Love Journey, Departure

Above the clouds the restraints fall away. Gravity seems less oppressive, and I can feel again the kind of air my lungs were meant to breathe, albeit this is actually the cabin-pressured airplane environment. I can see differently from here. I can feel same the freedom I experienced as a child, laying on my back looking up into the clouds.

I lean my head on my man’s shoulder and nestle into that familiar nook by his neck where I am home. His faint body fragrance wraps around my senses like a child’s security blanket, and I relax.

It’s been intense. While battling the classic pastor’s burnout, he was knocked out for a month by a severe flu. Then the hurricanes and the magnitude of need all around us in their aftermath. A wedding. A suicide. Before boarding this plane, both of us have really wrestled with the seemingly selfish decision to go ahead with our planned anniversary trip to Spain, knowing how much needs to done everywhere. Knowing how much our invaluable colleagues carry – How can we just skip out like this?

Resting against his chest, I feel a lightness there I have missed for longer than I can remember. Over coffee today, my dear friend reminded me of the many stories tucked away in that chest; his own complex experiences as well as those of the flock he pastors with more empathy than any of us grasp. Most of his responsibility is invisible to the human eye, and only those in similar shoes know the weight of aching to meet meet every need with tangible compassion, but being unable.

He knows he isn’t God.

He knows God is beautifully at work through His body, arousing action and esprit de corps within our community like never before. Such beauty in response to disaster. Stronger faith and deeper commitment, as together we move into the new normal of being shaken “that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)

All the people we love are in the best of hands. His heart and mind clothed in human skin.

So we feel the lift of eagles’ wings under us and the firm leading of His Spirit to take us higher, above the fray of the daily demands, to see from 30,000 feet the world He so loves. We pray to return with fresh perspective and passion to the call we gratefully embrace.

Till then…

I Would Do It Again

Not that I had slept much, but waking up in the little classroom in the church that housed our missions team, I began to feel joy- bubbles surge through me. Surrounding me on their little air mattresses, my girlfriends on the team began to stir, and in each one’s face, a knowing grin began to dawn: We would have a wedding tonight, and I would be the bride.

Meeting those same girls a year earlier, when on their bunks at night, they would fantasize about their wedding one day, I had been the killjoy of their dreams. “Girls, get a life; don’t wait for a man to make you happy. Be happy now!”

And less than a week later, I was the one smitten so hard, I could neither sleep nor eat. Love sick. In a school that didn’t allow dating and in a heart that had never before loved a man like this, I was a mess. These same girls had talked me through every micro development of our relationship, from the first violent flutter in my stomach to this, my last morning single.

Twenty five years ago today.

None of us knew what we were talking about, as we lay there between toddler sized furniture, planning a wedding with carrot sticks and carrot cake in the classroom across the hall. The sweet simplicity of the wedding itself is still one of my fondest memories, but the complexity of marriage would prove to be an acquired taste.

We had no idea how broken we both were.

We had no idea how little we could fix or change the other; and that morning, we had no idea we would even want to.

I was naive and impetuous, and he was jaded and afraid of the commitment we both knew was for life.

We were the least likely to survive it, let alone thrive.

Twenty five years later, I reflect on why and how we arrive at this day, more than ever confident in the endurance of love and the validity of the covenant of marriage.

1. We haven’t done it alone.

Both of us, from the first realization that our interest was serious, invited accountability all the way into our most private thoughts and fears.

Through the most excruciating seasons where we felt desperately trapped with each other, more caged than committed, mature mentors with our best interest at heart, helped us move from our loud personal pain to compassion for the other.

When external pressures like a church split, business collapse, deaths, and more life than we could handle in our toddler caused sleepless nights and anxiety attacks, we could have been ripped apart – but these guides helped us to fuse together instead.

2. They haven’t done it alone.

None of our priceless friends counseled from their own wisdom. Had they merely loved us, they could have chosen sides between us, and trust me, there were times when human wisdom would have told him to run from this crazy, wild woman.

