Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Gift that keeps on giving

It is New Year's Eve.  I am alone except for She Who Hides Under The Bed.  It is a crisp, frosty night, turning your breath into little puffs of white vapor.  I've just been blessed with a guest speaker at our church, talking about prophecy and how very many have been fulfilled in the last 60+ years, starting with the regathering of Israel. 

The New Year will begin soon, and only God knows what it will contain.  This year will unfold more prophecies, more events foretold by His faithful ones thousands of years ago.  It is astonishing to realize that how many prophecies have been fulfilled in my lifetime!  Even more astonishing is that He has chosen me to be His child, and has sworn Himself to be my Father. What a gift!

But then, our God is a generous Giver.

He has given us so much - life to begin with, and then Life if we have asked Him to enter in.  Everything about God is rich with giving.

In His Word, the word "give" and its derivatives occurs roughly 2100 times. (statistics from Acts & Facts, the magazine of the Institute for Creation Research)

It is interesting that the first occurrence is when He created the great lights in the heavens to give light upon the earth (Gen 1:15) as God Himself  is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. How fitting it is that this season is heralded by light - dancing on rooftops and outlining every bush.

The last mention of giving is in Rev22:12 - from Genesis to Revelation, God is a giver.

The greatest mention of giving is, of course, in John 3:16: "for God so loved..."

That pretty much sums up our God doesn't it?  For God so loved us all that He is ready and willing to give us Light whenever we need it.  He gave us the greatest Light of all time and eternity in His Son, and through that one act of giving bought our freedom from the darkness of the slavery we had been sold into by Adam. 

And each day He gives us the grace needed to deal with whatever He has allowed into our lives - and that includes CI.

Thinking of CI as a gift of God to be thankful for ...well... it's a bit difficult sometimes.  But nevertheless, it's true - everything that touches me He has ordained.  It is not some cosmic mistake that I am ill, it is a chosen path He has presented me with, a path that will last as long as He wills it.  And looking back over the last 24 years, I can see some of the blessings, and can honestly say there are many things about it that I am thankful for.

Primarily, it has taught me that He knows, and He is able.  Those two things enable me to leave the details in His hands.  He knows each day what He has chosen for me, and He is able to keep me safe through it.

Sometimes though, His opinion of "safe" and mine differ a bit.  That's when the fear sends me flying to His lap, choosing to worship where I don't understand.

Don't misunderstand me - I do not burble happily through each bout of pain or whistle a happy tune through the fear.  There have been days lately where my main prayer has been not to pass out from the pain - a severe bout of sciatic nerve pain has begun and I dearly hope it will soon be concluded!  It's hard to understand the whys and wherefores - but God has never promised to explain Himself to me.  He is the Creator, I am His creature - and I have no right to demand explanations.  He wants me to trust Him, and I have no doubts whatsoever of His worthiness, His faithfulness, or any of the other things that make Him a trustworthy person. 

And so I set my face like flint and I trust Him. Sometimes, I confess, through gritted teeth.  And when I can, I thank Him - for many things, my illness among them.  I trust there is a reason for the pain and the darkness and the fear.  And I can see that each time I trust Him through some difficulty, I learn something new about Him, His love, His ways.

A friend introduced me to the concept of having a single word be the focus of a year (or week or a month - whatever you choose)

And so, for the coming year, I have chosen the word "teachable".

I want my spirit to be open to what He has for me - whether it's a bend in the road of my CI, a formal class opportunity, a new path, new lessons wherever they are.  Perhaps a new way of journaling, combining my art with my writing - I don't know.  Whatever it is, I want my heart to be open to it.  I want to concentrate on hearing His voice, doing His will, being what He would choose for me to be - and rejoicing in it, even in the midst of discomfort. I want more of Him and less of me, more being able to say "Ahhhh!  THAT'S what He meant!"  More worship.  More prayer.  Less murmuring, less letting pain win.

When this time comes around next year, I want to be able to say, "thank you for using my illness to teach me things I could have learned no other way.

"What an awesome Gift it has been."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Christmas Play

I wrote this years ago - yet, with the arrival of the Christmas season, I bring it forth every year.  It never fails to make me cry, because this is a true story.  It happened in the midwest in the late 1950s, before the mention of God was banned and prayer in schools was legal.  I pray it blesses you - and if you've read it before, perhaps a second reading will bless you, as well.

The Christmas Play

The first grade class prepared for the Christmas play with great enthusiasm, especially Karl. Karl was what we used to call "slow," He tried so hard to fit in, and wanted so much to help with the yearly school play,  that his teacher moved him from task to task, trying to find a place where he would fit.

Painting scenery didn't work out, his donkey looked like a dachsund, and no one knew exactly *what* his palm trees looked like.

From there he went to props, where he accidentally knocked them over, then to the choir of angels where he lost his halo, and on through the list of helpers. His teacher couldn't bear to crush his open, giving heart.

Finally, she decided to make him an innkeeper.

All he had to do was open the painted cardboard door and say gruffly, "There's no room!" and shut the door.

