is worth $$ per jar),   Confident that this will fix the problem he proceeds to "do over" the offending jars of jelly.  It's not looking to good but we are bound for a vacation in Idaho hoping that the jelly will actually gel by the time we come home.

We leave the jelly on the counter for a whole week (as per directions) but come home to more than half of the total count of jars full of jelly that refuse to gel.  So, on Tuesday night both Dan and I set out on the quest to gel the jelly.  More pectin and more lids along with some sweat and the reprocessed jelly is in jars.  We can hear the sound of the lids popping as they seal and it makes us smile.  Surely, this time of "do overs" will work and we will have enough jelly to last through the apocalypse.

Sad to say, the six batches that we "did over" only gave us one jar that jelled.  Whaaat??  Some people learn through experience that takes much time, effort and years.  I think that we are quickly becoming jelly making experts in just a matter of weeks.  Although I probably shouldn't be saying that until we come out with a product that fits the criteria.

Wouldn't it be nice if one could "do over" the mistakes of life.  What if we could re-do how we raised our children.  Or maybe have another chance at that relationship that went bad.  How about the times that we kept silent when what was needed was making a stand for truth.   Think of all the moments of our lives that if only we could do them over,  we wouldn't have the regrets that we live with.  And we all have regrets ~ things that we wished we would have done and things that we wished we wouldn't have done,  these so-called "sins of omission" and "sins of co-mission".

Of course, no one lives a perfect life even though that is what we really want and somehow strive for.  It is a great kindness of God for Him to remove the blinders from our eyes so that we can see our need.  And, oh, how we need Someone to save us from ourselves.  Someone who provides abundance for our great lack.  One who will gently say to us, "Come, I will give you rest".  He takes the brokenness of our weary lives and gives peace and a reason for being.

How wonderful and glorious then are these words to my weary heart:

"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."  Isaiah 1:18

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."   ~ Ezekiel 36:26 

(Speaking of Jesus) "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified."

Unlike our jars of jelly I might not have "do overs" but the Lord can restore what has been stolen or  what has gone amuck.  Redemption along with restoration then, is really what is needed, not "do overs".  Even if I had the chance to do it all over again my life would look like jars of un-gelled jelly.  But to be redeemed and restored by Someone outside of myself is better than words can express.  He makes something good out of those moments of my life that could be labeled for a do over.  It is His doing and I get the benefit of it.  I love this phrase found in Hebrews 12:2 ~ ". . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith."  From beginning to end He is near, redeeming and securing, guiding and directing, fixing and restoring the many facets of this daily living.

Well, I am happy to let you know that I finally got all the jelly to gel.  It took doing over even the "do overs" of the first time (kind of hurts my brain).  It looks so pretty on the counter that I don't want to put them away.  No worries though ~ they will find room in the cupboard where they belong.

Now I'm on to canning tomatoes.  And wouldn't you know it?  I have to do over two jars so far that didn't seal.  Uff da!


Taking out the Garbage

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"               ~ Micah 6:8

Mondays are the day that the garbage gets taken out.  It goes into the garbage can just outside of our garage.  My father-in-law then loads it into his T-Rex and hauls it down our long driveway to the lane which leads to the main road where the garbage truck picks it up.   Every other week he also hauls down the recycling that is accumulated and put into the big blue bin.  Then, on the following day, he goes back down to pick up the empty garbage cans and bring them back up to the house.   He does this every week, without fail, unless he is on vacation.

Another thing that my FIL does is mow the grass.  This isn't some small job of a suburban back yard.  He does mow my backyard but when I talk about 'the grass' I mean acres of grass.  We have two fields that he mows on his John Deere that takes him hours.  This would probably take him less time but we have hundreds of evergreen trees and then also fruit trees that he has to navigate around.  And don't get me started on the mole problem because he has declared war on them.

Now my FIL doesn't have to do these things but he does them in order to help out around this place.  He is faithful in these tasks and others that come up.  He doesn't do this half heartedly but with precision because that is how God has wired him.  I'm sure that his motto is, "If you are going to do a job, do it right or not at all".

