Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Little Marvelous Gifts

Lazing into a gorgeous afternoon, drinking in the cool shade's breeze that brings with it the raw green aroma of a grassy field, intellect tickled by a heavy C.S. Lewis read, and as the zephyr plays idly with my hair I let the buzzing of a bee distract me.

A creature so small, so carefully crafted, fluttering from flower to flower with all diligence, I am elated at another small joy of creation joining me. The sight of my buzzing companion in the blissful moments reminded me of a great truth thrust upon me mighty and worthy of all wonder and jubilee.

This truth was found not in the trifling of a Sunday afternoon, but in the thrashing waves tossing me amongst scheduling and assignments and course syllabi and rules and meetings and all that is the first week at a new University, a 12-hour's drive away from home.

I began my week not knowing how specifically God cares for us,
how the little earthly things do, in fact, matter to Him.
 I had it in my mind, locked in, that the only great gift I can really expect from God is the gift of grace that is parading through His Word. Indeed, it is the greatest gift,
but I learned it is not the only gift.

For He bestows gifts in the day, the gifts little and insignificant and having such a small amount of weight in the salvation of foreign countries or the feeding of the needy or theological revelations or the grandiose things.

the things that matter to one young woman, one young woman a little bit homesick, a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit overwhelmed-- He is willing and able to be there and to love unconditionally there too.
I prayed a prayer like jumping into water for the chance it might give deep refreshment, like opening an unfamiliar door for the chance that it might be the best opening I've ever stumbled upon.
I took the chance at knowing just how radically specific His constant love could be

and here on this end of the week I can say His love reaches me in what seems trivial, in what is utterly earthly.

I celebrate with specific praise now that He provided me with friendly faces and fabulous time spent with newly  met sisters in Christ when I asked Him for a friend or two.

I celebrate His victory over my disordered thoughts creeping up slow, sneaking into this big life transition only to be decimated at the sight of my Mighty God. 

I celebrate His ability to let me focus on reading that Education textbook chapter that was particularly dull, yet with reluctance I admit, necessary.

I celebrate His care in allowing me to accomplish the long run I craved, with each footstep knowing there is power in the name of Jesus, from the glorious conquering of death, right down to the muscular energy to get up that challenging hill at the end of my run.

I celebrate the letter received from my Grandmother with a squeal of delight after praying for support from family, and a slow dwindling of the homesickness that stung at moments.

I saw that before I was belittling these me-specific gifts as too insignificant to praise at all in comparison to His spectacular sacrifice.

While these little praises indeed cower before the most praiseworthy gift He gave on a cross, I was denying His constant love in it's true nature-- always working, meeting me where I am with all my little desires and delivering sweetest salvation for each and every need of mine while I wait for Him, basking in the wild grace of knowing His promise of eternity while soaked in love.

So I will be drenched not only in utter gratitude, stretching out in praise for the ultimate gift of salvation, but I will smile, worship, and never underestimate the ways You work in my little, yet so deeply cared for life, day by day, here on earth.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

It All Begins with a Question

It all began with a question. Questions bombarded me in scripture today, and I shook my head.
I know better than that, thinking to myself, reading about the ancient questionings of a people who clearly didn't know how powerful God is.

How quickly the Lord strikes the high and lofty musings circling around the mind, stirring up more trouble than I can detect. His anecdote shocking, like cold water, but with that water comes refreshment beyond belief.

"Will the Lord always reject us? Will he never again be pleased with us?
Has he stopped loving us?
Does his promise no longer stand?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has anger taken the place of His compassion?"
-Psalm 77: 7-9

Some of these questions, how eerie their familiarity. I could have written some of these, I realize sitting in my new dorm room, in the strange and amazing new world of college, trying hard to stay courageous in the excitement of uncertainty, searching for Jesus everywhere at this university, and finding Him with delight. 

Heck, I could have written some of these yesterday, a soul humbled admits.

 And this soul humbled realizes the questions flow despite what God has done. And oh, how the lies thrive on the waiting period to see the miracles hoped for, how the lies give birth to hideous questions, questions outlandish about a God who has no limitations. 

I remember the story of the bread from Heaven and hope tugs at the corners of a solemn face and cracks a smile. 

