Stormy Weather

The drive to Laurel’s orthodontist appointment on this sunny summer morning was pleasant enough.  We chatted amiably and even prayed together.  The drive home?  Not so much.  By the time we turned into the driveway we were hardly speaking to each other.

This was Laurel’s first time getting her braces tightened.  (Or adjusted.  Or whatever it is they do to braces these days.)  The assistant wasn’t the most gentle, and before we even left the office Laurel’s teeth were already sore.  She was also disappointed that her braces were minus the colored elastics she was hoping to sport for her upcoming birthday.  (This may sound minor.  Let me assure you, as the mom of a 12-almost-13-year-old, that it is not.)  Physical pain plus emotional let down is a bad combo.

When my children are hurt I don’t handle it well.  I often react by getting angry.  Not at them, but at the situation, and my lack of control over it.  (Of course, they don’t know the difference.)  I also have a low tolerance for complaining.  The kind which commenced immediately upon exiting the orthodontist’s office.  Another bad combo.

Add to all of this an adolescent girl and one menopausal mama and you’ve now got yourself a really  bad combo.  A hormonal hurricane.  The perfect storm.

Our emotions and voices began rising like an incoming tidal surge.  Before we even knew what had hit, “Tropical Storm Smith” had made landfall and was swirling around us.  Words pelted.  Tears fell.

Upon arriving home we quickly retreated to separate rooms to recover and regroup.  I attempted to process the emotionally charged exchange that had just occurred.  A common denominator stood out to me:  Pain.

When we are hurting, either physically or emotionally, conditions are ideal for a storm to develop.  I also recalled reading a few years ago that hurricanes need fuel, in the form of moist, warm air, to survive.  Laurel’s frustration and my anger added the necessary fuel components.  Next thing we knew we were caught up in unexpected, heated conflict.

Jesus knew a thing or two about storms.  To this day, the Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms that can spring up out of nowhere.  Jesus and His disciples were threatened by such storms on more than one occasion.  Only they never caught Him off guard.

Thankfully, He also knows a thing or two about calming storms.  I asked Him to settle my heart and restore peace to my relationship with my daughter.  We offered and accepted apologies and shared hugs.  We were able to discuss what had happened, and why, and how we might prevent it from escalating out of control in the future.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in relationships.  Storms sneak up.  Conflicts come.  Hormones wreak havoc.    But we don’t have to end up a shipwreck.  With His help we can seek to understand our reactions, learn from our mistakes, and take steps to avoid repeating them.

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39, ESV)
 

Ahh, the sweet calm after the storm.

(Note:  The painting above is called “Storm Before the Calm” by Lucy Dickens.)

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A Familiar Carol

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.*

This was the song I replayed most often on my “Mercy Me” Christmas album as I drove around town this past week.  (Unless, of course, my 12-year-old daughter was with me, in which case we were “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”)  It was a familiar carol.  But I seemed to hear the lyrics in a new way this year.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Something about this particular verse really resonated with me.  And that was before the terrible events unfolded yesterday at a Connecticut elementary school, interrupting Christmas preparations and shattering a quiet community’s peace.  I can’t stop thinking about the parents whose children’s beds lay empty last night.

It is easy to despair.

Christmas carols seem jarringly out of place in the face of such grief and devastation.  Hate is strong and mocks these songs.  Peace on earth?  Good will to men?

Where are you, God?

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

At times like this we need the message of Christmas more than ever.

God is very much alive.  He sees.  He knows.  He cares.

Jesus came to bring us peace with God, with others, with ourselves.

He is our only Hope.

And the babe that once lay helpless in a manger will return, with fire in His eyes and judgment in His hand.

He will fix this broken world.  He will right all that is wrong.  He will triumph over evil.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Newtown, our nation, and our world need You this Christmas.

 

*Lyrics from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867.

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The Graduation Verse

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It must be graduation season, because this verse keeps popping up everywhere.  I see it on key chains, picture frames and cards.  It could easily be called “The Graduation Verse.”  And rightly so, as it gives confidence to those newly minted graduates venturing out into an unknown future.  I decided to do a little digging into this well-known verse to see if I might unearth some lesser-known insights.  As usual, God and His Word did not disappoint.

God has a plan.  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  Anyone familiar with the little booklet “The Four Spiritual Laws” knows this.  In my years on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ,  I heard this phrase repeated so many times it began to sound cliche.  Yet Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God does indeed have a plan for our lives.

The word for “plans” can be translated designs, intentions, purposes and thoughts.  The King James renders the first part of the verse this way:  “I know the thoughts that I think toward you…”  The fact that God has a purpose for our lives is certainly reassuring.  But the fact that the God of the Universe would spend time…thinking…of us?  What an incredible thought!

His plan is good.  When I looked up the word “good,” the familiar Hebrew word shalom greeted me!  We most often associate “peace” with this word.  Shalom also carries with it the idea of completeness, soundness and welfare.  The “good” God has planned goes beyond superficial and fleeting happiness based upon material or circumstantial blessings.  His greatest desire is that we experience lasting, inner peace and well-being as we are made whole in Him.

