Pray for the Refugees: An Advent Devotional – Day Fifteen

I can’t help but experience a heaviness in my heart today as scene after scene of war-torn Syria pops up in my newsfeed. A lone child stands among abandoned and charred buildings; a desperate man pleas for help from a global community which has no idea of the terror he is experiencing at this moment. Hopelessness seems to have the upper hand as thousands upon thousands of people are literally fleeing for their lives. Uncertain if they will survive another day. Wondering if they will kiss a sleeping child tonight or if they will instead stare death in the face.

15492098_10154698040610833_4131045083309417411_nWondering if the world has forgotten them.

The reality of these people’s lives is completely unknown to me. The suffering they must be enduring is beyond my comprehension. The terror they are experiencing is one I cannot begin to grasp, even in my worst nightmares.

Here I live, sheltered on the other side of the world. Distanced from their tragedy to the point that today I will most likely forget their suffering. My home will be filled with the noise of baby giggles and laughter as I care for my visiting grandchildren, while other grandparents are mourning the silence left behind in death’s wake.

What am I to do with a weeping world? How do I begin to extend hope or to cradle a humanity writhing in such despair?

My only chance in extending hope is to take the weight of this world’s hurt to Father’s doorstep. To bow my knee before a gracious throne and weep with the masses, humbly petitioning Immanuel to visit those who are beyond my reach. To pray for Jesus to once more descend to be with.

As I was reminded by a Facebook post concerning this devastation happening in Aleppo: We are not in a vacuum in the United States. This is a global crisis with no easy solutions. I feel helpless but not hopeless because I can pray. We can all – at least – pray.

And so I bow my heart and lift my voice to the One who hears, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come Immanuel and be a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.

Won’t you join me?

FOR REFLECTION
While I realize the tone of this post is heavy, it is a critical time for so many. There are thousands of people who need our prayers and our financial help. Now more than ever, the Syrian people need the body of Christ to rally around them. Local native missionaries are mobilizing in relief efforts, so please do not hesitate to act. If God is moving you to financially help bear the burdens of Syria, you can donate through Advancing Native Missions today. They are a faithful and reputable organization with whom I have partnered for many years. You can donate here: https://goo.gl/yOIAm4

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Learning to Nestle Instead of Wrestle

Shaken and soul-weary, yet sustained. That was my 2013 in a nutshell.

And here I stand still.

Calmer.

More steadfast.

More assured of a God who is present always – sleeping peacefully in the stern of my boat, regardless of the mounting, stormy waves.

He was there.

Is here.

And He cares.

For me and for my loved ones who were rocked so ferociously this past year. Sifted like wheat, chaff falling by the wayside as the heads of grain were laid bare.

Shaken.

Sifted.

Strengthened by Spirit’s hand.

Held.

Kept.

Secure despite the insecurities of rapidly-changing circumstances.

And me?

I bore the storms less graciously than perhaps I had wished. But I bore them. I bore them best when I placed the burdens to rest upon the Shoulders wide enough to bear them for me. Not just with me, but for me. And as the burdens were lifted one by one, my arms were strengthened to carry more. Reverse exercises seem to work best in the spirit realm. The more I release, the stronger I become.

While storms had hit many times in the years leading up to 2013, those storms provided much for me to do within those moments of waves crashing. There was care to be given to others. Decisions to be made. Doctors to be seen. Meals to be prepared. Medicines to be sorted and administered. Finances and paperwork to be organized. Therapy exercises to be practiced. Wounds to be bandaged. Even funeral preparations to be made. There was always some sort of physical application that brought relief  to others and allowed my grief and frustration to be used up in my times of serving.

There was healing in the doing.

Not so this past year. The storms of 2013 hit far beyond my capabilities to protect. Far beyond any ministrations of tangible help. “Pray and trust” became my mantra as I rallied beneath its banner and lifted so many precious ones in prayer… over and over and over again.

Soul-weary was my constant companion.

Tired of the hurt. Exhausted from the bad news and heartache surrounding me on so many fronts. Worn out from storms that required everything of me while taking nothing. No act of service. No physical care. No organizational skills.

Nothing… and yet, everything.

Last year took everything of me. Stripping me bare. Raw. Hurting. Messy. Weary. So very tired of the aching. Tired of too much and not enough walking hand-in-hand.

Even the safety of words was shaken as emails were infiltrated and accounts were hacked. Aliases and hedged messages became commonplace. Everything guarded. Me, most of all.

Yet in my guardedness, God guarded me. Never slackening His hold, though I often felt tossed about like a rag doll in the wind. He never ceased caring, though Satan taunted me with the lies. In the storm, the underlying “pray and trust” held firm. When all was beyond my control, not one thing happening was beyond His. And it still isn’t.

Not. One. Little. Thing.

All is in His care because He cares.

The more this past year was shaken, the more firm my foundation became.

Has become.

Is.

Though the tremors and waves still remain beyond my control, I am at rest. But this time I am resting with eyes wide open to see the heart of the One who is breathing peace and sharing it with me. I’ve found my place in the storm, and it is not at the helm, panicking in my pleas for the tempest to cease. It is at the stern of the boat, snuggled securely beside my Savior. Enveloped beneath His cloak, matching my heartbeat to his own as I press my weary head against His stalwart chest and rest in His care. Finally at peace. Confident that He’s got this… whatever this may be. At any given moment.

No longer soul-weary.

No longer fearful of the outcome.

Choosing to nestle instead of wrestle, I press more closely to the One who calms me. Though storms rage fiercely all about, we rest secure… my Lord and me.

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To Carpet the Earth

The other day I read the following statement in a blog by Esther Emery:

Pain happens anyway. Do we spend our days trying to carpet the entire earth? Or do we wear shoes? Learn and teach how to live in the grief, work in the frustration, heal in the physical pain. Learn how to be the broken people we are, because that doesn’t go away.

I am so guilty of wanting to “wish away” life’s hurts. For myself. For my family. For my friends. If I had my way, I would carpet the entire earth so everyone had a smooth path to travel.

And I would be surrounded by a whole lot of weak people, myself included.

As much as I love going barefoot, sometimes I have to wear shoes. Because there are places that just plain old require that.

Going barefoot is only an option when the road is less than thorny. And all too often, it’s not.

In response to Emery’s statement of pain and brokenness, I began journaling my own thoughts…

I cannot remove the suffering, no matter how much I wish it away. But I can partner with others on this broken journey of sin-soaked soil and shine a little light in the darkness. No matter how dimly my little light shines. I can train my focus to turn from removing the obstacles for others; it is too exhausting for these fragile, earthy hands of mine. Instead, I can work toward strengthening myself in the divine. Toughening the calloused hands that embrace the broken pieces of too much living. Because the suffering will remain as long as His coming tarries. The hurts will always be here on Terra firma…

In the middle of my writing, I was interrupted by a phone call from a loved one. A  friend whose voice broke into tears almost immediately after my initial “hello.” While I waited in silence, her voice haltingly shared her most recent hurt. And I was faced with the urge to “carpet her earth” in that moment. To set her feet on a softer path where she could experience the joy of going barefoot through the softness of a journey that was all sunshine and roses – without the thorns.

Though it warred against my rising compassion, I resisted the temptation to pacify her heart against the convictions burning within her. I could not find a loophole that would soften the blow to her heart as I was reminded, in real time, that as much as I want to “wish away the pain,” I know it lies deeper than my hands can reach.

And so I listened. And loved. And prayed for God’s grace to grow and somehow overcome the hurt. The all-tied-up-in-a-knot emotions of a heart disappointed. I avoided preaching the “quick fix” mantras of Christianity, because there really is no “quick fix” for a heart hurting, no magical repair of relationships gone terribly wrong. There is only grace. And love. And that, we will always have, even while facing a circumstance that neither of us wished were true.

But to remind a broken heart while it’s breaking seems almost pointless. Even cruel.

After hanging up the phone, I picked up my pen and continued my journal entry with the following:

The hurts will always be here on Terra firma… But so will the light. And no matter how darkly the coverage of gathering storms clouds up the skies, the light will always be strong enough to pierce its thickness. So love through the hurts, walk hand-in-hand through the broken rubble, and trust the love that lingers when circumstances make no sense. Engage your will against resistance, and travel on. Together.

No, I cannot possibly carpet the whole earth and soften the blows of pain that are certain to come, sometimes with knock-out proportions. I can only train myself to rest in God’s love and take the brokenness that surrounds me before the One who makes all things new…

Even when our hopes have been shattered and our minds cannot begin to comprehend what He is up to.

