From artist Sean Shimmel: Self-absorbed Eustace transformed into a loathsome dragon is rescued by Aslan’s shredding claws in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Heart of darkness. Apocalypse Now . . . inwardly. Who will rescue us? Thankfully, that final Hope.
On the Dreamliner headed to Singapore
Flying mostly over water, this plane a covered wagon
Across the great ocean plains, headed to the great west of the far east
Old friends to see, new ones to make, the chance to learn and hear
Bottles of water to hydrate, books, art, media to celebrate
Return your seats and trays, upright and locked
The blind to see, we begin our descent
Words gathered toward Word, the lame to walk
Drawing near the oasis of others and Other
The roof comes off, drink, see his handiwork of now
Seat belts click, tires thud, friends lower the paralyzed man down
We land at the feet of Christ to be healed.
There wasn’t really anything unusual about that morning. Everything was just as it always was. The air cooled from the night. Early rising villagers walked cattle past our hotel and out into the fields. Across the distant horizon, tourists floated in hot-air balloons.
We finished our breakfast and hopped onto our motorbikes to head out into some familiar villages. Perhaps all that “normalcy” caused us to neglect prayer that morning. We were usually quite diligent with prayer, but that day we pressed on without it. Thankfully, we didn’t get far.
The Lord blew up one of our motorbike tires even before we got to the end of the gravel road.
As we waited beneath a shade tree for the motorbike repairman, our prayerlessness hit us simultaneously. I spoke up and said, “I’m fairly confident that the Lord blew up our tire on purpose so that we wouldn’t go any further without having spent time in prayer.” The team agreed, and we huddled up to pray.
We asked the Lord to forgive us for stepping out into such an incredible task without having spent time praying for our hearts and for the hearts of the people.
We asked the Lord to guide us that morning. We asked him to guide us to people who needed the gospel, who were ready to hear the gospel and who were even ready to receive the gospel. Over the years in Myanmar, we had found that praying this way, coupled with the assumption that God was indeed answering those prayers, caused us to see people and situations differently. Praying this way gave everything purpose. We were passing people on the street whom the Lord was causing us to pass. We were seeing people and going places and having conversations all under the direction of our sovereign Lord. Praying this way and believing God was answering gave us confidence and boldness that we would not have had otherwise.
We prayed and said amen. Soon enough, our tire was fixed, and we were on the move again. We chose to leave the paved road and instead took dirt paths through the arid landscape. We had been down this one dirt path many times, and while slightly more dangerous than the road, it was the quickest way to get to the villages that day.
We never actually made it to the villages.
The Lord blew up another one of our motorbike tires.
Our team stopped again to check the damage. One of our Burmese partners had driven over some of the fiercest thorns I’ve ever seen. The tire had no chance. He got off his motorbike, looked at the rest of us and said, “The Lord wants us to share here right now.”
We were stopped in front of a little farm. We had passed by this little farm hundreds of times and never really thought about it—until now. Our entire team walked down to the little farm house to see if we could find any workers there. At the house we found a young man and his wife. They didn’t own the farm, but they did have a pretty nice setup. The farm’s owner hired this man and his wife to tend the land and, in addition to paying them, allowed them to stay in the little house for free.
They greeted us as most Burmese would. Smiles. Palm sugar and fermented tea leaf snacks. Hot tea to drink. Apologies for the weather. And conversation. Our conversation seemed so natural. It was fluid and full. We discussed their farm, their family, their lives. We discussed my family and my life. We joked and laughed. Our conversation lacked the awkwardness that often accompanies “random” encounters like this. This was special.
During our conversation, the man asked me if he could show me something. I said, “Sure!” Burmese men traditionally wear long skirts called a “paseo,” and to hold it up, they tie the top into a knot. Burmese paseo knot-tying is an incredible art and, when done correctly, the knot serves as a pocket. Well, this young man untied his knot and pulled out two full-sized lizards.
He smiled and said, “Watch this.” He threw the lizards out into the sand and, before they could collect themselves and scurry off, the farmer’s dog sprang into action. The dog ran out and carefully gathered both lizards in his mouth and brought them back to the farmer. The farmer tied them back up into his paseo and assured me that he was planning to eat those lizards later that night.
THE ANIMATED VERSION
After a while our conversation naturally shifted to weightier topics, and I shared the gospel with him. When I was done, I asked what he thought about all I had just said. His response shocked me.
