New mercies on January 3 and every day

So it’s 2017. I’ve spent the majority of this new year either sleeping or blowing my nose. Nope, no somber contemplation of the year past, no careful goal setting or one word choosing. No organizational plans undertaken nor health and fitness changes implemented. Instead, the dawn of this new year is marked by a wad of tissues, regular doses of meds, and the occasional death-wish. The worst of it? I’m three days behind in my read the Bible in a year plan. Already.

Though our family had much to celebrate, not the least of which being the joys of a wedding and two graduations, 2016 was an interesting year, am I right? I am glad to put it behind us, if for no other reasons than acute disgust in the political process and profound disappointment in certain so-called evangelical leaders, you know, just keepin’ it real. Politics aside, 2016 was a sad year and not just nationally and globally. I grieved with more than one friend enduring profound and heart-wrenching loss. One of my friends who recently suffered the loss of a loved one told me she was ready for 2017 if just to know that this year of heartache was over.

Of course there is nothing inherently magical about January 1 as opposed to December 31 and my friend admitted as much. However, we tend to see the newly numbered year as representing something deeper–our collective desire for a fresh start, a new beginning, the old gone, the new come, and the chance to become someone different, better, happier, and yes, often more organized and skinnier. We make plans and dream dreams and formulate resolutions all because we are hopeful that something better awaits.

I have often said that New Years is my favorite holiday, not counting of course my current sickbed status. I claim it as a favorite because it is a day free of obligations and materialism, no gifts to buy, no decor to wrestle, no pomp and circumstance to observe, but rather a day of football and rest and general relaxation, a welcome sigh after the craziness of Christmas.

But I also love New Years because of that very desire for a fresh start and new beginning. It is a holiday marked by hope and I am hopeful, not in any resolution I may make nor goal I undertake because, hello, I know come February or even sooner, I will have failed. No, my hope lies in the One who makes all things new, Jesus Christ who offers fresh starts and new mercies and lavish grace not just on January 1 but also on January 3 with its wad of tissues and on days of grief and days of frustration and days of happiness and days of exhilaration and all the ordinary, boring days in between. All that New Years promises us–redemption and renewal and hope and the promise of something better–Jesus gives us in Himself.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.” -Lam. 3:21-24

Waiting for morning

Four years ago today a tornado ripped through my town and neighboring areas. Ok, true confessions: I didn’t actually remember today being the anniversary until I saw a tweet to that effect. But while I may have forgotten exact dates I have not forgotten the event itself. As I pause to reflect and remember not just the tornado but all that transpired after–the coming together of our community as a community, the ways we served and helped one another, the Lord’s varied grace in its many forms–I repost my thoughts as I wrote them the morning after the tornado hit…

**********

I am sitting on my back porch. The sky is a brilliant blue, a cool breeze blows, all is bright and beautiful. The beauty seems more than a little surreal when I consider that just a few hours ago, I was sitting on the sofa, the battery powered radio in my lap sputtering intermittent storm coverage, the only light being candlelight, sirens blaring in the distance, me holding my breath with every static filled damage update. I slept sporadically; mostly I waited for morning.

A tornado blew through our town last night, leaving in its wake a swath of destruction I have yet to see and can only imagine via the radio reports and the pictures I’ve viewed on Facebook. Talk about surreal. Our street is pristine, untouched, not even a stray stick or limb anywhere. One would never know of the devastation only a few blocks away. Devastation that is rightly called such as it is indeed devastating. Homes, businesses, our schools: the tornado was no respecter of any of them, ripping through them all with disastrous force.

Surreal.

Last night as I worried and fretted in the dark, fearful for my friends and acquaintances, anxious for news of any kind, yet thankful for our own safety–I thought of other nights that stretched long and interminable, nights where I waited and wished for the morning to come and come quickly–nights like when Hurricane Opal hit and we too waited out that storm in the dark, without power, ears glued to the radio for whatever news we could hear over the roar of the wind and the rain. We weren’t nervous, not really, at least not until we could no longer get a local station. Our only contact with the outside world that night–this well before cell phones and the like–was a radio broadcast out of New Orleans. We couldn’t know what destruction had come to us until daylight. I sat on the sofa once the storm had blown through, and in the flickering illumination of candlelight, waited for morning.

I think too of those nights when one of the children was sick, or when the mommy (me) was sick. How I prayed, even begged, for morning! I can’t explain it, maybe it’s just me, but with the sunrise comes the strength to cope. I worry in the dark. I hope in the light.

