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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Giver- Finding Promises in Pain...

Last Wednesday I had the joy of going on a father/daughter date. We went to the movie theater to see The Giver.  I don't go to the movies very often, so this was a special outing with my dad.  I had been anticipating seeing this new film, and I most assuredly was not disappointed. We were both spell-bound with eyes fixed on the big screen as the story unfolded before us.  I won't give the plot away to those who have not seen it, but I highly encourage everyone to see this new film, based on the novel by Lois Lowry.  There are so many themes hidden in the plot which have had me reflecting for days...I'd love to share a few thoughts that tugged on my spirit.

Pain. We so often try to live a life avoiding all pain. We don't want to feel bad things. We don't want to see bad things. However, pain is many times a gift of great worth. A warning sign. An opportunity for mercy and compassion.  It is the dark night that makes the sun shine all the brighter in the morning.  In Jonas' world, they had done everything to eliminate pain, death, disagreement, hate...the list goes on. Yet in so doing, they had actually taken away the ability to feel deeply, to truly know and be known. They took away choice. Freedom was long forgotten. In diminishing all risk, they stripped away the gifts of family, of relationship, of desire and soul-longing. In trying to eliminate sickness and death in their world, they actually eliminated life itself without conscience or regret.

To what extreme will we go to avoid pain?  To what extreme will we go to create a perfect society?  There have been experiments through the ages at such a world. We remember them as faint hints from the past- Hitler's Nazi Germany the time that probably rings a bell most clearly with us today...but are they truly just hints from the past?  Or are we living in a land that has an ebbing undercurrent of eugenics, on the cliff of euthanasia, with a wind of elimination? I just wonder... I also wonder about the times where I choose the "safe" road over the road of risk, yet in the end I find that I missed out on the beauty of the risk, even if pain were a part of the package.  I don't want to live in a safe, painless world.  That is not attainable in this life- for we know that the perfection and glory of the First Garden was destroyed when the first man and first woman ate the fruit...And we, like Adam and Eve, have continued to eat the fruit of iniquity and pride, bringing brokenness into our world through the ages.  But God's gift of grace was maybe the pain in the process of redemption.

As Father and Creator, he disciplined his children and still disciplines us by allowing pain to redirect our hearts to that which is good and true.  He does not author pain or death or disease or war or sickness or hate- for He is wholly holy and good.  Yet as the Enemy strikes, like the Serpent struck his first lies in the garden, in an attempt to steal, kill, and destroy, our good God protects us with the boundaries of pain to lead us on the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  Our Creator drove the man and the woman out of the garden to toil the land and feel the birth pangs and groaning and moaning of creation, which was subjected to its own frustration, in hope of the glory to come.

I have found that pain has led me to greater depths of joy, deeper bonds of relationship, and a more furious longing for Christ than almost anything else in life. Christ's Passion was His suffering- suffering for us that bore our sins and our sickness and our shame.  He suffered to set us free.  One day the last enemy to be destroyed shall be death, and along with it, all the decay that has become like dust over this world since the banishment from the garden glory.  In Edith Schaeffer's book Affliction, she has a powerful chapter called "Cracked Teapots" where she addresses life's pain.  A friend recently mailed this to me as a reminder for my soul during a season of cracks and painful crevices. Schaeffer's words struck me, "As we live our lives with a blend of the answers to prayer which bring us sufficient grace and the Lord's strength in our weakness to go on- in the midst of pain, fever, disappointment, crushing shock, grueling work, fatigue that makes us long for escape, fear, storms, earthquake, famine, drought, fire, loss of a variety of kinds, despotism that affects us personally, and persecution- we need to recognize His grace and strength as answers..." In the middle of pain, where do you search for answers? Do you try to ignore the pain, control the pain, or run from the pain? Or do you run to the One who can meet you with healing and hope and hints of eternity in the midst of the pain?

May we not be so quick to try to form a utopia of painlessness and unattainable perfection, but rather labor toward a ministry of reconciliation and redemption that is available daily through our Lord Jesus.  I challenge you to sit with an open Bible and meditate on 2 Corinthians 5.  There is too much to unpack here, but I promise your heart will be refreshed and you will gain new perspective on pain and glory.