So I will lace up my shoes – though I’d much rather run barefoot – and join you on this journey that stretches before us. And together, we will trust His love that lingers when the temporal flees.

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When Life is More Than Bumps and Bruises

Cancer. Death. Sickness. Marital strife. Persecution. Imprisonment. Loneliness. Isolation. Grief.

These are words that have become common in the lives of those surrounding me. This has been a year of being shaken by the massive quantity of hurt in this world. By the amount of hurt in those whom I love.

So how do I help to alleviate the pain?

How can I possibly tell a friend with cancer that “Everything will be okay”?

How can I console a friend in a broken marriage when there is no guarantee that there is a healing at the end of her painful struggle?

How can I encourage a persecuted brother who is living a life of separation from everyone he loves, from all that is known and familiar to him?

How can I press my hands against this bleeding mass of humanity that surrounds me when I only have two hands and a human body that is limited by so many of my own frail weaknesses?

The truth is, I can’t.

I can’t fix what is broken.

I can’t mend hearts.

I can’t restore relationships or stop religious persecution.

I can’t bridge miles of separation, nor repair the damage that has been inflicted by the forces of broken promises and betrayal.

But I can pray.

I can place my friends at the foot of the Cross and trust that He who heals the nations can heal the hurt of a loved one. That the One who restores the prostitute and makes her His beloved Bride can breathe life into all this brokenness and bring about a work of beauty. A rendition of redemption that only a Savior can cast and mold and make into a reflection of His glory.

And today, I must trust that my prayers are enough.

Enough for the friend with cancer.

Enough for the grieving parent.

Enough for the lonely wife.

Enough for the brokenhearted.

images Because sometimes life is more than bumps and bruises.

Sometimes the hurt penetrates to the core of who we are.   

But it never penetrates beyond the reach of a heavenly hand that promises to uphold and sustain through it all.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be shaken.” ~ Psalm 55:22

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

This has been a week straight out of Ecclesiastes 3:
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…

And my email inbox has proven it. I have received so many messages this week swinging with the pendulum of the highs and lows of “to everything.”

Photos of a new baby… requests for prayers for a family who is unexpectedly burying their ten-year old daughter.

A father’s brag book of his primary-aged children… images of a tornado-stricken elementary school that claimed too many little lives.

A friend who purchased a new home… families who have lost theirs.

Reports of a teenage daughter who is flourishing in her faith… continued prayers for sons and daughters who are struggling to stand strong in a society that is set to destroy their truth and morality.

And the list goes on as my heart swings back and forth with the rising and falling of the pendulum. With the birthing and the dying, the praises and the pain, the good news and the troubles, and all the myriad of arcs in between.

So what am I to do with all this swinging?

PRAY.

Pray continually, even when I’m weary of lifting the same petitions over and over.

Pray with thanksgiving, knowing that God hears every cry of the heart.

Pray with a faith that believes in the power of a Living God even though I feel so very powerless.

Pray and trust in the One who remains constant and steadfast in His care through every wild swing of the pendulum of this life.

Even. When. It. Hurts.

As my heart bobs and weaves with the sways of these “everythings,” I find myself bowing again before the One who sustains me. Thanking Him for His presence. Pleading for His mercies to extend to people whom I’ve never met, but with whom I grieve. Asking for His joy to remain full with those who are experiencing a time of blessing. Hoping that the blessings remain for an extended period of time, even as I pray the suffering of others hastens to an end.

For today, I am choosing to follow the lead of Romans 12:15:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

I will celebrate with the new daddy, and I will cry with the grieving parents.

I will cheer you on in your accomplishments, and I will wrap my arms around you when you fail, holding you close until you are ready to make that next attempt.

I will be your friend for this moment – whatever that moment may be.

Because your life is destined to morph and transform from one set of circumstances to the next.

Challenges, celebrations, trials, and triumphs.

Life is filled with seasons.

And God is Keeper of them all.

Autumn.

Winter.

Spring.

Summer.

The highs and lows of life swing back and forth

The joys and the sufferings rotate in and out, some staying longer than we would wish.

But none staying beyond the reach of an all-knowing and faithful God who has promised to provide His presence through it all.

Regardless of where the pendulum of life seems to have you swinging at this moment, may you feel His hand of love resting upon you.

Hastening the season of blessing…

Upholding you until that season comes.

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