I pray that same hope for those in my city struggling to cope in the aftermath. Loss and devastation came in the dark of the night; I pray we know the mercies that come new every morning. The mercies of the Lord that are new even this morning. In the midst of all that is broken and destroyed, not to mention during the long and lengthy rebuilding efforts to come, may we find strength in the Light, even as we hope in Him, Christ, our blessed Hope. He is the Light.

First published April, 2010

**********

Today there are few, if any, visible aftereffects to that tornado four years ago. I am still shocked when I travel down certain roads that suffered the most in terms of tree damage but for the most part we have rebuilt and moved on.

I daresay some of us know quite well the desperation I describe of waiting for morning, not a physical morning necessarily, but the desperation of darkness that longs for the Light to shine. Here, now, four years out from that fearful morning, I offer that same hope: Jesus. He is the Light and His mercies are new every morning. Wait on Him. Hope in Him. He is faithful!

 

Winter weary

As I type, sunlight streams through the windows in my dining room, the glare from the snow nearly blinding me. We awoke this morning to nearly eight inches of the white stuff, our backyard looking like a scene from Narnia, breathtaking in its beauty. Snow of any sort is a rarity here in Alabama, much less eight inches, and never quite so beautiful.

My backyard early this morning
My backyard early this morning

This is our second snow of the week, if you can believe it. I mean, really, is this Alabama or what? My dog Darcy loves it. When I let her out Tuesday morning, she approached the snow rather cautiously at first, then ran fast and furious, leaping and flouncing, nipping and biting at the snow. I’m thinking she’s part Saint Bernard! She’s yet to come in this morning, playing out in the snow for four hours now and counting.

The boys have been out of school, today making three days in a row. We’ve hunkered down as best we can, watching a lot of the Olympics (until figure skating comes on at which point the channel is changed pronto) and even engaging in a round or two of Twister (the boys that is, not me nor my husband). There’s been snowball fights and the construction of an igloo. My husband has ventured out to the office to get some work done every day this week. As for me, I’ve read some (thank you, digital library!) and, well, that’s about it, other than the usual laundry and cooking and such.

Like many of you, I’m winter weary. As I’ve told you before, I generally like winter. It suits me. But this year, this winter, this February, I am worn down and worn out. I suspect my weariness isn’t so much about winter itself as it is about other, more complicated things, things not really worth mentioning here, the sorts of emotions and transitions and stage of life issues that make one eager for spring not just for the warmer temperatures and, yes, maybe even sandals and ballet flats but even more so for fresh starts and new beginnings. And hope.

The sun that streams and blinds also melts. My driveway is fast becoming a slushy mess, and melted snow runs down from the roof and drips from the trees.

Winter will pass. Spring is coming.

It’s the boring days

I am tired. Two nights in a row of interrupted sleep combined with a return today to our normal schedule–whatever that is, I can’t even remember, the Christmas break stretched so long–not to mention the general January bleakness, well, I’m tired. Besides, today is one of those ordinary, boring days full of ordinary, boring tasks: laundry. Grocery shopping. Dishwashing. More laundry.

Psalm 118:24 reminds me that this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. This day? This day of irksome and exhausting work? This day of unglamorous and dull and frankly demeaning tasks? This day marked by obscurity and all things mundane and ordinary?

We certainly think of rejoicing in the good days, the days of great joy and happy boasting, the days where all seems right and good. Even in the dark days we attempt to summon the faith to trust, to accept, to submit, and thus to rejoice.

It’s the boring days that can be hard to rejoice in.

Last night at prayer meeting we discussed question 1 from the New City Catechism: What is our only hope in life and death? The answer: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

This answer seems rather obvious when I think in terms of death. I know that when I die my only hope is in the grace of the Lord to save me. I know I deserve hell and I know that my only hope for heaven is that I belong to the Lord.

But my only hope in life? Truth be told, I place my hopes in lots of things. Today I am hoping my son’s bout with the stomach virus is short lived. Of course I hope in his recovery because I love him and I hate to see him sick and suffering, but, just keepin’ it real, part of that hope is a selfish one. I am tired, did I mention that? Tired of the laundry and the Lysol and the power of suggestion that keeps me suspect that maybe I too am getting sick.

And, hello, I also hope that lots of people read this post and like it and tell me so.

Like I said, just keepin’ it real.

My hopes in this life are many and, like these, most are good things, hope-full and hope-worthy things. However, the catechism answer tells me that my only hope in life is that I belong to the Lord. I may hope in various outcomes and circumstances and I might hope in your good opinion and for relief from the boring days. But these hopes are not only short lived, they are also unsatisfactory, insufficient for the dark days, the boring days, and, yes, even the happy days.

