Friday, November 20, 2015

Paths Prepared Ahead of Time

Picking up again with the backstory. The blog posts included here that were not previously shared have a title next to the date. That is how I saved them at the time, when everything I wrote was in the form of a potential blog. Many were never published. Eventually, I copied and pasted all of them and put them in a word document, which was the start of my journal.

October 15, 2011

As I have been reading the Bible, I've been discovering that it's much easier to understand if I read it one book at a time, as opposed to one chapter at a time. Chapter by chapter, it's harder to understand the building themes and main points.

Of course, there's no one way to read it, but just for myself, reading it book by book has really opened up my understanding of it. It's also really helpful to know who wrote it and the audience they were writing it for.

I've branched out into the books of the New Testament, bit by bit. I can only do so much before I'm overwhelmed by information and concepts, and all my old beliefs that Jesus is taking away now, piece by piece.

I've been familiar with the Bible my whole life, but I don't think I ever really  saw it or experienced it as well as I am now, and as it is, I'm far from understanding it yet. I don't think a person ever really can completely understand it. I think it must continue on revealing wisdom and perspective and insights all one's life.

After I've read as much as I can take in, I like to go back and read the gospel of John. I like just thinking about what is true of Jesus- like the fact that He is my God, but also my big brother.

How amazing is that? How amazing is it that we are in the family of God Himself? And not in any temporary or merely symbolic way, but actually born again, born of the Holy Spirit. So, when I begin to say the first part of the Lord's Prayer, I get struck by the wonder of it- "Our Father..." it begins.

I'm saying it with Christ, and together we are saying "Our Father..." His Father is also my Father! How incredible! How vast and unknowable and beyond anything I could ever deserve or earn by my small human actions.

And I like to think about how Jesus is the only and uniquely begotten Son of God. The very nature of God is to be in loving relationship to Himself! It's something too wonderful to grasp.

And, from reading John, one gets this glimpse of an incredibly loving relationship between them. Jesus is always doing only the thing that pleases His Father, because He loves His Father. And His Father is always glorifying and loving His Son, because He loves His Son, and the Son does His will. Jesus is giving God the glory, and God is giving Him the glory and so on and so forth.

In a documentary recently, I watched the story of Abraham about to sacrifice his only son. God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, whom he loved, and give his life to God. Of course, at the last minute, God stops him and spares his son.

It struck me right to the heart, because the son God spared Abraham, He did not spare Himself. He did not spare His only and uniquely begotten Son from being slain. He didn't stretch forth His hand and say, Stop! This is my only begotten Son, whom I love and in whom I am well pleased. You won't touch a hair on His head!

There was no ram in the thicket for Jesus- no one else could shoulder that load, no one else could lay down their life, in order to take it up again. He had to pass through it and drink the cup right to the dregs.

Of course, we know why. It's so that, together with Christ, we can say, "Our Father."

October 15, 2011

It's beginning to make sense to me, in a new way, why Jesus says to keep our worries limited to one day at a time. One day is a human sized portion of life- to try and take on all the rest of it at once is just too daunting. One day alone can contain all the agony of defeat and all the thrill of victory more up close and personal than any one remembered year.

This morning, when I logged onto the Biblegateway, I found this verse. It was in the NIV, but I switched it to the Amplified Bible, because it's just more beautiful in that version:

"The secret [of the sweet, satisfying companionship] of the Lord have they who fear (revere and worship) Him, and He will show them His covenant and reveal to them its [deep, inner] meaning.

My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net."

-Psalm 25:14-15

I was logging on to look up this verse:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement), Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God."
-II Corinthians 1:3-4

Isn't that beautiful? I wonder how many verses in the Bible just lie there in waiting, ready to blossom open into a deeper understanding at the right time.

Speaking of what's in the Bible, I've been telling Jesus that I wish He had put more in the way of the Gospels in there. I wish I could see more of what He did and said. Whenever I reach that part in John that says that there were many other things that Jesus did, so many that if they were written down the world itself could not contain them, I always feel such loving frustration! Why even mention that if he wasn't going to record even one more?!