But godly wisdom broke our shells of self-preservation and insisted on death – the laying down of our lives for each other, and these friends reminded us of the highest love, rather than the easiest path. They still do. They draw from the well of eternity, so they water us with effervescent Life, not temporal relief.

3. I haven’t done it alone.

From the collective we, both with each other and our life friends, to the very personal I, this is the deepest source of love and endurance. Very early in our marriage, Robert made the wisest statement, probably the determining two sentences for us:

“Get me off your pedestal. I can’t be your God.”

Uttered in frustration over my expectation that he be emotionally present with me when he was physically near, it nonetheless set us both free.

The only Source for our soul’s deepest need has always been and will only be God Himself. Robert’s exasperation reminded me that, before we ever met, we were each satisfied in God. Jesus had not only changed our lives, but He had saturated them with meaning and purpose and calling, and His was the Spirit that caressed and comforted us in the most intimate corners of our hearts.

From that secure place, we learned to listen to each other without taking offense. Even when it hurt. Even when it shattered our image of ourselves. We have worked hard at understanding, rather than seeking to be understood, and in the process, many lofty ideals have given way to much more substantial realities.

Robert is not who I once wished he would be. I can’t tame him. And I am certainly not what he expected from a wife. But much sweeter, we have learned to discover and appreciate who each other actually is and is becoming, and so living with the real person, not the image in our head. Always a work in progress. Always a poema, a masterpiece in the hands of God. Always needing and therefore tasting deeper Grace.

4. We are not our own

Many have asked me about the sacrifices involved with being this urban visionary pastor’s wife. And truly, most of our life together never resembled anything like what we read in family books that it ought to be. At some point, I realized that every time I read about what a husband and father “should” do or be to measure up to the ideal, the fruit in me was discontentment, because we would never ever get to that point.

So I cut it out.

Rather than the privileged idealism of the west, I began feeding my expectations with stories from the front lines of our faith. Persecuted colleagues, who didn’t agonize over whether their husband met their emotional needs, but whether or not he was still alive. Whether or not he would stand firm under torture. Whether or not he gave his all for The Savor who gave His all for us.

And that made all the difference.

In that light, the deep integrity of my husband far outshines any superficial shortcomings. In that light, my burden has always been light, and I only yearn to be found worthy of my calling.

Yes, I still wrestle to surrender and subdue my fears and hopes to the only Faithful One, not because He hasn’t earned it, not because my man hasn’t earned it, but because I am still a scared little bird sometimes. And I accept that.

I woke up this morning, twenty five years after “I Do”, deeply grateful. The measures of sacrifice and satisfaction are irrelevant.

Marriage so far has neither been a dream nor a nightmare, but an exploration of the most real Love ever. As Robert said to me a few years ago, on another anniversary; “I would do it again.”

In the arms of my man, I have felt the deepest intimacy humanly possible, and in his eyes I have received the deepest forgiveness I have ever needed. He has been to me the experience of Jesus, both in his limitations drawing me to HIS sufficiency, and in his generosity, giving me a foretaste of what’s coming.

“This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)

“And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)

Find Me

4 AM. Torn by the timeless tyranny of night fears. This and that, distorted to nightmare proportions, claw my soul to some drowsy semi-awake awareness that my head is throbbing and my body shaking. Deep sigh.

I’ve been here before. I know He will find me here. And the song that found me last night on someone’s Facebook feed finds me again…

“I fall down on the ground

Press my face against the earth

Till my heart it rises over me head.”

My head is exhausted. My heart is hollow. I am an empty vessel to be filled.

And then I sense His assuring presence in the midst of it. “I understand why you’re shivering. I hold all your insecurities tenderly in My hand. I am not asking you to snap out of it, but to breathe through it. Face your fears in the daylight with Me, and I will help you and heal you, one by one, step by step. In the night, My song is with you”

And suddenly I ache only for His touch. Nothing else matters.

