Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
We got rained on here recently – possibly as much as ten inches in ten days, thanks to a train of tropical thunderstorms that threaded up from the Gulf and never seemed to stop.
They were welcomed at first because we needed the moisture but then became a problem as angry, deep orange blotches of weather continued to darken our weather radar map and dump their loads on Piedmont North Carolina before moving on to wreak havoc in southern Virginia. The rain not only flooded our yard but saturated the soil so much that several large trees in the neighborhood simply fell over from their own weight.
Water also invited itself into our basement. By the time we thought to check, enough had seeped through the cinder block walls to soak the carpet and made its way into piles of boxes that had sat on the floor for decades.
This was the basement we’d threatened to clean out since the kids finished college, the one chock-a-block with years of school work, report cards and drawings stretching back to kindergarten. Plus ancient records from my business, stacks of moldering old magazines, shelves full of slides and videotapes and other would-be treasures that we'd ignored for the best part of 30 years. Well, so much for that. It was now rubber-meets-the-road time.
Out went a dozen or so second hand cabinets we’d thought to make into a basement kitchen. Heavy furniture and filing cabinets got moved so carpet that smelled like a high school locker room could be cut out piece by heavy piece and get dragged around the house and up to the driveway (mostly by my 37-year-old son, who finished one nasty job and miraculously was game for another). Platoons of boxes got sorted through, some soggy, some not; some kept, some not.
In a way, it was … fun. Our adult children pitched in, including a daughter who’d arrived from Seattle for the family’s annual beach reunion the previous week. We had all threatened since practically forever to get together and dig into the 40-odd years of would-be treasures that had accumulated “down there,” and, as Providence and enough rain enough to float a boat in would have it, this was the time. So we enjoyed our togetherness in the basement and during trips to the recycling center and dump. Grandchildren spiraled in and out of the work, as well, adding their brand of energy to the occasion. And there was plenty of food.
Which all sounds like a blessing to me.
Water is mentioned or referenced something over 700 times in the Bible, from Genesis, where God moved upon the waters, to Revelation’s, “pure river of water … clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” But when I think of water in Scripture, the picture that comes most to mind is Jesus asleep on a cushion in the disciples’ fishing boat as a storm rages on the Sea of Galilee, with “waves breaking over the boat so it was being swamped." (Mark 4:38) The fear must have been great for them to dare awaken an exhausted Jesus (the unusually fierce storm appears to have arisen rather quickly and surprised the experienced fishermen). But awaken him they did, with words that don’t shout from the pages of Scripture as much as I think they could have but clearly must have been tinged with panic.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (I would have added a few exclamation points here, but Jesus appears to have responded to the crisis with equanimity.) “Then he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” After which Jesus turned his attention to the storm raging in his disciples’ hearts.
“Why are you so fearful,” he questioned. “How is it that you have no faith? And they feared exceedingly and said to one another, ‘Who can this be that even the wind and sea obey him?’”
It’s so easy to panic when unanticipated storms blow into our lives, at least in my experience. And for believers it is so unnecessary, because our sovereign God - the Lord for whom all things are possible - is on the job, even when we’re so consumed with fear that we about fall over from our own weight. I’ve been there, and I’ll be there again, no doubt. But I can count on the Lord to show up every time, even if it takes a while for me to open the door of my fearful heart enough to let him in.
A little bit of water in the basement is no big deal, as it turned out. It was only a teacup full compared to the floods from Hazel, Hugo, Katrina and Harvey - or the monster hurricane that churned up the Connecticut River Valley in 1938. Our mom remembered watching from her front steps as river water bubbled up through the sewer grates, covered the street and ate the sidewalk before it climbed up the porch, snuck under the door, filled the basement and the whole first floor before leaving a mess that must have been leagues worse to deal with than our puny basement thing.
I never heard much about the cleanup part of her flood, although she loved pointing out the high water line on the kitchen wall. But I can still imagine her fear as the normally placid river reared up and invaded her life. But her flood passed, and so do mine.
Thanks to the Lord, asleep on a pillow in the back of my boat.
Oh, how we hate having others tell us what to do! We value our independence, yes, and are conditioned from childhood to “stand on our own two feet,” but also are asked to live our lives within boundaries set by society - parents, teachers, etc. By the time we finish our "education", we’re so tired of being told the ways things are supposed to be that we fairly leap out into the world and begin charting a new course, one of our own making, and sometimes stray so far from the values prescribed by our upbringing that, within a few years, we hardly recognize ourselves. The way we look, think and act changes, often to the dismay of our parents, who forget that they once trod a similar path and grappled with many of the same issues as they roll their eyes at their offspring’s behavior today.
This experimentation with life at the borderline may be one reason we bristle so at the idea of organized “religion,” especially the oh-so-dogmatic and narrow proclamations of the church. We begin scratching the itch of other ideas, fresh ways of relating to the Cosmos, and encounter spiritual paths far different than the one we were taught because, after all, there are easier paths to God, aren’t there? That old Sunday school God seems so outdated in a world of otherness: rational thinking, diverse opinion and "fairness".
