Safe and Trembling (Dealing With A Wound From the Past)

It was one of those rare, warm days in February. And, since we live in New Hampshire, by warm, I mean it was above 32 degrees so the snow was slushy and the trees were dripping. I planned to walk with the kids on just some flat trails behind a nearby school, but the sunshine felt so refreshing and the kids begged so earnestly to hike to the top of some ledges, that I consented. As we got closer to the top, the trail was slick with wet ice. We kept to the edges of the path, where the snow was still crunchy and we had good enough footing to make it safely to the top. With a baby on my back and two preschoolers holding my hands, I admired the view while calling to the three older children to stay well away from the edges. It was beautiful. It was refreshing. It wasn’t worth the following two months!

On the way down, I had a handful of discarded mittens in one hand, and with my other I held the hand of my four year old. My baby girl was sleeping soundly in a carrier on my back. The other kids were ahead of me, making their way down the trail by keeping to the edges. I was already out of balance when I stepped on some slick ice. Somehow, as my feet lost control, I let go of my child’s hand and was propelled frontwards across the trail, coming to rest only when my outstretched right hand hit a fallen tree and stopped my body from going any further. As I tried to stand and to comfort the baby, who was now awake and crying, it only took one look at my wrist to realize that I’d badly broken it. I called my older children back and they assured me that the baby seemed fine and also let me know that the cell phone batteries were dead. I couldn’t call for anyone to help us. I needed to get the seven of us down from these ledges and home. I held my arm as still as possible and assigned the older kids the task of helping the little ones. Praying no one else fell, we went slowly and steadily and finally made it back to the van. Surprisingly, I thought, “I’m doing okay. This break doesn’t hurt that much.” I drove with my left hand and we arrived home, where again, we had to rally to get everyone into the house. It was with relief that I got to our home phone and called a friend up the road. She would call another friend to watch my kids and she’d bring me to the hospital. She said she’d hurry as fast as she could and I said, “I’m okay. It doesn’t hurt that much.” But, when my friend walked through the door a few minutes later, I felt pain shoot through my broken arm. We were saved. We were safe. Now, I felt like I was dying. As soon as we were on our way to the hospital, the pain became unbearable. Tears started pouring and I moaned as my arm felt like it was being torn apart.

My wrist had been broken for over an hour but it only started really hurting when it was safe for me to fall apart. The pain had been present all along. The injury was real and hurtful. But, my body was able to mask the pain in order for me to have the strength to get down that mountain and to get help.

After I broke my wrist, I needed surgery to put a metal plate inside and hold things together. It took a couple of months and some physically therapy to heal completely. But, by the spring time, when the snow had melted and the weather was truly warming up, I was all better. The kids and I set off on another hike, this time with some friends. We went up a familiar mountain that we’d climbed many times. For the last bit of the hike up Mount Cardigan, you leave the tree line behind and walk up it’s bald, granite face to the tower at the top.

This day, this first hike after my fall, the kids scrambled up the rocks, full of enthusiasm to get to the top, just like always. But, as we started up the rocky face, my heart started beating faster. This was a safe mountain, with good, solid footing. But, I needed to stop and take some deep breaths. I said to my friend, “Look at me… I’m literally shaking! This is crazy!”

Even though I knew in my head that I was safe, my body was sending danger signals. Somewhere inside, the trauma of that fall was being remembered.

I think our body remembers emotional trauma in a similar way.

When we go through painful experiences, often we are able to cope and even mask the pain in order to survive and to do what needs to be done.

It can be years later, when we are actually in a safe place, that we first feel the pain signals. And, it can feel crazy. We tell ourselves, “What is wrong with me? I should be over this by now. It shouldn’t hurt anymore.” And, we can try to squash the tremble inside with substances or food or exercise or Netflix or a whole host of things to try to not feel when our feelings don’t make sense. Or, maybe we can’t even find escape. Maybe we start sinking.

I’ve written before about my struggle with depression. A few years ago, it became an intense struggle, and very much related to that trembling shake inside of old wounds torn open by current circumstances. Thankfully, just like on that climb up the bald face of Mount Cardigan, I was trembling but I was in a safe place.

Depression was in many ways a gift for me, because it overpowered my, “I should be over this by now,” feelings, and drove me to seek help. I was able to tell my stories in ways that allowed me to walk through old trauma and heal in deeper places. I had to write them down and unravel myself. I had good friends who were willing to listen to my story, and love me in that hearing, and I also sought good, Biblical counseling and found help there.

Walking again recently with a friend, she asked me, “Lara, how do you know that counseling is working?”