“Like the dust that You first held

In the Garden where You knelt

Pull me up against Your face again

Till the breaths of Your hope

Fill the depths of my soul

Till all I know is I’ve been found by love.”

And I remember others times fears have shredded my sense of safety and undermined the very identity for which He died. Times when worthlessness and abandonment shrouded me with their deflating, dark lies.

And dearly loved faces of those who found me there, whose hearts hold mine, parade through my memory. Their eyes caressing me with the strongest commitments of earth, their voices penetrating my rejection with acceptance. Even in the most lonely seasons, when my battered soul hurt too much to recognize it, I see now that Jesus was always there, reaching towards me though one kindness or another…

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” (Hoses 11:4)

As I rise to face the day, the song washes my inner windows again and again till I see His love in the eyes of those I encounter. Nothing has changed but the filter through which I perceive. Rather than straining out the good to meditate on the bad, it’s flipped so I receive His love in its many expressions and sift out the voices of darkness.

And I long to be His touch of this gently healing Presence in human kindness wherever I can. He finds us. Every time.

“Find me grateful

Find me thankful

Find me on my knees

Find me dreaming

Find me singing

Find me lost in your grace”

(Lyrics from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser’s Find Me)

26 June, 2017 19:41

Before I awake, I feel the longings stir in my soul… just to be a cat in the sun, stretched out in God’s warmth, lazy in the most luxurious way. Ahhhhhh, purring, I feel the promise of Sabbath caress my tired mind, as I gradually emerge from the night.

My man is away in this off-day, serving where he is called, once again sacrificing his own needs and desires for the higher purpose. He does so willingly; he is keenly aware of the privilege and the brevity of his life. “But a vapor,” he habitually quotes James 4:14 when describing his inner urgency, his strain to complete his life’s mission.

In his absence this Monday, our day, I savor the solitude that awoke me. I am aching for time to just reflect, just soak in Scriptures and music, and allow my mind and my time to wander wherever the hours take it. Decades with Him have taught me how sweetly and gently He restores my soul on rare days like this. So I’m fairly sure my desires are the same as His when I meet Him in the Scriptures that are His love letter to us.

Still in that quiet place, I distractedly look around at our home bearing the obvious marks of many days too rushed to attend to it. I don’t even remember the meals left on the dishes in the sink, and how in the world did my shoes scatter all over the house? Neat freaks have never been words associated with us, so it’s hardly some compulsory impulse that now rises within me, trying to reach my conscience. I try to swat it away and squeeze my eyes shut.

“No, no, no!” I reprimand the clutter, “You won’t get me! You won’t take over my day.”

Many times, that would be the best response, ignoring the temporary, ever-recurring mess, in favor of soaking in the disciplines of eternity. And I would never ever recommend sacrificing a clean spirit for a clean house.

But after an hour or so basking in His life-giving Presence, a luxury my husband relinquished today for equally life-giving, and much costlier obedience, it’s as if the shadow of an authoritative Lion blocks my sunshine. I sense Jesus rising from our mellow lounging to get my attention.

He waits till I look at Him, waits till my eyes focus in on His, and there’s a glint of humor playing behind the question He knows I will understand. The reference alone to His conversation with Peter in John 21, stills me. I know how much like Peter I am: impetuous, my mouth and actions usually several steps ahead of wisdom, and it always makes complete sense to me, until He intercepts me the way He does now:

“Elisabet, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know I do.”

“Then tidy your house for your man.”

“But this is supposed to be my sabbath, my spiritual day.”

“So is it about you or about Me?”

“It’s about us! How I long to spend time with You.” (See how spiritual that sounds..)

“Today, I want our time together to bless your man. Tidy the house for him, so he can relax when he comes home. And prepare him dinner. And be undistracted when he arrives. If you love Me, that is.”

