In the Valley of Sorrow

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My best friend cries at the drop of a hankie. I hardly cry at all – unless I am very overwhelmed. It’s kind of a running joke between us that somehow she got my allotment of tears. I just don’t like to give in to my emotions. Still, there are times when I’m sure I just need a good cry. I guess I’ll just let her handle those times for me.

Tears are not a bad thing. Jesus wept. And we know that whatever Jesus did is right. In fact, emotions are not a bad thing. God is depicted many times in Scripture expressing emotions.

Anger – Psalm 7:11; Deuteronomy 9:22; Romans 1:18

Compassion – Psalm 135:14; Judges 2:18; Deuteronomy 32:36

Grief – Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40

Love – 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3

Hate – Proverbs 6:16; Psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5

Jealousy – Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19

Joy – Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41

So really, my refusal to show emotions is rejecting this God-like quality that reflects His own image. Wow!

Tears have their place and can turn into a blessing for others. Psalm 84:6 talks about God’s people on the pilgrimage of our earthly life. The psalmist noted, “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.”  The Valley of Baca refers to a place of weeping and deep sorrow. This life is filled with sorrow on top of sorrow. But sorrow has a purpose as this verse shows.

When the tears flow and seem to never stop they collect into springs which become pools of refreshment for those who enter the Valley of Baca after us. How comforting it is to know that our tears are soothing for another weary, weeping pilgrim.

That is a lovely, poetic expression, but how does it translate in real life? Paul said that “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Sorrow becomes a bridge to another hurting soul, and the pool of our tears becomes a cup of cold water we can share. “I have experienced that same heartache, let me walk through it with you and give you the same comfort that God gave to me.”

So, my beloved, weepy friend, let your tears flow, and I’ll work on mine. Someone needs the refreshment of your tears. It might even be me.

Selah

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“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant.  This word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that,” and is a beautiful reminder that God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and contemplate. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think about God’s comfort.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,” (Luke 15:20). Pause and turn back home.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and sense His presence.

When you are worn and weary: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Pause and be refreshed.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3). Pause and pick up your shield of faith.

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction, or chastisement is meant to be examined, pondered, and remembered.  God intends for you and me to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them.  The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). 

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).    I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.

Goodbye (and good riddance) 2020

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The last grains of 2020 sand are slipping through the narrow neck of the hourglass. There’s a collective sigh coming from the world. It’s been a hard year. Who would have guessed this time last year what the world would face in the twelve months that stretched out before us?  We hope that when we turn the calendar we can put it all behind us and move on to brighter days. There’s no guarantee that 2021 will be any better; pandemics and political tensions don’t observe our time boundaries. How can we close this year with any measure of hope for the next? I’d like to offer you a few words of encouragement on the eve of the new year.

“The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps 103:19). God is still the ruler of the universe. He has not lost control and none of the events of this year took Him by surprise. Nothing in the coming year will catch Him off guard either.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18). You may have lost someone you love this year. You may have lost your job or business. Your neighborhood may have been rocked by violence and rioting. This year may have broken your heart and for that, I am truly sorry. This horrible year took my big brother. God is near to us dear friend.

“I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand as says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Is 41:13). Whatever 2021 holds, God holds your hand and promises to help you through it.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). The Lord’s plans are not altered by pandemics or politics, grief or pain, job loss or financial struggles. These do not deter God’s good plans for you. He will even use them – somehow – to brings His purposes to fruition.

As the calendar turns from 2020 to 2021, let us put the past year and the days ahead in the hands of our mighty, sovereign, loving Father. Better yet, put yourself in His hands Beloved and let Him carry you through.

But Can I Trust Him?

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Today I came across a Scripture that is bittersweet to me: “Therefore I [Jesus] tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Matthew 11:24).  Today of all days it touches a deep place in my heart. Today is my Mom’s birthday. No, this is not a “Happy birthday to my Mom in Heaven” post. If heaven really is heaven, God has banned social media completely. She will never see it. She doesn’t need to. I’m pretty sure they don’t celebrate earthly birthdays in heaven. My Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982. After all kinds of treatments, the doctors told her there was nothing left they could do for her. Matthew 11:24 came to my attention so I boldly asked God to heal my Mom. And no one on the face of the earth ever believed more than I did. As she grew progressively worse, I didn’t allow myself one single doubt. I knew my Mom was going to be okay. She died on April 5, 1987.  So who failed – me or God? Jesus said, “ask and believe” and I took Him at His Word. I believed with every fiber of my being. For more than thirty years, every time I come across this verse, it takes my breath away.

Every syllable of God’s Word is true. My belief that God would heal my Mom was as well. How do I resolve this?  I don’t. But here’s what I’ve come to understand. God is sovereign and reserves the right to answer my prayers according to His will, even when it differs from mine. I do not always understand His will. But He is God and I am not.  I could have let my Mom’s death push me away from Him. Instead,, it pushed me closer, because, despite missing my Mom for thirty-plus years, I know that my Father is still trustworthy and loving and good and He is perfectly faithful to His Word. I wish I could wrap this up in a nice, neat bow of encouragement. This is not that kind of devotional. I don’t have any profound words today. This is just the heart of a daughter who misses her Mother and trusts her Heavenly Father.

And if He Does Not . . .

I prayed every day for three weeks. We thought he was going to make it. He endured three surgeries and overcame so many obstacles to recovery. But last Friday – three weeks to the day after his motorcycle accident, my brother passed away. So many of you were part of the roller coaster ride and my family and I are so very grateful for your prayers. You were as shocked as we were when we got the sad report. My brilliant, funny, talented, annoying brother with the dry wit and crooked teeth is gone. There will be no more Mark Twain quotes. No more rants about the crooked government. No more picking on his sister. No second book for his new series – Bracken and Platt are forever silenced.

I prayed so hard and believed God for a miracle. After all, He is Jehovah Rapha – the God who heals. He could heal my brother. He could mend all his broken bones. He could restore his neurological function. He could save his life. He could shield me and my family and his children and friends from this grief and pain. But He didn’t. God took Jim home and our hearts are broken.

But He is still God and He is still good. And I still trust Him with my heart and my soul and my life and the lives of those I love.  Like the three Jewish young men in Babylon who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, I know that “the God I serve is able” . . .“but even if He does not . . .”[1] I will never stop believing. I will never stop trusting. I will never stop loving. I will never stop worshiping. My brother is gone, but the next time I see him – and my mom – it will be forever.
No one is promised tomorrow. Hug your loved ones today Beloved.

_______________________________

[1]. Daniel 3:16-18.

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .