Category Archives: scripture

The Breath of the Lion

Being out with Covid has allowed my youngest son and I ample time to keep reading through The Chronicles of Narnia again. I cannot resist a child’s begging for one more page, but when it comes to Narnia stories, I cannot resist a child’s begging for one more chapter, especially when Aslan is on the scene.

As soon as Aslan is near, my son and I both sigh in relief, knowing everything will turn out alright. The thing is that Aslan’s interaction with his creatures are usually short, simple, and significantly profound.

This time around, I nearly lost my breath reading the scene in which Aslan breathes courage over the fearful Susan. As much as I want to be like Lucy (who doesn’t want to be like little Lucy?), I am far more like Susan who began listening to fears.

“Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, ‘Susan.’ Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. ‘You have listened to fears, child,’ said Aslan. ‘Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?’

‘A little, Aslan,’ said Susan.”

Aslan doesn’t lecture Susan on the useless of entertaining fears. He doesn’t chastise her for being more controlled by fear than faith. He merely points out the obvious, saying, “You have listened to fears, child.” And his antidote to her fears is neither a Ted talk on the power of positive thinking nor a penance to work her way back into his good graces. He merely breathes on her.

Photo by Matthew Kerslake on Unsplash

With a mere breath from God, the universe came into existence (John 1:1-5) . The Holy Spirit is the breath or wind of God who blows where he pleases (John 3:8). The enemy yells and connives and convinces in his native language which is “lie” (John 8:44). Not so our powerful Creator. He need only gently breathe new life into his children.

In light of the past three years of a pandemic spread through airborne respiratory particles, breath has gained a rather negative connotation. To sneeze in public these days is far more than a faux-pas. As we all know all too well, to be breathed on requires proximity. The longer you remain in someone’s presence in close proximity, the more likely you are to be breathed on by them and thus conferred the gift of their respiratory particles.

But this morning, even as we are still feeling sick from Covid, I find myself longing for the breath of God. I find myself fighting to fleshly urge to flee from him into busyness or productivity, intentionally training myself to linger in his presence.

I want his breath. I want his nearness. I want his words and his truth which drop like morning dew. I need him to breath courage over me, to strengthen my faith and diminish my fears. Even Satan’s most elaborate lies don’t stand a chance against the weakest sigh of the Lion of Judah. Even his most sinister schemes look like airy cobwebs when compared to the solid, unshakably good plans of the Lord of all history.

A little breath from him goes a long way. And this is why the Enemy trembles when we pray, posturing ourselves in dependence.

Pray with me that this modern hymn written by the Stewart Townend would be true of us this morning.

“Holy Spirit, living breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Let the presence of the risen Lord,
Come renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see,
Give me passion for Your purity;
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.

Holy Spirit, come abide within,
May Your joy be seen in all I do.
Love enough to cover every sin,
In each thought and deed and attitude.
Kindness to the greatest and the least,
Gentleness that sows the path of peace.
Turn my strivings into works of grace;
Breath of God show Christ in all I do.

Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth,
Cause Your church to hunger for your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise;
Lead us on the road of sacrifice,
That in unity the face of Christ
May be clear for all the world to see.

May we listen to the Lion, not the liar. May his words be on our lips and in our lives.

She Said Yes

She said yes.

My husband officiated the wedding of two dear friends last night. And what a wedding it was! We are officially at the age and stage when we no longer fit as groomsmen or  bridesmaid or even matrons. And I am so thankful.  Our new roles as officiant and prayer-gatherer, errand-runner, perspective-offerer are far more suited to us (and far less make-up is involved, at least for me).

When a woman-in-Christ says yes to marriage, she steps out in bravery into multiplied brokenness and beauty to be exposed both within herself and without. She says yes to leaving all she has known (the good, the bad, and the ugly cloaked in the comfortable garb of the familiar). She says yes to cleaving to an imperfect man cleaving imperfectly to a perfect Savior. She says yes to an unknown future of employment and unemployment, to struggles and sicknesses that they ca not yet see or imagine in their ripped and ravishing counterparts.

She says yes to quiet nights bearing heavy struggles. She says yes to conflicts that she could never contemplate. She says yes to meeting needs she doesn’t have. She says yes to championing and complementing her husband, even when he and/or the world think there is not much to champion.

That’s a lot of quiet, hidden yeses hidden behind the initial yes.

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But she does all of that in the power and on the promises and in the presence of the Christ who says yes, let it be so.

For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20. 