I leave you with this promise from Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8 verse 23:
"And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us- bodies that will never be sick again and will never die."


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Sky

It's hard for me to believe that it was 13 years ago today when suddenly our world changed. I was in ninth grade.  Like every other American, I remember exactly where I was.  The details of that day are forever etched in my memory, as if it happened last week.  It seemed like an ordinary Tuesday morning for a high school girl. I was always up late Monday nights, trying to catch up with homework in-between phone calls with friends after field hockey practice.  Staying up late spilled over into waking up late, and I made it to school just by the skin of my teeth, hoping not to get a "late" mark. It was chapel that morning in the gym of our small Christian school, and my friend, Will, was about to lead some of the praise music...but instead of our typical worship time, he stood solemnly and told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center- the Twin Towers.  I shuffled in my seat, a little uncomfortable, feeling like something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't quite grasp it. I whispered to friends as we weren't even exactly sure what the World Trade Center was. I thought it was those tall buildings I always saw when passing through New York on Route 95 on the way to family vacations in Maine, but I wasn't positive. Chapel didn't go as usual. We just stopped and prayed.

Stopped.
Time.
Stood.
Still.
Prayed.

We prayed for our country, for the many lives lost-not actually knowing much at all about the after-effects of this crash. We prayed for protection against terrorists. I had never even heard the word terrorist in my life, as far as I could remember. I seemed to have lived in a world without terror. A world of hope. A world, in my 13-year-old eyes, full of peace. Wars and rumors of wars were a thing of the past...things we read about in Mrs. Byrd's history class and Mrs. Stephen's world civilizations class.  And how odd it is today, to think about ninth grade students now, who were only infants or toddlers the day of the attacks. To them, it is something read in history books.  The fact is, we live in a post 9/11 world and terror is a very real threat every day, even when we don't consciously think about it.

Here we are after the sorrow of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here we are after countless men and women have died to protect our freedom. Here we are with even a greater amount now suffering physical and psychological injuries from the battlefield.  Here we are where a new terror group has risen to power in the Middle East, threatening peace, freedom, faith, and families all over the world.  Here we are where, sadly, many have forgotten and keep their heads in the sand, building houses of hope on shaky sediment, wishing storms had never happened and ignoring the looming storms threatening to topple their sandcastles.  For those who forget, I just wish I could hand them the DVD of my dear friend Jack's story- a fire fighter from New Jersey who went in after the planes hit to ground zero with his brave squad, risking their lives to rescue others.  If you could hear Jack's story and see him weep, you would be compelled to never forget.

Now as I type this, looking back, how different a world it seems to me.  Yes, my reality shifted that day thirteen years ago.  But even as the world around us changes, our anchor never changes.  I think about the promise written in the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 6 verse 19, "[Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it]..." Do you hear that promise? Under whoever steps out upon it. What is stepping out upon your hope today, trying to crush it?  Is it the threat of evil and terror?  Is it the agony of a lost loved one?  Is it uncertainty of the future? Is it the inner pain you are facing emotionally or physically? Is it bad news or profound fear of bad news? Is it broken relationship or a broken heart or a broken spirit?  Please, as we remember the events of 9/11/2001 and honor those lives who were lost and the families who still mourn them today, let us carry a new banner of hope.  For the Enemy we face is quite honestly greater than any terror group on this earth. Those threatening terror are as pawns on a chess board to the actual Enemy and the war he rages. But our Enemy cannot break our hope.

Cannot.
Break.
Hope.

Our hope will not slip or break down under the threats he challenges, because the Lord Jesus Christ has offered this very hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.  This anchor is immovable by time and space. It is immovable even under attack. So we carry a BANNER OF HOPE and we champion that hope in light of the past and in light of the future.

Let us never forget. Let us always remember.  Let us honor their lives by carrying hope and holding fast for that great eternal glory which far outweighs the struggles and suffering we may endure here.

As you listen to this song I wrote back in ninth grade after the attacks, meditate on this verse I remember Mr. Stevens, our school headmaster, sharing...

