Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Comfort, My Shelter

"The Comfort" by Michael Dudash

courtesy of Lysha Broad,

copyright 2011
I go to church regularly, and I pray with people regularly. It is always interesting to hear what people pray. A lot of what I hear is prayers for God’s sheltering protection; from harm, from illness, from ruin of all sorts.

Those prayers come from people who profess to be Christians as well as those who don’t. It’s instinctively human to avoid pain.

We begin learning the value of being sheltered from Day 1. Human adults are wired to protect their babies, so most of us learn from parental protection the bliss of hiding from life’s storms, held safe from harm and pain. As we grow, we carry a deep-seated instinct to seek shelter from harm wherever we can find it…in someone’s arms, or words, or deeds.

Isaiah said God had been “a shelter from the storm” (Isaiah 25:4) That Scripture reference confirms what we’ve learned…this world brings things we should avoid. Why else would God need to shelter?

Isaiah was right. God does sometimes stand directly between us and life’s storms. When He does, we just don’t feel the pain. Either we get through the intersection 20 seconds before someone runs a red light, or cells we didn’t even know we had don’t mutate into cancer, or the spouse that thought of straying doesn’t. Shelter means protection, and I’m sure God shelters us a lot more than we realize.

What does get our attention quickly is when He does not totally shelter us; the times when pain reaches us. Think about the last time you hurt….really hurt. Everyone who has ever walked this earth has felt that feeling. I have felt that pain, too. When it hits, I instinctively ask God for protection.

But many times protection does not come.

During those times of un-sheltered pain, I have often read stories of protection; both in the Bible and in motivational magazines like Guideposts. I remember thinking, “Well, God, where are MY angels? Why won’t you send some to protect me? I feel like I’ve been thrown to the wolves!”

But God plays another role in the midst of un-sheltered pain. In the New Testament, Paul calls God “the God of all comforts” (2 Corinthians 1:3 ASV) That’s a very different role from being a shelter.

God as shelter means there is pain, but God shields me from it. God as comfort means sometimes I will hurt. The mere fact that He is “the God of all comforts” makes that inevitable.

When I cry out to God in the midst of pain, my words are seldom thankful or tender. But God’s merciful answer is the next best thing to not feeling the pain. He comforts me. Whether it’s a hug, a kind word, or a pot of hot soup, comfort in tough times just can’t be beat.

Looking back at the times I’ve “talked back” to God, I now realize that was the key. Sound strange? Well, maybe my choice of words wasn’t the best…but continuing to talk to Him no matter what happened was critical. I’ve spoken to God through tears more times than I can count. I’ve spoken to Him in angry tones, in defeated tones, and in shattered tones.

Without fail, every time I pour out my unraveled emotions and reactions to the pain, He brings comfort. The pain lessens. The simple, natural act of pouring all of my raw emotions and reactions and weaknesses at His feet opens up room within me to let Him in further. As the warmth of His love spreads into the space left by everything that the brokenness drained away, I lift my head to face another day. Somehow, calmed by His comfort, I have the strength to move on.

I think He just wants me to be ME with Him. He’s a big God; he can handle me being angry with Him, or hurt with Him, or even petulant with Him. He would rather hear me tell Him that I think He’s failed me than to not speak to Him at all. He knows that’s not true; He knows that His plan in that time is just to comfort instead of to shelter.

So…sometimes He shelters and pain never comes. Other times, pain breaks through and He comforts me. In all times, there is one constant: If the pain makes it through, He is there to act as my comfort. I just have to remember that taking Him up on His offer is as easy as letting go.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In the Midst of the Mist

Here we are again; Daddy and I in a hospital room. He is 89 now, so this is not our first rodeo. Emergency room last night, not so great news, then up to the 5th floor we came.  We got to the room at about 3:00 AM, which means I’ve had enough sleep to sit here and knock out some work before exhaustion sets in this afternoon. As I was setting up my work laptop, I glanced at the window and did an immediate double-take. I might as well have been looking into one big grey cotton ball. The storms of yesterday evening had turned into the fog of this morning, and there was no view to be had from the hospital tower this morning….not even from the 5th floor.

It struck me as I gazed out into seeming nothingness that I might as well just accept it. Nothing I could do would show me what was on the other side of that pea soup.  Suddenly I realized that God was gently reminding me that sometimes life’s path is just a big grey blob with only question marks in sight.

It’s not my first foggy rodeo, either. I’ve walked paths cloaked in uncertainty before. In fact, most of my life over the past year has been shrouded in fog and question marks. I’ve gone through three major life changes in that year, and there have certainly been tough moments. However, I did not curl up into an emotional fetal position as I had so many times before. During one of the scariest times in my life I had the strength and courage to hear what God had to say, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and step out into the fog.