Before time was wound, when the Father set Him apart, to simultaneously be the sheep to be slain and the shepherd to lay down His life for the flock, He said, “Yes, let it be so.

When the time came to step into time and be born as a crying newborn, He cried,  “Yes, let it be so.”

In the garden, after wrestling with the looming shadows of death, He wrested a, “Yes, let it be so.”

After three days in darkness, the Father called him forth from the grave, as he had recently done with Lazarus,  and he shouted, “Yes,  let it be so.”

As I was thinking about all these yeses, Sarai-soon-to-become-Sarah, the brave matriarch came to mind.

Sarai Said Yes

Yes to the unknown. Yes to leaving her home.
Yes to follow her husband to an unknown land.
Yes to the God who refused to fail her when foolish Abram did. Twice.
Yes to her husband’s God becoming her own.
An impatient yes to her nagging fear that birthed an Ishmael.
A dubious laugh betraying unbelief that God could do what could not be done.
Yes in the formed of shocked laughter as she held her promised child in her wrinkling arms.
A horrified no when Abraham took their beloved son on a death-doomed errand.
An exultant yes to the God who said no just in time because a greater Yes was to come.
A tearful, triumphant yes to her aged partner as he held her hand on her deathbed, asking, “My sweet Sarah, would you do it all again?”

Watching friends and church members say yes always points me to the One whose Yes enabled my own yes.

When Work Is It’s Own Reward

It may be my enneagram 1 nature. I don’t know how much is nature and how much is nurture, but I’ve always been motivated through work by reward.

I slogged through novel after novel in college with the reward of a walk, a coffee, or time with friends as the motivation. Now that I am no longer a student, but instead a wife and mother, “If I read x more pages, I will let myself enjoy y” has morphed into “If I get these errands done or finish folding this laundry, I can take a shower or read for a few minutes.”

This line of reasoning has enabled great productivity in my life; however, it has also strengthened the lie that we work only for reward. The problem with working for reward is that if we only rest when the work is done, we will never truly rest. For often the reward for a job well done is another job. Once one thing is checked off the list, five more appear. If we think rest, peace, and reward lie on the other side of finishing our work, we have bought into a fallen view of work.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta works himself down to the bone trying to send a kingdom-saving message to King Lune about an imminent invasion. He spends himself entirely getting to the boundary of the kingdom, thinking he has completed his work and expecting reward. When he finds out that he has more to accomplish to complete his fated task, he grows disheartened.

“Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is be set to do another and harder and better one.”

As I read that line aloud to my youngest son, I realized how much my heart towards work resembles Shasta’s. I work incredibly hard (often on my power and from my own strength) to get to the finish line. But when the finish line extends into a new task, a harder task, or a more challenging trial, my heart faints and whines.

The Apostle Paul was an incredibly driven man. He accomplished great things and endured trials most of us would find unthinkable. His reward for his faithful work in starting new churches was often more work, more confusion, more weight, and more persecution. He did not work to retire to the seaside of Caesarea. He worked as one whose chief reward was more of Christ himself. He drew strength from the Spirit and kept pressing on towards what was next rather than resting on his laurels (Philippians 3:12-16).

Over the past few years, God has slowly been shifting my view towards work. Rather than enduring work to get to the desired reward, whatever that may be, he is teaching me to slow down and enjoy working with him.

It takes work to approach work differently, especially for an achiever who likes to get things done. Asking questions while I am working enables me to enjoy the process on the way to the desired productivity.

Lord, what do you have for me in this? Lord, how can I invite you into going to the bank, folding the laundry, buying the groceries? Lord, how can I experience more of you and your character and nature in this task? Lord, will you please provide not only strength to do this but also satisfaction in you while I obey?

While my pace may be a little slower, my posture is more sustainable when I work alongside the Lord and out of his view of work.

Christmas for Caregivers

Despite the decorations and the upbeat tunes, my heart struggled to conjure festive feelings this Christmas. There were thoughtful gifts and sweet hours playing games with each other, and I count those moments as gifts. However, I could not help but see Christmas through the eyes of my dear mother-in-law. And, through her eyes, the Lord gave me the gift of seeing Christmas through the eyes of caregivers.

Decorations don’t change diseases; they barely scratch the surface. And when the cookies stop coming, the need for constant care does not. As strange as it sounds, visiting my in-laws gave me the best gift for Christmas: the Christmas season stripped of its frivolity and bathed in deep faith.

