(Not) Business as Usual

Blog_EmptyPark_PikrepoMy family has gone on more walks lately than I can recall in any springtime past. We’re blessed to live in an area with multiple locations for scenic hikes, so we’ve taken much advantage of one of the few things still allowed during shelter-in-place: outdoor exercise. This is one thing I hope doesn’t change when all this passes over.

Along our walks, we’ve seen many beautiful and interesting things. But I will say there is one thing we’ve seen that seems especially unusual. Empty playgrounds.

While the sight of a slide and some swings usually elicits a gasp of excitement from my children, there is a strange stillness when we pass by equipment once adorned with laughing children. It’s somber, almost. Haunting.

I know my kids are eager for things to go back to normal when it comes to playgrounds. And many others are yearning for business-as-usual in other areas as well. Family gatherings. Visits with friends. Work. School. Shopping. Entertainment. Sports.

As much as I long for some normalcy, there are some things I hope never return to the way they were before the lock-down. I hope my family continues to treasure our precious time together. I hope we still enjoy long walks outdoors. And I hope we remain in this state of prioritizing the valuable over the urgent.

On a more serious level, there are other things I hope never go back to business-as-usual. Prior to this season of quarantine, the practice of human trafficking was flourishing on soil across the globe. This $150 billion per year, 40 million victim industry prospered without hindrance on every continent.

Only time will tell how much this shut-down has slowed the progress of this horrific evil. We may never know how many abductions have been prevented with children and youth required to remain safely inside. And with the sports industry on halt, the trafficking-driven after-sporting events are left without the hundreds of thousands they once magnetized.

My prayer is that this current crisis will come as an urgent wake-up call to those who have funded this industry with selfish appetites, and that they would turn from their victimizing ways. My hope is that those who have been victimized will find their way to lasting freedom, and that those who are laboring behind the scenes to bring such freedom will prosper in the cause of justice. And my desire is that the horrific practice of modern slavery will not continue business-as-usual.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Holding Our Breath

LightThroughWater_PixabayMy daughter always preferred wading to an underwater experience. When she was little, she tended to gravitate to zero-depth pools. Even now, once in, she’d rather walk head-above-water than go deep, though she has grown in courage over the years.

The last few summers, she’s experimented with going under. This usually involved plugging her nose and puffing her cheeks, followed by a hesitant bow into the water that lasted a few seconds at most. By the time she was finally comfortable going under for more than a minute, the pools were closing for the season. I know it’s just a matter of time before she’s fully at ease underwater.

As the summer approaches, we’re preparing for fresh opportunities, and until then we’ll begin to practice holding our breath. After all, it seems like that’s all we’re doing lately…holding our breath. Waiting for this pandemic to end so we can come up for air and breathe once again.

In less than a month, our world has changed in drastic ways. Nothing is as it was, and we wonder if anything will be back to normal once it’s through.  We wonder when we’ll breathe that sigh of “we’ve made it through, we’re out of the deep.” And we mournfully remember those who took their final breaths in the process.

It would be a fearful time, if I did not know the one who holds my breath.

Last year, long before the pandemic hit, my dad took his final breath this side of heaven. In the days before he passed, I sat at his bedside singing hymns. When he had the strength, he’d lift his fragile hand as if to say, “I’d sing with you if I could.” When I shared scripture, he’d nod faintly in agreement. Until he was too weak to move at all. The last night I spent in his hospital room, he spoke the last words I’d hear him say to me. “Thank you.” He went to hospice soon after, and he died minutes after we’d surrounded him with songs of praise.

For us, it was a painful loss. But I imagine him arriving in heaven as one emerges from the deep, taking a glorious breath of untainted air.

And seeing him in his last hours has dissolved my fear with the confidence of knowing there’s one greater who holds my breath. The God who created heaven and earth breathed life into my lungs and new life into my spirit. His thoughts for me outnumber grains of sand, and he knows the number of my days. So even now, as our world is shaken, I will not fear.

I know who hold my life. I know who holds my future. I know who holds my destiny. And I know who holds my breath.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3)

 

Photo Credit: LightThroughWater_Pixabay_labeled free to use or share on Google Images

What We Don’t Always See

Blog_WeavingLoomMy seven-year-old son has a strong sense of justice, at least when he’s not the one whose actions are in question. He’s quick to report any offense of which he sees himself victim. And often he’s compassionate enough to stand up when his friends face potential mistreatment.

The other day, he decided to call me to the bench while he stood judge and jury. Why, he wondered, did Daddy and I have two fans in our room when he didn’t have any? On this unseasonably warm spring day, it seemed a fair question. Maybe, just maybe, we were withholding from him. And maybe we loved ourselves a little bit more.

Except the aspiring lawyer overlooked one key piece of evidence: the air conditioner in his own room that was clearly not present in ours.