Busted! And yet, it’s a fair internal conflict, with which even He Himself wrestled, while limited to time in a fragile body like ours.

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-37)

And He went with them, onward on the journey directed entirely by His Father.

Like a conductor of a symphony, only He has the full picture, so when He directs at times to play my instrument at full blast for a longer allegro than I like, and at others to quiet into an adagio, only He controls the movements. Only He hears the entire score, and if the music I play is His, I must follow His lead.

My music today is the purring of a cat who has heard the corrective roar of her Lion King. My will finds rest in His authority. My heart finds rest in His. My life finds harmony in His generous love that tunes all my affections and priorities to His wisdom.

{title Cattitude Adjustment}

{category Come, Fill the Gap}

{tags faith and works, devotion, marriage, Christian, John 21, Mark 1:35-37, Aslan, service, quiet time}


Portraits of Adoption

I was nine when we moved to the village. A winding creek weaving through it parallel to the one main street where mom and pop stores and picturesque farmhouses scattered among modern family homes completed the illusion of a Hallmark movie ambiance. After three years in tumultuous Greenland, I’m sure it looked to my parents like the ideal place to raise a young family.

There’s no way they could have anticipated the tyranny of mediocrity, the quietly cruel methods of freezing out newcomers and whomever else didn’t conform to the unspoken rules that had governed for centuries. Miraculously, my little sister thrived, but I withered like a plant in toxic soil.

Six years, an injured tailbone, and countless cigarette burns in my clothes later, my parents paid the expensive price to let me escape to a private school out of reach of the village nightmare. Among the many vows I had made was that, as deeply as rejection had wounded me, I would try to accept others.

Only I didn’t have the capacity.

Until Jesus took over my broken attempts, they always resulted in unhealthy, unfree, entangled messes of affections and expectations all tied up in knots.

But God! He found me in one of those messes, living with an excentric woman who took me to church. In church, I found a community unlike anything I had ever known; grey-haired, seasoned saints and confused young punks like myself in glorious exploration of life with this wonderful God who had brought us together. Betlehemskirken in Copenhagen was my first real taste of a glorious family of ragamuffins in the grip of grace.

And amazing grace went further still and brought me the mentor who would become my lifelong mother in the faith, though she didn’t like that expression. “We’re friends,” she would correct me, but nonetheless, she patiently loved me from infancy in the faith through toddler tantrums and teenage pride into the mother I am today.

She adopted me.

And God, through her affection, meticulously poured the healing salve of His own tenderness into every shameful sting of my rejection.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, my teenage vow became my life’s prayer:

Make me an expression of Your affection, as she has been to me.

But daily life as a pastor’s wife, raising and homeschooling children in Miami Beach, became just that: daily. Days became years became decades of just doing the next thing. More aware of all the plates I dropped than those I might have kept spinning in the air, I lost sight of the trajectory.

But in retrospect I see how much He answered that prayer:

For nine months, a pregnant, single girl lived with us, till her son was safely born and her life could carry them onward. Later, my 23-year-old orphaned cousin became the older sister, my daughter never had, as she spent 18 hilarious months here, expanding our vocabulary and sense of humor, as well as the tenderness of our hearts…

And three years ago, Erica first set foot in our church, primarily to please her mother. Only God knew that she would become the cherished completing family member we didn’t know we were missing until she came. There’s no sufficient title for her role, though daughter, sister, aunt each hints at it. But it’s much richer than that! It’s the scent of coming Home, it’s the texture of belonging, it’s the DNA of the Father’s love. It’s the Spirit of Adoption.

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows–this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”

(Psalm 68:5-6)

Love keeps reaching.

Once it sparked in my mentor, it caught fire in me, and now I watch it, through the many I adore, ignite others through them. My daughters are becoming mothers, adopting their own beloved ragamuffins, and the agony behind my 8th grade vow immeasurably redeemed.

From the heart of God through one family through one church to our community, our place and time in history. Each family, each church a lighthouse in a cold rejected world.