Rehearsals went well. Karl enjoyed being gruff and "slamming" the cardboard door as best as he could. And finally the big night arrived.

Parents dropped off excited children and found seats in the auditorium. The jumble of voices died as the curtains opened.

Backstage, Karl's eyes grew bigger and bigger as the play progressed. With everyone in costume and the bright lights on, the cardboard and bathrobes really looked like wood and eastern cloaks. He could almost hear that donkey clopping down the Bethlehem street, and didn't that man look dusty and tired, and his wife seem exhausted and hungry?

Mary and Joseph passed the first inn.

"There's no room!" the innkeeper shouted, his beard falling off as he flung the door shut.

The few steps to the next inn seemed to take all of Joseph's energy...

"Please, sir, my wife is great with child and we have no place to stay..."

"Go away! We're full up!" the next innkeeper growled.

Karl swallowed twice as the couple came towards him. He'd practiced so hard, but now the words weren't fun anymore. Suddenly he heard the knock on his door.

"Please, sir, my wife is great with child, and we have no place to stay."

Karl swallowed again. Then he forced the words out. He tried to bluster and yell, but the lump in his throat wouldn't let him.

"There's no room," he whispered, and as the tired, disappointed Joseph began to turn back, the tears in Karl's eyes overflowed.

"Wait!" he called as they began to move away, "Wait! You can have my room!" And with that he rushed through the door crying, enveloping Joseph in a big bear hug.

Pandemonium broke loose as parents laughed and cried along with him. Joseph hissed, "That's not what you're supposed to say! Lemme go!" and, finally, the teacher came onstage to comfort the sobbing Karl who would not let the struggling Joseph go free. They never did finish the play.

Some of the children say that Karl ruined the Christmas pageant that year.

Their parents, however, remember the tears in Karl's eyes and the love in his heart, and they are not so sure.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

And He looked at all He created and called it good.

I took a watercolor workshop a few weeks ago.  When I was AB it was one of the things I loved most - I belonged to a calligraphy society and had the blessing of studying with some of the biggest names in the Calligraphic art world.  It was pure joy.

What is it about creating something that nurtures the heart?  Whether you do it with art or music, spray paint or pots and pans,  it leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and delight.  Two of the workshop tasks were these :

I had never drawn this way before - the techniques I learned were worth the price of the workshop. It has been several years since I was well enough to take a workshop - and I had several people praying for me so I could last for two days.  I didn't make it all the way through the second day, but did make it 3/4 of the way.  I was thrilled. There is something about calligraphy and watercolor that really speaks to me - sort of like visual poetry.  And I find that fascinating because God calls us His "poema", His poem, in the Word.  Each of us is a masterpiece of design unmatched by anything man or any other being can create.  Man thinks he's such a hot shot, but he cannot create life - even though he stridently maintains that life "just happened" on the earth and "evolved" from there.  If it was so easy, why can't he figure out how to do it? How laughable is evolution when it talks about a "simple cell" that was formed from lightning (or something -  they're not sure) striking the primordial ooze on the earth's surface?  They don't tell you that a "simple cell" has DNA, the most complicated structure man has ever seen. If even one chromosome is imperfect there are horrible anomalies in offspring. It's akin to throwing everything that you need to make a watch into a paper bag, thumping it with a mallet, and expecting a watch to fall out! That "simple cell" somehow developed, full blown, an eye.  According to evolution, anything that doesn't work gets discarded - and there are so many working components to an eye that if even one was missing the eye wouldn't work - and evolution would have discarded it.  The myths of evolution read like some fantastic science fiction, which it is!

If you think it is real, please, just for one moment consider:  there is a flower in South America whose stamens and pistil resemble a female wasp.  The male wasps emerge before the females, and, thinking that the pistils are a female, the male investigates, and in doing so pollinates the flower.  Now, imagine the odds of something like that happening.  The wasp is the lone pollinator - how did the plant survive while "evolution" did its evolving over "millions of years.?"  No one can say. 

Why is there no fossil record of one species turning into another.  Surely one lizard-becoming-a-bird took long enough to be captured by the primordial ooze!  No one can explain that.

And what about the spider that lays its eggs in a stream by blowing saliva bubbles, diving,  coming up to get more air and blowing another bubble it adds to the first, and finally, when there is enough air in the bubble, it lays its eggs there and climbs out of the water.  While it was learning this essential behavior, a  million spiders would have drowned and the others would not have been tempted to keep at such a senseless exercise.

All of these are a ginormous leap from coloring changes in moths (dark moths congregate on dark trees: change the color of the tree to white, and the moths become white, ie., the moths that survive are the light colored ones because predators eat the easily seen ones.)  There is a world of difference between a light colored surviving moth and a lizard becoming a bird.

But I digress (sorry). Learning how to capture an image and compose music are two ways the spirit soars.  I call it a sense of wonder - I feel the same way in the awesome forests of Big Sur, near Carmel and Monterrey in California.  Or standing on a boat watching two blue whales, the largest creature on earth, circle around the boat while feeding for an hour.  Why does "wonder" or an appreciation of beauty happen?  There is no evolutionary benefit from my heart being filled with wonder and joy - yet it happens to every human at one time or another.

