Images and Imaginings

Cruz Ultrasound ii

I have become an ultrasound nerd.

I realized this last week when some friends announced their pregnancy on Facebook by posting this early ultrasound picture. Yep, there’s the yolk sac, I thought to myself. I was actually kind of obsessed with it.

Official nerd status = confirmed.

At the local pregnancy center where I work we provide free ultrasounds to help determine a viable pregnancy or estimate the gestational age. As the Client Advocate, one of my responsibilities/ privileges is to chaperon these ultrasounds. It never gets old, peering through this window into God’s workshop, the womb.

With the advent of modern ultrasound technology, we’ve been granted unprecedented access to the heretofore hidden world of the unborn. As early as four weeks post-conception, we can visualize and measure a miniature beating heart! And I’ll never forget the time I witnessed a tiny six-week-old embryo move. MOVE. I had no idea.

But as amazing as this technology is, it has its limitations. Sometimes the image is fuzzy and undefined. Our eyes strain to identify the structures on the screen, in varying shades of gray. It’s an inexact science, an imperfect medium.

Much like our Christian life. Jesus has come and opened our eyes to an unseen spiritual realm we never knew existed. We now have some understanding of His activity. We get glimpses of His glory. But they are limited and incomplete. Like hazy pewter images pixelating on a distant screen.

The apostle Paul, despite the glorious revelations he received,* experienced this obscurity in his own spiritual journey. Listen to how he described the struggle in these different translations of 1 Corinthians 13:12:

…we see only an indistinct image in a mirror…what I know is incomplete…(ISV)

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror..all that I know now is partial and incomplete…(NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. (MSG)

Life on this side of heaven is like that. We strain to bring focus to our spiritual vision. We long for a clear and unobstructed view.

This past month, two clients graciously returned to our center to introduce us to their newborn babies. I had “met” these babies on the ultrasound screen some months ago, as they waved and kicked in grainy gray. But to see the color and definition of their perfect features, and to feel their warm bodies breathing on my chest was to know them in another realm entirely.

A day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. Now we trace His image in black and white on the pages of His Word; some day we will touch the Living Word Himself. Now we “squint in a fog”; soon we will behold the Son in vibrant color, in all of His radiant glory. Now we sense His Spirit moving mysteriously in our midst; then we will feel the very breath of God on our faces as we melt into His enveloping embrace.

YES.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul also shared the certainty of this hope:

Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ISV)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (MSG)

One day our faith will be made sight. The mist will clear and clarity will reign. This earthly womb we call “home” will give birth to a heavenly reality so beautiful we cannot even conceive of it.

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, NLT)

So squint if you must. Imagine if you can. But hope always.

And remember, anything good in this life is just a faint echo, an imperfect image of unimaginably wonderful things to come.

*See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 for more of Paul’s story.

**This song by Hillsong Worship, “Transfiguration,” has resonated with me lately along these lines:

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Miracle Life

Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10, NLT)

tiny-hand-of-premature-baby

She made her entrance early into this world, weighing all of 2 pounds, 12 ounces.

Tiny premature babies face giant hurdles.

But this was 1936. There were no NICUs, no incubators, no supplemental oxygen.

There were only prayers. And the will to survive.

Her hand was the size of her father’s thumb nail, and her entire body fit in the palm of his hand. They brought her home from the hospital in a shoe box. There were no car seats in 1936, either.

But the hand of God was upon her. She survived.

The first five years of her life were rough. Bitter New York winters brought annual bouts of pneumonia, and frequent hospitalizations.

But she was a fighter. Strong-willed, like her dad.

She grew stronger, and then she grew up. Graduated from high school and business school. Got married. Had three kids.

She loved variety and change. The life of a military wife suited her well. Except for that one dark year when her husband was far away, in harm’s way.  But her Creator reached through the darkness, took her by the hand, and called her by name. She began to call Him, “Savior.”

Her kids grew up, and had kids of their own. She enjoyed traveling, especially if it took her near the coast, her favorite place to be. And those early prayers for her survival were now paid forward, as she became a faithful prayer warrior, interceding for others.

But always, there was that pesky shortness of breath. She accepted it as normal. She had just learned to live with it.

When she was in her early seventies, doctors discovered a hole in her heart. Congenital. From birth.

The hole was successfully patched in a procedure that was developed for newborns with the same defect. The doctor remarked that he had never performed the procedure on an adult before, much less a woman in her seventies!

But that’s my mom. She’s tough. A survivor.

Tomorrow that premature baby with a hole in her heart will turn 80.

EIGHTY.

Amazing.

Her life is a miracle. She is special–to God, her family, and all who know her.

Of course, the aging process can present its own challenges. As my dear paternal grandmother used to say, “Old age isn’t for sissies.” (She lived to be 98.)

But GOD never ages or changes. The One who brought her through eight decades of life will continue to be faithful to her–and to us.

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. (Isaiah 46:4, NAS)

What a precious promise, spoken from the tender heart of a good Father. He who created us will carry us, every single day of our lives. “From life’s first cry, to final breath…”* He will remain. He will sustain.

So Happy Birthday, Mom.