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

After the Storm

What do you do when pain charges through your system so savagely that you lose control? Convulsions from the shock rip through you worse than an epileptic episode, and you find yourself biting your tongue or your lip and don’t even notice the bloody damage. There’s nothing to do but ride the waves as they crash over you, until they gradually subside. And you lay there, listless while your breath returns, and with it, the realization that this was no nightmare. In the daylight, it’s still there, but oh the nights. The nights are much worse. definitely, the nights are worse.

At night, shadows of old fears and newborn angst come out of hiding with whispers of despair and doom that make complete sense in the darkness. You tense up, you turn on the light, you yell at the shadows, you cry, you pray, you beat your pillow …. Sometimes you manage to curl into Jesus and drift off again in His comfort, though you may not know it’s Him. Many times, your pounding head counts the hours and minutes till morning returns, and it hurts.

But time has a gentle touch. Eventually, every tragedy becomes a new normal. Eventually, “normal” becomes its own repose, and you come up for air more regularly. Somehow, a new rhythm moves though your days, and somehow, in precious, fragile sprouts, life pokes through the armor of sheer survival. You’re alive.

Looking around, assessing what is still standing and who else is still alive, be prepared to be surprised by joy. Like waking up from a coma, you realize that someone was watching closely for any sign of recovery in you. When you were too absorbed by agony to fully appreciate it, someone held your hand while sobbing on your behalf. Yes, some pulled away, and yes, there were losses on top of the Big Loss, but there was love, my friend. There is always love. You are not the exception.

So what do you do now?

1 Access the loss. Most likely, it’s bittersweet. There are memories your soul reaches for like secret chocolates to be tasted over and over again. Allow them to wash over your senses, but not to replace your presence in the present. Others are so bitter you recoil at the periphery of them, but do take a sober look at them, one last time, before you pack them away. You may need to return there later, but for now, just know where you store them.

2 Appreciate your people. Who has been your faithful friend through this? Actively, celebrate and appreciate them. Do not allow the grief to overshadow the good. By the time you’re able to read this, grief has already stolen enough. Not just from you; your close ones have suffered with you, but rather than dismissing or deriving guilt from that, simply find fellowship in the suffering. You’re in it together.

3 Approach others. All around you, people are hurting and alone, and you now have an empathy that may break their isolation. I know this is counter-intuitive, and we all want to curl up under a blanket with Netflix instead, but self-pity is not your friend! It is a deceptive imposter, and your best weapon against it is compassion. When you want most to sink into the mire of your own misery, that when you absolutely must reach out. In fighting for others, you free yourself.

Though these principles make some sense in any scenario, they really only breathe life when their Source is the heart of God. Only He, who is outside of time, can take your scattered pieces and make them more whole than before you broke. We can offer the duct tape and glue gun of the material realm, but that will never plant living giving trees in the soul garden the storm ripped through.

His deep is calling to yours, and under the rubble, your heart is throbbing in response.

“Deep calls to deep

in the roar of your waterfalls;

all your waves and breakers

have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,

at night his song is with me—

a prayer to the God of my life.”

(Psalm 42:7-8)

“God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.” (Deuteronomy 30:3-6)

To whelp you worship from your gut:

To help you process initial grief:

Wounded Healers

I didn’t plan to be raped that night. Staying home for once from the Copenhagen nightlife to prepare for a test the next day, I was reacquainting myself with a solitude I realized I had missed. Gently flickering candles and a hot shower caressed my senses, as I was exhaling into the unfamiliar quiet. My guard was down.

Frustrated by the unexpected knocks on my door, I was ransacking my memory to see whom I hadn’t told I needed this night alone. Outside stood my guitarist with a surprising “I was just in the neighborhood” line.

If that happened today, I’d be suspicious. He taught me that night not to automatically trust anyone’s intentions.