It can feel like a messy, awful process.

But, I think I answered her truly when I said that the biggest change I’ve seen is the ability to be more gracious with myself. When I tremble, I don’t hate myself for it. I can say, “Look at me- I’m shaking,” and accept that this is helpful information. Those emotions are real and they tell me something about my own heart. I can bring that knowledge to the present and use it to help me understand the places I’m prone to stumble.

And, I also know that those feelings of shame, insecurity or fear don’t determine my next steps. I can graciously accept that while they are sometimes traveling companions, they aren’t my map or GPS. I can keep climbing the mountain and embracing the forward-facing nature of this journey.

And, it helps to know that there’s another, closer traveling companion.

Our God sees the past, the future and is with us in this very moment.  Even if there are ‘fears within and trouble without’, He is a safe place for his people to find refuge and help. He’s better than a cell phone that dies on a hike. He’s listening always and his words to us are good. So different from the things we tell ourselves. Our self-condemning words can’t quiet us or stop the tremble. But, His love can hold us close enough to stop the shaking. And, as He walks with us through such painful trials, He knows there are views in the end that will be worth the journey. Let’s press on, with present grace.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Blessings and prayers for you on your climb upward,

Lara

 

150174_3178341019813_1811413284_n

At the top of Mount Cardigan, the first hike following my broken wrist

Providence and My Anxious Heart

 

“Someday you or I will die.”

“Lara, that won’t happen for a long, long time.”

“But, Mama, it really is going to happen.”

“Shhhh… it will be okay. We’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it.” 

I was five or six years old and my mother was trying to comfort me. But, I remember how I lay awake, looking into the darkness of my room, and thinking about this bridge in the distance. It didn’t matter how far away it was; someday we would have to walk across it. It was real.

I can still be overcome at times with anxiety. It rises up when I hear that my husband has to travel for work, or that one of my children isn’t feeling well, or that a snow storm is due to hit town right when I need to be driving somewhere. I start imagining awful things and grieving for sorrows that haven’t happened yet.

I’ve felt tension between how overwhelming this anxiety is and the Biblical commands not to worry. Over and over again, my Lord tells me, “Do not fear.” And yet, despite that and all my self-talk about the futility of anxiety, I still fear.

This winter, now that the cold and snow have settled in, I’m cozying up to my winter project. In the spare moments, or evenings, I’m opening old books, sitting before hundreds of pages of interviews, magazine articles and newspaper clippings. There are faces in old photographs, letters with pretty slanted handwriting, and stories on old typewriter paper. I’ve been researching the history of my family and roots in Maine, and starting to piece together the old stories.  As I do, the familiar sinks back into history; the hills and valleys, roads and ponds, set securely in their places suddenly are transferred back over the years to a time when my ancestors called them home. They were farmers and lumbermen, teachers, bootleggers, store keepers and mill workers. At times they were soldiers. Each name scratched on a family tree contains a lifetime of stories, though I’m often left with just a few dates to go with the name.

There’s something about letting my mind traverse the old stories that leaves me feeling both more grounded and somehow ethereal.  I can imagine how my own name would look, written out in one of these genealogical record books. It would be next to the name of my husband, with the dates of our births and marriage, and below would be the names of four sons and three daughters. Truly, we aren’t separate from history. This is just our moment to breathe and work and love and pray and hope. And it’s really just a moment.

I’m drawn to the old things and their reminders that others have walked the same roads we’re called to walk. My children all learn to read holding a one-hundred year old primer, turning the thick, brown-edged pages with their fresh little fingers. An introduction to the teacher reads, “…The subject matter is within the range of the experience and the imagination of most children of five or six years of age. It is full of incident and action. It enlists at once the liveliest interest of children…” And somehow, though these words were written about children learning how to read while the Great War was raging in Europe, my own children have their ‘liveliest interest’ enlisted as well. My sons love that some of the old books still have pictures of little boys with guns and hunting dogs. I love the simplicity of the stories; the focus on nature and agriculture. And there’s something time-surpassing about the human desire for ‘incident and action’ and things that speak into our ‘experience and imagination’. We all love stories.

Last week, amidst unexpected events and accidents and with my husband getting ready to board a plane, with anxiety swelling, I prayed and asked God for His grace to obey his words concerning worry. I trust that God, who delights when we know truth, is willing to teach us wisdom in our secret hearts. (Psalm 51:6) I’ve experienced this digging and exposing and thought-shifting work of God.