His heart is good.   He does not will disaster upon us.  If we insert all of the other words the Bible uses for the Hebrew word for disaster, it looks like a veritable thesaurus and reads something like this:

“My plans for you are not for adversity, affliction, calamity, disaster, discomfort, distress, evil, harm, hurt, ill, injury, misery, misfortune, pain, sorrow, trouble, woe, wretchedness, or wrongdoing.”

Staying close to Christ will undoubtedly protect us from much heartache in this life.  We are not, however, promised that we will be completely insulated from sorrow and pain.  Life in a fallen world means we WILL experience difficulty.  But we do have the promise that Jesus will be our Shalom in the midst of it (John 16:33) and that God will take “bad” things and use them for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).  I liked the way Matthew Henry summed it up in his commentary on this verse:  “We often do not know our own minds, but the Lord is never at an uncertainty.  We are sometimes ready to fear that God’s designs are all against us; but as to His own people, even that which seems evil, is for good.”

It ends well.  The word for “future” means posterity, end.  Look at how the King James version translates it:  “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  Matthew Henry continues, “He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, or the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith; the end he has promised, which will be the best for them.”  Our story has a happy ending.

Jesus is our hope.  When I looked up the word for “hope,” I was intrigued to find the Hebrew word tiqvah, which literally means “a cord.”  The only other place this exact word is used is in Joshua 2, when the spies offered to save Rahab because of her kindness and faith.  A scarlet cord (tiqvah) placed in her window marked her dwelling and spared her and her family from destruction.

I love this description from Scofield’s Reference Notes: “The scarlet line of Rahab speaks, by its color, of safety through sacrifice.” (Emphasis mine.)  Matthew Henry also elaborates on the significance of the tiqvah:  “The scarlet cord, like the blood upon the doorpost at the Passover, recalls to remembrance the sinner’s security under the atoning blood of Christ…”

It always comes back to HIM!  He is our hope, our tiqvah.  As Christians we are marked by a scarlet cord, the blood of Jesus, the precious Passover Lamb.  And We Are Safe.

This morning as I lay in bed, pondering this idea of the tiqvah, I happened to glance over at the window and noticed the tassels of the curtain tie-backs dangling down.  I had a mental picture of a scarlet cord hanging in my own window as a sign for Jesus to see when He comes back for us.  It’s a symbol that calls out,   “I am Yours, Lord.  You are my Future and my Hope.”

God has a plan for your life.  His plan and His heart towards you are good.  Your story ends well.  So tie your hope to Him!  Whether you are graduating, going through difficulty or facing uncertain times, Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us all that “the future is as bright as the promises of God.”  (William Carey)

Amen!

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Perfect Peace

Whenever God wants to tell me something, He usually has to repeat Himself a few times before I clue in. Often He uses a particular Bible verse to speak to me. After bumping into it every time I turn around–in a book, in a magazine, in a conversation–I finally start to pay attention.

I’ve been playing “bumper cars” with a couple of verses recently, one of which is Isaiah 26:3. I’m familiar with this one. In fact, I used to have a little wall hanging of it in calligraphy in the King James Version on my college sorority room wall. It looked something like this:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

I’m not sure I’ve been getting a passing score in the subject of “Peace” lately, much less a perfect one, so I decided to do a little extra credit in the hopes of raising my grade. One of my favorite Bible study tools is an online Bible site where you can click on individual words to find their meaning in the original language. (You can find it at www.biblestudytools.com.)

So I typed in “Isaiah 26:3” and began clicking away. Here’s what I found:

The Hebrew word for “keep” means to guard, watch, watch over. (If you read my previous post titled “Guarded” you’ll understand why I liked that reference.) Another definition for “keep” is to be kept close.

I clicked on “peace” and up popped a familiar Hebrew word: shalom. I clicked on “perfect” and lo and behold, there it was again! So “perfect peace” is literally shalom shalom. Like I said, I start to pay attention when God repeats Himself. This is obviously something He wants us to understand.  Shalom is not so much about perfection as it is about “completeness, soundness, welfare.”

Next up was the word “mind,” which, interestingly, is most often translated imagination in the KJV. My imagination definitely likes to run off, taking my peace right along with it. The word for “mind” literally means form, framing, purpose or framework.  Hmm. The image of a picture frame came to my mind.

“Stayed” means to lean, lay, rest, support, uphold, lean upon. One of the other verses that I’ve been bumping into also contains the word “lean”:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) This may be an indication that I’ve been feeling old lately, but I imagined an elderly woman, hunched over, leaning on a cane for support.

Finally, “trusteth.” What does it look like to really trust in the Lord? To “trust” is to have confidence, be bold, to be secure. It can also mean to feel safe, be careless.

The first point I felt God was trying to make was that HE was the one responsible for my peace, not me. I was stressed because I was failing to experience “perfect peace.” Only that wasn’t an assignment He had given me. He is the Prince of (perfect) Peace. It’s His job to provide it and to keep us there.

I returned to the word “mind” and the idea of a frame. If my life and circumstances are like a canvas, then perhaps the frame represents my perspective, my thoughts about my circumstances. Framing them correctly, with God’s Word and His perspective, is something I can do. It’s too easy to lean on our own understanding of a situation instead of keeping our mind “stayed,” or leaning, on His viewpoint.