Your life IS a miracle life, nurtured and sustained by the gracious Giver of Life.

You really shouldn’t be here, you know.

But we’re so very thankful to God that you are.

* Lyrics from “In Christ Alone,” by Stuart Townend.

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The Many Faces of Miracle

I sat across the table from two miracles yesterday.

The first was a precious, five-month-old baby girl, with ebony hair and pewter eyes. She looks just like her mama. You’d never guess she was adopted.

As we visited over tea, my friend shared how her daughter’s birth mother had used drugs, unaware that she was pregnant. How her morning sickness eventually became so severe that she had no other option but to stop using. How this possibly spared both of their lives.

A godly family took her under their wing. With their encouragement and support, she chose to carry her baby to term and place her in a loving home. Which is where her story and my friend’s story became divinely, mercifully intertwined.

What does this brave birth mom think of her decision now? She recently said this to my friend:

She is your missing puzzle piece and my saving grace.”

Amazing, miraculous grace.

That same evening I slid into a restaurant booth across from a slender, sweet-spirited teen, with braided ombre hair and dark almond eyes. I knew she was adopted, because she looks nothing like her mom.

As we chatted over a late dinner of pasta, she shared a little of her story. How her first “home” was a Chinese orphanage, which only housed children up to the age of twelve. How these twelve-year-old orphanage “graduates” were then put out on the streets. How as an infant she was adopted by her parents right before the Chinese government began restricting foreign adoptions.

She stated all of this information quite matter-of-factly. But I knew that, for the second time that day, I was beholding the face of a miracle.

A little over a month ago I went back to work part-time as a “Client Advocate” at our local pregnancy center. It wasn’t the position I applied for. But apparently it’s the position God had in mind for me.

I’m not gonna lie. It isn’t easy.

“STDs”…”LMPs”…abortion risks and procedures…these are not topics in my usual dinnertime–or any time–conversation. But these words are now a regular part of my new workplace vocabulary. Women come into our center seeking free pregnancy tests, options counseling, ultrasounds.

After a client checks in and fills out the necessary paperwork, I welcome them into my upstairs office and direct them to the comfy swivel chair opposite mine. I look into their faces. I ask questions. I take notes. I listen to their story, the one that’s unfolding in real time, right in front of me.

And I silently pray.

I ask for wisdom and compassion.

I try to point them to the Source of Life. The Giver of Living Water. The Miracle Worker.

Yes, some days are discouraging. Many conversations are difficult. But I’m walking by faith and trusting that God has put me right where He wants me to be. And that He will do what only HE can do.

I sat across the table from two miracles yesterday.

You just never know when you might come face to face with a miracle in the making.

Mother holding baby

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. (Psalm 77:14, NIV)

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Saturated

Rain

Rain, rain.  Go away.  Come again another…month.

Seriously.  We’ve already broken the local record for precipitation in the month of September.  And if the raindrops that pelted my bedroom window again this past Monday afternoon were any indication, we are well on our way to shattering the all-time record.

Newsflash:  We are no longer in a drought.

Across town many folks are repairing flooded basements and drivers are dodging a plethora of new potholes.  But this is nothing compared to the devastation suffered by our Colorado neighbors just to the south.  They were inundated with more than twice the amount of rain we received.  We join them as they mourn their losses and pray for them as they set out on the long road of recovery.

Our pastor’s basement was one of the unfortunate casualties here.  Last Sunday morning it was filling up so rapidly they put out a distress call.  At one point they had no less than NINE Shop-Vacs going, just to keep their knees above water.  The sodden ground was so saturated that the water was coming in through their foundation.  There was just nowhere else for it to go.

Definition of saturated:  “…something that is completely soaked, or something that is filled to the brim and cannot take any more.”

After nearly a week of steady rain, our normally arid plains had surely become saturated.  The soil was like a water-logged sponge, unable to absorb another drop.  The excess had to go somewhere.

So it is with our spiritual lives.

Throughout Scripture, water is used as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s filling and empowering.

“For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields.  And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your children.” (Isaiah 44:3, NLT)

Jesus took these references from the Old Testament and personalized them:

“The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.  He said this about the Spirit.” (John 7:38-39a, HCSB)

The Greek word for “streams” can also be translateda river, torrents, a flood.”  Recent images of flooded Colorado canyons flash through my mind.  Too much water can be a bad thing.  But too much of the Spirit?  No such thing.  The rushing flow of the Holy Spirit doesn’t bring destruction, but rather life.  It’s “living” water.  Zao, in the Greek, means “to be fresh, strong, efficient; active, powerful.”

I’d sure like those words to characterize my life.

I do believe in Jesus.  And I have known what it is like to be propelled by His invigorating, energizing power.  But without the Spirit’s continual filling, I shrivel up like a crusty old sponge.

Dry.  Stale.  Useless.

The abundant rainfall this month has done more than just bring our area out of a persistent state of drought.  It has also served as a timely visual aid to me, a reminder of what my life in the Spirit should be.

Saturated with His Word.  Soaked in His presence.  Filled to the brim with His Spirit.  Flowing over and out into the empty places around me.

