This Grace In Which We Stand

Martha’s brother is dead.

Jesus did not come, even though she sent word. He loved Lazarus. She only asked Him to do for His friend what she had seen Him do for total strangers.

But He did not come.

He waited.

For two full days after she sent word, Jesus did not take a single step in her direction. Because He loved her.

“Now Jesus loved Martha… SO … He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:5-6)

How on earth could such a delay be motivated by love?

So many things in my life are dying. I have begged Jesus time and again to come and heal. Nothing happens. Nothing good anyway. Bad to worse? Sure. But not so much with the miraculous healings. I don’t understand. Other people get the miracles. Why not me?

When Jesus finally arrived, Martha’s brother had been dead and in a tomb for four days. Martha is all about doing the right things and so she greeted Jesus with all the faith she could muster.

“If You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now,” she says, and I imagine her choking back a sob, gritting her teeth to say the words that a good follower should say, “… even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus says what she would never think to ask and cannot bring herself to imagine.

“Your brother will rise again.”

Oh don’t go there, Jesus. Don’t turn my pain into a spiritual metaphor.

But ever dutiful Martha plays along. “I know…” she says again. She puts on her “good faithful follower” face and says the right words to show she’s read her Bible.

Jesus knows Martha’s heart. She understands the scriptures better than the most learned Pharisee, but she is still on the outside looking in. He reaches His hand through the veil.

“I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe?”

“Yes Lord.”

Yes, I believe You are who You say You are. I believe You will do what You say You will do. Someday. In the distant future that I can only imagine in the way that I imagine winning the lottery. Sounds amazing. But not likely to happen anytime soon.

And then Jesus really pushes it.

“Take away the stone.”

Martha tried. She really did. In the midst of deep grief and unbearable loss, she went to Jesus. She honored Him as Lord. Submitted to God’s higher plans even though it hurt her so deeply. But to open the tomb – to rip the scab off her wound in front of everyone – so that her loss was so unbearably real that it would turn the strongest stomach? This is too much.

“Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

Please don’t make me go through this. Leave well enough alone.

But that is the one thing Jesus will not do. He loves Martha too much to leave her with even the most theologically robust two-dimensional faith. He wants more for her. For us. It was because He loved her that He came exactly when He did.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Martha has no more Sunday School answers to give. Everything happens now quickly, in bold dramatic fashion.

(I imagine Martha and Mary standing to the side, holding hands, tears streaking their faces. Did they flinch as the stone was rolled away? Did they sob harder as Jesus prayed aloud thanking the Father for hearing His prayer? When He called for their brother to “come forth” did they want to double over in agony? Or was the air so electric with His power and authority that their tears stopped and their eyes widened in breathless expectation?)

And then, right in front of her eyes, the impossible happens. Martha’s dead four days and decaying in the grave brother walks out of the tomb.

(Honestly how did she and Mary not just faint dead on the spot?)

I do not know what to make of this. Like Martha, I know what the Bible says. I think I understand God’s plans and promises in a general sense. I know there is hope in light of eternity. But here? Now? Today? I’m speechless. In the world I live in, dead people stay dead. Not just people. Dreams. Relationships. They die and there’s no resuscitating them. There’s only grieving and finding a way to move on with a hole in your heart.

I look again at what Jesus said to Martha, just before He raised Lazarus. “If you believed… you would see the glory of God.”

Jesus did not come when Martha called. He did not perform the miracle she asked for. He went far above all she could ask or imagine. He brought the dead to life again.

I have no idea what Jesus has planned for me and all that is dead and decaying around me. It seems that God rarely performs the same exact miracle twice. Because, I am learning, it is not about the miracle. It’s about His glory.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

“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 the hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 5:1-2

Stand Firm and See

There’s a prayer in the Old Testament that I find myself praying on the regular these days:

We don’t know what to do. Our eyes are on You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

“I don’t know what to do, God.”
This situation seems to go from bad to worse. This relationship that I have invested my life in is disintegrating before my very eyes. Everything I say, everything I do, only seems to make things worse. I have been brought to the very end of myself. I surrender. I lay it all down. I admit I am powerless.