So we stumble around in our exuberant blindness, preferring to come to grips with the world on our own rather than have Somebody Else direct us, not comprehending that God has a plan, a great gift, wrapped up for us and ready to go. Instead, we slash at life’s briars and brambles, chopping our way through whatever forest of circumstance we are lost in, using improvised tools rather than the precision ones God has crafted for us. We keep tripping and falling but are expected to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again,” as a popular song from several generations back once suggested.
Which works pretty well, until the problems start. That’s when we discover, sometimes suddenly, often painfully, that life doesn’t always follow an easy path. Hope gets shattered in so many ways: accidents happen, jobs vanish, health deserts us, people disappoint. Beautiful dreams vanish as if they'd never existed, and we are left confronting dashed desires with little understanding or appreciation for what has been going on or where to turn next. Or maybe nothing dramatic happens and life goes on pretty much as expected -- except for that gnawing feeling of emptiness creeping up on us from behind. We drift off the path. Relationships weaken and falter, the ones that were supposed to last forever. We forget (or perhaps never knew) about God’s promises, and sometimes all that just seems so far away. Didn't God promise to bless us? At least that’s what we recall hearing in Sunday School.
God did promise to bless a man named Abram, although we forget that before the blessing came trouble. Abram, along with his wife Sarai and their extended family, decided to flee the land the Lord had promised him. Famine was afoot, so they packed up and moved to Egypt, and lest you think that sounds easy, Abram was 75 years old and they had to haul all their belongings with them. Eventually, he had a major tiff with Pharaoh over Sarai and was sent packing “with his wife and all that they had” back to the place they had started from in the Negeb Desert.
So much wandering and wondering.
Then Abram received another promise from the Lord, even after a good deal of whining about not having an heir. Consider God’s astonishing response to the future Patriarch: “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Gn 13:14)
Even later, after rescuing his brother’s son Lot and defeating a group of warring kings. momentary difficulties from which the Bible spares us the difficult details, the Lord reminded Abram that his “reward shall be very great.” (Gn 15:1)
God’s promise had been spoken (several times now), and Abram had been put through a good fire or two, but still he persisted in going his own way instead of waiting on the Lord. It’s HARD to wait! Waiting does not come naturally or pleasantly to most of us – certainly not to me. The older we get, the more we grouse and grumble about what has yet to happen in our lives and the easier it is to take things in our own hands and try to make them happen (the way the world has conditioned us) rather than wait on God.
When Ishmael, Abram’s son by his wife’s handmaid Hagar, was born (this was barren Sarai’s strategy to take things in her own hands and produce an heir), Abram was 86. It would be thirteen years before he heard again from the Lord. Abram was a year shy of 100 when God reminded him of the promise: “I am God almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly … and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham … I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you …” (Gn 17:1)
Then God added icing to Abram’s cake, promising to give Sarai, whom God had renamed Sarah, a child (the name change expressed the Lord’s new covenant relationship with Sarah). Abraham must have thought that the promise of a child the best joke of all time, because “he fell on his face and laughed.” By that time, Sarah was 90, and the likelihood of this old couple having a baby was as remote as their youthful dreams. And, besides, there was Ishmael, the son born to Hagar, to consider. Here’s this perfectly good kid already growing up, so why can't he carry on the line? Nope. That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. God had other plans for Ishmael. And for them.
Even so, it's easy to look the world in the eye and disbelieve. “After I have grown old and my husband is old,” Sarah exclaimed, laughing to herself after having eavesdropped on Abraham’s conversation with the Lord, “shall I have pleasure?” (Gn 18:12)
The Lord heard Sarah's doubtful laugh and inquired of Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He might well have added “in time,” because so many years separated the time when Abram and Sarai fled to Egypt as a young couple and the birth of Isaac, when Abraham was over one hundred. In between, there were times of trial and torment, happy everyday life, multiple changes of direction dictated by circumstance and growing doubt that God’s promises would ever come true. Not to mention the stubborn decisions to take things into their own hands because they were tired of waiting, although Abraham did pass the Lord's final test on Mount Moriah with flying colors and the world was transformed as a result.
As so many biblical stories reveal, God frequently allows us to work ourselves into situations from which there seems no escape, little hope for redemption short of his sure hand. But we love our independence and, therefore, often find ourselves flopping around like fish on a hook. We miss out on God's great blessing, the gift he's been waiting for us to open since the beginning of time. We miss out on being used by God. We miss what could prove to be the most satisfying -- and surprising -- adventure of our lives. So, when doubt, despair and discouragement seem overwhelming and life isn't working out the way you might have imagined, consider ceding everything you are and everything you'd ever hoped to be to God. Then watch what happens.
Because it's true. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.