My daughter Emily is a college art major and has practically taken over one of the rooms in our basement with all of her art supplies. Included in the piles of paint tubes and brushes are several easels that she uses to prop up her canvases. It struck me that we also need an “easel” to hold us up. I thought about how easels stand at an angle, and how the painting “leans” back on the wood for support.

I pondered this word picture as I left the house yesterday  to pick Laurel up from her homeschool P.E. class. While I waited outside the gym in the van, I closed my eyes and imagined myself leaning on God. Only instead of hunching over a cane, I now pictured myself reclining, like a painting rests on its easel.

To do a little “field study,” I pushed the automatic recline button on the side of the driver’s seat and went for a little ride. I could feel the weight of my body shift as the seat angled back. I’m sure I looked a bit strange reclining there in the parking lot. (“Mom, WHAT are you doing?” was Laurel’s response when she got to the van.)  But as I lay back in my seat, I began to feel relaxed. Yes, even…peaceful. 

I noticed that the arm rests were also supporting my arms, and that’s when it really hit me. The very capable arms of Jesus Himself form the easel, and we lean back into His strong chest. THIS is the place of peace. This is the secret of shalom. HE is the easel propping us up, holding us in place and keeping us close!

So that is my report on what I believe God was trying to teach me from Isaiah 26:3. I’m reading a wonderful little daily devotional book called Jesus Calling, by Sarah YoungI really like the way she writes in first person, as if God were speaking directly to us (which He is). I thought I’d attempt to do the same as I close:

I am the Easel, and it is My job to support and hold you up. You are the canvas. The circumstances of your life are the varied colors on the canvas. Allow Me to frame these circumstances with My perspective. Your job is to lean on Me, resting your full weight on Me. When you do this, you demonstrate your trust in Me. Perfect peace is not something you achieve. It is a gift I give you as you rest safely and securely in My arms. You do the leaning. Let Me do the keeping.

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Guarded

Antelope are a sight I see every day.  Hundreds of these agile creatures call the Wyoming community where we live home.  They are beautiful animals; their dark horns and eyes a striking contrast to the tan and white stripes on their necks.  The pronghorns, as they are also known, form larger herds in the winter, frequenting our residential areas in search of a blade of grass or a pile of leaves poking up through the snow.  In the spring and summer, when food is more plentiful elsewhere, they spread out.  From what I understand, they are rarely solitary.

So I thought it was peculiar when I first spied the lone buck that May.  I’d notice him in the field adjacent to our house, sunning himself or munching on some foliage.  He was a majestic figure.   His horns towered above his head like a crown, and, judging by their size, he was not young.  I was inspired by his nobility and quiet strength.  He seemed unrushed, content.

I, on the other hand, was anything but a picture of calm.  An unanticipated personal storm had recently descended upon me, and my stress levels were high.  It was an emotional time, and my anxiety manifested itself in physical symptoms ranging from eye twitches to chest pain.  I had never been through anything quite this intense before.

I began to notice that the antelope was often nearby.  He seemed to appear just when I most needed a reminder that I was not alone.  I felt strangely comforted, protected, and guarded.  (With the exception of the night my daughter called to inform me that the antelope was eating my newly-budded daisies!  I told myself that a few flowers were a small price to pay for the pleasure of his company.)  His presence became to me a symbol of the nearness of God.

Spring stretched into summer, and my trial persisted.  But so did the daily antelope sightings.  I found myself watching expectantly for him, peering through the windows to see what side of the house he might be on.  The rest of the family even got into the action and shared in the fun of spotting him.  We affectionately dubbed him “The Lone Antie.”

One night in late July, feeling especially stressed, I opened my Bible and turned to Philippians 4:6, a familiar passage:  “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.”  I could recite it from memory.   But it was the following verse that really struck me:  “…then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I had never paid much attention to the word “guard” before, but that night it seemed to flash like a neon sign.  The study note in my Bible below the verse read:  guard…a military concept depicting a sentry standing guard.” I could picture God’s peace, standing like a military security guard at the gate of my heart, denying access to worry and fear.

The very next morning I noticed my antelope friend, bedded down across the street.  Wanting to savor the moment, I poured a cup of tea and settled into a chair on the porch.  Just then I observed something about the buck that I had previously overlooked.  He was lying in the shade of a pine tree directly in front of our house, but I hadn’t paid much attention to his position.  He actually had his back towards me, facing out, as if he were guarding our house!  I was moved to tears by yet another reminder of the Lord’s vigilant presence.

I pondered this vivid picture God had given me that summer of His protective care. I felt surrounded by His peace and enveloped in His love, overwhelmed that He would go to such lengths to provide tangible evidence of His nearness during a trying time in my life.

God never promised to insulate us from heartache and storms.  But He did promise to be with us, and to guard our hearts and minds with His peace.  “The Lord Himself watches over you!” declared the writer of Psalm 121, “The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.”  If you find yourself in the middle of a difficult season, know that God is always close at hand, and then be on guard yourself!  He may “show up” in the most unexpected places.

“The Lone Antie”

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