Thursday, January 26, 2023

When Night Lasts for Days

I made a decision at the beginning of January to explore, and determine, my personal theology of suffering.

It's important for us all.

Right at the top of reasons why so many leave evangelical Christianity is an inability to reason through why God allows tough stuff to happen to good people. 

Others simply haven't settled it personally, but hope for the best...and struggle (remember prickly-people from last week) when hardships come. It makes them bitter, not better.

Suffering, trials, persecution, difficulty, desert places, dark nights of the soul...these things happen just because, well, LiFe hApPeNs.

James, the younger brother of Jesus, made it clear through the Spirit's inspired words:

"Count it all joy...WHEN you meet trials of various kinds..." (James 1:2)

It's all about the word "when/whenever."

It means just that.

James didn't write "if."

He didn't say "just in case."

There is no "possibly" involved.

We will all experience one-or-another, or any combination, of the list above. 

Knowing what we believe and why we believe it, as Jesus-followers, is crucial. 

I've shared this story before, so forgive me if you recognize it and, simply, skip ahead.

After arriving in Kenya, where we were going to be serving as missionaries, our first night lasted days.

Jet lag hit hard.

Our kids were young, and no matter how hard we tried to keep them awake during their first day on the continent, they just couldn't make it, and promptly fell asleep.

So, when it came time to go to sleep...they just couldn't.

I could.

I certainly wanted to... 

But...Mandy, especially, heard every noise and each little creak of our new home, which left her afraid and wide-eyed-and-bushy-tailed (at 5 years old).

I gave up trying to stay in our bed, and joined her in the little twin bed our hosts had borrowed and set up for her.

I tried everything I could think of to help her fall into dream-land: songs, stories, questions and answers, listing a few of her favorite things (thank you, Sound of Music)...nothing worked.

Truly, that night was darker, longer, and more frightening for my sweet babe than I ever could have guessed.

By 6:00 AM as the sun began to peak over the horizon and light started to brighten her room, I noticed her eyes growing heavy, and just as she began to slip into a deep slumber, she briefly opened them and softly said, "Mommy, you know what's not so scary about Kenya?"

"No, baby...what's not so scary about Kenya?"


...and with that, sleep finally descended.

The psalmist agrees with Mandy.

I take great consolation in both verse and story. 

Nights come and go.

There is always a morning to follow.

Some nights are darker and longer than others; but, even where Polar Night occurs for 24 hours straight, morning still comes....eventually.

(Characteristic polar night blue twighlight, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway located at 78 degrees north!)

This truth is a hope to which we cling, when night seems to last for days; when every creak and loud noise causes our hearts to quake:

Morning always comes...and with!

Hard seasons end.

Desert paths and prickly things can still turn green and flower.

Seasons change...after winter comes spring...every year!

Better yet - it's not for naught.

Something also comes with these temporary trials, and, it's generally preparation for something we can't even imagine (more next week)

There is a work being done within that in the midst of the difficulty, we can't see now; but, there is no question we'll see it later.

All God does in the midst of our desert places works for our transformation to be more like Him...

Even though night seems to last forever, Paul says this about our afflictions: in light of eternity, they are simply "momentary." 

Compared to the work they perform within us: they are "light." 

In a trial right now? Hang on - morning's coming!


Thursday, January 19, 2023

Desert Roads

 Yesterday, I went for a walk in the desert, following some 4-wheel-drive/ATV path. 

We’re staying with our daughter and son-in-law in Casa Grande for a few days, while we finish up our annual board meeting, here in AZ where the temps are warmer than most places. 

I’ve always enjoyed the desert, this time of year…

The rattlers are sleeping.

The things that bite you, eat you, or sting you are scarce. 

The sun is warm, but not excruciatingly desert-hot. 

However, my attitude definitely shifts in regards to the desert places, come about May…

The desert turns miserable…in EVERY(!) WAY (!).

I’m also intrigued at what thrives in desert terrains —— it’s all prickly stuff. 

Only “prickly” stuff seems to survive in the desert. 

Pictorial-point in case:

This got me thinking. 

Sometimes, it’s only prickly people who seem to survive the desert places (metaphorically speaking), as well.


We’ve all heard, or muttered the term, at one time or another:  

Hurt people, hurt people.

Meaning: Those who’ve gone through the hard of the desert places in life tend to become “prickly,” and do what they do best - prick anyone else who gets too close to them. 

That…or, they isolate… 

…or, in recent years, they “deconstruct” their long held belief systems (thinking they’ll find a better path than the one they’re walking)…

All these things obtain the same results.