Yes, what he did not see was that Mommy and Daddy decided he should enjoy the cool comfort afforded by that air conditioner while we took the room without. We chose to love him enough to give him the blessing of a restful night of sweat-free sleep while we often bake in the rising heat, even with two fans. When he finally understood, his accusations came to a swift halt.

Now I know that for most of the world, air conditioning itself is a luxury of dreams. So to say we’ve sacrificed for our son is a little extreme. In the overall scheme of things, this is just one small way we’ve put our children before ourselves.

But the situation did remind me a little of myself. How often I come to God with accusation in my heart, questioning his love because things did not go as I expected. How often I ignore the sacrifices he’s already made for me, all because I’m so focused on what I want and don’t have.

Oh, the things we don’t always see.

Not only has God given us life and breath. Not only has he given us a hope and a future. But he gave his only son that “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” We’ll never fully know the extremes he went to that we would know his love and receive his life.

And beyond that, he’s always and ever “working everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose”. He never sleeps. Every detail of our lives, woven into a perfect tapestry because of his infinite love.

What we don’t always see is the other side of the tapestry. We’re so focused on the loose strands so evident from this side of eternity, we miss the work of the master artist that will show itself beautiful in its perfect time. Abba, father…open our eyes. Help us to see. And forgive our ingratitude.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)

 

Photo Credit: weaving hands | on a loom in the iron age | Hans Splinter | Flickr

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

Blog_Easter_TombAndCrossesWhen hope dies, it’s hard to believe life can prevail.  We remain at the burial site—gazing upon what we’ve lost, unaware that something greater is destined to arise from the ashes.  Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”  When Jesus died on the cross, those who had followed him closely were unaware that His death was only the opening of a greater door in which God was about to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that [they could] ask or think” (Eph 3:20).

The women who witnessed the miraculous were met with the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). They earnestly came to Jesus’ disciples with news of the empty tomb, only to be met with disbelief.  It was as if they had come to a tomb of another kind—where hope itself was permanently laid to rest.  The disciples who’d walked with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry had mistakenly believed He’d come to set up an earthly kingdom.  He had been their hope of liberation from oppressive governmental and religious systems—a political Messiah.

When He died on the cross, their dreams died with Him; when they buried Him in the tomb, they buried their aspirations as well.  They did not understand Jesus’ destiny of suffering, predictions of death or promises of resurrection. They didn’t understand He had far greater things for them, an everlasting hope.

Many times we find ourselves in what appears to be a hopeless situation—a graveyard of disenchantment, surrounded by death.  Life has disappointed us; we have disappointed ourselves.  It seems that God has abandoned us to the grave.  We cry out for hope, but Heaven is as brass.  Alone in a graveyard of doubt and defeat, it seems that the promise of resurrection was nothing more than an illusion.

Yet it is when we have come to the end of ourselves that we are on the verge of finding true life.  When things seem most hopeless, we are closer to a breakthrough than ever before.  Why?  Because we finally come to realize that the things we were hoping in were not worthy of our trust to begin with.  They were incapable of sustaining us or providing the life we were looking for.  We finally seal false hope in a tomb—never to be revisited.  This is the beginning of resurrection.

When find ourselves at the entrance to life’s tombs, we have not come to a place of death:  we have instead arrived at the door that leads to everlasting life and hope.  Jesus’ death on the cross is an invitation to die to all our unworthy expectations.  His resurrection is an invitation to find hope that will never die.

 

Photo Credit: Resurrection by Gerd Altman from Pixabay

(Originally posted April 2015)

Not Afraid

Blog_MountainGloryThere’s something far worse than a deadly pandemic. It consumes more quickly, reaches farther. And it kills on a whole different level.

It’s called fear.

Fear begins by infiltrating our minds, methodically working its way to target our hearts.

If we allow, it will steal our future, and possibly our very lives.

These days it’s easy to get caught in the grip of fear. Leave the news channel on all day. Read the headlines. Listen to every alarming broadcast. Soon enough, you’ll fall victim.

Of course, we don’t want to be blind to what’s going on around us. We don’t want to be ignorant of world events. And we certainly need to be aware so we can respond with compassion.

But if we’re not careful, panic will overwhelm us and choke our breath more than any virus ever could.

When faced with the threat of death by fiery furnace, the three young Jewish victims spoke boldly to their tyrannical persecutor, “…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Even in times when I feel afraid, fear is overcome by the knowledge that my God can rescue me. He has a history of coming through in the most impossible of circumstances. Yet even IF he didn’t come through as expected, I have a greater hope that goes beyond the here and now.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suspected his life was nearing its end when he spoke to a weary crowd in Memphis, Tennessee. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” he declared. “But it really doesn’t matter now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like any man, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…I’ve seen the Promised Land…And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

He was killed the next day.

