The doe, low, on her side in the straw. Her whole body given over to breathing. Breathing. Breathing. To stretching, bleeding. To waves of pain, while the sparrow finds scattered grain to bring her young. Her head bows, like Mary, as the breath of God quakes her womb.
The way of pain is how we're born. All of us. Like the young doe, like Eve, like Mary, like Jesus, wave after wave, we pant and quake a prayer, "Be it to me as you say, Lord."
Death lurks and lingers, breathing threats like an evil emperor, ready to steal God's breath right of the newborn's chest. But, alas a midwife sits, even the unseen angels, attending, to usher life past death even past a stony grave.
The doe's sweet calls assure the helpless victor she bore. She baths him with kisses and a song to stand and walk. She bleeds and stands weak, emboldened to feed her young. Christ stood up and surely Eve and all of heaven's angels stood to their feet at Mary's Magnificat, her sweet Magnificat song.
I remember things that seem to have zero importance. Like the smell of the small stairway that led to the attic-level Children’s Ministry classroom in my childhood church.
I remember the smell. I remember the stairway being narrow. I remember the small window from which I could look down and see the church sanctuary. And I faintly remember dark cabinetry and a flannel board.
But when my son is obsessed with his appearance and I fear that I didn’t do enough to instill God’s word and the hope of the gospel in his life, I seem to have total amnesia to the eternal, historical and experiential truths of God and Christ. I forget what God has done. I forget what he’s promised. I forget how he redeemed and is still redeeming me.
When I am scheduled to teach kids at church on a Sunday, or speak to a group of people on a specific subject, I’ll do the work needed to prepare myself. So I decided to give myself an assignment: a blog series on remembering God. My goal: to write on one eternal, historical or experiential truth of God in an effort to deliberately remember.
Maybe like me, you’re a married mom of kids in the launch-out phase of development, working full time and involved in your local church, trying to balance work, rest and play. Or maybe you’re in a completely different demographic. Whatever your lot, if you’re a Christian, intentionally remembering what God has done and promised has got to be good for you, and me.
I did a little bit of google research on remembering and ran across this 2019 article in Nature magazine titled: The forgotten part of memory by Lauren Gravitz. The article proposes that our brains deliberately forget things in order to make room for new memories and to help us adapt and change with life’s often traumatic circumstances. Forgetting is a survival-of-the-species mechanism.
To prevent this intentional forgetting our brains do, we have to intentionally remember. According to the researchers, “The more often a memory is recalled, the stronger its neural network becomes. Over time, and through consistent recall, the memory becomes encoded in both the hippocampus and the cortex. Eventually, it exists independently in the cortex, where it is put away for long-term storage.”
God knows this about our brains. (Surprise!) And throughout scripture, he tells his people to intentionally remember what he’s done and said. This is one of the functions of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25:26 ESV)
So, if you find yourself struggling with the day to day of life, or the crisis that has hit you, join me here every weekend to remember some of the eternal, historical and experiential truths of God.
“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:15
This verse came via email to me today like shade in the hot Arizona sun. I used to tolerate the heat in Arizona pretty well, but as the years have gone by, I haven’t grown more accustom to the heat, I’ve grown more intolerant of it.
Hope seems a long way off these days. Coming around the calendar again my body remembers the fiery trials like the heat of summer and seems to wither in its sting rather than stand weathered and resistant.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fullfilled is the tree of life.” the wise man wrote. It’s hard to dream when hope seems to keep getting pushed away by the hot troubles of life. I noticed today that I don’t dream much. I don’t aspire to hopeful things, beautiful things. I would say I feel like the Psalmist, weaned, not thinking about things too high for me. But the reality is I feel like a sick child, tired, curled up fetal trying to sleep away the hard things.
There’s only one way to escape the heat of summer- get in the shade.
I find it hard to dream, but like Elijah, I can hunker down some place and give up. Yet, even there I find the Lord comes nourishing my weak flesh, letting me rest, and giving me what I need to keep going.
Sometimes all you can do is find a place to hide with God’s word and cry. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
There is a dream of a hope of a place I have never been, of a man I have never met, of a love I have only felt echoed in my chest when I read things like, “I have come to give you life full of life.” If I lay down to die under some broom tree of shade, some silent place, some Starbucks, or glass of wine, or early morning outside, even there I cannot escape the presence of the shadow of his wings. Even there his hand holds me.
Hope that keeps being put aside does make the heart sick. But when you look to Jesus, the sick heart is shaded by a reviving hope in the heat of trouble. Is your heart sick? Does hope seem to evade you? Look to Jesus. His wings are big enough to shade you from the heat and feed you hope in the very place where trouble beats down.
with diabetes and heart disease
amputations and hemiparesis
are random collisions of worn out atoms
draining our society of valuable resources…
the cost of rehabilitating the Grey Tsunami,
aphasic from stroke,
requiring a hoyer lift
to move their paralyzed frames
from bed to a rolling shower chair
so nurses’ aides can wash silver strands
and run, warm soapy water under breasts
and cleanse away the urine and waste they cannot control
is debilitating our healthcare system…
nurse them with care and aide?