“I’ve heard this story before. I have heard of this Savior before,” he said. How had he heard before? When had he heard? This didn’t make any sense. His farm was out of the way, down an unimportant dirt path in a city with no real gospel presence. I asked him to explain.
“I went into the city a couple weeks ago and I purchased a cartoon movie. That movie was called the ‘Lion of Judah’ and was about a little lamb,” he explained. “That movie told the same story, but I did not know that it was real. I did not know that this Jesus was real. I want to believe in this Jesus. I believe that this is true so please tell me what we should do.”
AN UNEXPECTED BAPTISMAL
We spent the following day and a half with this young farmer and his wife. We taught them more about Jesus. We taught them more about forgiveness and restoration. We taught them worship songs and how to pray. We even taught them about the public step of baptism.
Before we left, the young farmer and his wife both asked us if we would baptize them because they wanted to make that public declaration of their faith in Jesus. The only problem was that they weren’t close enough to the Irrawaddy River, and although they lived on a farm, there was no real source of water that we saw. They asked the owner for permission to leave the farm but were denied.
We had run out of ideas and just as we were about to say our goodbyes, the young farmer shouted, “Wait! I know what we can do! Follow me.” We followed him through his field to a ditch. The ditch protected his crops from flood waters during rainy season. Just on the other side of the ditch was a small trough. “I didn’t think this would be deep enough,” he said. “But what do you think? If we filled it with as much water as it can hold, can you baptize us here?”
We filled it up and, before going any further, we walked back through the gospel message with the farmer and his wife. We reviewed all that we had studied together about Jesus and about the story of the Bible and about baptism. They assured us that they were ready. One at a time, they sat down in the shallow trough and were baptized.
PRAISE GOD FOR BUSTED MOTORBIKE TIRES
We had no intention of stopping at this farm when we started out. If things had gone our way, we would have zipped right passed this young family in route to bigger, more important places. But we finally stopped and prayed. We prayed. God answered. He guided just as we had asked. He changed hearts just as we had asked.
Praise God for busted motorbike tires. Praise God for out-of-the-way farms and for awakening hearts to faith. He does infinitely more than all we ask or think. This young farmer and his wife, our brother and our sister, are evidence of that.
You Find Me in the Desert
I miss you before I leave.
Your guiding words,
are meant for others.
Your time, your smile,
Dis . . . appear . . . ing . . .
Your way to SHOW ME this.
Your gentle touch,
I do not feel.
Not a new lamb
seeking the outer edges.
walking out a little farther,
day by day, by day.
The narrow road
widening to hold
You do not love
No talk today.
All day? All day.
Days turning on each other.
What is forever
but a day passing time,
chaining one, onto another.
A name forgetting its name,
and when forgotten,
No pressure to do for you,
lying in green pastures,
following by still waters,
feasting at full tables.
I could never please you anyway.
I turn away,
No rod and staff I know.
Food here is never tasty
As in your fields all grow.
Where is the water
in the desert; I don’t see.
Thorns scratch, legs bleed.
Snake slithers, rattle warns.
Living water, such a thirst.
All desert - no water, and a curse,
dust storms blow,
Running and falling into a pit of stone.
Pleas catching in a drying throat.
Light dims. Shadows lengthen.
No one hears.
Is that a calling voice?
Answer with a choking cough.
Here you are.
Finding me in darkness.
Covering me with kindness,
My cup runneth over.
Drink, yes drink your fill.
Anoint my head with oil.
Lift and carry, everlasting arms won’t drop me.
I have missed you so much.
I tried to forget you when my heart broke,
scattering itself against desert rocks and crags.
Never you who forgets or departs.
Not knowing how much I miss you
until I see you again.
And now remembering,
what was doubted.
It is the end of the day, 97.
We are all here, 98.
Because you have loved, 99.
You have 100,
I have counted.
A few days before writing this article, I sat at my 91-year-old mother’s bedside in the hospital, watching her suffer from ferocious thirst.
Because of fluid in her lungs, Mom was severely restricted in her intake of liquids. Throughout the previous night she had tossed and turned, craving water to slake her thirst and cool her throat. The occasional ice chip just wasn’t enough. She begged for more water, but the nurses weren’t budging.
