Monday, September 11, 2017

Under His Wings...

  Have you ever felt haunted by a passage of Scripture? Followed around by a particular verse? As if God keeps bringing it to mind because there is something incredibly important to Him that He doesn't want you to miss? I have come to the conclusion that I  have been haunted by Psalm 91 for two years now! It could be longer...but that is the earliest I can remember Him bringing it directly to my attention.

    The first time this Psalm came to mean anything to me or began to grab my attention, was on a food pantry night in 2015. One of the guests asked if he could pray for me, and he prayed this Psalm from memory. A little while later I had a disturbing encounter with a different guest (see my blog Already There) that made me realize God had gone ahead of me and protected me from harm. I believe one of the ways He did this was by sending that man to pray Psalm 91 over me. "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust." Through this prayer I was hidden and protected in Christ.

     In the years since, I have prayed this Psalm over myself and my loved ones. I find that in times of  of uncertainty or distress, it is the first Psalm that enters my mind and exits my mouth in the form of a prayer. Yet until recently, I haven't really examined it. What does it look like to "abide under the shadow of the Almighty"? How do I duck under His wings and  "find refuge."?

   Refuge sounds wonderful right now. Refuge from crazy schedules, the weight of responsibilities, family health problems, and the national news! Anyone else? The destruction from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea...are all excellent reasons to seek refuge. At times it can feel like the world is closing in on us. Sometimes it feels as though if one more thing is added to our shoulders, we are going to collapse under the weight of it all. I have felt that way. I am guilty of forgetting that there are wings I can hide under.

   I was pondering this a few weeks ago. I had "one more thing" added to my shoulders, and in a moment of exhaustion and frustration I lashed out at God. I told Him I didn't have time for this one more thing and asked why He couldn't seem to give me a break! In that moment He reminded me of Psalm 91:4, " He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge." Instant peace. Humbling love. Here I am being fresh with God and complaining about how He can't seem to give me a break, and He offers me one under His wings. He reminds me with these words from the Psalm, that He is always there to offer rest and refuge. I was asking for a halt to my troubles and He was offering a place to rest from them. I wanted them gone and He wanted to wrap me up and see me through them.

    Over and over again, during this intense season of mothering, care giving, and ministry He has offered me refuge and I've missed it. He's provided the shelter of Himself as a place of rest in the middle of it all, and I have chosen the harder thing. I've chosen to keep doing it all on my own until the weight of it becomes too great, and I lash out at Him. Anyone else?  God's offer of rest and refuge isn't just for me. It's for all of us. We were never meant to carry around such big burdens and independently try to handle them.

    The last part of verse four reads, "His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark." I don't believe it's a coincidence that these words follow the description of being covered with his feathers and finding refuge under His wings. They are there because this is why we can rest in Him. This is why we can always find refuge under His wings. He is ALWAYS faithful. God isn't just faithful, His faithfulness is a shield. The dictionary definition of shield is " a broad piece of metal used as protection against blows or missiles".  Isn't that awesome? God invites us to take cover and find refuge under His wings, while He shields us from whatever it is life is throwing at us. When we take refuge in Him, He takes the blows for us.

  I'm so thankful that He takes the blows for us if we will let Him! He is much more capable than we are, much stronger, and much wiser. How about you? What is overwhelming you today? What's weighing so heavy on your shoulders that you feel like you're going to collapse? Join me, let's take cover under His wings while He handles life's blows for us!


Friday, May 19, 2017

When God Changes the Narrative...

     I've been living within the tension of asking God why, and giving Him thanks for the past few days. In one breath I can't help but ask why He allows such suffering, and in the next I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way He orchestrated the events. It's crazy, but I believe this is what happens when God changes the narrative.

     On Sunday, I sat with my husband and kids enjoying Mother's Day service at the small church my dad pastors. The ladies had been showered with small gifts, and just finished listening to some of the men share how much they appreciated them. It was time for the sermon. About five minutes into the sermon, my mom felt light-headed and told my husband that she thought she needed to go home. While he went to get her a glass of water, she started to sway a bit in her seat. I knelt beside her and listened as she explained how she felt and then all of the sudden, she passed out. We had been sitting in the back of the church and by now everyone had noticed something was wrong. My dad stopped mid-sermon and tried to wake her. She was breathing but not responding so we called an ambulance. I knelt in front of her, wrapped my arms around her, and prayed. Then the seizure came and fear interrupted my prayers...would this be my last Mother's Day with her?  Fear had stolen my words, but I knew I had to keep praying. I silently pleaded with God for help. He gave me the twenty third Psalm to pray and sent three other women  who came alongside of us. They laid hands on both of us and stayed there interceding until the ambulance arrived. This certainly was one of the longest twenty minutes of my life!