When I was a young Christian, I heard someone say that the many ‘fear God’ verses in the Bible really mean that we are to be in awe of Him. We’re to just be reverent. He’s our friend. We don’t have to be afraid of God.

But if we’ve never been afraid, I don’t think we’ve ever encountered his glory.

I’ve stood on a rocky cliff and felt spray from ocean waves on my cheeks as the wind whipped through my hair. I’ve heard their roar below me, and known that if I ventured too close they could crush me and pull me under. There’s something awesome and to be revered and also something fearful about the waves and the weight of the water crashing against the shore.

I’ve felt the same sensation as I watched a storm rumble in from the west on a summer day. The wind picks up, the sky darkens, and soon thunder is shaking the house and leaving a rumble deep down in my bones. Nature is awesome and fearful and seems to be telling us an old, old story.

But how much greater is the weight of glory that the Creator of the waves and the thunder holds? A true taste of God’s glory makes us tremble. I’ve certainly found that true prayer isn’t safe. There’s a true, appropriate, healthy fear; a fear with a purpose of leading us to salvation.

Perhaps there’s nothing that makes me feel more small and vulnerable than looking up into the night sky. Sometimes I pause on my way back to the house from some errand that has taken me into a dark night. As I look up, higher and higher into the heavens, I feel myself shrinking into exposed insignificance. The stars are some of the most humbling witnesses of God’s glory. And amazingly, Psalm 103 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him…” To truly come to know God is to fear Him; a heart pounding, knees knocking, trembling fear in the face of power. But to truly know Him and fear Him is also to receive a great and steadfast love that washes our fears away. The ocean waves, with their crashing power, don’t love me. The thunder doesn’t roar promises to hold me in the palm of its hand and cover me in the shelter of its wings. But God does.

It’s this weight of power and love that is the only match for my anxiety.

Too often I’m trying to grab the pen and write my own story. I want to control the plot line, because I feel like I’m the main character. I want to keep the story pretty tame, without much incident or action, but with plenty of comfort, security and just a little poetic romance springing up from purely happy things. This is the story I want to write for all of those that I love.

But there’s an Author already and He holds the pen. Do I trust him?

He wrote a story that I don’t always understand. I don’t know why he allowed sin and suffering to stain the pages when it seems he could have kept it out. I want a beautiful ending and I want it now. But what He’s given me is a stunning climax. The crushing, fearful holiness of God met in full force the deep, steadfast love of God when he wrote himself into the story. This is the gospel.

I keep thinking I understand this. While I’m reading the Bible or listening to a sermon or praying in earnest, this greater story will suddenly break into me and I’ll feel my fears being swept away as I see Him. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything…”

But so far, without fail, my anxiety flares up once again. I start telling myself stories about all of the what-ifs and dwelling on the sad or scary things that could happen to me or my loved ones.

When that happens, and I start to sink, I’m learning that my lifeline is to spend some time sharing stories with the Lord. I need it over and over again. I come to him in prayer and tell him my heart story. I tell him how I’d like the next few pages to go. And He holds me close and whispers back the time-surpassing, fear-stilling story He’s been telling his children from the beginning.

 

A few years ago I was drawn to a tiny, old book at the thrift store. I brought it home and found an inscription written neatly inside the front cover.

Jacob Langdell, New Boston, N.H. May 29th 1862

When I typed the words into an internet search, I found that Jacob wrote the inscription less than four months before he enlisted as a soldier in the Civil War. The New Boston historical society website showed a picture of him, sitting tall in his uniform with his legs crossed. Twenty-four men from New Boston volunteered along with Jacob to serve in the 16th New Hampshire Regiment. They were sent south by steamship, and ten of them died from disease (likely malaria) while in Louisiana. From the hospital there Jacob wrote a letter home to his mother, dated January 27, 1863. I saw his handwriting, the same neat, slanted letters as in the book I held. “… if I live and prosper I shall be at home before many months. I am contented for I know that the same Providence watches over me here that does you at the north.”

jacob-langdell

Jacob Langdell, New Boston Historical Society collection

I looked again at the hands in the photograph, a farm boy’s, long and lean against his musket. I marveled that they once held this book now resting in my own, maybe even carrying it to war and safely back to New Boston once again. On one of the well-worn pages was a prayer.

“O Lord, I know not what I should ask of thee. Thou only knowest what I want; and thou lovest me better than I can love myself. O Lord, give to me, thy child, what is proper, whatsoever it may be. I dare not ask either crosses or comforts, I only present myself before thee; I open my heart to thee. Behold my wants, which I am ignorant of; but do thou behold, and do according to thy mercy. Smite or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all thy purposes, without knowing them. I am silent, I offer myself in sacrifice. I abandon myself to thee. I have no more any desire, but to accomplish thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray thou thyself in me.” (Mirror of Thought, pg 112)

A century and a half after a young soldier may have done the same, I spoke these words aloud. My voice was soft as my heart struggled through each line. This was once again the whispering story of providence and the beckoning call to trust Him. Here was the only assurance that quiets my anxious thoughts and lets me rest deep in contentment. God loves me. He knows better than I do. It is safe to abandon myself to Him. He is intentional about every ‘incident and action’ that He allows into the story of our lives, and wants to use our experiences to enlist our liveliest interest in what will bring us the most joy. He’s made us to live in His story, and He’s willing to tell it to us over and over and over again.  It’s the old story that breathes new life into the present. It stirs my heart and lifts my voice so that I can say, “Teach me to pray. Pray thou thyself in me.”

Jesus did this. He spent time sharing his heart story with the father. The night before he was going to die on the cross he prayed in such distress over the wrath he was about to bear, that his sweat contained blood. He was honest about his desire to be spared from this suffering if there was another way to save us, but he was willing to be obedient to the point of death. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus drank that cup of wrath and has handed me the cup of communion. There is nothing left to fear. Jesus died profoundly alone on the cross. But because of this, as for me, God draws near even in the darkness. There will never be a bridge that I’ll have to cross alone. My fears are really calling out a question to God. His answer is the only thing that will quiet them as He holds me close, and in all His glory He says to His child, “I am with you always…

Looking Into the Fog

With homeschooling and being together every day, all year long, I wouldn’t have thought it would be such an issue. But, it’s why I almost always start school by the beginning of August. The summertime squabbles had hit our house hard. I stood in the kitchen, the drizzle outside finally slowing down, and realized we had been indoors and I had been playing a referee for the last two hours. I could hear from different corners of the house various children arguing over toys, how many people could fit on the couch and where they should keep their feet and whether or not calling someone ‘mean’ was name calling or just being accurate.

I needed to do something. Fast.

“Everyone out to the cabin! I have something I want to show you.”

The cabin has been my retreat for quiet and prayer.

Walking through the rustic wood door is always something like coming home. Upstairs is a loft with three small beds while downstairs in the one small room there’s a bed and bureau, a small table, a few chairs and a woodstove. A grandmother quilt covers the full bed and a great-grandmother quilt sits carefully folded on a shelf my father-in-law built. The cabin is full of his handicraft made from scraps of wood he scrounged from around the property during his visits. Last time, to make some shelves, he said to one of the boys, “Do you think your father would mind me stealing this board?” In reply, the ten year old said, “Well, it’s not really stealing since you’re just moving it from one spot to another.” He’s taken scraps from one place and made little treasures in another. My mother-in-law carried the chair cushions home one summer and brought them back reupholstered with extra material for curtains and a wall hanging. After each visit I find new little touches of paint or wood or material. There are touches from my own mother as well. One of her oil paintings hangs on the wall along with her sun hat left on a hook. I keep kindling wood next to the stove in an old washbasin she gave me. When I was four and there were hard times and no running water, the basin was where she gave me Sunday night baths. After my mother’s visits, I’ll often find a book on one of the little tables. Last time it was a book about an island off the coast of Maine and after she left, I sat holding it in the doorway while I watched the children swimming in the pond.  As I flipped through pages of verse and photographs, I could almost smell salt water and feel the rocks and sand and I could have been sitting next to my mother in the doorway of another little cabin on a point on Islesboro.

The children all piled into my little sanctuary and suddenly it wasn’t so quiet.

I grabbed the Bible from the top of the bureau and tried to hush the chatter. “I have a story to tell you.” The promise of a story quieted them down though a few arms and legs were still restless and there was the occasional protest from someone close enough to be nudged or thumped.

I began. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was three years old and lived with her Mommy and Daddy and three sisters.”

I reached up on a shelf and took down two worn puppets. “This monkey and this lion belonged to her. She would sit on her parent’s bed and she believed they were real. They would talk to her (sounding a little like her mother and father) and she would try to feed the monkey bananas.”

The kids laughed and said they knew who it was as I put the monkey and the lion in the hands of my seven year old. I reached for something else on the shelf. I took down a picture of the same little girl sitting in an old fashioned baby buggy with her two older sisters standing next to it. I told the kids some stories of the fun these sisters had, including some wild baby buggy rides and of how gullible the little girl was and how she always believed the big sister who tricked her over and over with the same joke. I handed the picture to my oldest daughter and reached for another. I took down a framed picture of the girl a little older, holding a lead rope and with her little sister sitting on the pony named ‘Molly’. I told them stories of these sisters and the pony and they laughed and I could see in the eyes of my little girls that they were longing to be there on that sweet Molly.