Why not kiss them on the cheek
and hand them over to death
and use the thirty or more pieces of silver to give to the poor
and make our lives a little easier?
In every crooked grin
In every slobbered chin
On the face of every one of us
And don’t quite die
But slowly break down
In a body of death
Still coursing with blood
Bone and flesh
Breasts and chest
Bowel and bladder
Tongue and breath
in the least of these
who have yet to peak beyond the womb,
whose contracted legs
curl up in an aged, fetal form
tremble and shudder
We give dignity
and pour expensive resources
on the broken body
For the Christian, hope is a rescue. And it is a promise sealed in the blood of Christ. But 2000 years downstream from that cleansing flow, and 2000 years into more human suffering and depravity, heck, just 44 years into a life and I start to ask with the Psalmist, “How long O Lord?” And, “Why have you forgotten me?” The sufferings and trials of life make you look at what you’re hoping in and ask yourself, over and over again, “What is my hope again?”
The thing is, as a Christian, the circumstances in life that test your hope, cause you to find it to be very much alive and even stronger because of the pain of life.
Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Do you see the progression?
Sufferings produce endurance,
endurance produces character,
character produces hope,
and we aren’t ashamed of our hope because something living is going on in us.
The Holy Spirit is in us.
God’s love is in us.
And it’s growing in suffering.
Hope is alive, and he’s living in us!
1 Peter 1:3 puts it this way:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…
Forty-four years ago I was born in sin. From infancy, in me was growing lying, hiding, blaming and pride day by day. But at age sixteen I was born again in a living hope. And from that day, I have been growing in genuine faith in Christ, even as I’m test by various trials.
I’ve never seen this Jesus, this living hope that made me alive when I was 16, but I love him. God’s love has been poured out into my heart. And though I can’t see him, and at times I cry, “Where are you?! Don’t you see me?! How long till I can see you?!” somehow in the midst of all the hard things there’s this sweet joy I just can’t explain.
Hope is alive, and he lives in me. No hard thing in life can’t kill that hope.
Prone to wander
you show up bidding me
to walk with Suffer.
Shrinking back I
do not like to think
about risks, adventure
much less Suffer.
But you kneel down
with tender gaze
take off my flip flops
saying, “These can’t stay.”
“You’ll need a shoe
fit for travel.
Sometimes rough terrain
sometimes there will be battles.”
I don’t think you understand
I slip them back on
I’m a slow-walk-on-the-beach kind
Not Joan of Arc strong.
“You are more lovely
to me than the ninety-nine.
Come away with me
walk, talk, abide.”
We can live here?
I point to the meadow.
It’s quiet and warm
There’s no need for Suffer.
“Get behind me liar!”
I look behind.
Who are you calling?
Why such disdain and fire?
“Your thoughts are not
on where I am going?
Do you want to go with me
even through suffering?”
I want to go with you
Don’t let me keep me from you.
Then take my hand
see how discolored.
Deep purple scars
I know Suffer.
I know how to walk
through fire that proves
you a child.
Your eyes full of light
Your words, there is life
Your ways, upside down
Your love me found
How can I choose my
valley of ease
when you came to Suffer
and bought me free?
I’ll go with you
but I’m afraid.
Will you make me
strong and safe?
Come, come sister
come walk with me
I won’t do magic
but with me you’ll be.
I’ll give you courage
to face Suffer and stand.
I’ll not promise safety
but I’m good and always win.
Come walk with me
come hold my hand
walk with Suffer
to the promised land.
My sister, brother-in-law and their two sons (my precious nephews) live in Redding, CA. This past few days have been traumatic, but thankfully they did not loose their home to the Carr fire. Many of their friends are sifting through ashes of what’s left of their homes. It’s truly devastating to hear what they are facing.
Thinking about this fire got me thinking about the metaphor of fire in the Bible. John the baptist said:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11
There are other references about fire in the Bible like, “Our God is a consuming fire…” (Hebrews 12:29) and “For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49). And in the Christian world we talk about fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12) and the passion and zeal we should have for Jesus being like a fire of worship and adoration burning in us for him. The idea of fiery trials is just that, an idea, until something like the Carr Fire happens to you and destroys your home and all your belongings.
The images I’ve been seeing on the news and social media of the devastation of the fire in Redding make me think about what John and Jesus and the scriptures are trying to tell us about walking with this God who laid down his life for us. He is a consuming fire, and he does put us through a baptism of fire and salt us with fire to destroy even good things that cannot endure the heat of his faith purifying power.
At church today my pastor taught from Romans 8. The passage that we often hear as, “Everything works out for good,” doesn’t say that. It says God is working all things- the good, the bad, the destroying fire, the pain, the loss, the grief, the death, the disease, the betrayal, the sorrow- he’s working ALL THINGS together for good for those who love him. And he’s doing it to make us more like Jesus. That’s fire. That’s God’s fire. Working everything for good to make us more like Jesus might look like the Carr fire burning down every thing we have. It might be a whirlwind killing all our kids and striking us with disease like Job. It may be the hard day-in day-out slow burn of life in the suburbs.
