The Lord is near.

Shylah1

My three-year-old niece, Shylah, is in the ICU. Doctors just discovered a very large mass attached to her lungs. It’s looking like it could be non-Hodgkins lymphoma. They will know more on Monday when they plan to do a biopsy. The growth is very large and she’s very small. It probably goes without saying, but it’s really scary. I’ve been a wreck ever since I heard. My heart is breaking for Shylah and for her mom and dad, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.

This morning, in my personal devotions, I wrote out the following verse and the following thoughts in my prayer journal:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  – Philippians 4:4-7

“The Lord is near.” Today, that one little sentence stood out to me more than it ever has before.

The Lord is near. Emmanuel. “God with us”. God with me. God with Shylah. God with Shylah’s mom and dad. Not, “the God of the universe looking down from some distant throne” – but, the Lord is near.

 

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)  The Lord is in the hospital room. The Lord is with the doctors. The Lord is with Shylah’s brothers. The Lord hears the questions, the tears, the anger.

The Lord is near.

He is not, however, empty-handed. He offers peace. Not “zen”, not “world peace”, not a two-fingered peace sign…but peace that transcends all understanding. Peace that will blow your mind. Peace that doesn’t make sense, given the circumstances. Peace that must come from outside of ourselves and what we can manufacture.

What is required of us? Prayer. Prayer that involves both requests and thanksgiving. The requests come easily, the thanksgiving, a bit slower.

Thank you for preserving her life thus far. Thank you that the tumor is shrinking after three days of steroids. Thank you for the doctors and nurses, knowledgeable and compassionate. Thank you for faith and hope. Thank you for prayer warriors rising up across the country. Thank you for the invisible tie that binds those of us who are in Christ Jesus. Thank you for listening. Thank you for moving.

We need you to MOVE.

Do it, Lord.

And when you do, we will give you ALL the glory.

from ashes to bird song

Today is the first morning all week that the air hasn’t been full of little, white, fluttering bits of ash. It’s been a little surreal each morning, seeing lots of white bits pirouetting through the air, almost like the first few tiny snowflakes in a winter storm. It would have been beautiful to me, except for what it represented: a huge wildfire, burning out of control not too far from my community. The ashes represented loss, fear, and sweat (on the part of the firefighters). These tiny snowflakes of destruction were present all week until yesterday morning, when rain – beautiful rain – fell for a few hours. As someone who values sunny days over just about anything, I’ve never been quite so happy to see it rain as I was yesterday.

We all know the terrible aspects of wildfires…the destruction of trees, both young and old; the loss of wildlife and their habitats; the risks to life and limb for our brave firefighters…the list goes on. Once the fire has stopped, it seems as if the life of the forest has come to an end. It appears as though the almighty Fire has won, and life as it was before is no more. The fire is followed by weeks of smoldering, smoking devastation and what appears to be death.green growth after fire

But wait – is it death, or just dormancy? There are amazing things happening under the surface after that fire. Things the naked eye can’t see – at least not at first. There is a rebuilding of cells, a sprouting of seeds, and before long – a miracle happens. A tiny green shoot! A bird song! Signs of new life where only devastation had appeared not so long ago.

As I think about those ashes and that fire, I see a correlation to my own life. Have you ever walked through a time of devastation, grief, and loss, and felt that you were destroyed? I have. I’ve had times where I felt that the old me had been completely obliterated by grief and there was nothing of me left but ashes. Miscarriage, betrayal, disappointment, health crises, a child with a big diagnosis…all things that have touched my life (maybe yours too) and felt like all they were going to leave me with was ashes.image16

But they didn’t. Oh, there have been plenty of ashes days. But they’ve been followed by new green growth days. Even some bird song days. And there’s been a dawning realization that as I’ve clung to my Rescuer, each forest fire in my life has actually cut away the parts of me that needed it. The old growth, the stagnant ways, the lack of compassion for others…all diminish and eventually disappear in the path of the wildfires of my life. I, myself, do not completely disappear. I am not completely destroyed. What I am, is changed…forever…for the better. Granted, it doesn’t feel like it at the time, but when I look back I can see that just as a vintner must prune the grapevine regularly, and in a certain way, in order to produce the best grapes, so the wildfires in my life have been doing a sort of pruning in me. Removing my self-sufficiency and increasing my dependence on Him. Growing my compassion and understanding for others. Increasing my faith through every experience of Jesus catching me when I fall, and lifting my burdens when I bring them to him.

If you are in a season of wildfire in your life right now, don’t despair. Our God is in the business of bringing beauty from ashes! Cling to him, give him time, and have hope…your bird song days are right around the corner.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

– Isaiah 61:1-3

Colorado Wildfires

Why?


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I have one child in particular that asks that question about everything. Why does it work that way? Why did you say that? Why does the earth revolve around the sun rather than revolving around Jupiter? More often than I’d like to admit, I don’t really have a good answer for her “why”. And then there’s that one time out of ten where I just can’t stand it anymore, and in a moment of desperation, my response is “Because I’m your mother and I said so!”

Lately I find myself asking that same question of my Father in heaven. “Why? Why was my son born with so many disabilities, while so many other children are born perfectly healthy? Why, when I have so much to DO, am I saddled with chronic fatigue that is often debilitating? Isn’t it enough that I have to care for my son’s every need at the age where he should be much more independent? Why, Lord?”

There’s this constant battle inside me between asking real, honest questions about my circumstances, and allowing my focus to rest on my difficulties rather than on my Savior. As soon as that starts to happen, it is so easy for me to descend into self-pity. I have to give myself a virtual cheek-slap and use every bit of willpower I’ve got to make a choice: I will choose to worship Him rather than indulging in self-pity. I will choose to go to His Word rather than a self-help book or an article online. I will choose to be grateful.

And maybe I’m asking the wrong question, anyway. Maybe instead of asking “Why?” I could just as easily be asking “Why not?”. I was never promised that my life would be a bed of roses. In fact, as a follower of Jesus, I was promised that I would suffer (John 15:20). As soon as sin entered the picture in the garden of Eden, I was guaranteed life in a broken world. So, when I encounter suffering in my life, I can choose to respond in one of two ways:

I can focus on my difficulties, indulge in self-pity, specialize in navel-gazing and generally descend into despair because the object of my focus – me – does not offer the hope, help, or peace that I so desperately need.

– OR –

I can focus on my God, engage in worship, specialize in gratitude and gradually learn contentment because the object of my focus – God – offers all the hope, help, and peace that I so desperately need.

I’m encouraged when I remember that when I encounter suffering, it helps me to identify more with Jesus (Philippians 3:10). And as much as I wish it could happen some other way – being like Jesus is something I really do want.

Now if I could just learn to walk through it the way he did…with grace, humility, and an ultimate surrender to the will of the Father.

God, help me.