Next I took down a cross stitch of a little house and the words, “Joy be with you while you stay and peace be with you as you go.” I told them about the girl grown older and in college. She didn’t know what she would do with her life but deep down inside she wanted to love a husband and children and to have house with a guest room where people would come and stay and she could feed them and make them feel safe and happy. So, in between writing term papers she would sit on her bed and cross stitch and wonder what might someday be.

After putting the cross stitch in some little hands, I took down more handiwork that had a picture of a house and the words, ‘God Bless Our Home’. I told the story of going to Maine for Christmas and my grandmother telling me that she had a neighbor make a picture to match the one she had hanging on her wall because she thought I’d like it. But, then after she got it from her neighbor, she lost it and had been looking for it everywhere. So, she decided to give me the one from her wall and wait until the other one showed up to replace her own. I held in my hands the little gift from my grandmother, and with a familiar heaviness rising, I handed it to one of my little girls.

There was one more child and I looked around the room for what I should have him hold. There were more items that I had placed there to remind me of our family and the history that gives me roots and steadiness as I pray and hope. But, instead of those, I reached up and took the clock down from the wall and placed it in the hands of my nine year old.

I told them each to hold the items I gave them and think about them and the stories I told while I read them a poem. I turned to the book of Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

 

I looked in their little faces and told them how precious each time is. That they shouldn’t waste a moment being angry with each other because this time together, where we live in the same little house and eat dinner together each night, is going to pass away so soon. Every moment together is precious.

I looked at my little boy holding the clock and asked him how much time had passed since I had handed it to him. He did a bit of math in his head and said it had just been some minutes.

“Will those minutes ever be here again?”

Like it usually does, the weight of the lesson fell on me. The kids were soon off again, playing and laughing and bickering, while I stood for another moment in the cabin.

The minutes are moving too fast. 

Before I followed the children outside I pulled out the bottom drawer of the bureau where I keep stacks of my old journals. I reached way down to the bottom and pulled out one with a Minny Mouse cover. I stepped outside where I could watch the kids play, thankful that the rain had stopped.

Opening the cover I read the first date. I would have been thirteen, just a year older than my daughter is now. I remembered opening the cover for the first time, at my sister’s house, after just hearing that Molly the pony had been put to sleep. With a sad smile, I saw that my first entry was a poem.

You were the pony next door

Though to me you meant more

In my heart forever

Remains a great treasure

Which is the memories of us

Of undying friendship and trust.

Though your happy days here are over

I wish you in heaven a field full of clover

I will never forget you

My love and friendship is true

Your kind, friendly eyes

Hid no secrets or lies

Your great heart we could never tame

Though you were kind without shame

You carried us all

Fat, skinny, large or small.

I was both laughing and crying inside as I read the last line of the poem. I still grieve in poetry though I’ve given up on rhyme.

I read the rest of the journal, seeing this little girl that isn’t me and yet was and the stream of consistency in who I have been and who I am now and wishing I could go back and save her from some of the choices she was about to make.

I ‘fell in love’ several times my eight grade year but I never loved any of those boys with the same intensity with which I loved the horses named Thunder and Shawnee or even the dog, Bendyl. I read the page I wrote after sitting on the bleachers talking with a friend. This little girl and I both talked about how our boyfriends kind of grossed us out. We didn’t even really want to hold their hand, especially in the hall at school. We wondered what was wrong with us. I wanted to go back and grab that little girl out of that middle school and give her some Breyer horses to play with and a couple of gerbils. I prayed a silent prayer and thanked God for the gentle growing up my children are getting.

Mostly, the pages were about horses and friends and true love always and every now and then an interesting historical tidbit like the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A few pages were a little harder to read and again, I wanted to go back and snatch her away.

I didn’t remember thinking much about God or ever reading the Bible back in those days. So, it was with surprise that I came to a page and read the words, “I’m not so mad at ____, anymore. I read in the Bible about not fearing man because they may be able to hurt your body but can never touch my soul! Not that ____ ever hit me. He just has no power over my soul. Only the Lord has that key!”

What? How could this little boy-crazy girl that only went to church on Easter with her grandmother have written down, twenty three years ago, the truth that I thought I was just finding now? The very same verse even?

Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face.

He was there.

