You Find Me In The Desert by Virginia Hughes

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.

Prone-to-wander-heart,

walking out a little farther, 

day by day, by day.

The narrow road 

widening to hold

twisting truth:

You do not love 

me anymore.

No talk today.

All day? All day.

Days turning on each other.

Week one,  

then four. 

What is forever 

but a day passing time, 

chaining one, onto another.

A name forgetting its name,

and when forgotten,

gone.

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, 

from comforting. 

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,

stealing breath.

Running and falling into a pit of stone.

Pleas catching in a drying throat.

Light dims. Shadows lengthen.

Darkness falls.

Sad.

Sorry.

Lost.

Lonely tears.

No one hears.

Is that a calling voice?

Ever stronger.

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.

Bandages tighten.

Medicine sting.

Lift and carry, everlasting arms won’t drop me.

I lean.

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.

Only I.

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.

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Morning and Evening Prayers

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,
counsel 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)

Dear Father,
"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.

Smiling Lessons by Virginia Hughes

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.

Look Likes a Mountain to Me by Lorraine Triggs

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

Wholehearted God by Kylie Hultgren

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does—Psalm 145:17 (NIV)

I think a good way to describe me is scrambled. Not like the eggs, but then again, maybe that is a good description. I throw small pieces of myself into so many different places. A little segment to this friendship, a bit to this relationship, a small portion to this assignment and even smaller portion to this event. I find my work and my efforts half–hearted, or maybe even a quarter–hearted. Each task sucks out a sliver of me, and the reality is that nothing has all of me. I feel spread out, but spread only into these little pieces. Unfortunately, none of these bits and pieces accurately represent who I am as a whole.

What brought me to this eye–opening and heart–wrenching understanding of myself was a clearer understanding of who someone else was. I found myself eye to eye, breath to breath and heart to heart with the very One who embodies consistency and faithfulness. He puts his everything into what he does, and nothing he ever commits himself to is partial, half–hearted or mediocre. Yahweh alone is completely and thoroughly wholehearted. 

A few months ago, I began doing some calligraphy with ink. One of my favorite things is to make cards with certain Swedish sayings or verses on them. The words seem so foreign, yet perfectly normal all at the same time, and  I cannot help but artistically write them out. Full confession here: I don't know a lot of Swedish words or expressions without the help of the Internet or my Farfar (Swedish for "grandfather"), but as I was aimlessly searching the Internet, I discovered one of the most profound and  beautifully ornate words—“helhjärtad," translated into English as “wholehearted."

I clung to this little word, because it is often un-useful for us. The reason we find it un-useful is because no one quite seems to fulfill its high demands of reliability. The word "wholehearted" or “helhjärtad” carries with it a rare commitment, one that we humans do not comprehend or know how to live up to.

Even the word itself is connected and whole. I found this out the hard way because I initially wrote “whole” and “hearted” as separate words, only to find it's one word. Think about the words quarter-hearted or half-hearted. They are split up, disconnected and scrambled. We do not know what it means to be “helhjärtad,” because we are so busy being scrambled, so busy being busy, so busy being needed. But are we actually really needed? That is for another musing for another Saturday. But the question truly is, do we ever do anything wholeheartedly?

The term wholehearted is hardly ever used in our culture, because it would be extremely difficult to describe anyone as wholehearted. The more I try to tackle this concept in my own mind, the more I am brought to the feet of the triune God who is wholehearted in all of his ways. He does not partially heal, slightly remove sin or somewhat hear his people when they call to him. He is 100% attentive and 100% involved. He is a “helhjärtad” God, wholehearted in word and deed. Totally wholehearted in the way he not only approaches me, but also interacts with scrambled old me.

Post Cave Rescue by Wil Triggs

This week, various news outlets reported an update on the Thai boys cave rescue. Like the rest of the world, I waited, prayed and hope, so I was curious what was happening since the rescue.

Updates showed the boys, post rescue, participating in a Buddhist ceremony in which they would become novice monks. One BBC header said, “Thai cave rescue: saying sorry to cave spirit Nang Norn.” Again, BBC reported, “They will stay in different monasteries until 4 August meditating, praying and cleaning their temple. The length of time they will spend doing this—nine days—is a nod to a Thai lucky number.” The boys were dressed in white robes, heads shaved.

Many of the news pieces also reported that one of the rescued boys did not participate in the ceremony because he was a Christian. Those words leaped off the page. One of the boys…a Christian.

So, naturally, I got curious about who this one Christian boy is and here is what I found out.

A news outlet in Australia called him a hero, noting that he is “proficient in five languages—English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin and Wa, a language spoken near the Myanmar and China border. It was his knowledge of English that was crucial because it allowed him to talk to the British rescue divers on behalf of the group when it was discovered nine days after becoming stuck. Adun provided clarity to the rescuers on how long the team had been in the cave and what they needed.”

How does a 14-year-old boy become proficient in five languages? Especially a boy news outlets described as displaced or stateless in Thailand. He is from a state in Myanmar (Burma) that is not recognized internationally or by its own government. Fleeing their home, his family took him to a school sponsored by Compassion International. Between his school and their journey away from their home toward a more stable and somewhat safe country of Thailand, he learned all those languages including the all-important English, that made it possible for the rescuers to communicate with the buried boys.