I remember how they questioned God, "Can He really provide food for us?" and God was angry and God saw their lack of faith raw and naked and then grace.
Grace, and He gave them the "grain from heaven," there in the dessert, He gave them manna, the food of angels, undeserved.

I am not ashamed of the questioning, not weary in the waiting for direction, waiting for comfort, because if I do not know the answers, if I do not see them right here, right now, I have seen them plentiful and luscious in times before.

I remember the healing I experienced nearly a year ago when Christ transformed my life and made my soul fly.
I remember that I sit here in this dorm by God's great work in my life, when medical discharges and prior college plans died to give life to a plan more magnificent.

And then all of a sudden, looking at the past, the answers become present. 

And then all of a sudden, God's grace and blessings and answers and presence are here and I am loved beyond belief, despite doubts, despite fears, and despite the poisonous questions that arise. 

And all of a sudden, I know in my heart:

"Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it a great reward. You need to be patient in order to do the will of God and receive what He promises."
-Hebrews 10:35-36

And my heart knows anew this verse I'd poured over so often, 
my heart knows that the patience is the reward. 

In the patience, clinging to God, reliving the answered prayers and the promises splendid, as if they had happened in this waiting moment. 
And that is my joy this morning.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

When It's You

On my way to see a dear friend I hadn't seen in ages, I became the ones they talk about in the Word who love their wealth,

preached about as if they are not sitting right there in churches, nodding their heads thinking That could not be me.

As if they are not the ones who volunteer here and donate this there.

As if they are not the ones who spend free time studying the Word.

As if they are not the ones going to a Christian university in just three days, with aspirations to go on missions, to be like Christ and to love like Christ and to serve like Christ.

You know, the ones who are satisfied with their wealth, who are

"doomed to die like sheep, and Death will be their shepherd." -Psalm 49:14a

Yes, that was me for a moment there. 


Sitting on the train, reading my Bible on the way to Boston, a woman with the saddest face and the most starved frame and most abused soul entered the train.

"Excuse me, everybody," her voice dragged out the words as if it hurt to speak,

"I hate to be a bother, but my brother died last week and his funeral is in New Jersey on Monday, and I am just $14 short of the ticket cost, and I got mugged on Monday, and I'm pretty desperate."

Silence and stares packed the train so much I imagined it would explode with the tension.

And with an open Bible in my lap, I sat there just like anybody else, staring. 

Some folks even stared at me to see what I would do, the girl who had the nerve to crack open a Bible in public.

And still I sat there, closed my book, and wrestled thoughts endless, tormenting.

Of course the notion of offering her my last $20 bill came to mind. And of course the skeptic's caution echoed It's a scam. She's obviously a drug addict. Don't waste your money.

And like a breeze that had rolled in and out, she was gone at the next stop to try her luck on another train.

But the stillness of the realization of what had just happened was stagnant and suffocating within me.

I cherished the $20 bill in my purse more than the possibility that this woman was telling the truth. I denied her a moment that sure, she could have used and abused, but who knows what God could do when one gives.

After all, hadn't I just read, claimed to believe and absorb and know a promise true?

"He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts which they receive for us."
-2 Corinthians 9:10

Feeling awful, I could not shake it until the next morning. Because grace was left out of the equation. Grace came to remind, came to save, to reprimand, teach and raise higher the daughter of a king who tripped in the dirt and tore her fine robes and felt like the farthest thing from one who gets to be saved.

But, nonetheless, I am still saved and being sanctified and living in lavish blessings from a God whose love in truly unconditional. 

He wrote words that these eyes took in and were strangely comforted by:

"A person can never redeem himself; he cannot pay God the price for his life. because the payment for a human life is too great. What he could pay would never be enough to keep him from the grave, to let him live forever."
-Psalm 49:7-9

Ah, yes.

None of my good works, none of my generosity, none of my efforts out of guilt, or duty, or the filth that is my brand of righteousness, could ever keep me from the grave, could ever redeem, could ever undo these sins and make lovely out of them. Not even what those who read my words here on this blog may think of me after reading how I denied one who may have needed, how I was so blatantly un-Christ-like.

But this is the Good News springing up from the ashes of my imminent failure.