I had wanted to reach back and save the little girl writing in her journal when she was lost and being used because it felt like she was so alone.

But she was never alone.

In the weeks leading up to my thirty-sixth birthday this month, I often found myself singing a few lines from Stevie Nick’s song, Landslide.

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Even children get older

And I’m getting older too

Oh, I’m getting older too”

I have strongly been feeling the, “Oh, I’m getting older too” part. I’ve also been afraid of changing. I’m dreading my children getting older. I love it right now.

And, I don’t know that I’ll love it in the future. It’s likely that bad things are going to happen. There are going to be goodbyes and I don’t want to say them. Even if there are good things they might mean bags will be packed and tickets bought and planes boarded. I don’t want any more changing.

I’ve built my life right here.

I can’t see what is ahead. It seems like at some point in their growing up, I have a conversation with each one of my kids about whether or not you can walk on a cloud and what it would be like to be inside of one. A little voice says, “Can you see anything when you are in there or is it all white?”

Sometimes when we’re eating breakfast, since we’re quite high on a hill, we can look out over a valley and see the fog rising off of several lakes and ponds. Some mornings we see a heavy fog settled below us and then head off in the van to run errands. On the way to town, we pass through the ‘clouds’. I remind them of how thick and solid they looked from a distance, but when we’re in them they’re just wisps and we can see ahead of us. It’s just from afar that you can’t see.

And I think, isn’t that just like life?

I’m afraid because I can’t see what is ahead. And, because this is a world broken, there will be things that will break. My loved ones seem so fragile when I look ahead into the fog.

But just like there was someone behind me bringing that little girl the truth she needed to get her through, there is someone there in the fog ahead of me. And, from where he is, he can see clearly. He’s already there.

The only thing that overcomes the fear of the future and the inevitable change is to build my life on what doesn’t change and to fix my eyes on the one who is and was and always will be. There is something solid to stand on because there is something that will never change.

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:38)

I am going to savor each precious moment of now. This minute is passing and it will never come again. There is grief in the passing of moments but there is something to cling to with hope and expectant joy as we look ahead. There is a love waiting that has carried us through the past and is strong enough to carry us through whatever lies waiting in the fog.

He’s already there.

Scan_Pic0014

Another Beginning

Right Now

I’ve really been struggling with how to begin. This is one of those stories that weighs and pushes and won’t let go and won’t be forgotten until it’s released. So, I am just going to start with right now.

I just did the dishes and made sure teeth got brushed and read ‘Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth’ and gave seven goodnight kisses. I talked with my husband about work and licensing the dog and made chicken salad for his lunch tomorrow with the leftovers from dinner.

My life is all about ordinary things.

This is a Tuesday, so tonight I gathered my Bible, my journal and this laptop and I made my way across the yard to the cabin; the tiny house for company and for quiet.

And, this is where the ordinary stops.

It’s been almost two years since I stood by the woodpile and felt the pleasure of God. One day I woke up with a letter in my mind that I felt compelled to write. As soon as my feet hit the floor I was writing it in my journal and I would write sentences between getting the kids breakfast and finding shoes and feeding the dog. When it was done I typed it up, attached it to an email and then came the moment when I couldn’t bring myself to send it. It took me over two weeks and some encouragement from a friend and mentor before I could bring myself to hit the send button. Insecurity was bubbling over as I thought about my words showing up in email inboxes. I left the computer and stepped outside to get firewood. That is when an unexplainable feeling came over me. There I was doing the ordinary thing of getting wood for the fire, and I suddenly was wrapped in a new sensation that felt like the pleasure of God. It was like he was smiling at my obedience.

I don’t think of myself as charismatic in my worship of God. I like things that are solid and orderly. I like to read and study, to be still and ponder, to hear wise people; to find truth and know it before I feel it. I don’t put a lot of stock in feelings or dreams or impressions. I love Christianity because it is verified by history and great thinkers and you can savor deep, satisfying theology that comes in heavy books and is laid out in letters and words and chapters. I love truth that can be found and sorted out and lined up and applied. Its orderly, it’s trustworthy, it’s solid.

But, God isn’t a theory. He isn’t a philosophy.

He says, “I Am.”

So, that is why I’m here tonight. Because I have another story that is pressing up and in and won’t let me forget it even though I keep trying. I have to remind myself why I’m writing. It isn’t to convince anyone or to teach or to promote myself. It’s to pour out my journey of faith the way it really is regardless of whether or not it sounds sane to others. It’s not to be right but it’s to be honest. It’s peeling back the self-protective skin and exposing the raw reality of my experiences of seeking and being sought. It’s because I believe that ‘He is’ and the pleasure of God is more satisfying than accolades from any other voices. So, this is the story that wants to be shared, and it begins with the same letter I sent two falls ago.