For most people life if just ordinary.  One can start to think that what they do has no significance in the Kingdom of God.  But I will beg to differ.  Consider how many years our Lord lived before his ministry on this earth started.  There were a whole lot of something going on and it probably wasn't feeding the five thousand.  Jesus also was the son of a carpenter and probably made some ordinary things for the family.  Do you think he cleaned up his own messes?  He had to eat, sleep and wash himself.  These were ordinary things even though he wasn't so.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was faithful to do what was set before him.

Think of our own lives.  Most of us live day in and day out doing the same things and don't have a whole lot of extra-ordinary things to present to the world.  In fact, in our life span we probably won't be the ones who change the world or solve world hunger. No epicness (realizing that this probably isn't a word) or awesomeness.  Just everyday, scrub the toilet, kind of people.

Best intentions don't really mean a hill of beans to most of humanity.  But. . . . .  to the Lord faithfulness is a big deal.  Now, I realize that He is the only One who is truly faithful.  But at the same time this is what He calls us to do and be.  What does it mean to be faithful in the everyday?  Do you have children?  They can be taught what it is to love God and their neighbor.  Are you single?  How wonderful is it to be able to devote your time and energy, singularly, to Christ who has set you free from the tyranny of sin.  What does your life look like on the job?  There is always somebody watching to see if what you do is for selfish reasons or for something bigger, larger than what is physically set before you.  Marriage has numerous avenues in which the Lord can be magnified and glorified.  God works in even what we consider the little things of life.  They aren't little to Him if done with a conscious effort to live for Him.  If we were to look closely we would be amazed at the work of God in the ordinary things of life.  Many times even these things turn towards the extra ordinary as God moves through us.

Here is an example:  I know a man who was faithful to go to work everyday at the dock yards in Portland.  His job wasn't amazing or something that he had a passion for but it was one that provided the needs for his young growing family.  It was a dirty job and many of the men he worked with were coarse and sometimes vulgar.  There was a lunch room at this place and he would go there most days to eat his lunch.  In this particular lunch room there were some not-so-nice pictures that were tacked on the ceiling.  This man made a point never to look up at them and kept his eyes diverted from them.   A simple thing so that he would not dishonor his God.  He didn't think anyone was watching but there was.  Everyday another was keeping his eye on this man because it was known that he was a believer in Christ.  The second man was waiting because he knew that at some point this Christian would slip up and then he would pounce.  It never happened.  Many days and weeks this went by and the unbeliever became curious.  The unbeliever approached the believer and asked him why he never looked up at the nasty pictures.  From that conversation one believer became two believers.  A year later there were around a dozen believers which led to a Bible study.  All because one man chose to be faithful in this small thing to honor his Savior.  His job was still dirty and there weren't any accolades or press conferences.

Every life has meaning even if it seems insignificant.   For the Christian, everything in your life not only has meaning but purpose too.  If Christ has ransomed you then everyday can be an excursion into   fulfilling the purpose that He has intended for you.  There are no small jobs in the Kingdom of God.  But there is a call to be faithful servants.  Christ is calling to those who will give their life away in order that He might be glorified (even if He is the only one who sees it).  If you are called then he will help you to perform those tasks He has called you to (Psalm 119:32).  This is Kingdom work.

So as I think of my own life it does consist of everyday things.  I do take out the garbage and clean the kitchen each day for the meal that I will prepare for the family.  Its an on-going job of organizing the household and, currently, I'm painting the walls that are grungy with grime of a life well spent.  The dog needs to be fed and the garden needs to be weeded.  There are groceries to be bought and clothes to be cleaned.  There are phone calls to make and burdens to bear.  There are joys to be had (children and grandchildren for sure) in the everyday, ordinary existence of my human life.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of the talents.  Each servant was given the responsibility of a certain amount of them.  Some servants were faithful to use what God had given them and another wasn't.  At the end of the age I want to hear my Savior say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master."

Come Monday morning I will take out the garbage once again so that my FIL will, once again, take it down the road to be picked up.  This week I hope to thank him for being faithful to do this every week for us.  It means a great deal to me and I like to think it means something to Him as well.