How could a man whose life was in imminent danger speak with such great confidence?

He knew of a greater Promised Land.

God is able to rescue us from the worst of circumstances. He is mighty to save. And YET…

When our purpose here is fulfilled and it comes time to breathe our final breath, there is a greater hope that lies beyond this earthen soil. Those who have placed their hope in the promise of Jesus Christ know that our last breath here ushers us into a place where there’s nothing left to fear.

And knowing this, we can live without fear.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Joy. And pain.

Blog_SunAndRainWhen my friends share stories of the joys and labor-pangs accompanying childbirth, I can only offer a blank stare in return. My journey to motherhood did not involve the physical pain that characterizes the hospital labor room. And while I was spared the typical ordeals of delivery, I can say the emotional and spiritual travail that come with adoption equal and possibly out-measure the challenges faced in the average neonatal ward.

Whatever the path by which one arrives at parenthood, all share very similar tribulations when it comes to parenting. No heart is immune to the ache of love, the raw desire for our children to grow and live to their fullest potential. The exploits and outcomes of child rearing can be summarized in two words.

Joy. And pain.

The Bible speaks of a time of great tribulation come upon the earth, equating the related events to birth pangs.

We have a heavenly Father who adopts those who accept his offer of forgiveness. He loves us to the point of dying for us. And he uses any and every circumstance to birth the best in us and through us. Often that means allowing trying events to awaken a remembrance within us that a greater glory is yet to come in our eternal home with him.

The ultimate glory is not in the here and now.

And so, as it is written, comes “nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…famines and earthquakes in various places…an increase of wickedness.” Calamity upon calamity. Hatred and persecutions. The full outcome of human will independent of God. And love grown cold.

These things must come, it says.

They. Must. Come.

A woman must endure the pains of labor to experience the joy of holding a newborn baby.

And the world must travail that greater things would come to birth.

Joy. And pain.

Our Father desires that none perish and all come to repentance. What circumstances will bring lost, treasured souls into the adoptive care of our loving father? What will bring our own souls closer to him than ever before?

And what tribulation must come to bring us to the fulfillment of the ultimate promise—that of an everlasting home in which “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 22:4).

 

Photo Credit: Rain, River, Sun from Wallpaper Flare, labeled on Google Pics as free to use or share

Greater Outcomes

Blog_CaveWaterfallWhen Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, it must have seemed impossible to believe any good could come from it. When he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, the thought of God redeeming his circumstances surely seemed a distant dream. And when his only two friends forgot him in that jail cell, Joseph could easily have given up all hope.

But at some point in his endlessly nightmarish story, Joseph learned something that sustained him to the turning-point.

God is a God of greater outcomes.

Joseph emerged from nearly fourteen years of bondage with a faith stronger and more certain than he started out with. Beyond his confinement, he found not only the fulfillment of his dreams but the enduring faithfulness of God to redeem any circumstance for measureless good.

When his guilty brothers came to him in time of famine, Joseph could easily have poured out the full measure of vengeance. Instead, he spoke these words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

This hour in which we live is one of inexplicable darkness. We live in a world where the ravages of sin plague every corner of existence. Violence, sickness and calamity strive to rule our days. And in the thick of the chaos, we cry out for some glimpse of good, some sign of God’s intervention.

How could a greater outcome emerge from this current pandemic?

This is the realm in which only the God of the impossible can work his greatest wonders.

In Joseph’s situation, human free-will and the brokenness of nature were allowed to run their course to a near-dismal end. A brother in slavery. A family in crisis. A world in famine. Nothing can shroud the suffering Joseph went through, but nothing can veil the glorious outcome.

And so it is today. Nothing can shroud the lives lost in this horrific time. But that doesn’t negate the truth that good can and will inevitably emerge, in its time.

I recently read that every year, over 4.5 million people die from complications resulting directly from air pollution. Some have estimated that with major cities on quarantine, the decrease in air pollution could save possibly hundreds of thousands more lives than have been lost through the current pandemic.

And what IF. What if someone or multiple someones had been plotting mass shootings or other acts of terrorism in the near future, which are now thwarted with no large crowds to target? We may never know.

And these are only possible physical outcomes. What about families once broken, now drawing together and irreversibly strengthened through hours alone, together? And workaholics on the brink of heart-attack or worse, now forced to slow down and breathe?

But I would say that God is into even greater outcomes than these. Because this imperfect world is not our home, and maybe we’re finally coming to realize that. Maybe this shaking is truly an awakening that will at last open blind eyes to see the things of earth are not our end goal. Salvation and eternal life are found in one who suffered far greater injustices than Joseph, with far greater outcomes.

Maybe multitudes of treasured souls will find enduring hope and everlasting life, which far outweighs anything this world can bring.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 2:7-9)

 

Photo Credit: Waterfall from a Cave @ goodfreephotos.com