Almost a year into life being a moving target, I am beginning to see the fruit of that faith. God has led me, step by step, through building many stones along this new path. They’re packed solidly in the soil of His direction and it feels good to walk on them. At this point I don’t have to keep looking down quite so much to put the stones into place, and can actually look out to see what lies ahead with a bit more hope and happy anticipation.

As I finished setting everything up to work and sat back down, I looked out the window again. The fog had just barely begun to lift, and I could see bits of trees and signs and roads. I smiled, because the view out that window looked just like my life. For the first time in a long time, what I see lying ahead is a bit more clearly defined. It’s not crystal clear, but I can see the outlines of good things ahead. It feels good to be at a place where God has once again lifted some of the fog.

I know that, just as God led me safely through the lingering fog of this last year, He will lead Daddy and me through the fog of this short bend in the path. He’s always there to faithfully strengthen and guide me. All I have to do is keep my eyes on Him…even in the midst of the mist.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smitten by the Moon

skogsky moonlight image

Skogsoy moonlight.JPG

"The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night."              - Psalm 121:5-6, NAS

It’s not difficult to experience smiting by the sun. All you have to do is expose your skin to it for long enough. As a child of the “B.S” days (before sunblock), I have memories of several sunburns. They were miserable. I remember not being able to cool down. Every move was painful, and every touch excruciating. There was no quick cure; I just had to wait it out until I healed.

But the light of the moon doesn’t usually strike me as a “smiter.” In contrast, the light of the moon is rather calming. It’s a soft light; a light that drapes itself gently. It seems more like a blanket than a bludgeon.

That is, unless I have a migraine headache. When those hit, any sliver of light is like a piercing sword. Even the light of the moon, with only soft edges and a normally tender touch, cuts like a knife.

Why? Because my body is weak and hypersensitive. Even that tiny amount of soft light, which on a normal day wouldn’t bother me at all, is intolerable. And when those headaches hit, I can’t keep light from causing pain. All I can do is shield my eyes from it.

That’s what God does so often when we are weak from struggling. As we stumble, weary from battle and helpless to numb the pain from things that normally do not smite, He shades us. It doesn’t matter to Him that on better days we would brush off what now would bring us to our knees. He doesn’t hesitate for a second to use the same hand that the wind and waves obey to block a tiny, insignificant sliver of light.

What matters to Him is that the perfect thing to do in that moment is to protect us from what we can’t fight. He shields us from the smiter. When we need a respite from a slice of pain, no matter how thin, He shelters us from it.
It’s not that we never feel pain. As we walk through this fallen world, many times pain is part of the journey. In those times He is our only hope in the midst of agony.

But more times than we know, He shelters us. Even if it’s something that “shouldn’t” hurt us. When even the pain caused by moonlight would do us in, He doesn’t let it reach us.

It gives me great comfort to know that, when I am so weak even the moon burns, He will shade me…and I may never be aware of the cover of His hand. If He blocks the burn of the light, I don’t feel it. And, as a friend of mine always says, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

But what I do know is the comfort of that shelter. In His shadow, away from the battle, I heal. And in healing, there is victory. And in that victory I raise my head to face another day…despite the smiter.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

No Wearries!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
Who doesn’t like harvesting? Whether it’s plucking fresh vegetables from a backyard garden, standing in a cap and gown harvesting a diploma after years of hard work, or playing a difficult musical selection flawlessly after endless hours of practicing, harvesting is fun. It’s satisfying. It’s payoff. It’s gathering what has come to fruition after work is done. What’s not to like about that?

The harvest is great motivation for putting in the hours required to “raise the crop”-- whether it’s healthy kids or political office. Counting days until harvest keeps us moving through the long growing season of things-worth-doing. It makes it easier to hang in there when we feel like giving up.

I so get that. When the sun sends sweat streaming down my face, and I’m only three plants into a weed-filled garden of a dozen --- thinking about biting into a fresh, juicy tomato keeps my hands and legs moving. No doubt about it; knowing that the payoff will come helps. Look at the investment I am making. I want to know when I will see a return!

Who waters a tomato plant with no idea when it will bear fruit? Who studies to pass tests without knowing when they will graduate? Who runs a race with no idea when they will reach the finish line?

For followers of Christ, the answer is, “all of us.” We are to pour our lives into those around us for as long as we are told to. God makes that clear. But after working hard and growing tired, I should get to harvest. Totally logical.

So what’s the problem? Galatians 6:9 is the “problem.” It clearly states that the harvest WILL come. But harvest is only guaranteed ”at the proper time.” Only God knows when “the proper time” for harvest is coming, and His idea of the proper time is usually later than mine.