To watch a spouse spend herself to care for her husband who has been hounded by fifteen years by an unrelenting disease is to watch a thing of terrible beauty. To see the fierce resolve of exhausted parents advocate for their child with cancer is to get a glimpse of the kind of love that initiated what we know as Christmas.

The wonderful monotony of sustained love puts sentimental surges of love to shame. For a burst of love as compared with committed love is like a firework as compared to the constancy of the sun. Love that keeps showing up and cleaning the sheets. Love that keeps providing for an adult child with special needs during years that are more associated with traveling around the world than traveling to doctor’s appointments. Love that learns to laugh and roll with the punches of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This love which remains resolute is a common grace that points to an uncommon Savior.

She Smiles

She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea. 
This isn’t what she thought
The end of years would be. 

Though she dreams of travel,
Just to help him down the hall,
Traveling from bed to bath
Everyday requires all. 

There’s little time for plans;
His care takes centerstage. 
Neither disease nor decline
Such love will assuage. 

For love stays at its station,
Even when sorrows close in. 
When energy is threadbare,
Commitment doesn’t thin. 

She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea. 
He will know he’s loved
No matter what will be.
 

Such solid and sacrificial love shows the thinness of sentimental love. And I’ve a feeling that the tired feet of caregivers hitting the ground in the middle of the night more closely approximate the Christmas spirit than the feet of rushed shoppers in the mall.

Wreathed Doors and Wrecked Dreams

Delicious cookies and debilitating disease;
Decorated trees and displaced refugees.
Only Christ can reconcile all of these.

Wreathed doors and wrecked dreams.
Sweetly-sung carols and silent screams.
Only Christ can contain such extremes
.

True hope does not ride on holiday cheer.
Real joy is not procured just once a year.
Security is anchored in God-come-near.

This Christmas, I found myself exhaling the deep relief of caregivers who fall exhausted upon an inexhaustible Rock of Ages. This Christmas, I found myself with front row seats to the reality that new mercies every morning really means every morning. Even for thousands of days of caregiving and months of appointments.

The Christmas gift that caregivers most need is the truth that Christ keeps the keepers and cares for the caregivers (Psalm 121; Isaiah 27:1-6). As they carry heavy burdens, caregivers need to know that the God of the universe carries them (Isaiah 46:3). As they comb and wash graying hairs, they need to know that even to their gray hairs, God will keep them (Isaiah 46:4). As they keep vigil by hospital bedsides, listening to what could be last words, they need to constantly reopen the gift of Jesus’s last words to us in the Scriptures: “Surely, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

There aren’t many Christmas carols sung from the perspective of caregivers, but there should be. For they, more than most, know the need for the One born to die that death might die. Thank you, caregivers, for the glimpse you have given me this Christmas into our Christ. It was the gift I didn’t know I needed.

All The Things Love Can’t Do

In a season that seems to be drippy with sappy love, my mind has been thinking of all the things love cannot do. Less you think me a misanthrope, allow me to explain myself.

In his short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin writes about the limits of human love. In one poignant scene, a dying mother gives advice to her oldest son in response to his vow regarding his younger brother, Sonny. With the best of intentions, the dutiful older brother seeks to reassure his mother, “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny.”

His mother responds, “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there.”

In a different short story entitled, “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” Baldwin addresses a similar theme. The story describes the fatherly fears of African-American father for his mixed son, Paul. The father, a famous actor, shares some of his fears with a friend and director who responds with a hauntong statement,

“You believe in love. You do not know all the things love cannot do, but” – he smiles – “love will teach you that.”

Both of these scenes, read a few days apart, left me with lingering thoughts about the limits of human love.

Photo by Utsman Media on Unsplash

You see, I am parenting teenagers. I am also called to the ministry of sentient souls. Both of these callings have me regularly running into the limits of human love.

No matter how much I love the refugee family we have had the privilege of befriending, I cannot erase their traumatic memories. I cannot protect their children who were thrown into school to learn an entirely new culture and language from funny looks or hurtful comments. I can only entrust them to One who goes with them on school grounds where I cannot go (1 Corinthians 2:11).

No matter how much I shield my children, I cannot protect them suffering, though I can do my best to prepare them for it and give them a biblical framework upon which to hang all the hardness of life (John 16:33;
2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 4:12-19).

As I watch multiple sets of dear friends walk their children through horrible sicknesses, I am reminded that we cannot heal our children. We can only point them to One who will one day (hopefully soon) make an end of sickness and sin, tears and trouble forever (Revelation 21:1-5; Isaiah 25:6-8).