“If felt like I had a desert in my mouth,” she said wearily in the morning.
Mom’s painfully graphic description stuck in my mind. What did it feel like to have a desert in one’s mouth?
I had one previous experience with the desert and intense thirst—nearly four decades ago during the “Wheaton College in Israel” study program.
One Saturday eight of us students decided to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, climbing the trail up Wadi Qelt some 15 miles. Don’t ask me why we decided to go up to Jerusalem (3,600 feet higher above sea level) instead of down to Jericho in the blazing sun of mid-summer.
We took a 5 a.m. taxi from Jerusalem to Jericho, and then blithely set off into the desert, hiking the trail snaking along the edge of the gorge back in the direction from which we came.
We each carried two small canteens of water and a couple of peanut-butter sandwiches, figuring this would be like a walk in the Israeli park. Starting out, we enjoyed seeing the remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct and the historic Greek Orthodox monastery of St. George.
Our stroll took a more serious turn when two in our group started complaining of thirst and asking for sips of others’ water. Then they began seeing and talking to people who weren’t there, and we realized that heatstroke was now part of the plan.
Thankfully, we encountered some local folks who agreed to shoulder these two up the mountain to the road and drive them to Jerusalem in their Volkswagen.
Meanwhile, the rest of us soldiered on in the sun, increasingly parched and wondering where to find a drink in the wilderness. At one juncture, the snarling dogs of a Bedouin sheepherder came after us, apparently thinking Americans were back on the menu. But it was the thirst that plagued us most.
One by one and by different means, members of our group abandoned the hike and found ways back to Jerusalem. I made it to the outskirts of the city in a pretty decrepit and nauseous state, there flagging a taxi the rest of the way to our student residence.
Some believe the valley in Wadi Qelt is referenced by David in Psalm 23 as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Thankfully, our group encountered only the shadow part.
This experience brought alive to me those passages in Scripture where thirst for water is compared to thirst for God.
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you,” David writes in Psalm 63 while in the wilderness in Judah. “My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Similarly, Psalm 42 says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
While most of us will remember a time when we felt physically thirsty, when was the last time our soul thirsted for God? When last did every fiber of our being yearn for a closer, more intimate walk with Christ, for a deep drink of Living Water? What difference would that make in our daily lives?
As I write these words, we just received word that my mother will be released from the hospital. When her condition had looked critical, the extended family and I prayed intensely for God’s hand of healing and recovery for her. Not only had the Lord graciously answered our prayers, but He had used Mom’s illness to increase our thirst for Him.
None of us wants to go through a desert-like experience. But it’s interesting how God often uses the hard times to intensify our longing for him. In that regard, I’d say the desert can be a very good thing.
Here are two prayers—the first a morning prayer from Wendell Hawley and the second an evening prayer from Ellen Elwell. May these prayers frame your day.
Blessed and glorious God,
Author of our salvation, sustainer of our life, giver of all that we have—
incline our hearts to believe your Word.
We are so obsessed with trivial things, but we want to be captivated with things eternal.
So much of little worth gets our attention.
We confess inattention to your Word.
We confess the fickleness of our affections, and our unbelief limits our trust that you, O God,
are able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
We don't see our prayers answered with such abundance, and we doubt.
We know our problems are greater than we can solve.
But we are afraid to go out on a limb and really cast our care on you.
What if you don't answer as we want?
What if a much-needed job doesn't appear?
What if family relationships don't improve—but get worse?
What if loved ones remain disinterested in spiritual things?
What if my desperate heart's cry goes unanswered?
Lord, I'm not like Habakkuk,
who witnessed everything crashing around him and still rejoiced in the Lord.
I confess that I'm like Asaph,
who realized how bitter he had become at the bewildering events of life.
But like the psalmist, we've come to the house of the Lord . . .
It is here that we see things more clearly,
You will guide me,
strengthen my resolve,
shelter me in the storms,
steady my footsteps,
meet my needs,
quiet my soul.
My prayer from the depths of my heart is . . .
Deliver us from foolish charges, senseless complaints, ignorant doubts.
Saturate our souls with the greatness of Christ!
Make our faith in Christ and his goodness unshakable.
Make our trust in Christ so absolute that nothing can erode it.
We believe; help thou our unbelief.
May we not stagger at the promises of God. . .