My eyes are on You.”
All the fight has gone out of me. I am so very tired. The storm keeps blowing and I don’t feel safe in my little boat. You, Jesus, are my only Hope.

It’s there, in that place of total surrender, that God speaks. His answer to that Old Testament king had three parts. Three steps for every battle I face in this life.

“… Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…. the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

  1. Take up your positions.
    Put on that full armor of God. Figure out who you are and what matters most. Boundaries have to go around something – what is worth protecting at all costs?
  2. Stand Firm.
    “…after you have done everything, stand” – with that belt of Truth buckled tight. There are days when standing looks more like kneeling. More like laying prostrate before my Lord, my face wet with tears. But in my spirit, I am standing on the Rock, the firm foundation that will never ever let me down. The earth may shake, but the ground beneath my feet is solid.
  3. See the deliverance the LORD will give you.
    Keep those eyes on Him. Don’t falter, don’t look away. And don’t confuse my ideas of how things should play out with God’s perfect plans. Sometimes deliverance looks like going into a fiery furnace. Like spending the night in the lion’s den. Those three men who took up a position to honor God at all costs came out of the furnace – without even the smell of smoke on them. And Daniel walked out of that den in the morning “and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed God.”
    “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” See the deliverance the LORD will give you.

    Hold on my friends.

    The night is nearly over.

    The day is almost here.

pselaphao

We don’t grope for things in the light. 

Grope is a word we use for struggle. 

For when we are lost and cannot find our way. 

When the darkness is so thick it’s palpable and our usual way of seeing fails us. 

In the black of the darkest night or the deepest cave, you can open your eyes as wide as you want, you still won’t see a thing.  

When he preached to the Greeks in Athens, Paul used this word – pselaphao – which the New King James Bible translated to “Grope”. Other versions say “reach out” or even “feel their way” and these are good, but I don’t think they go far enough. The Amplified translated it “grasp” and that comes closer I think. Grasping implies holding on for dear life. Like if you let go you will fall. Sink into the depths. 

I know the feeling. The world has shaken, hard, and the ground around me has fallen away. A storm blows through and there is wreckage everywhere. At times like that, it doesn’t feel like enough just to “seek” God. I need to grasp Him. With both hands.

And if we can’t see God – maybe we don’t even know where to look, or our eyes are utterly useless because all around us is deep, overwhelming darkness? We turn to one of our other senses, the one that usually takes a backseat when it comes to belief. “Seeing is believing” we say.  But when our sight fails, we need to feel our way.

The day that Jesus rose and walked out of the grave and appeared to the twelve in the upper room where they sheltered, disillusioned and asking themselves what comes next… they looked at Him and did not believe their own eyes. They saw Him die. Saw His beaten and disfigured body taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. It was impossible for Him to be there, in their midst. They must be having a shared delusion. Perhaps He was a ghost. It was not joy they felt in that moment, but abject fear. 

And so He gave them a gentle invitation: “Handle me and see…” 

Pselaphao

In your darkness, reach out. 

Feel your way. 

Grope for Him. 

Grasp His hand.

Paul told the Athenians that God made us so that we would seek Him, “in the hope” that we would grope for Him and find Him. He will not leave us alone in the dark, blindly waving our hands around, grasping nothing but air. “He is not far from each one of us,” Paul assures those who will look, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” 

He is not a figment of our imagination. He is real and He is near. 

As close as your next breath. 

As close as your very heartbeat. 

In Him we live. 

In Him we move. 

In Him we have our very being.  

“And Lo {see!},” Jesus whispers, “I am with you – ALWAYS.”  

Spark*

She was not especially ladylike.

Her laugh was big, full, boisterous. She loved a good joke. She danced around the kitchen her arms open wide – she was never one to fade into the background.