Crying Hearts

         "This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life."  ~ Psalm 119:50

There are some days that are hard for me to get out of bed in the morning.  It's not because of physical ailments, although they don't help either, but rather the fight against the enemy of my soul.  He whispers half-truths and reminds me of infractions that either I have committed or what others have committed against me.   I have to admit that I do feel guilty about this (not wanting to get out of bed to face the day) as I have so much to be thankful for and so much to do.  The Lord has solved my greatest problem and the list of good/great things in my life is long.  I have this mental conversation on these mornings to get myself going because, on these mornings that can extend into the day, my heart is heavy.  One doesn't get to my age without having the heart broken in ways that can't be escaped from or easily mended.  There are wounds that go deep and seem to fester no matter how much salve I put on them.

"How do you mend a broken heart, how do you stop the rain from coming down.
How do you stop the sun from shining, what makes the world go round?"                                                      ~ The Bee Gees

There is a realization that this is kind of a bummer of a blog post.  And yet, the inkling to say something about the heart being broken has been on my mind for some time and won't go away.   Hopefully,  in saying something about it I will strike a chord with others because the world is a broken place with pieces of people's lives scattered hither and yon.  You are out there, I know, because I hear your stories and my heart breaks for you even more than my own tale of woe.  And yet, tomorrow still comes even for those who are looking square into the face of divorce.  Sickness still strikes the soul who trusts in Jesus.  Financial worries are a perennial plague.  Some friends betray you and foes attack you.  Sometimes, it feels like you are all alone.

Listening to a band call "Indelible Grace" the other day I was struck by the words of sorrow.  They have taken old hymns and re-written the music to it.  Many of the hymns talk about hardships and trials.  John Newton talked about almost being driven to the point of despair.  Charles Wesley wrote about hiding in the bosom of the Savior until the storm was past.  The Psalms are full of words that belie the need for comfort and help.  Romans talks about the earth being subjected to futility and the Apostle Paul talks about the Spirit groaning within us with words too deep to understand.  I think that I cry a lot more these days as I consider the hurts of the past or other's pain.  I live in this tension of what theologians call "the now and not yet" because I yearn for things to be made right when, in fact, they might never be made right until I see Jesus.   So for now, I groan.

John Murray, in his commentary of Romans says this about our inward groanings:

"As God searches the hearts of the children of God he finds unuttered and unutterable groanings.  Though they are thus inarticulate, there is a meaning and intent that cannot escape the omniscient eye of God -- they are wholly intelligible to him.  And, furthermore, they are found to be in accordance with his will.   They are consonant with his will because, though surpassing our understanding and utterance, they are indicted by the Holy Spirit and are the ways in which his intercessions come to expression in our consciousness.  Since they are the intercessions of the Holy Spirit, they always meet with the understanding and approval of God."

Jesus, himself, was called the man of sorrows.  He was aquainted with grief.  I know that He will, one day, wipe away all tears from our eyes.  And yet, His scars will remain forever even though He is the conquering King and glorious Lord.  How do I live in this mortal body that is for now destined to decay and ruin?  And what does it look like to live in light of eternity especially when you feel like the world has just plain beaten you up?  If my Savior suffered, scripture tells me that so will I.  It's not what the American dream tells us.  Sometimes even in the church it is an embarrassment to admit to having  sorrow.  So, here it is again ~ the sorrows of mankind mixed in with the joys of being called by the suffering, conquering King.  It's the good and bad mixed in all together.  In reality, God uses it all for good but, at times, it just doesn't feel that way.

What am I trying to say in all of this?  Maybe that it's okay to feel the hurts and sorrows that come our way and admit to them.  Someone said, not long ago, that we don't get to choose how we glorify God.  This was a man who had, six months previously,  lost his young wife to cancer and still having five children left to raise.  Sometimes life hurts really bad and there is no denying it.  Romans 8 goes on to say things like, "...all things working together for good for those who love God..." and "...in all these things we are more than conquerors."  It seems like such an oxymoron at times but it is what gets me out of bed on those mornings that I struggle.  The bottom line is this:  I believe that God is good and that His intentions towards me are also good.  Jeremiah  29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  Ultimately, I don't get to breathe for me but I get to breathe for Him.  His promises tell me that nothing will separate me from His love.  So, for now, in the tension between the now and not yet, it is more than enough for the heart that breaks.

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

 1. Dear refuge of my weary soul 
On Thee, when sorrows rise 
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies 
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal 
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel

2. But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine 
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust 
And still my soul would cleave to Thee 
Though prostrate in the dust

3. Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face, 
And shall I seek in vain? 
And can the ear of sovereign grace, 
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace,
Attends the mourner's prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there

4. Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat 
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet, 
Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet.