But that hadn’t yet happened when I opened the door and let the clam darkness into my world. I didn’t invite it, no. But neither did I have the muscles to block it. From my creepy math teacher in third grade to my overly affectionate uncle, I had learned to be nice when I felt uncomfortable, to smother my inner alarm bells with external politeness. Those alarms rarely went off anymore.

Often, dancers and musicians shared a bottle of wine or two after rehearsal, but never had I been alone with the man who was now making himself abrasively comfortable in my little room. Two stacked mattresses served as both bed and sofa and occasionally a guest bed. For people I invited. I had not invited him.

So deep was my compulsive politeness that when the last bus had left, and he was still there, it dictated I suggest he stay overnight. He didn’t stay on his mattress. He didn’t honor my weak no. And in the morning, he looked like he had done me a favor.

He was fifty years old. I don’t know why that matters, but to my violated self, it did.

It never occurred to me to go to the police. I had opened the door, hadn’t I?

After a few days, we resumed rehearsals as if nothing happened. Neither of us mentioned it. Like none of us mentioned when that math teacher, bent over us before we learned not to ask for his help, had his hands down our shirts. We third-grade girls never compared notes on this. We learned to move on.

Fast forward thirty years.

Many years of counseling and even more years in the arms of Jesus have poured tremendous healing and training into my soul.
I can say no and be heard, and I can help others in their paths towards freedom.

“Wounded healers,” Henri Nouwen calls us, the host of survivors who have been rescued to help rescue others. Not just from victimization, but to flourishing in joy. We are not the pretend-Christians nobody likes. We are not the caricatures waging war with signs of condemnation. We are the ones who value authenticity, because we know Jesus is real.

So I didn’t plan to explode that day last week. In fact, I didn’t even know my temperature was rising until my dear friend stopped me in my tracks, looked me firmly in my eyes, and cautioned, “Take it down about three notches.”

We were on our way to a broken girl, one very much like my younger self, but somehow my wires had gotten crossed and I perceived her complaints as a threat what I so dearly love: my church family. Mama bear was rising up inside me, but not in defense of the most vulnerable. Deep exhale, and she is back on the leash.

But what happened?

Somewhere along the wilderness road towards freedom, I made a vow. I would not only learn to say no for myself, but even more so for everyone I love. No one would ever violate us again. No.

As the shock subsides, my feverish fierceness alerts me that I’m still in process. Learning to live in healthy freedom will never be a closed chapter, until I see my Liberator face to face. While the old captivity is far behind me, still some of my survivor skills need a bit of refining.

So He calls me back into His embrace and as if He strokes my hair He soothes me quietly till I’m soft again inside our hiding place. When my heart relaxes again inside the Love that has rescued me again and again, as much from myself as anyone else, I remember that all I hold dear, He holds dearer still. Only in His hands are any of us safe.

No, I certainly didn’t plan to be raped that night, but He had already planned the healing that would flow both to and from my wounds, a small stream of the healing that flows from His.

Elixir of Love

“You smell good,” someone whispers, as we both move from hug to hug in the group gathering around the coffee and snacks table. It’s Tuesday night, and defying the tropical downpour outside, we pour into this oasis, thirsty for the kind of warm community that makes the soul feel seen and safe.

We thirst for peace to coat frazzled nerves,
For the touch of a friend in the midst of our loneliness,
For laugher to melt away our frowns,
For hope to breathe again on dying dreams,
For life in the hidden corners of the heart

And none of us has it to give.

That’s why we are here.

If this were merely social, we’d leave more parched than we came. Maybe for a season, someone could sprinkle enough to satisfy the drought inside, but as salty as our tears, human affection alone is like drinking from the ocean. The momentary relief would lead only to deeper dehydration and despair….

Been there, done that, and the agony of that thirst is excruciating.

So what makes this different?
What transforms a cracked and dry soul, who feels like an outsider watching others enjoy a feast from which they are excluded, to a gushing, generous giver?