So many times, it feels like time to wrap up. But then something happens. God says that it’s not harvest time….it’s still giving time. Setting the proper time for harvest is not my decision to make. My job is to keep doing God’s work.

One Sunday morning, years ago, I had been pulled off of Praise Team because the nursery was critically short of workers. I’d had a rough weekend and the stress and energy involved in juggling a gaggle of babies was taking a heavy toll. As I dragged my tired feet back and forth across the nursery floor, trying to comfort a fussy infant, another mom showed up at the door with yet another screaming baby.

I realized she was a friend from another church that I hadn’t seen in years. “Are you a member here?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Usually I’m playing on Praise Team, but today I’m filling in here.” She sighed as she stroked her now-happy baby daughter’s curly hair. “I seem to always end up in here, no matter what church we visit,” she said sadly.

“You know, that happened to me a lot when my kids were babies,” I said. “But, looking back, I think I got just as much out of sitting in the nursery talking to other moms as I did from the sermons!”

Years later, I saw that woman sitting in a nursery rocking chair, soothing a baby. I joked about that long-ago Sunday.

She grew quiet and looked thoughtful. “I’ll never forget that Sunday, she said. “I always felt like such a failure because I kept having to leave the sanctuary during the service. But you made me feel comfortable just being in the nursery taking care of my child. I thought I was missing something not being in the sanctuary, but you made me feel like I was in the right place after all.”

That morning I saw a harvest. And God used my simple words to help her grow roots.

Now, when I grow weary, I remember that friend and God’s guarantee. There will be harvest, but not until the time is right….His time, not mine. Until then, all I have to do is water, weed, and make sure there are “No Wearries.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Covered Cabins

Last August my husband and I bought a cabin in the north Georgia mountains. It is a small piece of paradise perched on a steep mountainside. For the first few months, we were totally surrounded by lush greenery. It was like living in a tree house. We loved the isolated location; four miles from the gated community entrance. Every drive back to the cabin took us past less than a dozen houses, with the closest neighbor in sight over a half mile away. We loved that we could look in any direction and see no sign of civilization. Trees, birds, and streams were our only companions.

Once fall’s majestic colors faded, however, we were in for a surprise. Suddenly we saw dozens of houses that we didn’t know were there! The neighborhood was still sparsely populated; only 295 houses spread among 5900 acres.  But now every turn seemed to reveal another dwelling; tucked away in another corner of the woods, there all the time…but we had no idea!

Driving to church from the cabin early one Sunday morning, I was deep in thought about how to handle a really tough time in my life. I struggled to find answers and faced things I had never faced before. I just couldn’t find the strength to overcome them. But as I drove, things suddenly came into focus, and I saw a weakness I had never before realized within me. In that moment I knew the weakness stood between me and the strength…and solutions…that I needed so badly.

Just as the coming of winter stripped away the beautiful green leaves that hid those cabins, going through my hard time forced me to reach past the pretty “leaves” that I used to cover my weakness. When life was easy, I focused on everyday life and avoided what lay beneath the routine of the expected. But when forced to deal with my unexpected crisis, surviving became anything but routine. That tough time forced me to reach deep down into who I really was; to find a foundation solid enough to stand on. To find my way to the other side of my struggle, I had to push aside the pretty branches of comfortable normalcy and take a fresh, deeper look into myself. What I saw was a weakness; there the whole time, yet hidden.

Just like those cabins. Hidden in the summer, yet so easy to see in wintertime’s leafless wonder. Hiding my weakness didn’t make it non-existent; it just made it easier to ignore. But once the covering was stripped away, I couldn’t ignore it! I took a deep breath, asked God to make His strength perfect in my weakness, and turned to face the things that needed to change.

A few seasons (and many steps) removed from the first moment I brushed aside the branches, I have come to appreciate the beauty of life’s barren “winters.” Life’s struggles force us to abandon the fluff with which we cushion our lives. As we watch the fluff fly away, we grab for the part of us that can hold fast and true as the cold winds of trial rage in our soul.

Though never pleasant, these times are also never dormant. The work of growth toils beneath the surface during these times. Grow we must; otherwise we are tossed away and crumble like just another dried leaf.

Because I turned toward what God revealed during that tough time, I now find His voice easier to hear. Standing on the ever-firmer foundation built within, I find peace closer at hand. And I find beauty in the barren landscape of leafless seasons.

I don’t want to tarry there; the first touch of a lighter, warmer day and scent of a new season draws my heart like the first spring flower reaching above the snow. But as I shake away the last tatters of what was, and leave behind the weakness that just doesn’t fit any more, I smile to think of the beauty that lies around every bend…no matter what tomorrow brings.