The Good News is not that I did the right thing. Because I didn't.
The Good News is not that I represented Christ well. Because I didn't.
The Good News is not that my motives were pure. Because they weren't.
The Good News is not that I will always do the right thing for the rest of my life. Because I won't.

The Good News is my price has already been paid and a Savior does live in me, and He does forgive and He is meticulously working on this sinner's soul and that it's not up to me, or what I do.

Furthermore, the Good News is that denial of that $20 bill, that moment in my heart where I had a selfish motive victorious over a giving heart, where sin really revealed it's nasty face,

it's dead.

But Christ in me is risen and has the victory.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A New Song

I remember early days where God made appearances and provoked curiosity and I knew He was good.

I remember and realize now that these days were indeed a passionate pursuit by a Savior who just wanted to know me, who just wanted to love me crazy, who just wanted to heal me, yucky sins and all.

I remember the old wooden smell of the Catholic church, the way my young eyes widened at the beauty of a sunset framed in a stain-glass window exploding with rainbow and vibrant and what I  imagined Heaven's light would be like.

I remember the taste of the Communion host, plain yet wholesome, subtly special; the after-mass games of tag whipping around the row of flower and shrubbery lining the ramp to the church doors, shrieking with delight, celebrating life and God and family and love and we-didn't-know-what, it was just giggles at dusk.

And I remember this song. Sung with my Mamaw's lovely song-bird vibrato up on the altar,

"Sing a new song unto the Lord,
Let your song be sung from mountains high!
Sing a new song unto the Lord,
Singing Hallelujah!"

What is the new song? I always wondered.

Today it all becomes clear, crystal, in a pristine washing of a soul muddied with fears and doubts, anxieties about a new school though the excitement also sparkles in eyes searching in for God's plan in the abyss of this next chapter, knowing I cannot see it now, but faith promises it is so, so good, and I am safe in Him.

"He taught me to sing a new song,
a new song of praise to our God." 
-Psalm 40:3a

Ah. Praise. 

Afterall, Hallelujah is "God be Praised," or "Highest Praise."

Something that seems so easy to do, but is so underdeveloped in my prayer life. It sounds like guilt, it sounds like shame to me, when I think about how I have trouble praising the God who has given everything and has bestowed endless love around me and it's so simple to find it everywhere, right?

And I see it is just like everything else in this life, the praise is not even mine to develop. Again I see it is grace, and He will teach  me, and this is the newness I needed that He offers, this is the refreshment I long for and He died to give: just to praise Him. Just to open up my day with the mercy found in praise. 

And sitting there in the favorite part of my day, morning soft with scripture abounding and coffee warming and pen searching an empty page for prayers and answers and relationship with Jesus Christ, 

sitting there I simply praise. 

Nothing complicated. Nothing sophisticated, elaborate, or embellished. No regimentation, no organization, just whatever comes to mind, because there is no right form of praise that will impress Him more than the next from a genuine heart made new. 

For the bird chirps all distinct and different.

For the promise of true love no matter what I look like.

For bright flowers blooming and the smell of fresh mulch after rain.

For my Dad's car there in the driveway, home safe and sound.

For the trial of my disorder so I can know the depth of Your love, the wild of Your mercy, the radical of Your grace.

For my sore, healthy muscles from a workout.

For the shocking pink of the hanging flowers.

For the buzz of airplanes keeping us safe overhead.

For the rustle of leftover rain dripping from the trees. 

For the jumpy birds hopping on the birdfeeder.

For the shade of purple polish on my toenails. 

 For Your constant love, Your righteousness, Your generosity, Your forgiveness, Your taking of my confession and whipping it 'till sin has perished and the Holy Spirit wins again.

Nothing too high above anyone, right where they are, just a new song to live by, to love by, to smile and dance in, to be wrapped with and not underestimate the power of His praises. 
One of my favorite authors has committed a pen to paper and that paper to a book and that book to the cultivation of hearts for thanking the Lord. 

She couldn't have said it better, what I am discovering here in this new song:

"And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me."
-Ann Voskamp, "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are"


Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Reunion to Remember

The Lord works in such strange and marvelous ways.

 And sometimes we are able to delight in the way the moments and months and chances and rejections and turnarounds all mesh harmonious in a way that could not be woven more beautifully, more perfectly.