I was that shriveled desert, desperately drinking as deeply as I could from whatever salty reservoirs were available. Dying.

Then she came, not another cracked pot, but a lifeline I could grab on to with my last once of hope. She didn’t water my drought with her own desires; instead, she led me to her own Source.

Her kindness dared me to trust His.
Her desires redirected mine to His.
To Him.

To the boundless splashes of grace, playfully, tenderly finding every nook and cranny inside me, drawn to the needs and desires with the strongest force in the universe….

In Him, the good, the bad, the ugly in me becomes sacred. As He drills through the hardened ground, extracting the precious from the perverted, the desert becomes a spring of healing water to others.

Then she came, not another cracked pot, but a lifeline I could grab on to with my last once of hope. She didn’t water my drought with her own desires; instead, she led me to her own Source.

Her kindness dared me to trust His.
Her desires redirected mine to His.
To Him.

To the boundless splashes of grace, playfully, tenderly finding every nook and cranny inside me, drawn to the needs and desires with the strongest force in the universe….

In Him, the good, the bad, the ugly in me becomes sacred. As He drills through the hardened ground, extracting the precious from the perverted, the desert becomes a spring of healing water to others.

That’s what smells so sweet on Tuesday nights. Different degrees of saturation now spill over from soul to soul. Not our own streams, but His. Sure, it’s mixed waters, mixed motives, and all of us are thirsty still.

But that doesn’t scare us anymore, because we lead each other to the Holy River where bitter tears become tears of relief…. toxic salt water becomes diluted, purified, satisfying – when He is the Source.

So we hug each other deeply, dearly, trying to squeeze out the lies and lesser loves, and as the scents of perfumes and lotions blend, we drink in the elixir of His Divine love. It smells good.

The Girl Who Raised Me

The night of my first conversation with her father, her name was his answer to my question, which he later confessed had annoyed him: “Was is your favorite word in the English language?”

In my defense, I had only been in his country a week, and words fascinate me. He fascinates me. “Serenity.” One-word replies still characterize him and still leave me thirsty for more. As foreign and exotic to me as the man who spoke it, the word cried out for his explanation which became the conversation which became our love story.

She was the newborn who looked at me, one-day-old baby eyes calmly present and truly seeing me. As if she understood everything around her, as if she had known me for a long time, while I was just beginning to explore our relationship.

Maybe that explains why her earliest sentences all began, “When I was the mommy and you were the baby…” – and then she would lecture me in how she, in a reversed world she seemed to clearly remember, better handled whatever I hadn’t done to her satisfaction. “When I was the mommy and you were the baby, I never talked to you like that!” “When I was the mommy and you were the baby I always wore business clothes.”

Because her older brother was so ~ shall we say rambunctious ~ her quieter mischief went under my radar till I discovered that my four-year-old daughter had created a power structure that mysteriously made him do all her chores while she maintained control of the situation. Bribes may have been involved, but I’m not sure I ever heard the full story.

Bewildered, I realized I somehow had to step into that elaborate system, but her emotional appeal was way above my pay grade. “You don’t even know who I am! At all! I’m not made to clean my room; I’m made to have a maid!”

In retrospect it’s funny, but I looked into those big eyes sobbing with righteous indignation, and I honestly wondered if I was somehow violating her design.

She had me at hello!

Needless to say, I had much to learn, and most of it, the hard way.

Throughout her childhood years, she would articulate subtle nuances in relationships and situations with much quicker accuracy than I could begin to catch up to, so I learned to listen (while still insisting on chores and such, though rarely convincingly.)

A fiery tango, equal parts love and war, tension and joy, that was our dance together until she left for her six months journey from Hawaii through Asia towards her adult autonomy.

She’s marrying her Jonny Young Guns on the twentieth birthday. 16 days from now. They’ve had to fight fiercely for their young and unique love to be respected. And they’ve won it!