These are protective mechanisms; we all know it; they know it; but, the fear of getting too close to something that might sting or “put the squeeze on” (definition of a “trial” in life), or result in suffering is VERY REAL. 

I know, though, this doesn’t have to be the case. 

You know it, too.

We all know folks who have gone through suffering, trials, persecution, hardship…walked desert roads…and come out on the other side more loving, more compassionate, more understanding, kind, and helpful. 

Their pain concluded with purpose, and the Lord, indeed, worked it all for some “good.” 

I was reminded, while out walking in the desert yesterday, of the Casting Crowns song (“Healer” album), which showed up on the CCM scene in 2022: Desert Road. 

Here’s a YouTube Link.

Here are a portion of the lyrics: 

“I don’t wanna write this song

I don’t want this pain to be my story

I don’t want this desert road

Are You sure this is the plan that You have for me?

Out here in the dust and clay

God, if there’s a bigger picture

It’s gettin’ hard to see today

But I know that You won’t leave me here

I don’t know where this is goin’

But I know who holds my hand

It’s not the path I would’ve chosen

But I’ll follow You to the end

Lord, as long as I am breathin’

I will make Your glory known

Even if it means I’m walking’ on this desert road…

It’s obvious, the writer of this song’s lyrics, understands desert roads. 

He doesn’t like it…questions if it’s supposed to be this way…would love for it to change…

(Does a great job of lamenting!)


Here’s the difference…

Instead of staying in the complaint, this child-of-God has determined to REMEMBER…

REMEMBER the Lord. who is on the road with him.

REMEMBER why the Lord created Him…for His glory (even on a desert road). 

Desert roads are a part of life.

We can allow them to make us prickly…

Or, we can allow them to transform us into better servants, using the hard-stuff for good-reasons. 

As I type this, I have a dear friend walking a desert road.

It’s had twists and turns, ups and downs, bright days and, lately, some pretty discouraging ones.

Her path put her in a wheel chair not too long ago…

…and, this desert road (we already know) leads her the rest of the way over Jordan. 

But, she’s teaching all of us what it looks like to die well. 

She’s clinging to the Hope of Heaven who is holding tightly to her hand.

With every difficult breath, she’s making God’s glory known.

And with her best hand, she’s raising it in a “hallelujah”…for she REMEMBERS that amidst all the prickly stuff in the desert, the Lord has been a GOOD GOOD FATHER! 

For years I’ve been saying, Jesus-followers need a good theology of suffering.

We need to know what we know we believe, especially in these current days.

I don’t want to be prickly when I’m asked to walk a desert road… 

I prefer to live pleasantly…

So, if I say I need a theology of suffering (even though I think I have one nailed down), I probably ought to do a little studying and settling my mind and heart on exactly what I believe. 

We’ll see where this all leads…these posts are pretty random thoughts, after all. 

So, here's to knowing what I believe and why I believe it!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Embrace Pain for the Purpose of Exciting Tomorrows - a How-To.

As I ended last week, I promised to finish the conversation I began (albeit, it was a one-sided conversation that I imagined having with you on the other side). 

That's what I want to do today.

I also finished this conversation with my Tuesday morning community, and we wrapped the Bible study up in a nice package, covered in pretty paper, and topped with a glistening bow. 


Last week, I handed you a blank timeline and offered a few categories to examine where you are on the journey of entering a new season...

Every new season needs good closure from the previous.

That's why mile markers, like New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are important. They give closure to one thing and an open, welcoming hand to a new.

Embracing that open posture of welcome isn't always easy.

Hence, the need for identifying the grief, the losses, the transition.

So, here's my filled in timeline that shows the "movement" (here's a link to print the actual page via dropbox) I saw through the lens of Visio Divina using Michelangelo's, La Pieta.

It's a great way to process our way through closure and into 2023.

Box 1: What are you leaving behind in the past year? What specific things will you need to grieve? List them, and as you do, learn the art of lament. Here's a link that leads to a lamenting worksheet. 

Lamenting is healthy and it's biblical, especially when you work it all the way through.

In lamenting, we are led to Remembrance - not just the things that have been difficult, but the many ways the Lord has provided for us, fought for us, guided and helped us along the journey of life. As we Remember Him...we enter a place of GRATITUDE, which helps us gain Acceptance (even, believe it or not, with JOY)... Box 2.

And, yet...we want more than just a spirit of resignation... Scripture suggests (and I see this especially in the case of Queen Esther) that we make friends with the hard things of the past, we work toward RECONCILIATION of our circumstances. For in reconciliation, we find HOPE!