Whatever our circumstances, for the Christian, the holy fire of God’s power is going to destroy what doesn’t last forever. And it’s going to purify our faith which will never be destroyed. The same power that burns our walls, strengthens our hope in Christ.
‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ‘
1 Peter 1:6-9
In September my husband and I will have been married for 25 years. And that’s no testimony to our skill, secrets or practices. We’ve done just about everything wrong. And making it this long is no guarantee that we’ll make it another 25 years. When our friends ask how we’er doing, I tell them our marriage is healthier than it’s ever been. Nevertheless, the past tries to swallow me in a mire. And my previous attempts at holding tightly to our vows- as though they are the grace that saves me- have proven my idolatry.
Listening to Rachel Welcher yesterday on a Grace Covers Me podcast by Christine Hoover I heard a few things that struck a chord with me. Rachel is a woman who has at least in part walked a mile in my shoes. In listening to her story I echoed amens and scratched down a bunch of thoughts. Here’s five I thought were beneficial for all marriages:
- Just because you’ve done everything right, doesn’t mean everything will turn out right. Describing how she met her now ex-husband, Rachel, she talks about how she tried to do everything, “by the books.” She did what she was taught was wise and godly in dating and picking the right person to marry. Yet her marriage still ended in a divorce she didn’t want. She brings up a great point: There’s a prosperity gospel theology undergirding the idea that if we do all the right things our marriages will turn out great. It’s not true. You can do all the right things and God’s will for you can be suffering and even divorce. Like Rachel, I too wrestle with how it works theologically that God can hate divorce and it still be somehow part of his sovereign will that you walk through a divorce. I may not understand but it’s true. The fact that we will suffer and experience blessing even in walking through things God hates does not mean we shouldn’t make wise decisions in dating and marriage. Our motivation is not freedom from suffering. Our motivation is love of God. We obey because we love God, not so that God will bless us. For the Christian the blessing in suffering in a hard marriage or even in loosing your marriage is that God is near to you.
- Living with the looming possibility that your spouse might decide that the two of you are just too different now. Rachel talked about the torture of living in this limbo state where you know your spouse is considering a divorce. It’s interesting to me that we who have experienced this uneasy limbo in our marriages attribute our lack of control of the destiny of our marriages to our hard marriage situations. God has taught (is teaching) me over the years that no marriage is a guarantee. The truth is even the best and healthiest of marriages could be completely destroyed by one or the other’s decision at any time. Living in a marriage with an unbeliever these 25 year has taught me to live with open hands to God’s will. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 gives specific help for believers married to unbelievers who want to leave the marriage, but the message in that chapter is also for all marriages: Let go of clinging to the shadow of marriage (vs. 29-31). Rachel’s description of the torn feeling of whether to focus on being a wife or, “… prepare for inconceivable heartache,” is a reality for people in hard marriages. But it’s also a reality for any marriage. Rachel’s friend’s advice,”You won’t ever regret loving him too much during this time,” is good for every marriage. As Rachel said, “While you’re married, your heart’s in your marriage.”
- It’s not your responsibility to convince or save your spouse. 1 Peter 3 has been a go-to passage for me these 25 years of marriage. As I wrote in my piece at Desiring God, my desire to win my husband to Christ with my Christ-changed life is something, by God’s grace I will try to do until I die- whether we’re married or not. But Rachel talked about how the message some people delivered her way was that if she did the right things she might be able to save her husband. I know what she means. Over the years I’ve heard the same message. Maybe you should invite him to such and such. Maybe he should read this book. Maybe he should go to that movie. Have you taken him to that church? Would he go out to poker night with me? I’ve tried everything to “win” my husband in my own power. But Peter’s call to seek to win your husband is a call to be a light not a call to be your husband’s savior. I know the pressure Rachel speaks of, but I think the message of 1 Peter 3 is that even if we loose our spouses to divorce, while we are married, we should give our hearts to loving God and loving our husbands in such a way that desires to win them to Christ.
- Living with shame in your marriage. Rachel talks about how her divorce was her identity for a season after she lost her marriage. I feel like I’ve wrestled with that recurring climate in my marriage for 25 years. When you’re in a hard marriage that’s been hurt by each other’s sin, divorce, differences of faith, etc., the pain can be so overwhelming that it’s the key landmark by which you identify your life. But the shame of brokenness in our marriages and in our lives is not what Christ wants to leave us with. We can take our shame to him and learn to live out of the identity of who we are in Christ. The brokenness in your marriage doesn’t define you. Christ does. I have to feed myself that truth daily, several times a day, in season and out of season.
- You must be fueling your own relationship with God. Rachel mentions having been in the midst of privately writing essays on Job for two years when her husband filed for divorce. She was able to draw on what she knew of God during that terrible time because of her time in the scripture. Whether our marriages are broken by divorce, differences of faith, past sins and failures, or just the everyday sins and failures that make lifetime companionship with another person hard, we, like Rachel, can be steadied through the various seasons of our life knowing God can allow us to suffer and be good at the same time. But to know this kind of steadfast love we must feed our relationship with God by being in his word. Meditating on it day and night. Wrestling with it. Praying it. Daily.