George Bednar, one of our pastoral residents, spent years in Myanmar, the country Adun and his family fled. So I asked if he had heard about the Christian boy.

Knowing of the ethnic group from which the Christian boy came, George explained that these “people are warriors. Fighters. Headhunters. They are small in number, but incredibly strong. They have fought for their survival against the Burmese to the south and the Chinese to the north. They are historically very aggressive and very stubborn. The fact that this boy is a Christian is nothing short of a miracle.”

He shared with me a Facebook post from a friend as the world waited and prayed for the rescue attempt. Here’s part of the post: “I learned today that many of the Buddhists and animists believe that this happened because a spirit that lives in the cave is unhappy with the team. They think that the team must have disrespected the spirit somehow, perhaps by not making proper offerings of food or other items. Meanwhile, one of the missing kids belongs to a Christian family…[the church is] gathering around this family, and they are singing and worshipping and praying together as they wait, not only encouraging the family but providing a testimony for others around them.”

After the rescue, instead of going to the monastery, Adun participated in a service of thanksgiving. At the service, they allowed him to speak, and here is some of what he said, “By the 10th night, we were losing patience, hope, physical energy and courage. We could not do anything to help. The only thing that I could do was pray. I prayed ‘Lord, I’m only a boy; you are almighty God, you are holy, and you are powerful. Right now I can’t do anything; may you protect us. Come to help all 13 of us.‘ And then I finished my prayer, thanking God for everything that happened to myself and my friends … all 13 of us.

“Thank you to everybody who prayed for me and the whole team,” Adun said. “Thank you to everybody that helped us, and the last thank-you [goes] to the Lord: Thank you God. God bless you all.”

Wow. Jesus—our Savior, worker of miracles, God of wonder. Instead of apologizing to a mountain and making appeasement to earn good merit (and good merit, as George comments, is “necessary for the Buddhist to have good luck today and in the next life”), we are blessed to give thanks to the living God and to Jesus, who appeased God’s wrath on our behalf for today and in the next life forever. He is the Savior who dove down from heaven to bring all of us out of the pit of our guilt and shame and sin. He rescues us and brings us out of darkenss into his glorious light.

In the coming days, Adun hopes to gain citizenship in Thailand. But, isn’t it wonderful the citizenship we already share with this boy.

In the Community, for the Community by Ann Classen

“In the community, for the community.” That's what my dear lifelong friend Sherry
came up with as we began our second walking loop around Northside Park. In our 30 years as friends and walking partners, we have literally walked somewhere just shy of 30,000 miles. I guess that means we have walked around the world together.

Of course, we solve the world’s problems as we walk, but we also seek to bring our thoughts and words under the Lordship of Christ and see them through the lens of the Bible. We have hashed and re-hashed Christian marriage, parenting (and its huge range of issues from babies sleeping through the night, rebellious teens to marriage), Christian versus public schools, social media, how to limit and monitor cell phone and computer use during high school, social media, pornography, grandparenting, colleges, sermons, books, podcasts, prayer, prayer requests, Bible study, local and global missions and the occasional decorating dilemma. These are a few of the issues covered. I did mention social media, right?

We often discuss College Church's ministries, local and foreign missions, and in particular, Twice is Nice Resale Shop. All the while contemplating how we can live out our faith in a way that makes a difference to people around us and bring glory to God.

It was during one of these conversations that we ended up talking about Twice is Nice and why we love it and how to communicate that love to others when Sherry came up with “in the community, for the community."

Twice is Nice (TIN) is one of two resale shops College Church owns and operates. The proceeds from TIN go to support the Outreach Community Center in Carol
Stream that's within a mile or two of where the store is located.

Outreach Community Ministries' (OCM) mission is to, “restore hope and provide opportunities for people to become all that God intends them to be; partner with the local church to put Christian faith into action through service to the community.” I am honored that my church, our church, College Church is partnering with OCM to provide opportunities for us to put our faith in action in the local community.

The Outreach Community Center (OCC) and TIN are located in southeast Carol Stream. This area has 7,000–plus people living in apartments. Of that figure, 55% are ethnic minorities and approximately 35% of these households live below the poverty line. Of the people Outreach Community Center serves, 88% are below the poverty line and are from 36 different countries.

This is our collective community—our Jewel, our Northside Park, our Home Depot and our schools. Your donations are wonderful and always welcomed, but
for Sherry and me, it’s our interaction with people in our community that matters.

Many of our customers are from the neighborhood and speak limited English; others are “resale junkies," antique dealers and bargain hunters who know that the proceeds go to OCM. We have a lot of regulars we know by name, whom we greet with a hug, offer counsel and pray together. We build relationships with court–ordered community service workers, the eight STARS who work in our
store, OCC summer interns and volunteers from church many of whom we never
would have rubbed shoulders with if it were not for TIN.

We also keep open eyes and ears and hearts for ways to connect the store to College Church, and to speak the name of Jesus and the hope of the gospel.

Come and volunteer or shop or donate. After all, Twice is Nice is in the community and for the community.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)