Anne Steele



Father's Love

"Of the Father's love begotten ere the world's began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega, he the Source, the Ending he,
of the things that are, that have been, and the future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!

The end of May we remembered Memorial Day.  It was a cold rainy day here in the Pacific NW.  Not like today where it is in the 80's and I'm looking for an air conditioned anything.  But on the Monday of May, the 27th, we picked up my mom and took her to where dad was buried at the Willamette National Cemetery.  I hadn't been to visit dad's grave in years but it was Dan's idea to go and he went on-line and found where it was.  It had been raining so much that the ground was soggy and it felt like a bog walking to where dad had been buried.  It was an emotional moment for me and I had to check the almost tears that would come to the surface.  Lydia knew this and was watching and caring for her mama.  She never met my dad, her grandpa, but was wanting to go and see where he was last laid.  Dad has been gone for almost 25 years but I still miss him.   To me, he was the perfect dad.  Always there when you needed or wanted him.  He was caring and kind, full of compassion and forbearance.  He loved the Savior and his Bible was so worn-torn and marked up that you knew this was the book he read the most.  There are four of us siblings in the Amundson family of George.  All of us loved our dad and have fond memories of him, personal memories that we keep in the treasure chest of our hearts.  So, on Memorial Day, it wasn't just that my dad was a veteran (which even there are many stories) but I remember the dad that he was to me.  Dan read out of 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection and it is my hope that I will again see my dad in glory.

As always, this also brings remembrance of another Father who is infinitely more loving and caring.  My earthly dad, George, was a reflection, in a small way, of the heavenly Father who has held me in the palm of His hand since I was young.  I remember pivotal points in my life as, looking back, the heavenly King was calling and placing His hand upon me.  I remember Sunday school in the Lutheran church learning about God and his people.  This related to me in ways that I didn't understand at the moment but, in hind-sight, was another moment the Lord was calling me.  Bit by bit, from early childhood, crafting opportunities to make Himself known.  It was not instantaneous but a slow progression that, ultimately made me alive to His glorious grace.

"You make know to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."     ~ Psalm 16:11

I am struck, once again, with the overwhelmingly love of the Father that He would look down on this humanity and choose to love.   There is nothing worthy of His love and yet He does it.  Of anything on this earth I cannot get beyond this fact:  The Father, God, has chosen to place His love on the beloveds of this earth.  This means that all my longings, loves and hopes are found in Him.   At the end of the age, when my life is spent, there He will be with arms open wide to receive even me.  I have a hard time comprehending it and yet, this is want my heart longs for.


The Ever-Present Presence

"Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me."                                              ~ Psalm 139:7-10

I  picked up my mom last week to take a drive up the Columbia Gorge.  The weather has been absolutely wonderful which means the sun was shining.  The spring colors are vibrant and then adding the sun almost makes one feel warm and fuzzy all over.  The road on the Washington side of the river is a twisty and windy one.  Lots of turns and curves. I think that I scared mom as I quickly pulled over to the side of the road to take this picture.  We were coming up to Cape Horn which is straight up on one side and a straight drop down on the other side with only the road carved into the side of the rock.  A long time ago this part of the road made my heart pump faster because it was so scary to me.  We were moving from Minnesota to this mountainous terrain and sister Jan was in tears because she was sure that she would never be able to learn to drive here.

It was such a pleasant time together with my mom.  I am very grateful to be able to spend time with her.  Oftentimes, we talk about the same things.  Other times, like when we were on our drive, we don't talk much at all.  I suppose that this could make me feel uneasy to where I would talk just to fill the silence.  But I don't feel that way. It is just in the being together that makes it enjoyable.  Not always does there have to be some meaningful conversation to make it worthwhile.  I have been told that in the special relationships we don't need noise to accompany them.   Silence or quietness is okay.  It's not every day that we are together but even the thought of her gives me a sense of her presence.

There is a comfortableness in knowing that someone is near.  I remember when the kids were little they seemed to follow me wherever  I would go.  When I would stop so would they.  Dan and I enjoy each other's company and often will just sit on the porch or deck quietly together.  When one of us leaves it isn't too long before one goes looking for the other.  When Dan is away traveling I make sure that I am really tired before going to bed as I'm so used to his presence.  I realize that not everyone has another person near them at all times.  It is like that for my mom and this is the thing that she misses the most.  Just having another person in the room with her, someone else's presence to know that she isn't alone.