What sustains? My hope, my sure expectation, my eager confidence, that I am the Lord’s. Because of His Son Jesus, I belong to Him body and soul. As His child, His treasured possession, I can rest. I can rejoice. He has made this day, with its trials and its triumphs, and He grants me grace and joy and mercy in it.

My hope is built on nothing less.

God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew

One Tuesday several weeks ago I had lunch with three friends and one very precocious three-year old. These are friendships newly formed by virtue of the Bible study I teach; hence our conversation swung across a wide spectrum of topics.

We attend different churches and at one point we began to discuss our church experiences, where we are as well as where we’ve been. One of us (me) is in a church split-turned-plant. One is on the staying end of a split and one had her own story of damaged reputation and mischaracterized motivations. Here’s a newsflash for you: church can be messy business, no doubt about it.

I thought later about the lesson I had taught that very morning about the slavery the people of Israel endured prior to the miracle of the Exodus. I thought of the four hundred years they waited and watched and suffered and (surely) wondered and doubted. I remember my own seasons, both church-related and not, that though I did not suffer cruel bondage nor the horror of infanticide as the Israelites did, I too despaired of the Lord’s faithfulness. To my limited understanding, He seemed distant and unwilling to act. As my waiting grew long, my doubts loomed large.

Exodus 2:23-25 tells us where God was during the Israelite’s affliction and what He was doing:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

What a comfort to the weary and the waiting! God hears, God remembers, God sees, and God knows. This passage reminds me yet again that my salvation is wholly a work of God. I am as unable to save myself from my sin and my doubt as the Israelites were to rescue themselves from the cruel oppression of the Egyptians. God must–and does–accomplish it.

He saved the nation of Israel through a mighty display of His power. Two million slaves just walk away from their oppressors? Not to mention the parting of the Red Sea, manna every morning, and water from a rock! Amazing. Incredible. A miracle.

Even greater is the salvation, the rescue, the exodus, accomplished by Jesus Christ. Through the life, death and resurrection of His Son God saved His children from the bondage to sin and death. We who belong to Christ are free and if the Son has set us free we are free indeed!

Hebrews tells us that Moses, this great deliverer, this leader and shepherd of the people of God, the Lord’s instrument to accomplish so great an exodus, considered the reproach of Christ of greater wealth than all the treasure of Egypt because he was looking to the reward (Heb. 11:24-26). This both convicts and shames me. My friends and I, we have all borne reproach in one way or another, and I do not speak merely in terms of church stuff. Any one of us who confess faith in Christ has endured seasons of darkness and doubt. I cannot speak for my friends but I do know that sometimes I endured it well because I had seen the salvation of the Lord and I valued the treasure of Christ as far greater. Other times, however, I didn’t look to the reward at all, looking instead to my self-justified resentment and bitterness.

The Lord is faithful to save! I was enslaved to the cruel taskmaster of sin but Jesus set me free! He is my reward, the great Treasure of this life and the next. Nothing compares to Him! He hears, He sees, He knows…and He rescues. What hope is ours! What joy! What grace!

Despite the differing details of our experiences, my friends and I all shared a common testimony: the Lord was faithful beyond our imagining. We have seen the salvation of the Lord and we rejoice in it. We placed our trust, our reputation, our reproach on Christ and He did not disappoint. God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew.

Hope

I am gathering my things in preparation to head home in a few minutes’ time. It’s been a slow morning at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in terms of clients but a busy one in terms of administrative tasks like putting together a bulk mailing to local churches and counting monies from our Baby Bottle fundraiser.

The front door dings as two young women enter, each carrying a baby, both little ones all wide eyed and solemn, their moms not less so. I greet them with a smile and ask how I can help.

Do you do pregnancy tests? one of the women asks me, a nod of her head and a glance of her eyes indicating her companion. After the requisite forms had been filled out and pertinent information gathered, I take her back, the woman wanting the pregnancy test, I show her the bathroom and where to leave the cup, and then I watch her baby, all smiles and gurgles on the sofa in front.

I chat with the friend.

We’re both of us from the domestic violence shelter, the friend tells me. I give the baby another smile as my heart breaks just a little. So sweet, the babies and the women both. What horrors have they endured? I can only wonder.

After checking the test, I tell the woman what she’s already suspected. She is pregnant. Tears fill her eyes and she looks up, toward the ceiling, and in her broken English whispers, oh God. Not a curse, a petition. She sighs and holds her baby close, kissing the top of its head. She didn’t want to be pregnant she tells me. But, yes, she will keep the baby. Of course she wants her baby. God is good, she says. He knows. No, the father will not be involved she states with a shake of her head and is it fear or relief I see in her eyes?