When I bring this up to Jesus, He tells me that I can see and know Him, living, in my own life. He's writing a living story with my life and He's all through it, right with me. It's not a story that many people will ever know, but it's still authored by Him.

Then, this morning, I read this:

For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].
-Ephesians 2:10

(What a mind blowing book Ephesians is, by the way! My goodness.)

And Jesus reminds me that it was better that He should go away, so that the Comforter could come.

And He is comforting! I used to read that and think, yes, yes, in theory, His is comforting- in practice, He is demanding.

But it was my own awful self-judgment that was demanding- it was the implacable law that was demanding. Jesus Himself is comforting. When He teaches and guides me, He is loving and gentle. When He corrects me, I hardly know it, it's so natural and loving.

The things He asks us to do, I am realizing, are common sense. The fruit of the Spirit are principles to live out and grow into in a holistic way, as opposed to specific formulas that we memorize and follow by rote.

At the end of the day, as I'm lying there in the dark, beating up on myself, Jesus steps in and contradicts me left and right. He really is comforting and encouraging, in very practical and specific ways.

Actually, for a while last night I was so lost in self-condemnation that I kept myself away from Him. That's the major problem with self-condemnation, in my experience. My shame cuts Him out. And that's very unfortunate, because-

"For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning.

Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God's unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]."
-Hebrews 4:15-16

Fearlessly, confidently and boldly! Wow. But did Jesus suffer as He did for less than that? Was He crucified so that we could timidly and shamefully and fearfully entreat Him from a safe distance?

No, clearly. Jesus prefers us to be confident in Him and close to Him, leaning on Him and talking with Him and casting all our cares upon Him. We do this one day at a time.

October 19, 2011 Love

My goodness, Jesus was close to me last night. I fell asleep in His arms. That sounds so impossible! How can that be? I perceive this, but I don't see it. Anyhow, I don't know how to explain it. I keep thinking of what Jesus said to the woman at the well:

"God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration."

-John 4:24, Message

In the night, I like to dwell on what is true. I start at one point and branch out into more truth. My spirit is the very breath of God, and like all life, I am sustained and held together within Christ, who created and moves through everything. In Him everything is held together, including me.

Last night, it was as though in my spirit I actually heard Jesus’ heart beating. I kept putting my ear against it. I was so aware of His scars. I couldn't see the features of His face, because now we see through a glass, darkly. But I know Jesus, even without seeing Him clearly.

This morning, I read:

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires and secret petitions of your heart."

Psalm 37:4

Actually, that whole Psalm is very beautiful. I used to read such things that talk about those that are righteous, or perfectly righteous and feel this kind of despair. Now I read it in a whole different way. My righteousness is Christ's.

I'm beginning to realize that I am His girl. That's my primary identity. It's not from anything I did; it's what He intended all along. My choice is either to reject that identity, or to surrender to it.

And, boy, do I ever surrender to it! I used to keep myself from it, because I was ashamed. Now that Jesus took my shame away and heals the wounds that cause it to well up, I can lean deeper and deeper into His love for me and my identity in Him.

Lately, I've been reading from the Old Testament. I asked Jesus to show Himself to me, and He is, in the Old Testament. To be honest, it's quite mind blowing. I've gotten to Exodus, but I move around a lot, following the footnotes sometimes. They usually take me in and out of Isaiah.

So, I was reading in it, and I found this and I sat there stunned, motionless, as this whole picture came together:

"And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice--not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.

"You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God.

"You [Judah] shall no more be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land be called Desolate any more. But you shall be called Hephzibah [My delight is in her], and your land be called Beulah [married]; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married [owned and protected by the Lord].

"For as a young man marries a virgin [O Jerusalem], so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."

Isaiah 62:2-5


I have not read this for two years; I had forgotten about that passage. But two or three years ago, when Keith was deployed, in my old blog, I had written a post called An Unexpected Evening. It described when I had been reading aloud from the Bible at random to some of the elderly residents of the assisted living home where I worked.