How do we get to reconciliation? We remember not just the works of the Lord, but His PROMISES! As we lean into God's promises, hope is always the immediate posture. Box 3.

As Scripture says, "Hope does not disappoint." 

Hope allows us to extend our posture to an open, willing hand ready to receive and surrender to all the Lord has in the "what next" of our lives... Box 4.

If you recall, what I saw as I studied La Pieta was the gospel story laying in Mary's lap. Yes, it was a metaphor...Jesus' body incorporates the entirety of the gospel of love, mercy, grace, hope, peace, eternal life and more! 

That's the best part of this process! 

All the work of grieving our losses and embracing transitions leads us to a new concept of “Pain with a Purpose!”

It's all consummates in a mission and a ministry that God has for us in our new season, our new year, our new beginnings. 

We're not even half way through the first month of 2023.

There's still time to take the steps above, so we don't get stuck in the middle of our muddling-through.

I'm excited for us all to step into this new year with purposeful intent...allowing the pain of the past to lead us into the hope of an incredibly EXCITING tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

As We Enter a New Year, What's Your Perspective?

This past Tuesday, I led an online Bible Study for women serving globally.

Birthed out of an opportunity that arose during our pandemic "shift" in ministry, this early morning time grew to host what became a close knit community of gals.

I look forward to the input, the discussions, the sharing of lives that come with such a community - 

Because we all have similarities of living overseas in our backgrounds, there is safety that grew quickly and intimately.

So, Tuesday, I led a Visio Divina exercise, asking the question: As we look at La Pieta, sculpted by Michelangelo in 1498, and read the Scriptures on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that come out of Luke 1-2, what can we learn from Mary as she holds her "baby" boy (after all, as mom's, our babies are our babies all of their lives, right?)...

But, I asked my group of gals to also identify what "posture" (meaning attitude with which they will approach a new season of life) they see in Mary that they might adopt for 2023?

We each took about 20 minutes of solitude to focus on the sculpture, to look deeply at the specific Scriptures in the two chapters regarding Mary, and jot down what we felt the Lord was speaking to us.

As we meditated, we each asked specific questions that are standard for Visio Divina (Diving Seeing) - link provided here

At the close of the 20-minutes, we stopped and shared what we had received thus far from the Lord.

We bounced around a wide variety of thoughts and processing...

While I didn't have any real expectations for how I hoped the morning would play out, I think I did desire that each individual would receive some particular focus from the Lord as they transition into this New Year.

However, come the close of the morning, while I loved our discussion, I left the Zoom meeting feeling "empty." 

Upon more consideration, I recognized we didn't close well, or wrap things up with a nicely wrapped package with a beautiful bow on top (my personal desire for teaching times).

Good thing we have next week to do just this... ☝

So after a nice long walk along a very cold river-walk-path downtown, I wrestled through what I could glean from the morning. 

Hopefully, this will be a simple illustration for your quiet pondering as we still are settling into our new season of a new year. 

La Pieta (which I hope to see in person when I speak in Rome this coming February) speaks to the process of grief/loss/transitions. It speaks to where we are in the experience right at this moment... It speaks to perspective.

There is movement in the Sculpture - as we look, we examine Mary's face first...then our eyes travel in the direction of her eyes to the body of her son just removed from the cross and placed in her lap... From there, we follow the movement of Jesus' body, to Mary's open left hand. 

What each of us saw as we dialogued were different aspects of the sculpture: some saw a posture of resignation, some saw hope, others saw an act of surrender, whereas others saw the sculpture as a mother in the midst of lament and sorrow...and, I...I saw a metaphor. I saw: The mother of the Savior of the World, holding the body of her son - the Lamb of God, come to take a way the sins of the world... I saw the body of Jesus as the gospel story...and, Mary's open hand as her welcoming willingness to take that story into the "what next" of her life. I saw a "posture of purpose." 

This is the illustration I expectantly, and hopefully, want you to see. We're all on a different time line of processing 2022. Some of us are grieving losses. Some are in the midst of transitions. Some have lamented and moved forward and are ready to turn all that life taught us into the "what next." 

Where are you in the journey of saying good-bye to the past, lamenting what's gone...accepting with openness what is true about the present...and, looking at tomorrow with fresh eyes of purpose and hope? 

Wherever you are...don't get stuck or lost in the middle of the mess. 

Take the necessary steps to move forward. 

Not sure what those are? 

Let's talk about that next week....