No matter how many skill sets and opportunities we offer our children, we cannot plan their lives. We can only point to the One who already knows each of their days (Psalm 139:16).

No matter how type-A we try to be, we will never be able to know the number of days our loved ones have on this earth. We can only learn to count and treasure each one as it passes (Psalm 90:12; Luke 2:19)..

No matter how many books we offer those who come to our church, no matter how clearly the Word of God is articulated, we cannot make them see Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (John 3:5-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

James Baldwin was correct. All forms of human love (sterge, parental love; eros, romantic love, and phileo, brotherly love and affection) are limited. There are so many things that these loves cannot do.

However, Baldwin did not address agape love, the love to which all the others point and from which all the others stem. Where these loves fail and falter, agape love abounds.

We can claim these truths and depend on such agape love only because the unlimited One whose very habitat was Triune love became limited (Philippians 2:5-8). He was failed and flogged by flawed human love so that He might freely offer us agape love.

Only his limitless love enables me to submit to the limits of human love. Only the reality of his abundance allows me to admit the poverty of my love. While these realities aren’t the sappy sentimental realities we want to hear, they are the truths that we need to hear.

When Devastation Feels More Perpetual Than Peace

The Psalms are anything but bland or tame. Their rawness mixed with reverence sometimes shocks us, stirring us to more authenticity and awe in our relationships with God.

Psalm 74 shook me this week, as an ancient writer named Asaph, gave words to the struggle in my heart. He alternates between searching questions (spoken out of pain, confusion, and longing for the restoration only God can bring) and shining statements and appositives of faith. Even though devastation seems perpetual (Hebrew word meaning eternal, enduring, everlasting), Asaph continues to call himself and the rest of God’s people God’s flock, his purchased heritage, his doted upon dove, and his cause, affirming his faith in his God.

After beginning this particular psalm with with a pair of achingly honest questions (“O God, why do you cast us off forever?” and “Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?”), the writer takes us on two very different tours: one through the ruins of what was intended to be God’s place of worship and the other through the faithfulness of God in creation.

A Tour of the Perpetual Ruins

Asaph prods his God, asking him to arise, to direct his steps to the perpetual ruins, to see the thorough and pervasive destruction caused by the hands of enemies (Psalm 74:-8). While Asaph was likely walking around in literal ruins of a literal temple, for those on the other side of life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the temple takes on a different meeting. Every believer is a temple, the place where God’s presence resides.

A short tour through the grounds of every believer’s heart reveals ruins – places where abuse, neglect, sickness, grief, fears, and sin patterns have left their marks, places where the intricately-shaped image of God in each has been desecrated. A quick glance over the faces and even a cursory hearing of the hearts of a local church congregation can often feel like a tour of what seems to a be a place of perpetual ruins: broken marriages, sick children, scars from abuse and racism, mental illness, and myriad other ruins.

With Asaph, we cry out to the Lord, “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment, and destroy them [our enemies the flesh, the world, and the devil]” (Psalm 74:11).

A Tour of God’s Sovereign Power

As is true of many psalms, even some psalms of lament, there is a slight shift in perspective, a hinge verse. Asaph looks up from the very real ruins to the even-more real God and King who presides even over these places of seemingly-perpetual devastation.

“Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 74:12).

Thus begins a very different tour: a tour of God’s faithfulness as displayed through creation (Psalm 74: 13-17). The same God who divided up the sea, opened up springs and brooks, and strung the heavenly lights still stands in sovereign control over even these places of ruin.

This reality does not alter the actual realities of the present circumstances, but it gives the psalmist hope that the Lord will remember and make all things right (Psalm 74:18). That he would have regard for the covenant he himself had initiated with his children (Psalm 74:20).

The psalm ends in the same way it began, though from a more confident heart: a call for God to get up, to act, to move on behalf of his people (Psalm 74:22).

Jesus’s Tour of the Earth

God did move. He heard. He not only took his hand from the fold of his heavenly garments, he took on human hands and allowed them to be nailed to the cross. He arose and set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem where a cross awaited him, where he allowed the greatest injustice ever committed to done to him. He did so to secure for us perpetual peace with the Father. One day, he will return to fully restore the ruins and devastations of many generations (Isaiah 61:1-4).

Until then, we can know that he walks with us through the ruins. Even though the ruin feels perpetual, they are punctuated. They will end. They will be swallowed up by his reign of perpetual and perfect peace (Isaiah 25:6-12).