I tell her we can help. Maternity clothes, diapers, baby clothes. We will help. Please, let us help. And I want to tell them to take care of themselves, of their babies, that they did right to get out and to get away and that the Lord sees and knows and hears and rescues. He does. He promises. He must.

I give them both some diapers and some baby food. I pat the babies on their backs. I tell the women the good news, the best news, that Jesus saves. Trust Him, I urge. They nod. I know God, she tells me and I am glad. She will need Him. I hug them. I walk them to the door. Please, let us help you, I say again. We can help you, both of you. They thank me graciously, humbly, and with dignity.

I get my purse. I drive home. I reply to email. I eat a piece of chocolate. I check my twitter feed and there I read of various lunch plans and of the latest fashion trends and of the presidential candidates’ various agendas and of links to all sorts of blog posts on everything from decorating to doctrine. I read about a rich pop star dying in her bath tub and about laments and indictments over one pastor calling another pastor’s critics heretics and where oh where is the proof of such accusations? And I think to myself how inane, not that politics is unimportant nor that heresy, real or perceived, ought not be confronted or decried, but oh so much drama and yet those two women have never even heard of modalism or panentheism nor do they speculate on the cause of Whitney’s death and of what importance is fashion when you are pregnant and living in a shelter with your baby and several other moms and children and babies? Not even a room to yourself not to mention the basic, and greater, needs of safety and shelter and security.

I think to myself how easily I am insulated from and inoculated against such tragedies. I am blind to much, most, of the heartache that surrounds me. Sometimes I choose my blindness and when I do see I often despair of my inability to even glance the surface of such gaping need. What are diapers and jars of baby food when one has no home, no job, and no security?

Oh, I claim to love the gospel–and I do, indeed I do–but sometimes I more adept at dissecting it and defending it and denigrating those who disagree with it than declaring it. In my selfishness I forget its glorious truth: Jesus saves. What other hope do my two new friends have? What hope do I? If Jesus does not save, then I am lost. Dead and desperate, doomed in my sins and transgressions, I need saving. Sin is my biggest problem and salvation is my biggest need. Same for you, same for us all, same for these two women. How much, how desperately, they need hope, hope that sustains and strengthens, hope that extends beyond their present circumstance, hope that points to peace and joy.

And how will they know unless they are told? Faith, hope, comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. This is the glorious mystery that is our privilege to believe and to proclaim: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

To my shame I confess I sometimes ignore the real world in which they live, these two precious, battered women and their babies, preferring instead the assumed safety and security not just of social media but of my self righteous smugness. I forget both the good news that Jesus saves and that there are many–hundreds, thousands, millions even–who are desperate and dying apart from this, the hope of salvation found in Jesus Christ.

Author’s note: We at the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer affirm our clients’ rights to privacy and it is with this commitment in mind that I have deliberately altered or even deleted pertinent details in this post in order to keep my clients’ anonymity intact.


I have linked this post up at the Write It, Girl! challenge for the month of March. Click on the button to find out more and to see other participating posts.

We grieve, but not without hope

My heart is heavy. This morning I received word that my friend has died and is now in the presence of her Savior whom she loved. I weep, but not without hope. I wrote of my friend back last spring when she first received her cancer diagnosis. I’m re-posting here in order to boast in the hope we have because of Christ. We grieve, yes, but our grief is tempered by the assurance we have in Jesus who by His resurrection conquered death to bring life to all who believe in Him! Glory to God!

************

Volunteering at our local pregnancy center is one of the highlights of my week. I love it. I love serving our clients, helping to meet their needs, and sharing the love of Jesus in tangible ways. I love telling them of His love and mercy found in the cross and the salvation He offers.

I also love spending my Wednesdays with my fellow volunteers. These women, my friends and sisters in the Lord, are serious about following Christ. They earnestly desire to bring glory to God not just through their work at the center but in all things. I love being around them. I love their passion. I love the godly examples they are to me. I love that we are friends. I love the easy camaraderie we share. I love those ladies!

One of my friends from the center underwent a very serious medical procedure several months ago. There was risk, as with all medical procedures, but this one in particular carried the potential for very serious implications if all did not go as planned. The day she returned to the center was a day of great celebration! I will never forget our giddy joy as we ordered in lunch and sat at the table in the office, eating, drinking, celebrating together. It was a great day of rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, one I will always remember. The Lord is good! His mercies endure forever!