In reality none of us are really alone.  We might be the only human in the house but for the person who has been redeemed, the Lord of all is near.  This might not seem as tangible as another human of flesh and blood but, nevertheless, He is more real than we think.  Our human eyes do not see clearly that which is heavenly.  Oftentimes, the noise of this world drowns out the whisper that woos us to come to Him.  I suppose it takes a lifetime to hear and see that which the Lord is drawing us to.

God is always present.  There isn't a moment that goes by that He is not there.  I may not sense His presence and His silence may be uncomfortable for me.  But everything around me shouts His very existence and there is nowhere that I can go that He can't be found.  The ever-present presence of the Almighty God is confounding and mysterious to my human mind (Psalm 139:6).  Yet, this is what the soul longs for and was created for.  To be ever present in the presence of the Lord, knowing Him, trusting Him and sensing that He is near  brings comfort and joy unimaginable.  So, those moments when I am afraid and lonely are the times that I must remind myself that He is with me.  The times that life is so busy with the hustle and bustle of it all I must remind myself that He is near.  In the silence of confusion and doubt He is next to me helping me to be okay with the silence, handing over my fears to His kind provision for the moment.

Then there is peace.   Like the tranquil drive on a sunny day enjoying the company of a much loved one.  Or even on the road that is much harder to travel recognizing His thoughts are precious to me and limitless (Psalm 139:17).  God is everywhere.  We can believe it or deny it but this truth remains.  His works are wonderful and my soul knows it  (Psalm 139:14).


Eagle's Wings

"Have you not known? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."                    ~ Isaiah 40:28-31

When I was a young married woman with three little girls, bath time was a daunting and time consuming thing for me.  Having three little ones under the age of four was a non-stop adventure of cleaning faces, combing hair, brushing teeth, etc. to make them presentable for the day.  It was like a graduation when they could finally take their own bath/shower without my help.  I had waited for this moment.  Fast forward a number of years and remembering the  sheer joy of washing a chubby little brown baby because I didn't have to think through teenage logic.  My brain was fried and tired with the thinking through of the teenage mind and I looked forward to the time of mindless bliss in the scrubbing  of a wiggly baby boy in the tub.  Then to be waiting for  that same little boy to quit jumping, hopping, twirling around when you are trying to homeschool and just get through the day.

It seems that we, as humans, spend a lifetime of waiting.  You know: waiting to grow up, waiting for the bus, waiting to finish school so we can get on with life, waiting for that perfect someone to fulfill all our dreams, waiting to have kids, waiting for the kids to grow up, and on and on it goes.  I think perhaps that I have wasted a lot of time just waiting.  I don't mean that all the things of life are a waste, far from that.  I have enjoyed many of these moments in life.  But what I'm wondering is if I have wasted some of these moment in anticipation of the next.  There is something to be said about the here and now that we miss.  A good number of things in life are hard so we think that if we can make it through this moment the next one will be better.   And then the culture bombards us with the "new" and "exciting" next thing so we live our lives missing what we have now because it will be better when we get to the next moment or have that new thing.

There is an understanding, a definition if you will, that "new" means exciting, thrilling, epic, etc. Whereas "old" is worn out, tired and needing to be replaced.  In the natural world many times this is true.  But what I'm thinking about is our dissatisfaction with the now because we are always looking for the next best thing.  If I realize that God is always working what am I missing right now if my gaze is ahead of this moment waiting for God to move in the next.   Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, says this, "When I'm present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God.  In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and holy.  Here is the only place I can love Him."

In watching the movie, The Hobbit, this last week I was reminded of the verse above when at the moment of sure death the party is rescued by the giant eagles.  I even felt a sense of peace as the group were soaring high in the air away from the enemy.  Waiting on the Lord is still waiting but different somehow.  When I am in the present, waiting on the everlasting I AM,  I find peace and a sense of calm.  There is no hurry to get on with the next best thing or moment because He is the best thing and with Him is the best moment.  My cares, worries or sorrows fade into the background and it is there that He renews the strength that He gives.  Each day is a new day when I consider His mercies and this provides for me to be exactly where He would have me ~ in this moment.

Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.


Just Keep Swimming

Some days the body just aches.  Today is one of those days.  It's my own fault, really, as yesterday was such a beautiful, sunny day that I worked outside and overdid it.   I'm already on my second cup of liquid sunshine (coffee) and have even put perfume on to remind me that even though my body aches today is the day that the Lord has made.

I will admit that I would rather have days like today than have days where the body might feel fine but there seems to be an ominous cloud over the soul.  Something at a spiritual level doesn't seem right and I'm fighting to just move.  We can read about it in the Psalms.  For instance in Psalm 88 the writer says this, "For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol." or this, "I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow."  To be sure there are times when we cannot make sense of our feelings.  Oftentimes, feelings aren't a good judge of what is true.

Usually in a week's time there is ample opportunity to remember what Elizabeth Elliott said.  That is, "Just do the next thing".  Either I am reminding myself of it or telling it to someone else.  This is especially helpful on those dark days where it is hard to move.  But even today when my body aches I can do the next thing.  And so I will.

What does perseverance look like?  We are humans living in a fallen world.  Most things don't work according to plan, our plan anyway.  There are those who keep striving to get ahead in the world and there are others who have given up even trying.  Where do we, as Christians, fit into this world understanding that we are citizens of another?

 If we have been bought with a price and are to glorify God we must keep moving.  The great and wonderful thing about this is "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."(Philippians 2:13).  I need to remember this and remind myself of it on the day that seems dark and without hope.   Even today it is so good for me to know that it is God who will work in me so that I can work for Him.  No big revelation here, just the simple truth of God's sustaining hand.

In the Disney movie "Finding Nemo" there is a fish called Dora.  She has short term memory but sings this little song about "just keep swimming, swimming, swimming".  No thought for tomorrow because she can't remember to think about it.  She is happy in her memory loss as she swims day in and day out in the ocean.  Whereas I don't think we can be mindless in our pursuit of God it would be a good thing to be so trusting that our cares would be minimal.  Such is the struggle in our sanctification and will be until we see Jesus.  But I can see and I want to be that one who keeps on keeping on.   The current might be going the other way but as long as Christ gives me the strength to swim . . . . . . .

So, I'm off to do the next thing!


By Little Bits

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."  ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18              

I have a little bit of hair, now, on my head.  It's enough to say that I'm not bald anymore.  My husband and daughters have encouraged me to go without my wig because they say it looks better.  I have to admit that it feels better but still am a bit self conscience about it.  It's short enough and feels like baby hair to where if I don't wear a hat I can feel the raindrops on the scalp.   The other day I actually felt the wind go through my hair.  I was pretty excited about that!  I used to always wear a hat when I went out if I didn't wear a wig.  But a couple of Sundays ago I actually went wig-less and hatless.  I think that some people didn't recognize me and it might have been shocking but everyone is most kind.   It's growing little bit by little bit.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were like the Barbie dolls where all you had to do was push a button and the hair grew from short to long instantaneously?

As I think over the years of being a Christian I realize that it has been little bits by little bits that the Lord has graciously changed me and continues to do so.  It's somewhat like my hair growing.  I can't see it happening but then all of the sudden there it is.  And just like me wishing that I had more hair all of the sudden I also would like there to be more of Christ in me all of the sudden other than what I see as slow mo'.  I know that He does all things well and believe that He really does know what is best and will do what is good for me.  When I was younger I wanted to know the "perfect plan of the Lord" for my life.  Had I known then what I know now and have experienced through the years I'm sure that it would have undone me.  Looking back over the years of highs and lows it is the Lord who has sustained us through it all.  "Who is sufficient for these things?" says the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:16b.  I know that I am not and often wonder in amazement at how the Lord sustains and gives grace.

It is with gratitude that I can think back on this walk of faith and realize He is doing something.  I'm not the same person that I was twenty years ago.  In fact, hopefully, there has been change even in the last year.  All of it is God's doing of course as I fully know that I am no change agent.  Here is a bit from the Valley of Vision:

     "Thou hast done for me all things well,
      hast remembered, distinguished, indulged me.
     All my desires have not been gratified,
     but thy love denied them to me
     when fulfillment of my wishes would have proved my ruin or injury.
     My trials have been fewer than my sins,
     and when I have kissed the rod it has fallen from thy hands.
     Thou hast often wiped away my tears,
     restored peace to my mourning heart,
     chastened me for my profit.
     All thy work for me is perfect, and I praise thee.