(from A Pastor Prays for His People by Wendell C. Hawley)
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." These words, plucked from a familiar children's prayer, still resonate with me. Somewhere deep inside me, they tap into adult-sized fears that sometimes surface in the night. Though my slumber might be disturbed by bumps and creaks, it's more often my uncertainties of the future or fears of complicated tasks and relationships that leave me tossing and turning. Yet all the while, Lord, you quietly and sovereignly watch over me. No problem or situation is unknown to you or too big for you to solve. No care or fear I have is beyond the scope of your understanding. Tonight instead of counting my worries or even counting sheep, may I rest in the countless ways you provide for me. For you are the Good Shepherd, I am your lamb, and you have promised to be with me.
(from Timeless Grace: Prayers for Every Occasion by Ellen Elwell)
Note: both their books are available at the church book stall between services on Sunday morning.
With infant’s tiny hands gripping tightly from the beginning of life, sharing starts early for all of us--grappling over toys, snacks, space, time and attention. Repeatedly these “please share” lessons come into our lives and we learn and hopefully teach them to our own children. Let go of things and embrace Christ and people. We learn what is truly important.
Raising children is a series of steps in letting go. Just as the baby is born, medical hands reach, clean, check, measure, weigh and wrap the precious bundle. We wince as our baby’s blood is drawn, are you really going to poke that needle into her ittybitty foot? There is no sparing of skin with the blessing of thorough medical care. There is constant poking, prodding, injections, tears and a schedule of well checks.
The world is at your door reaching for your infant and in time you release her to God, relatives, church care, care givers, teachers, coaches, camp counselors, friendships, higher learning, employers and young adult life, life, life! Dating turns to courting and here is the chosen person and mate for your child you trusted God to find. My daughter is in love with a stranger and the double bonus is that the stranger loves her. Great gulps of graciousness, let’s set the date and celebrate this marriage we prayed for from her earliest days!
Everything that prepares did not prepare me for letting go in that singular way. The young couple hopes for blessing, while I pray they love God first over all, choose him in their hearts most of all. Make him the center of their lives and future. Even if the fiancé is a prince of a fellow, my prayers pace over their souls. Be sure, be very sure. Daughters, hold out for the best one in this short life that becomes very long if spent in misdirection, regret and lousy company.
As I scrutinize, the Lord reminds me to hold everything with an open hand, fingers flat, not curled so tightly, grasping my loved ones to myself. I question if this is the right one for her is he, is he, is he?
I hear the still small voice, “Stop with the stranglehold on your child.” We have this ongoing conversation my Heavenly Father and I: How can I keep her safe if I hold her in an open hand?
Trust me and know you are both in my hands.
Dear Lord, pardon me, but I do not always trust you with my children who you created, who are yours; who you gave to me. I know from experience things don’t always go well or turn out nicely. You give, and you take away. This world is a grabby, sinfully wild place.
Yes, but you are in my hands. You, your daughter and the young man.
I know. However, I also know you don’t play by the rules I made up to help myself feel safer in your hands.
Even so, open your heart; open your hand.
If my hand is open, anything may be taken from it.
Yes, yes but you must trust me.
Let us imagine I let go. I still watch as a hovering drone, hands on the track to detect trains going off the rails, ears oscillating at the slightest sound as a deer panting for water. I don’t want to watch my child struggling with improv when I can write a far better life’s play with a few twists, a slight edge, a little rain, but well-honed, trusted characters and a happily ever after. Would it be so bad, the older, wiser me at the helm pulling the strings and writing the lines? I imagine the Lord may say, “I’m the Lord of all things, and I don’t wear out, but you in your mothering role, you are wearing me out.” It’s exhausting and time to let go.
Then the surprises start flowing in as wedding plans commence. The soon to be in-laws are loving and friendly and we immediately like each other. They have their own struggles to learn English well enough to pass citizenship tests. When they pass, I smile.
It is time to plan a long distance wedding. My daughter phones and we frequently discuss plans for hours. I doubt we talked this much when she lived at home and this brings many smiles. Extra visits up to Ann Arbor have us spending more time with her fiancé. He is no longer a stranger. Sincerity shines and I see he really loves my daughter. I smile.
I need be required to take covenantal parental vows and tack them to the mirror reminding myself of my acquired different role. Trust the Lord. Always pray. Be encouraging. Be available. Don’t manipulate and control circumstances pretending it’s about your deep care for her. Be generous in every way and smile.