January 2nd, 2009: An Unexpected Evening

"I know the service has been cancelled, but it you'd like, I can read out of the Bible to you," I offered.

There was some brightened faces and a little dialogue as they all checked in with one another. In a moment it was clear that yes, they would. I dragged a chair over to them and one lady came over closer; we became a cozy little group.

"Is there anything in particular you'd like to hear?" I asked hopefully. There wasn't, of course. They couldn't have recalled a passage, even if they had wished to. Time had taken that away already.

Left to myself, I turned to Isaiah, remembering that there were some beautiful passages to be found near the end. It took me a while to locate the book of Isaiah, but the ladies waited peacefully while I flipped through. I stopped at the first chapter that looked promising and began to read aloud.

The language was especially heavy, more so than even the King James Version that I was accustomed to as a child. It required me to read very slowly and deliberately, and to enunciate with care.

As I read along, I got to this part: "Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."

To my horror, my voice thickened as tears welled up and spilled over. I stopped reading and cleared my throat, embarrassed.

"...and I'm crying," I announced wryly. The ladies were gracious about this. I took a deep breath and went on for a little bit until: "The LORD hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured..."

Again, I had to stop, put the book down and wait until the tears receded. "...and this is making me cry again," I said unnecessarily, when I could speak. I regrouped. "OK. Moving on..."

I managed, with some other sticky moments, to get through the chapter. "Now let's try something lighter," I said with relief. "Maybe something from the New Testament. I like John."

The ladies all murmured appreciatively, their eyes bright, so to John we went and my eye fell upon one of my favorite chapters. I was relieved; this surely would hold no hidden emotional pit falls! Ever the hopeful one, me.

Enjoying the familiar poetry of the passage, I read along for quite some ways with steady, confidence cadence until: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

"Alrighty then," I said, pausing to clear my voice. This time was especially embarrassing because a care manager was right beside me, giving one of the ladies her evening medication. When I say I began to cry, I don't mean a little tear glistened. I mean my voice became thick and hardly understandable and tears overflowed my eyes so that it was hard to see the words.

We ended up our evening with a passage from Romans:

"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

"And we'll end on that," I said, closing the Bible and accepting that I had been, after all, conducting a service. "It's a nice thought to end with; that even when we don't know how to pray, or what to pray for, that God Himself knows, and prays for us."

"Yes, that is a nice thought," spoke up one lady, her voice suddenly clear, her face alight in that moment.

"Thank you so much for reading," said another lady, warmly and graciously. She had been the one waiting so patiently with folded hands when I had first seen the group.

"Okay, okay!" I said to Him as I walked back to the desk, feeling both amazed and relieved. "I hear You!"

I know that passage in Isaiah is not really about me, it's about Israel, but Jesus was saying something to me through it, and to remember it again in light of everything lately was mind blowing to me. Everything went out deep and wide.

October 20, 2011

There's a scarlet cardinal outside on the front lawn- he blends in with the leaves scattered across the grass. The sky above has that deep quality of blue that it only gets this time of the year.

Keith is mission commander of yet another training mission teaching lieutenants how to drive, load, and fire in M1A2 Abrams tanks with live rounds for a week at a time- it's his eighth one in a row. It's the result of what he likes to call "performance punishment."

He's completely in the "let's get this done and done right and done right away" mode of thinking. When he comes home, he is worn out and exhausted. As soon as he's settled on the couch, I crawl up next to him and snuggle in. He can't stay awake for more than an hour and when I wake him to go to bed, he wakes up arguing about procedure and red tape and it takes him a while to realize where he is.

Right now, I'm so aware of the good things that surround me. Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I walked outside into the thin sunlight and just watched the blue sky and the wind in the leaves. Life is good.

In the four weeks since this all began, I've kept on expecting life to go back to normal at some point. But now I realize that it never will. I will never go back to normal and my life will never be the same.