Spark

Martha embodied the word with her fiery red hair and rebellious freckles. All of life was an adventure – from the time she was run over by a local priest, to the day she accidentally set her house on fire – her childhood was the stuff of stories.

Growing up with a grandma like her filled me with a sense of adventure. Possibility. I want to write stories about a girl like her. She inspires me. Ignites my imagination. Her zest for life and her ability to laugh at the days to come are just the spark I need right now. In fact, I think the world needs as many Marthas as it can get. She’d love the idea of sparking a revolution of Joy. I can hear her laughing at the very thought.

*This week I’m participating in Hope*Writers Instagram writing challenge. Each day has a one-word prompt. Today we were encouraged to think about what sparks our creativity and imagination.

Rest

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

“Come,” He says. It is an invitation. One that requires no special outfit or preparation. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God” the psalmist says and the word he uses for Rest is also translated to be silent and still. To be astonished. Stopped in our tracks.

I think back to a day when my Beloved invited me to follow him down a narrow trail into a wood hushed soft with thick moss and years of gentle decay. A delicate fog enveloped us and I was certain we must have stepped into a dream. The only rushing came from the river that accompanied us. The noise in my mind settled and I breathed in air so fresh and filling I felt doubly alive. Every few steps I would stop and look up at a huge fir with branches that filled the sky. Astonished. I could not help but smile and even laugh aloud, so full was my joy. To be there, in that magical place with one who loved me walking just a few steps ahead; joy indescribable.

That is His invitation. To walk with Him. Let go of all that weighs us down and follow Him down the path.

Look up.

Be astonished.

And in that place, I discover where my Hope comes from.

And I find Rest.

Slow

“Slow.” Such a nice, quiet word. An invitation to breathe deep, sigh a sigh of release, let go. I light a candle and put on quiet music and sit with my Bible and a calm hush comes over me. In that place of retreat from the chaos of the day, I feel safe and whole and true. And just a little bit smug. Because look at me, so good at being Still and Knowing God and how good am I at this Slow thing? So good.

But there is another Slow and that one I am not on such good terms with. It is the Slow of waiting on God to untangle the knots of relationships and circumstances that hurt.  An ache behind my eyes, a weight on my chest, a lump in my throat that is so constant that I have forgotten what it feels like not to have these ever-present reminders that All is Not Right in my world. It is praying every prayer in every way I can formulate, laying the burdens at His feet, releasing all the things. I trust You, I say and I mean it, I do.

And I don’t.

Because what is the plan? And is there a timeline? How can I know any of my prayers are even being heard? What if nothing ever changes? What then? And now my heart is beating faster, and my prayers are getting too specific, full of my plans and my priorities and how can it not be His will to do what I am asking? I am asking good things with sincere intentions. Thy will be done, I say in a tone that is quickly turning into a tear-filled beg, “Thy will be done – on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

And He turns my eyes back to the pages of my Bible and reminds me how His will is done here on earth. It is Abraham hearing a promise and waiting twenty-five years to see it fulfilled. It is Joseph having a dream of greatness only to find himself dropped in a pit and sold into slavery and thrown into prison, all, somehow, on the way to that dream being realized. It is Habakkuk, asking God for Justice only to learn that God’s ways look nothing like what he imagined and will cost him everything. “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vine… Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Even if I lose everything. Every. Thing. These were not just words for Habakkuk. It was his future and he knew it. And yes God promised that He would make things right but that day most likely did not come while Habakkuk lived on earth. That is a kind of Slow I cannot wrap my head around.