The day before the wedding, surrounded by buckets of water, roses, chrysanthemums, seeded eucalyptus and high hopes, my three daughters and I are arranging wedding flowers for hours and hours. We work our way through centerpieces, chair decorations, bouquets and boutonnières. The flowers in my hands and conversation with my daughters are a gift rounded by giggles and laughs all day until we finally go to bed around midnight with all the flowers tucked in and ready.
The wedding day is here and standing in the procession, right before we walk down the aisle, the groom appears with the vintage ring pillow crocheted with love by my sister who went to heaven four years ago. He hands it to my 90 year old mother standing in front of me and asks Mom to pray before the ceremony begins. My mother prays for God to be Lord of their lives and center of their lives together, may they grow in grace under his loving watch. May our great and most loving Heavenly Father smile upon them and bless them as only he is able. Amen.
What a sweetness that my sister whom we miss
made that little pillow and feels present here today. What a wonder that my mother at 90 is able to clearly pray and walk with ease as part of this wedding procession. How beautiful my daughter and husband are as they walk together. What love is being expressed by this couple as they make vows to love each other. The string ensemble plays “Be Thou My Vision,” while the Lord of our hearts fills us with his love and graces us with smiles.
One significant fact you need to know about me is that my roots reside in the flat landscape of Detroit. This is a city where major east-west arteries are called mile roads and run unhindered through the city and suburbs. This is a city where you get on Interstate 94 and actually go west, real west, to Chicago. We don't deal with mountains, no matter how high or tall they are.
My husband, on the other hand, is from the Golden State full of freeways and roads that constantly run into mountains or foothills (which still look like mountains to me). The news of a wildfire at Lake Elsinore takes me back to the first time this midwesterner went to California.
I do have to concede that California's freeways are built well. They have to be with all those obstacles, but you can take the 215 to the 15 to the Ortega Highway and snake your way to San Juan Capistrano from where Mom lived. I had no idea what any of this meant.
But that's exactly what my husband, his mother and I were doing, snaking our way to San Juan Capistrano in my mother-in-law's sturdy American-made sedan. Mom lived in the "inland empire," which was acceptably flat, nestled between a couple of different mountain ranges.
As we were driving, the only issue I had on the otherwise beautiful drive was those mountains that loomed large on the horizon as we took an exit to to Lake Elsinore.
I looked over at my husband who was clearly enjoying the drive on California roads again. "Where is San Juan Capistrano?" I asked.
"On the other side of the mountain."
"How will we get there?" I, the innocent flatland native, asked.
"We drive over the mountains," my native California husband replied.
I was silent. What? Was this a joke?
It wasn't. And this was supposed to be fun.
My first car ride over the mountains was a mixture of terrifying drop offs (note: no guard rails on the sheer cliff side of the road) to breathtaking beauty of evergreen trees and flowers.
The road wound back and forth and scaled the mountain. We climbed so high that the view of the desert valley was starting to look the same as it had from the plane when we flew in. At a certain point in the drive, Wil confessed, "When I first went on this road as a kid, I was terrified."
Gee thanks. I am sure I didn't say one word until we began our descent and didn't fully relax until we began what seemed like a gentle slope down toward the beautiful Pacific coast. Note: after we returned home, all Wil's aunts told me that they would never drive that "treacherous" road.
Sometimes my walk with God resembles the Santa Ana mountain range by Lake Elsinore and not the flat miles of roads of my childhood.
I know that I'm going someplace good.
But I look up at the looming mountain of anxiety and wonder how I'll make it to that beautiful destination. Or I'm traveling back and forth, climbing what seems like treacherously high ground. I know I'm just a few feet away from a cliff and sudden and terrifying crash-and-death.
"How will I get there?" I ask God.
Over the mountain, of course, with all of its terrifying moments and unfound fears. The road God gives us is not always flat, not the familiar and easily navigated roads I grew to love and trust as a child.
But I know at the other side and along the way is the breathtaking wonder of God's peace and its guard rails around my heart and mind, and the Spirit's whisper to look beyond the mountain cliffs to where my help truly comes—the One who made the mountains and will not let my foot slip.
I lift up my eyes to hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. . . . Psalm 121:1-3