    This could have been my narrative. The story could have ended there and this could have gone down in history as the worst Mother's Day ever!  But something happened that changed the narrative...and of course God used my mother to set the new narrative in motion. When she woke up on the stretcher she was very upset because she thought she had ruined Mother's Day. In an effort to comfort her I said, "No you didn't, we had our Mother's Day yesterday, remember?" This was when the narrative changed for me. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and all I could see was God's mercy.

   The day before, I had planned to help my mom get some cleaning done. There was so much to get done that I asked God to show me what was most important. He replied, "Just enjoy your Mom today."  We had spent that afternoon catching up with each other, laughing, and eating take out...just the two of us. Saturday was a gift before Sunday's suffering. When I realized this, it opened my eyes to other parts of the narrative that God had changed. I started counting His gifts in the midst of suffering: 1. My mom hadn't slept in the few days leading up to Sunday and normally would have stayed home from church. She came because she didn't want to miss the Mother's Day festivities that my dad and the other men had planned. If she had been home, she would have passed out and had a seizure all alone. Hours would have passed. 2. She was sitting in a chair when she passed out, this too was a gift! Had she been standing, she would have fallen and broken bones because of her osteoporosis!  3. Our whole family was there when it happened. Dad did not have to go through this with her alone. 4. God given words to pray when fear stole mine. 5. The three intercessors who came alongside of us and prayed us through. 6. The Body of Christ in action at this sweet little church.

    The last thing I remember hearing as they wheeled my mom out on the stretcher was one of the men saying, "Let's all get in a circle and pray."  The last thing I saw as I left the building with my mom, were my brothers and sisters in Christ holding hands praying for her. I pray I never lose sight of this beautiful image as time passes. It is a reminder to me that the physical and the spiritual are not separate, they are connected and housed in one body. Through the power of Christ we can change the narrative of the physical, when we come together in the spiritual realm as one in prayer.

   The definition of a narrative is " a spoken or written account of connected events; a story".  I've been thinking about this a lot within the context of the events this weekend and within the context of suffering. I don't think I would have seen it as clearly as I do now, without the help of my dad. When we went to the emergency room we had to retell the sequence of events over and over again for the doctors and nurses. I saw that this retelling became a weight of sorts. There is something about sharing your pain out loud that makes it feel like it's happening all over again- right at that moment. I discussed this with my dad while my mom was out for tests. I mentioned to him that in the days to come, mom might need his help reminding her of the many ways God had changed the narrative. At first, he didn't seem to think that reminding her would help. It wasn't until a day later when I overheard him talking to a neighbor, that I realized it truly did help! I walked in the hospital room, just as he was repeating word for word the gifts God had given us in the middle of this trial. He was stringing them together in sequence...much like you would a narrative. God had changed the narrative for my dad too and instead of only retelling the suffering...he was sharing God's mercy gifts that had been distributed within the trial.

    So what is the narrative for this past Mother's Day? The narrative is this: God is always there in the midst of our greatest trials, our biggest fears, and our helplessness. We just need Him to open our eyes so we can see the true narrative or we miss His gifts! This is the tension between "Why" and "Thank you".  God's narrative is woven throughout each day of our lives and engages our suffering with moments of mercy in between. Yes, I still wonder why He allows the suffering, but I am so thankful...because without it I would miss Him. If I were to only focus on the darkness of the suffering, I would miss the light of His love. If I were to only focus on the medical events that happened on Mother's Day...I would miss the great lengths that God went to in protecting my mom and loving all of us through this. The enemy of our souls wants us to look long and often at the darkness and despair that is suffering, so much so that we are consumed with asking why and being upset with God for allowing it. Don't let it happen! Ask God to show you the true narrative, the light in the darkness of suffering, the mercy gifts He's woven throughout, and the many ways He's loving you through it. Don't let your heart forget that the Light shines brightest in the darkness!

   I spoke to my mom a few minutes ago. She wanted to know how I am doing...considering all that we've been through this past weekend. Do you know what I told her? I am doing fine, because I choose to focus on the Light!