I got the most in the magnificent delight in my branching out last night by faith.

You see, as I am about to go off to school, a feat that seemed too good to be true at one point, I remember how far God's love took me from that point of hopelessness, how extravagantly He overtook me with His grace not even a year ago, how He sent me an angel while the skeleton of me wept in a hospital bed.

That angel still walks the earth sharing her faith like a true soldier of Christ, passionate in her love for a Savior, and her name is Anna, and I wanted to just thank her.

Thank her for being God's faithful servant.
 Thank her for taking a chance, having to close the door of the hospital room to pray with me so we would not get in trouble, not knowing if I would be fruitful in my walk, not knowing if I would accept Christ, but having true tear-filled eyes of faith, lips proclaiming endless "Hallelujiahs," singing lullabies in her native tongue and in mine about God's great love, speaking unshakeable truth about having the victory in Christ, taking a chance and allowing God to change my life forever, because she was faithful,and because He is so, so good.

Heart pounding, fingers shakily punched out the phone number retrieved from a website, and another website, then being referred to a different department, then her manager leaving her a message.
What if she doesn't remember me? 
What if I got the wrong Anna?
What if she doesn't want to meet with me?
What if she thinks I'm some crazed psychopath?

Still God's reassurance ripples through me like a serene pond feels the ripples after a stone is tossed in. I called you to bless one who blessed you, and you will.
Simple as that.

And last night I found myself parking in the Baystate parking garage, going in, asking the front desk where the cafeteria was, and doing my best to recall what Anna looked like, meeting her for her dinner break. On the phone she hadn't remembered me at first, but was sure that she would once she saw me, and on faith I went.

Upon entering the cafeteria, instantaneously springing from her chair, eyes already glistening with tears of joy, arms outstretched in a snugly fitting hug and a welcome worthy of a long-lost family member, or a forever-close friend.

"God has opened my eyes, it all comes back to me now," her clear, song-bird voice exclaimed, "I remember you! But you look so different, you look so alive! God has healed you."

And immediately I was spilling, gushing in gratitude, rejoicing in this moment God had made. As I spoke her eyes shining with tears, gaze so direct, again Hallelujiahs frequenting her smiling lips.

"I wanted to come here to thank you for being God's faithful servant, for taking that chance in the hospital that night when you prayed with me and told me the story of the woman at the well," I explained with a grin that could not be cleaned off my face for anything.

"Yes!" she gushed, "And I wrote you verses."

"You did," I continued, "I read them every day, and they helped me so much. I still have them. I just wanted to thank you because that night was the night I accepted Christ. I was baptized this year, I am going to a Christian college, I'm thinking about being a missionary teacher, and I've fallen in love with Jesus Christ."

"Praise God," she whispered over and over, "Hallelujiah! And thank you for opening the door for me to share. It was God in both of us."

Then sat up in her chair as I gave her a copy of my testimony with her in it, she looked at pictures of my baptism, fists pumping in the air, and she said, "You really kicked Satan in the butt, didn't you!"



We laughed and she collected herself and took my hands and said, "You are going to produce so much fruit in you ministry. You are going to bless countless children in your teaching ministry, and you have the victory. It shines in you, and it is beautiful.

"And you know," she continued, "Satan's words are all lies. Remember that. We just have to tell him exactly what he is. A rotten, filthy liar who wants to steal the victory from us. For Christ has a wonderful plan, and it is going to do more than you could ever imagine."

Before I left, she prayed blessings over me. She thanked God for me coming to encourage her to continue sharing the Good News fearlessly, and she praised God for the miracles He's shown her. I was now near tears, knowing this moment was one of them, where time stopped and we relived the joys of Christ alone, not reliving the past, not rejoicing in the future chapter I'm about to dive into, but just Christ here and now, and what victory He gives in each breath, in each prayer, in each chance taken. 

Only having a thirty-minute dinner break, she gave me her address to write letters, wished me infinite blessings in a hug that did not want to let go, and then before saying goodbye, pulled away from the hug and asked, "Rachel, are you married?" "No," I laughed. "It's coming soon then," she said, "I can feel it! And I want to be invited!"

Laughter, smiles, and that dream of a reunion came to an end. Until next time.