God gives us a little taste of the joy He experienced when He molded man out of dirt and breathed life into him.  We were created in His image - and being able to feel joy in creating something is part of that image. I am so very grateful that He gives us moments when we are "surprised by joy" as CS Lewis put it.  He could have made us able to live in a white, vast wasteland like the moon.  Or a world of molten methane lakes and waterfalls like Venus.

But He didn't.  His love for beauty and perfection stirred Him to create an unimaginable wonderland in that first garden.  This earth is tainted and torn, worn with age, groaning to be delivered - and yet, how the vast stretches of unimpaired nature move us, and how we thrill to the power of gigantic surf or the colors of coral reefs.

What must Eden have been?


That seems to be the question on everybody's mind, doesn't it?

Bear with me here, I'm trying to think this through.

This week my pastor brought up the question of murmuring.  We all do it.  We compain about out aches and pains and how difficult being CI is.  And yet, the pastor said, If Jesus never did one more thing for us than He has already done in saving  us, we would have nothing to compain about for the rest of eternity.

It's had me thinking.  I'm sure it's had a lot of us at my church thinking.

God is generous with us.  From behind the filter of CI it doesn't come to mind that often.  But it's nonetheless true.  He ministers to us more than we know, and I think one of the great surprises and joys of heaven is going to be when we get to see that all the time He was right here with us, as close as breathing, keeping us safe.

But we're not safe, you say.  We're sick.

Reading Romans (Paul again!) vss.1-6 in the Modern English Translation (Berkely translation) Paul tells us that we should glory in our afflictions.

Can you imagine that?  I have, never once, considered glorying in my illness.  Yet, that's what he says:

"Since, then, we have been pronounced righteous through faith,let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we also obtain through faith entrance to this grace in which we stand firm, and rejoice in the hope of God's glory.  Not this alone, but we glory in afflictions as well; for we know that affliction produces patience, and patience develops a tried character, and character begets hope, such hope as does not disappoint; for God's love is poured out into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. For when we were still helpless, Christ at the proper time died for the ungodly."

So then, our CI is working into us patience and tried character and hope - and God's love is pouring into our hearts.  Wow!  that's a lot!

Perhaps that is why God entrusted us with these afflictions.  He wants to develop in us things that we wouldn't get from a busy AB life.  Although I don't feel more patient, I trust that the Word is true, and something is developing in me that God prizes, and the means of that development is my illness.

Now, I realize, as Amy Carmichael said, that I am writing for those who know far more than I do about the awful, trampling power of pain.  She talks often about how in acceptance lies peace.  And I have found it to be true in my life

Pain draws us close to God.  CSLewis said God whispers to us in our joys, but shouts to us in our pain.   That's because when we are in pain, we hear better.  We are listening. We are not distracted by the busyness of daily living.  I know that when I was AB and out and about, working and supporting myself and "taking care of business"  I didn't listen well.  I still feel like I don't listen well, but He finds ways to speak to me - most often when I least expect it.

I  met a man at a church board meeting in Seattle whose spirit has become so very sweet through pain - it's left me deeply humbled .  He hasn't swallowed anything in over 20 years - his cancer and radiation and surgery removed his salivary glands, part of his jaw and tongue.  He speaks with slurred speach and receives nourishment through a tube, and yet he comes to Christmas dinners and smiles as others chow down and the joy just radiates from him - he still has a michievous look in his eye and is great at teasing. I have a  feeling I couldn't do that in a million years.

But God didn't call me to do that.  He didn't call me to do what you have to do each day either.  He's called each one of us to a walk that He intends to grow us up and give us wings.

Too often I forget the wings part.

The Word says all the ways of the Lord are good.  All.  Not some.  All.  Not "all except my illness."  Not "all except this part that I hate". It says "all."

So back to the original question at the top.  "Why?"

I am not a theologian.  I am a sinner saved by grace because if it wasn't for that grace, I wouldn't be saved.  But I think the "why" of illness has to do with the fact that God has a plan for our lives, for good and not evil.  He has promised to restore all the years the locust has eaten - and if CI isn't a locust, I don't know what is.  He has so many promises in His Word to sustain us and give us peace, but they can't come to us unless we accept His right to do as He wishes with us. I firmly believe He is the only cause of anything that happens in our lives.  This illness came to me directly from His hand.  It came to me for good and not for evil.  He hides treasures in the darkness the Word says - but sometimes it takes awhile for our eyes to get used to the dark.  And CI is an excellent way to teach us to see in the darkness.

Have you ever noticed that the tiniest pinprick of light shines like a beacon in the darkness?  And just think, God's being is light itself - "in Him is no darkness at all". James tell us there is no shadow of His turning - because He Himself is Light.   He is using our CI to give us keen eyesight in the darkness, to see the treasures it holds, to appreciate His light - and to form patience, and character and all the rest. 

Is that not enough reasons to answer the "why?" that the evil one whispers in our ears?