This past week I read an article that showed two pictures by the artist Thomas Cole.  It was a series of pictures but the ones that I saw were entitled "youth" and the other was "manhood".  It depicts youth as having control of the little boat that he is in with purpose and determination.  The next picture that was shown was of an adult in the boat.  The rudder was gone and the little boat was out of control heading for the waterfall.  The man in the boat had his hands clasped together as if pleading with God for help.  A picture can paint a thousand words and here is life in just two pictures.  When one is young we think that we have control over our little world.  And then life happens.  For the Christian, life happens with purpose and intent.  God intends for us to grow up and change.  He promises to perfect that what He has begun and it looks totally different that what we thought it would look like.  Herein is the gospel of grace:  that we are bought with a price and belong body and soul to the great God of heaven.  Because we are His possession He takes great delight in molding and shaping us so that we are a bride made ready.  He not only does this for His glory but, in kindness, for our greatest good.

My friend told me the other night that she thought my hair had grown more just in the span of less than two weeks.  This made me happy as I don't see it grow at all.  So, with my hair growing, there is the hope that in the future there will be enough hair to actually put a comb through it.  Remembering this thought and translating it to my Christian walk will be helpful when I fail to do or be what Christ calls me to be.

Looking ahead with confidence we can say with the Apostle Paul, "If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,  how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31).    I wonder if Thomas Cole painted another picture of an old man in a boat looking to the future with purpose and determination while lifting up holy hands in praise?


The Shaping of Trees

It has been a long time since I last posted anything on this blog.  I have sat down a couple of times thinking that I need to put something down on the screen.   December was a very busy month which lead to a busy January.  But really those are just excuses.   To be honest I have felt a dryness in my bones and I didn't have anything to say.  I'm pretty confident that it is because I wasn't consistent in reading from the Word and receiving from God.  To be even more honest I felt myself slipping into a kind of sadness that seemed like the fog that has been hovering over our area for the past week.  I didn't seem to notice it so much when I was busy.   But it's hard to see in a fog and in the quietness of some days I would just wander trying to fill up the void.   As I would fumble around in my fog trying to figure out what was wrong with me that still small voice would woo me with tender words of comfort saying, "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).   So it is in desperation that I open my Bible once again to hear from God.  It's not that He went anywhere but, possibly and more likely, because I got too busy doing other things.  At 55, and being a Christian for 40 years this is a no-brainer for me but what does that hymn say, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love."  So, with the hymnist I will finish with, "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above."

Last Saturday Dan and I started pruning the trees in our orchard.  The trees had actually grown quite a bit as we hadn't been able to get to the pruning last year because of my illness.  Most of our trees are young ones that we planted two or three years ago so there isn't a whole lot to trim.  But I did cut off some major limbs so that the tree would grow the way I want them to.  I would tell Dan to "cut here" and he would look at me and say, "you sure now?".   From what I have read about pruning you want the trees to kind of resemble an umbrella.  The main trunk you want to be strong and then other limbs to come from that and spread out.  It takes years to form a tree with much cutting and pruning.  As Dan and I were talking, down in the orchard, I was telling him what I hope to see.  Someday, when the spring blossoms come out, it will look like this beautiful canopy of flowers that I can walk under.  Then in the summer months it will give shade to sit under.  One day, in the fall, my orchard will yield up wonderful fruit for us and others to enjoy.  There is future happiness here as I envision granddaughters sitting in the grass under the trees.  Or even the grandsons riding the motorcycles through them.

God is always in the business of pruning and shaping His children.  I find, at times, that the cutting off of one limb and the trimming back of another is painful.  I might even complain of the hurt but also realize that my heavenly Father is the kindest of pruners.  Ultimately, I do want His will to be done in me even when I say, "ouch!".   He is shaping something wonderful and even beautiful that is hard for me to comprehend because of the moment of possible pain.  I would love to be like the cedars of Lebanon talked about in the Bible.  Tall and strong and used for God's purposes.

What else is there left to do then, but submit to the process of shaping?  Yes and Amen ~ I want to hand Him the pruners too.