John 16:33
"I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]'

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lessons from Potatoes!


September is here! Oh where did the summertime go?  I have had the pleasure of watching my dad become "Farmer Joe" this summer, planting his largest garden as of yet.  It was quite impressive, I must say!  The cucumbers and tomatoes were plentiful beyond count...which led to him canning "Joe's Pickles" for the first time, and boy, were they a hit!  When our family went on vacation in June, low and behold, we returned to find a rabbit's nest in the yard. Not just in the yard- inside the garden gate that somehow had been left open by someone (oops)! And not just in the garden, but in the CARROT PATCH, for heaven's sakes! Of all places! Was this really happening?  I felt like I was living in a Beatrix Potter book!  Unbeknownst to Farmer Joe upon his return, they were cuddled and nested in the soil, covered by straw and leaves.  As he was watering the carrots, those little bunnies squealed incessantly, crying in shock, until they were found out.  What a surprise, indeed for both farmer and babies!  Being the animal lover he is (a Bachelor's degree in Animal Science must serve for a good purpose now and then), he protected them and helped each one safely leave the garden once they grew up and out of the nest...

Oh the garden tales and summer stories abound, but one of my favorites is every time Farmer Joe tells someone about how to grow potatoes!  My mind can't help but see the spiritual significance and sketch of the process!  You see, most people just throw away their potatoes once they start sprouting those odd looking growths (you know...you left a few in your pantry too long and came to discover they morphed into funny looking creatures in the meantime!)  Well, my dad decided to not throw his out a few months ago.  You see, the potato that looks dead and useless is actually the very source from which tremendous new life and growth can come...Let me tell you a little about the fascinating process!

According to Farmer Joe, it's fairly easy...if one takes the time.  So next time you have a potato going wild in your pantry and you think it is ready to kick the bucket, just think twice and you potentially have a feast of garden potatoes on your hands!  Keep letting it sprout. Let it grow into its deformed, deceased-like state. Then simply cut it in two or more pieces (each section needs its own wild sprout) and bury it under 3 inches of soil.  That crazy, useless, ugly looking "dead" potato buried in the ground will eventually produce and grow a whole bush of potatoes! When it first grows 6 inches high, cover it with 4 inches of soil again. Keep repeating the process, burying 2/3 of it every time it grows...and then eventually, it will send out shoots creating new potatoes.  It seems like nothing is happening under the soil, but the whole time, life is bursting forth and a beautiful flowered bush is waiting to arrive!  When that bush dies back, just dig down in the soil...what will you find? 10 pounds worth of potatoes all birthed from that one little sprout you started with!

Scripture is filled with oxymorons...one of the greatest being Jesus' statement in Matthew 10:39, "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."  What in the world is going on in this verse? One cannot simply find and lose life simultaneously.  Or is it possible? Jesus gives us a clue in John 3:3 when He tells Nicodemus in the night, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  So does a potato have to die and be buried 6 inches under for it to find it's life? Does it have to be born again to see the light of day?  Are we a bit more like potatoes than we're comfortable to admit?

Another simple, stunning statement from Jesus is in John 12:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  Ah, He could have just as easily been talking about potatoes here! The beautiful thing about rebirth in Christ, is that not only do we personally find new life, but we can bear much fruit for the Kingdom, and as Kingdom agents, we now sprout new life and hope in others, all through the Holy Spirit's power.   We cannot be born again unless we die to self. We cannot truly find life until we lose it. We cannot bear fruit unless we fall to the earth, die, and through the mystery of God's universe, spring forth a new creation. "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God," Colossians 3:3 tells us. Yes, death to self finds us alive in Christ and hidden (in that soil of new growth) with our Creator, ready to burst forth in all the purpose He has planted!  "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day...Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 4:16, 5:17).

So next time you eat a potato, remember these lessons of life- true life hid in Christ, life lost to self yet gained and reborn through our Creator.  Tremendous lessons from potatoes, indeed! And if you are really venturesome, maybe you'll attempt to grow your own potatoes, just like Farmer Joe!