In the dentist office this morning, i looked at the stunningly composed lady that’s my daughter and asked her advice on a few things. Knowing love looked at me again through those baby blue eyes, and as her perspective patiently counseled me, I head her toddler voice’s firmness again, “When I was the mommy and you were the baby…”

And I’m realizing that she always raised me more than I ever did her.

We are One

A cool Antigua wind breathes into the white tent where we are gathered to worship, to seek His face, and to find fresh strength together. From all over the world, we are one.

“Quiero vivir cerca de Ti
que sea real el cielo en mi”

As the first soft, almost whispered words from the song move through us, the breeze intensifies. A slowly rising rumble – understated strength – and I know that my goosebumps are not from the wind.

“El gran Yo soy, Tu eres digno
no hay otro poderoso – el gran Yo soy”

He is here.

The mother in front of me is on her knees, others on their toes, reaching toward heaven, and I – my soul emptying before Him, I’m watching a private slideshow of the past three weeks here:

Naked children’s feet running through filthy mud, gashes exposed to the germs that surely thrive better than anyone else in the garbage dumps of Escuintla. I still feel Lionora’s eight-year-old arms around my neck, and unformed questions in her eyes still burn. Does she know why her mother wears so much make-up and glittering jewelry? When her baby brother stops nursing, mama has to go to work…

A kick in my gut, I feel the unspoken longing in the handicapped teenage girl, laying alone in a hospital bed while most of the others in her ward are outside in wheelchairs. Compassion streams uniquely from each one in my team; I hear Erica’s husky singing and Merlyn’s young laughter, and I know Bruce is wheeling a beaming girl around and around and around out there. The girl behind the bars of the bed inside never turns her eyes from mine, as I helplessly stroke her hair and whisper that Jesus loves her.

And He does.

That’s why we are here. Not one of these hurting children is unseen by Him, not one of their fragile futures hopeless. Wave after wave, He sends us, His hands and feet to the least of these, to look into their eyes and touch their skin and penetrate an otherwise dark world with His eternal light.

Maybe, at a cafe with friends, I might form lofty opinions, theories on social justice or theology on suffering…. But here, I’m quieted by reality. By His unmistakable Presence.

“The mountains shake before You the demons run and flee
At the mention of the name King of Majesty
There is no power in hell
Or any who can stand
Before the power and the presence of the great I AM”

Back in the church tent, I look around and see the little army of young lovers of God, who left everything behind to be the tangible presence of the Great I AM, wherever He calls them. Allowing Him to peel layer after layer from their souls, till His own is freely reflected in theirs, they openly welcome us close enough to know that this is all real. They are part of the answer to the questions in Lionora’s eyes.

Their stories bleed into mine, into one multi-faceted redemption story. We once were lost, but now, we’re found, were blind but now we see. Beauty from ashes, rebuilding ancient ruins….

My inner movie shifts to the breathtaking mountain scenery where wild flowers grow close to volcano ashes, and the 2500 meters’ altitude cannot but alter our perspective. Even the most beautiful places on earth are marred by the fall, and even the most horrendous conditions are penetrated by His beauty.

All of this is temporary.
All of this deepens in me the longing to infuse every moment with eternity. To dip my hands in heaven’s colors and paint my little portion of this earth with His hope.

I am not alone. We are many who continually commit to do exactly that, and more than anything else under this white tent today, I am awed by our great I AM who shapes His people into His image and somehow lets His heart beat through us.
Tomorrow’s taxi will carry us through the winding roads of Guatemala, past indigenous villages and the ever-present Walmart, and our airplane will defy gravity, lifting us home to where we are primarily called.

My heart scattered over three continents, I hear Pastor Luis and his hilarious sidekick of an interpreter read:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

The Lord is One!
His people is One!

“Aleluya santo santo Dios poderoso el gran Yo Soy
Tu eres digno no hay otro poderoso el gran Yo Soy.”

(Photo Credit: Bruce Klaiber)