The Letter

To my precious sisters in Christ,

Since we moved to this hill in the ‘wilderness’, I’ve spent more time with my eyes turned skyward. Our home is open and full of windows facing the west so I find myself pausing often in my work to gaze at the sky. During the day the expanse calms my spirit. The sky is so big and my worries so small. At night when I pause to look up, a billion lights peering back make me gasp for breath. For a moment I feel exposed, finite and vulnerable. There is something about seeing this space between me and the stars that reminds me of our Maker’s power- that even makes me afraid.

And then I remember, “As high as the Heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”

This God who is so powerful that it makes me tremble to look at his creation, let alone himself, actually loves me with a love as great as the height of the heavens. Just a taste of this love does something to my soul. I hunger for more!

When God created humanity He breathed into us His life; He made us in His image so that we could be vessels that hold and reflect and delight in his glory. Even in this fallen, shamed woman there is something calling out for restoration- that part of me made to delight in God and to be delighted in by him longs to have its purpose fulfilled. And that is the beauty of the love of God… that it is not a passive love. It is a love that reaches down from its holiness and enters into our darkness. That fear when I look into the night sky is the feeling that I deserve to be crushed by the weight of that glory. I am condemned by the way the image of God in me has been broken and turned inward so that it seeks to find and reflect glory in myself instead of in the only worthy God. Jesus, being in the very nature God, let himself be crushed in my place.

How great is the love of Christ to allow that condemnation to fall on Himself so that I can stand and gaze uncondemned. Instead of feeling the shame of exposure I can surrender to his covering. He makes my heart a habitation for his spirit, wraps me in his righteousness and beckons me to draw so near that I am drawn into oneness.

My soul longs for me to abandon myself to this truth and to abide there.

And my confession?

The truth of what he has done should make my knees bow before him and my mouth confess he is Lord. My response needs to be prayer. But I have so neglected the privilege of prayer. “I’ll pray for you,” is too often a polite response instead of an honest promise of action.

Recently, as the leaves have turned, mostly fallen and our first year in the woods turns colder, I’ve had some days of loneliness. I started thinking of activities that could fill my time and connect me to others. I decided I was really lacking vision concerning why God decided to place me here. So, I prayed that he would give me purpose and a vision and that he would show me how to avoid the pitfalls of loneliness and connect to others, especially to my sisters in Christ.

His answer was different than what I expected- it was simply “pray”.

On our property is a little cabin. In the little cabin is a wood stove. What I need to do is to kindle a fire in that stove and to expect God to kindle a fire in my heart.

So, practically, I asked Jon, “Can I go?” He said, “Go.”

So, I’m committing.

Tuesday nights you will know, Lord willing, where to find me. I’m going to kindle a fire in the stove in the cabin and at 7PM I’m going to head out and pray he lets me be an offering on the fire of his Holy Spirit. That He would meet with me and burn his love for others into my heart and that I would offer it back in intercessory prayer.

Will you pray with me? Will you pray for me? I know my little cabin is too far away on a little dirt road in the wilderness to ask with expectation that you would join me physically (though you would be so, so welcome!). But, regardless of that, I so desire to have you a part of my communion with Christ. I want to pray with you in spirit and to pray for you. You are going to be in my heart as I strive to seek his presence more intentionally than I ever have before. Please let me know if you have a burden I can carry into that presence.

And, please pray for me to be consistent. One night a week… just a few hours… but I know how hard it is to pray for even ten minutes. ‘My spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ It is a battle. But I am so convinced that this is real… that He is real… that he wants to be with us. His love is what arms us to fight self and the enemies of human souls. His love is what is calling out, “Come… bring your small spark and let me light the fire!” Jesus, please fill us with the faith to call back, “Here I am, Lord, bring your flame!”

With expectation!

Lara

Experiencing God, Experiencing Fear

That first Tuesday found me in the cabin, having kindled a fire in the old woodstove. I sat on the bed with my Bible and my grandmother’s hymnal and I began to pray. Not many words came out before I had to stop. I have had times when I’ve felt overwhelmed by God’s holiness or his love or his comfort. I’ve experienced feeling his nearness when going through something challenging or even beautiful times like the births of my children. I’ve been comforted by the knowledge of the presence of God many times. But, this was different.