When Glory Became Granular

All our lives are hidden in the life of an infant born in a nowhere town. Our salvation was swaddled up with a baby and laid in a feeding trough. Our fear of death was neatly folded and discarded with his grave clothes. Our hope rose with Him as he returned home to father. Our future will be secured with his second coming. 

When Glory Became Granular

Incarnation:
When glory became granular
And omnipresence particular;
When the unapproachable
Bent to be perpendicular.

Crucifixion:
When perfection was pierced
And Holiness Himself hounded;
When right reward was traded,
For a curse long-compounded.

Resurrection:
When death was decimated
And sinners’ salvation secured.
When life itself was liberated
Through His righteous reward.

Ascension:
When Holiness came home
And the Heir took the throne.
When the fecund Father
Welcomed back His Own.

Return:
When the Victor revisits
And the children renamed.
The kingdom consummated
And the garden reclaimed.

An Elastic Love

Until I had children, I don’t think I realized the elastic nature of love. Of course, love has a comfortable resting state, an optimal window in which it most likes to operate; however, love is far more elastic than most of us know. I have watched human love stretch to extremes: parents loving a child mired down in the morass of mental illness, spouses faithfully caring for each other through the indecencies of aging, children deeply committed to parents who have failed them time and time again, loved ones living in Intensive Care Units.

While human love stretches, it is also easily strained. I know from my own experience as a parent that my love, despite my best intentions and even at its most elastic, is often not long enough. From little failures like late pick-ups and lacking lunches to larger failures like my own impatience and pre-occupation, the not-enough nature of my love grieves me. But even parental love sometimes fails, as David, the poet-king of Israel knew.

“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).

Photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Not so with agape love, the love that originates with God and God alone. Our most elastic love can and will fall short, but “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1). Even though our sins have made a separation between us and God, an eternal gulf too far for any human to fathom (Isaiah 59:2), God’s elastic love has crossed the chasm through incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.Speaking through Isaiah the prophet, God reassures his children of the elasticity of his love.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Elastic Love

You love us to extremities –
From heights of heaven to depths of hell,
Both in living and dying, you loved us well. 

You love us in our extremities-
In heights of beauty, in depths of depravity,
Your steadying love is our only gravity.
 

You us through extremities-
From east to west, Your arms were spread,
To make the ever-living from the long-dead.
 

Your Love meets us in our extremities- 
Elastic and eternal, Your love does stretch.
From every place, Your children You fetch.
 

The shortness of my love (which often comes out in the shortness of my temper) can become an opportunity to point to the elasticity and enough-ness of God’s love.

In one of my favorite verses in the entire canon of the Scriptures, John the beloved apostle simply states, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

The Greek word telos, translated as “the end” above, carries a broader range of meaning then its limited English translation. While it refers to the end of Jesus’s life, it also refers to the full capacity, the full-length, the full-strength of his love. He loved them to the end, yes, but he also loved them to the fullest elasticity of his love.

When my often-inflexible, never-enough love keeps me up at night, the reality of his fully elastic, ever-enough love soothes me to rest in a love far fuller than my failing love.

What My Afghan Friends Have Taught Me About Abundance

This year my heart is uniquely primed for Thanksgiving (and I most certainly don’t mean that my turkey is already prepped and my house is prim and proper). As I prepare to stir gravy tomorrow, I am deeply aware of the ways the Lord has been stirring my heart through an unexpected, God-given friendship with an Afghan family.

I thought I was bringing them groceries, but God knew they had much to give me. This brave family who literally lost everything trying to get out of their country through the Kabul airport has given me the precious gift of perspective. I am seeing the abundance around me with their eyes.

Photo by Karen Sewell on Unsplash

We have given them puzzles and rides and help with paperwork, but they have given us much more. They have shown me that we can become so accustomed to abundance that we lose our ability to be recognize and appreciate it.

Seeing our country and our lives through the eyes of newcomers has left my heart filled with gratitude for things I have grown to expect as an entitlement.

I drive by parks and playgrounds without thinking twice; however, my friends have taught me to savor the simple excitements of swinging on swings and chasing squirrels.

Outside of the present pandemic vaccination conversation, I tend to not think much about my children’s vaccination cards; however, receiving yellow vaccination cards was a hard-fought victory for our friends. W celebrated like we had won the lottery when we finally had cards for each child in our hands.

It’s easy to become demanding and narrow in our friendships. We want to hang with people who “get us” and share similar interests. Befriending someone when neither of you can speak to each other outside of body language has reminded me that we often make friendship more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t know any Farsi, but I have been reminded lately that mutual feelings of deep care don’t need translation. Eyes and souls have a language all their own.