As the latest raindrops slid down my window pane, this prayer sprung up from within me.  Perhaps you, too, feel like a dried out sponge.  If so, I invite you to pray along…

Living Water, flow in me.  Flood each thirsty pore with your refreshing presence and sustaining power.  Flush out the clogs of self and the debris of sin so that the river of Your Spirit can run free and unhindered through me.  Fill me up, I pray.  May my mind be so steeped in Your truth, my heart so saturated with Your love, that I have no other recourse but to spill out, overflowing to a world in need.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.

“He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs…” (Psalm 107:35, NIV)

Creek

Photo Notes:  Top photo was taken of our cat looking on as more rain fell on Monday.  Bottom photo was taken while we were up in Boulder Canyon on August 31, 2013, just a week and a half before the flooding.

(Sources:  Definition of “saturated” is from “Your Dictionary.”  Definitions of Greek words are from The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon.)

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Recipes

Rachel and her friend Katy had just worked out at the gym.  They were starving.  They wanted enchiladas.  They wanted them NOW.

I offered to share my tried and true chicken enchilada recipe with them.  Recipe?  Nah.  Recipes take TIME.  Who needs a recipe?

“We got this,” they said.  So I got out of the way.

They combined corn tortillas, leftover grilled chicken, Mexican cheese and enchilada sauce.  LOTS of sauce.  Into the oven it went.

Thirty minutes later, out came something that resembled soup more than enchiladas.  They called it “dip.”  I called it grounds for a nomination to “Worst Cooks in America.”

Still, it was food for thought.

Because I think this is how many of us well-meaning folks approach Life.  We want to be happy.  We long to be loved.  We hope to make a difference in this world.  All good and desirable things.

We set out to assemble what we believe to be the essential ingredients:  friends, education, job, spouse, house, kids.  We throw them together, in no particular order or quantity, anticipating something a-mazing.  Or at least satisfying.

What we end up with is often less than appetizing.

As I stood idly by while Rachel and Katy took over my kitchen, I wondered if this might be a taste of how God feels as He sits back and watches us try to tackle life.  He is more than willing to share His recipe for abundant living with us.  He was even kind enough to write it down for our easy access and quick reference.  But impatience (“We want it now.”) and pride (“We got this.”) get in the way.  We disregard His instructions, and He steps aside.

And the result can be a gloppy mess.

The good news is that He is still standing by, patiently waiting for an invitation to step in.  He knows just the right timing, ingredients, proportions and seasoning to make life work.  His recipe has been tested over time and proven to be superior to anything we could concoct on our own.  He’ll gladly help us mop up our messes and start over, His way.

The question is:  Will we let Him?

“Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:2b, NAS)

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Thieves

Emily’s iphone was stolen Monday night.  She thought it would be safe in her coat pocket in the break room at work.  She was wrong.

A few months ago at church she also thought her purse would be safe on the seat next to her during worship.  Wrong again.

Both of these incidents had relatively happy endings.  Her purse was discovered in the women’s bathroom, mostly intact.  Her iphone was recovered within a few hours, thanks to a diligent police officer and amazing modern technology.  (Thieves, beware of a handy little iphone app which signals a lost phone’s exact location!)

The loss of trust, however, is harder to regain.  A sense of personal well being and security is more difficult to recoup.  A thief steals more than mere personal belongings.

A few weeks ago my sister sent me a text message with this question:  What is your favorite Bible verse?  I’ve never really designated one particular verse as my all-time favorite.  But Jesus’ words in John 10:10 were the first thing to pop into my mind:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NAS)

It seemed like a strange response at the time.  Not the kind of verse you’d necessarily want stencilled over your fireplace or cross stitched in a frame.  References to theft, murder and destruction aren’t exactly family room friendly.

Yet aren’t these the very themes that have been playing out on television screens in family rooms all across the country lately?  One needn’t look far to find abundant evidence of this “thief’s” activity.  Satan’s fingerprints are all over recent events, from the tragic suicide of a well-known pastor’s son, to the drama and devastation on Boston’s bloodstained  sidewalks, to the massive fireball which left a Texas community reeling and mourning.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

Should we be surprised?  It’s his job description, after all.  The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines destroy as “to render useless.”  If he can’t murder his victims outright, he will attempt to rob them of joy, hope and purpose.  He seeks to paralyze, defeat, and make us ineffective.

“I came that they might have life…”

Into this dark reality…Jesus came.  His assignment?  To bring LIFE.

He once claimed Isaiah 61 as His job description.*  Verses 3-5 contain phrases such as these:

“…to bestow … beauty instead of ashes … joy instead of mourning … praise instead of a spirit of despair …”

“…to rebuild … restore … renew … (what has been) … devastated …” (NIV)

This is why He came.  To unravel the work of the enemy.  To return what the thief has stolen.  To take tragedy and somehow fashion something beautiful out of it.  I don’t know how He does it.

It takes time.  Often a long time.  Maybe even a lifetime.

But He can and will do it.  It’s what He’s all about.

And that is why I’m holding on to Him, and to John 10:10, a little more tightly these days.

*See Luke 4:16-21.

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