“All these died in faith [guided and sustained by it], without receiving the [tangible fulfillment of God’s] promises, only having seen (anticipated) them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

(Hebrews 11:13 amplified)

I don’t belong here. Some days the not-belonging is so strong I can hardly breathe the air in this place. But even that is a gift. A reminder. If I never see my prayers fully answered here, on this shore, all is not lost. And in the waiting, there will be moments of joy. Laughter comes in the midst of tears.  Sun and rain mix together, and a prism of color stops the world in its tracks for a moment, awe overtaking our mindless rushing. His all-surpassing peace comes in the here and now, sometimes in the candle-scented moments, and sometimes in the middle of a storm so loud the candle blows out and the thunder shakes my house. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness,” Peter assures us, “… He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish.” God is active. He has a plan. Those relationships that feel so impossible and hopeless? He hasn’t given up on any of them. The darkness is as light to Him. There is purpose in the Slow. I blink back the tears and hold on to the Truth that feels so contrary to what my eyes can see. I accept the invitation to breathe deep and wait for my heart to quiet its rhythm. And I pray. I believe Lord. Help my unbelief.

Where Do I Begin?

The sky is a solid pale gray today. The rain comes in that haphazard way of most Northwest precipitation, large drops gather on the eaves, weighted heavy with January thoughts.

I sit in my recently renovated “guest den” that was once my daughter’s domain, and I wonder What comes next?

I waited through many seasons, motherhood being my primary vocation and requiring so much more of me than I ever could have conceived.  It wrung me dry. I asked the Lord to let me be poured out for my family and the reality of that prayer was so much more than I bargained for. Let that be a lesson to me – the Lord is not to be bargained with. He alone understands the terms and I speak from a place of ignorance and bravado.

I have always wanted to write. Stories. Novels. Places of escape and adventure, of emotion and transformation. I have taken many runs at it but always fall short, gasping for breath, frustrated at the pace and my seeming inability to progress.

All of my excuses are gone. New ones have quickly taken their place. But there is something about Fifty. It’s not just an age, it’s a doorway between Eras. It is letting go of childish ways and looking around at what remains. For me there is more than candles on a cake, pages of a calendar. The earth beneath my feet has been shaken. It has opened wide a chasm and threatens to swallow me whole. I am the girl laying on the ground, her fists grasping the long grasses so tightly her fingers are raw and red, eyes swollen with tears, face wet and muddy. And I am not letting go. I know Whom I have believed. And while I cannot tell you much with any kind of certainty right now, I know without a doubt that I am here for a purpose.

I love God’s word. Do not take that as pious posturing or some kind of code. I mean it plainly. From the day that God called me I have chased Him with my heart, my soul and my mind. My mind is insatiable and when I get onto a topic, I don’t want to know only a little, I want to know all there is to know. The thing about God’s word is it is completely unlike any other human resource. It is infinite. It never runs out. It is living and active. So, no matter how much I read, there is always more to learn. Early in my faith walk, I was fourteen or so when God spoke to me in as close to an audible voice as I can attribute to what resounded within the confines of my own head and heart, and I was all fired up in the way that fourteen year olds tend to be. Those who raised me and thought they knew me far better than I knew myself were certain this was a phase, a quirky sort of rebellion. I was afraid they might be right, so I prayed. I prayed hard and I prayed often, “Please God, don’t let this be a phase.” And I devoured His word. I read it out loud to myself every day, chapter by chapter. Decades later, I’m still just as hungry. I have tasted and it is so satisfying that I can’t get enough.

I want to share this with you. In this time of COVID and hyper awareness of germs it’s almost unthinkable to offer someone a bite of your meal. So let me hand you a fork; you can take a clean plate if you’d like, it’s all the same to me. Though I can’t promise you will be safe from contagion. In fact, I rather hope that what I have found is highly infectious. Taste and see.

That’s what I’m doing here. It might seem contradictory, the cries of terror intermixed with shouts of praise… tears fall and sometimes it’s nigh impossible to pinpoint their source. But I think that’s life. And I’m here to write about it. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation – whether you know the Jesus I know or think I’m just a bit crazy, you are welcome here. Pull up a chair.

Keeping my eyes wide open, because God’s love is here, even on the hard days.