Last week we received news that another of our group is facing a serious diagnosis. Cancer. It doesn’t look good. Our hearts are broken. She is courageous and has testified that she only wants the Lord to be glorified. We are praying against this horrible disease, we are pleading for her life, and we are believing God to grant her peace and strength. We want her to return to us, healthy and whole, not just for us but for her husband, her daughters, her granddaughter. We want another celebration, another meal in which we boast in the Lord’s goodness and revel in His joy. For this we pray even as we trust the Lord and His good, acceptable and perfect will.

I am so grateful for my friend’s faith and for her determination to honor the Lord no matter what. I am also thankful that because of Jesus we have hope: hope that all things work together for our good, hope that nothing comes to us apart from His sovereign will, hope that whatever He asks of us, whatever comes to us, it is keeping with His purposes and His plan, hope that this world is not all we have, hope in the glory of Jesus.

Our hope is not wishing for something that may or may not happen. Hope will not disappoint, that He promises us. Because of our faith in Christ, our hope is a confident expectation. We know. We will celebrate together. Perhaps around the table at the center eating lunch out of styrofoam containers–(Oh, yes, Lord, may it be)–or perhaps at the banquet table to come, when all the saints of God gather for that eternal, glorious celebration of the Lord’s glory! What joy we will know then!

My friend’s hope lies with Christ. She trusts Him. I am so grateful that her hope is not merely for this life only! One day faith will be sight and we will behold Him, our blessed hope, the eternal Son of God!

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Rom. 5:1-5

I know that my friend’s situation is not unique. It seems as if there are many, acquaintances and family both, who are suffering heartache and pain. Some are enduring great loss. Some are facing an uncertain future. For us all, our only hope is Christ. He alone sustains. Seek Him. Trust Him. The Lord is good! His mercies endure forever!

“Hope”, originally posted 3/11/10

************

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”  (Is. 25:6-9)


Hope

Volunteering at our local pregnancy center is one of the highlights of my week. I love it. I love serving our clients, helping to meet their needs, and sharing the love of Jesus in tangible ways. I love telling them of His love and mercy found in the cross and the salvation He offers.

I also love spending my Wednesdays with my fellow volunteers. These women, my friends and sisters in the Lord, are serious about following Christ. They earnestly desire to bring glory to God not just through their work at the center but in all things. I love being around them. I love their passion. I love the godly examples they are to me. I love that we are friends. I love the easy camaraderie we share. I love those ladies!

One of my friends from the center underwent a very serious medical procedure several months ago. There was risk, as with all medical procedures, but this one in particular carried the potential for very serious implications if all did not go as planned. The day she returned to the center was a day of great celebration! I will never forget our giddy joy as we ordered in lunch and sat at the table in the office, eating, drinking, celebrating together. It was a great day of rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, one I will always remember. The Lord is good! His mercies endure forever!

Last week we received news that another of our group is facing a serious diagnosis. Cancer. It doesn’t look good. Our hearts are broken. She is courageous and has testified that she only wants the Lord to be glorified. We are praying against this horrible disease, we are pleading for her life, and we are believing God to grant her peace and strength. We want her to return to us, healthy and whole, not just for us but for her husband, her daughters, her granddaughter. We want another celebration, another meal in which we boast in the Lord’s goodness and revel in His joy. For this we pray even as we trust the Lord and His good, acceptable and perfect will.

I am so grateful for my friend’s faith and for her determination to honor the Lord no matter what. I am also thankful that because of Jesus we have hope: hope that all things work together for our good, hope that nothing comes to us apart from His sovereign will, hope that whatever He asks of us, whatever comes to us, it is keeping with His purposes and His plan, hope that this world is not all we have, hope in the glory of Jesus.

Our hope is not wishing for something that may or may not happen. Hope will not disappoint, that He promises us. Because of our faith in Christ, our hope is a confident expectation. We know. We will celebrate together. Perhaps around the table at the center eating lunch out of styrofoam containers–(Oh, yes, Lord, may it be)–or perhaps at the banquet table to come, when all the saints of God gather for that eternal, glorious celebration of the Lord’s glory! What joy we will know then!

My friend’s hope lies with Christ. She trusts Him. I am so grateful that her hope is not merely for this life only! One day faith will be sight and we will behold Him, our blessed hope, the eternal Son of God!

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Rom. 5:1-5

I know that my friend’s situation is not unique. It seems as if there are many, acquaintances and family both, who are suffering heartache and pain. Some are enduring great loss. Some are facing an uncertain future. For us all, our only hope is Christ. He alone sustains. Seek Him. Trust Him. The Lord is good! His mercies endure forever!