I was afraid. I was overwhelmed, not with the intellectual belief in the omnipresence of God, but with an almost tangible sensation. There was a presence that was as real as if a friend had walked in and settled himself in one of the chairs. Instead of comforting it was terrifying. My first prayer that night was for this to stop. I didn’t want to offer myself on the fire of the Holy Spirit. This meeting was too much. I felt like I was going to die. But, as I cried out for distance, it felt like my prayer was answered. It felt like the Spirit drew back and I could breathe. I still experienced a more real and powerful sense of his presence with me in that place but it was gentler. I spent the next few hours in prayer and it felt like a conversation with a living, hearing, present Jesus. I poured out my heart the way I would to a trusted friend. My Bible was open and while I never heard an audible voice there were times of quiet when I felt like he was impressing things on my heart.

I left the cabin and I still felt overwhelmed by my experience as I climbed into bed beside my sleeping husband. There was a lingering fear.

Long before these days, shortly after I became a Christian in high school, I had a dream that has always stayed with me and brought me comfort. I can’t say whether it was from my subconscious or from God but it was beautiful and memorable and a gift regardless. In the dream, I stood on a sloping hill next to a large tree with overarching branches that were full of green leaves. I was either praying or singing or both and there was a feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. I was worshiping God and it felt like I was doing what I had been made to do. It was as if I was completely well. I’ve thought that the dream was a little taste of what Heaven will be like. That worshiping God in a pure and complete way will be the most satisfying thing possible.

But, the dream after the first night in the prayer cabin was different.

I was dying. It was hard to breathe. I was lying in a hospital bed with my two oldest sisters talking quietly on either side of me. Somehow I was also the tree from the ‘Heaven dream’ of long ago. But there was a steady, strong wind blowing through the branches. I was dying and simultaneously, the leaves were being blown off the tree.

I woke at 2 AM and was sure that I was going to die. I felt like the presence of God that had been in the cabin was going to take me with it. I was going to be pulled out of this life.

A New Invitation

Our church has a women’s prayer group that exchanges requests by email each week. Several weeks ago, when facing some things that were making me anxious, I asked them to pray for me concerning fear.

And, that is when this story started unexpectedly stirring in my heart and mind.

For a long time, I didn’t understand my experience of fear that first night in the cabin or the dream and so I pushed them to the back of my mind. I thought I had been naïve to ask for such a deep level of intimacy with God in prayer. I wondered if it really *was* God or if it was my imagination or something darker. And, while I like to think I don’t put any stock in dreams, the dream did leave me shaken and I didn’t want to think about it.

I had been reading through the book of Luke and shortly after my friends started praying for me I found myself in the 12th chapter. In it, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples about fear. He said we don’t have to be anxious about our physical needs being met or about defending ourselves before others or about preserving our lives. He said there is only one thing to be afraid of. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” The only thing to ultimately fear is the judge of our souls.

But the very next sentence Jesus spoke tells us more.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

And again, he tells us, “Fear not, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The only One to be afraid of is God. According to the words of Jesus and through what he accomplished for us, we don’t have to fear God. He will never forget us, we are of great value to him and he has been pleased to let us call him ‘Father’ and give us the kingdom.

There is nothing left to fear.

I thought I understood this when I wrote the letter to my prayerful sisters in Christ. I didn’t realize that I was expressing the battle of my life. God answered the cry of my heart that night long ago, and gave me the gift of opening my eyes to what holds me back in my relationship with him.

John Piper, in ‘Desiring God’, wrote, “The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.” There is a draw, a longing, to experience God in the way I did in the worshiping dream from long ago. There is something in me calling out in response to his call and wanting to be fully surrendered; to be made whole and complete and to experience the ‘deepest and most enduring happiness.’

But, in order to do that, I need to be like the tree in my second dream. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Like the wind in my dream, the Holy Spirit will work steadily and powerfully to blow away all of the pride of self, the fear of man and the panicked desire to cling to safety and comfort that is my grasping effort to save my own life.

I am such a fearful person. And, if it was just the discomfort of living with fear that was its affect then maybe it would be easier to just push it to the back of my mind and live with it simmering rather than face it.

But, I am convinced that what is keeping me from a more intimate, sure and faith-filled walk with God is not that he is unwilling to show himself to me. It’s that I am holding back. My fears are keeping me from drinking in the great, lavishing love of God toward his children (1 John 3:1).

Once again, I feel him calling me deeper and calling me to invite you to come along; to face fear and battle against it with truth. I’m praying for the faith to hear him calling out ‘fear not’ and the grace to trust, deny fear, and follow after him.