I get frustrated when I lose my keys, yet my friends have literally lost everything and continue to press forward with patience and hope. They have to wait in lines for everything: shots, appointments, buses. Nothing is efficient, and everything requires patience and persistence. Having been successful lawyers, artisans, and managers in their country, they have to work their way back up.

Stepping into their lives has also shown me the abundance of selfishness and self-interest in my own heart. Sure, I want to serve and be helpful. But I want to do that when it is convenient and efficient, not when it is costly and circuitous. I want to help solve problems with simple fixes, but life is far more complicated and nuanced than my flat solutions. God did not offer quick fixes, but sent Jesus to be the three-dimensional, in-flesh solution to the problems we could never fix. The more I realize the wisdom of his perfect solution, the more humble and deeply dependent I become.

It seems fitting and right that the Lord has had me meditating on Psalm 104 this week. The entire psalm walks through habitats and habits. Every created things has its place, knows it place, and lives within designed dependence.

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them ,they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104:2730).

We, who are supposed to be the “very good” of creation demand, disobey, and seek to live independently. We forget what creation cannot forget: we are deeply dependent upon God for life, breath, and all things. This reality is the seedbed of gratitude. When we realize that all we have has been bought for us at incredible cost, when we see all as undeserved gift, we are inching towards a true spirit of thanksgiving.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:31-34).

I complicate thanksgiving when I tie it to my circumstances rather than the unchanging character of our Creator who became creation to save his creation at great cost.

Whether you find yourself in want or plenty tomorrow, I pray that you would know an abundance that scarcity can’t scratch and abundance cannot aggregate.

An Austere Beauty

Sometimes beauty shows up most clearly on a backdrop of barrenness.

I have known this theoretically and biblically, but this past weekend, I experienced it physically. My boys are in a phase where they have become obsessed with the National Parks System, and I am not complaining. They get it honest from their grandparents who have become second-career park visitors. Since we are privileged enough to live in a state which boasts nine National Parks, my boys have set their sights on visiting all of them.

Having visited Joshua Tree (the closest to our home), we decided to visit Death Valley, the next-closest park. Sounds inviting, right?

When I think of National Parks, I imagine epic waterfalls, treed forests, towering animals- in a word abundance. Not so much in Death Valley. Boasting the hottest, driest, and lowest point in the Western hemisphere, Death Valley is a land of scarcity. As it receives less than two inches of rain per year, it is not exactly a welcoming place. In fact, the National Park rangers do an excellent job of scaring you with warnings of death by overexposure and dehydration.

Yet, this inhospitable land also boasts an austere beauty. Those who dwell therein (namely the kangaroo rat, roadrunners, and some brave horned sheep) have learned to live on the edge of existence.

I couldn’t help but see an obvious spiritual parallel. Much of the Bible was written in the context of the desert and desert places play a prominent role in the Scriptures. There are far more deserts and waste places in the middle of the Scriptural story than there are gardens and lands of abundance. Those take a prominent place in the beginning and the end of the story (which is really the beginning of a restored heaven and earth for eternity).

The older I get, the more I find myself in dry, arid places (literally and figuratively). I see friends panting for life-giving water in the desert wastes of both childhood and adult cancer and bereavement. I have friends who are dwelling in what would seem to be the lowest points on the spiritual topographical map. I have friends looking down on empty cribs who feel like they are in the spiritual badlands.

But these friends will learn the secret that God teaches us best in the desert places: the gift of austere beauty. Speaking in the power of the Spirit, Isaiah (another dear desert-dweller) speaks of a coming day of abundance.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes…and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall up upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-2; 6-7; 10).

In the meanwhile, we walk in a land of austere beauty, of subtle sustenance. Lord, give us eyes to see the beauty all around us. For, even in the most inhospitable places of the soul, you have made your home within us.

An Austere Beauty

An aura of austere beauty,
A land of superlative extremes,
Rocky heights and sublime depths,
The stuff of both space and dreams. 

That anything could make its home
In such an inhospitable place –
That life should be sustained here
Is an exhibit of His glory and grace.
 

Your design portfolio’s diversity 
Speaks of your infinite mind;
Your desert’s delicate balance
Stems from your heart so kind.

The Maker of Death Valley
Knew a thing or two of each:
Deserts, valleys of weeping,
And a cross His people to reach. 

He who sustains an ecosystem 
In the extremes of such a place
Will surely keep His children,
By, for, and with His steady grace.